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Sick Caesars: Madness and Malady in Imperial…

Sick Caesars: Madness and Malady in Imperial Rome

by Michael Grant

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I don't know why it's so satisfying to read about Augustus Caesar's migraines, or the fact that battle so unnerved him that he'd have to lie down nursing his head until the fighting was over. Maybe it's just me.

Anyway, this book gives a really fascinating medical history of the Caesars, though in many places Michael Grant is simply quoting himself from one of his other books, which felt somehow cheap. Also, he digresses into a couple of oddly vehement rants about the "disease" of believing in astrology, which seems to irritate him a truly irrational amount, aside from not being an actual medical condition. These minor issues aside, I enjoyed it a great deal. ( )
  paperloverevolution | Mar 30, 2013 |
One of my fondest arenas of history in which I like to read of is the period of the Roman Empire. Michael Grant is a respected author and historian of ancient Rome. In my most recent read of one of his works is Sick Caesars: Madness and Malady in Imperial Rome.

In ancient Rome, no one possessed more power than the emperor. That is why from their wars they fought, to there intricacies, and every other aspect of their lives has be researched and debated with a fine tooth comb. This book following in line with that aspect researches the health of these Roman rulers.

The problem though lies in that there are limitations to the study of disease & illness in antiquity. A lot of times the sources are very vague and many times biased. In turn most attempts to identify a disease in antiquity then is at best inconclusive.

In the book the author gives to reminders before delving into the maladies of these Caesars. First one must take into consideration that the Caesars were absolute rulers. Grants says, “Whom do you know who would behave really decently in such a situation, if it could ever exist? Just think: if one had all that power, what would one do, or not do (xiii)?" Under the circumstances, then, some of the Caesars' maladies (e.g., alcoholism, sadism, satyriasis) may be rationalized as the manifestations of unchecked power. One should also bear in mind that, because of their extraordinary power, the Caesars were extremely liable to conspiracies and assassination attempts.

Even in the best of situations, this susceptibility would cause stress and, possibly, related complications (e.g., headaches, insomnia, ulcers, paranoia, and drug addiction). At the least, this stress would exacerbate certain pre-existing conditions. For these reasons, it is difficult to assess the actual impact of an emperor's illness on his reign or on the state of the Empire. Nevertheless, it is clear that there was an impact. ( )
  moses917 | Apr 9, 2010 |
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