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Quintus Horatius Flaccus

, , 8/12/85 - 17/11/8
   A celebrated Roman poet, born at Venusia, December 8th, B.C. 65, during the consulship of L. Aurelius Cotta and L. Manlius Torquatus. His father, who was a freedman of the Horatian family, had gained considerable property as a coactor, a name applied to the servant of the moneybrokers, who attended at sales at auction, and collected the money from the purchasers (Sat. i. 6, 86). With these gains he purchased a farm in the neighbourhood of Venusia, on the banks of the Aufidus. In this place Horace appears to have lived until his eleventh or twelfth year, when his father, dissatisfied with the country school of Flavius, removed with his son to Rome, where he was placed under the care of a celebrated teacher, Orbilius Pupillus, of Beneventum, whose life has been written by Suetonius. After studying the ancient Latin poets, Horace acquired the Greek language. He also enjoyed, during the course of his education, the advice and assistance of his father, who appears to have been a sensible man, and who is mentioned by his son with the greatest esteem and respect. It is probable that, soon after he had assumed the toga virilis at the age of seventeen, he went to Athens to pursue his studies, where he appears to have remained till the breaking out of the Civil War during the second triumvirate. In this contest he joined the army of Brutus, was promoted to the rank of military tribune, and was present at the battle of Philippi, his flight from which he compares to a similar act on the part of the Greek poet Alcaeus.
    Though the life of Horace was spared by the imperial party, his paternal property at Venusia was confiscated, and he repaired to Rome, with the hope of obtaining a living by his literary exertions. Some of his poems attracted the notice of Vergil and Varius, who introduced him to Maecenas, and the liberality of that statesman quickly relieved the poet from all pecuniary difficulties. From this eventful epoch the current of his life flowed on in a smooth and gentle course. Satisfied with the competency which his patron had bestowed, Horace declined the offers made him by Augustus, to take him into his service as private secretary, and steadily resisted the temptation thus held out of rising to wealth and political consideration; advantages which would have been dearly purchased by the sacrifice of his independence. That he was really independent in the noblest sense of the word, in freedom of thought and action, is evidenced by that beautiful epistle to Maecenas, in which he states that if the favour of his patron is to be secured by a slavish renunciation of his own habits and feelings, he will at once say farewell to fortune and welcome poverty.
    Not long after his introduction to Maecenas the journey to Brundisium took place, and the gift of his Sabine farm soon followed. Rendered independent by the bounty of Maecenas, high in the favour of Augustus, courted by the proudest patricians of Rome, and blessed in the friendship of his brother poets, Vergil, Tibullus, and Varius, it is difficult to conceive a state of more perfect temporal felicity than Horace must have enjoyed. This happiness was first seriously interrupted by the death of Vergil, which was shortly succeeded by that of Tibullus. These losses must have sunk deeply into his mind. The solemn thoughts and serious studies which, in the first epistle of his first book, he declares shall henceforward occupy his time, were, if we may judge from the second epistle of the second book, confirmed by those sad warnings of the frail tenure of existence. The severest blow, however, which Horace had to encounter, was inflicted by the death of his early friend and best patron Maecenas. He had declared that he could never survive the loss of one who was "part of his soul", and his prediction was verified. The death of the poet occurred only a few weeks after that of his friend, on the 27th of November, B.C. 8, when he had nearly completed his fiftyeighth year. His remains were deposited next to those of Maecenas, on the Esquiline Hill.
    When at Rome, Horace lived in a small and plainly-furnished mansion on the Esquiline. When he left the city, he either betook himself to his Sabine farm or his villa at Tibur, the modern Tivoli. When in the country, as the whim seized him, he would either study hard or be luxuriously idle. The country was his favourite abode, and here he displayed all the genial simplicity of his nature.
    If we may believe Horace himself, his own preference was for a country life; and some of the truest poetry that he ever wrote deals with themes drawn from his love of rural scenes-- the peaceful meadows of Apulia, the Bandusian fountain, the cattle resting in the flickering shade through the long summer afternoon, the siesta by the brook-side, the cool vistas of the forest glades with the young deer browsing among the trees. His own homely tastes are delightfully set forth in the passages where he tells of his sitting about the fire at evening with his rustic neighbours, exchanging stories and cracking jokes over the mellow wine.
    Horace is described as short and stout, so that Augustus rallied him on his corpulency; of a rather quick temper, yet easily placated; and given to ease and the enjoyment of the good things of life. This disposition is perfectly reflected in his writings, which embody a genial, if not very deep, philosophy of life, and a good sense which robbed Epicureanism of its selfishness and Stoicism of its sourness and severity.
