Maeste Haud Est

An homage to our ancestors, via Robert Graves’s Claudius The God:

First, the squares:

There is nothing in this world, I suppose, so glorious as a Roman triumph. It is not like a triumph celebrated by some barbarous monarch over a rival king whom he has subdued: it is an honour conferred by a free people on one of their own number for a great service he has rendered them.


[ed note: Claudius was awarded this triumph for the conquest of Britain – H.M.]

The [triumphal] procession entered the City from the north-east by the Triumphal Gate and passed along the Sacred Way. Its order was as follows. First came the Senate, on foot, in its best robes, headed by the magistrates. Next, a picked body of trumpeters trained to blow triumphant marching tunes like one man. The trumpets were to call attention to the spoils, which then followed on a train of decorated wagons drawn by mules and escorted by Germans of the Household Battalion dressed in the Imperial livery. These spoils were heaps of gold and silver coin, weapons, armour, horse-furniture, jewels and gold ornaments, ingots of tin and lead, rich drinking-vessels, decorated bronze buckets and other furniture from Cymbeline’s palace at Colchester, numerous examples of ..enamel work, carved and painted…totem-poles…embroidered Druidical robes… Behind these wagons came twelve captured British chariots, the finest we could choose… Next came more wagons, drawn by horses, containing models in painted wood or clay of the towns and forts we had captured…

After these came flute players… white bulls.. priests of Jove.. acolytes… a live walrus… the skeleton of a stranded whale… a transparent-sided tank full of beavers…arms and insignia of captured chiefs, and then the captured chiefs themselves…

[Graves’s Claudius lists many more things, finally coming to himself, the Emperor, whom he describes in the third person:]…This exalted and happy personage was attired in a gold-embroidered robe and flowered tunic and bore in his right hand, which was trembling a little, a laurel bough, and in his left an ivory scepter…

You get the picture. A parade of the triumphal and glorious, displaying to the masses the spoils of war, the captives, the victorious legions, specimens of the strange flora and fauna of the conquered region, the Emperor, his wife (Messalina): all of it conveying what Poe referred to as the grandeur of Rome.

These, obviously, are not our antecedents; but our kind were indeed present. The pomp described above sets up the punchline. And Graves sends in the clowns who deliver it:

[T]he procession proper…was followed by a laughing and cheering rabble giving a mock triumph to Baba, the clown of Alexandria, who had come to Rome to improve his fortunes. He rode in a public dung-cart, to which had been yoked in a row a goat, a sheep, a pig and a fox. He was painted blue, with British woad, and dressed in a fantastic parody of triumphal dress. His cloak was a patchwork quilt and his tunic an old sack trimmed with dirty coloured ribbons. His scepter was a cabbage-stick with a dead bat tied to the end of it with a string, and his laurel branch was a thistle. Our most famous native-born clown, Augurinus, had recently consented to share the government of the Society of Vagabonds with Baba. Baba was held to resemble me closely and therefore always played the part of Caesar in the theatricals that the two of them were constantly giving in the back streets of the City. Augurinus played the part of Vitellius, or a Consul of the year, or a Colonel of the Guards, or one of my ministers, according to circumstances. He had a very lively gift for parody. On this particular occasion he represented the slave who held the crown over Baba (an inverted chamber-pot into which, every now and then, Baba’s head disappeared) and kept tickling him with a cock’s feather. Baba’s sack-tunic was torn behind and disclosed Baba’s rump, painted blue with bold red markings to make it look like a grinning human face. Baba’s hands trembled madly the whole time and he jerked his head about in caricature of my nervous tic, rolling his eyes, and whenever Augurinus [touched] him struck back with the thistle or dead bat….The spoils of this rival triumph were displayed on handcarts wheeled by ragged hawkers — kitchen refuse, broken bedsteads, filthy mattresses, rusty iron, cracked cooking-pots, and all sorts of mouldy lumber — and the prisoners were dwarfs, fat men, thin men, albinos, cripples, blind men, hydrocephalitics and men suffering from dreadful diseases or chosen for their surprising ugliness. The rest of the procession was in keeping: I am told that the models and pictures illustrating Baba’s victories were the funniest things, in a dirty way, ever seen in Rome.

