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I. The memoirs of Marcus Agrippa: Fragments (13 B.C.)

. . . I was with him at Actium, when the sword struck fire from metal, and the blood of soldiers was awash on deck and stained the blue Ionian Sea, and the javelin whistled in the air, and the burning hulls hissed upon the water, and the day was loud with the screams of men whose flesh roasted in the armor they could not fling off; and earlier I was with him at Mutina, where that same Marcus Antonius overran our camp and the sword was thrust into the empty bed where Caesar Augustus had lain, and where we persevered and earned the first power that was to give us the world; and at Philippi, where he traveled so ill he could not stand and yet made himself to be carried among his troops in a litter, and came near death again by the murderer of his father, and where he fought until the murderers of the mortal Julius, who became a god, were destroyed by their own hands.

I am Marcus Agrippa, sometimes called Vipsanius, tribune to the people and consul to the Senate, soldier and general to the Empire of Rome, and friend of Gaius Octavius Caesar, now Augustus. I write these memories in the fiftieth year of my life so that posterity may record the time when Octavius discovered Rome bleeding in the jaws of faction, when Octavius Caesar slew the factious beat and removed the almost lifeless body, and when Augustus healed the wounds of Rome and made it whole again, to walk with vigor upon the boundaries of the world. Of this triumph I have, within my abilities, been a part; and of that part these memories will be a record, so that the historians of the ages may understand their wonder at Augustus and Rome.

Under the command of Caesar Augustus I performed several functions for the restoration of Rome, for which duty Rome amply rewarded me. I was three times consul, once aedile and tribune, and twice governor of Syria; and twice I received the seal of the Sphinx from Augustus himself during his grave illnesses. Against Lucius Antonius at Perusia I led the victorious Roman legions, and against the Aquitanians at Gaul, and against the German tribes at the Rhine, for which service I refused a Triumph in Rome; and in Spain and Pannonia, too, were rebellious tribes and factions put down. By Augustus I was given title as commander in chief of our navy, and we saved our ships from the pirate Sextus Pompeius by our construction of the harbor west of the Bay of Naples, which ships later defeated and destroyed Pompeius at Mylae and Naulochus on the coast of Sicily; and for that action the Senate awarded me the naval crown. At Actium we defeated the traitor Marcus Antonius, and so restored life to the body of Rome.

In celebration of Rome's delivery from the Egyptian treason, I had erected the Temple now called the Pantheon and other public buildings. As chief administrator of the city under Augustus and the Senate, I had repaired the old aqueducts of the city and installed new ones, so that the citizens and populace of Rome might have water and be free of disease; and when peace came to Rome, I assisted in the survey and mapping of the world, begun during the dictatorship of Julius Caesar and made at last possible by his adopted son.

Of these things, I shall write more at length as these memories progress. But I must now tell of the time when these events were set into motion, the year after Julius Caesar's triumphant return from Spain, of which campaign Gaius Octavius and Salvidienus Rufus and I were members.

For I was with him at Apollonia when the news came of Caesar's death. . . .

II. Letter: Gaius Gilnius Maecenas to Titus Livius (13 B.C.)

You must forgive me, my dear Livy, for having so long delayed my reply. The usual complaints: retirement seems not to have improved the state of my health at all. The doctors shake their heads wisely, mutter mysteriously, and collect their fees. Nothing seems to help--not the vile medicines I am fed, nor even the abstinence from those pleasures which (as you know) I once enjoyed. The gout has made it impossible for me to hold my pen in hand these last few days, though I know how diligently you pursue your work and what need you have of my assistance in the matter of which you have written me. And along with my other infirmities, I have for the past few weeks been afflicted by an insomnia, so that my days are spent in weariness and lassitude. But my friends do not desert me, and life stays; for those two things I must be grateful.

You ask me about the early days of my association with our Emperor. You ought to know that only three days ago he was good enough to visit my house, inquiring after my illnesses, and I felt it politic to inform him of your request. He smiled and asked me whether or not I felt it proper to aid such an unregenerate Republican as yourself; and then we fell to talking about the old days, as men who feel the encroachment of age will do. He remembers things--little things--even more vividly than I, whose profession it has been to forget nothing. At last I asked him if he would prefer to have sent to you his own account of that time. He looked away into the distance for a moment and smiled again and said, "No--Emperors may let their memories lie even more readily than poets and historians." He asked me to send you his warm regards, and gave me permission to write to you with whatever freedom I could find.