    The productions of Horace are divided into Odes, Epodes, Satires, and Epistles. The Epodes (Epodi) are the earliest of his works, and are written in various forms of iambic and dactylic verse. They were not published as a collection until B.C. 29, after the publication of his first book of Satires (Sermones), which had appeared about the year B.C. 35, dedicated to Maecenas. At about the time of the publication of the Epodes appeared the second book of Satires. The Odes (Carmina) were written in part as early as B.C. 29, but their formal appearance in three books is to be assigned to the year B.C. 20 or thereabouts. These three books were also dedicated to Maecenas. Following them came a continuation of the Satires in a new form, that of letters addressed each to a single person, and called Epistles (Epistulae). These are in two books, the first having been published soon after the first publication of the Odes, and the second not long before the poet's death in B.C. 8. In B.C. 17, the Carmen Saeculare or Secular Hymn was composed at the request of Augustus for the celebration of the Ludi Saeculares. Horace likewise, being in a way the Poet Laureate of Augustus, celebrated the victories of the emperor's stepsons, Tiberius and Drusus, in several new Odes, which he published with a number of others, as a fourth book of Odes in B.C. 13. The famous bit of literary criticism, the Epistula ad Pisones, usually known as the Ars Poetica, and perhaps unfinished, is of uncertain date, but is to be assigned with much probability to the year B.C. 20.
    Horace, as a poet, does not show the inspiration and Geist that would rank him with the great masters of lyric verse--Pindar, Alcaeus, Sappho-- whom he imitates; and he is himself thoroughly aware of his own poetic limitations. When he attempts the flight of the Theban eagle and when he writes in his role of Poet Laureate, he is never at his best; but, like Tennyson in his official verse, invariably suggests a person ill at ease over a perfunctory task. His temperament and tastes marked out for him a far different sphere, in which he is inimitable. When he gets away from battles and triumphs, and gods and heroes, and the whole machinery of Olympus, and turns to the familiar world in which he lives, he plays with a master hand upon the chords that vibrate in the breast of all men. Tenderness, humour, a lively and picturesque fancy, a sympathetic love of external nature in her familiar aspects, a keen insight into human nature in its varying moods--all these are his in a high degree, and joined with them is an undercurrent of occasional melancholy that not infrequently touches the source of tears. In those Odes where he depicts the lighter side of love, the genial intercourse of friends, and natural scenery, or in which he sets forth his amiable philosophy of life, he is quite inimitable. Words cannot do justice to the exquisite polish of his verse, the crispness and terse vigour of his phrases, and the perfect choice of words, which Petronius, in the following century, characterized as Horatii curiosa felicitas. He has filled the pages of modern literature with a host of sparkling epigrams, phrases, and proverbial lines--"jewels five words long"--more numerous, in fact, than those that have been taken from all the rest of Latin literature put together. No other writer in any language so abounds in pregnant phrases. His carpe diem is an epitome in two words of the whole practical teaching of Epicureanism. His nil desperandum, twisted out of its context, has almost become an English phrase. So, too, the expressions consule Planco-- damnosa quid non--nunc vino pellite curas--post equitem sedet atra cura--non omnis moriar--semper avarus eget--sapere aude--nil admirari--sub iudice lis est--disiecti membra poetae--and a hundred others.
    It is in his Satires and Epistles that the true Horace is most clearly seen, freed from the uncomfortable trappings of the grand style, and, as it were, chatting at ease among his friends. Here he most winningly sets forth his shrewd and kindly views of men and things, laughing good-humouredly at the foibles of his friends and at his own as well, like Thackeray, except that in the laugh of Horace there is no subacid tone of even a pretended cynicism. The whole tenour of his teaching is moderation--the mediocritas aurea, the modus in rebus--which he preaches incessantly alike to the ambitious, the pleasure-loving, and the philosopher. Not even virtue itself is to be pursued beyond what is reasonable. This is essentially the philosophy of "good form," of the man of the world, enlivened by a sense of humour that is fatal alike to the fanaticism of the "crank" and the priggish solemnity of the Philistine. It is the philosophy of the average man, and it explains the constant popularity of Horace in all ages and all nations, and the fact that he is today, at the end of the nineteenth century, the most modern writer that literature can show us. He, more than any other, makes antiquity live for us again; and, stripping off the superficial differences of time and place and language, flashes upon the mind a conviction of the essential unity of the present and the past. He is thus the most human of all the classic writers, and the one whose wit and wisdom linger in the mind of the most idle student long after the lines of Aeschylus and Vergil and even Homer have been forgotten. Hence we find him admired, translated, and imitated by men of such different types as Pope, Byron, Gladstone, and Eugene Field. His nearest representative in English literature is Pope; but, as Mr. Mackail well says, to suggest a true parallel we must unite in thought the excellence of Pope and Gray with the easy wit and cultured grace of Addison.
