12 May 2008

Life of the Deified Augustus - Suetonius

In studying for my Roman history final (less than 24 hours from now) I reread Suetonius' account of Augustus, and fell in love with the man all over again. Here's why.

"Others criticize his words and actions, claiming that when the ships were lost in the storm he had cried out that he would conquer even against the will of Neptune and that the next time the circus games were held, he had Neptune's image removed from the festival procession."
Arrogance is sexy, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar or a fool. Also, Neptune never really got him back... Augustus 1, Gods 0.
"For he used to compare those who sought a minimal gain at no small risk to someone going fishing with a golden hook, when no catch could bring a profit equal to the loss if the hook were gone."
Translation of genius into simple words. Sounds like someone else I love.
"As for the city itself, which was not decked out in a manner fitting such a great empire... he so improved it that it was with justification that he boasted he had found it a city of brick and left it a city of marble."
Always had a soft spot for effective reformers arising from hopeless eras of suck.
"...he would rather endure some loss of revenue than that the honor of Roman citizenship be made commonplace."
oh-em-gee high citizenship theory. (Note: forward that memo to Caracalla.)
"He sought, too, to revive the ancient manner of dress and once, when he saw at a public meeting a crowd of people dressed in dark clothes, he grew angry and cried out: 'Behold the Romans, lords of the world, the toga'd race!'"
Policy enforcement through snark... I like.
"In sealing official documents, reports and letters, he first used a sphinx, then an image of Alexander the Great, and finally one of himself..."
I reiterate: arrogance is sexy, especially when merited. Subordination of Alexander the Great? May as well besmirch Charles Garland, or Alexander Nevsky, or someone equally influential and bad ass.
"He always shrank from the title 'Master' as an insult and a reproach."
Principate vs dominate, 101. Augustus shows 'em how it's done (forward memo to Diocletian).
"Yet he bore the deaths of his loved ones more readily than their disgrace."
Was ever there a better Roman? Like, really?
"Whenever anyone referred to [Agrippa] or one of the Julias he used to groan and even exclaim: 'Oh, that I had never married and died without children!' The only terms he used for them were his three sores or his three cancers."
No, no there wasn't.
"Not even his friends deny that he committed adultery, suggesting by way of excuse that his motive was not lust but policy, as he sought to find out the plans of his opponents more easily through each man's wife."
Once again, Augustus pioneers a timeless and effective political tactic.
"Mark Antony objected... that he had in front of her husband led the wife of a man of consular rank from the dining-room off into his bedroom, later returning her to the party with burning ears and disheveled hair..."
Balls and pimpery.
"He cultivated an elegant and restrained manner of speaking which avoided the vanity of an artificial style of arrangement, as well as the 'rank odor', as he termed it, 'of far-fetched vocabulary'..."
Crap. Two of my heroes come in conflict.
"When he first began to speak, he ordered some frogs to be silent who happened to be croaking in his grandfather's villa and they say that from that time no frog croaked there."
I'd just like to say here that I love cultures of mythology and am totally okay with attributing ridiculous, implausible stories to those excessively admired and reviled. Respek, yo.


Adam Solomon said...

What conflict? They clearly just have different but complementary ways of achieving both elegance and awesome.

TKB said...

Dude... the next conservative savior- bastard child of Augustus and Buckley. Clearly.

BTW I plan on posting Augustus (then Octavian)'s infamous speech to the Senate in a day or two (where he "lays down" all his powers and turns down monarchy) , which kind of exemplifies bad-ass (although not brevity). Then we'll see who was the better orator!... < continues to pseudo-study >

David Wagner said...



If Principate, then: Tsarship/Karamzin was wrong to rejoice in the suppression of the Novgorodian Veche?

TKB said...

Principate AND consistency: Russians are not Romans.

Although I've always had a real soft spot for Novgorod- gave a speech about Ivan's suppression of her at the Union once, actually. In the process of packing/moving- once I'm settled I'm going to look into this more.

But in general, it's easy to see how and why Emperors shifted to the dominate- especially towards the 2nd century when the Empire was so vast- although if you look at the best emperors (Augustus, Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, etc) they tend more towards principate forms, while the worst (Nero, Diocletian, Commodus, most of the Severans) tended toward the Dominate. I'm pretty sure every emperor that ever got a damnatio memoriae (de facto or legal) could be characterized as dominus, not princeps. This says other interesting things about the Roman mindset, and I could go on for a while about how Russians perceive the legacies of their rulers and why the Russian equivalent of a damnatio memoriae would probably go more towards princeps-types/weak domini, but I really need to pack... eep!