Gaius Maecenas (GI-uhs mih-SEE-nuhs) claimed derivation from ancient Etruscan nobility and was a very wealthy member of the Roman equestrian class. A confidant and adviser of Augustus, he aided in the arrangement of the future emperor’s first marriage and was with him at the Battle of Philippi. Instrumental in negotiations with Marc Antony during the Triumvirate, he was later entrusted with management of affairs in Italy in the emperor’s absence.
Maecenas pursued a sybaritic style of life in a mansion with splendid gardens on the Esquiline hill. He was an aficionado of poetry and dabbled in both verse and prose but made his greatest contribution to letters as the patron of Vergil and Horace. Because his financial support freed the poets to devote themselves fully to their art, they expressed their gratitude through dedicatory references, for example, in the first of Horace’s Odes (23 b.c.e.; 13 b.c.e.; English translation, 1621). Because he served as the intermediary between the poets and Augustus, he has been seen as a kind of minister of propaganda.
Maecenas was an archetype of the patron of the arts, forerunner of the Medicis or the Guggenheims. His benefactions helped make possible such masterworks as Horace’s Odes and Epodes (c. 30 b.c.e.; English translation, 1638) and Vergil’s Georgics (c. 37-29 b.c.e.; English translation, 1589) and...
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