    From an early date Horace's poems were used in Roman schools as a text-book, and were expounded by Roman scholars, especially by Acron and Porphyrion. His use as a school-text has perpetuated the order in which his works are now always printed, that being the order in which the Roman school-boys read them. As Horace has been continuously popular, there exist a very large number of MSS. (about 250) of the text--none, however, older than the ninth century A.D. The oldest is the Codex Bernensis (denoted as B), written in Ireland. This is incomplete. A separate source of Horace is represented by the Codex Blandinius (Vetustissimus or V), in part collated by Cruquius (Jacques de Crusques) at Blankenberg, but destroyed about 1566. The best representative of this "family" is probably the Codex Gothanus (G), dating from the year 1456. The Horatian MSS. are enumerated in Keller and Holder's preface.

This text is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Nov 2005 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks


Q. Horatius Flaccus, was born on the 8th of December (vi. idus Decemb.), in the year B. C. 65, A. U. 689, during the consulship of L. Aurelius Cotta and L. Manlius Torquatus. The poet is his own biographer. The place of his birth, the station and occupation of his father, the principal events and the general character of his life, rest upon his own authority. His birthplace was on the doubtful confines of Lucania and Apulia, in the territory of the military colony Venusia. He appears to have cherished an attachment to the romantic scenes of his infancy; he alludes more than once to the shores of the sounding Aufidus, near which river he was born (Carm. iii. 30. 10, iv. 9. 2), and in a sweet description of an adventure in his childhood (Carm. iii. 4. 9, 20), he introduces a very distinct and graphic view of the whole region, now part of the Basilicata. (Comp. A. Lombardi, Monumente della Basilicata, in Bullet. della Instit. Archaeol. di Roma, vol. i. Dec. 19, 1829.)
  The father of Horace was a libertinus: he had received his manumission before the birth of the poet, who was of ingenuous birth, but did not altogether escape the taunt, which adhered to persons even of remote servile origin. (Sat. i. 6. 46.) Of his mother nothing is known: from the silence of the poet, it is probable that she died during his early youth. It has been the natural and received opinion that the father derived his name from some one of the great family of the Horatii, which, However, does not appear to have maintained its distinction in the later days of the republic. But there seems fair ground for the recent opinion, that lie may have been a freedman of the colony of Venusia, which was inscribed in the Horatian tribe. (G. F. Grotefend, in Ersch and Gruber's Encyclopadie, and E. L. Grotefend, in the Literary Transactions of Darmstadt.) We know no reason for his having the praenomen Quintus, or the more remarkable agnomen Flaccus: this name is not known to have been borne by any of the Horatian family.
  His father's occupation was that of collector (coactor), either of the indirect taxes farmed by the publicans, or at sales by auction (exactionum or exauctionum); the latter no doubt a profitable office, in the great and frequent changes and confiscations in property during the civil wars. With the profits of his office he had purchased a small farm in the neighbourhood of Venusia, where the poet was born. The father, either in his parental fondness for his only son, or discerning some hopeful promise in the boy (who, if much of the romantic adventure alluded to above be not mere poetry, had likewise attracted some attention in the neighbourhood "as not unfavoured by the gods"), determined to devote his whole time and fortune to the education of the future poet. Though by no means rich, and with an unproductive farm, lie declined to send the young Horace to the common school, kept in Venusia by one Flavius, to which the children of the rural aristocracy, chiefly retired military officers (the consequential sons of consequential centurions), resorted, with their satchels and tablets, and their monthly payments. (Sat. i. 71. 5.) Probably about his twelfth year, the father carried the young Horace to Rome, to receive the usual education of a knight's or senator's son. He took care that the youth should not be depressed with the feeling of inferiority, and provided him with dress and with the attendance of slaves, befitting the higher class with which he mingled. The honest parent judged that even if his son should be compelled to follow his own humble calling, he would derive great advantages from a good education. But he did not expose the boy unguarded to the dangers and temptations of a dissolute capital : the father accompanied him to the different schools of instruction, watched over his morals with gentle severity, and, as the poet assures us, not only kept him free from vice, but even the suspicion of it. Of his father Horace always writes with becoming gratitude, bordering on reverence. (Sat. i. 4. 105.) One of these schools was kept by Orbilius, a retired military man, whose flogging propensities have been immortalised by his pupil. (Epist. xi. 1. 71.) He was instructed in the Greek and Latin languages: the poets were the usual school books -- Homer in the Greek, the old tragic writer, Livius Andronicus (who had likewise translated the Odyssey into Saturnian verse), in the Latin.
