|Bust of Heliogabalus|
- 1 Historical Records
- 2 Theatrical Provenance
- 3 Probable Genre(s)
- 4 Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues
- 5 References to the Play
- 6 Critical Commentary
- 7 For What It's Worth
- 8 Works Cited
19 June 1594
|Iohn Danter./.||Entred for his Copie vnder thande|
|of Mr Cawood an enterlude entituled|
|Godfrey of Bulloigne wth the|
|Conquest of Ierusalem||xijd|
|Iohn Danter./||Item an other enterlude of the lyfe|
|and deathe of Heliogabilus|
(Register B, fol. 309v; cf. S. R. I, 2:654)
The entry in the Stationers' Register gives no clue to company ownership or theatrical venue (but see For What It's Worth, below). If the reference by Robert Greene to Heliogabalus is to the lost play, it was most likely on stage in the same time frame as Marlowe's two-part Tamburlaine c. 1588 (see References to the Play, below).
Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues
Heliogabalus, born Varius Avitus Bassianus c. 203 CE, ruled from 218 to 222 CE. He was well known in the works of Roman historians and Elizabethan moralists for his extreme and perverse religiousity and debauchery. He acquired the name, Elagabalus, or Heliogabalus, for his worship of the Syrian sun god of that name; when he became emperor, he promoted the rites of Elagabalus over those of Jupiter. He was killed (and his mother with him) by his own guard.
Selected Roman Sources
The History of the Roman Empire Since Marcus Aurelius by Herodian (c. 170-240 CE) had a sixteenth-century English edition; it was published by William Copland at the sign of the rose garland. The edition carries no date, but the English Short Title Catalogue assigns it tentatively to 1556.
Herodian emphasizes the actions by Heliogabalus to supplant the worship of traditional Roman gods with that of the Syrian sun god, Elabagalus. Heliogabalus had been raised as a priest of this god, and Herodian links his dress and behavior to Syrian religious rites. Heliogabalus wore silk robes of an effeminate style, used women's make-up, and "danced around the altars to music played on every kind of instrument" (livius.org, V.5). This style was so unRoman that he had a large picture of himself dressed in his favorite garb set up in the Roman Senate House so that officials would become familiar with his looks (V.5). Heliogabalus himself married three times, and he married his sun god to the moon goddess, Urania (V.6). He staged lavish spectacles with animal sacrifice, tossing gifts wantonly to the crowds who then trampled one another to grab the rewards (V.6). In one festival, Heliogabalus rigged a chariot drawn by six large white horses; in the chariot was a statue of the god, looking as if he held the reins. Heliogabalus ran backwards in front of the chariot with the actual reins in his hands. The streets were strewn with sand laced with gold so that he had better purchase as he ran, and "bodyguards supported him on each side to protect him from injury" (V.6).
Herodian's secondary focus is Heliogabalus's promotion of underlings including "charioteers, comedians, and actors of mimes" to positions of power (V.7).
The grandmother and mother of Heliogabalus attempted to molify public opinion against his excesses, but they were unable in the end to prevent his being attacked along with his mother (Soaemias) and killed; their bodies were dragged through the streets of Rome and thrown into the public sewer, then washed out to the Tiber (V.8).
In Roman History, Dio (c. 155-229 CE) calls Heliogabalus "Sardanapalus" (livius.org LXXIX). Dio is more detailed and judgmental than Herodian regarding the emperor's perversions.
On Syrian rites: Dio describes the rituals, attended also by Sardanapalus' mother and grandmother, as having barbaric chants and secret sacrifices of slain boys and "shutting up alive in the god's temple a lion, a monkey, and a snake, and throwing in among them human genitals, and practising other unholy rites, while he [Sardanapalus] invariably wore innumerable amulets" (p. 461, margin). Dio says that Sardanapalus "had planned, indeed, to cut off his genitals altogether, but that desire was prompted solely by his effeminacy; the circumcision which he actually carried out was a part of the priestly requirements of Elagabalus, and he accordingly mutilated many of his companions in like manner." These practices as well as his appearing in public "clad in the barbaric dress which the Syrian priests use" (Dio says) gave him the "nickname of 'The Assyrian'" (p. 457, margin). He also sought an operation to make his body bi-sexual: "he asked the physicians to contrive a woman's vagina in his body by means of an incision" (p. 471, margin).
