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Is There An Antidote To Caesar? The Despot As Venenum And Veneficus

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Chapter Summary

Venena (poisons) loom large in the literary portrayals of Caligula and Nero, whom the main sources depict as poisoners on an unprecedented scale. This chapter examines the interactions of venena and despotism to illustrate the ways in which the former signify despotism's fundamentally deceptive and subversive nature. The verb venenare and its synonyms medicare and inficere meant not only "to poison" but also "to dye". Venenum combined with adjectives of nationality, indicated purple or violet dyesmuch sought-after for luxury fabrics and cosmetics. Purple symbolized the power of political office, and was increasingly identified with the emperor, becoming also a byword for tyranny. The thralldom of the metaphorical audience - the Roman people - was made possible by the spell-binding connotations of venena as instruments of the conjurerdespots, creators of deceptive novelty in their love for accomplishing the impossible.

Keywords: Caligula; Nero; Roman people; Venenum

10.1163/ej.9789004187757.i-439.55
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