  But at this time a good Roman education was not complete without a residence at Athens, the great school of philosophy, perhaps of theoretic oratory. The father of Horace was probably dead before his son set out for Athens; if alive, he did not hesitate to incur this further expense. In his 18th year the young Horace proceeded to that seat of learning. Theomnestus the Academic, Cratippus the Peripatetic, and Philodemus the Epicurean, were then at the head of the different schools of philosophy. Horace seems chiefly to have attached himself to the opinions which he heard in the groves of Academus, though later in life he inclined to those of Epicurus. (Epist. ii. 2. 45.) Of his companions we know nothing certain; but Quintus Cicero the younger was among the youth then studying at what we may call this university of antiquity. The civil wars which followed the death of Julius Caesar interrupted the young Horace in his peaceful and studious retirement. Brutus came to Athens; and in that city it would have been wonderful if most of the Roman youth had not thrown themselves with headlong ardour into the ranks of republican liberty. Brutus, it is probable, must have found great difficulty in providing Roman officers for his new-raised troops. Either from his personal character, or from the strong recommendation of his friends, Horace, though by no means of robust constitution, and altogether inexperienced in war, was advanced at once to the rank of a military tribune, and the command of a legion: his promotion, as he was of ignoble birth, made him an object of some jealousy. It is probable that he followed Brutus into Asia; some of his allusions to the cities in Asia Minor appear too distinct for borrowed or conventional description ; and the somewhat coarse and dull fun of the story which forms the subject of the seventh satire seems to imply that Horace was present when the adventure occurred in Clazomenae. If indeed he has not poetically heightened his hard service in these wars, he was more than once in situations of difficulty and danger. (Carnm. ii. 7. 1.) But the battle of Philippi put an end to the military career of Horace; and though he cannot be charged with a cowardly abandonment of his republican principles, he seems, happily for mankind, to have felt that his calling was to more peaceful pursuits. The playful allusion of the poet to his flight, his throwing away his shield, and his acknowledgment of his fears (Carm. ii. 7. 9, Epist. ii. 2. 46, &c.) have given rise to much grave censure and as grave defence. (Lessing, Rettungen des Horaz. Werke, vol. iv., ed. 1838; Wieland, Notes on Epist. ii. 2.) It could be no impeachment of his courage that he fled with the rest, after the total discomfiture of the army; and that he withdrew at once from what his sagacity perceived to be a desperate cause. His poetical piety attributes his escape to Mercury, the god of letters. Horace found his way back to Italy, and as perhaps he was not sufficiently rich or distinguished to dread proscription, or, according to the life by Suetonius, having obtained his pardon, he ventured at once to return to Rome. He had lost all his hopes in life; his paternal estate had been swept away in the general forfeiture. Venusia is one of the cities named by Appian (B. C. iv. 3) as confiscated. According to the life by Suetonius, Horace bought a clerkship in the quaestor's office. But from what sources he was enabled to obtain the purchase-money (in these uncertain times such offices may have been sold at low prices), whether from the wreck of his fortunes, old debts, or the liberality of friends, we have no clue. On the profits of that place he managed to live with the utmost frugality. His ordinary fare was but a vegetable diet; his household stuff of the meanest ware, and, unlike poets in general, he had a very delicate taste for pure water. How long he held this place does not appear; but the scribes seem to have thought that they had a right to his support of the interests of their corporation, after he became possessed of his Sabine estate. (Sat. ii. 7. 36.) Yet this period of the poet's life is the most obscure, and his own allusions perplex and darken the subject. In more than one place he asserts that his poverty urged him to become a poet. (Epist. ii. 2. 51.)
