The Virtues of Augustus Compared to Aeneas’
Early in the first century, around 27 B.C.E., Augustus was presented with a golden shield by the Senate of Rome (Augustus 34). The shield was a symbol that the Senate recognizes Augustus as the sole ruler of Rome. Inscribed on the shield were the “cardinal virtues of a ruler”; Virtus, Pietas, Clementia, Iustitia, which in English means valor, piety, clemency, and justice (Wallace-Hadrill 300). The choice of the virtues that were displayed depended on assumptions about what the ‘ideals’ of a ruler were (Wallace-Hadrill 299). A very similar shield was depicted in Virgil’s work, “The Aenied”. Aeneas was given the shield by his mother, Venus, right before he goes to war. Aeneas’ character was developed by Virgil to portray the ideal Roman citizen, who pursued the Roman virtues. Augustus commissioned Virgil to write about these Roman virtues in “The Aeneid”, but how well does Augustus reflect those Roman virtues that are inscribed on his shield? Does Aeneas mirror those virtues as well as Augustus does? In order to explore this, I will examine how Aeneas fulfills these “cardinal virtues of a ruler” and compare that to Augustus’ life to see how well they match up.
The Roman virtue of Virtus, also known as manliness, valor, excellence, courage, character, and worth, is arguably the one of the most prevalent virtue in the character of Aeneas (Lind 248). We find Aeneas in the first book of “The Aeneid” sailing through a terrible storm. While his men have all but accepted death, Aeneas keeps calm for the most part, and continues to lead his men in face of certain death. After losing three ships and displaying great valor, Aeneas guides his men to the nearest land. Being beaten and worn down by his journey, Aeneas does not rest when he reaches the safety of the shore; however, he shows great character by going out and hunting for his men. On his return, he gives a speech. Although fearful himself of what the future has to hold, he exhibits courage and persuades his men to press onward. In book ten through twelve, we find Aeneas on the battlefield with the Italians that stand in the way of him founding Rome. Courage and valor are clearly seen by Aeneas in the midst of battle. Not only does he kill many of the Italians single handedly, but he does this with excellence and with honor, except maybe when killing Turnus, the leader of the Italians. There is no question of Aeneas’ manliness after reading of this battle, especially when reading of the many men he had slain. There is no doubt that Aeneas is a prime example of Roman virtue of Virtus.
On the other hand, Augustus also displays Virtus as an ideal ruler should. Shortly after he came into power after defeating Marc Antony in the Battle of Actium, he set out to conquer the known world. His conquering of the world was quite a bit different than when Aeneas conquered Italy. Most likely, Augustus did not fight with the heroic strength as the fictitious Aeneas did; however, Augustus does show great valor and excellence in his many military victories. In the Res Gestae, an autobiography written by Augustus, there are eight different passages where Augustus highlights his military career to show his valor and excellence. Of the foreign nations he conquered, he preferred to preserve most of them instead of completely destroy them, which he states in the Res Gestae (Augustus 3). His act of sparing those who sought after pardon with Rome shows his character. Many, if not all, of Augustus’ military accomplishments during his reign as emperor took place without him on the battle field. Some might think that this is an act of cowardice, but it simply was just how a ruler in his position should have performed. However, before Augustus came into power, he did prove himself to be courageous and “a capable and brave soldier who fit into the tradition of the ‘old Roman general’” during the Illyrian Campaigns of 35-33 B.C. (Benario 1). For the most part, Augustus encompasses the Roman virtue of Virtus, but, between the two, Aeneas is probably more clearly seen as the ideal example for this virtue.
The Roman virtue of Pietas, also known as dutifulness, is more than just religious piety. It is possible to think of it more as a respect for the social, political, and religious order of things. The virtue includes ideas of patriotism, fulfillment of obligation to the gods, family and ancestors, and honoring other human beings, especially in terms of the patron and client relationship, which was essential to Roman society (Mattingly 104, 114). Virgil in the first couple lines of “The Aenied” describes Aeneas as “pious” and continues to refer to him with that adjective for the rest of the poem. Book two of the “The Aenied” is probably where the most examples of Aeneas demonstrating Pietas exist. The book is Aeneas’ retelling of the fall of Troy. In which, we see him exhibit his pious duty to his family by facilitating their escape from the city. This is especially true in regards to Aeneas’ father, who Aeneas carried to safety on his shoulders as an act of piety. At first, Aeneas was completely devoted fulfilling his pious duty to his family, but his efforts start to shift towards a pious duty to the gods and to the city of Troy after he encounters the ghost of his wife, Creusa. Before he left the city, we saw Aeneas gather up and take with him his household gods in order fulfill his religious obligation to them. Aeneas, now, is focused on his duty to the city, and plans to follow Creusa and Hector’s commands to leave and found a “new” Troy. This is no simple act of Pietas. Aeneas will endure many hardships and trials in order to fulfill this duty to his gods and the fallen city of Troy. Before leaving the city, Aeneas struggled with the thought that he should fight and die for his city, and it was especially hard seeing his fellow soldiers perish with the city knowing he should be with them. However, even though it might seem like Aeneas abandoned his pious duty to Troy, he actually was doing the opposite by trying to preserve what he could to found the “new” Troy. He gave up everything in order to fulfill his pious duty, which makes Aeneas’ piety legendary. The virtue of Pietas is probably the most stressed throughout the poem, especially in direct comments by Virgil on the character of Aeneas. It is fairly safe to say that Aeneas is more than ideal when it comes to displaying the virtue Pietas.
Well-known for his Pietas as well, Augustus also sought out his pious duty to his family and Rome. In the Res Gestae, he wrote, “I drove the men who slaughtered my father into exile with a legal order, punishing their crime, and afterwards, when they waged war on the state, I conquered them in two battles” (Augustus 2). Some might argue that this was a simple act of revenge; however, Werner Eck points out in his book, “The Age of Augustus”, that it was more of an obligation of piety towards his adopted father (Eck 11). It was his pious duty to his father that led him to exile these men, and eventually defeat them in battle. This is no simple act of revenge, but one of pious efforts. Augustus also demonstrated the virtue of Pietas by bettering all Rome as a duty to his country. He went about this is in a couple different ways. First, he felt like it was his duty to expand the empire, and he so expanded it into Egypt, Spain, Galatia, Illyria, and a few other locations (Augustus 27-28). As for Augustus’ fulfillment of his duty to the gods, he built numerous temples. The temples he built were “the temples of Mars, of Jupiter Subduer and Thunderer, of Apollo, of divine Julius, of Minerva, of Queen Juno, of Jupiter Liberator, of the Lares, of the gods of the Penates, of Youth, and of the Great Mother” and eighty-two other holy temples (Augustus A1, A3). Augustus even claimed to be the paterfamilias of Rome, which meant he was the “father” of Rome, and he claimed responsibility for all of Rome. This was also a pious duty that he tried to fulfill, and he did so mostly through monetary methods. The sum of money that he had spent on Rome was described in the Res Gestaeas innumerable (Augustus A4). Augustus clearly made enormous efforts to pursue the virtue of Pietas, and he has provided us with a great realistic example of the Roman virtue. Both Aeneas and Augustus demonstrate this virtue well, and both should be seen as an ideal example of this virtue.
