The Sidus Iulium, The Divinity of Men, And the Golden Age

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© Mary Frances Williams

The Sidus Iulium, the divinity of men, and the Golden Age

in Virgil’s Aeneid


ABSTRACT: This paper investigates all passages in Virgil’s Aeneid that allude to

Julius Caesar’s comet of 44 BC and the star of Venus. Because Caesar’s comet was believed to indicate his divinity, Virgil’s comet, star, and flame imagery and references to being raised to the heavens, becoming a god, or seeming like a god suggest Caesar’s divinity. Furthermore, since the comet of 44 was believed to herald the beginning of the Golden Age of Augustus’ reign, such imagery also refers to Augustus. The numerous references to stars, comets, flames, and being raised to the stars in the Aeneid, all of which appear in conjunction with Aeneas, Iulus, Caesar, and Augustus, indicate that Virgil used the iconography of Caesar’s comet and the star of Venus in order to glorify the Julian line, particularly Augustus. Through this imagery Virgil not only emphasized the achievements and divinity of Caesar but also those of Augustus.

1. Introduction

This paper aims to investigate how Julius Caesar’s comet of 44 BC and the star of Venus function in the Aeneid. In order to understand whether comet imagery plays a significant role in the epic, it is necessary to investigate all passages that allude to Caesar’s comet or star. Previous scholarship that has considered this topic, i.e. the treatment of Julius Caesar, his comet of 44 BC. (sidus Iulium),1 and his divinity in the Augustan poets, falls into four main groups. The first is older literary commentary that finds little mention of Caesar in Augustan literature and believes that this is because Augustus was uncomfortable at reminders of Caesar’s dictatorship. White has refuted this approach since he has demonstrated that Caesar figures prominently in the Augustan poets in comparison to other historical figures.2 There are also those who use the poets as minor sources in their inquiries into the scientific background of the comet and its date.3 Thirdly, there is speculation about whether Julius Caesar is referred to in specific passages, such as at Aeneid 1.286. Finally, the Augustan poets are cited in order to bolster historical, artistic, or numismatic analysis. Among these various investigations, Wagenvoort has the clearest summary of the sources for the comet of 44 BC and their relationship to Caesar and Augustus; and although he is 1 The sidus Iulium takes its name from Horace (C. 1.12.46-8: micat inter omnis Iulium sidus velut

inter ignis luna minores), a poem composed c. 24 BC. The text of Virgil is Mynors’.

2 Summarized in White (1988) 334 n.2. White (1988) 346-7 collects passages that refer to Caesar

in the Augustan poets, including a few ambiguous ones. See Syme (1939) 218-20 and Green (1932) 407-8, who says that Virgil minimizes Julius Caesar, only mentioning him directly (6.826-35) in order to deplore civil strife so that the glory of Augustus might be enhanced (also Pinchon (1917); Gundolf (1928) 31-2; Spaeth (1933); Powell (1992) 145-6). Mattingly says the same thing about Augustus’ coinage, i.e. that Augustus had no reason to link the prosperity of his reign with Caesar (Mattingly (1934) 163).


primarily interested in Virgil’s Eclogue 4 and its connection to the Julian comet, he also has some acute comments on the Aeneid.4 Bömer interprets Eclogue 5 in relation to Caesar’s comet,5 and Weinstock and Scott collect some numismatic and other artistic representations.6 However, there has been little scholarly mention of references to Caesar’s comet in the Aeneid and interest in the comet has been rare in the last fifty years. Discussions that do exist do not consider all possible references to the divinity of Julius Caesar in the Aeneid and therefore a complete examination is lacking.

This paper considers Virgilian passages that may not expressly mention Julius Caesar but which nevertheless strongly suggest him through allusions to a comet, flame, or star, or to being raised to the stars. This is the perspective of West, who has collected a number of passages from the Aeneid which contain flames, stars, and comets, and has associated them all with Caesar’s comet of 44 BC, which appeared as Augustus was celebrating games in Caesar’s honor.7 I build upon West’s helpful collection, expanding rather than disagreeing with his selections and conclusions. Because the Aeneid was composed in order to glorify the achievements of the Julian line,8 since both Caesar and Augustus identified themselves with Aeneas,9 and since the divinity of Romans was quite exceptional throughout Roman Republican history, references to comets, being raised to the heavens, becoming a god, or being favored so as to seem like a god in the Aeneid are assumed to represent Caesar’s divinity and a future divinity for Augustus. Furthermore, since the comet of 44 BC was believed to herald the beginning of the Golden Age of Augustus’ reign, there exists an ambiguity about whether allusions to Caesar’s comet and divinity in the Aeneid only refer to Caesar or whether Augustus is also suggested. I therefore go beyond West and investigate additional passages in the Aeneid in order to collect all possible references to both Caesar and Augustus and to the Golden Age.10

It is best to begin with Pliny because he quotes the Vita of Augustus (Caes. Aug. Vita fr. 6) and he was closely copied by many other sources, such as Suetonius (Suet. Iul. 88).11 Pliny says that the only place in the world where a comet (cometes) is an object of worship is a temple at Rome where a comet, which appeared shortly after the death of Julius Caesar in 44 BC and when Augustus (Octavian) was gaining power, is worshipped. The comet (sidus

4 Wagenvoort (1929/1956). 5 Bömer (1952).

6 Weinstock (1971) 370-84; Scott (1941); de Schodt (1887); Gurval (1996).

7 West (1991). West cites Aen. 2.682-704 (comet); 2.682-6 (flame over Iulus); 1.286-690

(Caesar/Augustus); 5.519-34 (flaming arrow); 6.777-80 (plumes over Romulus); 8.678-81 (star over Augustus); 10.267-75 (flame over Aeneas).

8 E.g. Drew (1927) and Hardie (1998). 9 Evans (1992) 42, 44-6.

10 Since Virgil had already proclaimed the future divinity of Augustus in the Georgics (Georg.

1.42, 4.560-62), it is reasonable that he would include it in the Aeneid. But Taylor (1931) 176 finds a ‘comparative lack of emphasis on the future apotheosis of Augustus in the Aeneid’, and says that this is appropriate because the epic looks at the immediate present, the Rome of Augustus, in relation to the past and is not concerned with the distant future.


crinitum) appeared while a member of the college founded by Augustus was

celebrating in honor of Venus Genetrix, during the games for Caesar. Augustus thought that the comet was propitious for himself. But he made a proclamation to the Roman people, who thought that the comet (sidus) was the soul of Caesar being received among the gods, that the emblem of a star (sidus) would be added to the bust of Caesar that Augustus dedicated in the forum. Pliny adds that Augustus secretly believed that the comet referred to himself, not Caesar, and that it contained his own birth within it. Pliny also says that the comet made the world prosperous (Pliny HN 2.93).

This interesting passage connects together the comet in 44 BC, Caesar, and Augustus. It also connects the comet with a temple at Rome, worship of the comet, worship of Caesar, the star in the iconography of Caesar, and the Golden Age, since Pliny’s reference to the prosperity of the world brought about by the comet’s appearance must be a reference to the Golden Age of Augustus. The comet may also be associated with Venus Genetrix, the special protector of Caesar, since the comet appeared during worship for Venus, since the planet or star Venus was believed to be the goddess herself,12 and since Caesar proclaimed his descent from the goddess through star imagery. Thus, references to comets, the divinity of men, and comet, flame, and star imagery in the Aeneid are investigated in relation to Caesar, Augustus, and the Golden Age.

2. A comet and the star of Venus

Virgil mentions the Julian comet that appeared in 44 BC (which he calls a star) in his Ninth Eclogue, the earliest literary source for Caesar’s comet (42 BC):

ecce Dionaei processit Caesaris astrum, astrum quo segetes gauderent frugibus et quo duceret apricis in collibus uua colorem. (Ecl. 9.47-9)

Virgil’s lines imply that Caesar is entering into heaven as a star while the poet watches. Servius explains that ‘Dionean’ refers to the mother of Venus (Serv. Dan.

ad Ecl. 9.46), which is appropriate since Caesar proclaimed his family’s descent

from Venus (Suet. Iul. 6.1).13 According to Virgil, Caesar’s comet and his ascent to heaven aroused a glad response from nature and produced widespread fertility and prosperity.