On promiscuity and gender-bending (p. 463, margin): Sardanapalus "wanted to imitate [women's] actions” when he took male lovers to bed. Wearing a wig, he “frequented the notorious brothels, drove out the prostitutes, and played the prostitute himself." He designated "a room in the palace and there committed his indecencies, always standing nude at the door of the room, as the harlots do, and shaking the curtain which hung from gold rings, while in a soft and melting voice he solicited the passers-by." Also, Sardanapalus "worked with wool, sometimes wore a hair-net, and painted his eyes, daubing them with white lead and alkanet.” Dio claims that after having shaved and celebrated the event with a festival, Sardanapalus had “the hairs plucked out, so as to look more like a woman” (p. 465, margin).
On marriages (p. 459, margin): Dio finds the marriages of Sardanapalus ridiculous. He scorns his professed reason for marrying his first wife in order to “become a father” with the jibe: "he who could not even be a man!" Reacting to the choice of a second wife who was a legally inviolable Vestal Virgin, Dio says that Sardanapalus should have been "scourged in the Forum, thrown into prison, and then put to death." Dio is also outraged by "the extreme absurdity" of Sardanapalus' marrying his sun god, Elagabalus, to Urania, the Carthaginian moon goddess: "as if the god had any need of marriage and children!" (p. 461, margin)
On commoners: Dio recounts how Hierocles, originally a slave, attracted Sardanapalus' attention during a chariot race when Hierocles "fell out of his chariot just opposite the seat of Sardanapalus, losing his helmet in his fall, and being still beardless and adorned with a crown of yellow hair, he attracted the attention of the emperor and was immediately rushed to the palace; and there by his nocturnal feats he captivated Sardanapalus more than ever and became exceedingly powerful" (p. 467, margin). Another slave, Aurelius Zoticus, charmed Sardanapalus by his masculine endowment and prowess: "This Aurelius not only had a body that was beautiful all over, seeing that he was an athlete, but in particular he greatly surpassed all others in the size of his private parts." Sardanapalus had him brought to Rome. "Sardanapalus, on seeing him, sprang up with rhythmic movements, and then, when Aurelius addressed him with the usual salutation, "My Lord Emperor, Hail!" he bent his neck so as to assume a ravishing feminine pose, and turning his eyes upon him with a melting gaze, answered without any hesitation: "Call me not Lord, for I am a Lady." Then Sardanapalus immediately joined him in the bath, and finding him when stripped to be equal to his reputation, burned with even greater lust, reclined on his breast, and took dinner, like some loved mistress, in his bosom." Hierocles, jealous of the new favorite, played a trick on him: he "caused the cup-bearers ... to administer a drug that abated the other's manly prowess. And so Zoticus, after a whole night of embarrassment, being unable to secure an erection, was deprived of all the honours that he had received, and was driven out of the palace, out of Rome, and later out of the rest of Italy" (p. 469, margin).
On his death: Sardanapalus at first curried favor with his likely successor, Alexander, but then turned paranoid and plotted to destroy him. Alexander's supporters aborted the plot. Saradanapalus attempted "to flee, and would have got away somewhere by being placed in a chest, had he not been discovered and slain, at the age of eighteen. His mother, who embraced him and clung tightly to him, perished with him; … the mother's body was cast aside somewhere or other, while his was thrown into the river" (p. 477-9, margin).
