Thursday, October 25, 2012

Augustus' "cupboard under the stairs"...

This week my upper level Latin students are working through the beginning sections of Suetonius' Divus Augustus, (a.k.a. The Life of Augustus). Suetonius is rather more difficult for them than Augustus' own Res Gestae, which we read during the first half of the semester. But he provides a more compelling read, with his sometimes tabloid-esque narrative, than Augustus does in his ledger-like account of his accomplishments.

As we have arrived at that time of year when the supernatural lurks about with witches, werewolves and ghosts, I thought I would share a short passage about a supernatural phenomenon from the beginning of the Divus Augustus that we are reading in class tomorrow. It's a nice passage that illustrates Suetonius' style and methodology well, and the power of place in the Roman (and Greek) world.

Div. Aug. 6: "A room, very small and like a storage closet in appearance, where [Augustus] was raised in his grandfather's villa near Velitrae is still displayed, and it is believed locally that he was born there. To enter this place, except as required and then in a pious manner, is a religious offense, according to a long-held belief a certain dreadful terror is inflicted upon those coming to the room by chance, and this has now been confirmed. For when the new owner of the villa, whether by chance or to test the rumors, proceeded to bed down in that room, it happened that a few hours into the night he was discovered, and with his covers as well, almost half-dead in front of the doors, having been thrown from the room by a sudden invisible force." (My translation based on the text from The Latin Library)

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