DescriptionBuilding the sublime emperor in 'a more vertical Rome'
This paper marks a first foray into my next research project, which aims to investigate the perception and representation of the emperor as a sublime being. The princeps is an ambivalent figure, at once terrifying and wonderful. The sublime, which is itself an ambivalent sensation, can express reverence for the princeps not unmixed with fear and critique that does not exclude a certain delightful awe. The larger aim of this project is to identify the sublime as the key to understanding the place of the princeps in Roman thought during the early Empire and so to offer a way to break that fruitless critical binary of pro- and anti-princeps analysis which tends to dominate the debate about literary receptions and representations of the emperor. This paper examines one way in which the model for the sublime princeps was first constructed by the poets of the Augustan age as they raised their own monumenta in a city transforming around them from brick into marble. I argue that the Augustan poets imagine and depict architecture (and particularly the architecture of Rome) as if on a vertical axis, and that the vertiginous rise of these monuments is a reflection of the perceived sublimity of the age—the sublimity, above all, of the new emperor, Augustus.