Since Virgil was aware of the Julian comet and of its significance for both Caesar and Augustus, the comet at Troy in Book 2 of the Aeneid is one of the most

12 Cic. ND 2.52.1; Weinstock (1971) 373. The sea nymphs address Aeneas as a ‘scion of gods’

(deum gens,/ Aenea 10.228-9) and Aeneas is called ‘goddess born’ and ‘son of Venus’ many times in the Aeneid. Venus calls Ascanius grandson and she also both appears to Aeneas and intercedes with Jupiter on his behalf. The Iulii traced their lineage back to Venus, and by these references Virgil gives validity both to Aeneas’ greatness and to Julius Caesar’s claim to a divine ancestry. Caesar adopted the star of Venus as his special symbol; consequently references to Venus in the Aeneid suggest her star and its association with Caesar. But it is not possible to include all references to Venus in the Aeneid in this discussion.

13 Ovid depicts Venus lifting the soul of Caesar up to the stars where he becomes a star (Ov. Met.


obvious allusions to the Julian comet in the epic. After a flame appears over the head of Ascanius and in response to Anchises’ prayer inquiring about the meaning of the omen, a comet with a fiery tail, which Virgil calls a star (stella 2.694; sidus 2.700), shoots across the sky. Anchises interprets it as an augurium (2.703) from the gods that indicates that the Trojans must leave Troy (2.701-4). Bömer says that the Virgilian comet functions as a symbol for the divinity of the Julian family14 and that the flame over Iulus’ head and the auspicium of the comet is influenced by the sidus Iulium.15 Wagenvoort connects both the flame over Ascanius’ head and the comet in Book 2 directly with the Julian comet, saying that Virgil ‘transported’ the sidus Iulium back to the ‘mythological pre-history of Rome’.16 West also connects the Virgilian comet in Book 2 with the sidus Iulium, saying that it represents Caesar’s comet.17

De Witt, however, associates the comet in Book 2 with the star of Venus, which according to Varro was the star that led Aeneas from Troy to Italy (Serv. ad

Aen. 2.801; 1.382).18 De Witt notes that the star of Venus appeared to Anchises and Aeneas over Ida as Aeneas lifted his father onto his shoulders and left Troy (iamque iugis summae surgebat Lucifer Idea, Aen. 2.801).19 Moreover, when Aeneas encounters Venus in Carthage, he ironically informs her that his ‘mother showed him the way’ from Troy (matre dea monstrante uiam data fata secutus 1.382)—a line which Servius says refers to the star of Venus guiding Aeneas from Troy.20 Virgil merges the comet/star in Book 2 together with the star of Venus, since both function in the Aeneid as divinely-sent signs for Aeneas and both ‘point out the way’ for him (signantemque uias 2.697 = matre monstrante uiam 1.382). Because the appearance of the star of Venus occurs so soon after that of the comet in Aeneid 2, Virgil implies that one star is the same as the other: the comet/star lingers in the heavens for days, just as the sidus Iulium reportedly did.

Caesar was particularly fond of Venus, whom he considered his ancestor, and he used her iconography, especially her star, to emphasize his divine lineage.21 Thus the comet and the star of Venus in Book 2 allude both to Caesar’s comet/star of 44 BC and to Caesar’s use of the iconography of the star of Venus. Furthermore, Anchises is said to ‘worship the holy star’—the comet that appeared

14 Bömer (1952) 31.

15 Bömer (1952) 43. According to Heinze (1993) 33, both the flame over Ascanius’ head and the

comet are described by Virgil in such a way as to illustrate the practices of Roman divination. Heinze links the comet with the auspicium maximum—lightning out of the left in a clear sky— which legend said first appeared either to Aeneas or Ascanius in battle (Plut. Qu. R. 78; Dion. Hal. 2.5.5; Aen. 9.630-1 of Ascanius; Aen. 8.523-7, Aeneas’ arms).

16 Wagenvoort (1929/1956) 15. 17 West (1991) 9.

18 De Witt (1923) 40.

19 De Witt (1923) 40. Pliny (Pliny HN. 2.36) says that the star is Lucifer. Cf. Ap. Rhod. 4.294-7;

Clare (2002) 118.

20 Serv. ad Aen. 1.382; 2.801. Servius also interprets Aen. 2.620 in the same way—as promises

from Venus that she will always be with Aeneas.

21 Appian reports that Caesar once sacrificed to Venus before battle and vowed a temple to her.

Immediately after, a flame flew through the air to Pompey’s camp, and Caesar interpreted it as meaning victory (Appian BC 2.10.68).


at Troy (sanctum sidus adorat 2.700). Since Pliny reports that the only comet worshipped in the world was the sidus Iulium, this indicates that the comet at Troy in Aeneid 2 alludes to the sidus Iulium and that Anchises’ worship anticipates Roman worship of Caesar’s comet. But the ‘holy star’ may also be interpreted as the star of Venus since the star was considered to be Venus herself, and Anchises could be worshipping the ancestress of both Aeneas and the Iulii. Both interpretations lead to the Iulii, and both suggest Caesar.

3. Star and flame imagery

The literary sources for the comet of 44 BC are vague: the comet is usually called a star (astrum; Dio calls it astron; Pliny, sidus and sidus crinitum; Suetonius, stella), and it is important to realize that Augustan literature avoids the word comet, possibly because of the bad connotation which comets had in antiquity.22 Consequently, as West notes, emphasis should not be placed on the astronomical differences between meteors, comets, stars, and shooting stars when speaking of the sidus Iulium—a degree of poetic license is allowed.23 Because Caesar had already used the star of Venus as his symbol, many Romans not only thought that the comet of 44 was a star but associated the comet with the star of Venus, Caesar’s particular star.

The Iulian clan had a long connection with Venus before Caesar. The star of Venus (the goddess Venus herself)24 was believed to have guided Aeneas, the son of Venus, from Troy to Italy (Serv. ad Aen. 1.382; 2.801). Caesar claimed that his family descended from Venus (Suet. Iul. 6.1) and he always honored the goddess.25 Caesar issued coins that depict Venus’ head,26 and several of Caesar’s types also display both Venus and her star on the reverse.27 Among these, a coin of Sepullius Macer dated shortly before Caesar’s death represents Caesar’s head on the obverse and Venus with her star on the reverse,28 and another coin of Caesar’s displays Venus on the obverse with the star in her hair, and a trophy (victory in Gaul) on the reverse.29 Since these coins indicate that Caesar deliberately used

22 De Schodt (1887) 345 & n.4; Wagenvoort (1929/1956) 11. E.g. Pliny HN 2.23; Luc. Phar.

1.529; Virg. Georg. 1.487-8.

23 West (1991) 11. See Ramsey & Licht (1997) 157 for the language. De Schodt (1887) 351-2 does

distinguish between the star of Venus and the sidus Iulium on the coins.

24 Weinstock (1971) citing Cic. ND 2.39, 42. See also Cic. Rep. 6.17 where Venus is said to be a


25 Appian BC 2.10.68; 15.104; Dio Cass. 43.43.

26 Venus on the obverse of Caesar’s coins: Crawford RRC 458 (BMCRR East 31); RRC 481

(BMCRR Rome 4129); RRC 482 (BMCRR Spain 70). On reverse: Crawford RRC 480, 5b (BMCRR Rome 4165); RRC 480, 11 (BMCRR Rome 4168); RRC 480, 18 (BMCRR Rome 4164).

27 RRC 480, 11 (BMCRR Rome 4168); RRC 480, 14 (BMCRR Rome 4175); RRC 480, 18 (BMCRR

Rome 4164).

28 RRC 480, 18 (BMCRR Rome 4164 pl. 54.15). Weinstock (1971) 377 dates the coin to shortly

before Caesar’s death and says that the star is the star of Venus, which Caesar used to refer to the Aeneas legend.

29 Weinstock (1971) 377 dates this coin to 48 BC. This may be a coin of 48 that Crawford and

Grueber say depicts Pietas, not Venus. But there is a denarius of Caesar dated 46-45 BC which shows Venus with a Cupid and a six-pointed star in her hair on the obverse (RRC 468 (BMCRR Spain 86 pl. CI. 9)).


Venus and her star as his symbols, it is understandable that the Romans interpreted the comet of 44 as the appearance of the star of Venus and as a sign from the goddess, the special protectress of Caesar, indicating both her favor for Caesar and Caesar’s divinity. After Caesar’s death, the sidus Iulium and the star of Venus became virtually identical and indistinguishable in the iconography.

