Augustus is given the title of High Priest
This passage celebrates the addition of the religious title of pontifex maximus (High Priest) to Augustus’s existing secular honours on March 6th, 12 BCE. Interestingly, Augustus waited thirty years to assume this title, which had also been held by his adoptive father, Julius Caesar. As Elaine Fantham explains, the reason for this delay was likely the deposed triumvir Marcus Lepidus, who still held the office of pontifex maximus (he was in fact the last to hold this position in the Republican era), but had been stripped of his secular power because of a supposed conspiracy twenty years prior. Despite residing outside of Rome in imposed retirement, Lepidus still held his religious office until his death. This may have meant that Augustus, however, was performing certain duties associated with the position, such as supervising the Vestal Virgins, and certain religious ceremonies, without officially holding the title of pontifex maximus (Elaine Fantham, “Ovid’s Fasti,” p. 202-203).
Ovid here rejoices in the fact that a descendent of Aeneas, Rome’s mythical ancestor, is now the protector of Troy’s native gods, which the Aeneid describes as having being carried out of burning Troy by Aeneas, and brought safely to Latium, the site of future Rome (see Virgil, Aeneid XII.176-194). Essentially, Augustus, the supervisor of the undying fires of Vesta, is the new representative of Rome’s eternity. Augustus’s descent from Aeneas places him on an equal standing with Vesta. After being elected pontifex maximus, Augustus built a second shrine to Vesta by his home, and made it public. As Carole Newlands states, he effectively brought Vesta to himself, rather than going down to her in her traditional place in the centre of the Forum, and thereby connected himself directly with the hearth of the Roman state (Carole Newlands, Playing with Time, p. 130). At the end of the fourth book of the Fasti (945-954), the dedication of Vesta’s shrine on the Palatine is celebrated. Here, Ovid refers to Vesta as one of three gods who share the Palatine, the other two being Apollo, and, it is implied, Augustus (see Elaine Fantham, “Ovid’s Fasti,” p. 204).
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