Caligula’s Pearls…and other Roman Jewels.
Oh…let me tell you folks this…Gaius Caligula was one heck of
a dude. He executed, beheaded, and ordered some of his men to
commit suicide. He had planks stretched across a bay in order to
do nothing more than strut back and forth for days over the
waters for all to see his splendor. His mammoth games ultimately
emptied his treasury. So he taxed all…and passed a law that
those who did not bequeath him everything had committed a capital
offense. Of course, those who did bequeath, were killed, so as
not to be able to un-bequeath. Bequeathing, for Caligula, ranked
prime in the order of things. So… what has this all to do with
his pearls, you may well ask. Hang in there folks, I’m giving you
background. Anyone out there want me to stop and cut straight to
the chase? No? Okay then. Listen.
For those of you who want to know if Caligula looked anything
like Malcolm McDowell…the answer is no. Caligula is described
as tall and hairy and bald…with a stern face which he had
developed into an art form by spending hours in front of a
mirror, practicing his terrorizing expressions till he had them
down pat. Suetonius, a Roman historian of the day, considered the
emperor mad as a hatter. So strongly did ol’ Caligula terrorize
the people, that when he passed on to the great beyond, no one
dared to believe his was dead. Now folks…that is influence.
At one point in his life, Caligula took his horse, an animal by
the name of Incitatus, and brought him into the Roman senate,
and elevated him to the rank of Consul. Now…I don’t care how
smart a horse may be…but Consul!!! Nothing more than a senator
at best I say. Now, Incitatus was now not only Consul, but to
show his new rank to all, our dear equine wore a necklace of
pearls. Yes my friends, Incitatus wore a necklace of pearls while
attending the senate as Consul. Let me add one little thing
here…if any of you want a pearl necklace for your horse, or
even for yourselves in fact…why…by all means let me know.
Who knows…in a past life, I might have been Caligula’s jeweler.
Or at least his horse’s jeweler. Caligula himself, by the way,
wore slippers embroidered with pearls. His couches…those
ottomans upon which the Romans rested after feast and orgy, were
laden with gold and pearls.
To go on to others who wore and had pearls…I offer you these
little bits and pieces. Nero…you know…the fiddler? Well, his
scepter and his throne were made of pearls. Ahh…those sea
jewels attracted many. Nero outfitted his actors with masks of
pearls. No shabby theatrics for our emperor. No sirree.
The temple of Venus was decorated with…yup…you guessed
it…pearls. From that time back in the beginning of
things…when some poor fisherman caught a couple of mollusks for
din-din and opened them up and found these shiny white
things…pearls became the status symbol of the wealthy and the
degenerates. Today, of course, jewels and jewelry have been
elevated to a state of subdued elegance. No? Anyway…back to
Rome. Pliny-the-writer noted that not only were the dresses of
the wealthy super-saturated with pearls, but, he added, it wasn’t
enough for them to wear the stuff, they needed even more of these
gems so they could show, in their orgiastic extravagance, their
wealth by stomping all over them. They even wore them to bed in
order not to lose sight of their wealth.
When Pompey strode through the streets of Rome in one
procession, his bearers carried thirty three crowns made of
pearls. Ah yes…the Rome of yesteryear…those marvelous days
when oysters worked overtime and pearl stringers and jewelers
And there ya have it.
That’s it for this week folks.
Catch you all next week.
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