The Historia Augusta is a collection of bogus biographies in Latin of Roman emperors (Herodian and Cassius Dio's histories are in Greek). The author lived in the early Christian era; he appears to have cribbed his narrative from Marius Maximus, a contemporary of Heliogabalus' successor, Alexander (www.livius.org). This source adds little to the biography of Heliogabalus beyond greater outrage, but some of its details apparently influenced sixteenth-century commentary on Heliogabalus:
- • Heliogabalus' mother's name was Symiamira; she is herself presented in this history as a harlot. Her influence over her son even after he became emperor was constant and pernicious. Examples are given of her rules on clothing, public behavior, and transport by horseback or carriage (p. 115, margin)
- • Heliogabalus required that not only Roman worshippers but also Jews, Samaritans, and Christians transfer their rites to Elagabalus (p. 113, margin)
- • Heliogabalus "used to have the story of Paris played in his house, and he himself would take the rôle of Venus, and suddenly drop his clothing to the ground and fall naked on his knees, one hand on his breast, the other before his private parts, his buttocks projecting meanwhile and thrust back in front of his partner in depravity" (p. 115, margin)
- • According to this source, Zoticus and Heliogabalus were married (p. 129, margin). Two charioteers whom Heliogabalus promoted were Protogenes and Cordius (p. 117, margin); a barber also promoted was named Claudius p. 131, margin). This source elaborates on other commoners who were promoted beyond their state including a dancer, a mule-driver, a courier, a cook, a locksmith, and other "men whose sole recommendation was the enormous size of their privates" (p. 131, margin).
- • Expanding on Dio's point about the sacrifice of male children, this source claims that Heliogabalus "collected from the whole of Italy children of noble birth and beautiful appearance, whose fathers and mothers were alive, intending, I suppose, that the sorrow, if suffered by two parents, should be all the greater." He kept magicians to torture the children, and he studied "the children's vitals" (p. 123, margin).
- • This source anticipates Dantean contrapasso in its description of the deaths of Heliogabalus' supporters, "killing some by tearing out the vital organs and others by piercing the anus, so that their deaths were as evil as their lives" (p. 141, margin).
Selected Sixteenth-Century English Commentators
|References to Heliogabalus are common in treatises on government and morality. Unlike the Roman historians, English commentators avoid explicit references to gender-bending by using coded language such as "monstrous" and "beastly." Thomas Elyot (1537) lists him as one of several "monstruous emperours" of the Roman period (f.97v, specifying that he "consumed infinite treasures in bordell houses" and enriched "slaues, concubynes, and baudes" (f. 132v). George Joye (1545) contrasts Nebuchadnezzar, a penitent king, with Heliogabalus, "a wyked kinge restorynge idolatrye" (62). The French emblemist Pierre Coustau (1555) mocks Heliogabalus by depicting his senate filled with strumpets, the emperor himself in feminine garb. Lodowick Lloyd (1573) calls Heliogabalus "the beast of Rome" (f. 161v); he writes a short poem on the manner of Heliogabalus' death "in a iakes" (f. 136v), elaborating that "Heliogabalus was killed vpon his stoole at his easemente" (f. 145).|
|Coustau's "Senate of Heliogabalus"|
In the "Epistle to the Reader" of A Chronicle of all the Noble Emperours of the Romaines (1571), Rainolde presents history as a "study right profitable for all men, for magistrates, [and] for princes" and "a spurre to vertue, a bridle to represse vice in all that fear God." Beginning with a biography of Julius Caesar, Rainolde includes English kings up to Henry VIII and European princes such as Emperor Charles V.
Rainolde is discrete regarding the vices of Heliogabalus. His male companions are characterized as "certaine gallants ... whose pleasure was in Courtly behauiour, and all thinges delectable to delight a Prince" (f. 76). Rainolde relies on the code word "beastly" to describe Heliogabalus' face painting (f.78v) and focuses on clothing more than sexual behavior. The clothes, according to Rainolde, were "a mingle mangle" of the Eastern style, which set a "new fashion" in Rome not welcomed by the staid senators (f. 76,v). Rainolde quotes Heliogabalus' manifesto on behavior: "It shall behoue a Prince ... to be an excellent daunser, a riotous person, & to vse women" (f. 79).
