What was the nature of Caligula and Scipio's relationship in their younger years?

Quick answer:

In Caligula, Scipio is ostensibly Caligula's friend who comes to hate him after the emperor murders his father. In reality, Scipio represents the hopes of those who saw the new emperor as a return to greatness. His hatred masks the sense of hurt and betrayal of a people rejected by their would-be savior.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Albert Camus's play Caligula, Scipio is a young nobleman and poet. He descends from a famous family that includes Scipio Africanus, the Roman general who defeated Hannibal in 202 BC. Based on his name and lineage, he is a stand-in for Rome's illustrious past in comparison to the time of corruption and degradation under the Julio-Claudians.

Scipio's friendship with the young Caligula represents the hopes of the Roman people at the the time Caligula became emperor—before the madness and depravity depicted in the play dashed those hopes. After all, like Scipio, Caligula hailed from a number of illustrious ancestors. Unlike Tiberius, his loathed predecessor, Caligula was a direct descendant of Augustus. He was also the son of Germanicus, one of Rome's most popular generals. He was also connected by blood to Julius Caesar, Livia, Marc Antony, and Agrippa. In short, Caligula upon his elevation to the purple was hailed as a savior of Rome and played the part by ending the hated treason trials of Tiberius.

After Caligula emerges as a monster over the course of act 2, Scipio professes hatred for his former friend who killed his father in a gruesome fashion. Like Rome herself, Scipio's hatred is ambivalent, and he seems, despite himself, to retain some admiration of Caligula. This can be seen when his affected manner is scrutinized by other characters or even breaks down completely. In act 2, Caesonia coaxes Scipio to admit that he hates Caligula. When she questions him as to why he would admit such a dangerous thing, he at first declares "Because I fear no one. Either killing him or being killed is a way out of this." This statement is an unconscious imitation of Caligula's own existentialist angst. At the same time, Scipio knows that Caesonia sees through it, and it's not really that he's afraid of no one so much as it is that he knows that Caesonia doesn't see him as a real threat, and so she won't give him away.

Caligula actually knows full well that Scipio hates him (or wants to), but he's perfectly content to leave him alone because he knows that Scipio's passion is "anemic," good for poems about nature but lacking the bloody vitality that Caligula yearns for. Their discussion of poetry completely unmasks Scipio in that he drops his laconic way of speaking when Caligula joins in on his glorification of the beauty of the heavens and the hills of Rome. Thus, until Scipio realizes that Caligula is beyond all hope and has become simply pathetic, his manner is more that of a jilted lover whose hatred of her paramour betrays her desire to be with him once more. Hope for the reign of Caligula died hard in the hearts and minds of those who saw him as a symbol of Rome's lost grandeur.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial