Ovid, Fasti I.527-536

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The legacy of the house of Augustus

Name of the author: 
Ovid
Date: 
1 CE to 8 CE
Place: 
Rome and Tomis
Language: 
Latin
Category: 
Roman
Literary genre: 
Poetry
Title of work: 
Fasti
Reference: 

I.527-536

Commentary: 

Drawing on the mythology of Aeneas’s arrival in Latium with the Penates of Troy, Ovid here pleads to Vesta, the goddess responsible for the protection of Rome, whose flame was tended by the prestigious Vestal Virgins, for the admittance of these ancestral gods into her temples. The domus Augusta is here recognised as the protective force of Rome, which will rule over the empire (531). The mention of Julia Augustus (Livia, Augustus’s widow) being divinised at the end of the passage (536) confirms that Ovid has in mind the future period following the death of Augustus (which occurred in 14 CE), and therefore the “house of Augustus” refers to the succession of the Julian line. In fact, Tiberius is said to have turned down divine honours for himself and his mother (see Suetonius, Tiberius 26), but Livia was deified anyway later on by her grandson, Claudius, in 42 CE.

The identity of the divine figure who will “hold the sacred rites,” i.e. perform acts of worship, in verse 530 is ambiguous, and could refer either to Julius Caesar or Augustus. Both of these rulers held the office of Pontifex Maximus (chief priest), Julius Caesar from 63 BCE onwards, and Augustus from 12 CE onwards. Moreover, Ovid refers to both individuals as divine elsewhere in his writings, such as his account of Julius Caesar’s deification and the subsequent career of Augustus, which also culminates with his deification, in the Metamorphoses (XV.745-851). For Steven Green, the ambiguity here is quite intentional in creating “a sense of fluidity” across the two generations of the Julian family (Steven Green, Ovid, Fasti I, p. 243). Verse 533 presents another ambiguity regarding identity, as the “god” can be understood to be Julius Caesar, with the “son” and “grandson” representing Augustus and Tiberius respectively, or alternatively the “god” could be interpreted as effectively referring to both Julius Caesar and Augustus, with the “son” and “grandson” being the same person, Tiberius, who was the adopted grandson and son of Julius Caesar and Augustus respectively. Steven Green argues that both readings are possible given that Augustus and Tiberius were both known for refusing power (see, for example, Suetonius, Augustus 58), and both took over rulership from their fathers (Steven Green, Ovid, Fasti I, p. 244). The responsibility of Augustus and/or Tiberius to bear the weight of their father recalls the imagery of Aeneas carrying his father Anchises out of the burning Troy on his shoulders (533-534). It has been suggested by Geraldine Herbert-Brown that the requirement for the bearer of the empire to be of “heavenly mind” (534) may be an indication of the reliance of Tiberius on astrology (Geraldine Herbert-Brown, Ovid’s Fasti, p. 123 n. 74). Nonetheless, the Aenean allusion cleverly connects the imperial family with Rome’s mythical past, and the transportation of the Aeneas episode perhaps draws on Virgil’s own chronological manipulation in Aeneid VI.756-853, where Aeneas and Romulus are discussed alongside Julius Caesar and Augustus, in an attempt to emphasise the link between the mythical founders of Rome and the Julian line. 

Keywords in the original language: 

Bibliographical references: 
Herbert-Brown, Geraldine, “Ovid and the Stellar Calendar” , in Ovid’s Fasti: Historical Readings at its Bimillennium (ed. Herbert-Brown, Geraldine; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 101-128
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Ovid, Fasti I.527-536
Author(s) of this publication: Kimberley Fowler
Publishing date: Fri, 07/29/2016 - 14:59
URL: http://www.judaism-and-rome.org/ovid-fasti-i527-536
Visited: Wed, 07/17/2019 - 05:07

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