Dr. Weevil
Honored Patrons

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The Council for Blogging Excellence

This is partly an experiment in fund-raising, which is notoriously difficult for webloggers. I think those who contribute through my PayPal button or Amazon Wishlist should have some sort of reward or recognition. The Metropolitan Opera has a Council for Artistic Excellence, apparently open to anyone who sends them large sums of money. Every opera program lists its members, divided into classes by the size of their gifts: Founders ($500,000 or more), Benefactors ($250,000), and Sponsors ($100,000 or more). This is much the same, except that there are more classes, and the amounts are a thousand times smaller.

To make things more interesting, I have named each class after an ancient Roman patron. This way, not only will some readers come here to see who (or who else) gave me money, others will visit just to read about Roman patrons, and see the names along the way.

The descriptions below each list tell why each Roman patron was chosen to represent his particular class. Quotations labeled 'OCD' are from the latest (3rd) edition of the Oxford Classical Dictionary. Pictures may change as I find better ones, remove old ones for copyright reasons, and find pictures of Pollio and Messalla. Texts are also likely to be expanded and rewritten over time. Some of my patrons are not yet listed because I'm still checking how they would like to be listed.

[One name to be added here.]

Gaius Octavius, renamed Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus after his great-uncle Julius Caesar adopted him in his will, still later the emperor Augustus, was more politician than patron. However, during his long reign, he gradually took over patronage of poets from Maecenas (see below), and was the dedicatee of many of the greatest works of Roman literature, including Vergil's Aeneid and Horace's Epistle to Augustus (2.1).

Augustus gets top billing on this page because of the story of Varius Rufus. The latter was thought to be the greatest tragic poet of ancient Rome, mostly on the basis of a single work, the Thyestes, in which the evil king Atreus punished his brother Thyestes by cooking the latter's sons and feeding them to their unsuspecting father. Varius' play does not survive, but we do have a gruesome Thyestes by the philosopher Seneca. Varius presented his play at the celebratory games after the battle of Actium, and Augustus rewarded him with a gift of 1,000,000 sesterces, which is 250,000 denarii, or 10,000 aurei (gold pieces). Any way you count it, it's a lot of money.

[One name to be added here.]

Gaius Cilnius Maecenas (died 8 B.C.) wielded enormous power as a personal friend of Augustus. He never held public office, and remained a member of the equestrian order, though he claimed descent from Etruscan kings. Nevertheless, he governed Rome during Augustus' frequent absences on military campaigns, and served as something very like a Minister of Culture until he lost favor in 23 B.C., when his brother-in-law was caught plotting a coup d'état.

Maecenas is best known today as the patron of the three greatest Augustan poets. Vergil does not mention him in his first work, the Eclogues, but the second, the Georgics, is dedicated to him. In fact, all four books are addressed to him, and he is named in lines 1.2, 2.41, 3.41, and 4.2. (I do not know the significance of the numbers 2 and 41.) Similarly, Propertius dedicates his first book of love elegies to a minor personal friend, but addresses the second and third (of four) to Maecenas, whom he calls Maecenas, eques Etrusco de sanguine regum (3.9.1), "Maecenas, knight from the Etruscan blood of kings". Finally, Horace dedicates his first book of Satires, his Epodes, his first three books of Odes (published together), and his first book of Epistles to Maecenas. Those four cover every genre in which Horace wrote, and Maecenas gets the first collection in each genre.

Two footnotes:

  1. The name is generally pronounced Muh-SEE-nuhs in English, though the Roman pronunciation would be something like My-KAY-nahs.
  2. My high school had a sort of sorority called 'Maecenean'. At the time, I thought they just didn't know how to spell Mycenean.
The Fat Guy

Gaius Asinius Pollio (76 B.C.-A.D. 4) was one of the greatest historians and literary patrons of the Augustan Age. He established the first public library in Rome, and organized the first public recitations of literary works. Anyone who has suffered through a tedious or offensive poetry reading can blame Pollio. He also wrote an "analytical, critical, and serious" (OCD) history of his own times (60-42) that was admired for centuries, though little if any of it survives. Horace devotes the first poem of his second book of Odes to Pollio and his history. He seems to have been Vergil's first patron, since the Eclogues mention him more than once.

MommaBear, On the Third Hand, "Growling from the den" Nantoling, "I think we must blame it on the terrible black planet Yuggoth, which rolls aimlessly in the stupefying darkness"
Craig, Lead and Gold
Ed Flinn, Gallienus
Aaron Haspel, God of the Machine

Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus (64 B.C. - A.D. 8) was a distinguished Roman statesman of the Augustan Age. Among many other accomplishments, he was awarded a triumph in 27 B.C. for conquering the Aquitani in what is still called Aquitaine, was co-consul with Octavian (not yet named Augustus) in 31 B.C., the year of the final showdown with Antony and Cleopatra in the naval battle of Actium, and proposed that Augustus be given the title Pater Patriae, 'Father of his country' or more literally 'Father of the Fatherland'.

