What is the “Adiatrepsia” of the two Emperors?

Caius Cesar ‘Caligula’ and Donald J. Trump are two parallel lives.

Agustín Muñoz-Sanz
6 min readJun 27, 2020


This brief story, written in Plutarch’s style, is about the addictive drunkenness of the power.

Several days ago, two events were among my everyday activities. The first one was the review of a literary text; the second was reading an interesting article. An invisible intellectual thread joined both instances. The yarn is a strange Greek word: ἀδιατρεψία. But what the hell does this word mean? Also, why does is it related to “two emperors”? Finally, who are these imperial statesmen?

First, let’s say something about the emperors. Then, with the help of Plutarch, I explain what the relation of the two supermen to the quoted word is.

An invisible intellectual thread joined both affairs. The yarn is a strange Greek word: ἀδιατρεψία. But what the hell does this word mean?

Gaius Cesar, a.k.a. Caligula, was the third Roman emperor.

The text is a literary tragedy. My Cayo César deals with some of the last vital events of Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. This emperor is most known as Caligula. A nickname put by legionaries. It is the affectionate diminutive of boots ( in Latin, calicae).

Caligula was the heir of Tiberius (42 BC-37 AD). For this reason, he occupied third place in the Roman imperial payroll. His government lasted only forty-six months and eight days in the blink of an eye.

Caligula (12 AD-41 AD). Photo: John Pollini

Caligula left an indelible mark on the great book of history. But not for his youth, the political action, or the military feats. Either for his contribution to culture, monumental works, or predatory persecution of Christians.

His nefarious fame joined his wickedness, like the evils emperors. Nero or Elagabalus, And to the devils of other times and different forms of government. Like Ivan the Terrible, Joseph Stalin, or Adolf Hitler.

Emperor Caligula did not kill masses. Though he abused dozens of people from all kinds and conditions. His extravagances, vileness, and horrendous deeds earned him the reputation of a madman. Some authors proposed certain diseases as the best reason to explain the inexplicable.

There is no space here to expose specifics facts attributed to him. It is de view of disaffected historians. Most of them with dishonest intentions. The existentialist writer Albert Camus wrote an excellent drama titled “Caligula.”

I have recovered the misdeeds of “the monster,” as Suetonius labeled the third emperor. With less authority than the cited prestigious authors but with similar interest. My thesis is that the sanest of the historical madmen was not crazy. He suffered from the poisoned drunkenness of power. So, he abused the fullness of his imperial status.

My thesis is that the sanest of the historical madmen was not crazy. He suffered from the poisoned drunkenness of power.

But everything has a limit. Human affairs are not eternal. These are the thoughts the Stoics (Epictetus, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius) taught us. Caligula wanted to be a god in life; but he was a miserable human being.

Popular wisdom says that who sows hate collects hate — a great truth. The sword of the revenge killed him. Roman senators ill-treated, although not less corrupted, conspired against the Emperor.

— “Citizens of Rome. Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, our divine emperor, the young Caligula, has died. My dear nephew.”

The excited hordes applauded with joy the man’s speech. Altogether, rich and poor, free men and slaves, military and civilian, Roman, and foreign. A cascade of crocodile tears bathed uncle Claudius’s eyes while looking at the starry sky of the night. His arms raised and open. He is speaking for history.

— “I address to all gods and goddesses from the Olympus. Listen to me: save the emperor!” — cried the next member in the imperial payroll with evident difficulties (stuttering). In the book of humankind’s biography, fate’s hand began to write a new chapter. And then more, and more. A lot more blood-tinged pages. Until almost two thousand years later.

Donald Trump is the forty-fifth Republican “emperor” of the USA.

The article is The Psychopath in Chief. Published on GEN/Medium and signed by Tony Schwartz, a great connoisseur of Mr. Trump. Mr. Schwartz argues that the 45th President of the American empire is a true psychopath. A psychopath is one person that lacks empathy: he/she does not put on himself/herself in the other’s shoes.

A psychopath is one person who lacks empathy.

Mr. Schwartz reminds us the blonde golfer meets 80%, 16 out of 20 criteria, of the Hare scale. A scale is a clinical tool that measures psychopathy. Mr. Trump began by telling five lies a day, and now he burps about twenty-three. Almost one every hour: around 18,000 lies! But he has never shown regret.

It seems real that Mr. Trump has not killed anyone. But his collection of ethical and behavioral actions does not envy Caligula’s record at all.

Donald Trump. Photo: EFE/El Mundo.

Plutarch’s Parallel Lives.

We can compare here both characters as Plutarch did with other historical men.

Caligula is the absolute star of a very “special” and controversial film. Yet, he did not live through a famous plague. Nor a great earthquake or an apocalyptic volcanic eruption. He subjected the empire, on a whim, to a great famine (Dio Cassius).

Mr. Trump lacks a specific film but is the protagonist of a small Netflix series. The President lives in first person the historical coronavirus “plague.” He is oblivious to the grave tragedy. He denied and undervaluing it. He also ignored epidemiological data.

He proposed ridiculous and dangerous treatments. And he dismissed the opinion of the government’s scientific advisers.

He is fighting against whoever contradicts him. And it favors the pandemic. Mr. Trump is the best ally of the new coronavirus. And of the funeral homes, too.

Caligula worshiped his horse Incitatus (impetuous). According to some authors, he wanted to make it a senator. But it looks that this is a “fake news” or “Trumpian” rank falsehood invented by someone. Donald Trump lacks a horse, but he adores the donkey who became President.

Two significant phrases define the psychopathological profile of both statesmen. Caligula, influenced by Cicero, used to say, “I scorn their hatred if they do but fear me.” Mr. Trump is a bit more poetic than the Roman emperor. As Tony Schwartz quotes: “I love getting even when I get screwed by someone.” Superb statements that define thoughts boiling in such exotic brains. Bad brains.

Caligula, influenced by Cicero, used to say, “I scorn their hatred if they do but fear me.”

Two sides of the coin of power.

In chapter 29 of The Life of the Twelve Caesars, Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus attributes to Caligula a new Greek word, ἀδιατρεψία (“adiatrepsia,” in English?). Its translation from Greek varied. An approximate could be inflexible rigor, or better: insolence (or barefaced).

The third Roman emperor was in love with the moon, as say the text of Albert Camus. He trusted his impetuous horse more than in all senators. And more than many of patricians citizens. Caligula used to say: “There is nothing in my nature that praises or approves as much as my ‘adiatrepsia.” Mr. Trump, ignoring this psychological problem, has said nothing about it. Until now. It is because his best friend is not a reckless horse.

Caligula and Trump are the two sides (or faces) of the denary (or dollar) of power. Power is a poison that excites the scrambled mind of politicians suffering ἀδιατρεψία.



Agustín Muñoz-Sanz

Medical Doctor (Infectious Diseases specialist/Professor of Medicine) and writer (narrative, theater).