Mockery is at least as old as civilization. Whenever and wherever there have been powerful and pompous rulers (and a caste of pathetic souls who live to brown-nose them), there have been dorky snark-asses like us to mock and sneer, point and laugh, underline the ridiculousness of it all.

Graves’s Claudius basically did and said what the real Claudius said and did. Graves embellished and speculated of course (it is a novel), but in response to those who accused him of simply making shit up after the success of I, Claudius, he appended a lengthy bibliography to its sequel. I don’t know my classics like I ought, but I have read Suetonius several times over the years, and Graves’s Claudius’s tolerance of mockery seems to comport with the historical record of the Emperor’s character.

It helps to have rulers who can laugh at themselves. Clinton and Reagan were like Claudius, then, but Bush and especially Richard Cheney are obviously humorless, at least about themselves, and if they had the power would surely follow Caligula (or was it Tiberius?) who, for instance, disliking reminders of his appearance and habitual depravities, banned all references to goats in any context in his presence.

(I really hope I got the adverb right. I always wanted to take Latin, but it never worked out.)


Comments: 44


I think you got “maeste” right, if you meant “sadly”, but what you probably want “minime” rather than “non.” “Maeste, non!” means “Sadly, Not!”, which might be what you want. “Maeste minime!” means “Sadly, it is so only in the smallest degree”, which is what I believe Romans said when they wanted to deny something.

The problem is that Latin does not have a “no” or a “yes”, only a complex expression depending on the *kind* and *emphasis* of negation you wanted. Bottom of this page gives you some options:

But I would probably think what you want is “Maeste haud est.”


I meant to say that “Minime” == “least so” is what Romans used commonly to deny something. I guess they want to leave a minimal possibility that they could be wrong.


The part of Suetonius that I always remember in relation to Bush is Caligula’s pride at his “inflexibility”, which he thought was a major virtue.

I, Claudius, both the book and the PBS series, is the absolute shit- definitely essential reading/viewing before making a trip to Rome. And John Hurt playing Caligula is just one of my favorite things ever.


“Don’t go in there!”


Or Caligula matter-of-factly telling his court: “bear in mind that I can treat anyone exactly as I please.”

Or like Caligula, after dwelling on the presence of some female (I forget exactly who), suddenly, madly, laughed out loud at table, and when his ministers asked to be let in on the joke, the Emperor explained: “It occurred to me that if I just give the word, [her] lovely throat will be cut.”

Yeah, bwahahafuckinghah. You just know when Bush considers any particular captured Muslim, he has the same thought about rendition.

Then there’s this..


I’d say you can go back at least as far as Periclean Athens to find our kind, personally, but I don’t want to get too full of it.
That said, Aristophanes would have had a lot of fun today.


I’d vote:

Maeste non est

Qetesh the Abyssinian

tb, I’ll see your John Hurt and raise you Peter O’Toole as Tiberius: he brings Tiberius to full and disgusting life, and competed with the ever-crazed Malcolm McDowell for Most Offensive Character Eva.

I’m also intrigued to note that the movie, Caligula has a vast collection of ‘Plot Keywords’, almost none of which are free of sex and/or violence. Check ’em out if you dare.


It always seems strange when I see Derek Jacobi in something else, and he’s not all twitchy and stutter-y.


Well, you’ve got me flat-footed here.

If I read anything that would be included under the general term ‘classics,’ I don’t remember; and the only Latin I ever uttered was the stuff I memorized, phonetically, as an altar boy, pre-Vatican II.

I will point out that I hope to someday travel to Latin America, if that counts for anything.

Otherwise I’m just grooving as a spectator.

a different mikey

I read it in Spanish while traveling and, of course, its entitled ‘Yo, Claudio’. Many assumed the lead was Sly Stallone.


Surely you’ve all heard of the I, Claudius drinking game


My husband and I were talking about I, Claudius in relation to the Bush Administration at dinner the other night. Same passage, in fact. Except, of course, the Bush Administration has all of the treachery and none of the grandeur. They’re just so small.


I, Claudius, both the book and the PBS series

BBC series, I think you meant to say.

It always seems strange when I see Derek Jacobi in something else, and he’s not all twitchy and stutter-y.

Then don’t watch the children’s show In the Night Garden in which he sings nonsense songs for kids! It’ll mess with your head.