Augustus led the way in interpreting the Julian comet as a star which ratified the connection between Caesar and Venus and which confirmed Caesar’s divinity. Augustus set up Caesar’s statue in the forum with the star behind Julius’ head and the inscription Caesari emitheo (Serv. Dan. ad Ecl. 9.47). Augustus declared that the comet was Caesar’s (ille eam esse confirmavit parentis sui, Serv. ad. Ecl. 9.47), urged interpretation of the star as the star of Caesar (sidus Caesaris putatum

est Augusto persuadente, Serv. ad. Aen. 8.681), and added the star to all statues of

Julius Caesar that he erected (Serv. Dan. ad. Aen. 8.681).30 Augustus also reportedly added the star as an adornment to the deified Caesar’s statue because the star appeared at the games held in honor of Venus (Julius Obsequens

Prodigiorum Liber 68)—i.e. the comet represented the star of Venus. Augustus

clearly wanted the comet/star to be interpreted both as the star of Venus and as Caesar deified. The appearance of the sidus Iulium during games for Caesar and while a priest was sacrificing to Venus Genetrix, the ancestress of the Iulii, was profoundly symbolic and a confirmation of Caesar’s divinity.31

But the imagery of the comet/star also was associated with Augustus. The temple of Divus Iulius appeared on Augustus’ coins seven years before its dedication in 29 BC. Augustus’ head is on a coin with the inscription IMP. CAESAR DIVI F. On the reverse, Caesar is depicted in the middle of his temple as pontifex maximus, DIV(us) IUL(ius), and with his star above.32 This coin indicates that Caesar and his star were worshipped in the temple of Divus Iulius.33 Several coins with Augustus’ head on the obverse depict the Julian comet and have the inscription DIVUS IULIUS on the reverse.34 Another type, dated between 42 and 39 has Octavian’s head with the star and DIVI F. on the obverse, and DIVOS IULIUS on the reverse.35 There is also an aureus with the head of Augustus and reverse with a Capricorn, a star above, and inscription

30 See Dio 45.7.1: Augustus putting star on statues. Also Gsell (1899) 37-43 Pl. II; RE 10, 282-3. 31 Caesar was declared one of the gods by decree of the Senate (Plut. Caes. 67.8).

32 Crawford, RRC 540 Pl. LXIV (BMCRR Africa 32, 33); Trillmich (1988) 502. Scott (1941) 262-3

mentions several other similar coins.

33 Servius (Serv. Dan. ad Ecl. 9.47) says that Augustus placed the star over the head of Caesar’s

statue on the Capitoline that was dedicated in 46 (Weinstock (1971) 41 n.6; Dio 43.14.6). The temple of Divus Iulius was not completed and dedicated until 29, but the statue in it may have been housed in the temple of Venus and later moved (cf. Pesce (1933) 403, who finds that three statues of Caesar were distinguished by a star, one on the Capitol, one in the temple of Venus, and one in the temple of Caesar). Although Dio says that Augustus set up Caesar’s statue with its star in the temple of Venus in the Julian Forum (Dio 45.7.1; RE Suppl.4, 819), this coin indicates that Caesar was worshipped in the temple of Divus Iulius (Scott (1941) 262-3; Zanker (1988) 34-5; Jordan (1875) 343).

34 Mattingly BMCRE I p.63 no. 357 (pl. 7.9); p.59 nos. 323-8 (pl. 6.6-8); Trillmich (1988)

513-514. De Schodt (1887) 376-9 & pls. XIV & XV. De Schodt also shows coins with Caesar’s head, DIVI IULI, and a comet on the obverse and CAESAR DIVI F. on the reverse.


AUGUSTUS.36 Two other coin types are: one c. 31-29 BC with the head of Octavian and on the reverse Venus Victrix holding a helmet, spear, and shield with a star on it and the inscription CAESAR DIVI F.;37 the other c. 29 BC depicts Mars and on the reverse a shield inscribed CAESAR with an eight-rayed star on the boss.38 Scott says that Mars and the shield are a tribute to Augustus’ generalship and the star is the sidus Iulium.39 Further, a coin issued in 44 by Sepullius Macer depicts Caesar’s head and comet, and Venus with scepter and star on the reverse.40 This coin indicates that the sidus Iulium has merged with the star of Venus. All these coins associate Caesar’s comet, star imagery, and divinity with Augustus’ reign.41

Other coins include those issued by Agrippa in 38 that display a star in front of Caesar’s forehead, which Scott identifies as the sidus Iulium;42 and there are gems of the period with the same iconography.43 L. Lentulus issued a coin depicting Augustus placing a star over the head of Caesar (of unknown date but after 44 BC).44 All of these coins indicate that Augustus’ contemporaries and friends were aware Augustus desired to associate himself with Caesar’s star and divinity in his own coinage and that they helped promote the association through their coins.

An additional piece of evidence is a marble bas-relief found at Carthage that is a copy of a sculpture of the Augustan period, possibly of a statue group from the temple of Mars Ultor at Rome. Gsell interprets the three figures on the relief from left to right as Venus Genetrix with a small Cupid (a statue of whom stood in the temple of Mars Ultor next to Mars (Ov. Trist. 295-6)), an armed Mars in the center with a shield, and the deified Caesar with a hole for a bronze star to be affixed near his head, which Gsell identifies based on the sidus Iulium.45 This is further support for connecting Caesar, Venus, the sidus Iulium, and Caesar’s great deeds in war. The relief demonstrates that the iconography of the deified Julius Caesar was important during the reign of Augustus and that it spread throughout the Empire.

36 BMCRR East 286 (dated about 27 BC).

37 Zanker (1988) 35-6 (fig. 27b) who says that this is a coin from the East. Mattingly BMCRE I

p.98 (pl. 14.6). See BMCRR Rome 4333 dated 36-29 BC; Trillmich (1988) 508.

38 Zanker (1988) 35-6. BMCRR Rome 4368; Trillmich (1988) 506-7.

39 Scott (1941) 263-4, quoting Grueber BMCRR (1910) 14. Mars Ultor represented the ultor

parentis patriae.

40 Crawford RRC 480, 5a (BMCRR Rome 4167 pl. 54.17 dated 44 BC. Scott (1941) 261 thinks that

the coin depicts the sidus Iulium on both sides.

41 Weinstock (1971) 377-8.

42 Weinstock (1971) 378; Scott (1941) 262. Crawford RRC 534, 1 (BMCRR Gaul 102 (pl. CV.8)).

Gurval (1996) 54-5 notes bronze coins of Octavian from Lugdunum with a star imposed upon a globe, which he refuses to connect with the sidus Iulium but which may well allude to it. There also is a bronze coin from Sinope with a star of eight rays next to a head of either Caesar or Augustus (RPC 2116, c. 24-23 BC).

43 See Pesce (1933) for discussion and plates. Scott (1941) 260-61. 44 Weinstock (1971) 379. Mattingly BMCRE I p.26, no. 124, pl. 4.14. 45 Gsell (1899) 40-41.


Another marble relief found at Anzio depicts the profile of Augustus with a large star or comet to his left and the inscriptions DIVVS and CAESAR.46 The star has six rays and a flower-like flame from its top. Although this relief is dated after Augustus, it provides more evidence that Caesar’s star was associated with divinity and that Augustus adopted it for himself.

Virgil makes the connection between the sidus Iulium and Augustus explicit in the Aeneid. Aeneas’ shield depicts Augustus at the battle of Actium with twin flames above his head and with the very comet that appeared in 44 BC above him:

hinc Augustus agens Italos in proelia Caesar patribus populoque, penatibus et magnis dis, stans celsa in puppi, geminas cui tempora flammas laeta uomunt patriumque aperitur uertice sidus. (Aen. 8.678-81)

Since patrium sidus means the comet/star of Caesar, Caesar’s comet/star iconography is transferred directly to Augustus.47 Through the inclusion of the

sidus Iulium these lines confirm that an age of prosperity has commenced with

Augustus’ victory, one that the sidus Iulium had heralded years before; they also recall the comet/star in Aeneid 2 that signalled the beginning of Rome. Wagenvoort links the two passages by noting that Ascanius’ flame followed by the comet in Book 2 is paralleled by Virgil’s depiction of Augustus with flames on his head and the patrium sidus—the star of Augustus’ father Julius Caesar—above him (8.681).48 But Warde Fowler makes an additional point: he connects the

patrium sidus with both the star of Venus and the sidus Iulium, saying that the star

in Book 8 is a sign of divinity which reminds of the star which guided Aeneas to Italy. Warde Fowler asserts that the star belongs with the Julian family tradition and does not refer just to Julius Caesar.49 The sidus Iulium now honors Augustus; its position above Augustus’ head recalls how Augustus signified the divinity of his father Caesar by placing stars above Caesar’s statues. The star above Augustus similarly indicates that Augustus has become divine; it likens Augustus to Caesar.

