Today is 72nd anniversary of Virginia Woolf’s suicide. She is known by many, understood by few. Advocater of feminine real-estate, inducer of fear in an unnamed few, Nicole Kidman—a modern enigma. So in honor of her pocket full of stoneshine, here’s a mini-post about one of modern lit’s many sort-of-love-affairs-slash-maybe-kind-of-sort-of-obsessions-which-resulted-in-a-rull-nyyce-piece-of-writing.
Virgingin Woolfy (neé Stephen) was born in 1882, with a silver spoon and a much-derided Roman nose. She was exposed early by her intellectual parents and their intellectual friends to the rest of the Victorian and Edwardian intellectuals and they all just had quite the intellectual time together. Whatever, read about it yourself or something. She was plagued by nervous breakdowns, physical illness, and depressive periods, most likely brought on by genetic predisposition, the early deaths of her parents, and sexual abuse by both of her half-brothers as a teenager. And that’s all super shitty, no one denies that, BUT, she and her sister Vanessa eventually left their old home and bought a house in Bloomsbury, and surrounded themselves with a rising group of artists, writers and generally interesting people. They were (highly creatively) called, “The Bloomsbury Group.” So, hey, not too shabby in the end. In 1912, she married Leonard Woolf, in what was not always an easy, but still a life-long and very close partnership.
I know, I know, you’re thinking: “Where’s the scandal? This is a mini-post—she’s giving us all this background bullshit, and now she’s telling us about a “happy” marriage!?? I might as well just go back to not working.”
WELL HOLD UP SON, GET READY FOR SOME AMOR PROHIBIDO!!!!1!
So in this Bloomsbury Group, there were a number of proper members and those who sort of milled around the outside as friends-of-friends.
*Also, sidenote, let’s just be upfront right now, I think most of the members were way too full of themselves and weren’t actually as interesting as they thought they were (I’m looking at you, Clive Bell), BUT, that in no way negates the fact that I would do any number of horrible things if asked to have been a part of this Collective of A-holes. They pulled one of the absolutely best hoaxes I’ve ever heard about, in which 6 members, including Virginia, blackened their skin and dressed as supposed members of the Abyssinian royal family, and were given a tour of the English Naval fleet at Weymouth, took press photos for newspapers, and bestowed fake military honors on several British officers. Fucking aces.
Anyway, the various hangers on included the writer and professional gardener (she was English, after all), Vita Sackville-West. 10 years younger than Virginia, they met in 1922
at a meeting of the Droopy Eyelid Club and began a tentative relationship. As the poets say, carpe Vita.
Now, Vita was a firecracker—she was sleeping with like errybody, and would continue to do so—but Virginia, as it would turn out, was a lot of talk and pretty little show. They apparently only did the sex twice in their entire relationship. But, the lovechild which resulted is one of the most transcendentally beautiful pieces of writing
an impressionable 20something could have ever come across in a 25 cent book-bin in the English language: Orlando.
And whoooodawgy, those two times must have been some electric sex.
An extended piece of poetic prose, Orlando tells the loose narrative of a boy, beginning during the reign of Elizabeth I, who lives through significant epochs of English history, including the Restoration, the imperialist period, the Enlightenment, the Victorian era, and eventually to the present (as in, the 1920’s). Somewhere along the way, the boy becomes a man, the man becomes a woman, and thus becomes a full human being. As Nina Simone would say, “it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new gender for me, and I’m feelin’ exactly the same.”
Packed with sweeping description and intense psychological exploration, it’s a mediation on sexuality, nature, history, authority, autonomy, growth, power, poetry, purpose, and—most importantly—love in all its forms. Oh my Lord but it’s beautiful. And if this all sounds a little too “difficult,” or “pretentious,” or “good,” then just watch the movie with Tilda Swinton, which is fucking gorgeous (and also includes a lot of the humor in the book), and you’ll get the general idea and have only been obliged to give up 2 hours of your time from browsing BuzzFeed rather than like, a day.
Because for serious, y’all, there are few books that have hit ol’ JAF as hard as this one. I have no mind for quotes, but I’ve tended to remember ones from Orlando at various formative junctures in my life. I have never read any other Virginia Woolf, and I don’t really want to, because—again, let’s be real—she was kind of an asshole (and as a fellow asshole, we don’t tend to like sharing our mutual asshole territory), and I don’t really want the purity of this extraordinary piece of writing to be sullied. And don’t hate—I bet most of you are never going to read The Casual Vacancy either.
I’ll just leave you with a quote from Vita’s son, which pretty well sums it up:
“The effect of Vita on Virginia is all contained in Orlando, the longest and most charming love letter in literature, in which she explores Vita, weaves her in and out of the centuries, tosses her from one sex to the other, plays with her, dresses her in furs, lace and emeralds, teases her, flirts with her, drops a veil of mist around her.”
