Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Top Of My Head, Part III - Monster

(Note - extremely adult themes)

How appropriate it is to be writing of the life of Tiberius on the evening of Halloween. I hopefully won't be too long, for I find writing about him even more distasteful than reading about him.

Tiberius was the most monstrous of the Julio-Claudians. In his 'retirement' on Capri, he was an active paedophile. In recent years, there have been some attempts to suggest that he was not, but I think the evidence suggests that he was not a mere victim of historical gossip and Flavian propaganda, and that the evidence of the guilt of his actions, and of the self-knowledge that he knew that what he was doing was wrong, was written on his face. 

Given that these essays are historical guessing games about the brain functions of four weirdos who have all been dead for two millenia, it seems only appropriate to alight on matters other than his disgusting perversions. As I noted last night, all of the Julio-Claudians drank like fishes, but Tiberius might have been the heaviest drinker of them all. Whether he felt the need to use alcohol as a dopamine regulator to help him get the quality of sleep he needed in order to perform to the standard expected of him or whether he was just a bog standard functioning alcoholic can never be known. However, Tiberius retired from public life more often than Frank Sinatra. On at least one occasion, his justification for doing so was his need to rest. Augustus worked Tiberius very hard, for sure (given the way in which his adopted son led his life during his own 'On Golden Pond' years, with the Golden Pond in question being Mare Nostrum, perhaps the old man knew what he was doing), but it is perfectly possible that he required significant rest periods, and that he eventually found exertion increasingly difficult with age - perhaps a marker of Parkinsonian illness.

In later life, he was reported as stooping. That might have been a function of mere age, but it might also suggest some sort of posture problem consonant with Parkinsonian illnesss.

There are two aspects of Tiberius's life which are of very great interest to the student of dopamine illness, and Oliver Sacks touches on both of them in 'Awakenings'. 

In that book, Sacks suggests that one of the most important aspects of treating Parkinsonism is for the Parkinsonian to establish even just one relationship wiith another human being that keeps them rooted in the real world. This was precisely the case with Tiberius. He had a relationship of the type that Sacks describes, having been extremely attached to his first wife, Vipsania, and was devastated when he was ordered to divorce her for political reasons. Suetonius records how Tiberius was devastated when they subsequently met in the street  - reading between the lines, it is not difficult to imagine that he engineered these meetings.

In my brief and not particularly illustrious career as a criminal justice professional, I once came across a child molester who had been convicted of those disgusting offences on two occasions. The interval between his convictions was nearly fifty years. He had married after the first one, and been widowed before the second. It was not difficult to imagine that the marriage had had a dampening effect upon a perversion that remained as deep-seated in his old age as in his youth. In light of that, it is perhaps pointless to speculate upon whether history might have taken a different course had Augustus not disrupted the marriage of Tiberius and Vipsania, but it sticks in the mind nonetheless. 

(It is interesting to note that two of the other three Julio-Claudians might have had strong grounding relationships of that type. Caligula, whose relationship with reality might be described as a passing acquaintance at the best of times, might have enjoyed one with his fourth wife Caesonia. Claudius might also have enjoyed that type of strong relationship with the prostitute Calpurnia. However, Claudius being the unpleasant, ambitious and duplicitous person that he was he had no hesitation in dumping Calpurnia when the prospect of a politically much more advantageous marriage to Messalina raised its head; and with that wife, he could at least be said to have met his match. Nero did not seem to have such a relationship, his strongest relationship being with his mother Agripinilla, whose murder he eventually ordered, the demented mummy's boy finally turning on the mother who might have done murder for him.)

The other aspect is Sacks's discussion of how the Parkinsonian's relationship with space is disrupted, and his speculation on how a Parkinsonian's wellbeing might be improved by placing them on a boat in the middle of the ocean. I think, I believe, that the need to be isolated in the middle of empty space that being on a boat in the middle of the ocean might serve could explain why Tiberius chose islands, first Rhodes, then Capri, as his habitats. 

They did, of course, provide ample means of engaging in his hobby of having enemies thrown to their deaths from cliff-top paths, a form of murder at which he was extremely proficient. However, it is easy to imagine that in some perverse way, the idea of not merely being on the ocean but actually living on the ocean, of being able to calibrate his relationship with the space around through maritime living in precisely the manner suggested by Sacks, could have given him some peace. 

However, as with so much else in these essays his real reasons for choosing island life can only be speculated upon. In 'I, Claudius', Robert Graves put his own speculation regarding Tiberius's choice of quarters into the mouth of Claudius - that living on islands enabled him to conduct his perversions in the open air. 

The life of Tiberius should be thrown in the face of every reductionist who states that human beings are mere creatures of instinct, nothing but guts and glands, and that right and wrong are nothing more than the constructs of a highly-evolved primate brain.  It is too easy on him to try to explain his behaviour by saying that he was a 'moral imbecile',  a phrase that was commonly used in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to describe those who exhibited extravagant, usually sexual and often sexually perverted, behaviour as a consequence of having suffered from what would now be recognised as some kind of dopamine dysfunction. Chroniclers of Tiberius should not try to medicalise his sexual behaviour; such efforts attempt to mitigate the actions of someone who I believe was a very bad man by suggesting that he might merely have been a mad one.

I think that Tiberius did behave in the manner in which he is alleged to have done, and that although there is perhaps some evidence of the existence of a neurological disorder being at work that might have been able to affect his decision-making processes, I think that he was perfectly aware of what he was doing and that he knew that what he was doing was wrong, but that he elected to keep on doing it anyway. One of the difficulties of suffering from chronic illness which all sufferers of chronic illness must face every day of their lives is not giving in to it; in other words, making sure that they are more than a collection of symptoms and pathologies, and taking responsibility for their actions, defining their illness in terms of themselves, rather than defining themselves in terms of their illness. If he was ill, we cannot know whether Tiberius was ever aware that he might have been ill; but I think that we do know enough to speculate with some confidence that he did know his actions were wrong, and if that is the case then he was the master of his illness; it had not mastered him, which makes his actions all the more terrible and horrible. As I wrote earlier, the reasons which enable me to reach this conclusion might just have been all over his face. 

Although other writers indicate that he wore bandages of some kind on his face, if memory serves Suetonius records that Tiberius was prone to pimpling. This could very well suggest that he suffered from 'seborrhoea', an effect which is very common in Parkinsonian illness and which is often the sign that the sufferer is under stress. Having done away with Sejanus, why would he be under stress on Capri? He had no political predators. He was living where he wanted, doing what he wanted, living the life he wanted. He ruled the known world. What could be wrong? 

In my opinion, he was under stress because he knew that the type of life he was leading was fundamentally wrong, but continued to do it anyway. In reading the life of Tiberius, the alcoholic, pederastic, murderous dabbler in black magic, one is so very grateful to live in days after his, his world blown away by the gentle breath of a Galilean carpenter. Tiberius was a bogeyman. He was a monster.

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