Though being the son of Marcus Aurelius, Commodus (161-192) had no inclination for philosophy and self-reflection. This in itself is not a problem: many people can live quite happily or even more happily without these predilections, but it becomes problematic when this lack is substituted with madness and you happen to be a Roman emperor. The behaviour of Commodus was completely erratic and unpredictable and combined with sadism. No wonder he was eventually assassinated. In the movie Gladiator his character is well exploited, though the movie doesn’t quite do justice to historical events.
In the extremely unreliable, but delightfully gossiping and anecdotal Historia Augusta some examples of his sick jokes and other behaviour are given. May be something for a Fellini like director?
Historia Augusta, Commodus Antoninus, c. 10:
X. 1 Iam puer et gulosus et impudicus fuit. Adulescens omne genus hominum infamavit, quod erat secum, et ab omnibus est infamatus. 2 Inridentes se feris obiciebat. Eum etiam, qui Tranquilli librum vitam Caligulae continentem legerat, feris obici iussit, quia eundem diem natalis habuerat, quem et Caligula. 3 Si quis sane se mori velle praedixisset, hunc invitum praecipitari iubebat. 4 In iocis quoque perniciosus. Nam eum, quem vidisset albescentes inter nigros capillos quasi vermiculos habere, sturno adposito, qui se vermes sectari crederet, capite suppuratum reddebat obtunsione oris. 5 Pinguem hominem medio ventre dissicuit, ut eius intestina subito funderentur. 6 Monopodios et luscinios eos, quibus aut singulos oculos tulisset aut singulos pedes fregisset, appellabat. 7 Multos praeterea passim extinxit alios, quia barbarico habitu occurrerant, alios quia nobiles et speciosiores erant. 8 Habuit in deliciis homines appellatos nominibus verendorum utriusque sexus, quos libentius suis osculis applicabat. 9 Habuit et hominem pene prominentem ultra modum animalium, quem Onon appellabat, sibi carissimum. quem et ditavit et sacerdotio Herculis rustici praeposuit.
gulosus: gluttonous, dainty
infamo: to disgrace
Inridentes se feris obiciebat: those who laughed at him he threw before wild beasts
Tranquilli librum: i.e. Suetonius De Vita Caesarum
praedico praedixi praedictum: to tell in advance
invitus: against one’s will
praecipitari iubebat: he ordered his life to be taken beforehand (But why should anyone express his desire to die?)
albesco : to become white
vermiculus: a (little) worm (Diminutive of vermis, corresponding exactly with the English worm)
sterno adposito: in classical Latin the subject of an abl.abs. can’t be the subject of the sentence, but here it is.
sector sectatus sum: to pursue, hunt after
capite suppuratum reddebat obtunsione oris: he (the starling) left (him) being suppurated (i.e. discharging pus) on his head because of the beating (obtunsio) of the beak.
medio ventre: in the middle of his belly
disseco dissicui dissectum: to cut apart
fundo fudi fusum: to pour out
monopodius: one-footed (Greek word)
luscinius: one-eyed (The word only occurs here and this definition is both given by Lewis and Short and in the Latin German Georges dictionaries, but this word can’t be separated from luscinius `nightingale’. If I remember well, a blinded bird is thought to sing better than a fully eyed bird. Could it be that Romans kept nightingales and blinded them? Thus far I have been unable to confirm this hypothesis.)
fero tuli latum: (here) to rob, take away
frango fregi fractum: to break in pieces
extinguo extinxi extinctum: to kill
barbarico habitu: in barbaric dress
deliciae –arum: lover, sweetheart (though feminine, the lovers can be male too)
verenda –orum: the private parts
applico osculis: to give kisses
pene prominentem: standing out with a penis
ultra (+ acc.): greater than
onos: ass, donkey (Greek word, onon is a Greek acc.)
dito: to enrich
sacerdotio Herculis rustici praeposuit: In put him in charge of (praepono + dat.) the priesthood of Rural Hercules. (This specific cult is further unknown, though Hercules was widely venerated at Rome.)