Maecēnas, Gaius Cilnius in Harpers Dictionary

A famous statesman, courtier, and patron of literature of the Augustan Age at Rome. The date of his birth is uncertain, but is to be placed between the years B.C. 73 and 63, on the 13th of April (Hor. Carm. iv. 11). His family was of Etruscan origin-a great subject of boasting in a society where Etruscomania was as great a fad as is Anglomania in certain American communities to-day-and was even traced to Porsena, so that we find Augustus addressing him in his somewhat ironical style as berylle Porsenae (Macrob. Sat. ii. 4). He received a careful education, and was well versed in both Greek and Roman literature, to which he himself contributed in verse as well as prose. He is thought to have been with Octavius in Apollonia at the time of the assassination of Iulius Caesar, perhaps as the director of his studies; and from this time his name appears continually in conjunction with that of the future emperor. He assisted in arranging a marriage between Augustus and Scribonia, the daughter of Libo, and negotiated the peace of Brundisium by which Antony and Augustus were temporarily reconciled, and which led to the marriage of Antony with Octavia, the sister of Augustus (Dio Cass. xlviii. 16; B. C. v. 64). In B.C. 36 he accompanied Augustus to Sicily in the campaign against Sextus Pompeius, from which he was twice sent back to Rome to suppress revolts that had there broken out. So well did he discharge the task that he was soon after placed in charge first of Rome and then of the administration of all Italy. In this capacity he crushed out the dangerous conspiracy of the younger Lepidus, which contained the germs of a disastrous civil war; and in every way he so justified the confidence reposed in him as to have received from Augustus his seal and a commission to act with Agrippa as the personal representative of the young Caesar in all negotiations with the Senate. After the establishment of the Empire he continued for a long time to exercise a supreme influence in the counsels of Augustus. By his advice, against that of Agrippa, Augustus decided not to restore the Republic (Dio Cass. lii. 14); and it was Maecenas who brought about the marriage of Iulia, the daughter of Augustus, with Agrippa. The influence of Maecenas over his master continued undiminished until about the year B.C. 18, when by his own choice the former withdrew from any active participation in matters of State. This withdrawal was coincident with a coolness that arose between the two men, which rendered their personal intercourse one of much restraint, and which, though it has been often explained as due to the predominance of Agrippa in the favour of the emperor, is much more certainly to be ascribed to the seduction by Augustus of Terentia, the wife of Maecenas. This woman, beautiful and accomplished, was the object of her husband's passionate love, and to a nature such as his-sensitive, ardent, and honourable-the thought of her continued infidelity was not to be endured with the complaisant toleration that so many Roman husbands appear to have exhibited. The city was filled with the pasquinades in which the wits of the day jeered at the progress of this amour. Even Augustus, who was remarkably thick-skinned, is said by Tacitus to have made a journey to Gaul on one occasion (B.C. 16) to escape the shower of epigrams, jests, and lampoons, and it is easy to surmise what torture they must have inflicted upon the statesman who felt himself to be at once injured and made a public laughing-stock. (See Dio Cass. liv. 19; lv. 7; Suet. Aug. 68, in which last passage the Terentilla alluded to in Antony's indecent letter is undoubtedly Terentia.) Maecenas died in B.C. 8, leaving no children. Maecenas is best known as the fosterer of literature and literary men, so much so that his very name has passed into all languages as a generic term for a munificent patron of letters. His enormous fortune (Tac. Ann. xiv. 53, 55) made it possible for him to give a princely protection and support to poets, wits, and, in fact, to all the virtuosi of distinction, who were received with magnificent hospitality at his mansion on the Esquiline, with its beautiful gardens, in which he spent nearly all the year, visiting the country but seldom (Tac. Ann. xiv. 53). So lavish was his entertainment that it became open to the charge of being too indiscriminate, so that Augustus called his table mensa parasitica (Vit. Horat.). It must be recollected, however, that he drew the line very sharply between his general hospitality and his private friendship, which last was reserved for the select few, such as Vergil and Horace, who were possessed of the fine culture and delicate feeling so essential to familiar intercourse among gentlemen. Much of the personal eccentricity which Maecenas exhibited must be ascribed to the condition of his health. He suffered for many years from insomnia and nervous prostration, and resorted to many devices to secure sleep, listening to soft music and to the plash in his house of artificial waterfalls; and his luxurious indolence was perhaps only the self-indulgence of an invalid, seeking distraction from the thought of his own condition. His passionate clinging to life is best expressed in a short verse of his that has come down to us in the pages of Seneca, and whose frantic eagerness is at once pathetic and repulsive: "Debilem facito manu Debilem pede, coxa; Tuber adstrue gibberum Lubricos quate dentes: Vita dum superest, bene est. Hanc mihi vel acuta Si sedeam cruce sustine." The life of Maecenas has been many times written: in Latin by Meibom (Leyden, 1653), Lion (Göttingen, 1846); in Italian by Cenni (Rome, 1684), Dini (Venice, 1704), Santa Viola (Rome, 1816); in German by Bennemann (Leipzig, 1744), Frandsen (Altona, 1843); in French by Richer (Paris, 1746); and in English by Schomberg (London, 1766). See, also, Weber's Horaz (Jena, 1844); Friedländer, Sittengeschichte Roms (iii. 389). His poetical fragments are collected in the Fragmenta Poetarum Romanorum by Bährens (Leipzig, 1886). See also Harder, Fragmente des Mäcenas (Berlin, 1889); and the article Horatius.

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