Biography of Horace
Quintus Horatius Flaccus, known in the English-speaking world as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus. The rhetorician Quintillian regarded his Odes as almost the only Latin lyrics worth reading, justifying his estimate with the words: "He can be lofty sometimes, yet he is also full of charm and grace, versatile in his figures, and felicitously daring in his choice of words."
Horace also crafted elegant hexameter verses (Sermones and Epistles) and scurrilous iambic poetry (Epodes). The hexameters are playful and yet serious works, leading the ancient satirist Persius to comment: "as his friend laughs, Horace slyly puts his finger on his every fault; once let in, he plays about the heartstrings". Some of his iambic poetry, however, can seem wantonly repulsive to modern audiences.
His career coincided with Rome's momentous change from Republic to Empire. An officer in the republican army that was crushed at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC, he was befriended by Octavian's right-hand man in civil affairs, Maecenas, and became something of a spokesman for the new regime. For some commentators, his association with the regime was a delicate balance in which he maintained a strong measure of independence (he was "a master of the graceful sidestep") but for others he was, in John Dryden's phrase, "a well-mannered court slave".
His poetry became "the common currency of civilization", and he still retains a devoted following, despite some stigmatization after World War I (perhaps due to popular mistrust of old-fashioned patriotism and imperial glory, with which he was identified, fairly or unfairly)] Horatian studies have become so diverse and intensive in recent years that it is probably no longer possible for any one scholar to command the whole range of arguments and issues.
Most of what we know about Horace comes from self-disclosures in his poetry, supplemented by a short biography probably written by Suetonius (Vita Horati). He has been considered the world's first autobiographer. Recent scholarship tends to frown on biographical interpretations of an author's works (critical analysis reveals only the author's mask or persona) but Horace not only invites our interest, he also mentions events that are verifiable, and thus it is valid to make some inferences about the individual behind the poems.
He was born on 8 December 65 BC in Italy's Hellenized south-east. His home town, Venusia, lay on a trade route in the border region between Apulia and Lucania (Basilicata). Various dialects were spoken in the area and maybe this enriched his feeling for language. He could have been familiar with Greek words even as a young boy and later he poked fun at the jargon of mixed Greek and Oscan spoken in neighbouring Canusium (Satires 1.10.30). Literary Latin must have sounded to him like a semi-foreign language, heard only at school. One of the works he probably studied in school was the Odyssia of Livius Andronicus, crammed into Italian boys with threats and floggings by teachers like the 'Orbilius' mentioned in one of his poems (Epistles 2.1.69 ff.). School was made even more irksome by a number of his fellow pupils, the over-grown sons of beefy centurions (Satires 1.6.71 ff.). The army veterans could have been settled there at the expense of local families uprooted by Rome as punishment for their part in the Social War (91–88 BC). Such state-sponsored migration must have added still more linguistic variety to the area.
According to a local tradition reported by Horace (Satires 2.1.34), a colony of Romans or Latins had been installed in Venusia after the Samnites had been driven out early in the third century. In that case, Horace could have felt himself to be Roman though there are also indications that he regarded himself as a Samnite or Sabellus (Epistles 1.16.49). Italians in modern and ancient times have always been devoted to their home towns, even after success in the wider world, and Horace was no different. Images of his childhood setting and references to it are found throughout his poems.
Horace's father was probably a Venusian taken captive by Romans in the Social War, or possibly he was descended from a Sabine captured in the Samnite Wars. Either way, he was a slave for at least part of his life. He was evidently a man of strong abilities however and managed to gain his freedom and improve his social position. Thus Horace claimed to be the free-born son of a prosperous 'coactor'. The term 'coactor' could denote various roles, such as tax collector, but its use by Horace (Satires 1.6.86) was explained by scholia as a reference to 'coactor argentareus' i.e. an auctioneer with some of the functions of a banker, paying the seller out of his own funds and later recovering the sum with interest from the buyer.
The father spent a small fortune on his son's education, eventually accompanying him to Rome to oversee his schooling and moral development. The poet later paid tribute to him in a poem (Satires 1.6) that one modern scholar considers the best memorial by any son to his father.The poem includes this passage:
If my character is flawed by a few minor faults, but is otherwise decent and moral, if you can point out only a few scattered blemishes on an otherwise immaculate surface, if no one can accuse me of greed, or of prurience, or of profligacy, if I live a virtuous life, free of defilement (pardon, for a moment, my self-praise), and if I am to my friends a good friend, my father deserves all the credit... As it is now, he deserves from me unstinting gratitude and praise. I could never be ashamed of such a father, nor do I feel any need, as many people do, to apologize for being a freedman's son. Satires 1.6.65–92
He never mentioned his mother in his verses and he might not have known much about her. Perhaps she also had been a slave.
