Before he became emperor in AD 37 Caligula had lived well out of the public view, and, as a consequence, at the time of his accession very little would have been known about him. By the time he died, some four years later, he had made a searing impression that the passage of centuries has failed to obliterate. To give some flesh and blood to the essentially political portrait that will emerge in subsequent chapters, it may be useful at this point to pause to look at Caligula the private man, and focus on his personal idiosyncrasies and private interests. The image of the private Caligula is vivid, yet paradoxically at the same time it lacks sharp definition, since much of the colourful information that contributes to it derives from anecdotal material of dubious reliability. In reality the sources tell us less about the real Caligula than about the generally outrageous portrayal that took shape in the imagination of succeeding generations. Of course what seems fantastic may not necessarily, or at least not always, be fantasy. Recent history is replete with well-documented individuals whose behaviour may seem unbelievably outrageous but has proved on close inspection to be, in fact, merely outrageous.