Dio Cè: A Singular Quest

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Concern with avoiding certain forms of prostitution is also confirmed in an anecdote by Dio Cassius. Informers report the fact and the knight is imprisoned, to await execution. Later, he is released, as the emperor had died in the meantime. Tharsia had regal vestments, whereas her daughter had only common clothes. The idea was to have the foster child killed by Theophilus, her slave servus vilicus.


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It is especially thanks to a tragedy by Euripides, the Antiope , that we know the tale. Following a relationship with Zeus, Antiope gave birth to Zethus and Amphion. She was forced to live in Thebes, in the home of Lycus, along with his wife Dirce. The latter abused Antiope, treating her as a slave. Dirce came across the house of a herdsman, who had fostered Zethus and Amphion.

She summoned the two of them to kill Antiope. They were to tie her to the horns of a bull. However, their foster father revealed to them that the woman they were meant to kill was their mother. Thus it was that they tied Dirce to the bull, and it was Dirce that perished violently and not Antiope. It may well account for the inclusion of the story of Dionysias in the novel. In them we have two explicit examples of the justness of the Augustan and Severan law entrusting men with this task.

As a consequence of the constitutio Antoniniana , local laws in the provinces were increasingly replaced by Roman law, and many Egyptian papyri prove that a mother could no more figure as a tutrix of children. He was thought to be a clever thinker, a pious and righteous man, a perfect husband and father, a mighty ruler, though never greedy for power.

A comparison could be made with the other Apollonius, the protagonist of the Life of Apollonius , dedicated to Julia Domna by Philostratus. It paints a picture of a perfect philosopher and a divine man. Caracalla respected Apollonius of Tyana and had a funerary monument built for him.


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In place of a divine man, philosopher, and righteous king, we find a cruel tyrant. The story of Apollonius King of Tyre is by no means a history of Caracalla in disguise, even if many details were inspired by his deeds. The novel itself can be taken as a complex riddle, constantly challenging us to recognise something or somebody hidden within the plot.

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There are constant risks of pitfalls because the riddles are difficult to unravel. The reader is asked to recognise someone or something, but the answer is not necessarily one thing, or another. The best solution can appear baffling. The reader immediately recognises the shipwrecked man in Cyrene as the alter ego of Odysseus at the court of the Phaeaces, but closer observation reveals an allusion to Caracalla and his love for thermal baths and massages. There are several inconsistencies in the story. They help provide other clues. The unpredictable and wise Caracalla, disguised as Apollonius, is elusive and ambiguous.

This is especially because the first, fundamental riddle was not correctly answered by Apollonius himself and it hides something else. The inconsistency is evident because the tale presents Antiochus as the lover and quasi husband of his daughter, but the riddle refers to other vices:. Many scholars see the answer to the riddle as unsatisfactory and have put forward different solutions.

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Some have recognised two 99 or three riddles artificially stitched together. They have searched for a solution independent of the situation they are tied to in the novel. Gioachino Chiarini and Danny Praet correctly recognised that the riddle was independent from the precedent account about Antiochus and resorted to Egyptian mythology to find the right answer.

Many readers clearly recognised in the story of Antiochus, a famous story from early Hellenistic times. This was a true event that took place in Antioch, with King Antiochus as the protagonist. She was the beautiful young daughter of Demetrius Poliorcetes, King of Macedon.

Antiochus, the son of Seleucus, had fallen in love with the same girl. He kept his feelings to himself, falling ill because of his hidden passion. A famous physician, allegedly Erasistratus, discovered the origin of his malaise. Seleucus appreciated the honesty and reserved nature of his son and made him king of the eastern satrapies. Many eastern cities in the Imperial Age kept the Seleucid era in their chronology, and some Ionian cities especially Smyrna worshipped Aphrodite Stratonikis, making it easy to see how the first two kings of the Hellenistic kingdom of Syria were still remembered in the Severan Age.

This means that many readers would have easily recognised the story of Antiochus and his beloved Stratonice in the derogatory account of the incestuous Antiochus.

