Friday, November 11, 2011

The Crimes of Elagabalus

The Crimes of Elagabalus

Adventures in the later Roman Empire

A lovely review in this week's THE of Martijn Icks' The Crimes of Elagabalus: The Life and Legacy of Rome's Decadent Boy Emperor by Judith Weingarten:

The second half of the book takes us on a tour of Elagabalus' reception through the ages. Needless to say, a sex-mad evil Oriental tyrant did not get a good press, whether dressed up by German academics ("The late revenge of the Semites on Greco-Roman culture, whose chains it had silently worn for centuries") or French psychiatrists ("As the victim of a neuropathia dominated by a quasi-unconscious exhibitionism, he would probably have ended in dementia"). But for the Decadent movement, as Icks recounts, the worm turned and Elagabalus would become an alluring androgyne and an artist: "For artist he had been! The greatest of his time and many others, without doubt."

In the 21st century, he's a strong but gentle gay guy, a Michael Jackson-like pop star, or, in the words of graphic novelist Neil Gaiman, "Heliogabolus [sic] was just a weird kid with a thing about animals and big dicks."

And for once it is a book that is affordable.