I decided to take an afternoon trip up to Leeds one Friday to attend the first of a series of events designed to commemorate the bimillenium of the death of the emperor Augustus. (I’m a bit late writing this up, as the colloquium actually happened at the beginning of May, but this is what happens during exam term.) The Commemorating Augustus project has its own website which explains its aims far more elegantly than I can, but suffice it to say that it is being run by Penny Goodman (she of Penelope’s Weavings and Unpickings), and seeks to take a good look at what the last two millennia have done with Augustus and his image. There’s also an official report of the colloquium available here.
I have only a humble delegate’s views to add, but I wanted to make some observations about the colloquium. I’m afraid the first is rather mundane: if I’m ever in a position to do so, I’m replicating the format. Starting with lunch, then having four papers broken by a tea break, made the whole thing far more convivial, and meant that those of us coming from a bit further afield could arrive in time for lunch and not miss anything (especially handy as I had to subject invigilate a Latin exam that morning). Let my hearty noises of approval inspire others!
More importantly, the papers at the symposium began the countdown to the big conference scheduled for 2014 which will mark the actual anniversary of Augustus’ death. They formed two well-matched pairs – Mary Harlow and Ray Laurence’s paper on Augustus’ old age and Valerie Hope’s paper on Augustus’ funeral both looked at events very close to his death, while Penny’s paper on commemorations of the bimillenium of Augustus’ birth in 1938 and Martin Lindner’s paper on representations of Augustus in the novels of Günther Birkenfeld brought us closer to the present day, and provided a structure for how we might look at more contemporary approaches to the first emperor.
As well as being an afternoon of listening to interesting scholarship, I also had an alternative motive behind attending – I’m planning to pull together an abstract for the 2014 conference myself, and I wanted to listen in to what other people are doing with the subject. It’s always nice to see how other people are framing what they’re looking at, especially if you’re dealing with something as thematically unified as this topic. I’m planning to use some of the work I did in my PhD on Augustus as an exemplum (an improving anecdote told to Romans for the purposes of emulation), and seeing how Seneca uses Augustus for the purposes of moral exhortation. There are plenty of reasons this is an interesting question to ask – Seneca was alive when Augustus died, and lives a little over fifty years more himself, but within that short time span there’s a noticeable calcification in the way that Augustus is handled. That said, Seneca also uses a number of devices to point out the shortcomings of the emperor, despite his exemplary role – so it will be interesting to see whether that flexibility of working around the established image continues as the distance from the actual death increases.
What was particularly helpful for me at the colloquium was to see the sorts of themes and ideas that I think will emerge from what I’d like to say, and how I might make the most of those intersections with the work of others. It was a fascinating afternoon, and I hope that the conference next year will be equally as rewarding!