However, he is included here as the patron of a whole school of poets. The works that have come down to us under the name of Tibullus include two books of polished love elegies by Albius Tibullus, plus a third book ('Pseudo-Tibullus') containing six "smooth but tedious elegies" (OCD) by Lygdamus (a pseudonym), six miniature elegies by Sulpicia, Messalla's niece, and a few more poems of uncertain authorship, including a long panegyric on Messalla which no doubt earned its author a handsome tip. Messalla also helped give the much greater poet Ovid his start, though he was not his patron for long. (There were only two or three women poets in Rome whose works survive even in part. All were named Sulpicia, and this was the first, and best, of them. Though very short, her elegies are also unfortunately very densely-written and difficult to construe.)


Robin Roberts, Final Protective Fire
The Baseball Crank, "In Veritate Vinces"
Ian, Fierce Highway
C. G. Hill, Dustbury
Andrew Solovay, Arkat Kingtroll, "Romanes eunt domus"
[Two more names to be added here.]

The Younger Pliny, Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, is best known today as author of nine books of elegantly-written letters on various topics, plus a tenth containing his official correspondence with the emperor Trajan, mostly from when he was governor of Bithynia (now the northwestern part of Asiatic Turkey) around A.D. 109-110. His best-known letters (6.16 and 6.20) provide a first-person account of the great eruption of Vesuvius (August 24, 79) that buried Pompeii and Herculaneum and killed his uncle the Elder Pliny. The picture illustrates the part where he keeps on reading and taking notes on the historian Livy even as the volcano erupts in the distance -- he was a bookish lad, and only 18. Other highlights include a trio of ghost stories (7.27), a tame dolphin (9.33), a cruel master murdered by his slaves (3.14), and the first mention of Christians in pagan Roman literature (10.47-48).

However, Pliny is included here because he was not only a writer but a patron of other writers. Letter 1.13 tells of a whole crop of new poets, such that the entire month of April had a poetry reading just about every day. Pliny seems to think this is a good thing. Letter 3.30 is an obituary for Martial, in which he tells us that he paid the poet's passage back home to Spain after the assassination of Domitian. Martial was a small-town boy from Bilbilis (now Calatayud) who came to the big city and made a name for himself with his hundreds of brilliantly witty and often filthy epigrams. Unfortunately, he also filled his books with shameless flattery of Domitian, and found himself out of favor in the relative freedom of the reign of Nerva.

[One more name to be added here.]

The poet Statius wrote numerous poems for the vicious and bald emperor Titus Flavius Domitianus, known to us as Domitian, including one (Silvae 4.2) which devotes 67 lines to praising the emperor for inviting him to dinner (just once!) at the imperial palace. According to Statius, the dinner was quite lavish, but he also mentions "a thousand tables" of guests, which makes the abundance of his gratitude look a little sad and Domitian rather cheap. We might have expected more gratitude: Statius wrote a 12-book epic for him, the Thebaid, not as good as the Aeneid, but just as long and better than most Latin verse. This is the same Statius who much later guided Dante through Purgatory. Of course, your contribution makes you a Domitian, not a Statius.


Possibly the worst patron in Roman literature, Virro is fortunately fictitious. In Juvenal's Satire 5, Virro is a rich man who entertains all his clients once or twice a year, as patrons were obliged to do. But Virro, like some non-fictional rich men we hear of, gives a dinner party with two separate menus, one for a few real friends who share his table, the other for the general run of unwelcome guests. For wine, the few get the ancient equivalent of a vintage Chateau Lafitte Rothschild, the many get cheap vinegar. For appetizers, the few get lobster with asparagus and extra virgin olive oil, the many a single prawn each, wrapped around half a hard-boiled egg, with limp cabbage in a lamp-oil dressing. For the main course, the few get pâté de foie gras, chickens fattened in the dark, a huge wild boar, and choice African truffles, the many get . . . Juvenal goes on to the next category. For dessert, the few get luscious mushrooms, the many dubii fungi, which I'm sure even the Latinless will understand. The few also get apples that look like the mythological Golden Apples of the Hesperides, guarded by a serpent at the western edge of the world, while the many get apples that look like they've been chewed on by a performing monkey -- a monkey-cavalryman who wears a suit of armor, rides on a goat, and throws a spear at a target. (Juvenal sometimes gets carried away with his metaphors.) Virro is also mentioned in Satire 9, and you don't even want to know about his vices there.