Springtime for Caesar : Vergil's Georgics and the defence of Octavian
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Vergil’s Georgics was published in 29 BCE, at a critical point in the political life of Octavian-Augustus. Although his position at the head of state had been confirmed by victory at Actium in 31, his longevity was threatened by his reputation for causing bloodshed during the civil wars. This thesis argues that Vergil, in the Georgics, presents a defence of Octavian against criticism of his past, in order to safeguard his future, and the future of Rome. Through a complex of metaphor and allusion, Vergil engages with the weaknesses in Octavian’s public image in order to diminish their damaging impact. Chapter One examines the way in which the poet invokes and complements the literary tradition of portraying young men as destructive, amorous creatures, through his depiction of iuvenes in the Georgics, in order to emphasise the inevitability of youthful misbehaviour. Since Octavian is still explicitly a iuvenis, he cannot be held accountable for his actions up to this point, including his role in the civil wars. The focus of Chapters Two and Three of this thesis is Vergil’s presentation of the spring season in the Georgics. Vergil’s preoccupation with spring is unorthodox in the context of agricultural didactic; under the influence of the Lucretian figure of Venus, Vergil moulds spring into a symbol of universal creation in nature, a metaphor for a projected revival of Roman affairs under Octavian’s leadership which would subsequently dominate the visual art of the Augustan period. Vergil’s spring is as concerned with the past as it is the future. Vergil stresses the fact that destructive activity can take place in spring, in the form of storms and animal violence; the farmer’s spring labor is characterised as a war against nature, which culminates in the horrific slaughter of oxen demanded by bugonia. In each case destruction is revealed as a necessary prerequisite for some form of creation: animal reproduction, increased crop yield, a renewed population of bees. Thus, the spring creation of a new Rome under Octavian will come as a direct result of the bloodshed of the civil wars, a cataclysm whose horrors are not denied, but whose outcome will ultimately be positive. Octavian is assimilated to Jupiter in his Stoic guise: a providential figure who sends fire and flood to Earth in order to improve mankind.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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