But what freedom can I find to speak to you of those days? We were young; and though Gaius Octavius, as he was called then, knew that he was favored by his destiny and that Julius Caesar intended his adoption, neither he nor I nor Marcus Agrippa nor Salvidienus Rufus, who were his friends, could truly imagine where we would be led. I do not have the freedom of the historian, my friend; you may recount the movements of men and armies, trace the intricate course of state intrigues, balance victories and defeats, relate births and deaths--and yet still be free, in the wise simplicity of your task, from the awful weight of a kind of knowledge that I cannot name but that I more and more nearly apprehend as the years draw on. I know what you want; and you are no doubt impatient with me because I do not get on with it and give you the facts that you need. But you must remember that despite my services to the state, I am a poet, and incapable of approaching anything very directly.

It may surprise you to learn that I had not known Octavius until I met him at Brindisi, where I had been sent to join him and his group of friends on the way to Apollonia. The reasons for my being there remain obscure to me; it was through the intercession of Julius Caesar, I am sure. My father, Lucius, had once done Julius some service; and a few years before, he had visited us at our villa in Arezzo. I argued with him about something (I was, I believe, asserting the superiority of Callimachus's poems to Catullus's), and I became arrogant, abusive, and (I thought) witty. I was very young. At any rate, he seemed amused by me, and we talked for some time. Two years later, he ordered my father to send me to Apollonia in the company of his nephew.

My friend, I must confess to you (though you may not use it) that I was in no profound way impressed with Octavius upon that occasion of our first meeting. I had just come down to Brindisi from Arezzo and after more than ten days of traveling, I was weary to the bone, filthy with the dust of the road, and irritable. I came upon them at the pier from which we were to embark. Agrippa and Salvidienus were talking together, and Octavius stood somewhat apart from them, gazing at a small ship that was anchored nearby. They had given no sign of noticing my approach. I said, somewhat too loudly, I imagine: "I am the Maecenas who was to meet you here. Which of you is which?"

Agrippa and Salvidienus looked at me amusedly and gave me their names; Octavius did not turn; and thinking that I saw arrogance and disdain in his back, I said: "And you must be the other, whom they call Octavius."

Then he turned, and I knew that I was foolish; for there was an almost desperate shyness on his face. He said: "Yes, I am Gaius Octavius. My uncle has spoken of you." Then he smiled and offered me his hand and raised his eyes and looked at me for the first time.

As you know, much has been said about those eyes, more often than not in bad meter and worse prose; I think by now he must be sick of hearing the metaphors and whatnot describing them, though he may have been vain about them at one time. But they were, even then, extraordinarily clear and piercing and sharp--more blue than gray, perhaps, though one thought of light, not color. . . . There, you see? I have started doing it myself; I have been reading too many of my friends' poems.

I may have stepped back a pace; I do not know. At any rate, I was startled, and so I looked away, and my eyes fell upon the ship at which Octavius had been gazing.

"Is that the scow that's going to take us across?" I asked. I was feeling a little more cheerful. It was a small merchant ship, not more than fifty feet in length, with rotting timbers at the prow and patched sails. A stench rose from it.

Agrippa spoke to me. "We are told that it is the only one available." He was smiling at me a little; I imagine that he thought me fastidious, for I was wearing my toga and had on several rings, while they wore only tunics and carried no ornaments.

"The stench will be unendurable," I said.

Octavius said gravely, "I believe it is going to Apollonia for a load of pickled fish."

I was silent for a moment; and then I laughed, and we all laughed, and we were friends.

Perhaps we are wiser when we are young, though the philosopher would dispute with me. But I swear to you, we were friends from that moment onward; and that moment of foolish laughter was a bond stronger than anything that came between us later--victories or defeats, loyalties or betrayals, griefs or joys. But the days of youth go, and part of us goes with them, not to return.

Thus it was that we crossed to Apollonia, in a stinking fish boat that groaned with the gentlest wave, that listed so perilously to its side that we had to brace ourselves so that we would not tumble across the deck, and that carried us to a destiny we could not then imagine. . . .

I resume the writing of this letter after an interruption of two days; I shall not trouble you with a detailing of the maladies that occasioned that interruption; it is all too depressing.

In any event, I have seen that I do not give you the kind of thing that will be of much use to you, so I have had my secretary go through some of my papers in search of matters more helpful to your task. You may remember that some ten years ago I spoke at the dedication of our friend Marcus Agrippa's Temple of Venus and Mars, now popularly called the Pantheon. In the beginning I had the idea, later discarded, of doing a rather fanciful oration, almost a poem, if I may say so, which made some odd connections between the state of Rome as we had found it as young men and the state of Rome as this temple now represents it. At any rate, as an aid to my own solution to the problem that the form of this projected oration raised, I made some notes about those early days, which I now draw upon in an effort to aid you in the completion of your history of our world.

