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Caligula with Mary Beard

Caligula with Mary Beard

Mon Jul 29, 9-10pm, BBC2

By Phil Harrison
The name Caligula might now be a byword for unimaginable decadence and cruelty. But according to Mary Beard, it was actually a pet name given to him as a child which meant something approximate to ‘Bootikins’. That’s the first of many surprises embedded in this engaging documentary.

Beard is never willing to simply swallow accepted wisdom when a good root around might uncover something more revelatory. And so it is here as Beard slays a few Roman sacred cows. Did Caligula really knock boots with his sisters? Did he really cover the walls of his palaces with mirrors so that he could literally watch his back at all times? Did his horse have its own palace and consular position?

Behind many of these myths and half-truths, Beard manages to locate universal facts about the psychology of power and paranoia that are, in their way, much more shocking and universal.

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