In the Commode
by Kevin Probst
In the year 190 AD an emperor ascended to the throne of Rome. His was Commodus, the son of Marcus Aurelius. Commodus was soon obsessed with grandiose delusions of himself. He was preoccupied with obtaining fame and popularity. He was infected with a malignant form of narcissism. His vanity and conceit worsened over the course of time. Dio Cassius was a contemporary of Commodus. His observations led him to make this statement: “from a kingdom of gold to one of rust and iron.” He was declaring Commodus’ reign as the beginning of the end for the Roman Empire.
Commodus was obsessed with emulating Lincolnian figures. Hercules was his favorite. He walked about in a leopard skin in an attempt to actualize his fantasy. He believed himself to be the very center of the universe. He would often go to the coliseum to ‘fight’ gladiators who carried wooden swords and he would kill wild beasts who were chained to immovable posts. After winning ‘great victories’ he would expect his subjects to pay homage to him.
Commodus had acquired very little knowledge of foreign policy in spite of the fact that he was an apprentice to his father for several years before he became emperor. His father, Marcus Aurelius, had spent years in pursuit of barbarian tribes along the Danubean frontier. But, Commodus, in spite of his general’s call for more troops to fight off the barbarians, withdrew forces and abandoned the mission altogether thus subjecting Rome to the real and present danger of terroristic foreigners.
It was not uncommon for corrupt political figures to be promoted to powerful positions under Commodus. It seems they were never vetted properly or there were simply no honest and competent individuals to choose from.
So glory starved was Commodus that he was gifted with all the awards in the Empire. Even though he had done nothing to deserve these awards he insisted that he receive them with much fanfare. I’m sure he probably claimed authorship to a book that was ghost written by someone else.
Commodus saw himself as uniquely qualified to bring about a new order within the empire after the economy slumped into a deep recession. He declared himself the new Romulus and renamed the city Colonia Lucia Annia Commodiana.
Dio Cassius declared that Commodus was “not naturally wicked” but that his “cowardice made him the slave of his companions and that it was through them that he missed the better life” and descended into the evil that eventually overcame him and contributed to the destruction of his empire.
Ironically, Dio Cassius’ life was ended by a wrestler named Narcissus who strangled him to death in his bath. Some say he was strangled while sitting on the commode which was subsequently named after him. Statues erected in his honor were toppled and the city’s name was restored.
When I was researching this information for this article I noticed that Commodus had some similar characteristics of a very prominent politician in our modern age. But I know that we clearly believe now that “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” We would never elect a narcissist as president of our great country. We are way too civilized and smart to ever turn our great country over to a megalomaniac. We love our country too much to elect a man who would appoint thugs, or call a cowardly retreat from the battlefront of Iraq or Afghanistan. We would never elect a man who would turn his back on allies who have befriended us for half a century. We would never elect a man who would accept awards he never earned or claim to write books he never wrote. Such dishonesty and self-worship we would never tolerate…or would we???