Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Till Birnam wood do come to Dunsinane...

With Australian politics in the news a bit lately, I thought I’d join in the action. Back when she was merely deputy PM, Julia Gillard famously said regarding her own leadership aspirations:
"There's more chance of me becoming the full-forward for the Dogs than there is any chance of a change in the Labor Party."
This kind of statement should always be taken with a grain of salt, and (if you ask me) belongs in the same category as ‘the leader has my full support’, which, at least in NSW politics, indicates that the knives are out, and a leadership change is imminent.

According to Suetonius, the Roman Emperor Caligula (aka Gaius) was once told a similar thing by the emperor Tiberius' astrologer – that he had as much chance of becoming emperor as riding a horse across the Gulf of Baiae. So, when in due course Caligula did become emperor in 37 AD, he apparently constructed a huge temporary floating bridge out of ships, spanning the two miles from Puteoli to Baiae, and rode his horse across it.

Here's how Suetonius himself describes and explains it:
Nam Baiarum medium intervallum ad Puteolanas moles, trium milium et sescentorum fere passuum spatium, ponte coniunxit contractis undique onerariis navibus et ordine duplici ad ancoras conlocatis superiectoque terreno ac derecto in Appiae viae formam.

For he made a bridge, of about three miles and a half in length, from Baiae to the jetty at Puteoli, collecting trading vessels from all quarters, mooring them in two rows by their anchors, and spreading earth upon them to form a viaduct, after the fashion of the Appian Way.

Per hunc pontem ultro citro commeavit biduo continenti, primo die phalerato equo insignisque quercea corona et caetra et gladio aureaque chlamyde, postridie quadrigario habitu curriculoque biiugi famosorum equorum... comitante praetorianorum agmine et in essedis cohorte amicorum.

This bridge he crossed and recrossed for two days together; the first day mounted on a horse richly decorated, wearing on his head a crown of oak leaves, armed with a battle-axe, a small Spanish shield and a sword, and in a cloak made of cloth of gold; the day following, in the habit of a charioteer, standing in a chariot, drawn by two high-bred horses... with a cohort of the praetorian guards attending him, and a party of his friends in Gallic war chariots.

Scio plerosque existimasse talem a Gaio pontem excogitatum aemulatione Xerxis... alios, ut Germaniam et Britanniam, quibus imminebat, alicuius inmensi operis fama territaret.

Most people, I know, are of the opinion, that this bridge was designed by Gaius, in imitation of Xerxes, who, to the astonishment of the world, laid a bridge over the Hellespont... Others, however, thought that he did it to strike terror in Germany and Britain, which he was upon the point of invading, by the fame of such a great feat.

Sed avum meum narrantem puer audiebam, causam operis ab interioribus aulicis proditam, quod Thrasyllus mathematicus anxio de successore Tiberio et in verum nepotem proniori affirmasset non magis Gaium imperaturum quam per Baianum sinum equis discursurum.

But for myself, when I was a boy, I heard my grandfather say, that the reason assigned by palace insiders was this; when Tiberius was in some anxiety about the nomination of a successor, and rather inclined towards his grandson, Thrasyllus the astrologer had assured him, "That Gaius would no more be emperor, than he would ride on horseback across the gulf of Baiae."

(Suetonius, Life of  Caligula XIX)

In a neat little post script to the Gillard story, Adidas presented her with a pair of football boots when she did in fact replace Kevin Rudd as PM back in June this year. You can see the boots displayed in her office in this photo (labelled #8).


MK said...

Nice Macbeth reference Sir!

Anonymous said...

i'm glad you got the reference - its relevance is not immediately obvious.