Paris Day 5-6: Disneyland in Paris

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I’ve been to Disney World in Orlando more times than I can remember. I’m assuming it’s at least in the double digits, so to say I’m familiar with the park is probably an understatement. Disneyland Paris is something else, however, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the park was not a mirror image of its predecessors.

Opening in April of 1992, the park is still celebrating it’s 25th anniversary this year though it’s now officially crossed the 26 year mark. But we’re also celebrating other significant milestones with this park visit. The first time my mother ever got the chance to experience a Disney Park, it was with my grandmother, which was also her first visit too. It was on this trip that my mother became obsessed with Disney and Mickey Mouse, passing along her love to me as well. So, for the first time, we were both visiting a Disney park for the first time together, neither of us having been to Disneyland Paris before.

And the park is certainly unique! Not only does it have exclusive rides, but even the classic staples found at all Disney Parks are different–and we were even able to enjoy experiences that no longer exist at older parks. One of these was Captain Jack’s restaurant (though of different name back then), which is a sit-down restaurant inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride which is seen from the boats going through. My mother explained that she went to this restaurant with my grandmother too, so we made sure to check it out as well. The food was amazing but I’m pretty sure I’ve never felt as full in my entire life.

We rode Pirates of the Caribbean 3 times in the course of our visit, it being one of our all time favorites from Disney Parks. Though the dialogue spoken in the ride was French, the Pirate’s Life song was sung in English so it was both familiar and fun. It also wasn’t a copy of the original, there were a few added features like a Barbossa who, under moonlight, dazzled in cursed skeletal glory. Different odds and ends like poor kitties floating on crates, a captain’s quarters, and of course the view of Captain Jack’s Restaurant made it a unique treat despite the many times I’ve been on the ride in Disney World. We also saw the new addition of a Pirate Red-Head, which has since changed over from the original wench auction.

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The park worlds are all different too! There is Frontierland (not set-up the same as Disney World at all), Adventureland which is broken up by an Adventure Isle which contains a pirate ship, Skull Rock, and a maze of dark tunnel caves which is a whole lot of fun put would have probably given my parents a heart-attack if my brother and I played in them as kids. Fantasyland which includes enough exclusive features to set it apart, and Discoveryland which replaces Tomorrowland as the sci-fi otherword but with more of a steampunk flair in aesthetic. There is also a second park called Walt Disney Studios which takes the place of Hollywood Studios at Disney World which includes Tower of Terror and one of my old favorites, Animation Studio which has since been turned into a Star Wars outpost in Disney World.

And, of course, the Disney castle is different–instead of Cinderella, the castle in the middle belongs to Sleeping Beauty and upstairs there is an entire stained glass gallery featuring her story. Also, underneath the castle in a dark cave lives the dragon…

As for the rides that can’t be found at Disney World? We tried them all! Ratatouille being the most well-known, we hit up that one first especially since the lines for it are ridiculously long. And though it was fun, I can’t suggest that an hour wait is worth it. It was certainly a pleasant ride, but we were good with one go. You ride on a mouse mobile chasing around in Gusteau’s restaurant but the ride relies mostly on motion with the action happening on screen and the mouse car moving in place along in response. There are some fun moments where you do move through the kitchen and pleasant smells like citrus are injected into the air. Another exclusive ride that left us a bit wanting was Indiana Jones and The Temple of Peril. It’s a short mine cart roller coaster that hooks and loops around a cool looking temple ruin, but it mostly jostles you around and both my mother and I repeatedly had our heads pinging back and forth against our headrest so we left the ride feeling a bit disoriented and woozy. The ride also lacks the magic of integrating you into the world of Indiana Jones which other Disney rides are pretty good about doing, nothing during the ride had anything to do with the whipped crusader aside from name alone which was a shame. It could have been a roller coaster from anywhere.

One of my favorites was Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain, which was a refurbishment of Space Mountain, a similar thing having happened to the ride at Disneyland California too. Space Mountain, in my experience at Disney World, isn’t a ride that had aged well. Half the time it’s broken down and the other half it’s rickety and rough, throwing you around in an un-enjoyable experience that’s hardly even dark enough anymore, the blackness of space impossible when the roller coaster tracks are visible. So I was excited to see how Hyperspace Mountain improved upon the formula and I was not disappointed. IT WAS COOL! First thing it does is launch you so fast it straps you back and you momentarily loose your breath as your body tries to adjust to the velocity, and once you’re finally able to breathe again, you’re being thrown around in the dark with flashing lasers and dogfights between X-Wings and Tie Fighters, it’s honestly a treat.

