Were the Roman poets merely propagandists for Octavian/Augustus?
Propaganda is the ‘active manipulation of opinion and some distortion of the truth…[designed to] change attitudes…[and/or] reinforce them’ (OCCC, p.573). The works of contemporary poets such as Horace and Virgil appear to extol Octavian/Augustus and his achievements and endorse his beliefs and policies. However, I do not believe that this necessarily indicates that they were merely propagandists for him or conclusively proves that they were propagandists to any extent.
Firstly, neither author can be categorized as merely propagandist for Octavian/Augustus as both produced a variety of works on other subjects. Horace’s Epodes include pastoral and elegy genres, his Odes embrace love poetry and hyms to the gods whilst his Epistles involve philosophical reflections. Similarly, Virgil’s Georgics relate to farming and agriculture and his Eclogues tell of lovers laments and land confiscations. This diversity proves that these poets were not merely propagandists.
Secondly, according to information within their poems, it seems that both men suffered property loss under Augustus; Horace for his support of Augustus’ opponent, Brutus, and Virgil due to the resettlement of veteran troops. Although their poems may not be ‘the most reliable medium for biographical details’ (Block 3, p.177), if these land confiscations are true then it is likely that both poets would have felt resentment towards Augustus and therefore improbable propagandists, at least early in their careers. Nonetheless, both poets produced works that ostensibly promote Augustan polices and laud Augustus as Rome’s saviour.
Horace’s Ode 3.6 mirrors Augustus’ beliefs of the reasons behind the Civil Wars and decline of Roman military successes.
The first being the neglect of religion, where Horace berates the Romans that ‘the Gods have visited many evils…[such as the] ‘ill-starred offensive …[and near] destruction by Egypt’ (RB, p.45)....