Apocolocyntosis (Sive Ludus de morte Claudii Neronis)

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, 1st c. A.D., several editions

In March 1664/5, Lister recorded reading the Apocolocyntosis. 

Literally this translates as ‘The Pumpkinification of (the Divine) Claudius’.  It was a political satire on the Roman emperor Claudius, probably written by Seneca the Younger. It is the only example of Menippean satire from the classical era that has survived, its title a pun upon the term apotheosis or deification of the emperor.  In the manuscripts the anonymous work bears the title Ludus de morte Clau Caesaris Claudii (‘Play on the death of the Divine Claudius’.)

In the work, the dead Claudius is presented to Hercules, who mistakes him for sea-monster to be slain, Claudius’s body described as ‘born when the gods were in a rage’. As Susanna Morton Braund has indicated, a perennially angry man with lack of self-control over his own body was often portrayed in Roman literature as monstrous.  Claudius as such was the opposite of the ideal ruler, who governed with clementia or exercise of self-restraint 1  Claudius is indeed eventually ejected from heaven, descending to hell via the Earth, where he witnesses his own funeral.

The Emperor Nero arranged for the publication of this work by his closest political advisor. 2

  1. Susanna Morton Braund, ‘Quasi Homo’: Distortion and Contortion in Seneca’s Apocolocyntosis’, Arethusa 31, 3 (Fall 1998), 285-311.
  2. ‘Access and Ritual’, in The Cambridge Ancient History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 295.

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