On June 16th, 2016, the final night of E3, I delivered this short talk at Glitch City Demo Night. Demo Night is about giving really interesting, REALLY short talks about a range of diverse subjects both including and not including videogames. My talk was about a famous ancient Roman sex scandal. You can watch the talk here.
This guy is Marcus Tullius Cicero. He was a Roman lawyer who lived at the same time as Julius Ceasar. He’s famous for once being consul, which is a little like the prime minster of Rome.
This guy is Publius Clodius Pulcher. Clodius was a famous populist politician and a playboy.
I’m going to tell you the story of their ridiculous feud and disgusting deaths.
Before we start, you gotta understand what a weirdo Cicero was. He was an extremely accomplished politician, but not a wise one. He was always a little too smart, too neutral. You had to ally yourself with a powerful protector, but Cicero didn’t do that. Clodius did. He worked for Julius Caesar.
Aaaand right off the bat: Clodius wants to have an affair with Julius Caesar’s wife! She was a member of a cult for rich women only called the cult of the Bona Dea. Clodius gets the idea that he’s going to crash a Bona Dea ceremony and bone Julius Ceasar’s wife. He dresses up in women’s clothing and sneaks in, but Caesar’s mother-in-law finds him and it goes all yakety-sax and they chase him out of the building. EVERYONE was dunking on Clodius after this. He was brought to court for SACRILEGE. Cicero destroyed Clodius’s alibi in court because his wife asked him to. (She hated Caesar’s wife.) Now everyone thought Clodius was a perverted monster, and Clodius and Cicero became DEADLY ENEMIES.
So Clodius just goes and gets Cicero exiled to the goddamn countryside for a whole year. Cicero was famous for putting down a coup, but he’d executed the members of the coup without a trial. Clodius passed a law to criminalize this. Luckily Cicero’s friend Milo was able to get the exile reversed. But the feud had escalated!
So, Clodius had a powerful socialite sister, Clodia. She had many famous boyfriends, and one apparently tried to poison her dead. She accused him of murder. And immediately Cicero is all over this shit. He defends the boyfriend in court, and he wins. His defense is BRUTAL and filled with extremely awful burns about Clodia and her brother.
By this point, Cicero and Clodius are just deadly enemies. Clodius is basically a mobster working for Julius Caesar, and meanwhile Caesar and his main rival, Pompey, are constantly at one another’s throats. The collapse of the country is beginning.
So Clodius is out campaigning in the streets for a political position with big mobs of violent dudes, because that’s how you did it back then. He was running against Cicero’s friend Milo, who got him out of exile. One day Milo and Clodius are both marching on the same road, in opposite directions, and there’s a fight. Clodius is injured. Later that night, Milo is thinking: what’s better, an alive enemy or a dead one? So Milo has his dudes, who are GLADIATORS, rush Clodius’s inn and kill him dead. Clodius’s supporters are SO ANGRY that they bring his body to the Roman senate house and BURN THE WHOLE BUILDING DOWN as his funeral pyre.
So Milo is prosecuted as a murderer. And who defends him? CICERO. But Clodius’s common supporters mobbed the courthouse, and Cicero was SO FRIGHTENED that he just basically shat himself and left. Milo had no defense, so he lost, and he was exiled.
Around this time, the Roman Republic is just collapsing, big time. Cicero gets a lot of invitations to join political alliances, but he refuses on principle. THIS IS A BAD DECISION. So after Caesar is assassinated, he ends up on Marc Antony’s hit list. So he runs. He’s in a carriage or whatever and these soldiers catch up with him and they’re like “COME OUT FOOL DIE WITH HONOR” and this shitty coward who shat himself in the courthouse comes out and actually bends his head over to make it easier for them to cut it off.
They send his head back to Rome. Someone nails it up in the forum. And then marc Antony’s wife comes up to it and takes a hat-pin and sticks it in Cicero’s dead tongue. Like “you silver-tounged asshole, you lawyer fuck, we got you now!!”
I love this story! I love it so much. It’s disgusting and sad and miserable and there is so much good detail– so much additional weird sex stuff– I haven’t been able to share with you tonight. I love it because it’s a story of real people over two thousand years ago being dicks to each other and being vulnerable and scared. Clodius and Cicero’s personalities have been so well preserved by history. You read Cicero’s writing, and you read stuff written about Clodius, and they JUMP OFF THE PAGE.
And the reason we can sympathize with these dudes is that their vulnerabilities are exposed to us across the ages. We know what it’s like to be caught in an embarrassing moment, or to make a bad social decision and end up on someone’s shit list, or to be afraid of being hurt. I sympathize so much with Cicero’s kind of wrongheaded smart-dude shittiness. I sympathize so much with Clodius being this kind of embarrassing playboy doing ridiculous shit for a Bona Dea booty-call.
I want to write this well. I want to write characters as dynamic and shitty and vulnerable as the real people whose ancient Roman scandals and booty-calls are preserved for us today. The day I write a character as shitty as Cicero or as embarrassing as Clodius, I can die, proudly, and they can nail my head anywhere they want.
Pingback: How Nero tried to kill his mom, Agrippina, with a collapsible party boat « Laura Michet's Blog