Maece'nas, C. Ci'lnius
Of the life of Maecenas we must be content to glean what scattered notices we can from the poets and historians of Rome, since it does not appear to have been formally recorded by any ancient author. We are totally in the dark both as to the date and place of his birth, and the manner of his education.
It is most probable, however, that he was born some time between B. C. 73 and 63; and we learn from Horace (Hor. Carm. 4.11
) that his birth-day was the 13th of April. His family, though belonging only to the equestrian order, was of high antiquity and honour, and traced its descent from the Lucumones
The scholiast on Horace (Hor. Carm. 1.1
) informs us that he numbered Porsena among his ancestors; and his authority is in some measure confirmed by a fragment of one of Augustus' letters to Maecenas, preserved by Macrobius (Macr. 2.4
), in which he is addressed as " berylle Porsenae." His paternal ancestors [CILNII] are mentioned by Livy (10.3
) as having attained to so high a pitch of power and wealth at Arretium about the middle of the fifth century of Rome, as to excite the jealousy and hatred of their fellow-citizens, who rose against and expelled them; and it was not without considerable difficulty that they were at length restored to their country, through the interference of the Romans.
The maternal branch of the family was likewise of Etruscan origin, and it was from them that the name of Maecenas was derived, it being customary among the Etruscans to assume the mother's as well as the father's name. (Müller, Etrusker,
ii. p. 404.)
It is in allusion to this circumstance that Horace (Sat.
1.6. 3) mentions both his avns maternus atque paternus
as having been distinguished by commanding numerous legions; a passage, by the way, from which we are not to infer that the ancestors of Maecenas had ever led the Roman legions. Their name does not appear in the Fasti Consulares;
and it is manifest, from several passages of Latin authors, that the word legio
is not always restricted to a Roman
legion. (See Liv. 10.5
; Sal. Cat. 53
With respect to the etymology of the name Maecenas,
authors are at variance. We sometimes find it spelt Mecaenas,
but it seems to be now agreed that Maecenas
As to its derivation, several fanciful theories have been started.
It seems most probable, as Varro tells us (L. L.
8.84, ed. Millerr, that it was taken from some place; and which may possibly be that mentioned by Pliny (Plin. Nat. 14.8
) as producing an inland sort of wines called the vina Maecenatiana.
The names both of Cilnius
occur on Etruscan cinerary urns, but always separately, a fact from which Müller, in his Etrusker,
has inferred that the union of the two families did not take place till a late period. Be that as it may, the first notice that occurs of any of the family, as a citizen of Rome, is in Cicero's speech for Cluentius (§ 56), where a knight named C. Maecenas is mentioned among the robora populi Romoani,
and as having been instrumental in putting down the conspiracy of the tribune, M. Livius Drusus, B. C. 91.
This person has been generally considered the father of the subject of this memoir; but Frandsen, in his life of Maecenas, thinks, and perhaps with more probability, that it was his grandfather. About the same period we also find a Maecenas mentioned by Sallust, in the fragments of his history (Lib.
iii.) as a scribe.
Although it is unknown where Maecenas received his education, it must doubtless have been a careful one. We learn from Horace that he was versed both in Greek and Roman literature; and his taste for literary pursuits was shown, not only by his patronage of the most eminent poets of his time, but also by several performances of his own, both in verse and prose.
That at the time of Julius Caesar's assassination he was with Octavianus at Apollonia, in the capacity of tutor, rests on pure conjecture. Shortly, however, after the appearance of the latter on the political stage, we fnd the name of Maecenas in frequent conjunction with his; and there can be no doubt that he was of great use to him in assisting to establish and consolidate the empire; but the want of materials prevents us from tracing his services in this way with the accuracy that could be wished.
It is possible that he may have accompanied Octavianus in the campaigns of Mutina, Philippi, and Perusia; but the only authorities for the statement are a passage in Propertius (2.1
), which by no means necessarily bears that meaning; and the elegies attributed to Pedo Albinovanus, but which have been pronounced spurious by a large majority of the best critics.