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Surprisingly, in a country that prides itself on food, Disneyland Paris didn’t have much variety in options. I remember when I was a kid, the food wasn’t that impressive at Disney World either, but over the years they’ve really strengthened their culinary prowess and now you can’t turn a corner without a stall having its own unique dish to salivate and throw down $20 for (I’m exaggerating but also it’s kinda on the mark) If you’re curious to see what Disney World has going on in the food world, I suggest following Disneyfoodblog but be prepared to pack your bags and book your tickets. At Disneyland Paris, every single stall either had popcorn and ice cream or sugared crepes and a hot dog. Don’t get me wrong, these hot dogs are something else. They’re giant doggies nestled in a baguette and I could probably eat one every day but you just want some options, you know?

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And maybe this is simply because of the culture in Europe. We saw signs telling people that picnicking within the park was not permitted and we were wondering, was that seriously a thing? Evidently. Most of the visitors at Disneyland Paris brought in school sized backpacks full of food that they’d consume in line for a ride. There was one guy chowing down a bowl of noodles before getting on Hyperspace mountain and I have to wonder if he had an iron gut.

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A few other stray observations…

Both parks are small, which is no surprise since the internet is pretty up front about warning visitors of this. Walt Disney Studios takes less than an hour to walk all around with no stops, so if you’re planning a visit, get the multi-pass.

France being France was eager to let us know what they were responsible for inventing which was pretty funny. Declarations were featured in a few of their rides like ‘the French invented animation!’, ‘the French invented special effects!’, ‘the French invented shooting films on location!’. It was honestly endearing.

It’s a Small World WAS sung in French!

There was a severe lack of adult beverages which is the opposite problem at Disney World. Do Europeans not need to be drowning in booze in order to get through a day spent with their kids?

Both days the Aladdin signing autographs was white as hell.

Do Europeans get the same sense of wonder and awe with our history and aesthetic as we do theirs? Frontierland is an ode to the American West, do their minds tick and whirl with imaginings of Cowboys and Native Americans?

Some guy accidentally sneezed on my mother and she reflexively said “Bless you!” to him which cued a fervently concerned discussion in German where the wife was pretty sure my mother meant something along the lines of gesundheit rather than the other probable two worded phrase she might have fired off instead.

Other treats, a pineapple dole whip float. It’s not the same as the swirl featured in Disney World but it did the job. And the beignets are delicious!

All in all, I’m super glad we checked out Disneyland Paris. As lifelong Disney fans, it was really cool to experience Disney in a different way and I’ll always remember it fondly as that crazy time we went to visit Mickey Mouse in Paris. Now I’ll need to visit Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Tokyo too!

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Paris Day 4: Life is Laissez-faire

Today is our last day in the city of Paris before we move on to see if Pirates of the Caribbean is sung in French. Since we wore out the soles of our shoes yesterday with all our walking, we thought we’d take it a bit easy today since we’ll be hitting the pavement hard in Disneyland. In the morning, we took a walk a few blocks down to visit a bakery and stop into a cafe for a quick breakfast.

I don’t know what it is about their ham, but every dish I’ve had with it featured is beyond amazing. It basically melts in your mouth and the flavor from the juices makes me feel like declaring France the king of the pig over Italy which just feels sacrilegious to me. As we were sitting outside on the patio, we must have looked like locals who knew what the hell we were doing because a group of fellow tourists came up to us trying to speak French, asking us for directions. We were so proud of ourselves, especially since they were looking for help in getting to the Opera Granier which we knew intimately at this point, as our hotel is located within walking distance. We told them the way and felt like proud Parisians for a minute. Not shortly after, however, my mother was back to spreading the good word of Minnesota “oop!” which does a much more satisfactory job than “excusez-moi” when accidentally running into people, if you ask me.

Since we are so close, we decided to try and see if our tourist friends made it safely from our directions and decided to tour the Opera Granier ourselves!

