Mæcenas, Caius Cilnius

, the great friend and counsellor of Augustus Caesar, was himself a polite scholar, but is chiefly memorable for having been the patron and protector of men of letters. He was descended from a most ancient and illustrious origin, even from the kings of Hetruria, as Horace often tells us; but his immediate forefathers were only of the equestrian order. He is supposed to have been born at Rome, because his family lived there; but in what year antiquity does not tell us. His education is supposed to have been of the most liberal kind, and agreeable to the dignity and splendour of his birth, as he excelled in every thing that related to arms, politics, and letters. How he spent his younger years is also unknown, there being no mention made of him, by any writer, before the death of Julius Caesar, which happened in the year of Rome 709. Then Octavius Caesar, who was afterwards called Augustus, went to Rome to take possession of his uncle’s inheritance; and, at the same time, Mæcenas | became first publicly known; though he appears to have been Augustus’s friend, and, as it should seem, guardian, from his childhood. From that time he accompanied him through all his fortunes, and was his counsellor and adviser upon all occasions; so that Pedo Albinovanus, or rather the unknown author whose elegy has been ascribed to him, justly calls him “Caesaris dextram,” Caesar’s right hand.

A. U. C. 710, the year that Cicero was killed, and Ovid born, Mæcenas distinguished himself by his courage and military skill at the battle of Modena, where the consuls Hirtius and Pansa were killed in fighting against Antony; as he did afterwards at Philippi. After this last battle, began the memorable friendship between him and Horace. Horace, as Suetonius relates, was a tribune in the army of Brutus and Cassius, and, upon the defeat of those generals, made a prisoner of war. Mæcenas, finding him an accomplished man, became immediately his friend and protector, and afterwards recommended him to Augustus, who restored him to his estate, with no small additions. In the mean time, though Mæcenas behaved himself well as a soldier in these and other battles, yet his principal province was that of a minister and counsellor. He was the adviser, the manager, the negotiator, in every thing that related to civil affairs. When the league was made at Brundusium betwen Antony and Augustus, he was sent to act on the part of Augustus, and afterwards, when this league was about to be broken, through the suspicions of each party, he was sent to Antony to ratify it anew.

U. C. 717, when Augustus and Agrippa went to Sicily, to fight Sextus Pompeius by sea, Mæcenas went with them but soon after returned, to appease some commotions which were rising at Rome for though he usually attended Augustus in all his military expeditions, yet whenever there was any thing to be done at Rome, either with the senate or people, he was also dispatched thither for that purpose. He was indeed invested with the government while Augustus and Agrippa were employed in the wars. Thus Dion Cassius, speaking of the year 718, says that Mæcenashad then, and some time after, the administration of civil affairs, not only at Rome, but throughout all Italy,” and V. Paterculus relates, that after the battle of Actium, which happened in the year 724, “the government of the city was committed to Mæcenas, a man of equestrian rank, but of an illustrious family.| Upon the total defeat of Antony at Actium, he returned to Rome, to take the government into his hands, till Augustus could settle some necessary affairs in Greece and Asia. Agrippa soon followed Mæcenas and, when Augustus arrived, he placed these two great men and faithful adherents, the one over his civil, the other over his military concerns. While Augustus was extinguishing the remains of the civil war in Asia and Kgypt, young Lepidus, the son of the triumvir, was forming a scheme to assassinate him at his return to Rome. This conspiracy was discovered at once by the extraordinary vigilance of Mæcenas who, as Paterculus says, “observing the rash councils of the headstrong youth, with the same tranquillity and calmness as if nothing at all had been doing, instantly put him to death, without the least noise and tumult, and by that means extinguished another civil war in its very beginning.