Picture, if you can, four youths (they are strangers to me now), ignorant of their future and of themselves, ignorant indeed of that very world in which they are beginning to live. One (that is Marcus Agrippa) is tall and heavy-muscled, with the face almost of a peasant--strong nose, big bones, and a skin like new leather; dry, brownish hair, and a coarse red stubble of beard; he is nineteen. He walks heavily, like a bullock, but there is an odd grace about him. He speaks plainly, slowly, and calmly, and does not show what he feels. Except for his beard, one would not know that he is so young.

Another (this is Salvidienus Rufus) is as thin and agile as Agrippa is heavy and stalwart, as quick and volatile as Agrippa is slow and reserved. His face is lean, his skin fair, his eyes dark; he laughs readily, and lightens the gravity which the rest of us affect. He is older than any of us, but we love him as if he were our younger brother.

And a third (is it myself?) whom I see even more dimly than the others. No man may know himself, nor how he must appear even to his friends; but I imagine they must have thought me a bit of a fool, that day, and even for some time afterward. I was a bit luxuriant then, and fancied that a poet must play the part. I dressed richly, my manner was affected, and I had brought along with me from Arezzo a servant whose sole duty it was to care for my hair--until my friends derided me so mercilessly that I had him returned to Italy.

And at last he who was then Gaius Octavius. How may I tell you of him? I do not know the truth; only my memories. I can say again that he seemed to me a boy, though I was a scant two years older. You know his appearance now; it has not changed much. But now he is Emperor of the world, and I must look beyond that to see him as he was then; and I swear to you that I, whose service to him has been my knowledge of the hearts of both his friends and enemies, could not have foreseen what he was to become. I thought him a pleasant stripling, no more, with a face too delicate to receive the blows of fate, with a manner too diffident to achieve purpose, and with a voice too gentle to utter the ruthless words that a leader of men must utter. I thought that he might become a scholar of leisure, or a man of letters; I did not think that he had the energy to become even a senator, to which his named and wealth entitled him. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

Revue de presse

"Weir's sympathetic and detailed biography reassesses the life of a woman whose role in public life.has been underrated by historians" (New Statesman)

"The finest historical novel ever written by an American" (Washington Post)

"It would be easy to over-praise this novel; but there does not seem any adequate reason why this temptation should be resisted" (Economist)

"A novel of extraordinary range, yet of extraordinary minuteness, that manages never to sacrifice one quality for the other" (Financial Times)

"Williams has fashioned an always engaging, psychologically convincing work of fiction - a consistent and well-realized portrait" (New Yorker)

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Détails sur le produit

  • Broché: 352 pages
  • Editeur : Vintage Classics; Édition : New Ed (6 février 2003)
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 0099445085
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099445081
  • Dimensions du produit: 12,9 x 2,2 x 19,8 cm
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 5.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (4 commentaires client)
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: 24.900 en Livres anglais et étrangers (Voir les 100 premiers en Livres anglais et étrangers)
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5 internautes sur 5 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile  Par savtanoemi le 4 juillet 2013
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
What a great idea, writing letters in order to describe a tumultous epoch! I enjoyed every sentence, every letter John williams' genius, as manifested in "Stoner " is still there, maybe even more so. His ability to write the letters in dozens of different styles so that every character is well distinct is remarkable, to say the least. I was rather young when I first read "augustus" in the sixties and am glad for having had the oportunity, offered by my kindle, to re-read this age-less chef-d'oeuvre which reads better now, with more experience behind me.
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3 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile  Par Nicolas Plagne VOIX VINE le 22 février 2014
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
ceux qui ont aimé "Mémoires d'Hadrien" de Marguerite Yourcenar ou le "Moi Claude empereur" de Robert Graves devraient s'empresser de lire ce roman historique psycho-politico-épistolaire cherchant à deviner la personnalité (double) de l'empereur Auguste, fils adoptif de Jules César: le jeune Octave devenu héritier de l'oeuvre du dictateur le jour de son assassinat et poussé par le destin à devenir l'empereur "auguste" de Rome. A travers cette biographie littéraire, très documentée et informée, l'auteur médite sur le sens de la vie, la liberté et le destin, les nécessités de la politique, l'amitié, l'amour, la famille, le peuple, l'Etat, la culture et bien d'autres sujets, et tout cela avec une perspective évidente d'actualité. Auguste est le sujet qui pense sa vie et s'interroge, entre autodiscipline et doutes secrets, sur cette volonté "impériale", ce rêve (dirait Benoist-Méchin) de mettre ordre et harmonie dans le chaos du monde.
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2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile  Par C.Dupouy le 12 septembre 2014
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
Après Stoner que j'ai decouvert avec etonnament et beaucoup de plaisir, Augustus change complètement de registre. Toujours ce façon très direct d'ecrire qui vous happe dès les premières sentences. Un façon très original pour un livre d'histoire. Les èvenements sont racconté par lettres et notes entre les diffèrentes personnages donnant les visions personelles de chaque évenement. J'ai beaucoup aimé ce livre - même si je ne suis pas friande de livres d'histoire. (livre en anglais)
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1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile  Par Dean, J. le 25 août 2014
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
This is historical fiction of the first order. But it is not for the amateur. That is, Williams writes for people who already have a certain knowledge of the culture and the time. Williams herein is a teacher of the first order; teachers open the door, you enter by yourself.
Read this way it is hard to imagine a better book about the era of Gaius Octavius Augustus, the subtlety and power of the man, the leader, the heritage. Williams' narrative is also far more engaging than those dry-as-dust, prize-winning, academic novels about Roman leaders by Robert Graves or Marguerite Yourcenar.
Williams is akin to the Roman historical fiction writing of Robert Harris; he has that kind of story-telling zest, though is less sentimental & more realistic than Harris.
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119 internautes sur 120 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Many Suffered From Close Contact with Augustus - But Not Readers of this Work 29 janvier 2007
Par Douglas S. Wood - Publié sur
Format: Broché
John Edward Williams won the 1973 National Book Award for 'Augustus' and deservedly so. This amazing piece of literature masquerading as historical fiction (and I like historical fiction) draws the reader into the world of Gaius Octavius, later to be Augustus, first emperor of Rome.