The first authentic account we have of Maecenas is of his being employed by Octavianus, B. C. 40, in negotiating a marriage for him with Scribonia, daughter of Libo, the fatherin-law of Sext. Pompeius; which latter, for political reasons, Octavianus was at that time desirous of conciliating. (App. BC 5.53
; D. C. 48.16
In the same year Maecenas took part in the negotiations with Antony (whose wife, Fulvia, was now dead), which led to the peace of Brundisium, confirmed by the marriage of Antony with Octavia, Caesar's sister. (App. BC 5.64
.) Appian's authority on this occasion is supported by the scholiast on Horace (Sat.
1.5. 28), who tells us that Livy, in his 127th book, had recorded the intervention of Maecenas.
According to Appian, however, Cocceius Nerva played the principal part. About two years afterwards Maecenas. seems to have been again employed in negotiating with Antony (App. BC 5.93
); and it was probably on this occasion that Horace accompanied him to Brundisium, a journey which he has described in the 5th satire of the 1st book. Maecenas is there also represented as associated with Cocceius, and they are both described as "aversos soliti
In B. C. 36 we find Maecenas in Sicily with Octavianus. then engaged in an expedition against Sex. Pompeius, during the course of which Maecenas was twice sent back to Rome for the purpose of quelling some disturbances which had broken out there. (App. BC 5.99
According to Dio Cassins (49.16), this was the first occasion on which Maecenas became Caesar's vicegerent; and he was entrusted with the administration not only of Rome, but of all Italy. His fidelity and talents had now been tested by several years' experience; and it had probably been found that the bent of his genius fitted him for the cabinet rather than for the field, since his services could be so easily dispensed with in the latter. From this time till the battle of Actium (B. C. 31) history is silent concerning Maecenas; but at that period we again find him intrusted with the administration of the civil affairs of Italy.
It has indeed been maintained by many critics that Maecenas was present at the sea-fight of Actium; but the best modern scholars who have discussed the subject have shown that this could not have been the case, and that he remained in Rome during this time, where he suppressed the conspiracy of the younger Lepidus.
The only direct authority for the statement of Maecenas having been at Actium is an elegy ascribed to Albinovanus on the death of Maecenas, which is certainly spurious; and the commentary of Acron on the first epode of Horace, which kind of authority is of little value.
The first elegy of the second book of Propertius has also been quoted in support of this fact, but upon examination it will be found wholly inadequate to establish it. Yet the existence of Horace's first epode still remains to be accounted for.
Those critics who deny that Maecenas proceeded to Actium have still, we believe, hitherto unanimously held that the poem is to be referred to that epoch; and they explain the inconsistency by the supposition that Maecenas, when the epode was written, had really intended to accompany Caesar, but was prevented by the office assigned to him at home.
In confirmation of this view, Frandsen, in his Life of Maecenas, appeals to the 35th ode of Horace's first book, addressed to Augustus on the occasion of his intended visit to Britain, a journey which it is known he never actually performed.
But to this it may be answered that Augustus at least started with the intention of going thither, and actually went as far as Gaul; but proceeded thence to Spain.
A more probable solution, therefore, may be that first proposed by the author of this article in the Classical Museum
(vol. ii. p. 205, &c.), that the epode does not at all relate to Actium, but to the Sicilian expedition against Sext. Pompeius.
But for the grounds of that opinion, which would occupy too much space to be here re-stated, the reader is referred to that work.
By the detection of the conspiracy of Lepidus, Maecenas nipped in the bud what might have proved another fruitful germ of civil war. Indeed his services at this period must have been most important and invaluable; and how faithfully and ably he acquitted himself may be inferred from the unbounded confidence reposed in him.
In conjunction with Agrippa, we now find him empowered not only to open all letters addressed by Caesar to the senate, but even to alter their contents as the posture of affairs at home might require; and for this purpose he was entrusted with his master's seal (D. C. 51.3
), in order that the letters might be delivered as if they had come directly from Octavian's own hand. Yet, notwithstanding the height of favour and power to which he had attained, Maecenas, whether from policy or inclination, remained content with his equestrian rank; a circumstance which seems somewhat to have diminished his authority with the populace.