  But what was this poetry? Did he expect to make money or friends by it? or did he write merely to disburthen himself of his resentment and indignation at that period of depression and destitution, and so to revenge himself upon the world by an unsparing exposure of its vices ? Poetry in those times could scarcely have been a lucrative occupation. If, as is usually supposed, his earliest poetry was bitter satire, either in the Lucilian hexameter, or the sharp iambics of his Epodes, he could hardly hope to make friends; nor, however the force and power of such writings might command admiration, were they likely to conciliate the ardent esteem of the great poets of the time, of Varius or of Virgil, and to induce them to recommend him to the friendship of Maecenas. But this assuredly was not his earliest poetic inspiration. He had been tempted at Athens to write Greek verses: the genius of his country--the God Quirinus--had wisely interfered, and prevented him from sinking into an indifferent Greek versifier, instead of becoming the most truly Roman poet. (Sat. i. 10. 31, 35.) It seems most probable that some of the Odes (though collected and published, and perhaps having received their last finish, at a later period of his life) had been written and circulated among his friends. Some of his amatory lyrics have the ardour and freshness of youth, while in others he acknowledges the advance of age. When those friendly poets, Varius and Virgil, told Maecenas what Horace was (dixere quid essem), they must have been able to say more in his praise than that he had written one or two coarse satires, and perhaps a few bitter iambics; more especially if, according to the old scholiast, Maecenas himself had been the object of his satire. This interpretation, however, seems quite inconsistent with the particular account which the poet gives of his first interview with Maecenas (Sat. i. 6, 54, &c). On his own side there is at first some shyness and timidity, afterwards a frank and simple disclosure of his birth and of his circumstances: on the other the careless, abrupt, and somewhat haughtily indifferent manner of the great man, still betrays no appearance of wounded pride, to be propitiated by humble apology. For nearly nine months Maecenas took no further notice of the poet but at the end of that period he again sought his acquaintance, and mutual esteem grew up with the utmost rapidity. Probably the year following this commencement of friendship (B. C. 37), Horace accompanied his patron on that journey to Brundusium, so agreeably described in the fifth Satire, book i. This friendship quickly ripened into intimacy; and between the appearance of the two books of Satires, his earliest published works, Maecenas bestowed upon the poet a Sabine farm, sutficient to maintain him in ease, comfort, and even in content (satis beatus unicis Sabinis), during the rest of his life. The situation of this Sabine farm was in the valley of Ustica (Carem. i. 17. 11), within view of the mountain Lucretilis, part of what is now called Mount Gennaro, and near the Digentia, about fifteen miles from Tibur (Tivoli). The valleys still bear names clearly resembling those which occur in the Horatian poetry: the Digentia is now the Licenza; Mandela, Bardella; Ustica, Rustica. (Capmartin de Chaupy, Maison d'Horace, vol. iii. Rome, 1767; Sir W. Gell, Rome and its Vicinity, vol. i. p. 315.)
  For the description of the villa, its aspect, climate, and scenery, see Epist. i. 10. 11, 23, and Epist. i. 16. A site exactly answering to the villa of Horace, and on which were found ruins of buildings, was first discovered by the Abbe Capmartin de Chaupy, and has since been visited and illustrated by other travellers and antiquarians. (Domenico di Sanctis, Dissertazione sopra la Villa d'Orazio Flacco, Ravenna, 1784.) The site and ruins of the Temple of Vacuna (Epist. i. 10. 49) seem to be ascertained. (Sebastiani, Viaggio a Tivoli.)
  The estate was not extensive; it produced corn, olives, and vines; it was surrounded by pleasant and shady woods, and with abundance of the purest water; it was superintended by a bailiff (villicus), cultivated by five families of free coloni (Epist. i. 14. 3); and Horace employed about eight slaves (Sat. ii. 7. 118). Besides this estate, his admiration of the beautiful scenery in the neighbourhood of Tibur inclined him either to hire or to purchase a small cottage in that romantic town; and all the later years of his life were passed between these two country residences and Rome. (For Tibur, see Carm. i. 7. 10-14. ii. 6. 5-8, iii. 4. 21-24, Epod. i. 29-30; Epist. i. 7.44-45, i.8. 12, Carm. iv. 2. 27-32, iv. 3. 10-12.) In Rome, when the poet was compelled to reside there, either by business, which he hated (invisa negotia), or the societv which he loved, if he did not take up his abode, he was constantly welcome in some one of the various mansions of his patron; and Maecenas occasionally visited the quiet Sabine retreat of the poet.
  From this time his life glided away in enjoyable repose, occasionally threatened but not seriously interrupted by those remote dangers which menaced or disturbed the peace of the empire. When Maecenas was summoned to accompany Octavius in the war against Antony, Horace (Epod. i.) had offered to attend him; but Maecenas himself either remained at Rome, or returned to it without leaving Italy. From that time Maecenas himself resided constantly either in his magnificent palace on the Esquiline, or in some of his luxurious villas in the neighbourhood of Rome. Horace was one of his chosen society.
  This constant transition from the town to the country life is among the peculiar charms of the Horatian poetry, which thus embraces every form of Roman society. He describes, with the same intimate familiarity, the manners, the follies, and vices of the capital; the parasites, the busy coxcombs, the legacy-hunters, the luxurious banquets of the city; the easy life, the quiet retirement, the more refined society, the highest aristocratical circles, both in the city, and in the luxurious country palace of the villa; and even something of the simple manners and frugal life of the Sabine peasantry.