West connects the twin flames above Augustus’ head with the twin crests on the helmet of Romulus that Aeneas observes in the underworld (geminae stant

uertice cristae 6.777-80).50 This creates a parallel between Augustus and Romulus, who was the son of Mars and was the deified Quirinus. Virgil says that Mars honored Romulus with his own sign (et pater ipse suo superum iam signat

honore 6.780). Augustus’ twin flames can also be interpreted as a sign from Mars,

one that is appropriate for a great battle and which gives Augustus military authority. Additionally, the twin flames above Augustus’ head at Actium equal the

46 Pesce (1933) 410-11 with photograph, who, however, thinks that this represents Caesar.

47 Binder (1971) 226-7; Grassmann-Fisher (1966) 23-7; Botha (1991) 14. De Schodt (1887) 352

believes that the star Virgil places above Augustus is the star of Venus that Caesar adopted as his own sign, not the comet of 44, but either interpretation increases the connection between the divine Caesar and Augustus.

48 Wagenvoort (1929/1956) 16. R. Williams (1973) ad 8.680-81 also remarks on the parallel

between the flames.

49 Warde Fowler (1917) 110-11. Also Binder (1971) 230.


plumes like fire on the helmet of Aeneas (8.620). This increases the family connections between Augustus, Ascanius/Iulus, Aeneas, Romulus, and Mars and proclaims the divinity of the family.

The flames above Augustus’ head on the shield of Aeneas should also be linked with the flames that appeared above the heads of Aeneas and Iulus. Virgil reports a flame over Aeneas’ head ‘like a comet’ just before he begins battle in Latium:

ardet apex capiti cristisque a uertice flamma funditur et uastos umbo uomit aureus ignis: non secus ac liquida si quando nocte cometae sanguinei lugubre rubent, aut Sirius ardor (Aen. 10.270-73)

These flames shooting from Aeneas’ helmet and shield, which the poet likens to comets glowing red in a clear night or the star Sirius, recall the flame over Iulus in Book 2 immediately before the comet. The simile, which contains both comets and star, increases the connections between comet, star, and divine flame. West says that Aeneas’ flaming head refers to the star that Augustus put over the statues of Caesar,51 and he is surely correct. The comets and the star of the simile look back to the comet/star and the star of Venus in Book 2 and also recall the Julian comet.52 But the association is not merely Julian but is also Augustan: the flames appear above Aeneas’ head at the moment when, like Augustus at Actium, Aeneas is leading his fleet into battle, immediately before he commences war. It is an omen that marks the beginning of a new era, just as the comet in Book 2 announced that it was time for the Trojans to found Rome (when Anchises in prayer speaks of Troy (2.703), Rome is meant)53 and just as Caesar’s comet proclaimed a new Golden Age was about to begin. Aeneas’ flame with its comet and star simile looks ahead to Augustus’ reign just as much if not more than it alludes to Caesar’s apotheosis.

The flame above the head of Ascanius/Iulus (2.682-4) makes him a prototype of Augustus, who is also depicted with flames in the Aeneid (8.680).54 Just as the divinely favored Iulus will be a great king, so Augustus will rule in peace and prosperity. West says that the fire over the head of Iulus is ‘holy’ (sanctos 2.686) like the comet (sanctum 2.700) and that it predicts the comet’s appearance.55 Weinstock interprets the flame over Iulus as a manifestation of his divine descent

51 West (1991) 14. E.g. Suet. Caes. 88; Serv. Dan. ad Ecl. 9.46; Serv. ad Aen. 8.681.

52 R. Williams (1973) ad 272 says that the comets equal the comet of 44 BC. Cf. Binder (1971)


53 West (1991) 9.

54 Wagenvoort (1929/1956) 16. Bömer (1951) 42-43; R. Williams (1973) ad 8.680-81.

Grassmann-Fischer (1966) 19-22 notes verbal parallels between the flame over Iulus’ head, the flames above Augustus in Book 8, and the flame over the head of Aeneas in Book 10. Binder (1971) 227-8 links together the flames over the heads of Iulus in Book 2, Aeneas in Book 10, and Augustus in Book 8. The flame over the head of Achilles in the Iliad was sent by the gods (Il. 18.213-27, 242).

55 West (1993) 16. Hall (1986) 2582 follows Wagenvoort (1929/1956) 15-16 in saying that the

flame over Ascanius should be connected with the sidus Iulium. R. Williams (1973) ad 8.680-81 says that the flame gives a ‘supernatural’ connotation to Augustus, Iulus, and Lavinia.


from Aeneas, especially since the Iulii later worshipped Aeneas as Jupiter and Iulus as the son of Jupiter,56 and there is a divine connotation to both the Iulian flame and the comet/star in the Aeneid. The twin plumes on the crest of Romulus are another example of headgear with a divine aura. The poet calls them the distinguishing mark of Mars, bestowed on his son Romulus to indicate that he is destined to join the gods (et pater ipse suo superum iam signat honore 6.780).57 If the twin plumes signify Romulus’ divinity, then Augustus’ twin flames must mean his own. Romulus was distinguished by his father Mars’ sign of divine favor and of future divinity; Augustus, the son of the divine Julius Caesar, is likewise honored by the gods with an equally portentous sign. Iulus, Aeneas, and Augustus are all distinguished by divine signs over their heads; all are destined to become gods.

In 17 BC M. Sanquinius issued aurii and denarii depicting Caesar and his comet on the reverse. On the obverse was a messenger for the ludi saeculares, holding a caduceus and a shield embossed with a six-pointed star, wearing a helmet with two feathers, and with the inscription AUGUST[us] DIVI F[ilius] LUDOS SAE[culares].58 Although this coin appeared a few years after the publication of the Aeneid, it indicates ideas that were current at the time of the epic’s composition. The double plumes recall the Aeneid’s double plumes of Mars, of Iulus, and of Romulus and the twin flames over the head of Augustus at Actium. Augustus’ title, diui filius, suggests the divinity of Caesar and Augustus’ epithet in the Aeneid (diui genus 6.792).59 It is interesting that both Caesar’s comet and a star are depicted: the comet represents the comet of 44 and suggests that of Aeneid 2; the star on the shield recalls Caesar’s comet, the star of Venus, the stars that Augustus placed over Caesar’s statues, and the star above Augustus on Aeneas’ shield—all connected with the sidus Iulium. There is a conflation between the sidus Iulium and the star of Venus; Scott for example, says that both the comet and the star on the coin are the sidus Iulium.60 Furthermore, since the comet of 44 signified a new age, the coin’s imagery is appropriately associated with the ludi saeculares—the games that heralded a new saeculum.

The aurei and denarii minted by M. Sanquinius in 17 BC include another coin issued at the same time with the same reverse (Caesar with a comet) and with Augustus’ head on the obverse. Again, Augustus deliberately associated himself

56 Weinstock (1971) 19. See also Il. 18.203-14 where Athena throws a cloud around the head of

Achilles from which shoots flame towards the heavens as Achilles prepares to go to battle to avenge the death of Patroclus.

57 Servius says that superum means the gods above. Henry (1881-1889/1969) ad 6.777 accepts this

as an alternative reading, but Page (1914) ad 6.780 says that it merely means the world above, i.e. to be born.

58 Sutherland & Carson RIC I 2.66 nos.339-340. Mattingly BMCRE I.13 nos. 69-70 (pls. II.19-20

& III.1); Trillmich (1988) 520-21. Mattingly (1934) 164, however, says that the head is not Caesar but rather the young Iulus of the Aeneid. Boyce (1965) 1-3 finds that a double reference to Caesar and Iulus is possible but he prefers that the head represent the Genius of the Ludi Saeculares or of the New Age (ibid. 6-7).

59 Page (1914) ad 6.792 says that diui genus = diui filius and means Julius Caesar, father of



with the Julian star. Pollini notes that in this coin type, the idealized portraits of the deified Julius Caesar with the sidus Iulium over his head as an emblem of his divinity and of Augustus DIVI F. on the reverse are almost identical. This stresses the family relationship between the two and also Augustus’ own eventual divinity.61

A number of other passages in the Aeneid continue the star and flame imagery. In Book 5, Acestes’ flaming arrow, which he shoots in the air, is like a star shooting across the sky (5.527-8). The language is quite similar to that of the comet in Book 2.62 When Aeneas goes forth to meet Turnus in battle, Virgil calls Aeneas ‘the origin of the Roman race’, who ‘shines with a starry shield and heavenly arms’ (12.166-7).63 The ‘starry’ shield (a rare adjective), ‘shining’ Aeneas, the heavenly arms, and Roman descendants not only suggest the comet in Book 2, the flames over the heads of Aeneas and Ascanius, and the prophecy that

61 Mattingly BMCRE I p.13 nos.71-73 (17 BC); Pollini (1990) 334-63, 352-3; Gurval (1995)

283-5. Boyce (1965) 8-11 notes that coins with the two heads were issued in both gold and silver and appear to have held equal status with those that depicted the herald.

