Mocking the emperor

In ancient Greece and Rome there could be something of the jester in the mime actors, who might improvise and mock from the stage.  Suetonius tells us of a mime actor at Vespasian’s funeral whom custom required to imitate the dead emperor.  He seems to have made a joke of a less than admirable trait in Vespasian, namely stinginess, and it would be interesting to know if anyone laughed:

Even at his funeral, Favor, a leading actor of mimes, who wore his mask and, according to the usual custom, imitated the actions and words of the deceased during his lifetime, having asked the procurators in a loud voice how much his funeral procession would cost, and hearing the reply “Ten million sesterces,” cried out: “Give me a hundred thousand and fling me into the Tiber!”

Source: Suetonius, De Vita Caesarum: Divus Vespasianus, trans. R. C. Rolfe, in Suetonius, 2 vols., J. C. Rolfe, ed., The Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), vol. 2, pp. 281-321.  Available online at the Ancient History Sourcebook.

Image credit: Head of Vespasian; Palazzo Massimo (Rome); CC BY-SA 4.0


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