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Myth and Memory in Rome 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.  •  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.  •  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 consultation.
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 immortals. (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. .  •  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 Indians.
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.
Summary • 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.  •  Wallace-Hadrill, 1982, 29 -32