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THIS PAINTING, ON CANVAS, FILLS THE UPPER PART OF THE REAR WALL OF THE CHANCEL IN THE CHURCH OF THE ASCENSION, NEW YORK CITY
The frame was designed by Stanford White; and the angels on the base
THE WOMEN OF
SECOND PAPER: LIVIA AND JULIA
BY GUGLIELMO FERRERO
N the year 38 B.C. it suddenly became known at Rome that C. Julius Cæsar Octavianus (afterward the Emperor Augustus), one of the triumvirs of the republic, and colleague of Mark Antony and Lepidus in the military dictatorship established after the death of Cæsar, had sent up for decision to the pontifical college, the highest religious authority of the state, a curious question. It was this: Might a divorced woman who was expecting to become a mother contract a marriage with another man before the birth of her child? The pontifical college replied that if there still was doubt about the fact the new marriage would not be permissible; but if it was certain, there would be no impediment. A few days later, it was learned that Octavianus had divorced his wife Scribonia and had married Livia, a young woman of nineteen. Livia's physical condition was precisely that concerning which the pontiffs had been asked to decide, and in order to enter into this marriage she had obtained a divorce from Tiberius Claudius Nero (father of the Emperor Tiberius).
The two divorces and the new marriage were concluded with unwonted haste. The first husband of Livia, acting the part of a father, gave her a dowry for her new alliance and was present at the wedding. Thus Livia suddenly passed into the house of her new husband, where, three months later, she gave birth to a son, who was called Drusus Claudius Nero. This child Octavianus immediately sent to the house of its father.
To us, marriage customs of this sort seem brutal and shameless. We should infer that a woman who lent herself to
such barter and exchange must be a person of light manners and of immoral inclinations. At Rome, however, no one would have been amazed at such a marriage or at the procedure adopted, had it not been for the extraordinary haste, which seemed to indicate that it was undesirable or impossible to wait until Livia should have given birth to her child, and which made it necessary to trouble the pontifical college for its somewhat sophistical consent. For all were accustomed to seeing the marriages of great personages made and unmade in this manner and on such bases. Why, then, were these nuptials so precipitately concluded, apparently with the consent of all concerned? Why did they all, Livia and Octavianus not less than Tiberius Claudius Nero seem so impatient that everything should be settled with despatch?
The legend which then formed about the family of Augustus, a legend hostile at almost every point, has interpreted this marriage as a tyrannical act, virtually an abduction, by the dissolute and perverse triumvir. I, too, in my "Greatness and Decline of Rome" expressed my belief that this haste, at least, was the effect not of political motives but of a passionate love inspired in the young triumvir by the very beautiful Livia. A longer reflection upon this episode has persuaded me, however, that there is another manner, less poetic perhaps, but more Roman, of explaining, at least in part, this famous alliance, which was to have so great an importance in the history of Rome.
To arrive at the motives of this marriage we must consider who was Livia and who was Octavianus? Livia was a woman
of great beauty, as her portraits prove. But this was not all. She belonged also to two of the most ancient and conspicuous families of the Roman nobility. Her father, Marcus Livius Drusus Claudianus, was by birth a Claudius, adopted by a Livius Drusus. He was descended from Appius the Blind, the famous censor and perhaps the most illustrious personage of the ancient republic. His grandfather, his great-grandfather, and his great-greatgrandfather had
been consuls, and consuls and censors may be found in the collateral branches of the family. A sister of his grandfather had been the wife of Tiberius Gracchus ; a cousin of his father had married Lucullus, the great general. He came, therefore, of one of
the most ancient and glorious families. Not less noble was the family of the Livii Drusi who had adopted him. It counted eight consulships, censorships,
tion which broke out after the death of Cæsar, the father of Livia in the year 43 had been proscribed by the triumvirs; he had fought with Brutus and Cassius and had died by his own hand after Philippi. In 40, after the Perusinian war and only two years before Livia's marriage with Octavianus, Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia had been forced to flee from Italy in fear of the vengeance of Octavianus.
Who on the other hand was Octavi
anus? A parvenu,. with a nobility altogether too recent! His grandfather was a rich usurer of Velitrae (now Velletri), a financier and a man of affairs; it was only his immediate father who succeeded by dint of the riches of the usurer grandfather in entering the Roman nobility. He had married a sister of Cæsar and, though still young when he died, had become a senator and pretor. Octavianus was, therefore, the descendant, as we should express it in Europe to-day, of rich bourgeois recently ennobled. Although by adopting him in his will Cæsar had given him his name, that of an ancient patrician family, the modest origin of Octavianus and the trade of his grandfather were known to everybody. In a country like Rome, where, notwithstanding revolutions, the old nobility was still highly venerated by the people and formed a closed caste, jealous of its exclusive pride of ancestry, this obscurity of origin was a handicap and a danger, especially when Octavianus had as colleagues Antony and Lepidus, who could boast a much more ancient and illustrious origin than his own.
three triumphs, and one dictatorship. Thus the father of Livia belonged by birth and adoption to two of those ancient, aristocratic families which for a long time and even in the midst of the most tremendous revolutions the people had venerated as semi-divine and into whose story was interwoven the history of the great republic. Nor had the first husband given to Livia been less noble, for Tiberius Claudius Nero was descended like Livia from Appius the Blind, though through another son of the great censor. In Livia was concentrated the quintessence of the great Roman aristocracy: she was at Rome what in London to-day the daughter of the Duke of Westminster or the Duke of Bedford would be. In the great revolu
We can readily explain, therefore, even without admitting that Livia had aroused