Named after it’s grand architect Charles Garnier, the Opera House was completed in 1875, after an assassination attempt on Emperor Napoleon III prompted a desire for a new opera location since the old one was getting a bit dangerous. Hilariously, however, France was a republic again by the time the Opera Garnier was completed. Napoleon III was super dead and unable to attend the opening, but thanks anyway!

And, of course, the Opera Garnier is known for another famous spectre, the Phantom! The novel by Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opéra, is inspired by tales and events that occurred at the Opera, one in particular being the accident in which a patron was killed after a chandelier had become dislodged, crashing through the auditorium. Gaston was an investigative journalist and claimed the story as factual in the opening chapter of the novel, but unfortunately it’s mostly a work of fiction.

I think if I was sitting in the seats directly below this, I’d probably keep looking up every 5 seconds just to make sure I wasn’t about to become a ghost myself.

Standing inside the Opera Garnier is nothing short of astonishing. I probably spent 20 minutes just soaking up the gold in this room with my mouth hanging open. Despite the looks, however, it’s not as expensive as it might seem. Though some things like the fireplace and a few statues are genuinely fully gilded with gold leaf, a majority of this room was oil painted and created to give the effect of gilding.

I don’t know about you, but this works just as well for me!

There is even a sad Salieri who lives here, which I stopped giggling long enough to snap a photo of. He DID NOT kill Mozart, but R.I.P. Milos Forman.

After the Opera, we walked some more, taking in the sights and sounds of Paris. We passed a shop with sizzling hens, produce stalls, and got plenty a whiff from the flower shops lining the streets. Though it wasn’t night yet and we had no interest in seeing the can-can dancers, we waved to the Moulin Rouge anyway.

Plenty tired now from all of our walking, we kicked up our feet outside on a cafe patio so I could read my Shakespeare & Company copy of Hunchback of Notre Dame and my mother could people watch. Also, had myself a real flat white rather than the Starbucks knockoff I’m used to and a tasty savory croissant with tomato, ham, & cheese!

Though Paris is beautiful in the rain, we spent it indoors at a restaurant enjoying our last meal in town. Managed to knock off a few French cuisine staples too!

Beef bourgignoun!

Creme brûlée!

And the prettiest cappuccino I’ve ever seen!

Thanks for the love, Paris! You’ve been swell to a couple of bumpkins with a flimsy grasp of the language, and we’ve been nothing but smiles since we’ve got here! We’re in perfect moods to take to Disneyland and my mom is frothing at the mouth to get her hands on a Mickey Mouse sugar cookie. Au revoir!

Paris Day 3: Versailles, The Louvre, & Food. Oh My!

I forgot to mention a few notes from yesterday in my haste to get into bed! We learned about the unofficial memorial to Princess Diana while touring, it’s a golden torch that hangs out above the tunnel where the fatal crash occurred. So when we took our ride to our dinner cruise later, we were in cryptic shock when we realized we were traveling through the same tunnel. It does feel a bit eery! On our dinner cruise, I was given the privilege of tasting the wine for the table because I apparently said ‘bonjour!’ well enough in greeting that the waiter got confused and thought I was French, so take that mother! Also, the Luxor Obelisk I took a picture of in my last post also happens to be displayed in the same spot Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI were executed on the guillotine during the French Revolution. This last tidbit brings me to the start of our adventure this morning!

Like I had mentioned earlier, the Chateau de Versailles was one of my favorite things I had seen on my previous trip and I was excited for my mother to see it. I made her watch Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette film back home in preparation which, while not entirely perfect in historical accuracy, makes for a beautiful movie which I love regardless and the film was even shot on location! We arrived at Versailles early morning so we could get in before it got too crowded.

Opulent, yet faint with age, Versailles is still the pearl of France. Where once the extravagance behind its doors were regarded as gratuitously frivolous and enraged the populous into a rebellious frenzy, it now exists as a shell of itself–most of the inner furnishing lost, after it had all been removed following the revolution. Yet, you can still get a sense of the characters who once walked these halls–from the Sun King’s love of hunting proudly displayed in reverence to Artemis to what fun must have been had in the billiards room, it’s impossible to escape the shadow of greatness.

