Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"If I had not fallen ill, I surely should have died"

The ancient sources uniformly portray the Roman emperor Vitellius as a glutton and revel in recounting tales of his excesses.  But the prize for the best story goes to the historian Cassius Dio (emphasis added):
Vitellius, addicted as he was to luxury and licentiousness, no longer cared for anything else either human or divine. He had indeed always been inclined to idle about in taverns and gaming-houses, and devote himself to dancers and charioteers; and he used to spend incalculable sums on such pursuits, with the result that he had many creditors.

Now, when he was in a position of so great authority, his wantonness only increased, and he was squandering money most of the day and night alike. He was insatiate in gorging himself, and was constantly vomiting up what he ate, being nourished by the mere passage of the food. Yet this practice was all that enabled him to hold out; for his fellow-banqueters fared very badly.  For he was always inviting many of the foremost men to his table and he was frequently entertained at their houses.

It was in this connexion that one of them, Vibius Crispus, uttered a very witty remark. Having been compelled for some days by sickness to absent himself from the convivial board, he said: "If I had not fallen ill, I surely should have died."

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