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Augustus: First Emperor of Rome by Adrian Goldsworthy

Augustus: First Emperor of Rome by Adrian Goldsworthy

Author:Adrian Goldsworthy [Goldsworthy, Adrian]
Language: eng
Format: azw3
Tags: Nonfiction, Ancient Rome, Politics, Classics, Biography, History
ISBN: 9780300178722
Publisher: Yale University Press
Published: 2014-08-25T23:00:00+00:00


16

AN END AND A BEGINNING

‘From this noble line shall be born the Trojan Caesar, who shall extend his empire to the ocean, his glory to the stars . . . Him, in days to come, shall you, anxious no more, welcome to heaven, laden with Eastern spoils; he, too, shall be invoked with vows. Then wars shall cease and savage ages soften . . .’ Virgil, late twenties BC.1

Caesar Augustus appears to have spent several weeks in Athens, and his return to Italy was a slow progression, as he paused to give audiences in all the major communities along the route. Work continued and even such macabre distractions as the suicide of the Indian delegate were brief intervals between receiving petitioners and writing correspondence. More welcome was the appearance in Athens of the poet Virgil, who was travelling in Greece as a rest from working for more than a decade on his twelve-book epic, the Aeneid. A long-time intimate of Maecenas, through him the poet had been introduced to Augustus and it was widely – and no doubt correctly – believed that the princeps had urged him to embark on his great project. Certainly we know that Augustus took a keen interest in its progress, for instance writing from Spain to ask about it. Before leaving Rome for the east, he and some of his family attended when Virgil gave a public reading of a part of the Aeneid. The passage lamenting the recently dead Marcellus moved them all so deeply that Octavia fainted.2

Virgil was a perfectionist, choosing each word with such care that he rarely composed more than a couple of lines of the Aeneid in the course of a day. His friend Horace, another of Maecenas’ circle, was at times even slower than this in his composition. Such dedication was not mere affectation or the mark of a dilettante, for these were serious artists of truly extraordinary talent. Horace was universally admired, while Virgil’s poetry was already spoken of as probably the most beautiful expression of the Latin language. Maecenas chose well in selecting poets to join his circle of friends. All of them were probably equestrians, including Horace, the son of a successful freedman, and wealthy enough to possess the education and the leisure to devote themselves to verse. Even if some of them had lost land during the civil wars, they were not dependent on the patronage of Maecenas and Augustus for a livelihood, whose gifts merely added to their comfortable lifestyles. Probably in the aftermath of his illness, Augustus hoped to employ Horace and wrote to Maecenas accordingly: ‘Before this I was able to write my letters to my friends with my own hand; now, overwhelmed with work and in poor health, I desire to take our friend Horace from you. He will come then from that parasitic table of yours to my imperial board, and help me write my letters.’3



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