One of the things I did not get to see last time were the extensive gardens. We rented a cart to drive out back to see the Grand & Petit Trianon, and got to drive through the gardens all afternoon. It was a beautiful mid-60’s sunny day in Spring with a light breeze carrying with it a hint of moisture blowing off from the canal. So, perfect, basically. Within the Petit Trianon was the classic portrait of Marie Antoinette, who while alive, hated the lifestyle at Versailles. Kindred introverts, Marie would hide away from the court at Versailles in favor of residing at the Trianon or her cottage home created to emulate a simpler, quieter country life.

I have written about Marie a few times on this blog, if you want a taste of a bit of her sass you can read here or if you are curious to know what her famous last words might have been before being executed, check it out here.

Before leaving the gardens, we had to check out a fountain show too!

Now, onto some food! For breakfast at Versailles, we stopped into Angelina’s where I was determined to capture a video of the hot chocolate pouring into my cup because I’m cruel like that.

Then, after burning off all that chocolate walking around the gardens, we split a fresh club sandwich and replenished our supply of sugar with a Nutella banana crepe, all served within the gardens itself!

Nap time probably, but nope! We were now off to hit up the Louvre so we could say hi to Mona Lisa and get my fix of other historical people I really dig.

My answer whenever someone asks that question, “Who would you invite to dinner, living or dead?” That’d be my boy Marcus Aurelius!

And then there is his son Commodus, who is my favorite asshole. I wrote about this douche on my blog before which you can read about here!

More Joan of Arc ❤

And this handsome devil Antinous, thought to be one of the most beautiful people in the classical world, not unlike the male version of Helen. I wrote about him too and the ridiculous ending to his story here.

And, of course, the smile known around the world.

Last but not least, I ate a really fantastic burger and America should really get on this Ramen bun thing, I’m just Seine-in’.

Paris Day 2: Can I Get Some Salt?

Woke up feeling like I hadn’t just conquered a transatlantic flight and was ready to roll out (and drown myself in coffee too but that’s a normal feeling despite the circumstances). We found a little cafe near our hotel that was open early for breakfast, most creperies and places we had our eye on weren’t open until later in the morning. Behold the lightest most satisfying breakfast for only 12 euro!

Magnifico! I could get this for breakfast every day, it was the perfect meal to wake up to. Afterwards, we hopped on a tour bus to help us navigate around Paris and first stop for us was Norte Dame!

The cathedral has such an extensive history, I’m not sure if I could really sum it up here with any integrity. Suffice it to say, it felt extremely powerful to stand within it. Right away you get a whiff of incense and a shiver down your spine upon entering, and the feeling of being minuscule enfolds as you stare at the colorful stained glass and how much space exists above you.

I was surprised to see a spot venerating Joan of Arc and a place to light a candle offering for her, I knew she was canonized but did not know I would necessarily find her here. She was, of course, executed after a sham of a hearing which you can find a copy of in transcript here. Felt special to make a small connection with a historical hero of mine. My mother also lit an offering candle for my grandma and grandpa who must be super proud of her right now and were probably also amused when she accidentally used profanity within these holy walls. I’m never going to let her forget it either.

We also investigated the treasure room where they had papal artifacts, chalices, and other relics on display. Even caught a glimpse of the holy hand grenade! Jokes aside, I could probably put up a fun post on this site about the madhouse of insanity that went into the holy relic racket, but for now I’ll just leave a cool picture and let you all know I saw a couple of saintly femurs.

While we were browsing, the bells went off while we were standing within the walls of Norte Dame. I’ll let that sentence sink in. Mass also started while we were there and we even went up for communion because why not go for the full experience!?

We continued along our tour and took in more sites from Paris, getting down some ideas for what we’d like to try and do for our free day on Saturday!

This is the obelisk given to France by an Ottoman king, we were told in thanks to the work of French Archaeology in recovering the Rosetta Stone and deciphering Ancient Egyptian. This obelisk is from the Luxor temple and tells of praise for Ramesses II the Great.

We had a riverboat cruise to catch! What better way to spend a night with your mother other than going on a romantic dinner cruise along the Seine?

Yeah, I don’t know either. There was another touring mother and daughter next to us having dinner and I almost got to witness a homicide when she asked our waiter for salt after tasting her chicken. Tomorrow we have plans to see the palace of Versailles and the Louvre!