Now go grab yourself a cheapass copy, the way Virginia grabbed herself a ladymuse. You welcome.
On this very day in 44 BC, Julius Caesar got shanked by a bunch of his friends, giving us a ton of filmic and literary references for centuries to come, the best of which is obviously the Weiners-George metaphor.
But just because it’s the Ides doesn’t mean I’m going to talk about good ol’ Julie Caesar. It’s been done. If you want that story, watch the Liz Taylor Cleopatra or the Jeremy Sisto Caesar (especially the Sisto, because ain’t no Sisto like Sisto in a metal breastplate).
I’ve got something better for you. He’s blonde, he’s crazy, and he’s fond of whimsy. He’s EMPEROR CALIGULAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!1
First, though, let’s acknowledge that in the metaphorical “sexually scandalous people that history remembers generation after generation throughout time despite the frailty of human memory” conversation (which occurs at dinner tables across this great nation every night, no doubt), Caligula is like THE first guy you mention. Accordingly, let’s acknowledge how restrained we at For Shame have been in not writing about Caligula at all during this two-year blogsperiment. I mean it’s not like we forgot he existed. We just sort of held him in the Scandal Pantheon (Scantheon, hollaaa) with the likes of Misters Jefferson and Kennedy.
But then JAF was like, “I’m a really smart classicist and we should do an Ides of March theme week about Roman emperors!” And I was like, “I watched I, Claudius in high school Latin class and Caligula did crazy shit on it and that’s all I know.” And then poor JAF got the stomach flu last night.
So here we are.
Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus was born to second cousins (who were each in turn byproducts of many other cousin-marriages down the ancestral line, so maybe keep the genetics in mind as we go here) in Antium in 12 AD. He got the nickname “Caligula” when he was three and following his dad, Germanicus, on some military campaigns. He’d dress in a tiny replica soldier’s uniform. Caliga were soldiers’ boots. Caligula were little soldiers’ boots. Hence the adorable nickname. I’m just including this because it’s actually the only cute thing about our Cal that ever happened, ever.
I could use this space to talk about how and why Caligula got to be emperor, but who actually cares about that shit? You want the crazy. I want the crazy. Let’s get CRAYZAY.
So during the first six months of his reign, Cal is absolutely beloved by Romans in all corners of the empire. He’s granting bonuses and pardoning people right and left, there are lots of slaves and animals being killed in superfun gladitorial combat, Inspector Javert is inspirationally seeking revenge, you get it. The general mood is pretty high on all seven hills of Rome.
Until 37 AD, that is, when Mr. Cal Ligula (also the name of a Staten Island small claims lawyer?) fell seriously ill. You’d think that maybe recovering from a near-death illness might make one kinder and gentler, but lucky for us that DID NOT happen. Instead, Cal started murdering EVERYBODY! “You get an execution! You get an execution! Even my young cousin/adopted son gets an execution!”
Then he went all 2007-shaven-head-Britney and the next four years were straight up insanity. You know what? There’s a lot of CRAY coming your way, so let’s make a couple lists to facilitate.
GENERALLY CRAZY SHIT CALIGULA DID:
· Built and rode a horse across a custom-built two-mile pontoon bridge from Baiae to Puteoli because this soothsayer one time said he had a better chance of crossing the Bay of Baiae on horseback than becoming emperor. This project cost a massive amount of money, lots of men died during the construction, the project added to the growing discontent in the empire, and he HAD ALREADY BECOME EMPEROR when he set out to prove he COULD BECOME EMPEROR. But he sure showed that unimportant-and-probably-already-dead soothsayer.
· Built a pair of giant ships. One was a floating temple to Diana and the other was what I imagine to be the first-century version of that kickass party yacht in Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin'” video. Except that this one had marble floors and as such weighed 7,400 tons. We all know how that goes.
· Tried to throw Britannia on the pile of Roman-conquered countries, but when his soldiers arrived at the English Channel, he ordered them to stop and collect seashells “as spoils of the sea,” then bring them back to Rome. Some historians think “seashells” was code for ships or something else of the military persuasion, but I think they’re neglecting the innate human desire to make shitty crafts.
· Started dressing as various gods and goddesses at public events, referring to himself as a god, and signing documents of state “Jupiter.” He also had a couple of temples rededicated to himself, which naturally involved removing the heads from sacred statues and replacing them with Caligula heads. And he decided the senators had to worship him as a god. Not the first boss with a god complex though, am I righttttttttttttt?
