Augustus: The Life of Rome’s First Emperor

Gaius Octavius Caesar, better known as Augustus is without question one of the most influential men in the history of the West. The story of his life and accomplishments is an astonishing one, and yet full of contrasts. He was the first emperor of the Roman Empire, yet he never used that title. Augustus began his life as the son of a relatively minor Italian aristocrat but became the most powerful man in Rome. He was the grandnephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar and used this connection to leap to the heights of Roman politics, yet his cautious personality was the opposite of Julius Caesar’s more flamboyant style. His rise to power showed a ruthless and often bloodthirsty deposition, yet when he had achieved absolute power, he governed justly and humanely. He had little military skill, unlike his grand uncle, but, with the aid of his friend Agrippa, he was able to defeat his rivals in the civil wars that ended the Republic. He was an absolute ruler, but he maintained the fiction that he had restored the Republic and scrupulously followed the forms of the old Constitution, while remaking Roman politics in a form that endured for the next two centuries. He always suffered from uncertain health, but he outlived nearly every one of his associates, including several possible heirs to his position.

English: A statue of the first Roman Emperor A...

 Augustus: The Life of Rome’s First Emperor by Anthony Everitt is a wonderful biography about the first Roman Emperor. Everitt tells the story of Augustus from his boyhood to his climb to power and his death. This is a sympathetic biography and while reading it, one feels exhilarated by Augustus’s victories and sorry for his losses, especially in his last years when it seemed that no one would be able to maintain the political structure he so carefully built after his death. Everitt portrays Augustus as a statesman, who for all of his faults was concerned to leave Rome better than he found it. His influence lasted as long as the Empire lasted and on to the present day.


 Augustus’s last words were reputed to be, “Have I played the part well? Then applaud as I exit.” He certainly had played his part well.

Barack Nero Claudius Obama

Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, more familiarly known as Nero was one of the most notorious of the Roman Emperors. Many historians have depicted him as a monster of vice and cruelty. He really wasn’t all that bad, though. He reign was actually mostly successful until the end. Still, I wouldn’t call him exactly good either. He did murder his own mother and he was the first of the emperors to persecute the Christians. One of the most prominent and long-lasting stories about Nero is that when the City of Rome nearly burned completely down in 64 A.D., Nero did nothing to try to help anyone and instead played his fiddle while singing of the fall of Troy.

That story is almost certainly fictional. For one thing the violin had not been invented yet, so Nero would have played a lyre. Actually, Nero was out of town when the fire broke out, but rushed back to Rome as soon as he received the news. There wasn’t much anyone could do to fight the fire in those days, but Nero did open up his palace gardens to house the Romans made homeless by the fire. Unfortunately, after the fire finally burned out, Nero decided to rebuild Rome, replacing the old, narrow streets and crowded tenements with a rationally designed new Rome, which included a huge new palace for himself. This started the rumor that Nero had started the fire himself and led to his blaming the Christians and persecuting them.

Whatever the truth of the story, however, the phrase fiddling while Rome burns has become a byword for someone who takes no action or is distracted by trivialities when things are falling apart all around them. Which, brings us to our modern Nero.

The entire Middle East is burning and Barack Obama doesn’t seem to be taking matters at all seriously. Well, he does take fund raising for his reelection campaign seriously.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign is getting a boost from pop stars Beyonce and Jay-Z.

The superstar couple will hold a fundraiser with Obama on Tuesday at a swanky New York nightclub that Jay-Z owns.

Tickets are $40,000, but the campaign says a small donation lands a chance to win two tickets — airfare and hotel included.

Beyonce says in an email to Obama’s supporters that she’s a huge fan and will do whatever it takes to help him win a close race.

This isn’t the first time the Obamas have teamed up with the A-list couple to promote each other’s causes. Michelle Obama helped Beyonce with efforts to promote global humanitarianism, and the president appeared in a pre-recorded video earlier this month at a Jay-Z event in Philadelphia.

Yet, he can’t take time off from his busy schedule to attend daily intelligence briefings, heed warnings that our embassies might come under attack, meet with the Israeli Prime Minister over Iran’s continuing progress in making itself a nuclear power, or even take our looming fiscal catastrophe seriously. He might as well be fiddling.