Horace left Rome, possibly after his father's death, and continued his formal education in Athens, the Oxbridge or Harvard of the ancient world, where he arrived at nineteen years of age, enrolling in The Academy. Founded by Plato, The Academy was now dominated by Epicureans and Stoics, whose theories and practises made a deep impression on the young man from Venusia. Meanwhile he mixed and lounged about with the elite of Roman youth, such as Marcus, the idle son of Cicero, and the Pompeius to whom he later addressed a poem (Odes 2.7). It was in Athens too that he probably acquired deep familiarity with the ancient tradition of Greek lyric poetry, at that time largely the preserve of grammarians and academic specialists (access to such material was easier in Athens than in Rome, where the public libraries had yet to be built by Asinius Pollio and Augustus).
Rome's troubles were soon to catch up with him in Athens. It was here that Marcus Junius Brutus turned, after the assassination of Julius Caesar, seeking support for a republican cause that was bereft of ideas, the much-vaunted ideal of liberty actually being irrelevant to a conflict that was essentially a struggle between elites. The Athenians however had a tradition of honouring tyrannicides, as types of their own heroes Harmodius and Aristogeiton, beside whose statues Brutus and his colleague Cassius were, by a popular decree, scheduled to be immortalized in bronze. Brutus was fêted around town in grand receptions and he made a point of attending academic lectures, all the while recruiting supporters among the impressionable young men studying there — Horace among them. An educated young Roman could begin military service high in the ranks and Horace was made tribunus militum (one of six senior officers of a typical legion), a post usually reserved for men of senatorial or equestrian rank and which seems to have inspired jealousy among his well-born confederates (Satires 1.6.48). He undoubtedly learned the basics of military life while on the march, particularly in the wilds of northern Greece, whose rugged scenery became a backdrop to some of his later poems. It was there in 42 BC that Octavian (later Augustus) and his associate Mark Antony crushed the republican forces at the Battle of Philippi. Horace later recorded it as a day of embarrassment for himself, when he fled without his shield (Odes 2.7.10), but allowance should be made for his self-deprecating humour and his self-identification with a tradition of poets who had long ago abandoned their shields in battle, notably his heroes Alcaeus and Archilochus (the latter did so in a part of Thrace near to Philippi, and was deeply involved in the Greek colonization of Thasos, where by coincidence the republican army finally surrendered).
Octavian offered an early amnesty to his opponents and the deflated ex-military tribune quickly accepted it. On returning to Italy, however, he was confronted with yet another loss: his father's estate in Venusia was one of many throughout Italy to be confiscated for the settlement of veterans (Virgil lost his estate in the north about the same time). Horace later claimed that he was reduced to poverty and this led him to try his hand at poetry (Epistles 2.2.51–2) yet there was no money to be had directly from versifying. At best, it offered future prospects through contacts with other poets and their patrons among the rich. Meanwhile he somehow obtained the sinecure of scriba quaestorius, a civil service position at the aerarium or Treasury, profitable enough to be purchased even by members of the ordo equester and not very demanding in its work-load, since tasks could be delegated to scribae or permanent clerks. It was about this time that he began writing his Satires and Epodes.
The Epodes belong to the iambic genre of 'blame poetry', as practised by Archilochus, and it seems that Horace wrote them like his literary hero in order to shame his fellow citizens into a proper sense of their social responsibilities. Social bonds in Rome had been decaying since the destruction of Carthage a little more than a hundred years earlier, under the alluring prospect of vast wealth attainable by plunder and corruption, and the troubles weren't over yet, with Octavian, Mark Antony and confederates like Sextus Pompey all jockeying for a bigger share of the spoils. One modern scholar has counted a dozen civil wars in the hundred years leading up to 31 BC, including the Spartacus rebellion, eight years before Horace's birth. As the heirs to Hellenistic culture, Horace and his fellow Romans were not equipped intellectually for collective answers to their most pressing problems:
"At bottom, all the problems that the times were stirring up were of a social nature, which the Hellenistic thinkers were ill qualified to grapple with. Some of them censured oppression of the poor by the rich, but they gave no practical lead, though they may have hoped to see well-meaning rulers doing so. Philosophy was drifting into absorption in self, a quest for private contentedness, to be achieved by self-control and restraint, without much regard for the fate of a disintegrating community." — V.G. Kiernan
Satire was a genre unique to Latin literature and Horace introduced to it a style and outlook suited to the social and ethical issues confronting Rome. Ironically, his approach radically changed its role from public, social engagement to private meditation. Meanwhile, the poet was beginning to interest Octavian's supporters, a gradual process described by him in Satires 1.6. The way was opened for him by his friend, the poet Virgil, who had gained admission into the privileged circle around Maecenas, Octavian's lieutenant, following the success of his Eclogues. An introduction soon followed and, after a discreet interval, Horace too was accepted. He depicted the process as an honourable one, based on merit and mutual respect, eventually leading to true friendship, and there is reason to believe that his relationship was genuinely friendly, not just with Maecenas but afterwards with Augustus as well. On the other hand, the poet has been unsympathetically described by one scholar as "a sharp and rising young man, with an eye to the main chance." There were advantages on both sides: Horace gained encouragement and material support, the politicians gained a hold on a potential dissident. His republican sympathies, and his role at Philippi, may have caused him some pangs of remorse over his new status. However most Romans considered the civil wars to be the result of contentio dignitatis, or rivalry between the foremost families of the city, and he too seems to have accepted the principate as Rome's last hope for much needed peace.
