Aurelia

Augustan Age Literature

9 posts in this topic

I've recently become interested in the historical (specifically political) context of Augustan Age poets (roughly 40BC-20AD). Can anyone recommend a reliable text on the influence of Augustus/his reforms/Maecenas on literature and its revival during this period? When I say 'reliable' I mean that I'm trying to be wary of classicists that rely heavily on spurious evidence and reading into the author's intentions.

I know this is a very specific topic, but any help is greatly appreciated. :)

~Aurelia

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've recently become interested in the historical (specifically political) context of Augustan Age poets (roughly 40BC-20AD). Can anyone recommend a reliable text on the influence of Augustus/his reforms/Maecenas on literature and its revival during this period? When I say 'reliable' I mean that I'm trying to be wary of classicists that rely heavily on spurious evidence and reading into the author's intentions. 

 

I know this is a very specific topic, but any help is greatly appreciated.  :) 

 

~Aurelia

I would check Latin Literature: A History by Gian Biagio Conte. It covers the entire history of Latin Literature, and the introduction to the section on the Augustan age discusses the influence of Maecenas and Augustus, along with the instability caused by the civil war.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would check Latin Literature: A History by Gian Biagio Conte. It covers the entire history of Latin Literature, and the introduction to the section on the Augustan age discusses the influence of Maecenas and Augustus, along with the instability caused by the civil war.

:) ...

Thanks, I will most definitely read that. In pursuit of the right book, I disregarded the books already on my shelves! Doh! :)

Besides, after talking to my professor and a colleague and perusing the classics book section, I think I'll find the most information in a chapter of a larger work. As opposed to a whole book on the subject.

Thanks again.

~Aurelia

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Can anyone recommend a reliable text on the influence of Augustus/his reforms/Maecenas on literature and its revival during this period?
Aurelia, I'm not sure, what do you mean by "revival" here?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Aurelia, I'm not sure, what do you mean by "revival" here?

I have been taught, and everything I've read corroborates, that Roman literature flourished most particularly during this period. Whereas before, in the early Republic and with the monarchies there are virtually no surviving texts.

'revival' is probably not the best word when speaking exclusively of Rome, but I tend to call it such because I study Greek literature in conjunction with Roman. And there is a significant gap between the two heights of literary achievement.

~Aurelia

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

[...] Roman literature flourished most particularly during this period. Whereas before, in the early Republic and with the monarchies there are virtually no surviving texts. 

Aurelia, I have made no study of this period or its literature as a whole, but in your comments I see several fascinating topics that relate to some of my interests:

- How do your professors define "literature"? I have heard lectures by some academics who seem to group history (a science), rhetoric (a tool of persuasion, often in law), plays (a fine art), and poetry (usually a fine art, depending on its subject matter) -- all into one class. The common denominator seems to be: "Stylized writing about subjects that interest intellectuals who disdain business." An essentialized definition would be helpful.

- What was the relationship between politics and literature in this Augustan period? Did Augustus have a liberating effect or a chilling effect on free speech, especially in "literature"? On the one hand, he brought a kind of peace; on the other, he was centralizing power at the imperial level, and his supporters were starting a cult of the emperor, only a generation before a competing cult, the cult of Jesus, began sweeping through the Roman Empire.

- What was the relationship between the revival period and the Silver Age, the period that followed?

- Why would so many more texts survive from this Augustan period, compared to earlier periods? Were there simply more of them? Were more people literate? Were books cheaper? Was Latin more widespread, thereby creating a wider audience and calling for more texts? Were later generations seeing objective values in this revival literature -- or were they merely enthralled by imperialism and the cult of the emperor? Further, how does the survival rate of texts of this period compare to later periods of the (western, Latin) Roman Empire?

I know this is a flood of questions, but perhaps at some point in your studies you will have time to briefly answer some of them if it is helpful to you as an opportunity for summarizing what you have learned.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
'revival' is probably not the best word when speaking exclusively of Rome, but I tend to call it such because I study Greek literature in conjunction with Roman. And there is a significant gap between the two heights of literary achievement.

