maandag 1 februari 2010

Macrobius: Anecdotes about the Emperor Augustus

Ambrosius Theodosius Macrobius was a Roman grammarian and neoplatonic philosopher during the reign of Honorius and Arcadius (395-423)

The most important of his works is the Saturnalia, containing an account of the discussions held at the house of Vettius Agorius Praetextatus (praetorian prefect from May 21 - Sept. 9, A.D. 384) during the holiday of the Saturnalia starting on December 17. It was written by the author for the benefit of his son Eustathius (or Eustachius)

In his second book, chapter four, Macrobius relates a number of anecdotes concerning the Roman Emperor Augustus:

I.Augustus replied to a prefect of cavalry who had been relieved of his command but nevertheless claimed a pension, saying that he made the request not for the sake of the money but that it might be thought that he had resigned his commission and had been adjudged worthy of the gift by the emperor, Augustus retorted:
” Tell everybody that you have had it. I shall not deny that I gave it.”

II.To an ugly hunchback named Galba, who was pleading in court before him and kept on saying:” If you have any fault to find, correct me,” he said:” I can offer you advice, but I certainly can’t correct you.”

III. A certain Vettius had ploughed up a memorial to his father, whereupon Augustus remarked:” This is indeed cultivating your father’s memory.”

IV. As a young man he neatly made fun of one Vatinius who had become crippled by gout but nevertheless wished it to be thought that he had got rid of the complaint. The man was boasting that he could walk a mile, “ I can well believe it,” said Augustus, “ the days are getting somewhat longer.”

V. An unkind quip made by a man from one of the provinces is well known. In appearance he closely resembled the emperor, and on his coming to Rome the likeness attracted general attention. Augustus sent for him and on seeing him said:
” Tell me, young man, was your mother ever in Rome?” “No”, replied the other and, not content to leave it at that, added:” But my father was- often.”

VI. During the triumvirate Augustus wrote some lampoons on Pollio, but Pollio only observed:” For my part I am saying nothing in reply; for it is asking for trouble to write against a man who can write you off.”

VII.As censor, too, Augustus showed a remarkable tolerance, which won him high praise. A Roman knight was being reprimanded by him on the ground that he had squandered his property but was able to show publicly that he had in fact increased it. The next charge brought against him was failure to comply with the marriage laws. To this he replied that he had a wife and three children and then added: ” I suggest, Sire, that in future, when you have occasion to inquire into the affairs of respectable persons, the inquiry be entrusted to respectable persons.”

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