- Apollo, Augustus, and the Poets
In 2003, Konstantinos Zachos published an article in the Journal of Roman Archaeology on an elaborate tropaeum in the hills north of the Actian promontory, built to celebrate Octavian's naval victory at the Battle of Actium. Octavian also significantly enlarged and renovated the old Akarnanian Temple to Apollo Actius overlooking the Actian bay, and he built an entire "Victory City" (Nikopolis) which was formed from the forced merging (synoecism) of several long-standing communities. Zachos writes this about the patron of the victory monument: "The complex of structures was both a symbol of Octavian's victory and power and also a monument of political and religious propaganda" (65). I suspect that his article has surely, at least in part, inspired recent re-examinations of the impact of the Battle of Actium on the notion of Roman governance, imperial identity in the lifetime of the princeps, and the Roman pantheon in general. Before Zachos' study, Robert Gurval in his study, Actium and Augustus (Ann Arbor, 2002), took the position that the importance of Actium had been overplayed in the scholarship of recent decades, and he attempted to dissociate from Actium the Augustan projects at Rome, preferring instead to empower the poets, particularly Virgil, as a significant source of Actian propaganda. How does one square the events leading up to 31, the events of 31 proper, the concerted efforts of Augustus throughout his career to bring greater glory to Apollo, and the literary results in the poetry of the so-called Augustan age?
John Miller's volume on Apolline poetics, which has recently received meritorious recognition as the 2010 recipient of the Charles J. Goodwin award, addresses this and many other important questions: when did Octavian begin to cultivate an association to the god Apollo?; why Apollo?; and in what way does the poetry of the age reflect that association? As the title promises, Miller presents extensive and useful analyses of the degree to which the poets "test the limits of Apollo as a signifier of Augustus in Augustan poetry" (299), giving us a detailed account of the intersections between Aeneas, Apollo, and Augustus in the Aeneid and between other poets, Augustus, and Apollo in their various works. The book does more than that: Miller provides us with background on the relationship between Octavian and Apollo, topographical and symbolic analysis of the Apolline monuments in Rome, and reexamination of the aims and achievements of the ludi saeculares in 17 B.C.E.
How Apollo came to matter to the Romans is an important theological as well as political question. Apollo existed in the Roman pantheon primarily as a healer "of no particular prominence" (M. Beard, J. North, and S. Price. Roman Religion. Volume 1: A History [Cambridge 1998] 199). Over the course of his work, Miller demonstrates the degree to which Octavian promoted Apollo to the important role of victor at Actium, protector of Rome, and even harbinger of the new epoch. In the process Miller reminds us (especially in chap. 1) that during the triumviral period several individuals associated themselves and their families [End Page 157] with various deities, particularly on coins, to promote power and to promise renewal (18-30). Mark Antony's Dionysus or Sol, Sextus Pompey's Neptune, or Brutus' Apollo, could just as easily have enjoyed prominence on the Palatine at Rome. Yet it was Octavian who emerged from the civil wars as winner, and therefore his Apollo—possibly his favored deity as early as 42 B.C.E.—took the place of honor near the emperor's palace.
Miller is more willing than Gurval to see connections between Apollo Palatinus and Apollo Actius (191 and chap. 4, in general), although he is cautious about summoning up triumviral coins or the famous "Banquet of the Twelve Gods" (dodekatheos) reported by Suetonius (Aug. 70) as evidence that Octavian was trying in the late 40's and early 30's B.C.E. to pair himself with Phoebus as his patron god (19). Miller tries...