The Rewarde of Wickednesse (1574) is a Dantesque dream vision in octaves rhyming ababbcbc. In the frame the poet falls asleep after one too many glasses of December cheer; he is awakened by Morpheus, who guides him through the underworld. Heliogabalus is the seventh of twelve damned souls to tell his story.
Robinson uses general, but coded terms to convey Heliogabalus’ sinfulness: "abhominable whoredome" (Kv), "filthie nature," and "exalting vice" (K2). Heliogabalus compares himself to "the last Assirian King" in multiple ravishings of virgins and wives (i.e., Sardanapalus, as indicated in a marginal note [K2v]). The motif of banquets and promotion of commoners is here, with the names of favorites: Protogenes, Cordius, and Zoticus (K3, K3v). The soul of Heliogabalus brags that "sixe hundreth Chariots of harlots" went on progress with him (K3v). Robinson is most fascinated with the scatological features of Heliogabalus' death (suited as they are to a Dantean contrapasso), and he invents an eternal punishment:
As if this weren't punishment enough, "a thousande Dragons flyes" gnaw on him, and the "cruell wheele doth bounse, and neuer stayes" (Lv). His mother stands nearby in "a flaming puddle" (Lv).
- This monstrous Emperour in hell thus stoode,
- tyed fast by the members on a snakie whéele:
- Which ran about as if it were woode,
- Invironde with Bawdes as blacke as the De'yle
- Hooked for the noce with hote glowing stéele,
- which Butchered his bowels about his féete ...
Antonio de Guevara
A Chronicle Conteyning the Liues of Tenne Emperours of Rome (1577) was written for Emperor Charles V as a Plutarch-like contrast of good rulers and bad. This account is distinguished by fictional letters written by Heliogabalus' grandmother and de Guevara's penchant for long lists of items in a series.
de Guevara devotes much attention to the early years of Heliogabalus, emphasizing the role of the grandmother in protecting him (the Syrian god is here called Heliogabalus). He emphasizes Heliogabalus' virtuous upbringing, and Mesia (the grandmother) later assures the Roman Senate that she has "instructed [Heliogabalus] to be milde, chaste, silent, patient, sober pitiful, and abstinent" (405). Considering how Heliogabalus turned out so badly, de Guevara suggests that his licentiousness resulted from the liberty of being out from under his grandmother's supervision (406).
de Guevara gives a description of Heliogabalus' features: "of meane stature, redde haired, white faced, small mouthed, shorte legged, and largely bearded" (377); he also describes Heliogabalus' dress (with his brother) as priest: "shirtes of Linsey Woolsey, their garments of gold and cotton, their sleeues buttoned with Corrall, their robes trailing, their beades couered with silke calies, about their neckes collars of golde, their feet bare vppon the instep, leaden ringes vppon their little fingers, and ringes of golde vpon their thumbes" (377).
de Guevara provides a chapter on laws decreed by Heliogabalus, most of which are frivolous but tend toward populism. He names the chief favorite (Zotipus) and four additional followers: Gabalus, Herodes, Gordius, and Murius (430).
de Guevara tells the occasional sexual anecdote such as the play ex tempore of Paris and Helen (but without the raunchy details of the Augusta Historia), but he emphasizes more the absurdity of Heliogabalus' lifestyle: for example, the soles of his shoes “were of Vnicorne, and gold of Nilus: and the instep and vpper part therof set with pearle and most rich stones” (426); his urinal was "of Vnicorne, and his stoole of fine gold" (426).