Williams tells his tale by the unusual technique of presenting letters, journal entries, and memoirs. By this method he allows the reader to gradually enter, indeed become immersed in, the world of Augustus, his family, friends, enemies, and most important, his Rome. 'Augustus' traces his rise from the vulnerable adopted son of Julius Caesar through a steady accretion of power as he becomes first a triumvir (with Mark Antony and the nonentity Lepidus), and then settles in as emperor of the world.

The historical record for Augustus's life has gaps that challenge an author and Williams grasps the challenge deftly, just as Augustus grasped power. We see Augustus as an aloof, cold and calculating politician whose assiduous pursuit and cautious exercise of power allows him to hold that power for over four decades, but always using that power for Rome, always for Rome, his Rome.

Yet many people suffer from their close contact with this man - his equally calculating wife Livia, for one, his dear friends Maecenas and Salvidienus, to name two more, but none more so than his daughter Julia. The last third or so of the book focuses on the break between Augustus and Julia. Williams presents an interesting and shocking explanation for Julia's exile - at least an explanation that Augustus believes or claims to.

The penultimate chapter draws Augustus's life to a close with a lengthy letter to Nicolaus of Damascus in which a dying Augustus bemoans his fate and the weight of authority he has had to bear - it is really most unattractive for one of the most powerful men in history to indulge in such self-centered despair, but it also rings true because Augustus spent his life denying himself so many pleasures in order to hold on to power for the good of Rome, as he convinced himself. In the end, Augustus saw himself as the embodiment of Rome - anything that threatened his power, threatened Rome. This is so well done that one finds oneself becoming angry with Augustus, who is after all just a character in this brilliant work of historical fiction.

'Augustus' is not an easy read. Prior knowledge of the historical era certainly aids the enjoyment and comprehension of the book. Ultimately, however, this remarkable work of historical fiction and literature deserves the highest recommendation.
42 internautes sur 43 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Good complement to "I, Claudius" 3 mai 2005
Par Daniel Berger - Publié sur
Format: Broché
This complements the better known "I, Claudius." Comparing the two has me wondering what's actually known about that era, and I will probably read more about it as a result.

Williams, for example, portrays Augustus' third wife Livia as maneuvering coldly and relentlessly, but within the bounds of propriety, to position her son Tiberius as Augustus' successor.

Graves, meanwhile, shows Livia in a darker light, responsible for numerous deaths in so doing while somehow maintaining her image of virtue. And he makes her the central character.

Williams does a better job than Graves at capturing Rome as Augustus found it - rotting and a republic in name only, controlled by a few families - and the Rome that Augustus fashioned, economically healthy, at peace, with the most powerful families held at bay, an orderly government that citizens of all classes could depend upon, and led by an emperor who himself led a plain life as a moral example. I didn't realize so many of the key names of Latin literature - Livy, Horace, Vergil - lived at that time and were intimates of Augustus.