Paris Day 1: From Jet Lag With Love

I have not slept in over 24 hours. Save for a small catnap while crammed into the middle seat of the plane with The Mummy in my ear to help drown out that hellacious Iceland wind turbulence. But, oddly, I don’t feel as dead to the world as I should be.

We arrived in Paris in the afternoon, sleep-deprived and a little bewildered by the drive to the main bank we’d be staying in. Last time, I wasn’t able to experience the ride from the airport to Paris, which showed a side of the city not often considered when dreaming about planning a romantic getaway under the dazzling lights of the Eiffel Tower. There were refugee pockets panhandling along the main road and makeshift tent communities and homes made from wire fences. People were strolling amongst the cars in the middle of the road begging for change not unlike India, and there were stretches of the highway where garbage was piled up to look reminiscent of the airport scene in The Fifth Element. Perhaps Luc Besson was making a cultural reference I had yet to experience.

So I was eager to see the city center and hope, desperately, that I would not be adding Paris Syndrome onto my list of ails. Once we checked into our hotel, we hit the pavement immediately–a bit overwhelmed and disoriented by the busy streets and people fast walking by us. First things first, we wanted to try the famous hot chocolate at Angelina’s we had heard so much about! I was barely keeping it together at this point and we weren’t expecting the location recommended to us to be found in a humongous mecha of designer goods that had my wallet crying tears of neglect.

Galeries Lafayette

Angelina’s is tucked away in the back on the 1st floor of Galeries Lafayette, forcing you to navigate through a field of heavy perfumes and somehow manage not to immediately buy a whole box of macarons from Pierre Hermè. We were seated next to a table of older French ladies who seemed to be regulars, and they weren’t exactly pleased to see us. I didn’t think I was dressed too out of the ordinary, I deliberately packed outfits that would help me blend in, but my mother caught one of them giving me the once over in disgust, finding particular offense by my choice in Toms shoes. Yikes.

They seemed to be interested in everything we did and were both parts either annoyed or amused by us. They also kept watching us and we heard them declare to each other what our food order was as it came out to our table which was pretty wild. As a result, we tried not to be too ostentatious with our taking pictures of our food, but I still managed to snap a couple shots!

I can absolutely attest to the hot chocolate being amazing. It was sweeter and lighter than I was expecting–the famous version is a blend of three different chocolates from Africa, so I was prepared for all that chocolatey goodness to go down with a bitter bite! It was so smooth and sweet, I really didn’t even need the cream to help cut it. You’ve got to try this at least once in your life, especially if Nestle hot water mixed with powder is the only life you’ve known.

After we enjoyed our lunch, the magic of the hot chocolate coursing through my veins jolted me back awake and we spent some time pursuing the Parisian fashion available to us and repeatedly talked each other out of making any big purchases. Would be pretty sad to go for broke all in the first day, we still have Disneyland to get to after all!

But alas, we were still extremely exhausted and decided to do dinner a bit simpler. We found a bakery nearby our hotel and grabbed a baguette, butter, and brie to take back with us while we listened to the noises of the city outside our opened window. Might sound kinda lame, but I can assure you it feels like heaven right now. Besides, I am so ready to crawl into this comforter!

Histastrophe! in Paris

Paris Suitcase

What can I say, I’m a light packer.

Ah, Paris, “The City of Light”!

If you followed along with me on my last adventure, I briefly saw a bit of Paris while on a road trip through Europe to meet my Italian relatives in southern Italy’s Cosenza. Two years ago, I caught a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower in our car and was also fortunate enough to visit Chateau Versailles as well, which was one of my favorite memories from the trip.

Upon my return home, I realized I missed getting to experience Paris the most, even more so than Rome (Which, you guessed it, is a bit strange considering how much of my posts on this blog concern Roman history). I longed to walk among the gardens of Versailles again and this time wanted to stroll along the the Seine as well. I never got to taste the famous hot chocolate at Angelina’s or marvel at the treasures in the Louvre. And I just really really wanted to try an authentic macaron.

