Fancy a peak piercing the heavens, shadowing the earth. It was on a peak such as that the young emperors of old Rome balanced themselves, a precipice on either side. Did they look below, a vertigo rose to meet them; from above delirium came, while the horizon, though it hemmed the limits of vision, could not mark the frontiers of their dream. In addition there was the exaltation that altitudes produce. The valleys have their imbeciles; it is from mountains the poet and madman come. Caligula was both, sceptred at that; and with what a sceptre! One that stretched from the Rhine to the Euphrates, dominated a hundred and fifty million people; one that a mattress had given and a knife was to take away; a sceptre that lashed the earth, threatened the sky, beckoned planets and ravished the divinity of the divine.
To wield such a sceptre securely requires grace, no doubt, majesty too, but certainly strength; the latter Caligula possessed, but it was the feverish strength of one who had fathomed the unfathomable, and who sought to make its depths his own. Caligula was haunted by the intangible. His sleep was a communion with Nature, with whom he believed himself one. At times the Ocean talked to him; at others the Earth had secrets which it wished to tell. Again there was some matter of moment which he must mention to the day, and he would wander out in the vast galleries of the palace and invoke the Dawn, bidding it come and listen to his speech. The day was deaf, but there was the moon, and he prayed her to descend and share his couch. Luna declined to be the mistress of a mortal; to seduce her Caligula determined to become a god.
Nothing was easier. An emperor had but to open his veins, and in an hour he was a divinity. But the divinity which Caligula desired was not of that kind. He wished to be a god, not on Olympus alone, but on earth as well. He wished to be a palpable, tangible, living god; one that mortals could see, which was more, he knew, than could be said of the others. The mere wish was sufficient—Rome fell at his feet. The patent of divinity was in the genuflections of a nation. At once he had a temple, priests and flamens. Inexhaustible Greece was sacked again. The statues of her gods, disembarked at Rome, were decapitated, and on them the head of Caius shone.
Heretofore his dress had not been Roman, nor, for that matter, the dress of a man. On his wrists were bracelets; about his shoulders was a mantle sewn with gems; beneath was a tunic, and on his feet were the high white slippers that women wore. But when the god came the costume changed. One day he was Apollo, the nimbus on his curls, the Graces at his side; the next he was Mercury, wings at his heels, the caduceus in his hand; again he was Venus. But it was as Jupiter Latialis, armed with the thunderbolt and decorated with a great gold beard, that he appeared at his best.