  The intimate friendship of Horace introduced him naturally to the notice of the other great men of his period, to Agrippa, and at length to Augustus himself. The first advances to friendship appear to have been made by the emperor; and though the poet took many opportunities of administering courtly flattery to Augustus, celebrating his victories over Antony, and on the western and eastern frontiers of the empire, as well as admiring his acts of peace, vet he seems to have been content with the patronage of Maecenas, and to have declined the offers of favour and advancement made by Augustus himself. According to the life by Suetonius, the emperor desired Maecenas to make over Horace to him as his private secretary; and instead of taking offence at the poet's refusal to accept this office of trust and importance, spoke of him with that familiarity (if the text be correct, coarse and unroyal familiarity) which showed undiminished favour, and bestowed on him considerable sums of money. He was ambitious also of being celebrated in the poetry of Horace. The Carmen Seculare was written by his desire; and he was, in part at least, the cause of Horace adding the fourth book of Odes, by urging him to commemorate the victory of his step-sons Drusus and Tiberius over the Vindelici.
  With all the other distinguished men of the time, the old aristocracy, like Aelius Lamia, the statesmen, like Agrippa, the poets Varius, Virgil, Pollio, Tibullus, Horace lived on terms of mutual respect and attachment. The "Personae Horatianae" would contain almost every famous name of the age of Augustus.
  Horace died on the 17th of November, A. U. C. 746, B. C. 8, aged nearly 57. His death was so sudden, that he had not time to make his will; but he left the administration of his affairs to Augustus, whom he instituted as his heir. IIe was buried on the slope of the Esquiline Hill, close to his friend and patron Maecenas, who had died before him in the same year. (Clinton, Fasti Hellen. sub ann.)
  Horace has described his own person. (Epist. i. 20. 24.) He was of short stature, with dark eyes and dark hair (Art. Poet. 37), but early tinged with grey. (Epist. l.c.; Carm. iii. 14. 25). In his youth he was tolerably robust (Epist. i. 7. 26), but suffered from a complaint in his eyes. (Sat. i. 5. 30.) In more advanced life he grew fat, and Augustus jested about his protuberant belly. (Aug. Epist. Frag. apud Sueton. in Vita.) His health was not always good. He was not only weary of the fatigue of war, but unfit to bear it (Carm. ii. 6, 7, Epod. i. 15), and he seems to have inclined to be a valetudinarian. (Epist. i. 7. 3.) When young he was irascible in temper, but easily placable. (Carm. i. 16. 22, &c., iii. 14. 27, Epist. i. 20. 25.) In dress lie was rather careless. (Epist. i. 1. 94.) His habits, even after he became richer, were generally frugal and abstemious; though on occasions, both in youth and in maturer age, he seems to have indulged in conviviality. He liked choice wine, and in the society of friends scrupled not to enjoy the luxuries of his time.
  Horace was never married; he seems to have entertained that aristocratical aversion to legitimate wedlock, against which, in the higher orders, Augustus strove so vainly, both by the infliction of civil disabilities and the temptation of civil privileges. In his various amours he does not appear to have had any children. Of these amours the patient ingenuity of some modern writers has endeavoured to trace the regular date and succession, if to their own satistfaction, by no means to that of their readers. With the exception of the adventure with Canidia or Gratidia, which belongs to his younger days, and one or two cases in which the poet alludes to his more advanced age, all is arbitrary and conjectural; and though in some of his amatory Odes, and in one or two of the latter Epodes, there is the earnestness and force of real passion, others seem but the play of a graceful fancy. Nor is the notion of Buttman, though rejected with indignation by those who have wrought out thisminute chronology of the mistresses of Horace, by any means improbable, that some of them are translations or imitations of Greek lyrics, or poems altogether ideal,and without any real groundwork. (Buttman, Essay in German, in the Berlin Transactions, 1804, and in his Mythologus, translated in the Philological Museum, vol. i.)
  The political opinions of Horace were at first republican. Up to the battle of Philippi (as we have seen) he adhered to the cause of Brutus. (On his return to Rome, he quietly acquiesced in the great change which established the imperial monarchy. He had abandoned public life altogether, and had become a man of letters. His dominant feeling appears to have been a profound horror for the crimes and miseries of the civil wars. The sternest republican might rejoice in the victory of Rome and Augustus over Antony and the East. A government, under whatever form, which maintained internal peace, and the glory of the Roman arms on all the frontiers, in Spain, in Dacia, and in the East, commanded his grateful homage. He may have been really, or may have fancied himself, deceived by the consummate skill with which Augustus disguised the growth of his own despotism under the old republican forms. Thus, though he gradually softened into the friend of the emperor's favourite, and at length the poetical courtier of the emperor himself, he still maintained a certain independence of character. He does not suppress his old associations of respect for the republican leaders, which break out in his admiration of the indomitable spirit of Cato; and he boasts, rather than disguises, his services in the army of Brutus. If, with the rest of the world, he acquiesced in the inevitable empire, it is puerile to charge him with apostacy.
