I, Claudius c-1, page 3part #1 of Claudius Series
Livia was secretly delighted at the incident, having long been assiduous in making misunderstandings and jealousies between Augustus and Antony, which Octavia had been as assiduous in smoothing out. When Octavia returned to Rome, Livia asked Augustus to invite her to leave Antony's house and stay with them.
She refused to do so, partly because she did not trust Livia and partly because she did not wish to appear a cause of the impending war. Finally Antony, incited by Cleopatra, sent Octavia a bill of divorce and declared war on Augustus. This was the last of the Civil Wars, a duel to the death between the only two men left on their feet--if I may use the metaphor--after an all-against-all sword-fight in the universal amphitheatre.
Lepidus was still alive, to be sure, but a prisoner in all but name, and quite harmless--he had been forced to fall at Augustus' feet and beg for his life. Young Pompey, too, the only other person of importance, whose fleet had tor a long time commanded the Mediterranean, had by now been defeated by Augustus, and captured and put to death by Antony. The duel between Augustus and Antony was short. Antony was totally defeated in the sea battle off Actium, in Greece. He fled to Alexandria [B.C. 31], and there took his own life--as did Cleopatra, too.
Augustus assumed Antony's Eastern conquests as his own and became, as Livia had intended, the sole ruler of the Roman world. Octavia remained true to the interests of Antony's children--not only his son by a former wife, but actually his three children by Cleopatra, a girl and two boys--bringing them up with her own two daughters, one of whom, Antonia the younger, was my mother. This nobility of mind excited general admiration at Rome.
Augustus ruled the world, but Livia ruled Augustus. And I must here explain the remarkable hold that she had over him. It was always a matter of wonder that there were no children of the marriage, seeing that my grandmother had not shown herself unfruitful and that Augustus was ‘reported to be the father of at least four natural children, besides his daughter Julia, who there is no reason for doubting was his own daughter. He was known, moreover to be passionately devoted to my grandmother. The truth will not easily be credited. The truth is that the marriage was never consummated. Augustus, though capable enough with other women, found himself as impotent as a child when he tried to have commerce with my grandmother.
The only reasonable explanation is that Augustus was, at bottom, a pious man, though cruelty and even ill-faith had been forced on him by the dangers that followed his granduncle Julius Caesar's assassination. He knew that the marriage was impious: this knowledge, it seems, affected him nervously, putting an inner restraint on his flesh.
My grandmother, who had wanted Augustus as an instrument of her ambition rather than as a lover was more glad than sorry for this impotence. She found that she could use it as a weapon for subjecting his will to hers. Her practice was to reproach him continually for having seduced her from my grandfather, whom she protested that she had loved, by assurances to her of deep passion and by secret threats to him that if she were not given up he would be arraigned as a public enemy. [This last was perfectly untrue.] Now look, she said, how she had been tricked! The passionate lover had turned out to be no man at all; any poor charcoal-burner or slave was more of a man than he! Even Julia was not his real daughter, and he knew it. All that he was good for, she said, was to fondle and fumble and kiss and make eyes like a singing eunuch.
It was in vain that Augustus protested that with other women he was a Hercules. Either she would refuse to believe it or she would accuse him of wasting en other women what he denied her. But that no scandal of this should go about she pretended on one occasion to be with child by him and then to have a miscarriage. Shame and unslakable passion bound Augustus closer to her than if their mutual longings had been nightly satisfied or than if she had borne him a dozen fine children. And she took the greatest care of his health and comfort, and was faithful to him, not being naturally lustful except of power; and for this he was so grateful that he let her guide and rule him in all his public and private acts. I have heard it confidently stated by old palace officials that, after marrying my grandmother, Augustus never looked at another woman. Yet all sorts of stories were current at Rome about his affairs with the wives and daughters of notables; and after his death, in explaining how it was that she had so complete a command of his affections, Livia used to say that it was not only because she was faithful to him but also because she never interfered with his passing -love-affairs. It is my belief that she put all these scandals about herself in order to have something to reproach him with.
