About our Current Month, August–The Month of Augustus
This month is also named after a great Roman emperor, Augustus Caesar, but was first called Sextilis, the sixth month. Augustus, whose full name was Caius Julius Caesar Octavianus–Augustus (the Majestic) being a title given him after he became emperor–was a young man at the time of Caesar’s murder. Julius, who had no son of his own, adopted Augustus as his son and heir, in order that when he died Augustus should become emperor in his place. The nobles who had killed Julius, however, did not wish Augustus to become emperor, and it was not until he had fought and won many battles that he became the head of the Roman Empire. As soon as he had conquered all his enemies, he returned to Rome, and, closing the temple of Janus, proclaimed peace throughout the Empired. During his reign there lived the greatest poets and writers that Rome ever had, of whom the best known are Virgil, Horace, Ovid, and Livy; just as in the rein of our Queen Elizabeth there lived some of England’s greatest poets and writers–in fact the time from Spenser and Sidney in Elizabeth’s reign, passing beyond Shakespeare to Milton in Charles II’s reign, is spoken of as the “Augustan Age” of English Literature.
The month known as Sextilis was chosen as the one to be named after Augustus, because it was during that month that the most fortunate events of his life had happened. In that month he had first become consul, the most important man in Rome; he had three times entered the city in triumph after his great victories; he had conquered Egypt and had ended the civil wars. As the month had only thirty days, and the one named after Julius Caesar had thirty-one, a day was taken from February in order to make them equal.
We have more than once mentioned the poet Virgil’s most famous work, the in which he describes the wanderings of Aeneas, who gathered together all that was left of the Trojan army and escaped from the fallen city, carrying his father Anchises on his back, since he was old and weak and unable to walk. The fugitives reached the shore in safety and sailed away from their ruined country. But the goddess Juno, not satisfied by the death of Paris and the disaster which had fallen on the Trojans, pursued Aeneas and his followers with her hatred, and again and again brought them into misfortune. They wandered from country to country for many years, seeking a spot where they might settle down in peace and safety, but Juno gave them no rest. She brought sickness upon them so that many died, and sent fierce storms which scattered their fleet and destroyed many of their ships. At last they reached a harbour on the coast of Africa, and made their way to a city which they found to be Carthage. Aeneas was welcomed by Dido, the queen of the city, who listened eagerly to the story of his adventures. Now, Aeneas had been destined by the gods to found a new kingdom, when his wanderings finally came to an end, but the time was not yet. The goddess Venus caused Dido to fall in love with Aeneas, and the hero, happy in her love and the pleasant life of her court, lingered on. A year passed, and the gods at length sent Mercury to remind Aeneas of his destiny. Aeneas’ heart sank at the thought of leaving the beautiful Dido, and afraid of her anger, he secretly set sail one dark night while the queen was sleeping. When Dido discovered her loss she was filled with grief. She ordered her servants to make a funeral pyre on which was placed an effigy of her lover, and then setting fire to the pyre with her own hand, she sprang into the flames and perished.
Aeneas and his companions sailed on till they reached the Island of Sicily, where they took refuge from a storm. During a festival which the men then held in honour of Anchises, Aeneas’ father, who had died just a year before, Juno stirred up the women to revolt against their hard life. Tired of their perilous wanderings, they gathered on the shore and set fire to the ships. Aeneas, when he heard of this new disaster, rushed down to the shore, and cried to Jupiter for help. In answer to the prayer, the King of the Gods sent a storm of rain, which put out the destroying flames. The Trojans then left Sicily, and, coming to Italy, to the mouth of the River Tiber, they followed the river until they reached the country of Latium. Here they were well received by the king, Latinus, who offered to Aeneas the hand of his daughter Lavinia. Lavinia, however, had many suitors, the chief of whom was Turnus, the prince of a neighbouring country, and Juno once again interfered by stirring up the people of Latium against Aeneas, with the result that Latinus made war on his former friend. Turnus led the army against the Trojans, and performed great deeds of valour, which were only matched by those of Aeneas. While Juno was assisting Turnus in every possible way, Venus was not forgetful of her son Aeneas, and she obtained from Vulcan, the God of Fire, a wonderful suit of armour, which enabled Aeneas to do even mightier deeds. Turnus and Aeneas at length met in single combat, and, after a fierce encounter, Turnus was killed. Peace was made with Latinus, and Aeneas married Lavinia. He founded a city, which he called Lavinia, and his descendants reigned in Latium for many years. It was one of his race, the Vestal Ilia, who marred Mars and became the mother of Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome.
One of the famous passages in the Aeneid is the description of the shield given to Aeneas by the goddess Venus. On this shield Vulcan, knowing the future, had depicted the history of the descendants of Aeneas, and had foretold the glory of Rome. He showed the wolf nursing the two sons of Mars and Ilia, the wars which followed the founding of Rome, and the brave Horatius, who defended the bridge over the Tiber against the army of Tarquin. With wonderful skill he pictured the sacred geese giving warning to the Romans of the approach of the Gauls in the dead of night. “Manlius stood before the temple and kept the lofty Capitol; a silver goose flitting through arches of gold gave warning with its cries that the Gauls were on the threshold; the Gauls were drawing near through the bushes, and were grasping the Citadel, protected by the darkness and the favour of a gloomy night. Their hair is golden and their dress of gold, their cloaks are striped, their milk-white necks are encircled with bands of gold; each brandishes in his hand two Alpine javelins, and their bodies are protected by their long shields.” In the middle of the shield Vulcan had depicted the famous sea-battle of Actium, in which the Emperor Augustus overthrew his enemies, and finally he showed the emperor seated at the entrance to the Temple of Apollo, and receiving the offerings of the conquered nations of the great Roman Empire.
The Old-English name for August was Hlaf-maesse, that is, Loaf Mass, or Loaf Feast, because during the month was held a feast of thanksgiving for the first fruits of the corn, August being the time when harvesting begins. The first day is sometimes called Lammas Day, lammas being a slightly altered form of the word hlaf-maesse.