Yesterday was the 2000th anniversary of the death of the emperor Augustus, who died on 19 August AD 14 (which given the calendar shift between, of course, isnt exactly 2000 years -- but never mind). I had been hoping to go to a party and consume my first dormouse, but as it happens was too feeble... and too feeble to post about it on the day itself.
All in all, now that I catch up, the day was marked by rather little celebration in the media so far as I can see, There was a nice little piece about Augustus' jokes on the Today programme, and I believe they had done a feature the day before....you can always trust the Today programme to note the right classical dates . The jokes feature is at the very end of the programme here.
Otherwise things were rather muted. Most papers went for the monuments of Augustus that you could (or could not) see in Rome. There was, on one side, lamentation in the Guardian that there was so little opportunity to visit Augustus' Mausoleum, and what a dreadful state it was in anyway. On the other the Art Newspaper hailed the news that the cash had apparently been found for its restoration.
There were however some nice side glances at differences of ideology. Take, for example, what the Investors' Business Daily had to say . . .
. . . which was not a bad word. For them, Augustus was one of the world's greatest statesmen (aka captain of industry, one couldnt help thinking).
Augustus himself would have been delighted. "Few leaders in the history of the world can match the statesmanship or success of Caesar Augustus. Rome's first emperor rescued a nation in the throes of disorder, plus established an enduring polity that would shape the destiny of Western civilization for the next 1,500 years", they oozed.
I have to say the references here weren't exactly up to date. The ancient historians cited were Donald Dudley and Michael Grant (in their prime in the 1960s) and the crowning compliment came from Alfred North Whitehead (died 1947):
""I know of only two occasions when the people in power did what needed to be done about as well as you can imagine its being possible," said English philosopher and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead.The first such era, he said, was Rome under Caesar Augustus; the other, America's Revolutionary period."
Where was Sir Ronald Syme, I wondered, if we were going back that far. Syme had a rather more cynical view.
For a more Symean view, one had to turn to an excellent article in Wales Online, which did raise the nasty thought that Augustus was at best an ambivalent character, whose adept management of power and legacy might hold some lessons for Vladimir Putin. (Were the two very different? we were being asked.)
"If Vladimir Putin is enjoying a little August relaxation, he could do worse than spend a few moments pondering the legacy of this giant of history."
And, of course, the month of August is itself significant (and a giveaway that all might not be as glowing as the Investors' Business Daily imagines). Why is it called August? Well obviously because it was renamed in his honour, not after his death in commemoration, but during his lifetime. It was apparently voted by a grateful senate because so many of Augustus' successes had fallen in the month previously known as Sextilis.
Just how naive would you have to be to imagine it was a spontaneous act of gratitude on the senate's part?