« PreviousContinue »
of Augustus as at once a great earthly conqueror and a being of divine descent and possessed of more than mortal attributes: the especial object of care to the supreme God of Heaven; to Apollo, whom, since the victory of Actium, he claimed as his tutelary divinity; to the Earth-goddess, the giver of fruitfulness and prosperity; to Mars, the second divine ancestor of the Roman race, in whose honour the famous temple, of which the ruins are yet visible, had been raised after the battle of Philippi. The statue is of Greek workmanship; the Greek divinities are presented in the forms familiar to Greek art; but the idea is purely Roman, and born of the immediate circumstances of the age.
WORSHIP OF THE EMPEROR
Other extant works of art illustrate the divine functions and attributes claimed for Augustus. In one cameo he is scen throned beside the goddess Roma, with the sceptre and lituus, symbolical of his secular and spiritual function, and the eagle of Jupiter at his side. In others both the Emperor himself and various members of his family are represented under the form of gods, goddesses, and demigods. Thus, in one in which the figure of Aeneas is introduced, the young C. Caesar (Caligula) appears as Cupid, and in another Germanicus and Agrippina are represented as Triptolemus and Ceres'. But still more important, as attesting not the idealising fancies of contemporary Greeks, but the native feeling with which the house of Caesar came to be regarded even in the early years of the Empire, is the one great extant monument of that age, a monument of Roman inspiration and Roman workmanship, the Pantheon, raised by Agrippa in honour of the deities connected with the Julian race.
The prominence given to this representation of Augustus in the poetry and in the art of his age is probably to be explained by his own character and policy. He was animated
1 The substance of these remarks is taken from the late O. Jahn's 'Höfische Kunst und Poesie unter Augustus,' published in his Populäre Aufsätze.' The account of the cameos is given solely on his authority. Several ideas on the whole subject of the deification of the Emperors aie derived from the same source.
in no ordinary degree by that love of fame and distinction which very powerfully influenced the greatest Roman conquerors and statesmen, orators and poets. The disdain of such distinctions and the dislike of public spectacles are mentioned, in contrast to the tastes of his predecessor, among the causes of the unpopularity of Tiberius. The enumeration in the Ancyraean inscription of the honours and titles bestowed on him, recorded with 'imperial brevity' and dictated by a proud self-esteem, attests the strength of this ruling passion in the latter years of the life of Augustus. The direct pressure which he brought to bear on the most eminent poets of the time to celebrate his wars is sufficiently indicated in many passages in the Odes and familiar writings of Horace. Belonging by descent to the comparatively obscure families of the Octavii and Atii, Augustus attached peculiar importance to the glories of the Julian line, which he inherited through his great-uncle and adoptive father. Even Julius Caesar, notwithstanding his Epicurean disregard of the religious ideas of his age, had encouraged the belief in his divine descent, as marking him out for the special favours of fortune. There was moreover in Augustus, in contradistinction to Julius Caesar, a strong vein of religious or superstitious sentiment. His personal courage has been questioned, probably with injustice, but he appears to have been in a marked degree liable to supernatural terrors'. As happens not unfrequently with men who have been invariably successful in great and hazardous enterprises, along with a strong reliance in the resources of his own mind, he seems to have had faith in a supernatural guidance and assistance attending him. His politic understanding appreciated the use of such a belief to secure a divine sanction for his rule, which rested substantially on military force. He availed himself of the enthusiasm and willing services of the poets of the age, who regarded him as at once the saviour of the State and their own benefactor, to impress this idea of himself on the imagination of the cultivated classes, and at the same time to glorify the
1 Sueton. De Vita Caesarum, ii. 90 et seq.
actual successes of his reign, to further his policy of national regeneration, and to make men feel the security of a divinelyappointed government, along with the pride of belonging to a powerful imperial State.
