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The Pumpkinification of Claudius

The Pumpkinification of Claudius

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The Apocolocyntosis Claudii, literally The Pumpkinification of (the Divine) Claudius, is a political satire on the Roman emperor Claudius
Claudius
Claudius , was Roman Emperor from 41 to 54. A member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, he was the son of Drusus and Antonia Minor. He was born at Lugdunum in Gaul and was the first Roman Emperor to be born outside Italy...

, probably written by Seneca the Younger
Seneca the Younger
Lucius Annaeus Seneca was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and in one work humorist, of the Silver Age of Latin literature. He was tutor and later advisor to emperor Nero...

. It is the only example of Menippean satire
Menippean satire
The genre of Menippean satire is a form of satire, usually in prose, which has a length and structure similar to a novel and is characterized by attacking mental attitudes instead of specific individuals...

 from the classical era that has survived. The title plays upon "apotheosis
Apotheosis
Apotheosis is the glorification of a subject to divine level. The term has meanings in theology, where it refers to a belief, and in art, where it refers to a genre.In theology, the term apotheosis refers to the idea that an individual has been raised to godlike stature...

", the process by which dead Roman emperors were recognized as gods.

"Apocolocyntosis" is in fact Latinized Greek, and sometimes transliterated Apokolokyntosis. In the manuscripts the anonymous work bears the title Ludus de morte Divi Claudii ("Play on the death of the Divine Claudius"). The title Apokolokyntosis (Ἀποκολοκύντωσις, "Pumpkinification" or "Gourdification") comes from the Roman historian Dio Cassius
Dio Cassius
Lucius Cassius Dio Cocceianus , known in English as Cassius Dio, Dio Cassius, or Dio was a Roman consul and a noted historian writing in Greek...

, who wrote in Greek. Dio Cassius attributed authorship of a satirical text on the death of Claudius, called Apokolokyntosis, to Seneca the Younger. Only much later was the work referred to by Dio Cassius identified (with some degree of uncertainty) with the "Ludus" text.

Plot


The work traces the death of Claudius, his ascent to heaven and judgment by the gods, and his eventual descent to Hades
Hades
Hades , Hadēs, originally , Haidēs or , Aidēs , meaning "the unseen") was the ancient Greek god of the underworld. The genitive , Haidou, was an elision to denote locality: "[the house/dominion] of Hades". Eventually, the nominative came to designate the abode of the dead.In Greek mythology, Hades...

. At each turn, of course, Seneca mocks the late emperor's personal failings, most notably his arrogant cruelty and his inarticulateness. After Mercury
Mercury (mythology)
Mercury was a messenger who wore winged sandals, and a god of trade, the son of Maia Maiestas and Jupiter in Roman mythology. His name is related to the Latin word merx , mercari , and merces...

 persuades Clotho
Clotho
Clotho is one of the Three Fates or Moirae, in ancient Greek mythology. Her Roman equivalent is Nona. Clotho was responsible for spinning the thread of human life. She also made major decisions, such as when a person was born, thus in effect controlling people's lives...

 to kill the emperor, Claudius walks to Mount Olympus
Mount Olympus
Mount Olympus is the highest mountain in Greece, located on the border between Thessaly and Macedonia, about 100 kilometres away from Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city. Mount Olympus has 52 peaks. The highest peak Mytikas, meaning "nose", rises to 2,917 metres...

, where he convinces Hercules
Hercules
Hercules is the Roman name for Greek demigod Heracles, son of Zeus , and the mortal Alcmene...

 to let the gods hear his suit for deification in a session of the divine senate
Roman Senate
The Senate of the Roman Republic was a political institution in the ancient Roman Republic, however, it was not an elected body, but one whose members were appointed by the consuls, and later by the censors. After a magistrate served his term in office, it usually was followed with automatic...

. Proceedings are in Claudius' favor until Augustus
Augustus
Augustus ;23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) is considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire, which he ruled alone from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.The dates of his rule are contemporary dates; Augustus lived under two calendars, the Roman Republican until 45 BC, and the Julian...

 delivers a long and sincere speech listing some of Claudius' most notorious crimes. Unfortunately most of the speeches of the gods are lost through a large gap in the text. Mercury
Mercury (mythology)
Mercury was a messenger who wore winged sandals, and a god of trade, the son of Maia Maiestas and Jupiter in Roman mythology. His name is related to the Latin word merx , mercari , and merces...

 escorts him to Hades. On the way, they see the funeral procession for the emperor, in which a crew of venal characters mourn the loss of the perpetual Saturnalia
Saturnalia
Saturnalia is an Ancient Roman festival/ celebration held in honour of Saturn , the youngest of the Titans, father of the major gods of the Greeks and Romans, and son of Uranus and Gaia...

 of the previous reign. In Hades, Claudius is greeted by the ghosts of all the friends he has murdered. These shades carry him off to be punished, and the doom of the gods is that he should shake dice forever in a box with no bottom (gambling was one of Claudius' vices): every time he tries to throw the dice they fall out and he has to search the ground for them. Suddenly Caligula
Caligula
Caligula , also known as Gaius, was Roman Emperor from 37 AD to 41 AD. Caligula was a member of the house of rulers conventionally known as the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Caligula's father Germanicus, the nephew and adopted son of Emperor Tiberius, was a very successful general and one of Rome's most...

 turns up, claims that Claudius is an ex-slave of his, and hands him over to be a law clerk in the court of the underworld.

Context


Seneca had some personal reason for satirizing Claudius, as the emperor had banished him to Corsica
Corsica
Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean Sea. It is located west of Italy, southeast of the French mainland, and north of the island of Sardinia....

. In addition, the political climate after the emperor's death may have made attacks on him acceptable. However, alongside these personal considerations, Seneca appears also to have been concerned with what he saw as an overuse of apotheosis
Apotheosis
Apotheosis is the glorification of a subject to divine level. The term has meanings in theology, where it refers to a belief, and in art, where it refers to a genre.In theology, the term apotheosis refers to the idea that an individual has been raised to godlike stature...

 as a political tool. If an emperor as flawed as Claudius could receive such treatment, he argued elsewhere, then people would cease to believe in the gods at all. A reading of the text shows Seneca was not above flattery of the new emperor — such as writing that Nero would live longer and be wiser than the legendary Nestor
Nestor (mythology)
In Greek mythology, Nestor of Gerenia was the son of Neleus and Chloris and the King of Pylos. He became king after Heracles killed Neleus and all of Nestor's siblings...

.