Why Donald Trump really IS like Julius Caesar
After many months struggling for an ancient parallel for Donald Trump, the American press seems to have latched onto Julius Caesar. Part of the beauty of it is that it works for both sides. It is hard to make the equation with Nero, say, work for supporters and detractors alike (you might want to suspend judgent on Nero, but you have to have tremendous confidence in your own revisionism actually to make him a figure of positive admiration). Caesar does just fine. For the Democrats and unhappy Republicans, he is the man who brought down the democracy and ushered in the autocratic rule of the emperors. For the Trumpites themselves, Caesar is the man who cleared up the mess of the late Republic and ushered in the Pax Romana (aka Americana).
The truth is that most of these comparison are as fragile and misleading as any of the party-game-style comparisons between modern politicians and Romans ('Which Roman is Jeremy Corbyn most like?'... well, none, really). And they generally mangle Roman politics (turning Rome, for example, into a two party state, with a stand-off between optimates and populares), as much as they mangle Trump's aims and agenda.
But most of them (not all, to be fair) miss out the one thing they really do have in common.
Their hair, or lack of it.
As Suetonius makes clear in his biography (chap 45):
"He was rather too picky in the care of hos body, so that he was not only carefully trimmed and shaved, but was plucked too, as some have accused him; in fact, he put up with the disfigurement of his baldness very badly, often suffering the taunts of enemies on that score. And so he used to draw his thinning hair over from the top of his head, and out of all the honours decreed to him by the senate and people there was none other that he accepted or made use of more gladly than the right to wear a laurel wreath at all times."
Or in the Latin (as there are one or two places where you might translate slightly differently): "Circa corporis curam morosior, ut non solum tonderetur diligenter ac raderetur, sed velleretur etiam, ut quidam exprobraverunt, calvitii vero deformitatem iniquissime ferret, saepe obtrectatorum iocis obnoxiam expertus. Ideoque et deficientem capillum revocare a vertice adsueverat et ex omnibus decretis sibi a senatu populoque honoribus non aliud aut recepit aut usurpavit libentius quam ius laureae coronae perpetuo gestandae."
What this means is that in some way Julius Caesar did a Trump-style cover up (though Trump can't exactly use the laurel wreath tactic).
Perhaps he had a liitle more excuse, as baldness was one of the big bogeys for the Roman man and the big topic for snide jokes. "Calvus" (baldie) was one of those border-line insulting Roman "surnames", like "Flaccus" (flabby) or "Naso" (big nose). And one of the best jibes against the emperor Domitian was to call him a "bald Nero". It occasionally stalked women too. A bit of well known banter from the first emperor Augustus (reported in Macrobius' Saturnalia) centred on an encounter with his spirited (to put it favourably) daughter Julia. The emperor was passing her room and spotted her maids pulling out her grey hairs. Some time later, when they had finished, he walked in and -- in apparent innocence -- asked her if she would rather be bald or grey? "Grey, Daddy', she replied. So why are you getting your maids to make to bald then?
But my favourite story about Julius Caesar is also from Suetonius' biography. It is about the songs that his soldiers sang as they walked through the streets to celebrate his Triumph. The tradition was that these songs were on the ribald side, at the expense of the successful general. But in Caesar's case, the squaddies sang words to the effect of "Romans lock up your wives, the bald adulter's back in town.' I don't imagine that the 'adulterer' bit was very painful; but the 'bald' bit must have stung.
How different things were then, eh?