62 Henry (1881-1889/1969) ad 2.693; Grassmann-Fisher (1966) 90. The comet’s rays are also like

the comet of 44, which reportedly had ‘flowing hair’ (Avienius ap. Servius ad Aen. 10.272; Serv. ad Ecl. 9.47). Although Heinze thought that the star did not refer to the sidus Iulium (Heinze (1993) 133; R. Williams (1960) ad loc.), Drew argues that there are many parallels with Caesar (Drew (1927) 33, 43-9). Bömer (1952) 31 links the flaming arrow and comet in Book 2; Norden (1901) 262, 274 connects the games for Anchises and the arrow with the comet of 44 and Augustus’ games. De Witt (1920) 367 finds the arrow symbolic of the sidus Iulium. De Witt likewise connects the games of Anchises with the games for Venus, the arrow with the comet of 44; Venus Erycina with Venus Genetrix; Aeneas the son of Anchises with Augustus son of Iulius Caesar, and the priest and tomb of Anchises with the flamen and temple of Caesar (De Witt (1923) 41; De Witt (1920) 377; Bailey (1930) 294). Servius also connects the flaming arrow with the comet in Book 2. (Appian’s story of how Caesar once sacrificed to Venus and in response a flame flew through the air should be noted (Appian BC 2.10.68)). Wagenvoort comments on the close verbal connections between the flaming arrow and the comet in Book 2: both arrow and comet are great omens (5.522-3 = 2.703) (Wagenvoort (1929/1956) 26-7). Lawler finds parallels between the two comets, pater Anchises in both books, the two auguria, and the prayers of Anchises and Aeneas (Lawler (1988) 105-9). West agrees, linking the arrow to Caesar’s comet, the games in Book 5 to Caesar’s games, and noting that the arrow is a sign before the tomb of Anchises and the founding of Acesta, just as the comet was a sign to Augustus at the beginning of his reign that he would rule in prosperity (West (1993) 10-12; Bömer (1951) 43). Page (1914) ad 5.522 says that interpreting the flaming arrow as the sidus Iulium is a ‘good guess’. Galinsky (1968) 177-8 connects the arrow to the comet in Book 2 and says that it heralds the founding of Segesta and Rome. De Witt, however, has a slightly different perspective: he notes the parallels between the flaming arrow and the comet in Book 2, the star of Venus in Book 2, and the comet of 44 mentioned in Eclogue 9. He concludes that the flaming arrow signifies the apotheosis of Anchises just as the sidus Iulium indicated Caesar’s divinity (De Witt (1923) 40-41; De Witt (1920) 377). Henry (1881-1889/1969) ad 5.520 also connects the flaming arrow to Caesar’s comet, saying it indicates the apotheosis of Anchises. But Piganiol (1920) 279 says the flaming arrow announces the apotheosis of Aeneas. Pinchon (1916) connects the dove with Venus: since Venus was the protectress of Segesta, the flaming arrow and dove foretell the founding of her city. Lawler connects Acestes’ flaming arrow with Augustus’ victory at Actium, reportedly by flaming arrow (Dio Cass. 50.43; Lawler (1988) 108). Since Augustus interpreted the comet of 44 as his own divine sign, any connections between the flaming arrow and the sidus Iulium also proclaim the new reign of Augustus.

63 hinc pater Aeneas, Romanae stirpis origo,/ sidereo flagrans clipeo et caelestibus armis (Aen.


Aeneas will be raised to the stars but also look forward to the Roman race to come, to Caesar and Augustus,64 to the comet of 44, the stars over the heads of Caesar’s statues, and Caesar’s divinity. These lines should be contrasted with the description of Turnus, whom Virgil says has light gleaming from his eyes (12.102)—no flames overhead or double plumes, no stars or comets, no heavenly arms. Aeneas’ light is vertical, Turnus’ is horizontal; there is no similarity between them.

When Aeneas and Pallas ride forth to war, Pallas is said be ‘conspicuous in scarf and decorated arms just like the Morning Star (Lucifer), which Venus loves above all the starry fires, when dipped in the wave of the ocean he lifts up his sacred face to the heaven and dissolves the darkness’ (8.588-91).65 This passage directly mentions the star of Venus. The simile suggests Caesar, whom Venus presumably loved above all her descendants. The fire and star imagery and the heavens recall Caesar’s divinity. ‘Lifting his face to the heaven’ suggests being raised to the stars. Sacrum recalls the sacred flames over the head of Iulus and the sacred comet of Book 2 (2.686, 700), which are linked to Caesar’s sacred comet. But the fire imagery recalls the divine flames over Aeneas and Iulus, and the star also suggests Augustus in the Aeneid.

The star of Venus simile draws upon Callimachus’ Lock of Berenice (Aetia 4, fr. 110 Pf.) a poem that praised the catasterism of a lock of Berenice’s hair. The lock is dipped in the wave, lifted through the heavens, and placed in the lap of Venus (Call. fr. 110.55-6 Pf.); Virgil echoes these lines when he says that Venus loved the star dipped in the wave above all others (8.589). The lock predicts that the queen will honor divine Venus with festal lights while gazing at the stars (tu

uero, regina, tuens cum sidera diuam/ placabis festis luminibus Venerem Cat.

66.89-90); Virgil similarly has extulit os sacrum caelo (8.591) and Venus (8.590). Any possible allusions by Virgil to Callimachus’ Lock and Catullus 66 contribute to the theme of Caesar’s divinity and its connection with the star of Venus.

Virgil’s description of Pallas also echoes Andromache’s gifts to Iulus (3.483-4)66 and this creates a similarity between Iulus and Pallas, who are the hopes of their families and peoples. The star of Venus does not indicate a family relationship between the Iulii and Pallas but rather incorporates the Latins into the formation of Rome and connects Aeneas’ revenge for the death of Pallas with Augustus’ revenge for the death of Caesar.67 The star of Venus guided Aeneas to Italy; its application to Pallas indicates that Aeneas has arrived at Latium and points him on towards victory in war, the foundation of a new empire, and his eventual divinity.

64 R.D. Williams (1973) ad Aen.12.167 compares this passage with the star over Augustus on

Aeneas’ shield.

65 it medio, chlamyde et pictis conspectus in armis,/ qualis ubi Oceani perfusus Lucifer unda,/

quem Venus ante alios astrorum diligit ignis,/ extulit os sacrum caelo tenebrasque resoluit (Aen. 8.588-91). See also the stars that appear at the funeral of Pallas and other Trojan and Latin warriors (caelum stellis ardentibus aptum, Aen. 11.202).

66 fert picturatas auri subtemine uestis/ et Phrygiam Ascanio chlamydem (Aen. 3.483-4).

67 Augustus himself proclaimed that he drove the killers of Caesar into exile and defeated them in


Virgil says that the Lord of Fire (8.414, 423, 628) and his Cyclopes fashioned the shield of Aeneas from a thunderbolt of Jupiter. Three rays of hail, three of cloud, three of flame, and the south wind are added to it (8.426-30). Aeneas receives his arms, including the shield, from heaven while thunder crashes in a clear sky (8.523-9). Aeneas’ helmet flashes flames (8.620) and his sword and corselet gleam like the sun shining on a cloud (8.621-3). Augustus is portrayed in the center of the shield, leading his ships at Actium with flames over his head and his father’s star above him (8.675-81). The glow of the flames above Augustus is intensified by the shield’s composition of fire and lightning, its fiery creator, the

augurium that occurs when Aeneas receives his arms, and the flame that spouts

from Aeneas’ helmet. The fire, lightning, and thunder remind us of the augury of the comet in Book 2, as does mention of Caesar’s star, while all of the flame imagery suggests the flames that appeared over the heads of Aeneas and Iulus.