In 37 BC, Horace accompanied Maecenas on a journey to Brundisium, described in one of his poems (Satires 1.5) as a series of amusing incidents and charming encounters with other friends along the way, such as Virgil. In fact the journey was political in its motivation, with Maecenas en route to negotiatie the Treaty of Tarentum with Antony, a fact Horace artfully keeps from the reader (political issues are largely avoided in the first book of satires). Horace was probably also with Maecenas on one of Octavian's naval expeditions against the piratical Sextus Pompeius, which ended in a disastrous storm off Palinurus in 36 BC, briefly alluded to by Horace in terms of near-drowning (Odes 3.4.28). There are also some indications in his verses that he was with Maecenas at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, where Octavian put an end to Antony's hopes (Epodes 1 and 9). By then Horace had already received from Maecenas the famous gift of his Sabine farm, probably not long after the publication of the first book of Satires. The gift, which included income from five tenants, may have ended his career at the Treasury, or at least allowed him to give it less time and energy. It signalled his identification with the Octavian regime yet, in the second book of Satires that soon followed, he continued the apolitical stance of the first book. By this time, he had attained the status of eques Romanus (Satires 2.7.53), perhaps as a result of his work at the Treasury.
Odes 1–3 were the next focus for his artistic creativity. He adapted their forms and themes from Greek lyric poetry of the seventh and sixth centuries. The fragmented nature of the Greek world had enabled his literary heroes to express themselves freely and maybe his semi-retirement from the Treasury in Rome to his own estate in the Sabine hills empowered him to some extent also. Thus even when his lyrics touched on public affairs they reinforced the importance of private life.
Nevertheless his work in the period 30–27 BC began to show his closeness to the regime and his sensitivity to its developing ideology. In Odes 1.2, for example, he eulogized Octavian in hyperboles that echo Hellenistic court poetry. The name Augustus, which Octavian assumed in January 27 BC, is first attested in Odes 3.3 and 3.5. In the period 27–24 BC, political allusions in the Odes concentrated on foreign wars in Britain (1.35), Arabia (1.29) Spain (3.8) and Parthia (2.2). He greeted Augustus on his return from abroad in 24 BC as a beloved ruler whose recent illness had endangered his own happiness (3.14).
The public reception of Odes 1–3 disappointed him however. He attributed the lack of success to jealousy among imperial courtiers and to his isolation from literary cliques (Epistles 1.19.35–44). Perhaps it was disappointment that led him to put aside the genre in favour of verse letters. He addressed his first book of Epistles to a variety of friends and acquaintances in an urbane style reflecting his new social status as a knight. In the opening poem, he professed a deeper interest in moral philosophy than poetry (Epistles 1.1.10) but, though the collection demonstrates a leaning towards stoic theory, it reveals no sustained thinking about ethics. Maecenas was still the dominant confidante but Horace had now begun to assert his own independence, suavely declining constant invitations to attend him (Epistles 1.7). In the final poem of the first book of Epistles, he revealed himself to be forty-four years old in the consulship of Lollius and Lepidus i.e. 21 BC, and "of small stature, fond of the sun, prematurely grey, quick-tempered but easily placated" (Epistles 1.20.24–5).
According to Suetonius, the second book of Epistles was prompted by Augustus, who desired a verse epistle to be addressed to himself. Augustus was in fact a prolific letter-writer and he once asked Horace to be his personal secretary. Horace refused the secretarial role but complied with the emperor's request for a verse letter. The letter to Augustus however may have been slow in coming, being published possibly as late as 11 BC. It celebrated, among other things, the 15 BC military victories of his stepsons, Drusus and Tiberius, yet it and the following letter (Epistles 2.2) were largely devoted to literary theory and criticism. The literary theme was explored still further in Ars Poetica, published separately but written in the form of an epistle and sometimes referred to as Epistles 2.3 (possibly the last poem he ever wrote).He was also commissioned to write odes commemmorating the victories of Drusus and Tiberius (Odes 4.4 and 4.14) and one to be sung in a temple of Apollo for the Secular Games, a long abandoned festival that Augustus revived in accordance with his policy of recreating ancient customs (Carmen Saeculare).
Suetonius is also the source for gossip about Horace's sexual activities towards the end of his life, involving mirrors. The poet died at 56 years of age, not long after his friend Maecenas, near whose tomb he was laid to rest. Both men bequeathed their property to Augustus, an honour that the emperor expected of his friends.
Latin poetry was a product of the Hellenistic period and thus it was self-consciously a literary artifact. Horace's works were written in Greek metres, ranging from the hexameters of the Satires and Epistles and iambs of the Epodes, which were relatively easy to adapt into Latin, to the more complex measures used in the Odes, such as alcaics and sapphics, which were sometimes a difficult fit for Latin structure and syntax. He incorporated literary theory and criticism in his poems throughout his career and he considered himself a partisan in the development of a new and sophisticated style, influenced by the Callimachian aesthetics of brevity, elegance and polish.