After Octavianus' victory over Antony and Cleopatra, the whole power of the triumvirate centered in the former; for Lepidus had been previously reduced to the condition of a private person. On his return to Rome, Caesar is represented to have taken counsel with Agrippa and Maecenas respecting the expediency of restoring the republic. Agrippa advised him to pursue that course, but Maecenas strongly urged him to establish the empire ; and Dio Cassius (52.14, &c.) has preserved the speech which he is said to have addressed to Octavianus on that occasion.
The genuineness of that document is, however, liable to very great suspicion.
It is highly improbable that Maecenas, in a cabinet consultation of that kind, would have addressed Octavianus in a set speech of so formal a description; and still more so that any one should have been present to take it down, or that Maecenas himself should have afterwards published it. Yet Suetonius, in his life of Augustus (28), confirms the account of Dio Cassius so far as that some such consultation took place; and the tenor of the speech perfectly agrees with the known character and sentiments of Maecenas. If, therefore, we should be disposed to regard the part here attributed by Dio Cassius to Agrippa and Maecenas as something more than a mere fiction of the historian, for the purpose of stating the most popular arguments that might be advanced against, or in favour of, the establishment of the empire, the most probable solution is that the substance of the speech was extant in the Roman archives in the shape of a state paper or minute, drawn up by Maecenas. However that may be, the document is certainly a very able one, and should be carefully consulted by all who are studying the history of Rome during its transition from a republic to an empire.
The regulations proposed for the consolidation of the monarchical power are admirably adapted to their purpose; whether they were indispensable, or calculated to secure the happiness of the Roman people, depends upon the truth or falsehood of the former part of the speech, in which it is contended that the republic could no longer exist without constant danger of civil wars and dismemberment.
The description of power exercised by Maecenas during the absence of Caesar should not be confounded with the praefectura urbis.
It was not till after the civil wars that the latter office was aestablished as a distinct and substantive one; and, according to Dio Cassius (52.21), by the advice of Maecenas himself.
This is confirmed by Tacitus (Tac. Ann. 6.11
), and by Suetonius (Suet. Aug. 37
), who reckons it among the nova officia.
The praefectus urbis
was a mere police magistrate, whose jurisdiction was confined to Rome and the adjacent country, within a radius of 750 stadia; but Maecenas had the charge of political as well as municipal affairs, and his administration embraced the whole of Italy. Thus we are told by Seneca (Ep.
114) that he was invested with judicial power (in tribunali, in rostris, in omni publico coetu
); and also that he gave the watch-word (signum ab eo petebatur
); a function of the very highest authority, and afterwards exercised by the emperors themselves.
It is the more necessary to attend to this distinction, because the neglect of it has given rise to the notion that Maecenas was never entrusted with the supreme administration after the close of the civil wars.
The office of praefectus urbis
was a regular and continuous
one; and we learn from Tacitus that it was first filled by Messalla Corvinus, who held it but a few days; then by Statilius Taurus, who, it is plain from Dion (54.19), must have enjoyed it for upwards of ten years at least; and next by Piso, who, Tacitus tells us, was praefectus
for the space of twenty years. (Ann.
But there is nothing in all this to show that Maecenas might not have been Caesar's vicegerent whilst Taurus filled the subordinate office of praefectus.
Nor are we to infer from the expression, "bellis civilibus
" in the passage of Tacitus (Augustus bellis civilibus Cilnium Maecenatem cunctis apud Romam atque Italiam praeposuit, ann.
6.1 ), that the political functions of Maecenas absolutely ceased with the civil wars. His meaning rather seems to be that, during that period Maecenas combined the duties which afterwards belonged to the praefectus
alone, with those of the supreme political power.