Well, this time, I’m planning to do just that! Accompanying me on this trip is my mother who has never traveled abroad before (I’m so excited for her and also secretly hoping she’ll catch the travel bug, I need to go to Rome again too!). Like before, I’ll be updating every day and detailing our adventures! And for my fellow history lovers, we’ve certainly got our eye on some cool spots! I’ll be showing her Versailles, and we have plans to visit the Louvre, Arch de Triomphe, the Latin Quarter, and maybe even Victor Hugo’s house. Unfortunately, we probably won’t be seeing The Catacombs which I suggested doing on Friday the 13th and was met with an uncharacteristic expletive from my mother which she’ll have to ask forgiveness for at Notre Dame. Also, because we’re both huge nerds, we’re spending a day or two in Disneyland Paris too.

So follow along on my blog to keep up with my adventures in Paris! When I return, it’s back to the usual update schedule. Next post will >shocker< not be about Ancient Rome.

Salut!

 

Also, just for fun, here is the anthem for this trip!

 

History is Incessantly Incesty (Part Duo)

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Emperor Nero watching longingly as his mother out crazy him.

Moving right along down historical family trees much like the dating preferences of the people I will be focusing on in this series, I’ll be looking at one case in particular in the Julio-Claudian line fraught with power-grabbing, incest, and the occasional murder or two. Not unlike the Lannisters, one famous mother in history was willing to bang whatever and murder whomever if it meant she’d be sitting pretty on the Marble Throne. [1]

2) Agrippina the Younger

Nero and Agrippina

Joffrey and Cersei Nero and Agrippina

There is no shortage of lunatic Roman Emperors and Nero is certainly one of the more famous iterations. Remembered for his dramatics and flair for theatre, or the flare that engulfed Rome in 64 AD which Nero was accused of having caused himself, he will forever go down in history as the man who played the fiddle as Rome burned. [2]

For a rumor had spread that, while the city was burning, Nero had gone on his private stage and, comparing modern calamities with ancient, had sung of the destruction of Troy. – Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome [3]

But where there’s a fire-happy Mad King (Cersei Lannister certainly must have been inspired in her frequent use of wildfire), there’s usually a mom standing behind him totally responsible for it. Enter Agrippina the Younger, stage left.

Agrippina joins among the ranks of some of the most powerful figures in Roman History, born into the Julio-Claudian line descendant from Julius & Augustus Caesar. Now, as you can imagine, the family tree is a bit sticky with important folk, so for the purposes of this post and the dirty that follows, I’ll point out the relevant relations now before your eyes glaze over. Agrippina the Younger’s parents are Agrippina the Elder and Germanicus. From her mother, she is directly descended from Augustus, counting him as her great grandfather. Her father Germanicus was a popular and famous general whose younger brother Claudius would eventually become Roman Emperor. [4] Still with me so far?

Now, being descendant from the most powerful family in Roman History should prove nothing short of bearing considerable skill in political ambitions and intrigue. And Agrippina the Younger was certainly no disappointment on this matter. When she was just 22, her brother Caligula (yes, that one) became Emperor of Rome after their great uncle Tiberius passed away (Or murdered, semantics). Being a doting and loving brother, Caligula granted Agrippina and her sisters all sorts of honors and special privileges, which led their enemies to speculate whether there were other benefits being shared between them. Oh, brother. [5]

He lived in habitual incest with all his sisters, and at a large banquet he placed each of them in turn below him, while his wife reclined above. Of these he is believed to have violated Drusilla when he was still a minor, and even to have been caught lying with her by his grandmother Antonia, at whose house they were brought up in company. – Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars; Life of Caligula [5]

All good things must come to an end, however, and eventually Caligula dovetailed into a tyrannical spiral of insanity after the death of his favorite sister that only a well-conceived assassination plot could fix. With clear love lost between them, Agrippina and her other sister Livilla plotted with their cousin Lepidus to dagger Caligula into the annals of history forever. It didn’t work out though, and Caligula condemned them all to trial producing public letters supposedly written in their own hand writing as evidence of…more incestual bonding between the plotters because THIS FAMILY. Caligula got his way and his cousin Lepidus was executed with his sisters being sent off in exile. [5]

Julia Drusilla

The favorite Drusilla in question… Painted by John Godward in 1906

Agrippina didn’t have long to wait in exile though, for Caligula was swiftly murdered a year later at the measly age of 28 in a display of stabbing rivaling the death of Julius Caesar. With Caligula gone, Agrippina’s uncle Claudius became the new Roman Emperor and he invited the sisters back to Rome where Agrippina could begin using her feminine wiles to solidify her place among those in power and attempt to leverage her young son, Nero, into the line of succession.