· Ordered guards to throw a few rows of spectators into an arena full of hungry lions during intermission at a gladitorial event because he was bored. Whereas when I’m bored during an intermission I go to the bathroom and maybe treat myself to a soft pretzel.
· Also enjoyed having prisoners thrown from high towers of the palace during his breakfast. The best part of wakin’ up is DEAD PEOPLE.
· Planned to make his favorite horse, Incitatus (from the aforementioned bridge ride), a consul. But he didn’t end up actually doing it. That’s a myth, you guys.
· Actually made Incitatus a priest. I’m sort of on board with this because I’d like to give a horse my confession. It would be a judgement-free zone and there would be some nice nuzzling at the end.
SEXUALLY CRAZY SHIT CALIGULA DID:
· After spending ALLLL the money left to him by his predecessor (we’re talking hella denarii – like $300+ billion today), opened a brothel in the palace to recoup. But of course he couldn’t have common skanks getting fancy all over the seat of the Roman empire. He needed a classier workforce, so instead he force-hired the wives of senators. But I think they got dental!
· Would inspect guests’ wives at banquets, and if he liked what he saw, have sex with said wives. If he REALLY liked what he saw, he would declare a couple’s divorce without their consent. (Insert “Take my wife” joke here).
· Would, after non-consensually fucking a married woman, discuss her performance with her husband.
· Held orgies, but obviously.
· Attended the marriage of a young officer named Proculus, and, pissed that they didn’t have an open bar, raped both Proculus and his new wife. Let the togae hit the floor.
· Boned a lot of dudes: Romans, prisoners of war, a court fool. He didn’t have a type, ya know?
· Boned all three of his sisters. So maybe actually his type was “similar genetic composition.”
· Maybe impregnated one of them. And according to I, Claudius (which, given the conflicting and crazy stories out there about this guy, is probably not the worst source) (plus Robert Graves was a certified dimepiece) he became obsessed with the idea that his son/nephew would overtake him, so he naturally CUT THE BABY OUT OF HER and ATE IT ohmygoddddddddisturbing.
I think maybe we should end here.
Obviously Cal wasn’t the most popular guy in the world after all of these shenanigans, so there were a lot of murder plots afoot. The one that succeeded — the Praetorian Guard, in an empty passageway, with
the candlestick lots of knives and swords — is notable because even his body guards, who swore a blood oath of loyalty, were over his bullshit.
Cal’s uncle Claudius, who had a stutter and club foot but was a sweet guy in a sour world, was made emperor, and the rest is this 1970s BBC miniseries I keep referencing (and if you aren’t intrigued already, Caligula is played by a young Mr. Ollivander). And there’s another Caligula movie in which you see Dame Helen Mirren’s royal boobs!
So maybe treat yourself on this Ides of March. To a little IDES CANDY. It’s what Caligua would have done (except there would probably be a few more naked corpses and horses around).
Dearest readers, what better way to begin your bleary-eyed Saturday mornings than with a strong cup of coffee for your overworked bloodstream, and a cup of knowledge for your mindbelly: an only slightly belated super topical post about dirty Popes!
Now please internet, this is not to say that we here at for shame! are in any way accusing Pope Benedict XVI of doing any of the things we’re about mention—in fact, every one of these holy perpetrators lived in my own very favorite times, the Medieval Times ™, and as we’ve established, anything goes before the Renaissance, heyo!
Also, most of this is probably totally bullshit, and anyway, to err is human, etc., etc.
Alsoalso, it wasn’t 100% completely mandatory for someone in holy office to be celibate until 1139, but let’s just say it was a pretty good idea if you weren’t dipping your wick in very saucy inkpot that came along.
Thricealso, MRG has already touched on the beauty of beatific sin, so you should probably read that too because it’s excellent.
Quadralso, all of these men have been dead for a reaaaaally long time, and no further defamation can been brought upon their reputations that hasn’t already been set down in a textbook you were maybe probably definitely supposed to read for your intro to religion class in freshman year but were too busy making desperate eyes across the library floor at the junior field hockey bros. Ha, turned that shit back around, now didn’t I!
So be quiet, sit back, and enjoy a list (because there’s a lot here, and I’m just as tired as you this aftermorningnightnoon) in which we bring you history’s most scandalous papal authorities. More like Holy LOVEsee, amirite???!!?!?
Pope Sergius III (904-911)—the father of Pope John XI, but NBD, they did that a lot though in the early Middle Ages. Oh, those wacky papal dynasties! The better bit involves Sergius’ ladylove, Marozia, a Roman nobelwoman and senatrix—that’s right Latinfans, a lady senator! Marozia was John XI’s mother, BUT, after Sergius died, she started sleeping with his sucessor…..