  The religion of Horace was that of his age, and of the men of the world in his age. He maintains the poetic and conventional faith in the gods with decent respect, but with no depth of devotion. There is more sincerity in a sort of vague sense of the providential government, to which he attributes his escape from some of the perils of his life, his flight from Philippi, his preservation from a wolf in the Sabine wood (Carm. i. 22. 9), and from the falling of a tree in his own grounds. (Car,. ii. 13. 17, 27, iii. 8. 6.) In another well-known passage, he professes to have been startled into religious emotion, and to have renounced a godless philosophy, from hearing thunder in a cloudless sky.
  The philosophy of Horace was, in like manner, that of a man of the world. He playfully alludes to his Epicureanism, but it was practical rather than speculative Epicureanism. His mind, indeed, was not in the least speculative. Common life wisdom was his study, and to this he brought a quickness of observation, a sterling common sense, and a passionless judgment, which have made his works the delight and the unfailing treasure of felicitous quotation to practical men.
   The love of Horace for the country, and his intercourse with the sturdy and uncorrupted Sabine peasantry, seems to have kept alive an honest freedom and boldness of thought; while his familiarity with the great, his delight in good society, maintained that exquisite urbanity, that general amenity, that ease without forwardness, that respect without servility, which induced Shaftesbury to call him the most gentlemanlike of the Roman poets.
  In these qualities lie the strength and excellence of Horace as a poet. His Odes want the higher inspirations of lyric verse--the deep religious sentiment, the absorbing personality, the abandonment to overpowering and irresistible emotion, the unstudied harmony of thought and language, the absolute unity of imagination and passion which belongs to the noblest lyric song. His amatory verses are exquisitely graceful, but they have no strong ardour, no deep tenderness, nor even much of light and joyous gaiety. But as works of refined art, of the most skilful felicities of language and of measure, of translucent expression, and of agreeable images, embodied in words which imprint themselves indelibly on the memory, they are unrivalled. According to Quintilian, Horace was almost the only Roman lyric poet worth reading.
   As a satirist Horace is without the lofty moral indignation, the fierce vehemence of invective, which characterised the later satirists. In the Epodes there is bitterness provoked, it should seem, by some personal hatred, or sense of injury, and the ambition of imitating Archilocus; but in these he seems to have exhausted all the malignity and violence of his temper. In the Satires, it is the folly rather than the wickedness of vice, which he touches with such playful skill. Nothing can surpass the keenness of his observation, or his ease of expression : it is the finest comedy of manners, in a descriptive instead of a dramatic form. If the Romans had been a theatrical people, and the age of Augustus a dramatic age, Horace, as far at least as the perception of character, would have been an exquisite dramatic writer.
  But the Epistles are the most perfect of the Horatian poetry -- the poetry of manners and society, the beauty of which consists in a kind of ideality of common sense and practical wisdom. The Epistles of Horace are with the Poem of Lucretius, the Georgics of Virgil, and pert haps the Satires of Juvenal, the most perfect and most original form of Roman verse. The title of the Art of Poetry for the Epistle to the Pisos, is as old as Quintilian, but it is now agreed that it was not intended for a complete theory of the poetic art. Wieland's very probable notion that it was intended to dissuade one of the younger Pisos from devoting himself to poetry, for which he had little genius, or at least to suggest the difficulties of attaining to perfection, was anticipated by Colman in the preface to his translation. (Colman's Works, vol. iii.; compare Wieland's Horazens Briefe, ii. 185.)
  The works of Horace became popular very soon. In the time of Juvenal they were, with the poems of Virgil, the common school book. (Juv. Sat. vii. 227.)
  The chronology of the Horatian poems is of great importance, as illustrating the life, the times, and the writings of the poet. The earlier attempts by Tan. Faber, by Dacier, and by Masson, in his elaborate Vie d'Horace, to assign each poem to its particular year in the poet's life, were crushed by the dictatorial condemnation of Bentley, who in his short preface laid down a scheme of dates, both for the composition and the publication of each book. The authority of Bentley has been in general acquiesced in by English scholars. The late Dr. Tate, with admiration approaching to idolatry, almost resented every departure from the edict of his master; and in his Horatius Restitutus published the whole works in the order established by Bentley. Mr. Fynes Clinton, though in general favouring the Bentleian chronology, admits that in some cases his dates are at variance with facts. (Fasti Hellenici, vol. iii.) Nor were the first attempts to overthrow the Bentleian chronology by Sanadon and others (Jani's was almost a translation of Masson's life) successful in shaking the arch-critic's authority among the higher class of scholars.
