The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Apr 18, 2015

Crossed Wires

Given the speed of our communications, the problem of unintentional ‘crossed wires’ in the ancient world must have been severe. A lot could happen while a message from A was taking a month to reach B. A famous story—possibly invented by that imaginative fellow Ben Trovato—illustrates the point. In AD 40, Caligula wanted a statue of himself as Jupiter erected in the temple at Jerusalem. The local governor Petronius wrote suggesting this was really not a very good idea. At the same time, Herod Agrippa, a local tetrarch of the region, was in Rome, heard of Caligula’s plans and dissuaded him. So Caligula wrote to Petronius cancelling the project—and only then received Petronius’ letter. Seeing it as insubordination, he wrote back, ordering Petronius to top himself. The letter was delayed by storms, eventually arriving 27 days after news had already reached Petronius that Caligula had been assassinated. Phew! So there is something to be said for delays in the mail after all.


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