CHAPTER XXXVII. THE AUGUSTAN AGE.
In speaking of Augustus, we must take into account the writers whose names have given to his its brightest lustre, and have made the AUGUSTAN AGE a synonym for excellence in culture, art, and government. Virgil, Ovid, Horace, Livy, and a host of others, have given his reign a brilliancy unmatched in time, which is rather enhanced than diminished by the fame of Cicero, Caesar, and Sallust, who preceded, and that of Tacitus, Seneca, and others, who followed; for they belong to an epoch in which Augustus stands the central figure in all which pertains to the arts of peace.
In literature the name of VIRGIL stands first in the Augustan age. Born at Andes, near Mantua, 15 October, 70, he was educated at Cremona and Mediolánum. After completing his education he retired to his paternal estate. In the division of land among the soldiers after the battle of Philippi (42), he was deprived of his property, which was subsequently restored to him by Augustus. He lived partly at Rome, partly in Campania. His health was never good, and he died in his fifty-second year (22 September, 19 B. C.).
Virgil had neither original nor creative genius. Though he mainly imitated Greek poetry, his style is graceful and eloquent, his tone inspiring and elevating.
In disposition he was childlike, innocent, and amiable, - a good son, a faithful friend, honest, and full of devotion to persons and ideal interests. He was not, however, fitted to grapple with the tasks and difficulties of practical life.
In his fortunes and friends he was a happy man. Munificent patronage gave him ample means of enjoyment and leisure; and he had the friendship of all the most accomplished men of his day, among whom was Horace, who entertained a strong affection for him. His fame, which was established in his lifetime, was cherished after his death as an inheritance in which every Roman had a share; and his works became school-books even before the death of Augustus, and have continued such ever since.
HORACE (65-8 B. C.) was born at Venusia, but received his education at Rome and Athens. He was present at the battle of Philippi (42), where he fought as Tribune under Brutus. His first writings were hisSatires. These he read to his friends, and their merit was at once recognized. His great patron was MAECÉNAS, who introduced him to the Emperor, and gave him a fine country seat near Tivoli, among the Sabine Mountains. He died the same year as his patron, and was buried beside him at the Esquiline Gate.
The poems of Horace give us a picture of refined and educated life in the Rome of his time. They are unsurpassed in gracefulness and felicity of thought. Filled with truisms, they were for centuries read and quoted more than those of any other ancient writer.
OVID (43 B. C.-18 A. D.), a native of Sulmo, is far inferior to Virgil and Horace as a poet, but ranks high on account of his great gift for narration.
"Of the Latin poets he stands perhaps nearest to modern civilization, partly on account of his fresh and vivid sense of the beauties of nature, and partly because his subject is love. His representations of this passion are graceful, and strikingly true. He also excelled other poets in the perfect elegance of his form, especially in the character and rhythm of his verses." He spent his last days in exile, banished by Augustus for some reason now unknown. Some of his most pleasing verses were written during this period.
One of the most noted men of the Augustan age was MAECÉNAS, the warm friend and adviser of Augustus. He was a constant patron of the literature and art of his generation. He was very wealthy, and his magnificent house was the centre of literary society in Rome, He helped both Virgil and Horace in a substantial manner, and the latter is constantly referring to him in his poetry. He died (8 B. C.) childless, and left his fortune to Augustus.
The prose writers who lived at this period were Livy, Sallust, and Nepos.
LIVY is the best of these. He was a native of Patavium (Padua), a man of rhetorical training, who spent most of his time in Rome. The historical value of his work cannot be overestimated, on account of the scarcity, and in many cases the utter lack, of other historical documents on the times of which he wrote. His style is spirited, and always interesting. His accuracy, however, is not to be compared with that of Caesar. Only thirty-five out of the one hundred and forty-two books that he wrote are preserved.
NEPOS was a prolific writer, but only a portion of one of his works, De Viris Illustribus, has come down to us; it is neither accurate nor interesting, and of little value.
SALLUST left two historical productions, one on the conspiracy of Catiline, the other on the war with Jugurtha. His style is rhetorical. He excels in delineating character, but he is often so concise as to be obscure.
GAIUS ASINIUS POLLIO was a statesman and orator of marked attainments of this time. He was strongly attached to the old republican institutions, a man of great independence of character, and a poet of no mean merit, as his contemporaries testify. Unfortunately, none of his writings are preserved.
The age of Augustus is also noted for the architectural improvements in Rome. Augustus is said to have found a city of stone, and left one of marble. He himself built twelve temples, and repaired eighty-two that had fallen into decay. The FORUM was beautified by five halls of justice (Basilicae), which were erected around its borders. The most famous of these was the BASILICA JULIA, begun by Julius Caesar and finished by Augustus. Public squares were planned and begun north of the great Forum, the finest of which was the FORUM OF TRAJAN, finished by the Emperor of that name.