Maecenas served as a generous patron to many writers, including Horace and Virgil. Through his patronage, he sought to use the genius of the poets of the day to glorify Augustus's regime. His name has been associated with works such as the Georgics of Virgil, the first three books of Horace's Odes, and the first book of his Epistles. He was so well-known as a generous patron of literature that his name has come to personify such activities, as Carlyle refers to in "Hudson's Statue."
Maecenas's reputation as a generous patron makes him the object of comparison to the "unfortunates with money and no work, whose haunts lie in the dilettante line" and who had nothing better to do than commission a statue from some artist. Carlyle suggests that "perhaps some Artist to whom he is Maecenas, might be got to do the Statue."
Born in 70 BC, Maecenas was a Roman diplomat and counsellor to the Roman emperor Augustus. He was extremely wealthy, partly from inheritance, but his position and influence came from Octavian (later the emperor Augustus). He was instrumental in negotiating peace between Antony and Octavian, ultimately marrying Octavian's sister Octavia to Antony. In 38-37, he persuaded Antony to lend Octavian the warships that he needed to win complete control of the West. Maecenas held no office or military command but administered Rome and Italy for Octavian when he was fighting, and he swiftly and secretly scotched a plot to kill Octavian. In this age of violence, Maecenas won praise for his mildness and humanity.
When Octavian was absent from Rome, Maecenas held many of the same powers as Agrippa (Octavian's executive lieutenant). He had the power to use Octavian's seal, could alter Octavian's dispatches, and continued to be deeply involved with foreign and domestic affairs even after Octavian (now Augustus) established his principate. Maecenas always competed however subtly with Agrippa for influence and after he was forced to tell his wife that the plot had been discovered to give her brother a chance to escape, his influence with Agustus waned.
Maecenas married Terentia, a beautiful, petulant woman who became tired of him. It is said that she later became Augustus's mistress, and she never had any children with Maecenas. At his death, he left all of his wealth to Augustus. (Information from Britannica Online.)
Last modified 23 October 2002