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Maecēnas, Gāius

Oxford Dictionary of the Classical World
John RobertsJohn Roberts

Maecēnas, Gāius 

(year of birth unknown). Among Octavian's earliest supporters—he fought at Philippi—he was his intimate and trusted friend and agent. (See Augustus.) His high position rested entirely on this: he never held a magistracy or entered the senate, remaining an equestrian. He arranged Octavian's marriage with Scribonia, and represented him at the negotiations of the pact of Brundisium (40 bc) and that of Tarentum (37), when he took along his poets (Horace, Satires 1. 5). He went as envoy to Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony) in 38, and in 36–33 and 31–29 he was in control of Rome and Italy in Octavian's absence, an unprecedented position: ‘no title, only armed power’. In 30, claiming to uncover a conspiracy, he executed the son of the triumvir Aemilius Lepidus (2). His enormous wealth must derive partly from the confiscations. He bequeathed the emperor everything, including his magnificent house and grounds on the Esquiline. Many inscriptions survive of his slaves and freedmen. Maecenas was famous, or notorious, for his luxury: wines, gourmet dishes, gems, fabrics, and love affairs (that with the dancer Bathyllus became scandalous). Astute and vigorous at need, he cultivated an image of softness. His name became proverbial as the greatest patron of poets (see patronage, literary). He is the dedicatee of Virgil's Georgics. Virgil introduced Horace, who dedicated to Maecenas Satires 1, Epodes, Odes 1–3, and Epistles 1. Maecenas gave Horace his Sabine estate. Horace gives the fullest picture of Maecenas and his circle. Maecenas wrote poems which recall the metres and to some extent the manner of Catullus: extant fragments of two are addressed to Horace, intimate in tone. He also wrote in prose. His style was criticized for affectation. The fragments contain no trace of politics, but Maecenas must have been influential in inducing Virgil, Horace, and even Propertius to express support for the regime and the values it fostered. He was an important intermediary between princeps and poets, who lost contact after his death. His wife Terentia, eventually divorced, was Terentius Varro Murena's sister; apparently Maecenas, departing from his usual discretion, warned her of the detection of her brother's conspiracy (22). Thereafter his relations with Augustus, never openly impaired, seem to have been less close. He died in 8 bc.