Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.02.34 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.02.34

Sabine Luciani, Patricia Zuntow (ed.), Entre mots et marbre: les mètamorphoses d'Auguste. Scripta antiqua, 82.   Bordeaux:  Ausonius Éditions, 2016.  Pp. 298.  ISBN 9782356131515.  €25.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Edwin Shaw, University of Bristol (

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This volume, including twelve papers in French and one in Italian, represents the fruits of the symposium "Auguste en mots", organised in Paris in 2014 alongside the exhibition "Moi, Auguste, empereur de Rome" commemorating the bimillennium of Augustus' death. In the survey of the exhibition included here, curators Cécile Giroire and Daniel Roger discuss the absence of the literary dimension from the exhibition: without "les écrivains absents", a whole side to our understanding of the Principate must be lacking, hence the collection under review. The attempt to provide a literary supplement to the artistic and material artifacts of the Augustan period is worthwhile; but focusing on the literary aspect also carries the risk of eliding the metamorphoses of Augustus across the other cultural productions of the period,1 and indeed the "marble" of the book's title is somewhat lacking.2

Sabine Luciani in her introduction sets out four key aspects of the relationship between Augustus and the literature of his period: the personae of Augustus in literature, literary life under the Augustan principate, authors and the emperor, and the relationship of authors to the Republican past. While these four are treated more or less fully in the articles which follow (the last, in particular, is little discussed), there is no attempt to draw the papers together; while some articles include cross-references to others in the volume, most do not, despite multiple discussions of the same material.3 Generally, the contributions strike a balance between those on larger questions such as the freedom of speech of poets and historians, and those dealing with the portrayal of Augustus in specific authors; the overall focus is somewhat diffuse, and the articles themselves are of variable quality. The editors have exercised a light touch: some of the essays include text and translation, others one or the other; the contributors differ markedly in the generosity of their footnotes. Generally the book is well edited and put together, with consolidated indices locorum and nominum and attractive colour pictures.

Space precludes discussion of all of the articles; they cover a variety of authors (although other than Devillers' discussion of Nicolaos of Damascus and the material in part IV on Augustus' Nachleben these are largely limited to the Augustan "usual suspects"), and individual chapters will be of value to those working on specific texts, but it is a shame that the broad themes discussed in the introduction are not more clearly treated throughout. Some papers are more clearly relevant to the book's title and themes than others; Casanova-Robin's chapter on Ovid's Metamorphoses, in particular, makes only very limited reference to Augustus.

Somewhat oddly in the light of the themes identified in the introduction, the opening two articles explore different aspects of the self- presentation of the Augustan regime. John Scheid's chapter on the Res Gestae, with extensive discussion of previous bibliography, considers the text against the categories of either a work of literature or a political accounting, a strictly drawn opposition to which he recurs throughout. As in his edition of the text,4 Scheid's stress is on reading the inscription within a tradition of political communication, and the parallels he adduces for this are effective; he suggests that the literary attention which the Res Gestae has received has been inflated by our ignorance of comparable works of political testimony. Nonetheless, the conclusion that the Res Gestae should be viewed as the product of the Augustan chancery, not reflecting either the hand of Augustus himself nor any particular artistry of composition, is unlikely to convince those who take the opposite view, and despite brief mention of some more recent contributions on the Res Gestae Scheid's argument does not advance far beyond the views already set out in his edition.

Francesca Rohr Vio's chapter on Augustus' marriage to Livia in 38 BC (the sole contribution in Italian) stresses the importance of Octavian's marriage to Livia as a political strategy; by marrying Livia Drusilla, daughter of M. Livius Drusus Claudianus, Octavian could ally himself to families at the heart of Rome's Republican traditions, and thus strengthen his position with the nobiles who made up the support of Sextus Pompey. Rohr Vio considers in particular the moral and social significance of Livia's existing pregnancy, at the time of the marriage, by Tiberius Claudius Nero, who had to be either persuaded or coerced by Octavian into giving her up; the second half of the chapter develops some useful Republican parallels for Nero's divorce of Livia and Octavian's marriage to a woman already pregnant. Rohr Vio suggests that the historical tradition on Cato's politically-motivated ceding of his wife Marcia to the orator Hortensius in 56 BC, and their subsequent remarriage on Hortensius' death in 50, is coloured by Augustan attempts to use this as a precedent for his own marriage; the argument here is mostly persuasive, although the suggestion that the reputations of both Hortensius and Cato were systematically recuperated by the Augustan regime as a direct consequence of this connection seems rather speculative.

Philippe Le Doze's chapter begins the section on poetic views of the principate with a discussion of the vexed questions of freedom of speech and of inspiration. Beginning from Augustus' conspicuous success in creating concordia, Le Doze considers the significance of freedom of speech as an adaptation of the Republican virtue of libertas, and a requirement for the ideological legitimacy of the new regime (although Le Doze's association of Republican libertas with freedom of speech requires further discussion).5 Any form of instrumentalisation of the poets by the princeps, Le Doze argues, would have been both dangerous and ineffective. Instead, writers' engagement with Augustan themes was driven by their own desire as poet-citizens to contribute to the restoration of the state, and as vates to exercise a didactic influence on the princeps himself; Augustus' own literary role was largely reactive. The arguments against official interference in the poets' subject-matter are very useful, but the discussion of the poets' didactic ambitions (for which Le Doze draws parallels with Lucretius' Epicurean project and Horace's discussion of Homer's Odysseus in Ep. 1.2) needs further substantiation. The chapter is also rather selective, with little mention of the elegists (Le Doze does discuss their recusationes, but not, for example, Propertius' remarks on Augustus' moral legislation in 2.7) or any expressions of disquiet with the new state of affairs.