This is shown by the word cunctis,
and by the mention of Italy as well as Rome; to which latter only the praefectura
In like manner Dio Cassius (54.19), when relating how Maecenas was finally superseded (B. C. 16) by Taurus, the praefectus,
as vicegerent, during the absence of Augustus, expressly mentions that the jurisdiction of Taurus was extended over the whole of Italy (τὸ μὲν ἄστυ τῷ Ταύρῳ μετὰ τ̂ης ῎αλλης Ἰτα λίας διοικε̂ιν ᾿επιτρέψας
). When Agrippa, indeed, could remain at Rome, he seems to have had the preference, as on the occasion of Augustus's expedition into Sicily in B. C. 21. (D. C. 54.6
But when Agrippa accompanied the emperor, as in his Spanish campaign in B. C. 27, it is hardly to be doubted that Maecenas exercised the functions of Augustus at Rome. The 8th and 29th odes of the third book of Horace, which, although we cannot fix their precise dates, were evidently written after the civil wars, contain allusions to the political cares of Maecenas. Some of the expressions in them have been too literally interpreted.
In both urbs
is used in a sufficiently common sense for respublica;
and though in the latter the word civitatem
is taken by the scholiast to allude to the office of praefecus,
yet the phrase quis deceat status
points to infinitely higher functions than those of a mere police magistrate.
It may be observed, too, that both odes refer to the fobreign
affairs of the empire.
It must be confessed, however, that we have no means of determining with certainty on what occsions, and for how long, after the establishment of the empire, Maecenas continued to exercise his political power; though, as before remarked, we know that he had ceased to enjoy it in B. C. 16.
That he retained the confidence of Augustus till at least B. C. 21 may be inferred from the fact that about that time he advised him to marry his daughter Julia to Agrippa, on the ground that he had made the latter so rich and powerful, that it was dangerous to allow him to live unless he advanced him still further. (D. C. 54.6
The fact to which we have before alluded of Agrippa being entrusted in that year with the administration, and not Maecenas, affords no ground for concluding that any breach had yet been made in the friendship of the emperor and Maecenas. Agrippa, being more nearly connected with Augustus, would of course obtain the preference; and such an act of self-renunciation was quite in the character of Maecenas, and might have even formed part of his advice respecting the conduct to be observed towards Agrippa. Between B. C. 21 and 16, however, we have direct evidence that a coolness, to say the least, had sprung up between the emperor and his faithful minister.
This estrangement, for it cannot be called actual disgrace, is borne out by the silence of historians respecting the latter years of Maecenas's life, as well as by the express testimony of Tacitus, who tells us (Ann.
3.30) that during this period he enjoyed only the appearance, and not the reality, of his sovereign's friendship.
The cause of this rupture is enveloped in doubt. Seneca (Ep.
19) drops a mysterious hint about Maecenas having taken in his sails too late; whilst Dio Cassius (54.19) positively attributes it to an intrigue carried on by Augustus with Terentia, Maecenas's wife.
It is certain that such a connection existed; and the historian just cited mentions a report that Augustus's motive for going into Gaul in B. C. 16 was to enjoy the society of Terentia unmolested by the lampoons which it gave occasion to at Rome.
But, whatever may have been the cause, the political career of Maecenas may be considered as then at an end; and we shall therefore now turn to contemplate him in private life.
The public services of Maecenas, though important, were unobtrusive; and notwithstanding the part that he played in assisting to establish the empire, it is by his private pursuits, and more particularly by his reputation as a patron of literature, that he has been best known to posterity. His retirement was probably far from disagreeable to him, as it was accompanied with many circumstances calculated to recommend it to one of his turn of mind, naturally a votary of ease and pleasure.
He had amassed an enormous fortune, which Tacitus (Tac. Ann. 14.53
) attributes to the liberality of Augustus.
It has been sometimes insinuated that he grew rich by the proscriptions; and Pliny (Plin. Nat. 37.4
), speaking of Maecenas's private seal, which bore the impression of a frog, represents it as having been an object of terror to the tax-payers.
It by no means follows, however, that the money levied under his private seal was applied to his private purposes; and had he been inclined to misappropriate the taxes, we know that Caesar's own seal was at his unlimited disposal, and would have better covered his delinquencies.
Maecenas had purchased a tract of ground on the Esquiline hill, which had formerly served as a burial-place for the lower orders. (Hor. Sat. i.