In Book 1, when the fog around Aeneas disperses and he stands revealed before Dido, his mother Venus causes a sunbeam to strike him. Aeneas is said to be ‘like a god’, and Venus decorates his hair and eyes so that he is like ivory or gold encircling silver or marble:

restitit Aeneas claraque in luce refulsit

os umerosque deo similis; namque ipsa decoram caesariem nato genetrix lumenque iuuentae purpureum et laetos oculis adflarat honores: quale manus addunt ebori decus, aut ubi flauo argentum Pariusue lapis circumdatur auro. (Aen. 1.588-93)

Aeneas, like Caesar, is honored by Venus so that he shines with light. caesariem (1.590), a rare word, suggests Caesar, as do deo similes (1.589) and nato genetrix (1.590). Another passage describes Ascanius in similar terms: the boy, ‘most deservedly dear to Venus’ (Veneris iustissima cura 10.132), whose head gleams like a jewel set in gold for a crown or necklace or ivory enclosed in wood, stands in the midst of warriors.68 References to silver, gold, marble, and ivory in both passages foreshadow Aeneas’ shield that depicts Augustus at Actium (8.671-3).69

After divine portents prevent Lavinia’s marriage to Turnus (7.58) and a prophet predicts the coming of Aeneas while setting fire to altars (7.68-71), Lavinia’s hair catches fire (7.73-7).70 All her ornate headgear burns with crackling noises: her regal hair and jewelled crown blaze; and wreathed in smoke and yellow light she scatters flames throughout the palace. The fires, which occur

68 ipse inter medios, Veneris iustissima cura,/ Dardanius caput ecce puer detectus honestum,/

qualis gemma micat, fuluum quae diuidit aurum,/ aut collo decus aut capiti, uel quale per artem/ inclusum buxo aut Oricia terebintho/ lucet ebur; fusos ceruix cui lactea crinis/ accipit et molli subnectens circulus auro (Aen. 10.132-8).

69 haec inter tumidi late maris ibat imago/ aurea, sed fluctu spumabant caerula cano,/ et circum

argento clari delphines in orbem (Aen. 8.671-3). The simile also suggests Caesar’s statues, embellished by stars.

70 uisa (nefas) longis comprendere crinibus ignem,/ atque omnem ornatum flamma crepitante

cremari,/ regalisque accensa comas, accensa coronam/ insignem gemmis; tum fumida lumine fuluo/ inuolui ac totis Volcanum spargere tectis (Aen. 7.73-7).


while rituals at an altar are performed after a prophecy and after portents appear, may be compared with the sacred flames over the heads of Aeneas, Iulus, and Augustus. Lavinia is marked in the same way that Aeneas, Iulus, and Augustus are. She, like them, is predicted to be ‘glorious in fame and fortune, yet to her people she will foretell a great war’ (fore inlustrem fama fatisque canebant/

ipsam, sed populo magnum portendere bellum 7.79-80).

4. Being raised to the stars

The idea of the divinity of humans was primarily an Eastern and Hellenistic Greek notion that gained some support from Stoicism71 and which entered Roman literature through Alexandrian poems such as Callimachus’ Lock of Berenice. But the Romans accepted that Romulus, the founder of Rome, had become a god (Livy 1.16.1-3; 1.40.3), and Aeneas was worshipped as a hero and as Jupiter (Livy 1.2.6). This concept is mentioned in Latin literature prior to Virgil: a line in Ennius says that ‘one man shall be raised to the heavens’ (unus erit quem tu tolles

ad caerula caeli templa Ann. 1.54 Skutsch) and Ennius’ Scipio discusses the

possibility of immortality: si fas endo plagas caelestum ascendere cuiquamest/ mi

soli caeli maxima porta patet (Lactant. div. inst. 1.18; Cic. Rep. fr. 6). Scipio

views divinity as something that a few may obtain after ascending to the heavens. Cicero likewise says that Romulus became a god through his deeds and virtue (Cic. Rep. 2.17) and he depicts Scipio being told to rise to the stars by pursuing

iustitia and pietas (ea vita via est in caelum Cic. Rep. 6.16; Tusc. Disp. 1.43).

The concept of human divinity was also Pythagorean since the Pythagorean doctrine of the immortality of the soul included the ascent of the soul to the stars at birth and its descent from them at death. Distinguished men were metaphorically called brilliant stars, and the stars and planets were associated with the gods.72 In the Aeneid, when Aeneas asks about the rebirth of souls he wonders if any souls ‘go to the heavens’ (o pater, anne aliquas ad caelum hinc ire

putandum est/ sublimes animas 6.719-20). When the Sibyl announces that it is

difficult for men to return from the underworld (sed reuocare gradum superasque

euadere ad auras,/ hoc opus, hic labor est 6.128-9), she implies both rebirth and

divinity (superas). These lines blur the distinction between rebirth and being raised to the heavens/becoming a god.

The Sibyl also tells Aeneas that a few men ‘born from the gods’ are raised to the heavens because they are loved by Jupiter or through virtue (pauci, quos

aequus amauit/ Iuppiter aut ardens euexit ad aethera uirtus,/ dis geniti potuere

6.129-31). This statement limits divinity to the divinely born like Aeneas (sate

sanguine diuum 6.125), who are blessed by Jupiter or exhibit great virtue. It hints

at the divinity of Aeneas, Caesar, and Augustus, all of whom are distinguished by descent from Jupiter (e.g. ab Ioue principium generis, Ioue Dardana pubes/

gaudet auo, rex ipse Iouis de gente suprema 7.219-20) and by their ‘virtue’.

71 Weinstock (1971) 372.

72 Weinstock (1971) 372; Cramer (1954) 78. See Nisbet and Hubbard (1970) 162-3, who give


The sidus Iulium not only confirmed that Caesar was a divinity but also proclaimed that he had attained the heights of heaven: he was a god with his own place among the stars. In the Aeneid, Jupiter promises Venus that she shall raise Aeneas to the stars (sublimemque feres ad sidera caeli/ magnanimam Aenean 1.259-60). Aeneas, like Caesar, will be honored with a place among the stars, lifted up by his mother Venus in honor of his ‘great heart’ and he will become divine.73 These lines (which echo Ennius (unus erit quem tu tolles ad caerula

caeli templa, Ann. 1.54 Skutsch) and Catullus (isque per aetherias me tollens auolat umbras/ et Veneris casto collocat in gremio Cat. 66.55-6 = Call. fr. 110

Pf.), clearly allude to the sidus Iulum and connect Aeneas with Caesar, who used his ancestress Venus in his iconography, who likewise attained a place among the stars,74 and whose mother Venus signified his elevation through her ‘star’—the comet. Since the only Romans who became divine and ascended to the heavens were Aeneas,75 Romulus,76 and Caesar, the similarity is increased.

The prophecy in Book 1 is balanced by a parallel passage in Book 12. Jupiter confronts Juno and declares that she knows that ‘Aeneas is the hero of the land, is owed to heaven, and that the fates raise him to the stars’ (indigetem Aenean scis

ipsa et scire fateris/ deberi caelo fatisque ad sidera tolli 12.794-5). According to

R. Williams, indigetem means ‘a national hero who is deified’, and Rowland says that this connects Aeneas with Julius Caesar.77 The language of being ‘owed to heaven’ and ‘raised to the stars’ strongly suggests both Romulus78 and Caesar. Aeneas, Romulus, and Caesar are all honored with divinity because they are heroes.

In Book 1, Jupiter mentions Aeneas’ descendants. He prophesies that a Caesar will be born of Trojan origin whose fame will reach to the stars and who, adorned with the spoils of the orient, will be worshipped, ‘his name being Iulius, from Great Iulus’ (1.286-90).79 The passage suggests both Augustus and Caesar.80 Although the deified Caesar was worshipped, believed to be among the stars, and

73 So Conway (1935) ad 1.259: Aeneas shall become a god; Botha (1991) 11-12. Page (1914) ad

1.250: in legend Aeneas did not die but was taken up to heaven where he became one of the di Indigites—one deified for his merits and worshipped as a hero.

74 E.g. Prop. 4.6.59; Val. Max. Facta et Dicta Mem. 3.2.19; 6.9.15; Ovid Met. 15.746-50, 840-50. 75 Aeneas became a hero and was called Jupiter (Livy 1.2.6: Iouem indigetem appellant).

76 Livy 1.16.1-3; 1.40.3; Cic. De Rep. 2.17; Dion. Hal. 2.56; Plut. Rom. 27; Ovid Fast. 2.491-514;

Met. 14.806-7.

77 Rowland (1992) 237-43, who cites R. Williams (1973) ad 12.794. See Livy 1.2.6. 78 Page (1914) ad 12.794 cites Georg.1.498: di patrii Indigetes et Romule Vestaque mater.

79 nascetur pulchra Troianus origine Caesar/ imperium Oceano, famam qui terminet astris,/ Iulius,

a magno demissum nomen Iulo./ hunc tu olim caelo spoliis Orientis onustum/ accipies secura; uocabitur hic quoque uoti (Aen. 1.286-90).

