‘horse history’ is a regular addition to the blog, where we look cast a quick glance at historical or mythical horses, and the importance man has put on these creatures throughout time.
The first chapter is about Incitatus, the horse of the roman emperor Caligula.
[The emperor Caligula in bed with his horse Incitatus, as played by Malcolm Mcdowell in the 1979 Penthouse produced Caligula]
The Roman emperor Caligula, who lived from the year AD 12 to the year AD 41, has his place in history as the archetypal ‘mad emperor’, with whom all of the mad kings and politicians who have since followed, have been compared.
He is famous for his sadism, hedonistic extremes and his sexual perversions. Much of what we know comes to us from Seneca the younger, who describes orgies involving hundreds of people as well as violent whims such as throwing entire sections of the colosseum audience into the pit to be devoured by wild animals.
But one of the emperors more endearing eccentricities was the special affection he held for his favourite horse, Incitatus.
According to the writer Suetonius, Incitatus had a stable of marble with an ivory manger, purple blankets, and a collar of precious stones. it is also rumoured that the horse was attended by servants and was fed oats mixed with gold flake.
In the advanced stage of his insanity, the emperor is said to have allowed the horse to sleep with him in his private quarters.
Famously, he is said to have outraged the roman senate by appointing the horse the title of Consule, as well as motioning to grant it a place in the senate itself.
However, it is unknown whether the acts of Caligula was due to insanity, or if it was in fact an elaborate prank played on the senate in order to designate them a position below that of a horse. Later writers who were working in the employ of a succeeding emperor, would have also profited from discrediting the Emperor Caligula, and so the amount of truth to fabrication in these stories are impossible to determine. But it seems likely that Caligula promoted his horse to senator as a way to point a finger at the intrigue of the political class, as if to say, ‘rather a horse than you’.
For this, the idea of Incitatus lives on as an allegorical figure for political ineptitude.
Whether to suggest that current world leaders are insane enough to consider employing a horse for political rulership, or to suggest that a horse would in fact be preferable to certain current world leaders, the idea of the horse/senator remains a powerful satirical emblem. In todays political climate especially, the idea of a horse in the senate seems at the same time like an apt metaphor and a desirable alternative.
Hidden in the symbol of the horse/senator is the idea that faced with choice between animal simplicity, and human complexity, we all realise that the animal state, devoid of human callousness, can sometime seem like the better option. Because in a mad world, a horse will do just as good as a human.