Novel "Augustus" by John Williams

“Send the boy to Apollonia” Gaius Julius Caesar writes v in 45th Chr. To his niece Atia. The “boy”, which is her son, who soon eighteen Gaius Octavius, who has just returned from a Spain-campaign on the side of the powerful great-uncle to her. At his birth Caesar had chosen him as his successor. Now it’s down to business. Atia has when it comes to her son, nothing more to say; Caesar determined his future career and has “arrangements” made for his education and exercise.

In Apollonia, a Greek dominated town (now in Albania located), to better doctors than in Rome to the suffering of the weak are , sickly young man care, philosophers should revamp his wretched Greek and spice up the underdeveloped rhetoric, and as cronies already three young comrades are seconded (Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, Quintus Salvidienus Rufus, Gaius Cilnius Maecenas).

One who rules as dictator perpetuus absolute an empire needs to take no mince words. So Caesar seasons his letter to Atia with a few outright condescension to her husband, Gaius Octavius’ stepfather ( “such a fool that I almost like him again”).

The gesture is “plans against me with his friend Cicero,” but that Caesar wants in Rome as Dude and wrought on so amateurish way, “all my enemies would be so incompetent. I would not so much admire, but would ensure safer .

What a stroke of genius the 1994 late American author John Williams succeeded with his fourth and last novel “Augustus”! published in 1971, he received the 1973 National Book Award for Fiction and was then forgotten for decades, as its predecessors, “Nothing but the Night” (1948), “Butcher’s Crossing” (1960) but why not is a life story of Emperor Augustus, but already one in the league of emperors to the a-list celebrities, after a month has named and even in the Bible of a mention was found worthy?

Because John Williams no more scientifically accurate and comprehensive biography to write had in mind, but a work of fiction image of man Gaius Octavius ​​and his life’s work.

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the result is an epistolary novel, with different senders fictional letters and addressed a variety other documents are attached, in particular diary entries, minutes of meetings of the Senate, military dispatches propaganda. from the wealth of perspectives and the materiality lien is made up the complex portrait of a very impressive personality and their time. Many names and events may be recalled from the history lessons. But often difficult during its mediation of the local pubescent Auditorium, people started its authors are alive here, transparent political connections

By dictates a dusted, fresh writing style in the springs. Without ever flippant or flat to be – that maintains reading to demanding, sometimes amusing way, and fascinated at the same time non-historians like the connoisseur of historical matter. One can from this addictive treat simple cease and desist

The structure of the novel follows classical patterns. Three books, framed by prologue and epilogue. The first book deals with the uncertain phase of intrigues ranging infighting by Gaius Julius Caesar’s assassination (44 v. Chr.). Contrary to expectations, and against all odds, the young, still ailing and politically inexperienced Octavius ​​can claim his prepared by the great uncle position of power during the Triumvirate against established professional politicians until it (. With the victory at the Battle of Actium in 31 v. Chr) succeeds finally to beat his arch-rival Mark Antony from the field and end the Roman civil war. this phase is illuminated clever, but often puzzling tactical maneuvering with friend and foe ‘many years in the friendly correspondence between the historian Livy ( “my dear Livy”) and Octavius ​​confidant Gaius Maecenas Cilnius. The former is interested in burning to every detail from the common time to Maecenas reminiscent of that. Seemed Gaius Octavius ​​in Apollonia still a “lowbrow youth”, the “no great impression on me made”, he is “now the ruler of the world”.

For 27 v. Chr. Allowed to Gaius Octavius ​​”Augustus” call ( “Almighty”), 2 v. Chr. He gets the title pater patriae ( “Father of the Nation”). However, is the second book of his role as a father and his private relationships. In detailed diary excerpts of his only daughter Julia the difficult relationship between her and the father becomes clear. She was nothing but a pawn in his power games. Just as it seemed to him favorable, he engaged the child, the young woman married three times and finally banished the Unfügsame with the dissolute lifestyle of the island Pandateria (Ventotene). Other documents describe private meetings between friends, thinkers, artists and politicians from the inner circle Octavius. Between gossip, poetry and intrigue all sorts of topics are represented.

In the third book we see Augustus at the end of his life. In a detailed letter to Nicholas of Damascus, the seventy-six looks n. Chr in August 14th and back to the future. Although he has expanded the empire and secured, reformed the judiciary and the Romans brought prosperity and forty years of peace. But he regrets that the traditional virtues were destroyed by the civil war turmoil. And unlike the works of the great poet Ovid, Horace, Virgil ( “the freiesten and consequently warmest people”) is his kingdom – the “Poem”, whose elements he has created and ordered gracefully – not last forever. Even his successor, stepchildren and son Tiberius, he does not consider able to secure what has been achieved.

The figures that we encounter on these nearly 500 pages are disclosed under the appropriate heading “Who’s Who compiled in ancient Rome “. Their names are known today; In this novel, they awake to life fresher than in the two millennia before. So etches the ambition Ling Mark Antony, in 44 v. Chr. Consul, in his “Report on the latest trivialities” for the military commander in Macedonia ( “Sentius, you old dick …”) that “Octavius, this baby-faced”, including “three guys in the wake of” without appointment in his house’ve auditioned. After Marcus Antonius made the four young men waiting properly, have Gaius Octavius ​​Caesar (the nickname inherited is his greatest asset) presented his request and polite by the influential friend of the uncle, but certainly advice sought. Mark Antony has him arrogant in his place, unaware that the “not very impressive Wicht” will one day destroy him and his lover Cleopatra.

At the end of his life, see, we consider the first Roman emperor retrospect. He thinks of his lessons back to Apollonia, admits the emotional void when it reached there, the news of the murder of his uncle, and the “high feeling” that came over him when he had succeeded, “in me the proper feelings of sadness and awaken loss. ” At that time, he realized that his “fate of which was simply to change the world.” At the age he recognizes that re-shaped the world, its limits, its finite nature, the futility of his illusions – he is a man like any other. He shares the fate of the other protagonists of John Williams novels. As he understands “the terrible fact that he is alone, isolated from all others, and that he no one else can be as this poor creature he happens to be.” So Daniel Mendelsohn formulated in the revealing epilogue he wrote for the American re-release of 2015 and was admitted to the German edition. This book I have to my to the list 20 favorite books.

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Novel "Augustus" by John Williams. (2019, Nov 18). Retrieved from

Novel "Augustus" by John Williams
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