"As soon as Horace, stirred by his own genius and encouraged by the example of Virgil, Varius, and perhaps some other poets of the same generation, had determined to make his fame as a poet, being by temperament a fighter, he wanted to fight against all kinds of prejudice, amateurish slovenliness, philistinism, reactionary tendencies, in short to fight for the new and noble type of poetry which he and his friends were endeavouring to bring about." — Eduard Fraenkel
In modern literary theory, a distinction has often been made between immediate personal experience (Urerlebnis) and a mediated form of experience derived from cultural norms such as literature, philosophy and the visual arts (Bildungserlebnis). The distinction has little relevance for Horace however since his poetry is a complete blend of personal and literary experiences, such as Satires 1.5, which recounts in realistic details an actual trip Horace made with Virgil and some other literary friends and which is closely modelled on a Satire by Lucilius, his predecessor. Unlike much Hellenistic-inspired literature, his poetry was not composed primarily for a small coterie of admirers and fellow poets, nor does it rely on abstruse allusions for many of its effects. It was elitist in its literary standards yet it was written for a wide readership, as a publicly accessible form of art. A similar kind of ambivalence characterizes his literary persona, since his presentation of himself as part of a small community of philosophically aware people, seeking true peace of mind and shunning vices like greed, was well suited to Augustus's ambitious plans to reform public morality, corrupted by greed. His plea for moderation was part of a grand message to the nation.
His general practise was to follow the examples of poets established as classics in different genres, such as Archilochus in Epodes, Lucilius in Satires and Alcaeus in the Odes, later broadening his scope for the sake of variation and because his models were ultimately unsuited to the realities confronting him in his own life. Archilochus was an aristocratic Greek whose iambic poetry had a social function that was immediately intelligible to an audience in the seventh century but which became a mere contrivance or literary motif when transposed to Rome, and Lucilius was a senator's son who could castigate his peers with impunity, whereas Horace was a mere freedman's son who had to tread carefully. His craftsmanship, as a wordsmith, is evident even in his earliest attempts in any particular genre, but his handling of each genre tended to improve over time as he adapted it to his own needs. Thus for example it is generally agreed that his second book of Satires, where human folly identifies itself through dialogue between characters, is superior to the first, where human folly is pointed out in the poet's monologues (though the first book also includes somes of his most popular poems).
Lucilius, his model in satire, was an aggressively Roman poet and a significant voice in Roman self-awareness, endearing himself to his countrymen by his blunt frankness and explicit politics, indicative of libertas. His style included 'metrical vandalism' and looseness of structure. Horace instead adopted an oblique and ironic style of satire, ridiculing stock characters and anonymous targets. His libertas was the private freedom of a philosophical outlook, not a political or social privilege. His use of meter in the Satires is relatively easy-going (relative to his later use of tight lyric meters in the Odes) but formal and highly controlled relative to the rough and ready Lucilius, whom he mocked for his sloppy standards (Satires 1.10.56–61)
Horace proudly claimed to introduce into Latin the spirit and iambic meter of Archilochus but (unlike Archilochus) without persecuting anyone (Epistles 1.19.23–5). It was no idle boast. His Epodes were modelled on the verses of the Greek poet in their meter and in some formal aspects of the iambic genre, as 'blame poetry', yet he avoided targeting real scapegoats. Whereas Archilochus presented himself as a serious and vigorous opponent of wrong-doers, Horace aimed for comic effects and adopted the persona of a weak and ineffectual critic of his times (as symbolized for example in his surrender to the witch Canidia in the final epode). He also claimed to be the first to introduce into Latin the lyrical methods of Alcaeus (Epistles 1.19.32–3) and he actually was the first Latin poet to make consistent use of Alcaeic meters and themes: love, politics and the symposium. He imitated many other Greek lyric poets as well, and many scholars believe he employed a 'motto' technique, beginning each ode with some reference to a Greek original and then diverging from it.
The reception of Horace's work has varied from one epoch to another. In a verse epistle to Augustus (Epistle 2.1), in 12 BC, he argued for classic status to be awarded to contemporary poets, including Virgil and apparently himself. In the final poem of his third book of Odes he claimed to have created for himself a monument more durable than bronze ("Exegi monumentum aere perennius", Carmina 3.30.1). For one modern scholar, his personal qualities are more notable than the monumental quality of his achievement:
"...when we hear his name we don't really think of a monument. We think rather of a voice which varies in tone and resonance but is always recognizable, and which by its unsentimental humanity evokes a very special blend of liking and respect. — Niall Rudd
Yet for men like Wilfred Owen, scarred by experiences of World War I, his poetry stood for discredited values:
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The Old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
The same motto, Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, was echoed sympathetically in the lyrics of early Christian poets, such as Prudentius, being adapted to an ethos of martydom.
Appreciation of Horace's work varied markedly in his own lifetime. Odes 1–3 were not well received when first 'published' in Rome, yet Augustus later commissioned a ceremonial ode for the Centennial Games in 17 BC and encouraged the publication of Odes 4, after which Horace's reputation as Rome's premier lyricist was assured. His Odes were to become the best received of all his poems in ancient times, acquiring a classic status that discouraged imitation: no other poet produced a comparable body of lyrics in the four centuries that followed (though that may have had more to do with social causes, particularly the parasitism that Italy was sinking into).In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, ode-writing became highly fashionable in England and a large number of aspiring poets imitated him both in English and in Latin.
