Two classical statues – often misidentified, confused, and abused – have watched over campus life since they were dedicated more than 100 years ago. Marcus Aurelius and Caesar Augustus guard their greens, providing a block for studying students to lean against and an elevated platform to advertise everything from events to holidays. These statues, modeled on Roman originals, were gifts of Moses Brown Ives Goddard, class of 1854.

Marcus Aurelius statue in the snow (Photo by Catherine Teitz)

Marcus Aurelius statue in the snow (Photo by Catherine Teitz)

Marcus Aurelius

The equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius sits at the western end of Simmons Quadrangle (formerly known as Lincoln Field), looking east across the green, through the gate of Soldier’s Arch. Moses I. B. Goddard commissioned and funded the statue but he died before it was completed. His brother, Col. Robert Hale Ives Goddard 1858, continued the project and dedicated the statue on June 1st, 1908[1].

The statue at Brown is a copy of one now housed in the Capitoline Museum at Rome, and one of only two replicas in the world. The original statue, likely cast during Marcus Aurelius’ reign in the second century CE, is the only bronze equestrian statue from antiquity extant today. Not only did it survive multiple sacks of the city, it also remained standing in front of the Lateran palace, in the area of the city where Aurelius was born and educated, until it was moved in 1538 to the Capitoline Hill[2].  There it sat on a new base made of stone from the Temple of Castor and Pollux in the Forum which was carved by Michelangelo[3].  It remained in public until 1981 when it was moved to the Capitoline Museum after suffering pollution damage, and a replica, the second one made, took its place[4].

Marcus Aurelius at Brown has had a shorter and comparatively less exciting history than his Roman counterpart, but it has not been entirely without trials and tribulations. In the 1980s a plan was proposed to develop Lincoln Field into Olin Lecture Hall, which would destroy the green space, the view of Sayles, and the domain of Marcus Aurelius[5]. An opinion piece on the front page of the Brown Daily Herald describes the threat and the student response, a petition with over 1,000 signatures, as well as how the faculty of entire departments opposed the development and spoke out in the Corporation meetings. As the author H. Meyer III enumerates what would be lost if Lincoln were developed, he also asks,

The base of Marcus Aurelius statue, under repair (Brown Daily Herald, 8 March, 1991)

The base of Marcus Aurelius statue, under repair (Brown Daily Herald, 8 March, 1991)

Under whose shade will future generations of Brunonians rest? The familiar statue of Marcus Aurelius will no longer be there to watch over us. By the way, do we know to where he will be transplanted? The Campus Planning Committee’s idea of the perfect new location will probably be near Ladd Observatory, on the far outreaches of campus, several miles down Hope Street. I go there all the time, how about you?[6]

The regular sight of Marcus Aurelius is part of the daily life of Brown students, as a landmark walking to class or as a backrest while sitting in the grass. His disappearance, even if brief, is enough to stir student response, again in the Brown Daily Herald. When the statue was taken down in March of 1991 for maintenance to the base, the front-page headline ran “Marcus Aurelius Gone from Lincoln Field” accompanied by a dramatic picture of his empty plinth[7]. Due to water damage, the cement structure and marble panels were weakening, risking the statue toppling to the ground, and needed to be removed and replaced. Now repaired, Marcus Aurelius continues his watch, which he has been standing for 105 years. He is a key figure on Brown’s Campus, even if students cannot always remember which Roman his statue represents, regularly confusing him with another connection to the classical past.

Statue of Caesar Augustus, Wriston Quad (Wikimedia Commons)

Statue of Caesar Augustus, Wriston Quad (Wikimedia Commons)

Caesar Augustus

The bronze statue of Caesar Augustus was first dedicated in front of Rhode Island Hall on the Main Green by Moses B. I. Goddard on September 19, 1906[8]. It was modeled on the marble Augustus of Prima Porta statue, now in the Vatican Museum, replicating exactly its size and fine details[9].  The Prima Porta statue is one of the most iconic pieces of classical art, embodying Greek sculptural traditions – Augustus’ posed is based on that of the Doryphoros – and Roman iconography – the cuirass depicts Augustus’ establishment of the Pax Romana and the return of Roman standards from the Parthians[10]. The presence of a copy of this statue at Brown reflects classical influence on education at the time of its donation, although the students have not always seen Augustus’ presence as a purely educational one.