If I am challenged as to my authority for this curious history I will give it.
The first part relating to the divorce I heard from Livia's own lips in the year she died. The remainder, about Augustus' impotence, I heard from a woman called Briseis, a wardrobe-maid of my mother's, who had previously served my grandmother as a page-girl, and being then only seven years old had been allowed to overhear conversations that she was thought too young to understand. I believe my account true and will continue to do so until it is supplanted by one that fits the facts equally well. To my way of thinking, the Sibyl's verse about "wife, no wife"
confirms the matter. No, I cannot close the matter here. In writing this passage, with the idea, I suppose, of shielding Augustus' good name, I have been holding something back which I shall now after all set down. Because, as the proverb says,
"truth helps the story on". It is this. My grandmother Livia ingeniously consolidated her hold on Augustus by secretly giving him, of her own accord, beautiful young women to sleep with whenever she noticed that passion made him restless. That she arranged this for him, and without a word said beforehand or afterwards, forbearing from the jealousy that, as a wife, he was convinced that she must feel; that everything was done very decently and quietly, the young women
[whom she picked out herself in the Syrian slave-market--he preferred Syrians]
being introduced into his bedroom at night with a knock and the rattle of a chain for signal, and called away again early in the morning by a similar knock and rattle; and that they kept silence in his presence as if they were succubi who came in dreams--that she contrived all this so thoughtfully and remained faithful to him herself in spite of his impotence with her, he must have considered a perfect proof of the sincerest love. You may object that Augustus, in his position, might have had the most beautiful women in the world, bond or free, married or unmarried, to feed his appetite, without the assistance of Livia as procuress. That is true, but it is true nevertheless that after his marriage to Livia he tasted no meat, as he once said himself, though perhaps in another context, that she had not passed as fit for eating.
Of women, then, Livia had no cause to be jealous, except only of her sister-in-law, my other grandmother, Octavia, whose beauty excited as much admiration as her virtue.
Livia had taken malicious pleasure in sympathising with her over Antony's faithlessness. She had gone so far as to suggest that it had been largely Octavia's own fault in dressing in so modest a way and behaving with such decorum. Mark Antony, she pointed out, was a man of strong passions, and to hold him successfully a woman must temper the chastity of a Roman matron with the arts and extravagances of an Oriental courtesan. Octavia should have taken a leaf from Cleopatra's book: for the Egyptian, though Octavia's inferior in looks and her senior by eight or nine years, knew well how to feed his sensual appetite.
"Men such as Antony, real men, prefer the strange to the wholesome."
Livia finished sententiously, “They find maggoty green cheese more tasty than freshly pressed curds."
"Keep your maggots to yourself!” Octavia flared at her.
Livia herself dressed very richly and used the most expensive Asiatic perfumes; but she did not allow the least extravagance in her household, which she made a boast of running in old-fashioned Roman style. Her rules were: plain but plentiful food, regular family worship, no hot baths after meals, constant work for everyone, and no waste. "Everyone" was not mer
Julia was expected to set an example of industry. She led a very weary life.
She had a regular daily task of wool to card and spin, and cloth to weave, and needlework to do, and was made to rise from her hard bed at dawn, and even before dawn, in the winter months, to be able to get through it. And because her stepmother believed in a liberal education for girls, she was set, among other tasks, to learn the whole of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey by heart.
Julia had also to keep a detailed diary, for Livia's benefit, of what work she did, what books she read, what conversations she had, and so on: which was a great burden to her. She was allowed no friendships with men, though her beauty was much toasted. One young man of ancient family and irreproachable morals, a Consul's son, was bold enough to introduce himself to her one day at Baize on some polite pretext, when she was taking the half-hour's walk allowed her by the seaside, accompanied only by her duenna. Livia, who was jealous of Julia's good looks, and of Augustus' affection for her, had the young man sent a very strong letter, telling him that he must never expect to hold public office under the father of the girl whose good name he had tried to besmirch by this insufferable familiarity. Julia herself was punished by being forbidden to take her walk outside the grounds of the villa. About this time Julia went quite bald. I do not know whether Livia had a hand in this: it seems not improbable, though certainly baldness was in the Caesar family. At all events, Augustus found an Egyptian wig-maker who made her one of the most magnificent fair wigs that was ever seen, and her charms were thus rather increased than diminished by her mischance; she had not had very good hair of her own. It is said that the wig was not built, in the usual way, on a base of hair net but was the whole scalp of a German chieftain's daughter shrunk to the exact size of Julia's head and kept alive and pliant by occasional rubbing with a special ointment. But I must say that I don't believe this.