80 Serv. ad. Aen. 1.286; Henry (1881-1889/1969) ad 1.290; Gundolf (1928) 32; Green (1932)

406-7; Austin (1971) ad 1.286; Conway (1935) ad 1.286-90 (the glories of Augustus must be reserved for a later climax); West (1991) 16 and Dobbin (1995) say that these lines refer to Julius Caesar. But R. Williams (1972) ad 1.286, Page (1914) ad 1.286, Kinsey (1981); Binder (1988) 269; Norden (1901) 274-5; and Kraggerud (1992, 1994) believe that it is Augustus. Austin (1971) ad 1.286-7 says the lines are ambiguous. Galinsky (1996) and O’Hara (1994) say that both Caesar and Augustus are meant; Henry (1881-1889/1969) ad 1.295-300 finds both are mentioned in the passage. See also Harrison (1995).


had the name Iulus, Augustus was also a member of the Iulii, was the victor over Antony in the East, and celebrated a triple triumph. Servius remarks that Augustus was descended from the Julian line thorough his maternal grandmother, Iulia (Serv. ad Intro. Aen. 1).81 Augustus was entitled to the Julian name both by adoption and by blood through his mother, just as Romulus was related to Iulus/Ilus through his mother Ilia (1.272-4). Virgil’s ambiguity is deliberate: he honors both Caesar and his son, Augustus, diui filius.

Jupiter also prophesies that Ascanius, now known as Iulus but formerly called Ilus (1.267-8), will build Alba Longa and his kingdom will endure for three hundred years until Ilia, a royal priestess, shall bear twins to Mars (1.272-4). One of them, Romulus, will found the walls of Mars and call his people Romans after his own name (1.276-7). Thus, when Jupiter shortly after predicts that a Iulius will be born, a descendant of great Iulus, he looks back both to Ascanius/Iulus and to Romulus born from Ilia (Ilia 1.274 = Ilus erat, dum res stetit Ilia regno 1.268; Iulo is in the same metrical position in both lines 267 and 288).82 Troy/Aeneas/Iulus are connected both with Romulus through Ilia and with both Caesars through the Iulian line. Romulus is mentioned again, closing the gates of war (1.291-6), which can refer either to Romulus or to Augustus’ reign of peace. Servius, indeed, interpreted these lines as an allegorical reference to the peace of Augustus’ reign. Thus, the Caesar who shall limit his empire at the ocean and his fame at the stars (famam qui terminet astris 1.287) is likely to be Augustus.

Anchises mentions Augustus in the underworld and promises divinity for all the ‘house of the Iulii’.83 He declares that ‘Caesar and all the descendants of Iulus will go beneath the axle of heaven’; they will become gods:84

hic Caesar et omnis Iuli progenies magnum caeli uentura sub axem. hic uir, hic est, tibi quem promittis saepius audis, Augustus Caesar, diui genus, aurea condet saecula qui rursus Latio regnata per arua Saturno quondam, super et Garamantas et Indos proferet imperium iacet extra sidera tellus, extra anni solisque uias …

(Aen. 6.789-96)

Servius (Serv. ad Aen. 6.790) connects these lines with Caesar’s comet of 44 and the divinity of Caesar. However, ‘Caesar and all the descendants of Iulus’ bestows divinity on both Caesar and Augustus, especially since Virgil expressly mentions Augustus, whom he calls conqueror of the East, ruler of the world, ‘son of the

81 namque [Augustus] est filius Atiae, quae nata est de Iulia, sorore Caesaris, Iulius autem Caesar

Iulo Aeneae originem dicit (Serv. ad Intro Aen. 1).

82 Mercury tells Aeneas that he should think of Ascanius and of the promise of Iulus his heir to

whom Italy and the Roman land are owed (Ascanium surgentem et spes heredis Iuli/ respice, cui regnum Italiae Romanaque tellus/ debentur Aen. 4.274-6). Austin (1977) ad 6.788 says that Virgil’s choice of Ilia for the name of Rhea Silvia stresses the ‘Trojan aspect of Romulus’ mother’s descent’, and Page (1914) ad 1.267 says that the change of Ilus to Iulus is Virgil’s attempt to connect Aeneas with the Julian line.

83 Taylor (1931) 175-6.


divine Iulius’, and one who will bring back the Golden Age to Latium. Moreover, since Julius Caesar appears later in the procession of Romans, this Caesar is likely Augustus.85 Since Augustus, ‘son of the divine Iulius’, is depicted here as greater than his father in his achievements and piety, the passage suggests that Augustus deserves divinity because he, like Aeneas, accomplished great deeds. Furthermore, when Aeneas is on Crete, the Phrygian gods that he brought from Troy appear to him and promise that their ‘divine power’ shall ‘set his descendants among the stars and give empire evermore to their city’ (3.158-9).86 They inform Aeneas that he must go to Italy, whence Dardanus and father Iasius came (3.165-8). These lines confirm the divinity of the Julian line through reference to Dardanus and by the promise of divinity for the Roman descendants of Aeneas, while mention of the power of Aeneas’ city suggests the rule of Augustan Rome that is glorified at 6.789-96.

Apollo tells Iulus in Book 9 that his ‘virtue is leading him to the stars and that he is both son of gods and destined to beget gods’ (9.641-2).87 These lines are the strongest indication of the divinity of Aeneas, Iulus, and their descendants. ‘Born from gods’ means not only Iulus’ ancestors Venus and Jupiter but also confirms the divinity of Aeneas. ‘Destined to beget gods’ could mean Romulus, but Virgil’s use of the plural makes it likely that Caesar and Augustus are meant,88 particularly since Ascanius is here called Iulus in order to emphasize the family line.

When Venus asks Jupiter why his offspring, to whom he gave the heights of heaven, have lost their ships, are betrayed because of Juno’s anger, and are kept far from Italy, she demands to know if this is ‘the reward of piety’ (1.250-3).89 The descendants of Jupiter are Aeneas and Iulus, who descended from Dardanus, the son of Jupiter.90 Venus’ use of the first person plural to refer to the Trojans/Romans combines herself with her descendants and emphasizes her connection with the divine lineage of Aeneas. She declares that Aeneas and Iulus are already divine as a reward for their piety. This sweeping grant of divinity includes not just Aeneas and Iulus but also Caesar and Augustus.

Venus claims that divinity is an honor won by piety just as Apollo had told Iulus that his divinity was a result of his virtue (9.641-2), Cicero said that justice

85 Pinchon (1917); Page (1914) ad 6.788-9 and R. Williams (1972) ad 6.789 say that Caesar here

must be Augustus because Julius Caesar appears later in the procession of Romans. Virgil elsewhere speaks of ‘as long as father Rome rules the world’ (imperiumque pater Romanus habebit, Aen. 9.449), possibly referring to Augustus.

86 idem uenturos tollemus in astra nepotes/ imperiumque urbi dabimus (Aen. 3.158-9).

87 macte noua uirtute, puer, sic itur ad astra/ dis genite et geniture deos (Aen. 9.641-2). Taylor

(1931) 176.

88 Serv. ad Aen. 9.642 says that both Julius Caesar and Augustus are meant by geniture deos. Also

Page (1914) ad 9.642 and Hardie (1994) ad 9.642.

89 nos, tua progenies, caeli quibus adnuis arcem,/ nauibus (infandum!) amissis unius ob iram/

prodimur atque Italis longe disiungimur oris./ hic pietatis honos? sic nos in sceptra reponis? (Aen. 1.250-53).

90 genus ab Ioue summo (Aen.1. 380); sate sanguine diuum (6.125); sate gente deum (8.36);

Aeneas reminds the Sibyl: et mi genus ab Ioue summo (6.123); ab Ioue principium generis, Ioue Dardana pubes/ gaudet auo, rex ipse Iouis de gente suprema (7.219-20). Cf. E. Harrison (1972) 303: the descent from Jupiter belongs not just to Aeneas but to the Trojans.


and piety were leading Scipio to the heavens, Jupiter promised that great-hearted Aeneas would be raised to the stars (1.259-60), and the Sibyl said that men rise to the stars through virtue (6.129-31).91 In the Aeneid, the gods are the ones who proclaim all connections between divinity and virtue. When Jupiter promises Juno that Latin and Trojan will be merged and a new race shall arise, surpassing men and gods in piety, there is a similar connotation (12.838-9).92 The promise that the descendants of Aeneas and Iulus will surpass the gods in piety further supports the divinity of Caesar and Augustus.93

In Book 3 Helenus prophesies that Aeneas must go past Scylla and Charybdis to Italy. Helenus instructs Aeneas to ‘go and by his deeds exalt great Troy to the heavens’ (uade age et ingentem factis fer ad aethera Troiam 3.462). Here not piety but deeds will exalt not just Aeneas but Troy (Rome) to the heavens. This passage may be compared with those praising the deeds of Augustus (e.g. 6.789-96; 1.291-6; 8.678-81). Through his achievements, Augustus, too, will rise to the heavens.

