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Gaius Maecenas
(69 - 8 BC) Rome

Gaius Maecenas

Statesman, and patron of art and literature


Gaius Maecenas was the descendant of an Etruscan family and belonged to the "bourgeois" class of Roman knights. He was a friend and counsellor of Octavian (later Augustus) and was entrusted by him with the administration of Rome while Octavian fought with Pompey the Younger (38-36 BC). After the civil war ended with Octavian's victory, Maecenas retired to private life while remaining an influential adviser during Augustus' reign.

Gaius MaecenasGaius Maecenas used his enormous wealth to create an artistic coterie of poets and writers of the first order, among them Virgil, Horace and Propertius, all of whom he patronised and financed. The aim of this circle was twofold: to encourage the arts - Maecenas himself was a poet and a refine connoisseur - and to orchestrate political propaganda in favour of Augustus; it succeeded in both goals. For this activity, Gaius Maecenas became such a symbol that a maecenas came to mean an intelligent and refined patron of the arts and artists. According to Dio Cassius, Maecenas was also the inventor of a system of shorthand.

Maecenas' love for his own sex was common knowledge in his time and his own set, but it is today generally silenced. His best documented love was for a young pantomime actor and freed slave, Bathyllus; their relationship is discussed by Lucius Cornutus in his Commentary to Persius' Satiarae (V, 123), by Tacitus in his Annals (I, 54), and others.

His name has become a byword for a well-connected and wealthy patron. In various languages, it has even been coined into a word for (private) patronage (mainly cultural, but sometimes wider, usually perceived as more altruistic than sponsorship), e.g. mecenaat in Dutch, mesenaatti in Finnish, mécène in French, Mäzen in German, mecenate in Italian, mecen in Slovenian, mecenas in Spanish. A verse of the student song "Gaudeamus igitur" wishes longevity upon the charity of the students' benefactors ("Maecenatum," genitive plural of "Maecenas").


Source: excerpts from: Aldrich R. & Wotherspoon G., Who's Who in Gay and Lesbian History, from Antiquity to WWII, Routledge, London, 2001 - et alii

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