Metamorphoses The Augustan Age

The Emperor Augustus lived from 43 B.C.E. to 18 C.E.; during his lifetime, Rome and the Roman Empire saw a remarkable flourishing of art and literature, especially poetry. Augustus was the adopted son of the Emperor Julius Caesar, whose rule degenerated into a Tyranny which lead to his execution by members of his own Senate. After Caesar's death, Augustus's adoption was almost nullified by Mark Antony, but Cicero, a noted orator and government official, spoke for him and convinced the Senators to give him their support. While in some ways Augustus gathered power primarily for himself, he was also an intelligent and successful ruler. For example, he extended Roman citizenship to all Italians, and while elections to public office continued, Augustus actually rigged them in favor of the most talented, rather than the richest or most influential. He professionalized the army, and by sending the military throughout the extensive Roman territory, he spread the Latin language and Roman culture throughout Europe and the Mediterranean. The Age of Augustus was known for the longest period of peace and prosperity in Roman history. Augustus also provided a tremendous amount of support for the arts, consequently, his rule is known as the Golden Age of Roman Literature. Of course, Augustus did not support writers solely out of the goodness of his heart. He created a complex system for identifying the most talented writers who would best serve the agenda of his government.

The iconic poets of the Augustan Age are Virgil (70-19 B.C.E.), Horace (65-8 B.C.E.) and Ovid (43 B.C.E. - 18 C.E.). Virgil first wrote the Eclogues, a series of poems idealizing the rural life and glorifying the farmer. His next work, the Goergics is also about farming, and emphasizes the superiority of agrarian values. Virgil's most famous work was the Aeneid, an epic about Aeneas's flight from Troy and the eventual founding of the Roman state. On one level, the Aeneid is a political poem about the greatness of the Roman Empire and the Roman Emperor. Horace wrote many poems and letters which were extremely popular during his life, but are not read nearly as much as Ovid or Virgil's works in modern times. Ovid, of course, is most famous today for his writing of the Metamorphoses. These poets were hugely influential in later centuries; their ideas were interpreted, represented and even stolen for hundreds of years. This influence is one of the reasons that the Age of Augustus stands out in the history of the Ancient world. Augustus harnessed literary talent well - his name will be remembered so long as the works which glorify him continue to be read and studied throughout the world.

Augustus was also remember for reforming the tax system, supporting many building projects, and, primarily, for maintaining the peace. Many historians and Classical Scholars credit Augustus with laying the groundwork for a regime that would last for another 250 years. After Augustus's death, he was seceded by Tiberius. Augustus was deified and Cult of Augustus was the primary religious cult in Rome until the takeover of Christianity in the fourth century C.E.