On a Cesarean

Men have no idea how difficult pregnancy is on both mother and child. The miracle of gestation and the wonderful but incredibly uncomfortable 9 months of the development of the fetus isn’t usually discussed in polite society, but it should be. And that doesn’t even factor in the emotional issues associated with the flood of hormones produced by the pregnant woman. Then, all of that culminates in the indescribable pain associated with the birth itself. Carol Burnett famously described it as pulling your bottom lip over your head. Modern medicine has made the process somewhat more safe and less painful to a degree, but, again, that is only in the modern era. For births in antiquity, every event was fraught with potential disaster to both mother and child.

Take a birth that occurred in Rome approximately 100 years before the Christian Era. At that time, physicians knew relatively little how the process of birth happened. In this case, the pregnancy had been a difficult one on top of the usual issues that come along with becoming pregnant. The doctor on duty for the birth realized that the birth would be difficult as well, possibly endangering the lives of both mother and child.

Now, at the time, Cesarean sections were employed only in cases where the mother was dead or dying in an attempt to possibly save the child. Sometimes, the doctors would perform the operation on the deceased mother in order to extract the child if it were dead so it, too, could receive a proper burial. It wouldn’t be until within the past 150 years that C-sections were employed to save the life of the mother rather than only to save the child. There were anecdotal evidence of the rare case when the mother would recover after the child was taken by C-section. These stories were so rare that many historians today doubt their veracity. By the way, the verb “to cut” in Latin is caedere, and cutting out of the child–that’s where the idea of the Cesarean section came from.

I say all that to point out that his particular physician was preparing for the worst. In his mind, if the mother was unable to give birth and began to succumb, he was ready to do what was needed to extract the child–even if the child, too, passed away. Such was the primitive methods and mindset of birth 2100 years ago.

Yet, in this case, despite the difficult pregnancy, the birth was relatively uneventful. In fact, a thoroughly healthy boy was born to a wealthy family, to the mother, Aurelia, and her husband, Gaius. Their family name, by the way, is said to have come from the fact that one of the ancestors of Gaius had indeed been taken from his dead mother surgically.

That’s why this healthy boy, a boy who was not born by C-section after all, was named Julius Caesar.

On Caesar’s Favorite

It is wonderful when a rich and powerful benefactor makes you his favorite. Such was the case in ancient Rome when an emperor bestowed his kindness and largesse on one such favorite named Incitatus. This Incitatus was the recipient of Emperor Gaius Germanicus’s favor and blessing. Caesar gave Incitatus a marble-lined bedroom equipped with expensive purple bed linens. He held great banquets in Incitatus’s honor, invited famous poets, musicians, actors, and senators to dine with them to honor Incitatus.

Caesar also gifted him expensive jewelry, had servants feed him by hand (and the food he gave for Incitatus had gold flakes in it), and also sent people who would bathe Incitatus. We don’t know what Incitatus thought or felt about this unusual attention from Caesar. History is not sure of his origins nor of how he came to catch the eye of Caesar. We know nothing of his parentage, and we can only guess that he came from decent stock or otherwise he would never have come under the gaze of the most powerful man in the world at that time. But, again, all of this is conjecture.

We do know that a female named Penelope shared his house. Penelope, also, received great attention from Caesar. In fact, Caesar liked her so much that he took Penelope on a military campaign with him after Incitatus died. This raised some eyebrows in Roman society to be sure. Some wondered why Caesar seemed to care so much about Incitatus and Penelope to practically adopt the couple.

Another time, Caesar wanted Incitatus to join the Roman Senate, that most august institution of Roman politics and society. The trouble was (and here we have some clue about his background), being a senator cost money in ancient Rome, and it seems Incitatus had none. So, Caesar decreed that the financial contribution requirement for all senators would be eliminated. With that hurdle taken away, it seems that Caesar got his wish and had Incitatus made a senator. That decision, also, aroused much speculation about the favoritism Caesar showed. Some said that Caesar was doing this as a joke to make fun of the senators who thought themselves high and mighty, and that to appoint a senator who had no money would take some of the wind out of their sails. Others said that to do this showed that the emperor was slowly losing his grip on reality and becoming mad.

History also records that it is likely Caesar had Incitatus made a priest as well. That role was also a political move since appointed priests would be in direct service to the emperor. Again, we still have no idea how Incitatus reacted to all this attention. One major reason we don’t know is because Incitatus could not speak Latin or Greek.

In fact, horses don’t speak at all, usually.