These preliminary comments touch on a small sample of developments in the reception of Horace's work. More developments are covered epoch by epoch in the following sections.
Horace's influence can be traced in the works of his younger contemporaries, Ovid and Propertius. The former rivalled him in creating a completely natural style of expression in hexameter verse, and the latter cheekily mimicked him in his third book of elegies. His Epistles provided them with a model for their own verse letters and also for Ovid's exile poetry. His influence also seems to have had an ironically negative power. As mentioned above, the brilliance of his Odes may have discouraged imitation. Moreover publication of Odes 1–3 may have created a vogue for Pindar's lyrics, due to the fact that Horace had largely neglected that form (see Pindar#Influence and legacy). His criticism of the unpolished style of his predecessor in satire, Lucilius, may have revived popular interest in him. For Persius, and later for Juvenal, both Horace and Lucilius offered valid models — thus Persius described his own satires as lacking Lucilian acerbity and Horace's gentler touch. Juvenal's caustic satire was influenced mainly by Lucilius but Horace by then was a school classic and echoes of his work could be identified by Juvenal in a round-about way as "themes worthy of the Venusine lamp". The iambic genre seems almost to have disappeared after publication of Horace's Epodes. Ovid's Ibis was a rare attempt at the form, inspired mainly by Callimachus, and there are some iambic elements in Martial but they owe more to Catullus than Horace.
Statius paid homage to Horace by composing one poem in Sapphic and one in Alcaic meter (the verse forms most often associated with Odes), which he included in his collection of occasional poems, Silvae. Ancient scholars wrote commentaries on the lyric meters of the Odes. Caesius Bassus was one such metrical theorist, as well as being a poet himself. By a process called derivatio, he varied established meters through the addition or omission of syllables, a technique that Seneca the Younger borrowed when adapting Horatian meters to the stage.
Horace's poems continued to be school texts into late antiquity. Works attributed to Helenius Acro and Pomponius Porphyrio are just the remnants of a much larger body of Horatian scholarship. Porphyrio arranged the poems in non-chronological order, beginning with the Odes, reflecting their general popularity and/or appeal to scholars (the Odes generally kept this privileged position in the medieval manuscript tradition and thus in modern editions also). Horace was often evoked by poets of the fourth century, such as Ausonius and Claudian. Approaching the fifth century, Prudentius, presented himself in the role of a Christian Horace, adapting Horatian meters and giving Horatian motifs a Christian tone. St Jerome however modelled an uncompromising response to pagan literature, observing: "What harmony can there be between Christ and the Devil? What has Horace to do with the Psalter?" By the early 6th century, Horace and Prudentius were both part of a classical heritage that was struggling to survive the disorder of the times. Boethius, the last major author of classical Latin literature, could still take inspiration from Horace, sometimes mediated by Senecan tragedy. It can be argued that Horace's influence extended beyond poetry to dignify core themes and values, such as self-sufficiency, inner contentment and courage.
Middle Ages and Renaissance
The copying of classical texts virtually ceased in the period between the mid sixth century and the Middle Ages. Horace's work survived probably just in two or three books imported into northern Europe from Italy, these being the ancestors of six extant manuscripts dated to the ninth century. Two of the six manuscripts are French in origin, one was produced in Alsace, and the other three show Irish influence, probably written in continental monasteries (Lombardy for example). By the last half of the ninth century, direct knowledge of Horace's poetry was not unusual. His influence on the Carolingian Renaissance can be found in the poems of Heiric of Auxerre and in some manuscripts marked with neumes, possibly intended as an aid to the memorization and discussion of his lyric meters. Ode 4.11 is even neumed with the melody of a hymn to John the Baptist, Ut queant laxis, both composed in Sapphic stanzas. The hymn became the basis of the solfege system — an association with western music quite appropriate for a lyric poet, though the language of the hymn is Prudentian rather than Horatian.
The German scholar, Ludwig Traube, once dubbed the tenth and eleventh centuries The age of Horace (aetas Horatiana), and placed it between the aetas Vergiliana of the eighth and ninth centuries, and the aetas Ovidiana of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, a distinction supposed to reflect the dominant classical Latin influences of those times. It was over-schematized: Horace was a substantial influence in the ninth century as well, and it seems Traube had focused on Horace's Satires. Medieval scholars also over-schematized: they associated Horace's different genres with the different ages of man. A twelfth century scholar encapsulated the theory: "...Horace wrote four different kinds of poems on account of the four ages, the Odes for boys, the Ars Poetica for young men, the Satires for mature men, the Epistles for old and complete men." It was even thought that Horace had composed his works in the order in which they had been placed by ancient scholars. Despite its naivety, the schematism involved an appreciation of Horace's works as a collection, the Ars Poetica, Satires and Epistles appearing to find as much favour as the Odes. Dante referred to him as Orazio satiro, an epithet perhaps reflecting the special status that the Satires and Epistles had attained by the later Middle Ages, and he awarded him a privileged position in the first circle of Hell, with Homer, Ovid and Lucan.
