From "The Twelve Caesars," by Gore Vidal, Partisan Review, Summer 1965:
It would be wrong...to dismiss...the wide variety of Caesarean sensuality as simply the viciousness of twelve abnormal men. [The Caesars] were, after all, a fairly representative lot. They differed from us--and their contemporaries--only in the fact of power, which made it possible for each to act out his most recondite sexual fantasies.... Now it is an underlying assumption to twentieth-century America that human beings are either heterosexual or...homosexual, with very little traffic back and forth. To us, the norm is heterosexual; the family is central; all else is deviation, pleasing or not depending on one's own tastes and moral preoccupations. Suetonius [the Roman historian] reveals a very different world. His underlying assumption is that man is bisexual and that given complete freedom to love--or, perhaps more to the point in the case of the Caesars, to violate--others, he will do so, going blithely from male to female as fancy dictates. Nor is Suetonius alone in this assumption of man's variousness. From Plato to the rise of Pauline Christianity, which tried to put the lid on sex, it is explicit in classical writing. Yet to this day Christian, Freudian, and Marxian commentators have all decreed or ignored this fact of nature in the interest each of a patented approach to their Kind of Heaven. It is an odd experience for a contemporary to read of Nero's simultaneous passion for both a man and a woman. Something seems wrong. It must be one or the other, not both. And yet this sexual eclecticism recurs again and again. And though some of the Caesars quite obviously preferred women to men (Augustus had a particular penchant for Nabokovian nymphets), their sexual crisscrossing is extraordinary in its lack of pattern. And one suspects that despite the stern moral legislation of our own time other human being are no different. Is nothing else, Dr. Kinsey revealed in his dogged, arithmetical way that we are all a good deal less predictable and bland than anyone had suspected.
Caesar and Augustus, the makers of the Principate, represent the naked will to power for its own sake. And though our own society has not much changed from the Romans…we have, nevertheless, got so into the habit of dissembling motives, of denying certain dark constants of human behavior, that it is difficult to find a reputable American historian who will acknowledged the crude fact that a Franklin Roosevelt, say, wanted to be President merely to wield power, to be famed and to be feared. To learn this simple fact one must wade through a sea of evasions: history as sociology, leaders as teachers, bland benevolence as a motive force, when finally, power is an end to itself, and the instinctive urge to prevail the most important single human trait, the necessary force without which no city was built, no city destroyed.
One understands of course why the role of the individual in history is instinctively played down by a would-be egalitarian society. We are, quite naturally, afraid of being victimized by reckless adventurers…. [A]nd though none can deny that there is a prevailing grayness in our placid land, it is certainly better to be non-ruled by mediocrities than enslaved by Caesars. But to deny the dark nature of human personality is not only fatuous but dangerous. For in our insistence on the surrender of private will…to a conception of the human race as some sort of virus in the stream of time, unaffected by individual deeds, we have been made vulnerable not only to boredom, to that sense of meaninglessness…characteristic of our age, but vulnerable to the first messiah who offers the young and bored some splendid prospect, some Caesarean certainty. That is the political danger, and it is a real one.