Ancient History: resources for teachers, Vol. 38, No. 2, (2008)
|English: Bust of Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Octavius, first Roman Emperor. 27 BC - 14 AD, Marble. cm 42 From Rome, Via Merulana Capitoline Museum, Rome. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
“Ego — is not a Dirty Word”, sang the Skyhooks in 1975. Indeed, it’s not. In fact, it’s a Latin one. And as much as the Romans may have buried the word within their inflected verbs, Latin speakers were not thereby expected to hide their light under a bushel. Light was sought. It was claritudo, or renown. This was only a slightly more rhetorical form of nobilitas. Roman principes sought fame, and to get to the top. Self-advertisement and the proclamation of achievement were essential tools in the armoury. Students are often struck by the superabundance of first-person pronouns in the English translations of Augustus’ Res Gestae (there is no way around that in English), but they come to see that there is nothing unusual in it (except its length [!]—and, of course, the extraordinary achievement of Augustus). The inscription is simply a climax of the Roman Republic’s eulogistic tradition.
But something had happened on the way to Rome’s ‘imperial’ period. Augustus was a master of self-advertisement and wanted to be celebrated for his successes, but claimed not to have wanted much of the power that others saw him as possessing. The classic statement of this, of course, is the one that comes almost at the very end of the Res Gestae, just before his proud concluding memory that he had been formally hailed in 2 BC (“in my thirteenth consulship”), by the Senate, the Equestrian Order and the People, Father of the Fatherland (pater patriae)