One measure of Horace's popularity is the large number of quotes from all his works found in almost every genre of medieval literature, and the number of imitators composing in ancient quantitative Latin meter . The most prolific imitator of his Odes was the Bavarian monk, Metellus of Tegernsee, who composed a large collection of poems dedicated to the patron saint of Tegernsee Abbey, St Quirinus, around the year 1170. He imitated all Horace's lyrical meters then followed these up with imitations of other meters used by Prudentius and Boethius, indicating that variety, as first modelled by Horace, was considered a fundamental aspect of the genre. The content of his poems however was restricted to simple piety. Among the most successful imitators of Horace's hexameters was another Germanic author, calling himself Sextus Amarcius, around 1100, who composed four books, the first two exemplifying vices, the second pair mainly virtues, modelled on Horace's Satires and Epistles and exhibiting some of the stylistic differences between the two genres.
Petrarch is a key figure in the transition from imitations of Horace in quantitative Latin meter to imitations in accentual meters. His verse letters in Latin were modelled on the Epistles and he wrote a letter to Horace in the form of an ode. However he also borrowed from Horace when composing his Italian sonnets. One modern scholar has speculated that authors who imitated Horace in meters based on accentual rhythms (including stressed Latin and vernacular languages) may have considered their work a natural sequel to Horace's metrical variety. In France, Horace and Pindar were the inspiration for a group of vernacular authors called the Pléiade, including for example Pierre de Ronsard and Joachim du Bellay. Montaigne made constant and inventive use of Horatian quotes. The vernacular languages were dominant in Spain and Portugal in the sixteenth century, where Horace's influence is notable in the works of such authors as Garcilaso de la Vega, Juan Boscán Sá de Miranda, Antonio Ferreira and Fray Luis de León, the latter for example writing odes on the Horatian theme beatus ille (happy the man). The sixteenth century in western Europe was also an age of translations (except in Germany, where Horace wasn't translated until well into the next century). The first English translator was Thomas Drant, who placed translations of Jeremiah and Horace side by side in Medicinable Morall, 1566, the same year that the Scot George Buchanan paraphrased the Psalms in a Horatian context. Ben Jonson put Horace on the stage in 1601 in Poetaster, along with other classical Latin authors, giving them all their own verses to speak in translation. Horace's part evinces the independent spirit, moral earnestness and critical insight that many readers look for in his poems.
Age of Enlightenment
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, or the Age of Enlightenment, neo-classical culture was pervasive and English literature in the middle of that period has been dubbed Augustan. It is not always easy to separate out Horace's influence during those centuries (the mixing of influences is shown for example in one poet's pseudonym, Horace Juvenal).However a measure of his influence can be found in the diversity of the people interested in his works, both among readers and authors.
New editions of his works were published almost yearly. There were three new editions In 1612 (two in Leiden, one in Frankfurt) and again in 1699 (Utrecht, Barcelona, Cambridge). Cheap editions were plentiful and fine editions were also produced, including one whose entire text was engraved by John Pine in copperplate. The poet James Thomson owned five editions of Horace's work and the physician James Douglas had five hundred books with Horace-related titles. Horace was often commended in periodicals such as The Spectator, as a hallmark of good judgement, moderation and manliness, a focus for moralising. His verses offered a fund of mottoes, such as simplex munditiis, splendide mendax, sapere aude, nunc est bibendum, carpe diem (the latter perhaps being the only one still in common use today), quoted even in works as prosaic as Edmund Quincy's A treatise of hemp-husbandry (1765). The fictional hero Tom Jones recited his verses with feeling.His works were also used to justify commonplace themes, such as patriotic obedience, as in James Parry's English lines from an Oxford University collection in 1736.
What friendly Muse will teach my Lays
To emulate the Roman fire?
Justly to sound a Caeser's praise
Demands a bold Horatian lyre.
Horatian-style lyrics were increasingly typical of Oxford and Cambridge verse collections for this period, most of them in Latin but some like the previous ode in English. John Milton's Lycidas first appeared in such a collection. It has few Horatian echoes yet Milton's associations with Horace were lifelong. He composed a controversial version of Odes 1.5, and Paradise Lost includes references to Horace's 'Roman' Odes 3.1–6 (Book 7 for example begins with echoes of Odes 3.4). Yet Horace's lyrics could offer inspiration to libertines as well as moralists, and neo-Latin sometimes served as a kind of discrete veil for the risqué. Thus for example Benjamin Loveling authored a catalogue of Drury Lane and Covent Garden prostitutes, in Sapphic stanzas, and an encomium for a dying lady "of salacious memory". Some Latin imitations of Horace were politically subversive, such as a marriage ode by Anthony Alsop that included a rallying cry for the Jacobite cause. On the other hand, Andrew Marvel took inspiration from Horace's Odes 1.37 to compose his English masterpiece Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland, in which subtly nuanced reflections on the execution of Charles I echo Horace's ambiguous response to the death of Cleopatra (Marvel's ode was suppressed in spite of its subtlety and only began to be widely published in 1776). Samuel Johnson took particular pleasure in reading The Odes. Alexander Pope wrote direct Imitations of Horace (published with the original Latin alongside) and also echoed him in Essays and The Rape of the Lock. He even emerged as "a quite Horatian Homer" in his translation of the Iliad. Horace appealed also to female poets, such as Anna Seward (Original sonnets on various subjects, and odes paraphrased from Horace, 1799) and Elizabeth Tollet, who composed a Latin ode in Sapphic meter to celebrate her brother's return from overseas, with tea and coffee substituted for the wine of Horace's sympotic settings:
Quos procax nobis numeros, jocosque
Musa dictaret? mihi dum tibique
Temperent baccis Arabes, vel herbis
What verses and jokes might the bold
Muse dictate? while for you and me
Arabs flavour our cups with beans
Or Chinese with leaves.
