If you're like us, then you're probably like, "What the Shmoop is an Augustan?"
Well, sorry to do this to you, ladies and gents, but we're gonna have to go all the way back to the 18th century for this one. Yeah, yeah: we know it hurts, but sometimes pain is good for you.
Now, when we say we have to go back to the 18th century, we're actually talking early to mid-18th century, during the reigns of Queen Anne, King George I, and King George II of England. The Augustans were some totally talented dudes (yeah, mostly dudes) who wrote poetry, novels, political pamphlets, tracts—you name it. Often, the same writers worked in all of these different genres and styles.
The "Augustan" age in English literature refers back to the "Golden Age" in Roman poetry, when, under Emperor Augustus of ancient Rome, Latin poetry totally flourished. Wait, you ask: what does any of that have to do with England? Well, Augustan writers were straight up obsessed with classical Rome and Greece. They loved classical authors like Homer, Virgil, and Horace; they read them over and over, and they studied and copied them.
Because Augustan writers looked to ancient writers as role models, Augustan literature is often called "neo-classical." But the Augustans were more than that. For one thing, these guys were total smart mouths. They were witty and satirical—in fact, satire, as a style of writing, boomed during this period.
We also have the Augustans to thank for bringing us the English novel. Shush, you know you're happy about this. These guys were responsible for things like Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver's Travels. Where would the English novel be without them?
Don't we all wish we were super witty? Don't we wish, sometimes, that we had just the right putdown for that snarky classmate of ours? Or that we could crack a joke that would make a whole room laugh?
Some of us are blessed with wit. Some of us aren't. Either way, we can still learn a lot from the Augustans. That's because these guys are masters of wit. They use words like weapons. These dudes are funny, and sharp, and great at satire. They've got the right words for any occasion.
History of Literature—The Augustan Age
This website's got a detailed overview of the literature, politics, and culture of the Augustan era. You know you want to.
The Augustan Age
Another snazzy introduction to the literature of the period, covering the rise of the novel and neoclassicism, among other things.