The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

(181) Other writers have conjectured, that, instead of Julia, the
daughter of Augustus, the person seen with him by Ovid may have been
Julia his grand-daughter, who inherited the vicious disposition of her
mother, and was on that account likewise banished by Augustus. The epoch
of this lady’s banishment it is impossible to ascertain; and therefore no
argument can be drawn from that source to invalidate the present
conjecture. But Augustus had shown the same solicitude for her being
trained up in virtuous habits, as he had done in respect of her mother,
though in both cases unsuccessfully; and this consideration, joined to
the enormity of the supposed crime, and the great sensibility which
Augustus had discovered with regard to the infamy of his daughter, seems
sufficient to exonerate his memory from so odious a charge. Besides, is
it possible that he could have sent her into banishment for the infamy of
her prostitution, while (upon the supposition of incest) she was mistress
of so important a secret, as that he himself had been more criminal with
her than any other man in the empire?

Some writers, giving a wider scope to conjecture, have supposed the
transaction to be of a nature still more detestable, and have even
dragged Mecaenas, the minister, into a participation of the crime.
Fortunately, however, for the reputation of the illustrious patron of
polite learning, as well as for that of the emperor, this crude
conjecture may be refuted upon the evidence of chronology. The
commencement of Ovid’s exile happened in the ninth year of the Christian
aera, and the death of Mecaenas, eight years before that period. Between
this and other calculations, we find a difference of three or four years;
but allowing the utmost latitude of variation, there intervened, from the
death of Mecaenas to the banishment of Ovid, a period of eleven years; an
observation which fully invalidates the conjecture above-mentioned.

Having now refuted, as it is presumed, the opinions of the different
commentators on this subject, we shall proceed to offer a new conjecture,
which seems to have a greater claim to probability than any that has
hitherto been suggested.

Suetonius informs us, that Augustus, in the latter part of his life,
contracted a vicious inclination for the enjoyment of young virgins, who
were procured for him from all parts, not only with the connivance, but
by the clandestine management of his consort Livia. It was therefore
probably with one of those victims that he was discovered by Ovid.
Augustus had for many years affected a decency of behaviour, and he
would, therefore, naturally be not a little disconcerted at the
unseasonable intrusion of the poet. That Ovid knew not of Augustus’s
being in the place, is beyond all doubt: and Augustus’s consciousness
(182) of this circumstance, together with the character of Ovid, would
suggest an unfavourable suspicion of the motive which had brought the
latter thither. Abstracted from the immorality of the emperor’s own
conduct, the incident might be regarded as ludicrous, and certainly was
more fit to excite the shame than the indignation of Augustus. But the
purpose of Ovid’s visit appears, from his own acknowledgment, to have
been not entirely free from blame, though of what nature we know not:

Non equidem totam possum defendere culpam:
Sed partem nostri criminis error habet.
De Trist. Lib. iii. Eleg. 5.

I know I cannot wholly be defended,
Yet plead ’twas chance, no ill was then intended.–Catlin.

Ovid was at this time turned of fifty, and though by a much younger man
he would not have been regarded as any object of jealousy in love, yet by
Augustus, now in his sixty-ninth year, he might be deemed a formidable
rival. This passion, therefore, concurring with that which arose from
the interruption or disappointment of gratification, inflamed the
emperor’s resentment, and he resolved on banishing to a distant country a
man whom he considered as his rival, and whose presence, from what had
happened, he never more could endure.

Augustus having determined on the banishment of Ovid, could find little
difficulty in accommodating the ostensible to the secret and real cause
of this resolution.

No argument to establish the date of publication, can be drawn from the
order in which the various productions of Ovid are placed in the
collection of his works: but reasoning from probability, we should
suppose that the Ars Amandi was written during the period of his youth;
and this seems to be confirmed by the following passage in the second
book of the Fasti:

Certe ego vos habui faciles in amore ministros;
Cum lusit numeris prima juventa suis. [280]

That many years must have elapsed since its original publication, is
evident from the subsequent lines in the second book of the Tristia:

Nos quoque jam pridem scripto peccavimus uno.
Supplicium patitur non nova culpa novum.
Carminaque edideram, cum te delicta notantem
Praeterii toties jure quietus eques.
(183) Ergo, quae juveni mihi non nocitura putavi
Scripta parum prudens, nunc nocuere seni? [281]