When Aeneas tells Venus that he is pius Aeneas, who carries his household gods with him on his ships, and his fame is known to the ‘heavens above’ (fama

super aethera notus 1.379), Venus replies that he is not hateful to the heavenly

gods (haud, credo, inuisus caelestibus 1.387). Aeneas does not know that Jupiter has already promised divinity for him and Venus does not reveal to Aeneas that she will elevate him. But Aeneas’ remarks about his fame reaching the heavens echo Jupiter’s prophecies that Aeneas will become divine (sublimemque feres ad

sidera caeli/ magnanimum Aenean 1.259-60) and that Caesar’s fame will reach to

the stars (famam qui terminet astris,/ Iulius 1.286-8)—a prophecy that also predicted Caesar’s and Augustus’ divinity—and foreshadow Helenus’ prophecy that Aeneas must exalt Troy to the stars by his great deeds (3.462). Aeneas unconsciously speaks of his own divinity when he acknowledges that his fame reaches to the stars. Augustus, too, has divinity in store for himself because the gods prophesied divinity for a Caesar and for the house of the Iulii (1.286-90; 6.789-92).

In Book 5 Aeneas founds a shrine to Venus on Mt. Eryx, ‘near to the stars’ (uicina astris 5.759), assigns a priest to Anchises’ tomb, and dedicates a hallowed grove (5.760-61). Venus’ temple near the stars implies both the sidus Iulium and the star of Venus. The temple recalls Caesar’s temple of Venus and perhaps the temple of Divus Iulius, completed by Augustus, in which the sidus Iulium was worshipped. Anchises is called ‘holy’ (sancta parens 5.80; sancto … patri 5.603);

91 Ovid says that Caesar, outstanding in war and peace, was turned into a god as much because of

his wars, triumphs, civil accomplishments, and his gloria as by his descendant, Augustus (Ov. Met. 15.746-50). According to Valerius Maximus, Caesar was foremost in war and peace and was a great example of true virtue (Val. Max. Facta et Dicta Mem. 3.2.19). Cic. Paradoxa 1.11: quibus tandem gradibus Romulus escendit in caelum? iisne quae isti bona appellent an rebus gestis atque virtutibus?

92 hinc genus Ausonio mixtum quod sanquine surget,/ supra homines, supra ire deos pietate uidebis

(Aen. 12.838-9).

93 R. Williams (1973) ad 12.838: Jupiter is speaking of both Aeneas’ pietas and Augustus’


this indicates that he has been elevated to the gods.94 As Taylor notes, only divinities had priests assigned to their tombs: this was one of the signs of the divinity of Caesar.95 De Witt, indeed, considers that the flaming arrow proclaims the apotheosis of Anchises just as the sidus Iulium did for Caesar.96 Games in honor of Anchises (5.104-603) suggest Augustus’ games for his father Caesar, during which the comet appeared, just as the flaming arrow appeared during games for Anchises.97 Aeneas’ establishment of the Paternalia (5.59-60), a festival in honor of Anchises as father, also indicates Anchises’ divinity through hero worship and cult festival. Anchises, the ‘holy’ father of Aeneas, parallels Caesar, the divine father of Augustus.

Latinus explains to the Trojans that Dardanus came from his land (7.206-7; 3.167), ‘whom now the golden place of the starry sky admits to a throne and who increases the number of the altars of the gods’ (7.210-211).98 The starry sky alludes to Book 2’s comet and star of Venus; auget suggests Augustus who took his name from that verb; the golden palace equals the golden age; and direct reference to the divinity of Dardanus echoes Anchises’ promise of divinity to all the descendants of Iulus, Jupiter’s promise of divinity to his own descendants through Dardanus, and Caesar’s attainment of divinity. The passage alludes both to Caesar’s apotheosis and the sidus Iulium through its emphasis on Dardanus’ catasterism and worship.

When Latinus first hears about Aeneas, he believes that Aeneas is the one prophesied to come from a foreign land and become Latinus’ son-in-law, who shall have ‘descendants distinguished by their virtue who will rule all the world’ (7.255-8).99 An oracle had told Latinus to marry his daughter to a stranger, ‘whose blood shall exalt his name to the stars; his descendants shall behold the whole world rolling obediently beneath their feet from where the sun looks on both oceans’ (7.98-101).100 These two passages regarding the oracle must be considered together. Exalting the Latin name to the stars suggests Caesar, his comet, and his divinity; being distinguished by virtue and great deeds are the standard reasons for divinity and recall Venus’ prophecy and Apollo’s promises to Iulus. The auspices and prophecy reminds of the good omen of the comet/auspicium in Book 2 as well as Caesar’s comet that foretold the Golden Age. The descendants of Aeneas are Caesar and Augustus, who did rule the world. Furthermore, only when in the stars

94 Serv. ad Aen. 5.45; de Witt (1923) 40-41; R. Williams (1960) ad 5.42ff., 760; Bailey (1930)


95 Taylor (1931) 68 and Weinstock (1971).

96 De Witt (1923) 40-41. But Piganiol (1920) 279 says that the flaming arrow announces the

apotheosis of Aeneas.

97 De Witt (1923) 41.

98 aurea nunc solio stellantis regia caeli/ accipit et numerum diuorum altaribus auget (Aen.


99 hunc illum fatis externa ab sede profectum/ portendi generum paribusque in regna uocari/

auspiciis, huic progeniem uirtute futuram/ egregiam et totum quae uiribus occupet orbem (Aen. 7.255-8).

100 externi uenient generi, qui sanguine nostrum/ nomen in astra ferant, quorumque ab stirpe

nepotes/ omnia sub pedibus, qua sol utrumque recurrens/ aspicit Oceanum, uertique regique uidebunt (Aen. 7.98-101).


will Aeneas’ descendants be able to view the whole world from the perspective of the sun, just as the deified Caesar was believed to do.101

This idea is reiterated when Latinus proclaims the oracle, saying that oracles have told him not to marry his daughter to one of his race. ‘Sons shall come from foreign shores whose blood shall exalt his name to the stars; this destiny awaits Latium’ (7.269-72).102 The signs from heaven and elevation to the stars suggest Caesar’s comet and the comet of Book 2. Latium will merge with Rome and the fame of Latium will reach to the stars as a result of the deeds of Aeneas, Aeneas’ fame, Rome’s achievements, and the divinity of Aeneas, Iulus, and Caesar.

All of the above passages must be distinguished from Virgil’s descriptions of Dido and Turnus. Dido curses Aeneas and says that because of him she has lost her honor and that former fame by which she alone was winning an approach to the stars (exstinctus pudor et, qua sola sidera adibam,/ fama prior 4.322-3). Dido once had the opportunity of becoming famous through her piety and honor. But this was a good repute on the lips of men, brought about by fama. This does not indicate that any divinity is in store for Carthaginian Dido.

Likewise, Juturna declares that Turnus will ‘ascend to the gods through fame and will live on in legend’ (12.234-5).103 Warde Fowler interprets these lines to mean that Turnus will be believed to have ascended to the gods and will be famous if he falls in battle.104 But Turnus will not attain immortality. Like Dido, he will merely become famous on the lips of men (fama). Virgil consistently associates divinity only with the Julian line.

5. The Golden Age

A number of sources connect the comet of 44 with the beginning of the Augustan Golden Age. Augustus believed that the comet signified his own rebirth and Pliny said that it brought prosperity to the world (Pliny HN 2.93). Servius remarks that the Julian comet proclaimed the joy of Augustus’ coming reign (Serv. Dan. ad Aen. 10.272). Virgil himself connects the sidus Iulium of 44, which marked the beginning of Augustus’ rise to power, with the Golden Age (Ecl. 9.47-9):105 Virgil says that Caesar’s comet/star proclaims a prosperous new age. Since the comet’s appearance coincides with the beginning of Octavian’s power, Virgil associates this prosperity with Augustus through his use of the present tense. The Virgilian comet/star in the Ninth Eclogue heralds Octavian as well as the divinity of Caesar.106

101 Prop. 4.6.51: at pater Idalio miratur Caesar ab astro:/ ‘sum deus: est nostri sanguinis ista


102 non patrio ex adyto sortes, non plurima caelo/ monstra sinunt; generos externis adfore ab oris,/

hoc Latio restare canunt, qui sanguine nostrum/ nomen in astra ferant (Aen. 7.269-72).

103 ille quidem ad superos, quorum se deuouet aris,/ succedet fama uiuusque per ora feretur (Aen.


104 Warde Fowler (1919) 66-70.

105 ecce Dionaei processit Caesaris astrum,/ astrum, quo segetes gauderent frugius et quo/ duceret

apricis in collibus uua colorem (Ecl. 9.47-9).





Related subjects : the Golden Age