- Paperback: 360 pages
- Publisher: Yale University Press (1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0300074298
- ISBN-13: 978-0300074291
- Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 0.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,408,797 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Caligula: The Corruption of Power Paperback – 1998
Top Customer Reviews
Caligula has been portrayed as a megalomaniac in films like The Robe and as seriously disturbed in "I, Claudius" and is the view people generally accept. Ancient historians were not like their modern counterparts who seek to reveal the truth behind people and events, and are not in agreement among themselves. Rather, their concern was to relate the truth as they saw it, and a bad emperor had to be bad man.
Mr. Barrett writes well and gives us a biography that can appeal to the historian and general reader. He examines the sources and archaeological evidence to provide a well-ground appraisal of Caligula's personality. The discussion is well reasoned and Mr. Barrett presents a good deal of material to support his conclusions. There is an excellent selection on the coins, inscriptions and portraits of Caligula, and a list of his victims with source citations. The personality that emerges may not be the one who slept with his sisters and thought he was Jove but a ruthless tyrant remains.
Barrett, sensitive to the great controversies about the life of Caligula, demonstrates that he has done his homework and provides every little detail he can. This ultimately has the effect of slowing the book down to an unimaginably slow pace and saps the life out of what should be an intriguing biography. While there are moments of pleasure one can derive from this historical sketch - for example Caligula's non-erotic relationship with his sisters - there is much that seems to be glanced over - like Caligula's relationship with the Emperor Tiberius.
The book has little sense of narrative and reads like an extended dissertation. This makes the reader feel like an outsider. We never quite grab ahold of the story, because the real story is buried under hundred of names, and equally as many side conversations.
One can appreciate that Barrett tried to present a balanced picture of Caligula; that is, he tried to put the various sources in some kind of perspective. This book is undoubtedly well reasearched and balanced. Moreover, there is very little speculating on what made Caligula tick. At least Barrett has enough respect for the reader to let them come to their own conclusions rather than over-analyzing a person in antiquity. However, while doing so he has created a book that is not fun to read and a portrait as colorless as the ancient Roman marble statues.
Point being: This is a common theme throughout the book, that of contradiction. He cites example after example from Suetonius, Dio, et al of egregious behavior by the ruler, yet invariably discredits virtually each and every bit of fact on the matter by impugning the interest of the original sources' claims.
Being merely a casual fan of the Caesars, this was not the book for me. While copiously researched and quite well-written, it reads too much like a dissertation and not enough like a book. I would highly recommend studying up a bit on Caligula for the lay reader before tackling this book. I must admit i did find much of it interesting and compelling, and for the scholar or avid Roman reader, this book seems to posit some contrarian views as well as comprehensive history and context which could greatly benefit your knowledge. But if you are just looking for an overview on C's life and a pleasurable read with a little more sizzle about his "corruption", I would recommend looking elsewhere.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A thousand questions about Caligula remain unanswered in this book, but it's hardly the author's fault, given the scanty information he has to examine. Read morePublished on November 10, 2011 by Jeri
Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus was something of an enigma, not helped by the fact that his brief Imperium presumably was recorded by Tacitus in what is now a lost volume... Read morePublished on March 18, 2011 by Ian J. Miller
I'd like to start by saying that as much as I enjoy the salacious stories of Caligula's reign, I have no problem with the light of reason and fact taking the wind out of those... Read morePublished on October 18, 2010 by GodsAreMonsters
Most ancient works on Caligula describe him as a madman. Barrett points out the flaws in these works; only two authors actually lived in Caligula's time (Seneca and Philo). Read morePublished on July 24, 2010 by Michael Lewyn
Barrett provides an excellent, balanced view of Caligula in his work. Much like the title of the book implies, he attributes the emperor's downfall to his own corruption and flaws,... Read morePublished on July 17, 2010 by Joseph Hopkins
This is a very scholarly, in-depth book on one of the more controversial Emperors in Roman history. For millennia he has been seen as an insane and murderous monster who slept with... Read morePublished on March 20, 2009 by Arch Stanton
Barrett takes a very stoic view of Caligula. This view is much different than the crazed man that is typically written about. Read morePublished on October 11, 2006 by Stephanie Manley