I can’t believe noone’s made this reference yet…


Well, here goes –

What’s this, then? ‘Romanes Eunt Domus’? ‘People called Romanes they go the house’?


Oddly enough, I just read I, Claudius recently. I fondly remember the BBC miniseries version shown on PBS here in the States. It was wonderful.


I’ll see your John Hurt and raise you Peter O’Toole as Tiberius

He’s a lot of fun and he’s totally Suetonius’ Tiberius- decaying, fuck-mad, and homicidal. Gore Vidal wrote a few years ago that this version was the result of bad press; when he retreated to Capri towards the end of his life he left himself open to all kinds of speculation, by people who didn’t like him anyway, about just what the hell he was doing out there.

Here’s an interesting piece Vidal wrote about the 12 Caesars in the 50’s.


Pinko suggested:

Maeste non est

That is because you are weak and wish to appease the terrorists. I applaud HTML’s choice of “haud”.


Re: Graves

The presence or length of a bibliography in any of Graves’ works has little to do with the historical accuracy of any of it. I’m not familiar with his Claudius in particular, but I’ve run across citations in some of his Greek translations that don’t actually exist in the original, and his mistranslations of his source material were legendary in my university’s classics department.

That said, I enjoy the heck out of many of Graves’ works. His writing style was always far better than the “standard canon” translations that existed during my first studies (they have since improved). Graves really enlivened the old texts: his “Apuleius” was funny, just like it was supposed to be. It’s pretty obvious from his works that he enjoyed the texts, and he did a great job of passing that enjoyment to the reader. To steal a description from Stephen Colbert, Graves’ “felt the texts at you” rather than “reading them to you”.

Approached as “English retellings” or “novels based on” the sources, I love Graves. When someone tries to cite him as authoritative reference, I cringe. (Of course, you have to cringe at many of the “popular authoritative sources” in any field, don’t you?)


Not a fan of Pound’s “Homage to Sextus Propertius,” Dorothy ?


re: Derek Jacobi — he was in the 1970s version of the “Day of the Jackal”, playing a role mostly being skinny, blond, female eye-candy — I was surprised given that I had only seen him in “I, Claudius”.

Galactic Dustbin

Jacobi has a great voice, I loved him as the Muse in Henry V. And he just played the Master in the new Doctor Who.


How about Patrick Stewart as Sejanus? Talk about a great voice!


Why no love for Livia? Sian Phillips made the series for me.


When someone tries to cite him as authoritative reference, I cringe.

Me too. Yet I love The White Goddess: it’s a conspiracy scribbling for those who really need a dominatrix. Wrong but oh so right. Ouch!

humbert dinglepencker

Livia: (upon appearing to poison someone) Oh, it’s just WIND!


When someone tries to cite him as authoritative reference, I cringe.

I didn’t mean to imply that I thought he was an authoritative reference (I thought my disclaimers about it being a novel were enough, but perhaps I should have added more emphasis). But then I don’t think anyone or anything is authoritative when it comes to history (or reimagined history) — and most certainly not ancient history.

I’m just saying, he didn’t pull the whole thing out of his ass, either. My point was about an historical person’s character, not, say, whether Claudius truly had epilepsy or Tourette’s or if a triumph was celebrated at precisely such and such time.

I agree with the rest of what you said, Dorothy.


Caligula (or was it Tiberius?) who, for instance, disliking reminders of his appearance and habitual depravities, banned all references to goats in any context in his presence.

Incorrect, it was I, Twisted_Colour – Mighty worrier of goats and chickens.

P.S. “An homage.” It is the small things which furnish me with the hope that we haven’t completely travelled up Shit Creek.


Didn’t I do that? It’s like me to fuck-up, but it’s correct now. Or perhaps Gavin just corrected it? I dunno.

But yeah, I have a habit of making at least one bone-headed misspelling or grammatical error in every post.


P.S. “An homage.”

Not if you sound the “H”. “A homage” is as acceptable as the frillier one that makes you sound like some waiter you want to punch.


With the English word ‘homage’ the proper article is ‘an,’ and the ‘h’ is not sounded. Kind of like that weird language we get it from, in which it looks like this: une hommage.

And jeeezuschrist, you’d have to be from Arkansas, or worse yet, Missouri, to say it with an ‘h.’


You know you want to punch me, Bubba. And I understand.