8. 7.) Here he had planted a garden and built a house remarkable for its loftiness, on account of a tower by which it was surmounted, and from. the top of which Nero is said to have afterwards contemplated the burning of Rome.
In this residence he seems to have passed the greater part of his time, and to have visited the country but seldom; for though he might possibly have possessed a villa at Tibur, near the falls of the Anio, there is no direct authority for the fact. Tacitus tells us that he spent his leisure urbe in ipsa;
and the deep tranquillity of his repose may be conjectured from the epithet by which the same historian designates it--velut peregrinum
The height of the situation seems to have rendered it a healthy abode (Hor. Sat.
1.8. 14); and we learn from Suetonius (Suet. Aug. 72
) that Augustus had on one occasion retired thither to recover from a sickness.
Maecenas's house was the rendezvous
of all the wits and virtuosi
of Rome; and whoever could contribute to the amusement of the company was always welcome to a seat at his table.
In this kind of society he does not appear to have been very select; and it was probably from his undistinguishing hospitality that Augustus called his board parasitica mensa.
(Suet. Vit. Hor.
) Yet he was naturally of a reserved and taciturn disposition, and drew a broad distinction between the acquaintances that he adopted for the amusement of an idle hour, and the friends whom he admitted to his intimacy and confidence.
In the latter case he was as careful and chary as he was indiscrimieating in the former. His really intimate friends consisted of the greatest geniuses and most learned men of Rome; and if it was from his universal inclination towards men of talent that he obtained the reputation of a literary patron, it was by his friendship for such poets as Virgil and Horace that he deserved it.
In recent times, and by some German authors, especially the celebrated Wieland in his Introduction and Notes to Horace's Epistles, Maecenas's claims to the title of a literary patron have been depreciated.
It is urged that he is not mentioned by Ovid and Tibullus; that the Sabine farm which he gave to Horace was not so very large; that his conduct was perhaps not altogether disinterested, and that he might have befriended literary men either out of vanity or from political motives; that he was not singular in his literary patronage, which was a fashion amongst the eminent Romans of the day, as Messalla Corvinus, Asinius Pollio, and others; and that he was too knowing in pearls and beryls to be a competent judge of the higher works of genius.
As for his motives, or the reasons why he did not adopt Tibullus and Ovid, we shall only remark, that as they are utterly unknown to us, so it is only fair to put the most liberal construction on them; and that he had naturally a love of literature for its own sake, apart from all political or interested views, may be inferred from the fact of his having been himself a voluminous author. Though literary patronage may have been the fashion of the day, it would be difficult to point out any contemporary Roman, or indeed any at all, who indulged it so magnificently. His name had become proverbial for a patron of letters at least as early as the time of Martial; and though the assertion of that author (8.56), that the poets enriched by the bounty of Maecenas were not easily to be counted, is not, of course, to be taken literally, it would have been utterly ridiculous had there not been some foundation for it.
That he was no bad judge of literary merit is shown by the sort of men whom he patronised--Virgil, Horace, Propertius; besides others, almost their equals in reputation, but whose works are now unfortunately lost, as Varius, Tucca. and others.
But as Virgil and Horace were by far the greatest geniuses of the age, so it is certain that they were more beloved by Maecenas, the latter especially, than any of their contemporaries. Virgil was indebted to him for the recovery of his farm, which had been appropriated by the soldiery in the division of lands, in B. C. 41; and it was at the request of Maecenas that he undertook the Georgics,
the most finished of all his poems. To Horace he was a still greater benefactor.
He not only procured him a pardon for having fought against Octavianus at Philippi, but presented him with the means of comfortable subsistence, a farm in the Sabine country. If the estate was but a moderate one, we learn from Horace himself that the bounty of Maecenas was regulated by his own contented views, and not by his patron's want of generosity. (Carrm.
2.18. 14, Carm.
3.16. 38.) Nor was this liberality accompanied with any servile and degrading conditions.
The poet was at liberty to write or not, as he pleased, and lived in a state of independence creditable alike to himself and to his patron. Indeed their intimacy was rather that of two familiar friends of equal station, than of the royally-descended and powerful minister of Caesar, with the son of an obscure freedman.
