Athena's Web Weekly Column

  Week of April 12th - April 18th,  2002

First, Best and Greatest

Columns Archive


   Once again we're taking a look at Ovid's Fasti, this week examining the Nones of February, the equivalent in the calender of the Republic for February 3rd. For this date, the Sun would be in Aquarius, while the Moon would fall in Aries.

Augustus Caesar

The Bust (the head) is Aries artwork

   Aries is the initial sign of the zodiac. It deals with what is first and best. It's the original. When the Sun enters this sign, it is the beginning of Spring. Ruled by Mars, the God of War, it deals with personal and physical prowess. He is the champion of battle, the hero of conflict, to which honor, nobility and glory follow. Many of the cultures of the Age of Aries hold these tenements to be self-evident, seeing themselves as the most important people on earth. The Hebrews saw themselves as the chosen people, who offered their firstborn (their best) to Yahweh. The Celts saw themselves as Supermen on the battlefield, while the Romans venerated their roles as Masters of the Earth, each ordained by heaven and through the will of God.

   In the calender, the Nones represented a special date in the monthly cycle. Together with the Kalends (the monthly ingress) and the Ides (the Full Moon), the Nones were treated with special reverence. The Romans considered themselves to descended from the God Mars through Romulus. With the Moon in Aries falling on the Nones this month, we might expect these martial attributes to be held in high regard, and indeed, they are.

   Ovid sets the stage by calling on the spirit of Homer, who sang of Achilles, the most heroic figure of the classical literary tradition, to help him gather strength for this noble undertaking. With the new found patriotism of the Empire,
Romulus and Remus nursed by the wolf

Romulus and Remus nursed by the wolf

Augustus is compared to the first father of Rome, Romulus. In each comparison Ovid shows how much bigger, better, and greater this new leader and city are than they were in Romulus's day.

   "Romulus, thou must yield pride of place. Caesar by his guardian care makes great thy city walls; the walls thou gavest to the city were such as Remus could o'erleap."

   When Rome was young, a single individual could jump over the walls. This was not true during Ovid's time. Romulus has the honor of "pride of place," but the new and improved Rome is much superior. Romulus bested Tatius and his neighboring city, but Augustus's realm reaches everywhere under heaven. Throughout this day's verse, the parallels are clear:

Rape of the Sabines

Rape of the Sabines with Romulus watching

   "Thou didst own a little stretch of conquered land: all that exists beneath the canopy of Jove is Caesar's own.... Thou didst rape wives: Caesar bade them under his rule be chaste. Thou didst admit the guilty to thy grave: he hath repelled the wrong. Thine was a rule of force: under Caesar it is the laws that reign. Thou didst the name of master bear: he bears the name of prince."

   In each case, the Martial bar is set by Romulus, and then trumped by Caesar. Finally, the Emperor's power is seen to compete with Jove's himself, as Augustus raises his adopted father (Julius) to heaven.

   "To heaven thy father raised thee: to heaven Caesar raised his sire."

   In short, while Romulus, the original founder of Rome set the stage, Augustus has triumphed over all, including his predecessor. He's the Man.


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