Although Augustus began his Brown life on the Main Green, and suffered the trauma of arm-removal there during the hurricane of 1938, his presence is associated mostly strongly with his post in Hughes Court, better known as Wriston Quad.  He was moved there in 1952 when the Wriston complex of dorms was first opened[11]. His move was not without controversy, as an editorial piece, and its follow-up, in the Brown Daily Herald illustrate. The editors feel strongly that his presence with a walkway and the Sharpe Refectory to his back is a tactical move that Augustus would not approve, and his presence among Georgian Colonial architecture is one that “Caesar, the aesthete, would abhor.”[12] More pressing than the tactical and artistic problems of Augustus’ move is that his new location made him a target for practical jokers who left beer cans on his head; as the editors observed, “we missed the rise, but still detect the fall of the Roman Empire.”[13] Their concerns were met with scorn from the administration, but as a follow-up editorial published a month later observed, they were not far from the mark. Caesar continued to be abused, this time not only with a beer can, but also a dead red-shouldered hawk in his outstretched hand. The editors commented that “despite the greenish color of the rest of [Augustus’] body, his face was distinctly red.”[14] Perhaps due to a change in location, from the academic to social heart of campus, Augustus’ role changed from one of exemplar of classical aesthetic to advertiser of fraternity parties.

Marcus Aurelius with festive Hallowe'en pumpkins (Photo by Catherine Teitz)

Marcus Aurelius with festive Hallowe’en pumpkins (Photo by Catherine Teitz)

Despite the hubbub of campus swirling around them, Marcus Aurelius and Caesar Augustus remain stalwart on their plinths. Since their dedications they have become consistent campus landmarks, points to discuss on tours, and useful places to make a statement. Marcus Aurelius has held a jack-o-lantern in preparation for Halloween, Augustus has been wrapped as a mummy, and both hold banners advertising concerts on a regular basis (Fig. 5). These are fine ways of incorporating university landmarks into student life, methods of advertising that utilize some of the highest traffic and most glanced at areas of campus. However, it is concerning that this seems to be the extent of student (and university) interaction with these statues. Brown’s physical campus has a rich history that connects with many different academic disciplines, and education about these – and other monuments on campus – could easily be incorporated in the curriculum.

More troubling is the neglect and lack of respect for our two classical guardians. This summer, the side of Marcus Aurelius’ plinth had “stay human” written across the side in black spray paint (Fig. 6). Facilities did they best they could to remove it, but the text is still visible. For anyone knowledgeable of Aurelius’ philosophy and deeds, they would find him one of the more human Roman emperors. Instead, he has become an object to tag, a symbol of a space dominated, rather than dominance. Augustus has suffered a similar fate, neglected by the university; his bronze has become so corroded and covered with bird droppings that he is no longer recognizable as the cast of the Prima Porta. Without cleaning and perhaps restoration, he will wear into nothingness as a dress-form for fraternity t-shirts. These statues, having served generations of Brown students in so many different ways, deserve more than our passing glance.

Graffito on the base of the statue of Marcus Aurelius encouraging us to 'Stay Human' (Photo by Catherine Teitz)

Graffito on the base of the statue of Marcus Aurelius encouraging us to ‘Stay Human’ (Photo by Catherine Teitz)

[1] Encyclopedia Brunoniana, s.v. “Marcus Aurelius.”

[2] The Oxford Dictionary of Art. 3rd ed., s.v. “Marcus Aurelius.”

[3] Henry Robinson Palmer ’90. “Marcus Aurelius Statue and Its Place in the History of Art.” The Brown Alumni Monthly Feb. 1908, 139-42.

[4] The Oxford Dictionary of Art. 3rd ed., s.v. “Marcus Aurelius.”

[5] Meyer, H., III. “An Outrageous Proposal.” Brown Daily Herald, 27 Feb. 1985, 2.

[6] ibid

[7] Goldberg, Cathy. “Marcus Aurelius Gone from Lincoln Field.” Brown Daily Herald, 8 March 1991, 1, 6.

[8] Encyclopedia Brunoniana, s.v. “Caesar Augustus.”

[9] ibid

[10] The Grove Encyclopedia of Classical Art and Architecture, s.v. “Augustus.”

[11] Encyclopedia Brunoniana, s.v. “Caesar Augustus.”

[12] “Augustless.” Editorial. Brown Daily Herald, 16 Sept. 1952, 2.

[13] ibid

[14] “Epilogue.” Editorial. Brown Daily Herald, 27 Oct. 1952, 2.