But on this point we need not dwell, as it has been already touched upon in the life of Horace.
Of Maecenas's own literary productions, only a few fragments exist. From these, however, and from the notices which we find of his writings in ancient authors, we are led to think that we have not suffered any great loss by their destruction; for, although a good judge of literary merit in others, he does not appear to have been an author of much taste himself.
It has been thought that two of his works, of which little more than the titles remain, were tragedies, namely the Prometheus
But Seneca (Ep.
19) calls the former a book
); and Octavia,
mentioned in Priscian (lib. 10), is not free from the suspicion of being a corrupt reading.
An hexameter line supposed to have belonged to an epic poem, another line thought to have been part of a Galliambic poem, one or two epigrams, and some other fragments, are extant, and are given by Meibom and Frandsen in their lives of Maecenas.
In prose he wrote a work on natural history, which Pliny several times alludes to, but which seems to have related chiefly to fishes and gems. Servius (ad Virg. Aen.
8.310) attributes a Symposium
If we may trust the same authority he also composed some memoirs of Augustus; and Horace (Hor. Carm. 2.12
. 9) alludes to at least some project of the kind, but which was probably never carried into execution. Maecenas's prose style was affected, unnatural, and often unintelligible, and for these qualities he was derided by Augustus. (Suet. Aug. 26
.) Macrobius (Saturn.
2.4) has preserved part of a letter of the emperor's, in which he takes off his minister's way of writing.
The author of the dialogue De Causis Corruptae Eloquentiae
(100.26) enumerates him among the orators, but stigmatizes his affected style by the term calamistros Maecenatis.
Quintilian (Inst. Orat.
9.4.28) and Seneca (Ep.
114) also condemn his style; and the latter author gives a specimen of it which is almost wholly unintelligible. Yet, he likewise tells us (Ep.
19), that he would have been very eloquent if he had not been spoiled by his good fortune; and allows him to have possessed an ingenium grande et virile (Ep.
According to Dio Cassius (1v. 7), Maecenas first introduced short-hand, and instructed many in the art through his freedman, Aquila.
By other authors, however, the invention has been attributed to various persons of an earlier date; as to Tiro, Cicero's freedman, to Cicero himself, and even to Ennius.
But though seemingly in possession of all the means and appliances of enjoyment, Maecenas cannot be said to have been altogether happy in his domestic life. We have already alluded to an intrigue between Augustus and his wife Terentia; but this was not the only infringement of his domestic peace. Terentia, though exceedingly beautiful, was of a morose and haughty temper, and thence quarrels were continually occurring between the pair. Yet the natural uxoriousness of Maecenas as constantly prompted him to seek a reconciliation; so that Seneca (Ep.
114) remarks that he married a wife a thousand times, though he never had more than one. Her influence over him was so great, that in spite of his cautious and taciturn temper, he was on one occasion weak enough to confide an important state secret to her, respecting her brother Murena, the conspirator (Suet. Aug. 66
; D. C. 54.3
). Maecenas himself, however, was probably in some measure to blame for the terms on which he lived with his wife, for he was far from being the pattern of a good husband. His own adulteries were notorious. Augustus, in the fragment of the letter in Macrobius before alluded to, calls him μάλαγμα maecharum;
and Plutarch (Erot.
16) relates of him the story of the accommodating husband, Galba, who pretended to be asleep after dinner in order to give him an opportunity with his wife. Nay, he is even suspected of more infamous vices. (Tac. Ann. 1.54
Way of Life
In his way of life Maecenas was addicted to every species of luxury. We find several allusions in the ancient authors to the effeminacy of his dress. Instead of girding his tunic above his knees, he suffered it to hang loose about his heels, like a woman's petticoat; and when sitting on the tribunal he kept his head covered with his pallium
114). Yet, in spite of this softness he was capable of exerting himself when the occasion required, and of acting with energy and decision (Vell. 2.88
). So far was he from wishing to conceal the softness and effeminacy of his manners, that he made a parade of his vices; and, during the greatest heat of the civil wars, openly appeared in the public places of Rome with a couple of eunuchs in his train (Senec. l.