The civil wars being now at an end, Augustus returned to Rome; and after he had triumphed according to custom, he began to talk of restoring the commonwealth. Whether he was in earnest, or did it only to try the judgment of his friends, we do not presume to determine however he consulted Mæcenas and Agrippa about it. Agrippa advised him to it but Mæcenas dissuaded him, saying, that it was not only impossible for him to live in safety as a private man, after what had passed, but that the government would be better administered, and flourish more in his hands than if he was to deliver it up to the senate and people. The author of the “Life of Virgil” says that Augustus, “wavering what he should do, consulted that poet upon the occasion.” But this life is not of sufficient authority; for, though it has usually been ascribed to Servius or Donatus, yet the critics agree, that it was not written by either of them. Augustus, in the mean time, followed Mæcenas’s advice, and retained the government and from this time Mæcenas indulged himself, at vacant hours, in literary amusements, and the conversation of the men of letters. In the year 734 Virgil died, and left Augustus and Mæcenas heirs to his possessions. Mæcenas was excessively fond of this poet, who, of all the wits of the Augustan age, stood highest in his esteem; and, if the “Georgics” and the “Æneid” be owing to the good taste and encouragement of this patron, as there is some reason to think, posterity cannot commemorate him with too much gratitude. The author of the | Life of Virgil” tells us that the poet “published the Georgics in honour of Mæcenas, to whom they are addressed” and adds, that “they were recited to Augustus four days together at Atella, where he rested himself for some time, in his return from Actium, Mæcenas taking upon him the office of reciting, as oft as Virgil’s voice failed him.” Horace may be ranked next to Virgil in Mæcenas’s good graces we have already mentioned how and what time their friendship commenced. Propertius also acknowledges Mæcenas for his favourer and protector nor must Varius be forgot, though we have nothing of his remaining; since we find him highly praised by both Virgil and Horace. He was a writer of tragedies: and Quintilian thinks he may be compared with any of the ancieats. In a word, Mæcenas’s house was a place of refuge and welcome to all the learned of his time-, not only to Virgil, Horace, Propertius, and Varius, but to Fundanius, whom Horace extols as an admirable writer of comedies: to Fuscus Aristius, a noble grammarian, and Horace’s intimate friend to Plotius Tucca, who assisted Varius in correcting the “Æneid” after the death of Virgil to Valgius, a poet and very learned man, who, as Pliny tells us, dedicated a book to AugustusDe usu Herbarum;” to Asinius Pollio, an excellent tragic writer, and to several others, whom it would be tedious to mention. All these dedicated their works, or some part of them at least, to Mæcenas, and repeatedly celebrated his praises in them; and we may observe further, what Plutarch tells us, that even Augustus himself inscribed his “Commentaries” to him and to Agrippa.

Mæcenas continued in Augustus’s favour to the end of his life, but not uninterruptedly. Augustus had an intrigue with Mæcenas’s wife and though the minister bore this liberty of his master’s very patiently, yet there was once a coldness on the part of Augustus, although not of long continuance. Mæcenas died in the year 745, as is supposed, at an advanced age. He must have been older than Augustus, because he was a kind of tutor to him in his youth. Horace did not probably long survive him, as there is no elegy of his upon Mæcenas extant, nor any account of one having ever been written, which would probably have been the case, had Horace survived him any time. Sanadon, the French editor of Horace, insists that ths poet died before his patron and that the | recomme,ndation of him to Augustus was found only in Mæcenas’s will, which had not been altered.

Mæcenas is said never to have enjoyed a good state of health in any part of his life; and many singularities are related of his bodily constitution. Thus Pliny tells us, that he was always in a, fever; and that, for three years before his death, he had not a moment’s sleep. Though he was certainly an extraordinary man, and possessed many admirable virtues and qualities, yet it is agreed on all hands that he was very luxurious and effeminate. Seneca has allowed him to have been a great man, yet censures him very severely on this head, and thinks that his effeminacy has infected even his style. “Every body knows,” says he, “how Mæcenas lived, nor is there any occasion for me to describe it the effeminacy of his walk, the delicacy of his manner, and the pride he took in shewing himself publicly, are things too notorious for me to insist on. But what! Is not his style as effeminate as himself? Are not his words as soft and affected as his dress, his equipage, the furniture of his house, and his wife?” Then, after quoting some of his poetry, “who does not perceive,” says he, “that the author of these verses must have been the man, who was perpetually walking about the city with his tunic loose, and all the other symptoms of the most effeminate mind?V. Paterculus does not represent him as less effeminate than Seneca, but dwells more on his good qualities. “Mascenas,” says he, “was of the equestrian order, but sprung from a most illustrious origin. He was a man, who, when business required, was able to undergo any fatigue and watching; who consulted properly upon all occasions, and knew as well how to execute what he had consulted; yet a man, who in seasons of leisure was luxurious, soft, and effeminate, almost beyond a woman. He was no less dear to Caesar than to Agrippa, but distinguished by him with fewer honours; for he always continued of the equestrian rank, in which he was born; not that he could not have been advanced upon the least intimation, but he never solicited it.” His patronage of men of letters is, after all, the foundation of his fame; and having by general consent given a name to the patrons of literature, his own can never be forgotten. 1


Mæcenas Meibomii. Life, by Schomberg, compiled from Meibonaiiis and the abbé Richer. —Gent. Mag. vol. LXXVI. —Saxii Onomast.