With what show, then, of justice, it may be asked, could Augustus now
punish a fault, which, in his solemn capacity of censor, he had so long
and repeatedly overlooked? The answer is obvious: in a production so
popular as we may be assured the Ars Amandi was amongst the Roman youth,
it must have passed through several editions in the course of some years:
and one of those coinciding with the fatal discovery, afforded the
emperor a specious pretext for the execution of his purpose. The
severity exercised on this occasion, however, when the poet was suddenly
driven into exile, unaccompanied even by the partner of his bed, who had
been his companion for many years, was an act so inconsistent with the
usual moderation of Augustus, that we cannot justly ascribe it to any
other motive than personal resentment; especially as this arbitrary
punishment of the author could answer no end of public utility, while the
obnoxious production remained to affect, if it really ever did
essentially affect, the morals of society. If the sensibility of
Augustus could not thenceforth admit of any personal intercourse with
Ovid, or even of his living within the limits of Italy, there would have
been little danger from the example, in sending into honourable exile,
with every indulgence which could alleviate so distressful a necessity, a
man of respectable rank in the state, who was charged with no actual
offence against the laws, and whose genius, with all its indiscretion,
did immortal honour to his country. It may perhaps be urged, that,
considering the predicament in which Augustus stood, he discovered a
forbearance greater than might have been expected from an absolute
prince, in sparing the life of Ovid. It will readily be granted, that
Ovid, in the same circumstances, under any one of the four subsequent
emperors, would have expiated the incident with his blood. Augustus,
upon a late occasion, had shown himself equally sanguinary, for he put to
death, by the hand of Varus, a poet of Parma, named Cassius, on account
of his having written some satirical verses against him. By that recent
example, therefore, and the power of pardoning which the emperor still
retained, there was sufficient hold of the poet’s secrecy respecting the
fatal transaction, which, if divulged (184) to the world, Augustus would
reprobate as a false and infamous libel, and punish the author
accordingly. Ovid, on his part, was sensible, that, should he dare to
violate the important but tacit injunction, the imperial vengeance would
reach him even on the shores of the Euxine. It appears, however, from a
passage in the Ibis, which can apply to no other than Augustus, that Ovid
was not sent into banishment destitute of pecuniary provision:

Di melius! quorum longe mihi maximus ille,
Qui nostras inopes noluit esse vias.
Huic igitur meritas grates, ubicumque licebit,
Pro tam mansueto pectore semper agam.

The gods defend! of whom he’s far the chief,
Who lets me not, though banished, want relief.
For this his favour therefore whilst I live,
Where’er I am, deserved thanks I’ll give.

What sum the emperor bestowed, for the support of a banishment which he
was resolved should be perpetual, it is impossible to ascertain; but he
had formerly been liberal to Ovid, as well as to other poets.

If we might hazard a conjecture respecting the scene of the intrigue
which occasioned the banishment of Ovid, we should place it in some
recess in the emperor’s gardens. His house, though called Palatium, the
palace, as being built on the Palatine hill, and inhabited by the
sovereign, was only a small mansion, which had formerly belonged to
Hortensius, the orator. Adjoining to this place Augustus had built the
temple of Apollo, which he endowed with a public library, and allotted
for the use of poets, to recite their compositions to each other. Ovid
was particularly intimate with Hyginus, one of Augustus’s freedmen, who
was librarian of the temple. He might therefore have been in the
library, and spying from the window a young female secreting herself in
the gardens, he had the curiosity to follow her.

The place of Ovid’s banishment was Tomi [282], now said to be Baba, a
town of Bulgaria, towards the mouth of the Ister, where is a lake still
called by the natives Ouvidouve Jesero, the lake of Ovid. In this
retirement, and the Euxine Pontus, he passed the remainder of his life, a
melancholy period of seven years. Notwithstanding the lascivious
writings of Ovid, it does not appear that he was in his conduct a
libertine. He was three times married: his first wife, who was of mean
extraction, and (185) whom he had married when he was very young, he
divorced; the second he dismissed on account of her immodest behaviour;
and the third appears to have survived him. He had a number of
respectable friends, and seems to have been much beloved by them.—-

TIBULLUS was descended of an equestrian family, and is said, but
erroneously, as will afterwards appear, to have been born on the same day
with Ovid. His amiable accomplishments procured him the friendship of
Messala Corvinus, whom he accompanied in a military expedition to the
island of Corcyra. But an indisposition with which he was seized, and a
natural aversion to the toils of war, induced him to return to Rome,
where he seems to have resigned himself to a life of indolence and
pleasure, amidst which he devoted a part of his time to the composition
of elegies. Elegiac poetry had been cultivated by several Greek writers,
particularly Callimachus, Mimnermus, and Philetas; but, so far as we can
find, had, until the present age, been unknown to the Romans in their own
tongue. It consisted of a heroic and pentameter line alternately, and
was not, like the elegy of the moderns, usually appropriated to the
lamentation of the deceased, but employed chiefly in compositions
relative to love or friendship, and might, indeed, be used upon almost
any subject; though, from the limp in the pentameter line, it is not
suitable to sublime subjects, which require a fulness of expression, and
an expansion of sound. To this species of poetry Tibullus restricted his
application, by which he cultivated that simplicity and tenderness, and
agreeable ease of sentiment, which constitute the characteristic
perfections of the elegiac muse.