He was fond of theatrical entertainments, especially pantomimes; as may be inferred from his patronage of Bathyllus, the celebrated dancer, who was a freedman of his.
It has been concluded from Tacitus (Tac. Ann. 1.54
) that he first introduced that species of representation at Rome; and, with the politic view of keeping the people quiet by amusing them, persuaded Augustus to patronize it. Dio Cassius (55.7) tells us that he was the first to introduce warm swimming baths at Rome. His love of ointments is tacitly satirized by Augustus (Suet. Aug. 86
), and his passion for gems and precious stones is notorious.
According to Pliny he paid some attention to cookery; and as the same author (19.57) mentions a book on gardening, which had been dedicated to him by Sabinus Tiro, it has been thought that he was partial to that pursuit. His tenacious, and indeed, unmanly love of life, he has himself painted in some verses preserved by Seneca (Ep.
101), and which, as affording a specimen of his style, we here insert:--
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.--
From these lines it has been conjectured that he belonged to the sect of the Epicureans; but of his philosophical principles nothing certain is known.
That moderation of character which led him to be content with his equestrian rank, probably arose from the love of ease and luxury which we have described, or it might have been the result of more prudent and political views.
As a politician, the principal trait in his character was fidelity to his master (Maecenatis erunt vera tropaea fides,
Propert. 3.9), and the main end of all his cares was the consolidation of the empire.
But, though he advised the establishment of a despotic monarchy, he was at the same time the advocate of mild and liberal measures.
He recommended Augustus to put no check on the free expression of public opinion; but above all to avoid that cruelty, which, for so many years, had stained the Roman annals with blood (Senec. Ep.
114). To the same effect is the anecdote preserved by Cedrenus, the Byzantine historian; that when on some occasion Octavianus sat on the tribunal, condemning numbers to death, Maecenas, who was among the bystanders, and could not approach Caesar by reason of the crowd, wrote upon his tablets, " Rise, hangman !" (Surge tandem carnifex !
), and threw them into Caesar's lap, who immediately left the judgment-seat (comp. D. C. 4.7
Maecenas appears to have been a constant valetudinarian. If Pliny's statement (7.51 ) is to be taken literally, he laboured under a continual fever.
According to the same author he was sleepless during the last three years of his life; and Seneca tells us (de Provid.
3.9) that he endeavoured to procure that sweet and indispensable refreshment, by listening to the sound of distant symphonies. We may infer from Horace (Hor. Carm. 2.17
) that he was rather hypochondriacal.
He died in the consulate of Gallus and Censorinus, B. C. 8 (D. C. 55.7
), and was buried on the Esquiline.
He left no children, and thus by his death his ancient family became extinct.
He bequeathed his property to Augustus, and we find that Tiberius afterwards resided in his house (Suet. Tib. 15
). Though the emperor treated Maecenas with coldness during the latter years of his life, he sincerely lamented his death, and seems to have sometimes felt the want of so able, so honest, and so faithful a counsellor. (D. C. 54.9
; Senec. de Ben.
The life of Maecenas has been written in Latin by John Henry Meibom, in a thin quarto, entitled Liber singularis de C. Cilnii Maecenatis Vita, Moribus, et Rebus Gestis,
It contains at the end the elegies ascribed to Pedo Albinovanus, and is a learned and useful work, though the author has taken an extravagant view of his hero's virtues, and, according to the fashion of those days, has been rather too liberal of the contents of his commonplace book. In Italian there is a life by Cenni, Rome 1684; by Dini, Venice 1704; and by Sante Viola, Rome, 1816; in German, by Bennemann, Leipzig, 1744; by Dr. Albert Lion (Maecenatiana
), Göttingen, 1824; and by Frandsen, Altona, 1843; which last is by far the best life of Maecenas. In French there is a life of Maecenas by the Abbé Richer, Paris, 1746.
The only life in English is by Dr. Ralph Schomberg, London, 1766, 12mo.
It is a mere compilation from Meibom and Richer, and shows no critical discrimination.