Cœsar Augustus

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Cæsar Augustus


. . . He lost his mother in his first consulship, and his sister Octavia, when he was in the fifty-fourth year of his age. He behaved toward them both with the utmost kindness while they were alive, and after their decease paid the highest honors to their memory. . . .

In bringing up his daughter and granddaughters, he accustomed them to domestic employments, even to spinning. He also obliged them to speak and act everything openly before the family, that it might be put down in the diary. He so strictly prohibited them from all converse with strangers, that he once wrote a letter to Lucius Vinicius, a handsome young man of a good family, in which he told him, "You have not behaved very modestly, in making a visit to my daughter at Baiæ."1 He usually instructed his grandsons himself in reading, swimming, and other rudiments of knowledge. He never supped but he had them sitting at the foot of his couch. He never traveled but with them in a chariot before him, or riding beside him. . . .

He was cautious in forming friendships, but clung to them with great constancy. . . . He expected from his friends, at their deaths as well as during their lives, some proofs of their reciprocal attachment. Though he was far from coveting their property, and indeed would never accept any legacy left him by a stranger, yet he pondered in a melancholy mood over their last words. He was not able to conceal his chagrin, if in their wills they made but a slight, or no very honorable, mention of him, nor his joy, on the other hand, if they expressed a grateful sense of his favors and a hearty affection for him. Whatever legacies or shares of their property were left him by such as were parents, he used to restore with interest to their children. He did this either immediately, or if they were under age, upon the day of their assuming the manly dress, or of their marriage.

As a patron and master, his behavior in general was mild and conciliating; but when occasion required it, he could be severe. . . . When his slave, Cosmos, had reflected bitterly upon him, he resented the injury no further than by putting him in fetters. When his steward, Diomedes, left him to the mercy of a wild boar, which suddenly attacked them while they were walking together, he considered it rather an act of cowardice than a breach of duty; and turned an occurrence of no small hazard into a jest, because there was no knavery in his steward’s conduct. . . . He broke the legs of his secretary, Thallus, for accepting a bribe of five hundred denarii to discover the contents of one of his letters. And when the tutor and other attendants of his son Gaius had taken advantage of his sickness and death, to give loose to their insolence and rapacity in the province Gaius governed, he caused heavy weights to be tied about their necks, and had them thrown into a river. . . .

He was moderate in his habits, and free from suspicion of any kind of vice. He lived at first near the Roman Forum. . . . He afterwards moved to the Palatine Hill, where he resided in a small house . . . not remarkable either for size or ornament. For the piazzas were but small, the pillars of Alban stone, and the rooms without anything of marble or fine paving. . . . He had a particular aversion to large and sumptuous palaces. Some residences which had been raised at a vast expense by his granddaughter, Julia, he leveled to the ground. Those of his own, which were far from being spacious, he adorned, not so much with statues and pictures, as with walks, groves, and things which were curious either for their antiquity or rarity. . . .

His frugality in the furniture of his house appears even at this day, from some beds and tables still remaining, most of which are scarcely elegant enough for a private family. It is reported that he never lay upon a bed, but such as was low and meanly furnished. He seldom wore any garment but what was made by the hands of his wife, sister, daughter, and granddaughters. His togas were neither scanty nor full; and the clavus1 was neither remarkably broad or narrow. His shoes were a little higher than common, to make him appear taller than he was. He had always clothes and shoes, fit to appear in public, ready in his bed-chamber for any sudden occasion.

At his table, which was always plentiful and elegant, he constantly entertained company; but was very scrupulous in the choice of his guests, both as to rank and character. . . . He often came late to table and withdrew early; so that the company began supper before his arrival and continued at table after his departure. His entertainments consisted of three entrées, or at most of only six. But, if his fare was moderate, his courtesy was extreme. Those who were silent or talked in whispers, he encouraged to join in the general conversation. He also often had buffoons and stage players, or even low performers from the circus and itinerant humorists, to enliven the company.

Festivals and holidays he usually celebrated very expensively, but sometimes only with merriment. In the Saturnalia,1 or at any other time when the fancy took him, he distributed to his company clothes, gold, and silver; sometimes coins of all sorts, even of the ancient kings of Rome and of foreign nations. Sometimes he would give nothing but towels, sponges, rakes, and tweezers, and other things of that kind, with tickets on them which were enigmatical and had a double meaning. . . .