Pope John X (914-928)—he gave Marozia the title of senatrix. She was seen by many historians as the power behind the papal throne, and probably an inspiration for the legend of Pope Joan (which, unfortunately so soon after International Lady’s Day, I have to debunk as medieval myth—take my word for it, I’m an historian.).
BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!
So while John X was fooling around with Marozia, HE WAS ALSO SLEEPING WITH HER MOM, THEODORA!!!!!!!!!!1!!!!111!!!!!11!! She was characterized by a contemporary chronicler, Liutprand of Cremona as being a “shameless whore… [who] exercised power on the Roman citizenry like a man.” Which, is actually kind of a compliment. Own it Theodora, own it. Through her powerful poonnections, Theodora got Marozia married off to Alberic I, duke of Spoleto in 909, whose supah riches didn’t stop him getting killed in 924.
At some point, Marozia turns against John X, and after Alberic dies, marries John’s archnemesis, Guy of Tuscany. They then attack Rome, arrest John (Guy smothers him with a pillow, #goodnightsweetpope), and Marozia sets up two puppet popes, Leo VI and Stepehen VII until her son, John XI comes of age in 931 and can be made head of all Christendom from 931-935.
Guy dies in 929, and in 932 Marozia marries her halfbrother, Hugh of Arles (more like Ewwww of Arrghdonttouchme!!!!1! Ahh, shit, I’m on fire today.), King of Italy. Marozia’s son, Alberic II, from her marriage with Alberic is NOT into this, and instead of sending a polite decline to the wedding invite, he brings an army to their wedding, imprisons his mom, chases his stepdadhalfuncle out of Rome.
She dies probably in 936, but still, woman did werk. Check this: Her other son with Alberic, David, was father of Pope Benedict VII (974-983). Alberic II was father to Pope John XII (955-964), and a kid named Gregory, who would father both Pope Benedict VIII (1012-1024), and Pope John XIX (1024-1032), and another son called Alberic III who would father Pope Benedict IX (1012-1055) (he was an antipope, but it totally still counts).
Phew, so I know that was a lot, but to sum up, Theodora and Marozia either slept with, controlled, or directly or indirectly sired 8, count ’em, 8 popes, arguably the most powerful position of authority in medieval Europe.
I, on the other hand, haven’t gotten out of bed today. Hey, different strokes.
The others are far less complicated, but no less interesting. Please stand by for further popesex in 5, 4, 3, 2,
Pope John XII (955-963, son of Alberic II)—was described as having has a collection of women, and making the sacred palace into a whorehouse, and living the lifestyle much more suited to a secular prince than, you know, a pope. He apparently had a thing for adultery, sleeping with (according to our old, reliable friend, Luitprand), “the widow of Rainier, with Stephana, his father’s concubine, with the widow Anna, and with his own niece.” Some historian I’d never heard of calls him “the Christian Caligulia,” which is a fine bit of alliteration, if I do say so myself, sir! Also, his mistress could be another progenitrix for the Pope Joan myth (It doesn’t really matter, because either way, the medieval people were just hellafraid of a ladypope. I get it, I mean, she probably would have redecorated all that gilt and incense and heavy velvet and made everything sooooo gaudy.). Apparently John died Downtown-Abbey style, after being stricken with paralysis during sex. That, or he was murdered moste fowlee by a jealous husband—either works for me.
Pope Benedict IX (1032-1044, 1045, 1047-1048, and son of Alberic III. These guys are everywhere!)—he was ousted twice in favor of other, probably less shitty popes, as you will see. Apparently, he was between 18 and 20 (or maybe even 11 or 12) when he became pope, and had no actual qualifications other than family connections. An actually holy man, St. Peter Damian, described him as “feasting on immorality” (which, in my mind, is like a chocolate fountain with the insane calories as a proverbial stand-in for sin). He was probably homosexual, but it also just seems like he slept with anything that moved. There’s intimations that he also killed and raped people, which seems like a fast escalation from “orgy,” but then again, if the Middle Ages were anything like a Starz show, then he was probs burying bodies like erryday.
Pope Paul II (1464-1471)—alleged by some to have died from indigestion because he ate too many melons. That’s “science,” and I don’t understand it, so I’m going to go with the rumor that he actually died while having the secks with another man.
Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484)—handed out papal offices in return for blahjays. Jeanyus.
Pope Julius III (1550-1555)—had a hugely scandalous relationship with Cardinal Innocenzo Ciocchi del Monte, who he took in as a ward from the street, then made cardinal when he became Pope. Innocenzo was totally unsuited to the responsibility he was given, but the two openly shared a bed, and nobody could really tell him to GTFO, and it was just a PR nightmare for the Church at the time. When he died, nobody was all that sad.
So on that note, the end!