- Paul Anthony Jones
(n.) the absurd glorification of someone unworthy of such adoration
The word pumpkinify popped up on HH last week, and ended the week as one of the most popular:
A handful of words along these lines—including pumpkinify, pumpkinification, and pumpkinifier—have been in use in English since the early nineteenth century. And all of them derive from a notorious Roman satire by Seneca that ridiculed the Emperor Claudius after his death in AD 54.
Seneca had good reason to attack Claudius: the emperor had, after all, had Seneca banished to Corsica on a trumped-up charge of adultery in AD 41. But even despite the pair’s mutual antipathy, Seneca had long disliked the Romans’ trend of glorifying their leaders after their deaths, regardless of their flaws or reputation. Ultimately, seeing an opportunity both to satirize this undue praise and to lambaste his former detractor, Seneca got to work—and held nothing back.
Entitled the Apocolocyntosis (a pun on apotheosis, or posthumous glorification, that literally means “gourdification”), the work Seneca produced was a fictionalized retelling of Claudius’ life and death, his shambolic funeral procession, his ascent into Heaven, his damning judgment in front of the gods, and his ultimate descent into Hades, where he was punished to search perpetually on the floor for a set of dropped dice—a supposed slight at the late emperor’s fondness for gambling.
Seneca took every chance he could to mock Claudius, recalling and poking fun at his arrogance, his vindictiveness, his awkwardness, and his disastrous leadership. And along the way, things got brutal—not to mention very vivid:
The last words he was heard to speak in this world were these: when he had made a great noise with that end of him which talked easiest, he cried out, “Oh dear, oh dear! I think I have messed myself!” Whether he did or no, I cannot say, but certain it is he always did make a mess of everything.
It’s this, Seneca’s no-holds-barred attack on the late emperor, that is behind the pumpkinification of the unduly pumpkinified. And you can provide your own contemporary example of that...