INFLUENCE OF PATRONAGE
The political revolution which transformed the Republic into the Empire, and the state of public feeling, which, arising spontaneously, yet received direction from the will and policy of Augustus, thus appear to be the most important conditions determining the character of the Augustan literature, and distinguishing it from that of the previous age. Poetic art was employed as it had never been in any former time as an instrument of government. If anything could have made the new order of things acceptable to the best representatives of the old Republican traditions, the purity and elevation imparted to the idea of the Empire in the verse of Virgil must have had this effect. The poetical imagination, susceptible as it is in the highest degree of emotions produced by the spectacle of ancient or powerful government or of a people nobly asserting its freedom, has little prophetic insight into the working of political causes. Nor need it be regarded as a sign of weakness or time-serving in the poets of the Augustan Age that they did not foresee the gloom and oppression which were destined to follow so soon after the prosperous dawn of the Roman Empire.
The establishment of the Empire affected the new poetry also by the personal relations which it established between the leaders of society and the leaders of literature. The early Republican poets were for the most part strangers to Rome, men of comparatively humble position, who by their merit gained the friendship of some of the great families, but who at the same time depended for their success on popular favour. The poets of the last days of the Republic were themselves members of the great families, or men intimately associated
with them; and they wrote to please themselves and their equals. What remains of their poetry has thus all the independence of the older Republican literature, with the refinement of a literature addressed to a polished society. The poets of the Augustan Age were men born in the country districts or provincial towns of Italy, and the two most illustrious of their number were of humble origin: yet they lived after their early youth in familiar intercourse with the foremost men of their time; they owed their fortunes and position in life to the favour of these men, and thus could not help sharing, and to some extent reproducing, their tastes and tone in their writings.
Among the names of the patrons of literature that of Maecenas has become proverbial, but perhaps even more important than his patronage was that exercised by the Emperor himself. Not only was he a man of great natural gifts, but he had received a most elaborate education. He was a powerful and accomplished orator, and a practised writer. As was not unusual with men who had received a thorough rhetorical training, he attempted the composition of a tragedy, and had the sense to treat his failure with good-natured humour2. He made other attempts in verse, and composed several works in prose, chiefly turning on the history of his own times. He showed in his composition an especial regard for purity and correctness of style. Suetonius tells us that he allowed no composition to be written on himself 'except in a serious spirit and by the best writers.' Horace testifies to this fastidiousness in the line,
Cui male si palpere, recalcitret undique tutus3.
14 'Eloquentiam studiaque liberalia ab aetate prima et cupide et laboriosissime exercuit.' Sueton. ii. 84.
Augusto prompta ac profluens, quaeque deceret principem, eloquentia fuit.' Tac. Ann. xiii. 3.
Aiacem tragoediam scripserat, eandemque, quod sibi displicuisset, deleverat. Postea L. Varius tragoediarum scriptor interrogabat eum, quid ageret Aiax suus. Et ille, "in spongium," inquit, "incubuit." Macrob. ii. 4. 2.
3 Sat. ii. 1. 20.
Suetonius testifies further to his liberal patronage of genius; 'ingenia saeculi sui omnibus modis fovit;' a statement confirmed by Horace's account of his liberality to Virgil and Varius,-
Dilecti tibi Vergilius Variusque poetae1.
We are told also that in literary works he especially regarded 'the inculcation of precepts and the exhibition of examples of a useful tendency for the state and for private life,' which may partly account for the didactic and practical aim which the higher poetry of the age set before itself. He corresponded
in terms of intimacy with Virgil, and made repeated advances, which were at first somewhat coldly received, to Horace, with the wish to number him among his familiar friends. But there was another side to the temper of Augustus, which those admitted to his favour did well not to forget. If he could be a liberal patron and genial companion, he could also be a hard and pitiless master. Literature, like everything else, had to be at his command, obedient to his will, and in harmony with his policy. The fate of Gallus, that of Iulus Antonius, and that of Ovid, prove that neither brilliant genius nor past favours and familiarity could procure indulgence for whatever thwarted his purpose or offended his dignity.
The relation between Maecenas and the members of his literary circle was one of more intimacy and unreserve. circle included among its members Virgil and Varius, Horace and Propertius. The great works with which the name of Maecenas is inseparably associated, the Georgics of Virgil, the first three books of the Odes of Horace, and the first book of his Epistles,-entitle him to be honoured as among the most enlightened and fortunate of all the patrons of literature. Virgil addresses him in language not only of loyal admiration, but of acknowledgment for the encouragement and guidance which he owed to him: and that such an influence may have been really exercised by the inferior over the superior mind is shown