The rise of Octavian, adopted son of Julius Caesar, to a position of uncontested power and authority in Rome over the course of fewer than twenty years was the result of a remarkable series of events. The transformative effect of the changes that attended his career, during his struggle with Antony, and through the more than four decades of his principate, has guaranteed that the Augustan age is central to any understanding of Roman history, literature and culture.
The era and the city associated with the name ‘Augustus’ have also, in the past decade or so especially, become the focus of general humanities courses in colleges and universities both in the US and the UK; yet accessible, reliable, and comprehensive treatments of the period and its central figure remain in short supply.
The program of reformation and restoration pursued by Augustus was to have a profound and enduring effect upon every aspect of life in the empire, from fashions in entertainment, decoration, and the visual arts to religious and political habits and customs. Our access to the many features of this program and their enduring impact takes many forms: of primary value are the physical remains of the city of Rome, which have much to tell us not only about Augustan aesthetics but also about politics, social behavior, religious traditions, legal intrusiveness, and cultural poetics in the new regime. Of equally important though differing value are the texts which survive from the period—the literary and historical works of Virgil, Horace, Livy, Propertius, Tibullus, Ovid, Sulpicia, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and others, all of which attest not only to the extraordinarily fertile environment for creative reflection and engagement available at least to an educated elite in this period, but also to the many and varied undercurrents of individual difference and dissonance audible above the new harmony of Augustan order.
I propose to write a book that will explore and pull together all of this material. I bring to the project the perspective of a scholar the primary focus of whose publications has been Latin literature of the Augustan period, especially the work of Virgil, Ovid, and the elegists; in my teaching of undergraduates, however, I have ranged much more widely, not only over Latin (and Greek) writers and texts but also in historically and thematically organized courses focusing on various aspects of classical culture. Of particular relevance to this project is, naturally, the course I have developed and taught on Augustan Rome, itself an outgrowth in part of the two years (1994-95 and 1997-98) I spent teaching Latin literature and Roman history and archaeology at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome.