He tried to bring back better ways to Rome, which was in a sad state, full of vice and riot, and with little of the old, noble, hardy ways of the former times. The educated men had studied Greek philosophy till they had no faith in their own gods, and, indeed, had so mixed up their mythology with the Greek that they really did not know who their own were, and could not tell who were the greater gods whom Decius Mus invoked before he rushed on the enemy; and yet they kept up their worship, because their feasts were so connected with the State that everything depended on them; but they made them no real judges or helpers. The best men of the time were those who had taken up the Stoic philosophy, which held that virtue was above all things, whether it was rewarded or not; the worst were often the Epicureans, who held that we had better enjoy all we can in this life, being sure of nothing else.
Learning was much esteemed in the time of Augustus. He and his two great friends, Caius Cilnius Maecenas and Vipsanius Agrippa, both had a great esteem for scholarship and poetry, and in especial the house of Maecenas was always open to literary men. The two chief poets of Rome, Publius Virgilius Maro and Quintus Horatius Flaccus, were warm friends of his. Virgil wrote poems on husbandry, and short dialogue poems called eclogues, in one of which he spoke of the time of Augustus in words that would almost serve as a prophecy of the kingdom of Him who was just born at Bethlehem. By desire of Augustus, he also wrote the AEneid, a poem on the war-doings of AEneas and his settlement in Italy.
Horace wrote odes and letters in verse and satires, which show the habits and ways of thinking of his time in a very curious manner; and there were many other writers whose works have not come down to us; but the Latin of this time is the model of the language, and an Augustan age has ever since been a term for one in which literature flourishes.
All the early part of Augustus’ reign was prosperous, but he had no son, only a daughter named Julia. He meant to marry her to Marcellus, the son of his sister Antonia, but Marcellus died young, and was lamented in Virgil’s AEneid; so Julia was given to Agrippa’s son. Augustus’ second wife was Livia, who had been married to Tiberius Claudius Nero, and had two sons, Tiberius and Drusus, whom Augustus adopted as his own and intended for his heirs; and when Julia lost her husband Agrippa and her two young sons, he forced Tiberius to divorce the young wife he really loved to marry her. It was a great grief to Tiberius, and seems to have quite changed his character into being grave, silent, and morose. Julia, though carefully brought up, was one of the most wicked and depraved of women, and almost broke her father’s heart. He banished her to an island near Rhegium, and when she died there, would allow no funeral honors to be paid to her.
[Illustration: PAINTINGS IN THE HOUSE OF LIVIA.]