Everyone knew that Livia kept Augustus in strict order and that, if not actually frightened of her, he was at any rate very careful not to offend her. One day, in his capacity as Censor, he was lecturing some rich men about allowing their wives to bedizen themselves with jewels, "For a woman to overdress," he said, "is unseemly. It is the husband's duty to restrain his wife from luxury."
Carried away by his own eloquence he unfortunately added: "I sometimes have occasion to admonish my own wife about this." There was a delighted cry from the culprits. "Oh, Augustus," they said, "do tell us in what words you admonish Livia. It will serve as a model for us." Augustus was embarrassed and alarmed.
"You mis-heard me," he said, "I did not say that I had ever had occasion to reprimand Livia. As you know well, she is a paragon of matronly modesty. But I certainly would have no hesitation in reprimanding her, were she to forget her dignity by dressing, as some of your wives do, like an Alexandrian dancing-girl who has by some queer turn of fate become an Armenian queen-dowager." That same evening Livia tried to make Augustus look small by appearing at the dinner table in the most fantastically gorgeous finery she could lay her hands on, the foundation of which was one of Cleopatra's ceremonial dresses. But he got well out of an awkward situation by praising her for her witty and opportune parody of the very fault he had been condemning Livia had grown wiser since the time that she had advised my grandfather to put a diadem on his head and proclaim himself king. The title "king" was still execrated at Rome on account of the unpopular Tarquin dynasty to which, according to legend, the first Brutus [I call him this to distinguish him from the second Brutus, who murdered Julius] had put an end--expelling the royal family from the City and becoming one of the first two Consuls of the Roman Republic.
Livia realised now that the title of king could be waived so long as Augustus could control the substantial powers of kingship. By following her advice he gradually concentrated in his single person all the important Republican dignities. He was Consul at Rome, and f when he passed on the office to a reliable friend he took in exchange the "High Command"--which, though nominally on a level with the consulship, ranked in practice above this or any other magistracy.
He had absolute control of the provinces, too, and power to appoint the provincial governors-general, together with the command of all armies and the right of levying troops and of making peace ^ [*5] or war. In Rome he was voted the life-office of People's Protector, which secured him against all interference with his authority, gave him the power of vetoing the decisions of other office-holders and carried with it the inviolability of his person. The title "Emperor", which once merely meant "field-marshal" but has recently come to mean supreme monarch, he shared with other successful generals.
He also had the Censorship, which gave him authority over the two leading social orders, those of Senators and Knights; on the pretext of moral shortcomings he could disqualify any member of either order from its dignities and privileges--a disgrace keenly felt. He had control or the Public Treasury: he was supposed to render periodic accounts, but nobody was ever bold enough to demand an audit, though it was known that there was constant juggling between the Treasury and Privy Purse.
Thus he had the command of the armies, the control of the laws--for his influence on the Senate was such that they voted whatever he suggested to them--the control of public finances, the control or social behaviour, and inviolacy of person. He even had the right of summarily condemning any Roman citizen, from ploughman to senator, to death or perpetual banishment. The last dignity that he assumed was that of High Pontiff, which gave him control of the entire religious system. The Senate were anxious to vote him whatever title he would accept, short of King: they were afraid to vote him the kingship for fear of the people.
His real wish was to be called Romulus, but Livia advised him against this.
Her argument was that Romulus had been a king and that the name was therefore dangerous, and further that he was one of the Roman tutelary deities and that to take his name would seem blasphemous. But her real feeling was that it was not a grand enough tide.