Of the section dealing with historiography, Paul Marius Martin's chapter on the "surveilled freedom" of the historians provides a neat counterpoint to Le Doze's, despite not referring to it directly. Martin considers the supposed tendency among historians to avoid the triumviral period in their works; this, he suggests, was less due to any centralised censorship than to to self-censorship on the part of the historians, and to a desire to forget the traumatic experiences of the civil wars. This did not apply consistently; while members of the elite (such as Asinius Pollio, protected by his neutrality and aristocratic status) might write about the civil wars with relative impunity, the same latitude was not extended to the less distinguished (Martin's example is Titus Labienus, the supporter of Pompey, whose books were burned in 8 AD). Those without the independent means of a Pollio could not risk the displeasure of the princeps. There is clearly some connection here to the themes of Le Doze's chapter, on the ideological connection of free speech to the virtues of the Republican aristocracy, although Martin does not discuss this. The latter part of the article treats Livy as an example of this stratified freedom: Martin suggests a connection between the period of writing of Livy's civil war books, reserved for publication after Augustus' death, with Livy's encouragement of the historical interests of the young Claudius, which supposedly began with a work treating the period from the death of Caesar onwards.6 The suggestion is intriguing, but the evidence only circumstantial.

In the final paper, which best encapsulates the book's subtitle, Emmanuèle Caire uses the citation of Augustus in the sixth-century chronicle of John Malalas as a starting-point from which to explore the reception of Augustus across the following six centuries. Beginning from Malalas' citation of Augustus as mystikos archiereus kai basileus, Caire traces a Christianising interpretation of Augustus, through the specific report of the oracle at the end of Augustus' rule prefiguring the coming of Christ. Caire locates Malalas' version within a complex set of influences, including the vogue for oracular literature, literary diffusion of the theme of awareness at Rome of the coming of Christ, the Christian interpretation of Virgil's fourth Eclogue, and Christian literature which made Augustus himself a precursor to Christ; she then goes on to demonstrate the connection between Malalas' version and the many later accounts of the foundation of the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli. Stressing a continued process of enrichment of the legend from other sources and unpicking the stages of etiological evolution, Caire places Malalas' version at the centre of a long history of a legend in constant evolution (and for which she provides a provisional history). The chapter illuminates a fascinating example of the complex history of Augustan reception, and its demonstration of the mutability of his legend is a fitting conclusion to the volume as a whole.

Table of Contents

Préface / Carlos Lévy
Introduction. Auguste en Mots. Le princeps au miroir de la littérature / Sabine Luciani
Auguste à Paris / Cécile Giroire et Daniel Roger

1. Biographie, littérature et politique
"Les Hauts faits du Divin Auguste". Texte littéraire ou bilan politique? / John Scheid
Le nozze di Augusto tra azione politica et strategie propagandistiche / Francesca Rohr Vio
Auguste et ses Res Gestae mis en mots par Properce: un regard élégiaque sur le principat/ Marie Ledentu

2. Inmania Caesaris acta condere. Regards poétiques sur le principat
Vox Apollonis / Vox Augusti: liberté d’insipration des poètes et principat augustéen / Philippe Le Doze
Qu’y a-t-il dans un nom? Technique poétique et histoire contemporaine dans les Géorgiques de Virgile / Damien Patrick Nelis
Le Prince et les bonnes moeurs: la restauration du mos maiorum dans les Odes érotiques d’Horace / Bénédicte Delignon
Chanter l’origine de Rome dans les Métamorphoses d’Ovide / Hélène Casanova-Robin

3. Écrire l’histoire sous Auguste
L’écriture de l’histoire sous Auguste: une liberté surveillée / Paul Marius Martin
Tite-Live et Auguste / Bernard Mineo
Octave comme modèle politique universel. Remarques sur le thème de la famille et des amis chez Nicolas de Damas / Olivier Devillers

4. Auguste jugé par l'histoire
Du Vengeur de César au Prince de la Paix, une longue métamorphose / Isabelle Cogitore
Auguste selon Suétone / Giuseppe Zecchini
Octavien-Auguste chez Dion Cassius: entre propagande et objectivité / Marie-Laure Freyburger-Galland
Auguste grand prêtre initié et roi. La légende augustéenne chez Jean Malalas / Emmanuèle Caire.


1.   In this connection it is perhaps surprising that Karl Galinsky's Augustan Culture: An Interpretive Introduction (Princeton University Press, 1996) is cited only twice, and briefly (p. 16, 89).
2.   The Res Gestae are discussed quite extensively, particularly in Scheid's chapter, but there are only brief references to e.g. the evolution of Augustan portraiture or the metamorphosis enacted on the city through Augustus' architectural programme.
3.   Martin's and Mineo's chapters in particular overlap (albeit understandably, given the subject-matter).
4.   Scheid, Res gestae divi Augusti. Hauts faits du divin Auguste. (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2007).
5.   See Arena, V. Libertas and the Practice of Politics in the Late Roman Republic, (Cambridge University Press, 2012), which is not cited.
6.   Suetonius, Claudius 41.1-2.

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