Ovid, Fasti I.587-616

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Octavian receives the title of "Augustus"

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1 BCE to 8 BCE
Rome and Tomis
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This passage celebrates January the 13th, the day on which Octavian received the title of “Augustus” from the senate. Ovid lists the military triumphs which have given names to various great Roman men, who assumed the names of the lands that they conquered. For instance, Africa gave its name to Publius Scipio Africanus (593), Isauria to Servilius Vatia Isauricus (593-594), and Crete to Quintus Caecilius Metellus Creticus (594). The poet explains that a man’s triumphs are what determine his stature, and geographically specific names are pivotal here for expressing how each individual has expanded the imperial mission. However, there are other ways in which a name can clarify a man’s stature and dominance. Hand to hand combat between two males may result in one taking his name from a trophy liberated from his opponent, such as a necklace or a crown (601-602), or a name may even derive from an adjective of comparison, such as one of size – Pompey the Great (magnus) (603). Caesar, in this sense, was even greater (maior), because he defeated Pompey (604). The Fabii, however, reached the highest level, earning the superlative form of Maximus as a name for themselves (605-606). All of these names, however, are simply human recognitions at the end of the day.

As Elaine Fantham recognises, what sets Augustus apart, is the connection of his title to the divine – his title is not merely honourific, but religious. Indeed, he is on a par with Jupiter (Jove) (608). Elsewhere, Ovid recalls Ennius’s use of the equivalent Greek term sebastos, which is used to refer to consecrated temples and augury signs (Annales IV.5) (Elaine Fantham, “Ovid’s Fasti,” p. 200). The discussion that follows traces the etymological roots of the name “Augustus,” which, it is explained, literally means holy, or consecrated, and is used to describe sacred temples dedicated by priests (609-610). The name Augustus embodies within it the very notion of the empire’s expansion (augere = “to increase/grow”), and its connection to augury (augurium) evokes divine blessing and power, which the poet prays will be realised through Jupiter’s aiding and extension of the emperor and his rulership (611-612). The emperor referred to from verse 613 onwards, however, seems to be Tiberius (see, for example, Steven Green, Ovid, Fasti I, p. 279), as verses 615-616 pray that he, as heir to the great name Augustus, will be able to successfully bear the responsibility of empire that he inherits from his father. As Richard King argues, this association of Augustus with the heavenly realm cements his status as supra-human (Richard King, Desiring Rome, p. 148). For King, the nomen Augusti is for Ovid an expression of stability and order, yet at the same time one of male rivalry, uncertainty and anxiety (Richard King, Desiring Rome, p. 145, 149). King sees this expressed in verses 615-616, where the echo of omen in the term cognomen may suggest that Tiberius’s rulership is undertaken with a certain degree of trepidation. Indeed, Tiberius was reluctant to accept his father’s title of Augustus in 14-15 CE, and even showed hesitation (although perhaps only for show) about taking on the imperial rule (see Tacitus, Annals I.11.1-3).

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Ovid, Fasti I.587-616
Author(s) of this publication: Kimberley Fowler
Publishing date: Fri, 06/30/2017 - 17:57
URL: https://www.judaism-and-rome.org/ovid-fasti-i587-616
Visited: Fri, 04/19/2024 - 16:33

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