Once Augustus was informed that a tree was growing on the altar that had been built in his honour in Tarraco.* "This is incontestable proof," commented Augustus, "of how often you make sacrifices on the altar."
- Quint. Inst. 6.3.77
Once, Augustus was approached by Herennius, a young man of bad character who had committed an offense and was dismissed from the army. The officer asked Augustus, "How will I explain this to my father?" Augustus replied, "Tell your father that you didn't find me to your liking."
- Quint. Inst. 6.3.64, Macrob. Sat. 2.4.6
A certain Vettius had ploughed up a memorial to his father, whereupon Augustus remarked: "This is indeed cultivating your father's memory."
- Macrob. Sat. 2.4.10
When he heard that Herod king of the Jews had ordered boys in Syria under the age of two years to be put to death and that the king's son was among those killed, he said: "I'd rather be Herod's pig than Herod's son."
- Macrob. Sat. 2.4.11
Hearing of the enormous debts, amounting to more than twenty million sesterces, which a certain Roman eques had successfully concealed while he lived, he gave orders that the man's pillow should be bought for his personal use at the sale by auction of the estate. There were some raised eye-brows, but he explained: "The pillow must certainly be conducive to sleep, if that man in spite of all his debts could have slept on it."
- Macrob. Sat. 2.4.17
As he went down from his residence on the Palatine, a seedy-looking Greek used to offer him a complimentary epigram. This the man did on many occasions without success, and Augustus, seeing him about to do it again, hastily scribbled a short epigram in Greek with his own hand and sent it to the fellow as he drew near, The Greek read it and praised it, expressing admiration both in words and by his looks. Then, coming up to the imperial chair, he put his hand in a shabby purse and drew out a few pence, to give them to the emperor, saying as he did so: "I swear by thy Good Fortune, Augustus, if I had more, I should give you more." There was laughter all round, and Augustus, summoning his steward, ordered him to pay out a hundred thousand sesterces to the Greek.
- Macrob. Sat. 2.4.31
He had a servant whose duty it was to tell him the names of the persons he met but the servant was forgetful; and so, when the servant asked him whether he had any orders for the Forum, he replied: "Yes, take these letters of introduction; for you know no one there."
- Macrob. Sat. 2.4.15
Among those who welcomed Augustus on his return in state from his victory at Actium was a man with a raven which he had taught to say: "Greetings to Caesar, our victorious commander." Augustus was charmed by this compliment and gave the man twenty thousand sesterces for the bird. But the bird's trainer had a partner, and, when none of this large sum of money had come his way, he told the Emperor that the man had another raven and suggested that he should be made to produce it as well. The bird was produced and repeated the words which it had been taught to say: they were: "Greetings to Antony, our victorious commander." Augustus, however, instead of being at all angry, simply told the first man to share the money with his mate.
He was greeted in a similar way by a parrot, and he ordered that bird to be bought and a magpie too, which he fancied for the same trick. These examples encouraged a poor cobbler to try to train a raven to repeat a like form of greeting, but the bird remained dumb, and the man ruined by the cost incurred, used often to say to it: "Nothing to show for the trouble and expense." One day, however, the raven began to repeat its lesson, and Augustus as he was passing heard the greeting. "I get enough of such greetings at home," he replied. But the bird also recalled the words of his master's customary lament and added: "Nothing to show for the trouble and expense." This made Augustus roar with laugh, and he ordered the bird to be bought giving more for it than he had given for any of the others.
- Macrob. Sat. 2.4.29-30
He often wrote in the Baths. Once, he had begun writing a tragedy entitled Ajax but, dissatisfied with it, had rubbed it out. And, when the tragedian Lucius Varius asked him afterward how his Ajax was getting on, he replied: "He has fallen on my sponge."
- Macrob. Sat. 2.4.2, Suet. Div Aug. 85
He once had reason to complain that some cloth of Tyrian purp1e which he had ordered was too dark, "Hold it up higher," the tailor, "and look at it from below." This provoked the witty retort: "Have I to walk on my roof before people at Rome can say that I am well dressed?"
- Macrob. Sat. 2.4.14
To a man who was nervously presenting a petition to him, holding out his hand and now withdrawing it, he said: "Do you think you are handing a penny to an elephant?"
- Macrob. Sat. 2.4.3
To an ugly hunchback named Galba, who was pleading in Court before him and kept on saying: "If you have any fault to finds correct me," he said: "I can offer you adyice, but I certainly can't correct you."
- Macrob. Sat. 2.4.8
Since many of those who were prosecuted by Severus Cassius got off, but the architect of the Forum of Augustus kept putting off the completion of the work1 the emperor jestingly remarked: "I could wish that Cassius would prosecute my Forum too-and get it off my hands."
- Macrob. Sat. 2.4.9
Again, knowing that his friend Maecenas wrote in a loose, effeminate, end languishing style, he would often affect a similar style in the letters which he wrote to him; and, in contrast to the restrained language of his other writings, an intimate letter to Maecenas contained, by way of a joke, a flood of such expressions as these: "Good-by, my ebony of Medullia, ivory from Etruria, silphium of Aretium diamond of the Adriatic, pearl from the Tiber, Cilnian emerald, jasper of the Iguvians, Porsenna's beryl, Italy's carbuncle-in short, you charmer of unfaithful wives."
- Macrob. Sat. 2.4.12
The hair of Julia, Augustus' daughter, began to go gray at an early age, and she used secretly to pull the gray hairs out. One day her maids were surprised by the unexpected arrival of her father, who pretended not to see the gray hairs on her women's dresses ind talked for some time on other matters. Turning the conversation to the subject of age, he asked her whether she would prefer eventually to be gray or bald. She replied that for her part she would rather be gray. "Why, then," said her father, thus rebuking her deceit "are these women of yours in such a hurry to make you bald?"
- Macrob. Sat. 2.5.7
As a young man he neatly made fun of one Vatinius who had become crippled by gout but nevertheless wished it to be thought that he had got rid of the complaint. The man was boasting that he could walk a mile; "I can well believe it," said Augustus, "the days are getting somewhat longer."
- Macrob. Sat. 2.4.16
A quip made by a man from one of the provinces is well known. In appearance he closely resembled the emperor, and on his coming to Rome the likeness attracted general attention. Augustus sent for the man and on seeing him said: "Tell me, young man, was your mother ever in Rome? "No," replied the other and, but could not resist adding: "But my father was-often."
- Macrob. Sat. 2.4.20
During the triumvirate Augustus wrote some lampoons on Pollio, but Pollio only observed: "For my part I am saying nothing in reply; it's not easy to inscribe lines against a man who can proscribe.'
- Macrob. Sat. 2.4.21
A certain Curtius, a Roman knight given to good living, was dining with Augustus and, when a skinny thrush was placed before him, asked whether he might let it go (mittere), "Of course you may," said his host, Whereupon Curtius at once "let it go" and threw it out of the window.
- Macrob. Sat. 2.4.22
He hardly ever refused to accept hospitality; and, having been entertained to a very frugal and, so to speak, everyday dinner, he just murmured, as he was saying good-by after the poor unelaborated meal: 'I didn't think I was so close a friend of yours."
- Macrob. Sat. 2.4.13
These translations are amalgams of P.V. Davies (main), K. Chisholm and J. Ferguson, D.A. Russell, Z. Yavetz.