by Peter Mountford
New York: Routledge, 2019. Pp. viii, 390.
Illus., appends., notes, biblio., index. $160.00. ISBN: 036713747X
Augustus’s Other Right-Hand Man
Although Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa is best known as Octavian/Augustus’s right-hand man, Gaius Clinius Maecenas (c. 70-8 BC), a wealthy eques with Etruscan rather than Roman roots, was the third member of Octavian’s inner circle – Dr. Mountford calls the trio the “third triumvirate” – a close advisor and patron of the literary arts. In this book, the first biography of the man in English, Mountford does two things.
To begin with, Mountford gives us a detailed life of Maecenas, in the process also giving us a very extensive examination of the available evidence. So we see Maecenas not only as a sage advisor to the young Octavian and later Augustus, but also as an administrator of some ability, governing provinces well, and, rather surprisingly, as a soldier, albeit dimly due to slender evidence, a man who was with the army at Mutina, Philippi, Perugia, and in the fleet at Actium.
Mountford follow this with a look at Maecenas as patron of the arts, running through a long list of poets he patronized and projects in which he was involved, activities not necessarily divorced from his role as advisor to Augustus, who was trying to stabilize the state after the long civil wars, while creating a new form of government. Mountford concentrates particularly at Maecenas’s influence on the work of Virgil, Horace, and Propertius, He is particularly valuable when discussing the literary roots of Virgil’s Aeneid, which played a major role in promoting the new regime.
While primarily of value to those with an interest in the literature of the Augustan era, serious students of Roman society and politics during the chaotic period of the civil wars and the creation of the Principate will find much of interest in Maecenas as well.
Note: Maecenas is also available in several e-editions.
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