Aufer, Vesta, Diem!
Inventing the Augustan Goddess in Ovid's Fasti

Angeline Chiu

Princeton University

In the world of Ovid's Fasti, Vesta is a deeply complex figure, arising from a past without a mythology of her own. Ovid, by inventing myth for Vesta, invents a place for her in which she emerges as the main goddess of Augustus's new Roman identity. In order to do so, Ovid must first make a space for Vesta, and then define that space. As we will see in the course of this paper, Vesta claims a place for herself at the express expense of Venus; the goddess of love is displaced and replaced as Augustan patroness by the somber, retributory Vesta.

The displacement of Venus is clearest in Fasti 3's account of the Ides of March (3.523-699). The account unfolds with themes congenial to Venus—lovers at a springtime festival (3.526), elements of love elegy (3.538), the reappearance of Aeneas as lover, not warrior, in an elegiac retelling of the Aeneid (esp. 3.611-2). The account progresses to a sex farce that is specifically called nec res hac Veneri gratior ulla fuit (3.694). But then Vesta suddenly appears and hijacks the festival by ordering the poet to tell of Caesar's assassination and the vengeance of Augustus (3.697-99).  The poet complies, and the tone of the festival changes drastically. The games pleasant to Venus are swept aside by Vesta and her more somber prerogatives.

In Fasti 4 and 5, the sensuous goddess Flora becomes a proxy for Venus, and she too is displaced by Vesta. Ovid hails Flora as patroness of a playful, erotic stage (4.943-47), and later her intimacy with him (5.183-378) echoes his familiarity with Venus (4.1-18). But as soon as Ovid mentions her in book 4, he displaces her in favor of Vesta—aufer, Vesta, diem! (4.948-9)—and a sober statement on the Augustan settlement (9.49-54). Flora's calendar space must yield to Vesta's. Control and constraint are at issue, and the more pleasurable goddess hurries off stage before the austere, uncontestable Vesta.  More, Venus had opened book 4 with a flirtatious conversation with Ovid, a passage in direct counterpoint with the end of the book, where the poet hails a stern and silent Vesta.

Finally, Vesta assumes Venus' attributes when she appears in Fasti 6. The poet greets her in terms (6.249), which recalls his invocation of Venus (4.1). Her invisible presence is manifested in the rosy, glowing earth (6.252), appropriating a characteristic that is famously associated with Venus (Homer, Iliad 3.396-397; Virgil, Aeneid 1.402, 2.590; Lucretius, DRN 1.9). Vesta has displaced Venus to a degree where she can assume Venus's famed epiphanic characteristic without even appearing herself.

The final test case for the ascendancy of Vesta and her prerogatives over Venus's in the Fasti is the pair of Priapus's rape attempts: on the nymph Lotis in 1.391-440 and on Vesta herself in 6.319-348. Priapus, foiled in both, is at the center of laughter in the Lotis version—a sexual joke much like the Anna Perenna's (1.437-438). But in the Vesta version is no joke—there is no laughter, and Priapus is frightened by threats of violent retribution: per infestas effugit ille manus (6.343).  Erotic jokes have been quashed.

In sum, Venus yields to Vesta. More, Vesta placed into a playfully erotic world reconfigures it into one of behavioral boundaries, where transgressions are penalized, not indulged with laughter. Sexual morality is on trial (note too the leges Iuliae of 18 BC). But in the world of the Fasti, what is and is not acceptable now finds its definition not in Venus, but in Vesta.  The invention of the stern Augustan goddess is complete.

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