You have to remember that the ancient literature is heavily subject to transmission, and the record as it exists now is not in all ways indicative of the state of literature as it originally existed in antiquity. The list we have now represents, by and large, the works of literature that Christian monks found appealing, nothing more and nothing less. So while the monks have been by and large right to disregard much of Greek Hellenistic literature (as Menander's play recovered from the papyri shows), there was no "gap" as such because alread by the third century BC Romans had a similarly flourishing literary culture, including poets like Ennius, whom only Virgil could overcome in mastery. However, the monks have chosen to prefer the more ornate literature of the Augustan period, and that's why we have so much literature preserved from that time period, and so little from before. However, the fragments that do survive show that that has been an inestimable loss.

So I would say that the Augustan age literature I would say is a "Golden Age" mainly because it is the one that survives, for the earlier literature could most likely contend with it just as well. Gnaeus Naevius apparently was some incredible poet, also interestingly one who argued against imitation of Greek style and for native Italian style of poetry. Lucilius, likewise, seems to have created a whole new style of comedy. Not only has Ennius' Annales not survived (except for fragments), but his tragedies as well. Etc. So anyhow, that's why I was commenting on your use of the word "revival". It's mainly a literary picture painted by a thousand years of Christian monks' selective attention.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
 

- How do your professors define "literature"? I have heard lectures by some academics who seem to group history (a science), rhetoric (a tool of persuasion, often in law), plays (a fine art), and poetry (usually a fine art, depending on its subject matter) -- all into one class. The common denominator seems to be: "Stylized writing about subjects that interest intellectuals who disdain business." An essentialized definition would be helpful.

If you wanted to define literature that would be an interesting topic. I'd start with a tentative observation that literature is a written art form.

However, when speaking within the context of classical studies, my professors tend to lump together anything that's preserved by writing including scientific, historical, and governmental text. Once even, a Latin professor included the taunting inscriptions soldiers wrote on their sling stones (because of its insight into vernacular). I think this is because there is so little original material available.

- What was the relationship between politics and literature in this Augustan period? Did Augustus have a liberating effect or a chilling effect on free speech, especially in "literature"? On the one hand, he brought a kind of peace; on the other, he was centralizing power at the imperial level, and his supporters were starting a cult of the emperor, only a generation before a competing cult, the cult of Jesus, began sweeping through the Roman Empire.

This is exactly what I want to read more about. Lately discussions in my Roman lit. class have routinely involved a question of the author's intentions. Most seem to be ambiguous as to where their allegiance lies; at once decrying the loss of their lands and naming a god (supposedly Augustus) as the beneficent cause of it. My professor says they might be playing the fence (Cicero lost head and hands because he insulted Antony). But this professor has difficulty in making definite statements, so I don't really know what the evidence is.

- Why would so many more texts survive from this Augustan period, compared to earlier periods? Were there simply more of them? Were more people literate? Were books cheaper? Was Latin more widespread, thereby creating a wider audience and calling for more texts? Were later generations seeing objective values in this revival literature -- or were they merely enthralled by imperialism and the cult of the emperor? Further, how does the survival rate of texts of this period compare to later periods of the (western, Latin) Roman Empire?

...I should know this off the top of my head. ;)

Thanks for pointing this out. We went over it at the beginning of the semester, but I obviously didn't learn it. I'll have to consult my notes before I can properly comment on this 'gap', if it is such.

~Aurelia

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Free Capitalist~

You make a most excellent point that the literature we have today reflects what has survived. I agree entirely. I'm sorry I implied that the Roman work of the 3rd and 2nd century B.C. were less worthy by calling the later eras a 'height of literary achievement' and a 'revival'. I meant it from a modern perspective in that I have many works available to me from the 1st century and time of Christ, but not before. It was careless of me to use those phrases to describe quantity, not quality. :)

I don't think it's the Christians fault for that gap though. You're right that the early Romans were developing their own style. But they abandoned it in favour of imitating or 'perfecting' (as they might put it) Greek literature when they began to take over that region. I was taught that later Romans disdained the Saturnian form of their ancestors and didn't care enough to keep it. Or was that only Horace? So, it may not have even been available to the monks. The fact that following the Saturnian's going out of vogue there was a lengthy bout of civil wars makes me think these texts would not have had much of a chance of survival, even before the monks were on the scene.

Burgess~

I still can't answer all of your questions about why literature would be so prevalent from the late Republic and Augustan eras. They're good questions and I'll bear them in mind while I doing my reading. I'm hoping to find the subject interesting enough to write my final for the class. Thank you. ;)

~Aurelia

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites