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Gunther Birkenfeld

Augustus
Liveright, 1935

Reviews:

HISTORICAL CHARACTERS: * Octavian, Agrippa, Maecenas, Cicero (patriotic, dignified, but weak), Antony, Asinius Pollio, Vergil FICTIONAL CHARACTERS: * The Narrator: 3rd person, but with focus through Octavian TIME: "710 AUC (4th wk of March)"/44 BC to 14 AD STORY: troops waiting for Caesar for campaign to East, past Alexander the Great. News of Caesar’s death comes & Octavian regains his composure after gazing at his Apollo (by Phidias, from Maecenas).Follows chronologically to death of Augustus. SETTING: winter quarters in Apollonia & then on to Rome & through empire STYLE: Lots of purple prose. * 42. Avenging god marches on Rome (pp) * 78. Oct thinks how his mother & sister cannot understand his need to take up arms, but wills them to "Guard for us, in the inevitable conflict and misery of our men’s world, that higher, more divine reality." * 121. Oct’s mom dies (stroke precipitated by news of proscriptions) "and death passed its soothing liberating hand over her distorted face." * 162. B gets preachy/historically didactic when he talks about Octavia as noble & self-sacrificing BACKGROUND: lots of detail - realia & politics * 63. Foxes w/ firebrands on their tails chased thru poor parts of Rome to celebrate culmination of Cerealia. Given the fear of fire, how likely? Interesting description of jockeying between the young Oct & Ant, the consul. ODDS & ENDS: * 25. B. gives Oct JC’s line:"I hold you, Italy." * 31. Oct decides JC was too open in possession of power & resolves to learn from that. * 176-7. Internal debate of Oct when he meets (& is smitten by) Livia. QUESTIONABLE ITEMS: * 85. "10 minutes" * 111. During proscriptions, one faithful wife, her husband dead, "held her breath until she fell down dead" * 123. Oct leaves Dyrrachium "with a temperature of 104". * 135. When Ant summons E monarchs to Tarsus, Cleopatra "trembled at the prospect of having to account for the desertion of her ships at Philippi" * 145. Would Vergil have known about Buddha? * 155-6 B quotes Vergil’s Eclogue 4, but clearly intends it to apply to Oct (w/o mentioning the line that makes the birth in consulship of Asinius Pollio - 40 BC). * 187. "Neptune, the storm-god" - misleading phrasing * 232. The viper "angrily shot out its tongue" & bit Cleo. VIEW OF AUGUSTUS: * 11. On news of Caesar’s death: Octavian "had not only loved his great uncle as a fatherly friend; he had loved and revered him as one sent by the gods". He had seen Caesar as intending to unite the whole world "into one single peaceful empire under his wise and benevolent rule." Birkenfeld shows Octavian as seeing Caesar’s work must be defended and preserved, otherwise collapse of empire & fratricidal conflict.Sounds a bit like the Gospel according to Guenter - with Ant as the Judas. * 20. Agrippa encourages Oct: "There is no one else. They are all concerned only for themselves. You are concerned for Rome. Oct "was resolved to be merely the tool of necessity...And if every day your are forced to belie your own nature, to shackle your kindness, to disavow your love, to disobey your heart, you must do it." * 53. JC’s bust urges Oct on: "Be assured of this- a Caesar knows no happiness & no wish. His happiness is the well-being of the people, his wish the peace of all peoples." * 90. Oct enters Rome under arms only to protect mom & sis. * 103-105. Oct doesn’t want to proscribe anyone, agaonizes, wants to give it all up- until eagle omen shows him he can beat out Ant & Lepidus (who is characterized as an oaf). Oct sends note to Cicero, "with a warning to leave Italy at once"! Brutus, Cassius & co are "Caesar’s murderers", not "tyrannicides". * 194. "In the West [Oct’s] renunciation & stern self-discipline triumphed; in the East, [Ant’s] effeminate dallying, sensual inidulgence & irresponsibility were punished." * 202. Oct carries war to Pannonia 6 mos after defeating Sex Pompey -- because he needed to get away from the dissensions in his house. * 233. B glosses briefly over the deaths of Caesarion & Antyllus. * 2237-8. After deaths of Antony & Cleopatra, Oct hears Vergil recite Georgics & says his greatest triumph was that now the farmere could till his land in peace. Oct the idealist. VIEW OF ANTONY: * 17. Oct hears Ant has sent messaengers to governors & wonders if he will be the man to take over - but JC always had to rein in his excesses, grabbing hold of "his oily ringlets". Up to 54, focus has been on Oct. At 54 perspective changes to stout Antony - who sees Oct as a troublesome young scamp. "Fat" & "plump" keep cropping up in the description of Ant. Everything about him is dissipated, puffy. Heavy-handed.(cf p. 68 for the pure contained Oct/dissipated crude Ant) * 100. At first meeting of 3virs, Ant bawls savagely about Cicero, "the saliva foaming at the corners of his mouth." * 111. Ant gleefully has heads of proscribed brought into breakfast with Fulvia * 128-9. At Philippi an experienced & knowledgeable general. VIEW OF LIVIA: * 184. Livia leaves her husband for Oct because "she knows that a higher will was being accomplished" * 196. Livia & Octavia "were alien to one another"; Livia the unaccepting, harsh & suspicious, Octavia the saint. Sources: not specified. Presumably Suetonius, Plutarch’s Antony.(Mench; unpub)

- Fred Mench, 11/23/2005

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