The Apocolocyntosis (divi) Claudii, literally The Gourdification of (the Divine) Claudius, is a political satire on the Roman emperor Claudius, probably written by Seneca the Younger. It is one of only two examples of Menippean satire from the classical era that have survived, the other being Petronius' Satyricon. The title plays upon "apotheosis", the process by which dead Roman emperors were recognized as gods.
"Apocolocyntosis" is in fact Latinized Greek, and sometimes transliterated Apokolokyntosis. In the manuscripts the anonymous work bears the title Ludus de morte Divi Claudii ("Play on the death of the Divine Claudius"). The title Apokolokyntosis (Attic Greek Ἀποκολοκύνθωσις, "Gourdification", sometimes also translated as "Pumpkinification") comes from the Roman historian Dio Cassius, who wrote in Greek. Dio Cassius attributed authorship of a satirical text on the death of Claudius, called Apokolokyntosis, to Seneca the Younger. Only much later was the work referred to by Dio Cassius identified (with some degree of uncertainty) with the "Ludus" text.
The work traces the death of Claudius, his ascent to heaven and judgment by the gods, and his eventual descent to Hades. At each turn, of course, Seneca mocks the late emperor's personal failings, most notably his arrogant cruelty and his inarticulateness. After Mercury persuades Clotho to kill the emperor, Claudius walks to Mount Olympus, where he convinces Hercules to let the gods hear his suit for deification in a session of the divine senate. Proceedings are in Claudius' favor until Augustus delivers a long and sincere speech listing some of Claudius' most notorious crimes. Most of the speeches of the gods are lost through a large gap in the text. Mercury escorts him to Hades. On the way, they see the funeral procession for the emperor, in which a crew of venal characters mourn the loss of the perpetual Saturnalia of the previous reign. In Hades, Claudius is greeted by the ghosts of all the friends he has murdered. These shades carry him off to be punished, and the doom of the gods is that he should shake dice forever in a box with no bottom (gambling was one of Claudius' vices): every time he tries to throw the dice they fall out and he has to search the ground for them. Suddenly Caligula turns up, claims that Claudius is an ex-slave of his, and hands him over to be a law clerk in the court of the underworld.
Seneca had some personal reason for satirizing Claudius, because the emperor had banished him to Corsica. In addition, the political climate after the emperor's death may have made attacks on him acceptable. However, alongside these personal considerations, Seneca appears also to have been concerned with what he saw as an overuse of apotheosis as a political tool. If an emperor as flawed as Claudius could receive such treatment, he argued elsewhere, then people would cease to believe in the gods at all. A reading of the text shows Seneca was not above flattery of the new emperor Nero—such as writing that he would live longer and be wiser than the legendary Nestor.
- "Seneca himself had composed a work that he called Gourdification,—a word made on the analogy of 'deification'" (Dio Cassius, Book 61, No. 35 - Translation by Herbert Baldwin Foster, 1905, retrieved from Project Gutenberg)
- See introduction of W. H. D. Rouse's translation: "This piece is ascribed to Seneca by ancient tradition; it is impossible to prove that it is his, and impossible to prove that it is not. The matter will probably continue to be decided by every one according to his view of Seneca's character and abilities: in the matters of style and of sentiment much may be said on both sides. Dion Cassius (lx, 35) says that Seneca composed an "apokolokintosis" or Pumpkinification of Claudius after his death, the title being a parody of the usual "apotheosis"; but this title is not given in the MSS. of the Ludus de Morte Claudii, nor is there anything in the piece which suits the title very well."
- Altman, Marion (1938). "Ruler Cult in Seneca." Classical Philology 33 (1938): 198–204.
- Astbury, Raymond (1988). "The Apocolocyntosis." The Classical Review ns 38 (1988): 44–50.
- Colish, Marcia (1976). "Seneca's Apocolocyntosis as a Possible Source for Erasmus' Julius Exclusus." Renaissance Quarterly 29 (1976): 361–368.
- Relihan, Joel (1984). "On the Origin of 'Menippean Satire' as the Name of a Literary Genre." Classical Philology 79 (1984): 226–9.
- At Project Gutenberg: E-text No. 10001, English translation of the Apocolocyntosis by W. H. D. Rouse, 1920
- Claudius the God, by Robert Graves contains a translation of the Apocolocyntosis in the annexes.
- J.P. Sullivan (ed), "The Apocolocyntosis" (Penguin Books, 1986) ISBN 978-0-14-044489-6