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CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT. Figuring the Founder: Vergil and the Challenge of Autocracy

Joy Connolly

Subject Classics » Reception of Classical World

Place Europe

Period General

Key-Topics authority

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405175777.2010.00033.x


We suffer not only from the living, but from the dead. Le mort saisit le vif! . Karl Marx, preface to Capital , vol. 1 (trans. Moore and Aveling 1967) The wolf of Augustan autocracy arrived in the sheep's clothing of the traditional language of Republican refoundation. In exchange for his rule in what was now a permanent state of emergency, Augustus granted security (Tac. Ann . 1.1). His legitimization of autocracy exploited the ideology of self-restraint that had for centuries been the centerpiece of Republican virtue, an ideology Augustus pressed in two directions at once: he “gave back” the Republic to the Senate and people, restraining himself from accepting the powers and accouterments of monarchy ( RG 1.34), and he transformed traditional senatorial competition for gloria into the gateway to civil war, by defining resistance to Caesar as war against the Republic ( RG 1.2). The Augustan consolidation shook Republican ideology to its core. Romans had long seen violence as a bulwark against tyranny—and even further, as a constitutive element in the Republic's formation and identity. Republican writers and their modern readers like Machiavelli and Montesquieu represent periodic eruptions of violence as necessary for the preservation of republican freedom and equality. It may occur outside the borders, as Sallust indicates in his diagnosis of Rome's social breakdown in the ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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