Whether or not Agrippina had a proliferation for incest [6] as her accusers claim or she knew that getting close to her uncle was obviously the best way to the Empire, only one obstacle stood in her way–Claudius’ wife Messalina. Her aunt-in-law (and also second cousin because lol) already proved disastrous to her sister Livilla, who was exiled after being accused of an affair with Seneca and promptly starved to death. Agrippina was playing the long game though, and after the death of her second husband (some say at her hand in a classic Black Widow scheme), she became considerably wealthy and used it to leverage her position of sympathy into that of renown and popularity.

And suddenly, Emperor Claudius found himself a bachelor as Messalina tried and failed to murder him too, clearly backstabbing being the preferred recreational sport of the Roman nobility. Despite the disdain and disgust of the general populous, Agrippina married Emperor Claudius and became the first wife to obtain the title of Augusta despite the scary uncle that came with it. Agrippina had succeeded in claiming her place as Roman Empress. [3.1]

But Agrippina’s intrigues were still driving Claudius to the most brutal behavior. – Tacitus, Annals [3]

As Empress, she was frequently noted as conniving and ruthless. [3.2] When she wanted a beautiful garden, she’d accuse someone into committing suicide in order to claim it. She also accused a controller of a joint project of illicit profits to which he exclaimed that the accusations were nothing more than a byproduct of her “dictatorial, feminine excess of ambition.” Can I get that written on my grave stone, please?

Her joint rule was fraught with so many plots against anyone accused of disloyalty against her or inheritance of her son Nero, Claudius was said to have “remarked in his cups that it was his destiny first to endure his wive’s misdeeds, and then to punish them.” But Agrippina wasn’t about to allow him the chance.

Rochegrosse_Georges_Antoine_The_Death_of_Messalina_1916

The Death of Messalina, painted by Rochegrosse Georges Antoine 1916

In a scene straight out of The Beguiled or Phantom Thread, Agrippina planned the murder of Claudius by sprinkling poisonous mushrooms into his food which would have probably done the job if not for the fit of diarrhea that accompanied, and saved him, from his fate. Agrippina was pissed. Enlisting the help of Claudius’ doctor, Xenophon, she made sure the job was done with less fecal fanfare, ensuring his death ruled of natural causes. [3]

The story is that, while pretending to help Claudius to vomit, he put a feather dipped in a quick poison down his throat. – Tactius, Annals [3]

With the death of Claudius, Agrippina was an heir away from making sure Nero was the next Emperor. Locking up Claudius’ son Britannicus and letting everyone know whom Claudius had chosen for succession, her baby boy Nero finally became Roman Emperor and this time she didn’t have to sleep with anyone to do it. Unfortunately, her authority over her now powerful son wasn’t what she had hoped, since with the return of her dead sister’s lover Seneca as Nero’s tutor/adviser and with the slave girl Acte finding a place in his heart, Agrippina had a lot to complain about. [3.3]

This was unbecoming to Nero who attempted to appease his mother by sending her a nice jeweled garment as a peace offering. To which Agrippina scoffed at and demanded her rightful place by his side instead, after all, she orchestrated the damn thing, didn’t she? Upping the petty, Nero banished his mother’s side-piece Pallas from the estate and Agrippina started to wonder if maybe throwing her lot behind Britannicus wouldn’t be such a bad idea, despite, you know, the whole conspiracy thing. Like mother like son, though, Nero poisoned him at the family table before an overthrow could take place.

Fuming, Agrippina flounced around the palace trying to make powerful allies where she could but Nero wasn’t having any of it and withdrew her retainer of guards and ended her lavish receptions on palace grounds by sending her to a different residence altogether, seeing to the end of her court in the process. It’s here that her tactics shift and the sources drudge up accusations familiar, at this point, to her usual games. [3]

Agrippina’s passion to retain power carried her so far that at midday, the time when food and drink were beginning to raise Nero’s temperature, she several times appeared before her inebriated son all decked out and ready for incest. -Tactius, Annals [3] Also, yikes.

