On some undateable occasion in the second year of our Lord, Roman Emperor Augustus had his notorious daughter’s lover put to death.
Half-predator and half-prey in the incestuous Julio-Claudian family web, Iullus Antonius was the son of Augustus‘s great (and here, long-vanquished) rival Marc Antony, as well as the half-brother of Augustus’s discarded first wife.
On waxen wings, Iulus, he
Soars heavenward, doom’d to give his name
To some new sea.
Pindar, like torrent from the steep
Which, swollen with rain, its banks o’erflows,
With mouth unfathomably deep,
Foams, thunders, glows,
All worthy of Apollo’s bay,
Whether in dithyrambic roll
Pouring new words he burst away
Or gods and god-born heroes tell,
Whose arm with righteous death could tame
Grim Centaurs, tame Chimaeras fell,
Or bid the boxer or the steed
In deathless pride of victory live,
And dower them with a nobler meed
Than sculptors give,
Or mourn the bridegroom early torn
From his young bride, and set on high
Strength, courage, virtue’s golden morn,
Too good to die.
Antonius! yes, the winds blow free,
When Dirce’s swan ascends the skies,
To waft him. I, like Matine bee,
In act and guise,
That culls its sweets through toilsome hours,
Am roaming Tibur’s banks along,
And fashioning with puny powers
A laboured song.
Your Muse shall sing in loftier strain
How Caesar climbs the sacred height,
The fierce Sygambrians in his train,
With laurel dight,
Than whom the Fates ne’er gave mankind
A richer treasure or more dear,
Nor shall, though earth again should find
The golden year.
Your Muse shall tell of public sports,
And holyday, and votive feast,
For Caesar’s sake, and brawling courts
Where strife has ceased.
Then, if my voice can aught avail,
Grateful for him our prayers have won,
My song shall echo, “Hail, all hail,
There as you move, “Ho! Triumph, ho!
Great Triumph!” once and yet again
All Rome shall cry, and spices strow
Before your train.
Ten bulls, ten kine, your debt discharge:
A calf new-wean’d from parent cow,
Battening on pastures rich and large,
Shall quit my vow.
Like moon just dawning on the night
The crescent honours of his head;
One dapple spot of snowy white,
The rest all red.
Contrary to what one might expect, Augustus didn’t hold the kid’s parentage against him* and “not only granted him his life, but after honouring him with the priesthood, the praetorship, the consulship, and the governorship of provinces, had admitted him to the closest ties of relationship through a marriage with his sister’s daughter.” (Per Marcus Velleius Paterculus**)
But at some point Iullus took his relations rather too far for the old man by achieving the favors of Augustus’s only daughter, Julia — notorious of ancient scribes for her promiscuity and eventually destined to be murdered off when her crusty, cuckolded husband Tiberius attained the purple.
There is nobody party to this event that comes out the better for it; Augustus for his part really cemented his uptight prig reputation for the history books, and Tacitus censures him because in “[c]alling, as he did, a vice so habitual among men and women by the awful name of sacrilege and treason, he went far beyond the indulgent spirit of our ancestors, beyond indeed his own legislation.”
In the telling of Cassius Dio:
when [Augustus] at length discovered that his daughter Julia was so dissolute in her conduct as actually to take part in revels and drinking bouts at night in the Forum and on the very rostra, he became exceedingly angry. He had surmised even before this time that she was not leading a straight life, but refused to believe it. For those who hold positions of command, it appears, are acquainted with everything else better than with their own affairs; and although their own deeds do not escape the knowledge of their associates, they have no precise information regarding what their associates do. In the present instance, when Augustus learned what was going on, he gave way to a rage so violent that he could not keep the matter to himself, but went so far as to communicate it to senate. As a result Julia was banished to the island of Pandateria, lying off Campania, and her mother Scribonia voluntarily accompanied her. Of the men who had enjoyed her favours, Iullus Antonius, on the ground that his conduct had been prompted by designs upon the monarchy, was put to death along with other prominent persons, while the remainder were banished to islands. And since there was a tribune among them, he was not tried until he had completed his term of office. As a result of this affair many other women, too, were accused of similar behaviour, but the emperor would not entertain all the suits; instead, he set a definite date as a limit and forbade all prying into what had occurred previous to that time. For although in the case of his daughter he would show no mercy, remarking that he would rather have been Phoebe’s father than hers, he nevertheless was disposed to spare the rest. This Phoebe had been a freedwoman of Julia’s and her accomplice, and had voluntarily taken her own life before she could be punished. It was for this that Augustus praised her.
** Worth noting: Velleius Paterculus says that Iullus died by his own hand rather than (as most other sources in antiquity give it) the executioner’s.