He ate sparingly, and commonly used a plain diet. He was particularly fond of coarse bread, small fishes, new cheese made of cow’s milk, and green figs of the sort which bear fruit twice a year. He did not wait for supper, but took food at any time and in any place, when he had an appetite. The following passages relative to this subject, I have transcribed from his letters. "I ate a little bread and some small dates, in my carriage." Again. "In returning home from the palace in my litter, I ate an ounce of bread, and a few raisins." Again. "No Jew, my dear Tiberius, ever keeps such a strict fast upon the Sabbath,1 as I have to-day. While in the bath, and after the first hour of the night, I only ate two biscuits, before I began to be rubbed with oil." From this great indifference about his diet, he sometimes supped by himself, before his company began, or after they had finished, and would not touch a morsel at table with his guests. He was by nature extremely sparing in the use of wine. Of all wines, he gave the preference to the Rætian, but scarcely ever drank any in the daytime. Instead of drinking, he used to take a piece of bread dipped in cold water, or a slice of cucumber, or some leaves of lettuce, or a green, sharp, juicy apple. . . .

In person he was handsome and graceful, through every period of his life. But he was negligent in his dress; and so careless about arranging his hair that he usually had it done in great haste, by several barbers at a time. His beard he sometimes clipped and sometimes shaved. He read or wrote during the operation. His countenance, either when talking or when silent, was calm and serene. . . . His eyes were bright and piercing. He was willing it should be thought that there was something of a divine vigor in them. He was likewise not a little pleased to see people, upon his looking steadfastly at them, lower their countenances, as if the sun shone in their eyes. . . .

From early youth he devoted himself with great diligence and application to the study of eloquence and the other liberal arts. In one of his wars, notwithstanding the weighty affairs in which he was engaged, he is said to have read, written, and declaimed every day. He never addressed the Senate, the people, or the army, except in a premeditated speech, though he did not lack the talent of speaking on the spur of the occasion. And lest his memory should fail him, as well as to prevent the loss of time in getting up his speeches, it was his general practice to recite them. . . .

He composed many tracts in prose on various subjects, some of which he read occasionally in the circle of his friends. . . . He likewise made some attempts at poetry. There is extant one book written by him in hexameter verse, of which both the subject and title is Sicily. There is also a book of Epigrams, no larger than the last, which he composed almost entirely while he was in the bath. These are all his poetical compositions. Though he began a tragedy with great zest, becoming dissatisfied with the style, he obliterated the whole. Upon his friends saying to him, "What is your Ajax doing?" he answered, "My Ajax has met with a sponge." . . .

We have the following account of him respecting his belief in omens and other superstitions. He had so great a dread of thunder and lightning that he always carried about him a seal’s skin, by way of preservation. And upon any apprehension of a violent storm, he would retire to some place of concealment in an under-ground vault; having formerly been terrified by a flash of lightning, while traveling in the night.

1 Suetonius, , 61, 64, 66–67, 72–77, 79, 84–85, 90.

1 A Roman summer-resort. See page 231, note 2.

1 See page 219, note 1.

1 A festival originally held on December 17th in honor of Saturnus, an ancient Roman deity. It became a general holiday, somewhat like our Christmas, and was celebrated with sacrifices, games, and the presentation of gifts. On this occasion all classes, including the slaves, who enjoyed temporary freedom, gave themselves up to feasting and mirthful license.

2 The Jewish Sabbath, however, was not a day of fasting.

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Chicago: Cœsar Augustus in Readings in Early European History, ed. Webster, Hutton (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1926), 222–226. Original Sources, accessed September 29, 2023, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=EV1ERHN7UD65MEU.

MLA: . Cœsar Augustus, in Readings in Early European History, edited by Webster, Hutton, Boston, Ginn and Company, 1926, pp. 222–226. Original Sources. 29 Sep. 2023. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=EV1ERHN7UD65MEU.

Harvard: , Cœsar Augustus. cited in 1926, Readings in Early European History, ed. , Ginn and Company, Boston, pp.222–226. Original Sources, retrieved 29 September 2023, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=EV1ERHN7UD65MEU.