Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Maecenas Presenting the Liberal Arts to Emperor Augustus
Gaius Maecenas, also called Gaius Cilnius Maecenas (born c. 70 bc—died 8 bc), Roman diplomat,
counsellor to the Roman emperor Augustus, and wealthy patron of such poets as
Virgil and Horace. He was criticized by Seneca for his luxurious way of life.
The birthplace of Maecenas is unrecorded, but his mother’s
family, the Cilnii, had lorded it centuries earlier in Arretium (modern Arezzo,
about 90 miles [145 km] north of Rome), and this was apparently also the
hometown of his father’s family. Tacitus (in Annals) once calls him Cilnius
Maecenas (Etruscans used the mother’s family name), but officially he was Gaius
Maecenas. His great wealth may have been partly inherited, but he owed his
position and influence to Octavian, later the emperor Augustus. Maecenas felt
that, though a knight (slightly humbler than a senator but basically a
nonpolitical member of the privileged class), his lineage and power overtopped
any senator’s, and he refused a career as one.