Witnesses observed kisses and intimate caresses between the pair and though no one could settle on which one was the initiator in the first place, Tacitus offers a shrug of doubtless commentary on the matter claiming, “In her earliest years she had employed an illicit relationship with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (her cousin, remember?) as a means to power. Through the same ambition she had sunk to be Pallas’ mistress. Then, she married to her uncle, her training in abomination complete.” [3]

This obviously proved to be disadvantageous to Nero as the accusations spread. He’d also fallen in love with Poppea, who was herself as cunning as his mother, who sought to rid them both of Agrippina and solidify a marriage between the pair. So, naturally, as Romans are want to do, they decided to murder her out the way.

How was the question. Agrippina was no fool, and as her supposed method of poisoning did the job for her own plots, she had taken measures to ensure the same could not be done to her. As Tacitus writes, she had by this point strengthened herself in resistance by a preventative course of antidotes. There was always stabbing too, but that was getting pretty old. Instead, an insane idea came to mind to fashion a ship with a removable section that could be rigged to come loose and hurl Agrippina to a watery death because that somehow sounds not at all planned, who could possibly suspect a thing, right? [3]

Shipwreck of Agrippina

It did not work. The section designed to come off was halted by a well-placed couch that Agrippina had been lounging on and when this part of the plan fell apart, the crew tried attacking with paddles. Needless to say, Agrippina swam away mostly unscathed and super suspicious of her son. Nero knew it too, and despite her feigned ignorance of the ordeal, he immediately sent men to her villa to finish her off. There, they bludgeoned her with a truncheon and killed her, but not before she told them to strike her in the womb first, her last act of revenge against her son.

And if you thought that was the end of the incest in this post, I’ll leave you with this one last anecdote. For upon her death and subsequent deliverance of her remains, accounts add that “Nero inspected his mother’s corpse and praised her figure.” [3]

Oh, for the love of–

Fact Check it, yo!

Primary & Secondary Sources:

[1] This is a pretty solid joke, if you don’t mind my bragging. Octavian Augustus Caesar was said to have claimed, “I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble.” Suetonius Tranquillus, Divus AugustusFirst paragraph, first line.

[2] Cassius Dio, Suetonius, and Tacitus all claim that Nero watched the fire rage while playing the lyre and singing of the destruction of Troy. (Dio, Epitome LXII; Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars; Tacitus, AnnalsRespectively)

[3] Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome. (The Madness of Nero, Penguin Epics pg. 87)

  1. “Agrippina’ s public image was also much promoted under Claudius’ reign : she was in fact the first wife of a living emperor to adopt the title Augusta, and before her no living woman had appeared on gold and silver coins.” Kajava, M. (1998). L’Antiquité Classique,67, 492-494. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41659921 
  2. “…those writing about Agrippina, especially Tacitus, conflated her actions with the stereotypes of scheming women, partly to denigrate overly-ambitious women and partly to criticize imperial rule.” & “Tacitus depicts Agrippina as a woman whose every action was attributable to political ambition. Actions that involve step-motherly intrigue, hypocrisy, female jealousy and a public display of dominance all expose “her own desire for power.” Williams, K. (2007). The Classical Journal,103(1), 116-119. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/30038666
  3. “ first, it highlights much more clearly what Agrippina was expecting from her son’s principate: the continuation of the partnership, which evidently Seneca and Burrus, with their insistence upon the ‘Augustan model’ of government, were determined to deny her. Such an aspiration inevitably irritated a son more than it had the husband.” David Shotter. (1998). Agrippina. The Classical Review,48(1), 117-118. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/713730

[4] Gallivan, P. (1974). Confusion concerning the Age of Octavia. Latomus,33(1), 116-117. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41528935

[5] Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars; Life of Caligula

[6“she was a living critique of the principate and the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Claudius and the political system appear weak in allowing a power-hungry Dux Femina to flourish; the existence of a saeua nouerca (with all that stereotypes connotations of dysfunction) in the imperial family points to dysfunction in the state; and the incest theme critiques Julio-Claudian endogamy.” & “in this connection Dio’s uncertainty, absent in Tacitus, about the veracity of the incest theme, which he says might have been invented to fit the characters of Agrippina and Nero.”

Malloch, S. (2007). Agrippina the Younger. The Classical Review,57(2), 477-478. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4497627