Dio C'e : A Singular Quest

The author of the novel alludes to a famous case of incest, although the official Seleucid account asserts that incest was actually carefully avoided by Seleucus and his son Antiochus. The outline of this Seleucid story was influenced by the model of Hippolytus and Phaedra. Here the young protagonist did not want to cheat on his father, inspiring a possible case of incest with the stepmother and not the daughter. A corrupt relationship with the mother is concealed in the riddle maternam carnem vescor.

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The answer to the riddle was similar to that of Oedipus to the Sphinx. The challenge lay in recognising himself in the riddle, with the questioner describing the questioned man himself. Oedipus answered the Sphinx correctly but was unable to recognise himself in the oracles.

These spoke of a man who was to kill his father, marry his mother and bring pestilence upon Thebes. He would not believe the consequent interpretation by Teiresias, who said that this man was Oedipus himself. He did not recognise himself non invenio. Julia Domna was said to be both his mother and wife. He could not find the son because he himself was the son. Oedipus fits as an answer, but the missing brother is the outstanding feature which encourages us to single out Caracalla.

Because of his relation with his mother Julia Domna, word was going around that he was a new Oedipus. In comparison with previous readings of many episodes of the novel, this result looks like a reversed image reflected in a mirror, equal but opposite.

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Apollonius looks to Antiochus when answering, and it iss as if he sees himself in a mirror. Apollonius is, to some extent, a literary decoy disguising Caracalla who, as a sole ruler, was criticised because he took his mother for his wife. In a Byzantine period inscription from Pergamon was published. The last two lines, if integrated so, follow the Hist.

The three preserved clauses in the inscription fit the emperor like a glove. The generous donor of grain, friend to the poor fisherman, great athlete, and righteous judge is replaced by an incestuous and cruel emperor. Apollonius was dismissed by Antiochus, went back to Tyre and found himself at a loose end. He consulted his secret books and the books of the Chaldean Oracles. In there he found confirmation of what he already thought he knew, that Antiochus was planning to kill him. His answer was to sail to Tharsus. Septimius Severus was an expert astrologist who sometimes consulted the Chaldean Oracles.

These had been brought to Rome by his father from temples in Egypt. This new approach, depicting a wicked version of Caracalla, will be useful because we can now use the myth of Oedipus as a clue to understanding the novel. We know that contemporaries compared Caracalla and his mother to Oedipus and Jocasta. This is a literary topos. In Gabriele Marasco put together and studied numerous testimonies of the literary transformation of the story of Severus, Julia Domna, Caracalla, and Geta.

Their history was blended into a tragic tale, inspired by the Greek tragedies about Oedipus. Herodian reports that in Caracalla visited Alexandria in Egypt. He also alludes to the murder of his brother Geta, his mother fitting into the role of Jocasta and his imitation of Alexander.

There are two variants to this game of identifying personalities.

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Oedipus can be identified with either Caracalla, given his marriage to his mother, or Septimius Severus, with two rival sons, similar to Eteocles and Polynikes. In Late Antiquity the first variant was reworked by various authors. All these authors worked from the same traditional source which asserted that Caracalla was driven to marry his stepmother by his libido impatiens libidinis.

Aurelius Victor and the Historia Augusta add other details, namely that Julia Domna drew Caracalla into temptation, appearing naked before him. She impelled her stepson to marry her. If the Historia Augusta is right, Julia would have been the second wife of the Emperor and Caracalla the lover of his stepmother. Such a story corresponds to and is a copy of that of Antiochus and Stratonice. This story emerges in the first chapters of the Hist. Such a hypothesis presupposes that the readers understood the riddle and recognised Caracalla as its protagonist.

The latter was hesitating over accepting the proposal of incest because it was illicit. She answered that an emperor was expected to make laws, but not to abide by them. The model was the above quoted speech by Seleucus, who gave his young wife Stratonice to his son Antiochus to marry. He justified this by saying that it was a simple matter that whatever the king ordered was lawful.

The second variant, the Septimius Severus story, focuses on Eteocles and Polynikes. It is found early on in Herodian. He reports of a plan to divide the Roman Empire into two parts and assign half each to the two rival brothers, Caracalla and Geta.