Romulus had been a mere bandit-chieftain and was not among the first rank of the Gods. On her advice he therefore signified to the Senate that the title Augustus would be agreeable to him. So they voted him that. "Augustus" had a semi-divine connotation, and the common title of King was nothing by comparison.
How many mere kings paid tribute to Augustus! How many were marched in chains in Roman triumphs! Had not even the High King of remote India, hearing of Augustus' fame, sent ambassadors to Rome, begging for the protection of his friendship, with propitiatory presents of remarkable silks and spices; and rubies, emeralds and sardonyx; and tigers, then for the first time seen in Europe; and the Indian Hermes, the famous armless boy, who could do the most extraordinary things with his feet? Had not Augustus put an end to that line of kings in Egypt that went back at least five thousand years before the foundation of Rome? And at that fateful interruption of history what monstrous portents had not been seen? Had there not been flashes of armour from the clouds and bloody rain falling? Had not a serpent of gigantic size appeared in the main street of Alexandria and uttered an incredibly loud hiss? Had not the ghosts of dead Pharaohs appeared? Had not their statues frowned? Had not Apis, the sacred bull of Memphis, uttered a bellow of lamentation and burst into tears? This was how my grandmother reasoned with herself.
Most women are inclined to set a modest limit to their ambitions; a few rare ones set a bold limit. But Livia was unique in setting no limit at all to hers, and yet remaining perfectly level-headed and cool in what would be judged in any other woman to be raving madness. It was only little by little that even I, with such excellent opportunities for observing her, came to guess generally what her intentions were. But even so, when the final disclosure came, it came as a shock of surprise. Perhaps I had better record her various acts in historical sequence, without dwelling on her hidden motives. On her advice, Augustus prevailed on the Senate to create two new Divinitie
Augustus knew the value of a religious bond to unite the provinces with the City, a bond far stronger than one based merely on fear or gratitude. It sometimes happened that after long residence in Egypt or Asia Minor even true-born [27!
Romans turned to the worship of the gods they found there and forgot their own, thereby becoming foreigners in all but name. On the other hand Rome had imported so many religions from the cities she had conquered, giving alien deities, such as Isis and Cybele, noble temples in the City--and not merely for the convenience of visitors--that it was reasonable that she should now, in fair exchange, plant gods of her own in these cities. Roma and Julius, then, were to be worshipped by such provincials as were Roman citizens and wished to be reminded of their national heritage.
The next step that Livia took was to arrange for delegations of provincials not fortunate enough to possess full citizenship to visit Rome and beg to be given a Roman God whom they might worship loyally and without presumption. On Livia's advice Augustus told the Senate, half jokingly, that these poor fellows, while obviously they could not be allowed to worship the superior deities, Roma and Julius, must not be denied some sort of God, however humble. At this, Mascenas, one of Augustus' ministers, with whom Augustus had already discussed the advisability of taking the name of Romulus, said: "Let us give them a God who will watch over them well. Let us give them Augustus himself." Augustus appeared somewhat embarrassed but admitted that Maecenas' suggestion was a sound one. It was an established custom among Orientals, and one which might well be turned to Roman profit, to pay divine honours to their rulers; but since it was clearly impracticable for Eastern cities to worship the whole Senate in a body, putting up six hundred statues in each of their shrines, one way out of the difficulty, certainly, was for them to worship the Senate's chief executive officer, who happened to be himself. So the Senate, feeling complimented that each member had in him at least one six hundredth part of divinity, gladly voted Mascenas' motion, and shrines to Augustus were immediately erected in Asia Minor. The cult spread, but at first only in the frontier provinces, which were under the direct control of Augustus, not in the home provinces, which were nominally under the control of the Senate, not in the City itself.
Other author's books:
- The Anger of Achilles: Homer's IliadThe Twelve CaesarsThe Greek Myths, Volume2Count BelisariusComplete Poems 3 (Robert Graves Programme)Homer's DaughterThe White GoddessGoodbye to All That
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