Celebrity Gossip’s Classical Roots

Of course, rogueclassicism readers are well aware that all the sorts of thing that fills the airwaves with chatter about this or that Kardashian or Lohan or Gaga or whatever would have been perfectly familiar in ancient Rome, but Johan Kugelberg had a nice piece for the Independent blog which is worth excerpting … first, the intro:

Gossip in the time of ancient Rome has trickled down to us. There are passages in Petronius, Procopius, Seneca and Suetonius that would have regular readers of Gawker or D-listed or any other celebrity schadenfreude site spit-spray their latte.

Procopius Anecdota (literal title ‘unpublished notes’) most commonly known under the title The Secret History is the most notorious, so I’ll cut to the chase right here. Written in the 6th century by a Byzantine master historian, this was the text he wrote to contradict all the fluff he’d been forced to write about his boss the emperor Justinian in The Wars of Justinian and The Buildings of Justinian in order to keep the big man happy. It is the defamatory masterpiece handed down to us from way back: Due to its obscene and libelous nature, the text lay dormant for centuries in the Vatican library until published in the early 17th century, and has maintained its notoriety ever since.

Procopius’ hatchet job on Justinian’s wife the empress Theodora is legendary. He tells all, and all is as unbelievable as all get: Trained swans picking grain from off Theodora’s genitalia in order to titillate her jaded sexual palate is not the craziest example I could cull up, in fact, some of the other ones are of the magnitude that if they showed up on a celebrity sex tape there is no doubt that Our Sweet Lord would lose any remaining patience with us and hurl an apocalyptic gotcha our way.

… and then the deliciously-difficult-to-parse-but-wonderful-to-try-to-read-out-loud penultmate paragraph:

People who write and blog and snark on sites such as Egotastic or Celeb Jihad or Media Takeout or The Superficial are dismantling some of our waxy build-ups that the constant Kardashian vuvuzela bring about, they are fueled by schadenfreude, certainly, and its lesser-known shadow-cousin gluckshmerz. Gluckschmerz is important; It is part of the mechanism that drove Procopius to write about Justinian and Theodora, and I would hope that the pain we feel presented with other people’s happiness is the bitter tonic at the centre of the reality-show sugar cookie when we indulge in that particular kind of destructive yet delicious schadenfreude that comes from seeing someone fumble and stumble and fail and fall as they are about to conquer the summit of modern celeb-dom.

… can’t believe I never heard of the word Gluckschmerz before …

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