12-31-0192

Commodus as Hercules

COMMODUS, Roman emperor, dies (b: 161); It’s New Year’s Eve and, after a long year’s journey, we are finally at the end of this year. To be on the safe side, why not stay home and watch old reruns of Guy Lombardo and spend a quiet evening in memory of the emperor Commodus, who called his exceptionally well-endowed cup-bearer “my donkey,” and was strangled by an over-enthusiastic wrestler named Narcissus on this day. 

In 2000’s Gladiator, Commodus was portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix in an Academy-Award-nominated performance. The historical character of Commodus is fictionalized in the movie as a deranged megalomaniac who murders Marcus Aurelius to usurp the throne. (There is no historical evidence suggesting Marcus Aurelius was murdered, much less by his own son.)

However the movie removes some of the most bizarre eccentricities of Commodus. The film’s protagonist, Maximus Decimus Meridius (played by Russell Crowe) is loosely inspired by Narcissus, and was named so in a previous draft of the screenplay, but as in The Fall of the Roman Empire Commodus is killed in hand-to-hand combat. Commodus’s death marked the end of the Nervan-Antonian and of the Pax Romana.