Horace's Ars Poetica is second only to Aristotle's Poetics in its influence on literary theory and criticism. Milton recommended both works in his treatise of Education. Horace's Satires and Epistles however also had a huge impact, influencing theorists and critics such as John Dryden. There was considerable debate over the value of different lyrical forms for contemporary poets, as represented on one hand by the kind of four-line stanzas made familiar by Horace's Sapphic and Alcaic Odes and, on the other, the loosely structured Pindarics associated with the odes of Pindar. Translations occasionally involved scholars in the dilemmas of censorship. Thus Christopher Smart entirely omitted Odes 4.10 and re-numbered the remaining odes. He also removed the ending of Odes 4.1. Thomas Creech printed Epodes 8 and 12 in the original Latin but left out their English translations. Philip Francis left out both the English and Latin for those same two epodes, a gap in the numbering the only indication that something was amiss. French editions of Horace were influential in England and these too were regularly bowdlerized.
Most European nations had their own 'Horaces': thus for example Friedrich von Hagedorn was called The German Horace and Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski The Polish Horace (the latter was much imitated by English poets such as Henry Vaughan and Abraham Cowley). Pope Urban VIII wrote voluminously in Horatian meters, including an ode on gout.
19th century and on
The solfege system (Do, Re, Mi), which is the theme of a song by the Von Trapp children, is just a small sample of Horace's all-pervasive influence on western culture, even among people who might never have heard the name Quintus Horatius Flaccus.
Horace maintained a central role in the education of English-speaking elites right up until the 1960s. A pedantic emphasis on the formal aspects of language-learning at the expense of literary appreciation may have made him unpopular in some quarters yet it also confirmed his influence — a tension in his reception that underlies Byron's famous lines from Childe Harold (Canto iv, 77)
Then farewell, Horace, whom I hated so
Not for thy faults, but mine; it is a curse
To understand, not feel thy lyric flow,
To comprehend, but never love thy verse.
William Wordsworth's mature poetry, including the preface to Lyrical Ballads, reveals Horace's influence in its rejection of false ornament and he once expressed "a wish / to meet the shade of Horace...". John Keats echoed the opening of Horace's Epodes 14 in the opening lines of Ode to a Nightingale.
The Roman poet was presented in the nineteenth century as an honourary English gentleman. William Thackery produced a version of Odes 1.38 in which Horace's questionable 'boy' became 'Lucy', and Gerard Manley Hopkins translated the boy innocently as 'child'. Horace was translated by Sir Theodore Martin (biographer of Prince Albert) but minus some ungentlemanly verses, such as the erotic Odes 1.25 and Epodes 8 and 12. Lord Lytton produced a popular translation and William Gladstone also wrote translations during his last days as Prime Minister.
Edward FitzGerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, though formally derived from the Persian ruba'i, nevertheless shows a strong Horatian influence, since, as one modern scholar has observed,"...the quatrains inevitably recall the stanzas of the 'Odes', as does the narrating first person of the world-weary, ageing Epicurean Omar himself, mixing sympotic exhortation and 'carpe diem' with splendid moralising and 'memento mori' nihilism." Matthew Arnold advised a friend in verse not to worry about politics, an echo of Odes 2.11, yet later became a critic of Horace's inadequacies relative to Greek poets, as role models of Victorian virtues, observing: "If human life were complete without faith, without enthusiasm, without energy, Horace...would be the perfect interpreter of human life." Christina Rossetti composed a sonnet depicting a woman willing her own death steadily, drawing on Horace's depiction of 'Glycera' in Odes 1.19.5–6 and Cleopatra in Odes 1.37. A. E. Housman considered Odes 4.7, in Archilochian couplets, the most beautiful poem of antiquity and yet he generally shared Horace's penchant for quatrains, being readily adapted to his own elegiac and melancholy strain. The most famous poem of Ernest Dowson took its title and its heroine's name from a line of Odes 4.1, Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae, as well as its motif of nostalgia for a former flame. Kipling wrote a famous parody of the Odes, satirising their stylistic idiosyncracies and especially the extraordinary syntax, but he also used Horace's Roman patriotism as a focus for British imperialism, as in the story Regulus in the school collection Stalky & Co., which he based on Odes 3.5. Wilfred Owen's famous poem, quoted above, incorporated Horatian text to question patriotism while ignoring the rules of Latin scansion. However there were few other echoes of Horace in the war period, possibly because war is not actually a major theme of Horace's work.
