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According to Suetonius, in the Lives of the Twelve Caesars (121 AD), Incitatus had a stable of marble, with an ivory manger, purple blankets, and a collar of precious stones. Dio Cassius has indicated that the horse was attended to by servants and was fed oats mixed with gold flake. Suetonius also wrote that it was said that Caligula planned to make Incitatus a consul, and that the horse would "invite" dignitaries to dine with him in a house outfitted with servants there to entertain such events.
The accuracy of the received history has been questioned by historical revisionists such as Anthony A. Barrett. They suggest that later Roman chroniclers such as Suetonius and Dio Cassius were influenced by the political situation of their own times, when it may have been useful to the current emperors to discredit the later Julio-Claudian emperors. Also, the lurid nature of the story added spice to their narratives, winning them additional readers.
One suggestion is that the treatment of Incitatus by Caligula was an elaborate prank, intended to ridicule and provoke the senate, rather than a sign of insanity, or perhaps a form of satire, with the implication that a horse could perform a senator's duties.
Barrett notes that "Many stories were spread about Incitatus, originating most likely from Caligula's own humorous quips." "Possibly out of perverted sense of humor Caligula would pour libations to Incitatus' salus [health and well-being], and claimed that he intended to co-opt him as his priest."
In art and metaphor
Incitatus appears as an allegorical figure when referencing examples of political ineptitude. A Melbourne lawyer once remarked that Incitatus would have the numbers to be elected Premier in Victoria, and in act III of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard (1904) Pishchik says that his family is "descended from that very nag Caligula inducted into the Senate."
Aleister Crowley's Liber VII Chapter 4, v. 28-30, suggest Incitatus had a deeper significance, reading, "Who wast Thou, O Caesar, that Thou knewest God in an horse? For lo! we beheld the White Horse of the Saxon engraven upon the earth; and we beheld the Horses of the Sea that flame about the old grey land, and the foam from their nostrils enlightens us!"
Ayn Rand, in her novel Atlas Shrugged (1957), refers to Incitatus, when the character Cherryl Brooks is likened to "the horse of some Roman emperor" by another character. Brooks is a poor dime store clerk who dates, and eventually marries, Jim Taggart, the wealthy president of Taggart Transcontinental, described as "one of the most powerful men in Washington."
The life of Incitatus is the subject of Zbigniew Herbert's poem "Caligula" (in Pan Cogito, 1974). In Jack of Fables, by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges, Incitatus talks so much that he risks giving away his status as a fable and frequently mentions his former status as a Roman senator.
In I, Claudius, Robert Graves wrote that Incitatus was made a senator and was put on the list to become a consul; that eventually, Claudius removed the governmental stipend for Incitatus and his status as senator for lacking the monetary requirements; that later, Incitatus was slaughtered after injuring his leg at a race; and that the mate of Incitatus, Penelope, was used by Claudius during his war with Britain.
In the video game Crusader Kings 2, insane characters can appoint a horse as chancellor. In another event for characters which have become immortal, Incitatus himself appears as an immortal horse nemesis and attacks the character.
- Barrett, Anthony A. (1990). Caligula: The Corruption of Power. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
- Jack of Fables #22-24
- Radio Times listing for Me and Little Boots from March 2000.