"I, Claudius", seen through the eyes of Livia's grandson, perhaps does better at portraying the shocking and lurid decadence marking the beginning of the empire's decline. But "Augustus", starting earlier with Julius Caesar's assassination and Octavian's rise to power, does better with the broad sweep of Augustus' life and detailing this peak period of the Roman Empire, before the real decline began. It's more upbeat. Williams does a nice job using Julia to capture the tragic contradictions at the heart of the period.

The format, with the story being told through letters of various characters to each other, can be a bit disjointed. I think this is a product, however, of Williams' determination to cover all key events in Augustus' reign. It can be a bit tedious as many detailed non-fiction histories are, but Williams generally keeps the story moving. He has an interesting life and times to work with.
49 internautes sur 52 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Brilliant conception with a plot that drags in places 27 mai 2005
Par Charlton Griffin - Publié sur
Format: Broché
For me, the greatest interest in this novel was the explanation of how Augustus came to power at such an early age. Like most educated people, I , too have read histories that cover this period in detail. And yet, descriptions of events that historians gloss over with one sentence statements are not really enlightening. Here's an example of such a description from a typical history book: "Augustus, using the power of his uncle's name and money, soon became a force to be reckoned with in Rome." Well, excuse me, but there is a lot left out of a statement like that. And history books are full of such examples. Precisely HOW could an eighteen year old kid persuade enough people to have confidence in him so that he could effectively challenge a military veteran and street fighter like Mark Antony? This is where John Williams shines. He gets into the interstices of history and demonstrates the human element at work in ways that can be understood. Step by step, we follow a callow youth as he becomes the most powerful man in the world.

The plot does tend toward some confusion as a result of the device of using correspondence to carry the story. This means that digressions in the plot must take place in order to make the letters, diaries, etc. seem realistic. However, once you're accustomed to this device, the story manages to maintain its own velocity...PROVIDED that you are interested enough and knowledgable enough about Octavian to want to know the kind of details that emerge. If you are like me, you are absolutely dying to know.
12 internautes sur 12 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Ranks with "I Claudius" and "Memoirs of Hadrian" 16 juillet 2007
Par Ronald H. Clark - Publié sur
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
I first heard about this extraordinary novel of ancient Rome during one of the regular Wednesday afternoon "Dirda On Books" discussions conducted on the Washington Post website. I began reading the book on a long air flight to Finland and became entirely engrossed. It is easy to understand why the book won the National Book Award in 1973--it is superbly written. The novel follows Octavius Caesar from early adulthood through his battles to become Emperor Augustus, and into old age. The author does not utilize a straight narrative but instead tells the story through the use of documents such as letters, diary entries, and Senate proceedings. All of this material flows very smoothly as the story unfolds. I found it particularly interesting to compare and contrast the author's portrait of Augustus with that developed on the recent HBO "Rome" series which covers much of the same ground. As the helpful introduction by John McGahern explains, the author was not a classicist and undertook substantial reseach in order to make the novel as historically accurate (with a few exceptions) as possible. While not quite as exquisite as Yourcenar's "Memoirs of Hadrian" (also reviewed on Amazon), this fine novel comes very close to it in quality. For anyone interested in Roman history or just an outstanding read, this is a book well worth considering.
8 internautes sur 8 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Unique, entertaining and interesting 28 mai 2006
Par Anne - Publié sur
Format: Broché
I'm just going to tell you to do yourselves a favour and check this book out. Allan Masse, bow your head to the lesser known an appreciated John Williams. "Augustus: A Novel" is written in a very original way, using drafted letters, diaries, memoirs and even poems to tell the story making it a very easy read. You feel that you get to know each of the historical characters and they are written in a believable and stunningly truthful way, it is practically un-faulted. Its only fault is the title, which would have been better, titled as "Augustus and Julia."


Because the book is told in three parts, and each part has a theme. Where part one is about Octavius and his rise to become Augustus, part two and three revolves around mainly him and his daughter Julia, and it is Julia who dominates the eyes and excitement of the reader making her out to be the more interesting and certainly the more likeable of the two. Nonetheless, the father-daughter relationship between the two is quite touching and you can tell honestly that Julia means the world to her father. Other characters there to excite and delight you are Livia, Maecenas, Agrippa and various other people like Tiberius and Julia's partner-in-crime and ambitious lover Jullus Antonius who also draws your attention as the only living son of Mark Antony, falling in love with Caesar's daughter, Julia, in a non-typical Romeo and Juliet way.

Without a doubt, the best Augustus fiction I've read. If you want a good Roman book to read then I advise you to get this out of the library and give it a go.
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