Both W.H.Auden and Louis MacNeice began their careers as teachers of classics and both responded as poets to Horace's influence. Auden for example evoked the fragile world of the 1930s in terms echoing Odes 2.11.1–4, where Horace advises a friend not to let worries about frontier wars interfere with current pleasures.
And, gentle, do not care to know
Where Poland draws her Eastern bow,
What violence is done;
Nor ask what doubtful act allows
Our freedom in this English house,
Our picnics in the sun.
The American poet, Robert Frost, echoed Horace's Satires in the conversational and sententious idiom of some of his longer poems, such as The Lesson for Today (1941), and also in his gentle advocacy of life on the farm, as in Hyla Brook (1916), evoking Horace's fons Bandusiae in Ode 3.13. Now at the start of the third millennium, poets are still absorbing and re-configuring the Horatian influence, sometimes in translation (such as a 2002 English/American edition of the Odes by thirty-six poets) and sometimes as inspiration for their own work (such as a 2003 collection of odes by a New Zealand poet).
Horace's Epodes have largely been ignored in the modern era, excepting those with political associations of historical significance. The obscene qualities of some of the poems have repulsed even scholars yet more recently a better understanding of the nature of Iambic poetry has led to a re-evaluation of the whole collection. A re-appraisal of the Epodes also appears in creative adaptations by recent poets (such as a 2004 collection of poems that relocates the ancient context to a 1950s industrial town)
Satires 1 (c. 35–34 BC)
Satires 2 (c. 30 BC)
Epodes (30 BC)
Odes 1–3 (c. 23 BC)
Epistles 1 (c. 21 BC)
Carmen Saeculare (17 BC)
Epistles 2 (c. 11 BC)
Odes 4 (c. 11 BC)
Ars Poetica (c. 10–8 BC)
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BkI:XI Carpe Diem
Leuconoë, don’t ask, we never know, what fate the gods grant us, whether your fate or mine, don’t waste your time on Babylonian, futile, calculations. How much better to suffer what happens, whether Jupiter gives us more winters or this is the last one,
BkI:V Treacherous Girl
What slender boy, Pyrrha, drowned in liquid perfume, urges you on, there, among showers of roses, deep down in some pleasant cave? For whom did you tie up your hair,
Fierce winter slackens its grip: it’s spring and the west wind’s sweet change: the ropes are hauling dry hulls towards the shore, The flock no longer enjoys the fold, or the ploughman the fire, no more are the meadows white with hoary frost.
BkI:II To Augustus
The Father’s sent enough dread hail and snow to earth already, striking sacred hills with fiery hand, to scare the city,
See how Soracte stands glistening with snowfall, and the labouring woods bend under the weight: see how the mountain streams are frozen, cased in the ice by the shuddering cold?
BkI:I The Dedication: To Maecenas
Maecenas, descendant of royal ancestors, O my protector, and my sweet glory, some are delighted by showers of dust, Olympic dust, over their chariots, they
BkI:XIX Glycera’s Beauty
Cruel Venus, Cupid’s mother, Bacchus, too, commands me, Theban Semele’s son, and you, lustful Licentiousness, to recall to mind that love I thought long-finished.
Cultivate no plant, my Varus, before the rows of sacred vines, set in Tibur’s gentle soil, and by the walls Catilus founded: because the god decreed all things are hard for those who never drink, and he gave us no better way to lessen our anxieties.
BkI:VI A Tribute to Agrippa
You should be penned as brave, and a conqueror by Varius, winged with his Homeric poetry, whatever fierce soldiers, with vessels or horses, have carried out, at your command.
BkI:XXIII Chloë, Don’t Run.
You run away from me as a fawn does, Chloë, searching the trackless hills for its frightened mother, not without aimless terror of the pathless winds, and the woods.
BkI:XXX Ode To Venus
O Venus, the queen of Cnidos and Paphos, spurn your beloved Cyprus, and summoned by copious incense, come to the lovely shrine of my Glycera.
BkI:XVII The Delights of the Country
Swift Faunus, the god, will quite often exchange Arcady for my sweet Mount Lucretilis, and while he stays he protects my goats from the midday heat and the driving rain.
BkI:XIII His Jealousy
When you, Lydia, start to praise Telephus’ rosy neck, Telephus’ waxen arms, alas, my burning passion starts to mount deep inside me, with troubling anger.
BkII:X The Golden Mean
You’ll live more virtuously, my Murena, by not setting out to sea, while you’re in dread of the storm, or hugging fatal shores too closely, either.
Fierce winter slackens its grip: it’s spring and the west wind’s sweet change:
the ropes are hauling dry hulls towards the shore,
The flock no longer enjoys the fold, or the ploughman the fire,
no more are the meadows white with hoary frost.
Now Cytherean Venus leads out her dancers, under the pendant moon,
and the lovely Graces have joined with the Nymphs,
treading the earth on tripping feet, while Vulcan, all on fire, visits
the tremendous Cyclopean forges.