Tuesday 21 November 2023

Elagabalus Gets Her Pronouns

 I see that the North Hertfordshire Museum has decided, on advice from the historical experts of (ahem) Stonewall and the LGBT wing of Unison, that the emperor Elagabalus was 'transgender' and will be referred to by his 'preferred pronouns' – she, her, etc. – in the museum's extensive display of Elagabalus-related material, i.e. one silver denarius. 
  Elagabalus has come down to posterity as one of the most thoroughly depraved and useless of all the Roman emperors, but as he only ruled for four years, did little of much note, and was assassinated at the age of 18, there really isn't much to go on. The historians, notably Cassius Dio and Herodian, piled in on Elagabalus in grand style, accusing him of all the effeminate depravity to be expected of a product of 'the soft luxury of Asia' (Elagabalus was of Syrian origin), but, like most Roman historians, they were seriously biased and unreliable. This, however, did not stop Gibbon from taking their word for it – and he also drew on the even more unreliable Historia Augusta in forming his damning assessment of Elagabalus. ‘It may seem probable,' he writes, 'that the vices and follies of Elagabalus have been adorned by fancy and blackened by prejudice. Yet, confining ourselves to the public scenes displayed before the Roman people, and attested by grave and contemporary historians, their inexpressible infamy surpasses that of any other age or country.' Well, there you go.
  What is interesting (in a depressing mind of way) about this is that it illustrates how a historical villain can be transformed into a hero/victim (the terms are all but interchangeable) in today's all-embracing binary system of Oppressor/Oppressed. Elagabalus, by being assigned to a gender category unknown to the Romans, becomes one of the Oppressed, is given a protected status, and rewarded with his – sorry, her – preferred pronouns. I'm sure he/she would be very grateful. 

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