The Roman virtue of Clementia, also known as mercy, mildness and gentleness, and the ability to set aside previous transgressions, seems almost missing in “The Aeneid” (Lind 103). Aske Poulsen, points out in his essay, “Why No Mercy? A Study of Clementia in the Aeneid”, that “there are in fact no episodes in the Aeneid in which Aeneas is specifically said to be exercising the virtue of Clementia, nor is he ever lauded by anyone for being clemens”(Poulsen 16). In fact, there are only two episodes in which some might argue Aeneas portrays this virtue. The first is in book 10, when Aeneas kills Lausus. In this moment, Aeneas feels pity for the man, and he promises to allow him to have a proper burial. It is clear that Aeneas pities him, but he did not show any mercy or gentleness towards Lasusus by killing him, which dismisses this as an act of Clementia (Poulsen 16). The second is in book eleven when Aeneas accepts a temporary truce, but once again this does not exactly show an act of Clementia (Poulsen 16). Aeneas is simply not the ideal example of the Roman virtue of Clementia.
Unlike Aeneas, Augustus displayed Clementia in many different ways. The first of which he displayed was when he pardoned deserters from Lucius Antonius’ army (Vahl 14). Later on, Augustus, when waging wars on foreign enemies, would be merciful and spare his enemies if possible. Clementia was an essential element in wars with foreign enemies in order to not just conquer them but also to Romanize them (Vahl 15). Because of this mercy, Augustus was framed in a bronze statue where he extends his right hand towards a kneeling barbarian from Paris (Vahl 16). This right hand gesture was coined by Augustan, and it now represents the Clementia that he displayed to those he conquered. Jessica Vahl, in her work “Imperial Representations of Clementia: From Augustus to Marcus Aurelius”, points out that “Clementia was a virtue that was integral to the peace that Rome enjoyed. It is at this point [during Augustus’ reign] where the idea of clemency leading to peace, security, and prosperity is brought out” (Vahl 15). In the biography of Augustus by Suetonius, we find out that the evidence of Augustus clemency and moderation were numerous and strong. He not only pardoned and spared many, but he also allowed them to hold high positions in the state (Tranquillus 206). Augustus’ acts of Clementia were impressive to say the least. When compared with Aeneas’ Clementia, Augustus’ surpasses his in almost every way.
The Roman virtue of Iustitia, or justice and sense of moral worth to an action, is another virtue that also is fairly suppressed in Aeneas’ character. One of the only examples is when in book twelve, Aeneas kills Turnus. Turnus, who was already fatally wounded, begged Aeneas to spare his life. Aeneas debated with himself if he should spare him or not, until he was reminded that he had killed Pallas. Aeneas could not let that act go unpunished for the sake of Pallas and killed Turnus. The only reason this could be considered an act of Iustitia is because Aeneas did it to avenge the death of Pallas and not just simply out of rage. Other than this example, there are really no other solid displays of the virtue of Iustitia by Aeneas.
Tranquillus’ biography of Augustus praises Augustus on his acts of Justice. In it, Tranquillus states that, “He himself administered justice regularly and sometimes up to nightfall… In his administration of justice he was both highly conscientious and very lenient” (Tranquillus 178). One example of his justice is portrayed in an incident of a forged will, in which all who signed it were liable to punishment. Instead of just handing out the two tables for condemnation or acquittal, he offered a third, one for pardon, for those who signed without understanding the situation (Tranquillus 179). This not only is a great representation of mercy, but a great display of justice. In a war that slaves started against Rome, Augustus sought also justice in his dealings with the slaves that rebelled. He justly inflicted punishments on all slaves that were captured, which numbered around 30,000 (Augustus 25). Augustus’ acts of Iustitia were very numerous, unlike Aeneas. This is not to say that Aeneas was not just, but simply that the virtue was not as prevalent in “The Aenied” as it was in Augustus’ life.
In conclusion, Augustus is simply the better reflector of the “cardinal virtues of a ruler” when compared to Aeneas. Vergil singles Aeneas out for his Virtus, and Pietas, but when it comes to Clementia and Iustitia he falls short when matched with Augutus (Poulsen 16). Augustus himself proudly mentions the event of receiving his golden shield in his Res Gestae. This shield symbolized the virtues of an ideal ruler, and it was rightly given to Augustus, who portrayed all of these virtues inscribed on his shield.