In the description of rural scenes, the peaceful occupations of the
field, the charms of domestic happiness, and the joys of reciprocal love,
scarcely any poet surpasses Tibullus. His luxuriant imagination collects
the most beautiful flowers of nature, and he displays them with all the
delicate attraction of soft and harmonious numbers. With a dexterity
peculiar to himself, in whatever subject he engages, he leads his readers
imperceptibly through devious paths of pleasure, of which, at the outset
of the poem, they could form no conception. He seems to have often
written without any previous meditation or design. Several of his
elegies may be said to have neither middle nor end: yet the transitions
are so natural, and the gradations so easy, that though we wander through
Elysian scenes of fancy, the most heterogeneous in their nature, we are
sensible of no defect in the concatenation which has joined them
together. It is, however, to be regretted that, in some instances,
Tibullus betrays that licentiousness of manners which (186) formed too
general a characteristic even of this refined age. His elegies addressed
to Messala contain a beautiful amplification of sentiments founded in
friendship and esteem, in which it is difficult to say, whether the
virtues of the patron or the genius of the poet be more conspicuous.

Valerius Messala Corvinus, whom he celebrates, was descended of a very
ancient family. In the civil wars which followed the death of Julius
Caesar he joined the republican party, and made himself master of the
camp of Octavius at Philippi; but he was afterwards reconciled to his
opponent, and lived to an advanced age in favour and esteem with
Augustus. He was distinguished not only by his military talents, but by
his eloquence, integrity, and patriotism.

From the following passage in the writings of Tibullus, commentators have
conjectured that he was deprived of his lands by the same proscription in
which those of Virgil had been involved:

Cui fuerant flavi ditantes ordine sulci
Horrea, faecundas ad deficientia messes,
Cuique pecus denso pascebant agmine colles,
Et domino satis, et nimium furique lupoque:
Nunc desiderium superest: nam cura novatur,
Cum memor anteactos semper dolor admovet annos.
Lib. iv. El. 1.

But this seems not very probable, when we consider that Horace, several
years after that period, represents him as opulent.

Dii tibi divitias dederant, artemque fruendi.
Epist. Lib. i. 4.
To thee the gods a fair estate
In bounty gave, with heart to know
How to enjoy what they bestow.–Francis.

We know not the age of Tibullus at the time of his death; but in an elegy
written by Ovid upon that occasion, he is spoken of as a young man. Were
it true, as is said by biographers, that he was born the same day with
Ovid, we must indeed assign the event to an early period: for Ovid cannot
have written the elegy after the forty-third year of his own life, and
how long before is uncertain. In the tenth elegy of the fourth book, De
Tristibus, he observes, that the fates had allowed little time for the
cultivation of his friendship with Tibullus.

Virgilium vidi tantum: nec avara Tibullo
Tempus amicitiae fata dedere meae.
Successor fuit hic tibi, Galle; Propertius illi:
Quartus ab his serie temporis ipse fui.
Utque ego majores, sic me coluere minores.

(187) Virgil I only saw, and envious fate
Did soon my friend Tibullus hence translate.
He followed Gallus, and Propertius him,
And I myself was fourth in course of time.–Catlin.

As both Ovid and Tibullus lived at Rome, were both of the equestrian
order, and of congenial dispositions, it is natural to suppose that their
acquaintance commenced at an early period; and if, after all, it was of
short duration, there would be no improbability in concluding, that
Tibullus died at the age of some years under thirty. It is evident,
however, that biographers have committed a mistake with regard to the
birth of this poet; for in the passage above cited of the Tristia, Ovid
mentions Tibullus as a writer, who, though his contemporary, was much
older than himself. From this passage we should be justified in placing
the death of Tibullus between the fortieth and fiftieth year of his age,
and rather nearer to the latter period; for, otherwise, Horace would
scarcely have mentioned him in the manner he does in one of his epistles.

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