Much is made here of Heliogabalus' excesses and pranks. de Guevara lists the animals slaughtered after the wedding of the gods: "there they [the crowd] did eate Lions, Beares, Woolues, Tygers, Unicornes, Dunces, Horses, Asses, Doggs, Beeues, Buffes, and other wilde beastes (424). In one prank, Heliogabalus had 100 pitchers of flies gathered, which he loosed at a banquet in the hot summertime, driving off guests, after which 'the flies sate downe to eate'” (425) In another, Heliogabalus loosed “an hundreth cattes, tenne thousand rates, an hundreth greyhounds, & a thousand hares” among the worshipers at a feast for his god (425). Robinson's chariots of harlots is here 600 wagons of "women, jeasters, [and] musicians" (426).
de Guevara embellishes the final days of Heliogabalus by describing how he mocked prophecies that he would be killed in a suitable manner: he laid out nooses of silk and weapons of gold for his assassins (427). Those assassins not only beheaded Heliogabalus (buried up to the neck in the privy) and killed his mother but also slaughtered "his cattes and dogges, his Parratts, horses, peacocks, and monkies" (431).
In The Enemie to Vnthryftinesse (1586), specifically in "A Mirrour for Maiestrates of Citties," Whetstone crafts a series of orations by Alexander Serverus, successor to Heliogabalus. The oration to the Senators refers glancingly to "that Monster" Heliogabalus and "his destestable and vile lyfe" (B2v), but extended commentary is in the oration to the Gentlemen of Rome. The details here, though not uncommon in the Matter of Heliogabalus generally, are of special interest due to the proximity of Whetstone's tract to the probable composition date of the play.
- • Heliogabalus wore robes of "cloth of golde, pearele, & pretious-stones, & neuer wore any garment more then once, from his bed chamber, vnto the place where hee mounted vnto his Coch, the walles were decked with tapestrie full of greate pearles, and pretious-stones. The waie as he went, was strewed with golde and siluer, as one disdaining to treade vppon earth lyke other men (D3). The Ringes which he drewe off his fingers, hee neuer put on againe (D3v).
- • His chariot was "sometyme drawen with tame Lions, sometimes with Elephantes, and sometimes with marueilous faire Women" (D3v)
- • At banquets, "his gluttonie, & voluptuousnes was so great, as neere the Sea, his whole houshold was fed with … all maner of fishes, by Poste brought alyue from the Sea: Sometime he had for a generall seruice, pasties of Peacockes toones, otherwhyle Partridges egges, the heades of Popiniayes, Fesauntes, and the most daintiest Byrdes; Neither was this superfluitie alone vpon the Tables in his owne Pallace, but in selfe same manner, his Lyons, Gray-hounds, and other Dogs of pleasure were fed. He so much esteemed of things that were deare and rare, that hearing there was but one Phaenix in the worlde, he offered twoo thowsand Markes to haue it to hys Dinner" (D3v).
- • On sexuality, Alexander says that Heliogabalus' "lecherie was so vnsatiable, and withal so vnclean, as common ciuilitie forbiddeth the report. ... His Pusalanimitie was such, as he studied how to become a woman, and of moste notorious Strumpets, and Bawdes, he eracted a Senate, and in a Capitoll, for the nonce, hee made vnto them manie Orations, and called them his Companions, and fellowe Souldiers" (D3v).
- • On Heliogabalus' death, Alexander says that the guard "tyed him to a stone of greate waight, and threw him into Tyber" (D4).
References to the Play
Robert Greene, in the preface to Perimedes the Blacke-Smith (1588), complains about "two Gentlemen Poets, made two mad men of Rome beate it out of their paper bucklers: & [who] had it in derision, for that I could not make my verses iet vpon the stage in tragicall buskins, euerie worde filling the mouth like the faburden of Bo-Bell, daring God out of heauen with that Atheist Tamburlan, or blaspheming with the mad preest of the sonne .... " (A3r).
Wiggins, taking Greene literally, coins the title "Play of a Mad Priest," and gives the play a date range of 1586-8 with a 'best guess of 1587 (#786).
Nicholas Storojenko, who wrote the introduction in Alexander Grosart's edition of Greene's works, interpreted Greene's allusion to "the mad preest of the sonne" in Perimedes as a reference to "Marlowe, and another dramatist, whose name is not now known" (1.87).
