In Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice" the character Bassanio triumphs with the help of his loyal and loving friend Antonio. Bassanio emerges as a machiavel freshly graduated from training, while Antonio is made out to be, like his namesake Marc Antony, a fool for love, and more specifically a fool for brotherly love. Schematically, the play echoes the period in which the Antonine Dynasty of Rome (founded by the openly homosexual emperors Trajan and Hadrian) was succeeded by the Bassianus Dynasty (of Severus and Caracalla).
The reign of Hadrian was punctuated by the brutal suppression of the 2nd Jewish Revolt of Bar Kokhba/Ben Kosiba (132-135 AD), after which Hadrian renamed Jerusalem after himself. The Bassianus Dynasty began six decades later, but curiously after the death of neo-Nero emperor Commodus and during yet a third period of Jewish unrest in Palestine accompanied by a staged revolt against Rome led by one Pescennius Niger in Syria (193 AD). Recall that "Niger of Perea" was a central figure in the first Jewish Revolt of Nero's reign. The Antonine and Bassianus dynasties could then be seen as conspiring in "taming of the Jew". Consistent with this, deviously harsh treatment of a Jew (named Shylock) by Antonio and Bassanio is a major theme of "Merchant of Venice".
The revolt of the second Niger was as contrived the first. The name Pescennius is an obvious transliteration of Bassianus. After the revolt was put down and Severus was firmly established as Emperor, a figure named Nigrinus became the Procurator of Severus' son and successor Lucius Septimius Bassianus (better known as Caracalla).
© Charles N. Pope, US Library of Congress. All rights reserved.