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Myth and
Memory in
Why did Rome recall their
legendary past?
What is the good life?
• They [Romulus and Remus] led the life of
herdsmen and they lived self-sufficiently,
primarily on the mountains in thatched-roof huts
which they built out of timber and reeds. One of
these, known as the hut of Romulus, remained
even in my time on the side of the Palatine hill
which faces towards the Circus, and it is
maintained as a sacred place by those who are
the caretakers for such matters; they add no
decorations to it at all, but if any part of it suffers
damage, either by stormy weather or by the
ravages of time, they mend the damage and
return the hut as nearly as possible to its
previous state.
(Ant. Rom.1.79.11)
The Good Life, Part II
• He lived at first adjacent to the Roman forum above the
steps of the ringmakers, in a house which had been the
orator Calvus’s; afterwards on the Palatine, but
nevertheless in Hortensius’s modest home, that was neither
extravagant in size nor remarkable in refinement, in which
there were abbreviated porticos of Alban columns and the
common rooms were without any marble or decorated
pavement. And for more than forty years, winter and
summer, he remained in that same bedroom. In winter he
braved the city, however little its benefits to his health. And
he continually wintered in the city. When he planned to do
anything in secret or without fear of interruption, there was
a place for him at the top of his house which he called
Syracuse and his little workroom: he went here or some
other freedmen’s estate near Rome; when he was ill, he
took to a bed in Maecenas’s house.
Augustus and Apollo
• The bond between the god and his protégé could not have
been more explicitly conveyed. The house itself was
relatively modest, but the temple area, because of the close
proximity, became like a part of the whole complex. In this
Octavian took his cue from the Hellenistic kings. In
Pergamum and Alexandria, for example, a sanctuary
adjacent to the palace served as kind of a showplace. This
idea of living next to the god originated in the period of the
battle after Naulochoi. A thunderbolt had conveyed the
god’s will and designated the spot where he wished his
temple to be built, right next to Octavian’s house.[1]
[1] Zanker 1990, 51.
Pater Patriae
• In my thirteenth consulship, the Senate,
the equestrian order and the
• people of Rome granted to me the title of
Father of my Country, and determined
that this ought to be inscribed in the
entrance of my house and
• in the Curia Julia and in the Forum
Augustum under the chariot, which had
been set there on my behalf by the
Senate’s resolution.
How do the Romans react to
all of this?
• It is astonishing how every kind of visual
communication came to reflect the new order,
how every theme and slogan became interwoven.
. . . For generations the ills of state and society
had been proclaimed, described, and lamented as
incurable evils. The surprising thing, for many
people virtually a miracle, was that the new ruler
actually took the lament seriously and decided to
do something about it.[1]
[1] Zanker 1990, 101-2.
What causes fear in the
minds of the Romans?
• During the consulship of Cotta and
Torquatus, you recall that many items on
the Capitol were hit by lightening, when
the images of the gods were cast down
and the statues of men of olden times
were thrown from their places, and the
likeness of Romulus, who founded this
city, which you remember was cast from
bronze as a nursing infant fed by the shewolf, was also struck.
Scary Omens
• The omen and portent were received in the following way:
that the seat of Terminus was not to be moved and that he
alone of the gods was not called forth, foretold by sacred
means of stability and steadfastness for the whole State.
This omen was quickly followed by another strange
occurrence, which predicted the greatness of the Empire.
For it is said that a human head appeared, its features
untouched, unearthed by those who dug the temple’s
foundations. Clearly this display demonstrated that this
would be the summit of the Empire and the capitol of the
world. And thus the seers predicted it, those who were in
Rome and those who were summoned from Etruria for this
What was the Golden Age?
• First of all, the immortal, Olympus-dwelling gods made a
golden race of men who existed during Cronos’s reign,
when he ruled the heavens. Just as gods they lived, with a
sorrow-free heart, set apart from toil and grief. And
terrible old age did not come upon them, but they always
delighted in the festivities with hands and feet unchanging,
just beyond the grasp of all harm. When they died, it was
as if they gave themselves over to sleep, and all beneficent
things came to them; and the life-giving land gave forth
much fruit spontaneously and liberally. They willingly and
peacefully inhabited the lands gifted with many good
things, abundant in flocks and beloved to the blessed
(WD. 109-120)
Cultural Anthropology on
the Good Life
• Isolation from strangers and freedom from the traumas of
human life – illness, death and unpredictable offspring –
are necessary for these relatively simple modes of
existence, which are in fact too simple to be of practical
value. The possibility of social or commercial intercourse
disrupting these simple social models must be omitted in
order to sustain the idyllic situation. A very striking – and
disturbing – aspect of these three periods of felicity
recounted by Hesiod is the extreme passivity of the mortals
who experience them. Their maintenance or loss of a
happy state is entirely dependent upon an outside force:
the men of the golden race die a pleasant death after a
pleasant life . . . .[1]
[1] Johnston 1980,19-20.
Vergil on Augustus
• This man, this is the one whom you often
hear is promised to you,
Augustus Caesar, son of a god, who
shall again craft a Golden Age in Latium,
through fields once reigned over by
Saturn, and he shall extend his command
beyond the Garamantes and the
Vergil on Saturn
• Under that king were the years which
they name golden:
in this way guiding the people in
gentle peace, until little by little,
• a worse age, faded, followed after,
bellicose and greedy.
Propertius on Augustus
You ask why I am delayed in coming to you?
Phoebus’s golden colonnade was revealed by mighty Caesar;
such a great vision, laid out with Carthaginian columns,
and between them the throng of old Danaus’s daughters.
This marble likeness seems to me more beautiful than
Apollo himself, mouth open in song with a muted lyre.
And the lifelike herd of Myron circles the altar,
four cattle carved in true likeness. Then, rising from
the midst, is the temple in gleaming marble,
more dear to Phoebus than his Ortygian land.
Atop of the pediment is the chariot of the Sun god,
and the folding doors of Libyan ivory, celebrated work.
One was grieving for the Gauls cast off Parnassus’s peak,
and the other mourned the burial of Niobe, daughter of Tantalus.
Next the god Apollo himself was singing, in flowing dress,
between his mother and sister.
Augustus on Augustus
• On behalf of my service, I was called Augustus by
the senate’s decree and
• the door-posts of my residence were publicly
dressed with laurels and the
• civic crown was installed on my door. A golden
shield was placed in the Curia Julia, granted to
me by the Senate and the Roman people on
behalf of my virtue, mercy, justice and pity, as
witnessed by the inscription of the shield. From
this time on, I surpassed all in influence,
although I held no more power than the others
who were also colleagues in my magistracy.
• The return of the Golden Age theme was more
than hyperbolical praise. . . . . it belongs to a
complex of ideas the effect of which was to
provide Augustus with a role that made him
essential for the preservation of Roman society. .
. . The public political disorder of civil war and the
private wrongdoing of the individual are
inextricably intertwined and the emperor as a
second Saturn is assigned the role of keeping
both at bay.[1]
[1] Wallace-Hadrill, 1982, 29-32