Search the Times site for “a homage to” and “an homage to”. The Frenchified one gets 3020 hits, the strong and robust American one gets 2920.

Be an American! Stand up for your stolen words!


Once again: America the also-ran.

Go ahead though: say it right out loud and really punch that ‘h’: “A homage.” It makes one ugly sound.

P.S. Fuck ‘the Times’ — New York OR L.A. (Goddamned right-wing rags.)


Neener neener. Acceptable usage.

Get a load of the American Heritage Dictionary’s sample. It’s worth a chuckle.

Further down you’ll notice that the Frenchified version – via some snotty company called Word Tutor – is pronounced by an obvious foreigner.


Thanks for the link. Good stuff.

But I’m not saying you haven’t got an “acceptable usage;” I’m saying it’s a usage that sounds clumsy. It may sound too French for a “well-trained, square-jawed American,” but I’ve got to go with: an (h)omage … sometimes, even with a long o and a soft g, (but only while wearing a beret and smoking a cigarette).

I like cheese; what about it?


marc page said,

October 2, 2007 at 8:14

Once again: America the also-ran.

Go ahead though: say it right out loud and really punch that ‘h’: “A homage.” It makes one ugly sound.

P.S. Fuck ‘the Times’ — New York OR L.A. (Goddamned right-wing rags.)

What’s America got to do with it?
The OED says
which is not a very good rendering of the fancy-pants phonetic alphabet they use, but — check it for yourself — it starts with a haitch and stresses the first syllable and even has an honest J sound at the end, not one of them prissy Continental Zh things. It doesn’t even give another pronunciation as an alternate. I suspect that the refrenchified version is recent, which incidentally fits with my own experience (US west coast).

Searching the historical citations, I find few that are worded to show the treatment of the haitch. There are HOMage examples from 1599 and 1661 (not counting 1856 from Emerson, a mere Yank; nor looking at anything much earlier than 1600). There’s one o’MAHZH from 1650. Take your pick.

This is from the 1989 edition. I would lay a small bet that the next update will show the refried French pronunciation at least as a recent alternate.


“What’s America got to do with it?” you ask …

Righteous Bubba said,

October 2, 2007 at 7:53

Search the Times site for “a homage to” and “an homage to”. The Frenchified one gets 3020 hits, the strong and robust American one gets 2920.

That’s what I was responding to. (I’m surprised you missed it.)

And sitting here on the west coast of North America myself, that’s exactly what my O.E.D. says. But (I repeat) I am not arguing who says it which way more often; I am talking about the way I prefer to hear it.

It’s got more to do with the music of language for me than an on-line poll to dictate how a word or phrase should be pronounced to avoid any sort of un-American (and probably gay) sound. Poetry is not democratic; it does not operate by majority-rule.

(Unless, of course, my back-and-forth with the Righteous Bubba was mostly tongue-in-cheek.)


To be fair I was actually thinking of Kingsley Amis’s defence of English pronunciation of French words when I launched into my pro-American ranting.

The point is, English is English and not French, and the clang often comes from the attempt to stick a non-English pronunciation where it doesn’t belong.


“English is English and not French” … except for that period they spent so much time together, and the Saxons had to adopt a whole bunch of French words and phrases.

I never did much enjoy Amis pere, but son fils Martin’s riff on teeth is worth the price of admission. (Oops; sorry about the French merde there … guess this conversation keeps bringing it to mind.)


An homage.

HTML – I wasn’t correcting you, the phrase was at the time I read it. I was noting my delight at the correctness of your grammar.

Keep up the good work.

(Unless you did make a mistake which Gavin corrected before I read the post. If that’s the case, then kudos to Gavin.)

(Ahhh, fuck it! Kudos to everyone and “get a dog up ya” as we say in toast here in the great southern land.)


“English is English and not French” … except for that period they spent so much time together, and the Saxons had to adopt a whole bunch of French words and phrases.

Rather than “adopt” I might say “adapt” as in the case of homage.

Cool word though: brands you as yokel or snob and no in-between.


For the record, this arkansouri yokel has always pronounced “homage” with a silent ‘h’. So sorry, we may use corncobs for toilet paper and marry our first cousins and think whiskey jugs make fine musical instruments, but we’re not all as retarded as you might suppose.


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