Seneca: The Pumpkinification of the Divine Claudius

When someone important and of questionable character dies, should we make fun of them?

by Massimo Pigliucci

“His last words heard among mortals — after he had let out a louder sound from that part with which he found it easier to communicate — were as follows: ‘Good heavens. I think I’ve shat myself.’ Well, I don’t know about that, but he certainly shat up everything else.” (The Pumpkinification of the Divine Claudius, 4)

This irreverent bit about the recently deceased (13 October 54 CE) emperor Claudius was written by Seneca the Younger, otherwise known as one of the major Stoic philosophers, advisor to Claudius’ successor, Nero, and — among other things — a playwright who ended up influencing Shakespeare.

The Pumpkinification of the Divine Claudius was written shortly after the emperor’s demise, likely on the occasion of the Saturnalia festivities of December 54 CE, an appropriate moment, given both that Claudius was fond of festivals and that the Saturnalia were meant to be irreverent and to (temporarily) overturn social conventions. … (continue at Medium)


  1. Is not Claudius’ title, “Apocolocyntosis (divi) Claudii,” also possibly a play on Latin cōlon (“large intestine”), from Ancient Greek κόλον (kolon, “the large intestine” [and other meanings])? In which case, the latter part of the word could be seen as playing on the Greek συν τοξίνη, “with toxin,” and thus a dig by Seneca on his reported last words by Claudius, if Seneca knew WHY those were Claudius’ last words. If not literally referring to that, Seneca could be hinting at Claudius’ mouth as a toxic colon. Feel free to pass that idea along …

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