Nicholl redirects the Greene reference to Giordano Bruno (205-6).
Rutter reviews these and other identifications of the "mad preest" in an argument that Marlowe is the sole object of Greene's venom, but Rutter does not rule out a doubling of that allusion to the lost play also (116-7).
Wiggins guesses that the play registered by Danter belongs to 1590 because of its entry with "Jerusalem," an old play when it turns up in the repertory of Lord Strange's men in 1592. He assigns stock features of the history of Heliogabalus to the play: "gluttony, epicurism, and sexual debauchery" plus his 'man[ing] himself a god" (#872).
For What It's Worth
Historians consider Sardanapalus, king of Assyria, to be semi-fictional. He is the central character of the playlet on Lechery in the lost "Second Part of the Seven Deadly Sins" according to the extant Plot. Cassius Dio, by calling Heliogabalus "Sardanapalus," invites a confusion between the two figures. Sixteenth-century English commentators tend to separate Sardanapalus and Heliogabalus but cite them, often together, as similarly debauched. De Guevara is comparatively gentle with Sardanapalus, saying only that he "was with all men so humaine, that women made him spinne" (3).
A clue to company ownership?
At the same time on 19 June 1594 that he entered "Heliogabalus" John Danter entered another play with the following phrasing: “an enterlude entituled Godfrey of Bulloigne wth the Conquest of Ierusalem.” One week after the entry in stationers' records (19 July), the Admiral's men introduced "Godfrey of Boulogne, Part 2," marked "ne"; a play consistently designated "Godfrey of Boulogne" without a mark of "ne" was introduced a week later (26 July). The coincidence of Danter's having "Godfrey of Boulogne" and "Heliogabalus" on 19 June 1594 allows the possibility that he acquired the two plays from the same source. The fact that "Godfrey of Boulogne" was not marked "ne" suggests that Danter's source was a playing company, but which one that might have been is unknown. Greg (II.166) argues that only one play named "Godfrey of Boulogne" existed; Knutson argues that Henslowe is designating a two-part play in the diary entries.
An echo of Whetstone's account of Heliogabalus' banquet fare
In John Day's Law Tricks, Polymetes (son of the Duke of Genoa) and Horatio (a young count) discuss a dinner menu, and Horatio observes, "A roasted Phoenix were excellent good for that Lady" (MSR, 1280-1).
Among the library holdings of a Warwickshire Gentleman?
Sir John Newdigate of Arbury (1571-1610) mentions a work called Heliogabalus in his private papers twice, in 1600 and 1601. V. M. Larminie annotates these mentions as referring to the lost play registered at Stationers' Hall on 19 June 1594 (29). If correct in this identification, Larminie has located evidence that "Heliogabalus" was in fact printed. Keenan comments on Larminie's identification in the context of other literary works in Newdigate's library, specifically Christopher Marlowe's Edward II (453).
The images below come from Newdigate's papers at the Warwickshire County Record Office and are reproduced by permission. The Heliogabalus notes are dated 25 April 1601. Phrases such as "jugglers and jesters" crop up in multiple early modern texts about Heliogabalus, suggesting (perhaps) that Newdigate was reading from a history rather than a play, as does the list-like quality of the observations "furniture", "diet", "works", "ships" (whereas something resembling a narrative progression might be expected if he were taking notes from a play). Furthermore, the distinctive phrase, "what coulde better happen then for a man to be heire to him selfe", finds a distinct echo in Lampridius: "When some one asked him before he was made emperor, 'Are you not afraid of becoming poor?' he replied, so they say, 'What could be better than that I should be my own heir, and my wife's too?'" (The Life of Antoninus Heliogabalus).
Warwick, WCRO, CR136-V148, 25 April 1601, reproduced with permission of the Warwickshire County Record Office and the Newdigate family.
WCRO, CR136-V148 p15. WCRO, CR136-V148 p16.