  Recently, however, the question has been reopened with extraordinary activity by the continental scholars. At least five new and complete schemes have been framed, which attempt to assign a precise period almost to every one of the poems of Horace. 1. Quaestiones Horatianae, a C. Kirchner, Lips. 1834. 2. Histoire de la Vie et des Poesiees dHorace, par M. le Baron Walckenaer, 2 vols. Paris, 1840. 3. Fasti Horatiani, scripsit C. Franke, 1839. 4. The article Horatius, in Ersch and Gruber's Encyclopadie, by G. F. Grotefend. 5. Quintus Horatius Flaccus als Mensch und Dichter, von Dr. W. E. Weber, Jena, 1844. Besides these writers, others, as Heindorf (in his edition of the Satires), C. Passow, in Vita Horat. (prefixed to a German translation of the Epistles), C. Vanderbourg, Preface and Notes to French translation of the Odes, and Weichert, in Poetar. Latin. Reliq., have entered into this question.
  The discrepancies among these ingenious writers may satisfy every judicious reader that they have attempted an impossibility; that there are no internal grounds, either historical or aesthetic, which can, without the most fanciful and arbitrary proofs, determine the period in the life of Horace to which belong many of his poems, especially of his Odes.
  On the other hand, it is clear that the chronology of Bentley must submit to very important modifications.
  The general outline of his scheme as to the period of the publication of the several books does not differ very materially from that of Franke. On the successive order of publication there is the same agreement, with few exceptions, in all the writers on this prolific subject. Though Bentley's opinion, that the poems were published collectively in separate books, be unquestionably true, yet his assertion that Horace devoted himself exclusively to one kind of poetry at a time, that he first wrote all the Satires, then began to write iambics (the Epodes), then took to lyric poetry, is as hardy, groundless, and improbable, as any of the theories which he rejects with such.sovereign contempt. The poet himself declares that he was driven in his sweet youth to write iambics (the Bentleian theory assigns all the Epodes to his 34th and 35th years). Some of the Odes have the freshness and ardour of youth; and it seems certain that when Horace formed the friendship of Pollio, Varius, and Virgil, and was introduced by the two latter to Maecenas, he must have shown more than the promise of poetic talent. It is hence most probable that, although not collected or published till a later period, and Horace appears to have been slow and unwilling to expose his poems on the shelves of the Sosii (Sat. i. 4. 70), many of his lyric and iambic pieces had been recited before his friends (Sat. i. 4. 73), had been circulated in private, and formed, no doubt, his recommendation to the lovers and patrons of letters. Either this must have been the case, or he must have gained his reputation by poems which have not survived, or which he himself did not think worthy of publication.
  The first book of Satires (on this all agree) was the first publication. Some indeed have asserted that the two books appeared together; but the first line of the second book--
"Sunt quibus in Satira videar nimis acer," is conclusive that Horace had already attained public reputation as a writer of satire. The difference between the Chronology of Bentley and that of Franke, in his Fasti Horatiani, is this: that Bentley peremptorily confines the composition (natales) of this book to the 26th, 27th, and 28th years of the poet's life (and Bentley reckons the year of the poet's birth, though born in December, as his first year), and leaves him idle for the two following years. Franke more reasonably enlarges the period of composition from his 24th to his 30th year. In this year (u. c. 719, n. c. 35), the publication of the first book of Satires took place. In the interval between the two books of Satires, Horace received from Maecenas the gift of the Sabine estate.
  The second book of Satires is assigned by Bentley to the 31st, 32d, and 33d (30, 31, 32) of the poet's life; the publication is placed by Franke in the 35th year of Horace (B. C. 30). This is perhaps the most difficult point in the Horatian chronology, and depends on the interpretation of passages in the sixth Satire. If that Satire were written and the book published after the war with Antony and the victory of Actium, it is renarkable that neither that Satire, nor the book itself, in any passage, should contain any allusion to events which so fully occupied, it appears from other poems, the mind of Horace. If, however, the division of lands to be made to the veterans in Italy or Sicily (Serm. i. 6. 56) be that made after the battle of Actium, this must be conclusive for the later date. To avoid this objection, Bentley suggested a former division, made in the year of Horace 31 (30), B. C. 35. But as seven full, and nearer eight years (septimus octavo propior jam fugcrit annus) had elapsed when that Satire was written, since his introduction to Maecenas, to which must be added nine months between the first introduction and the intimate friendship, the introduction is thrown up before the battle of Philippi, B. C. 42, and we have besides this to find time for Horace to acquire his poetic fame, to form his friendships with Virgil and Varius, &c. The only way to escape, if we refer the division to that suggested by Bentley, is to suppose that it was promised in B. C. 35, but not fulfilled till several years later; but this is improbable in any way, and hardly reconcileable with the circumstances of that division in the historians. It is quite impossible to date the publication of this book earlier than the latter part of B. C. 32 (aet. Horat. 33), the year before Actium; but the probability is strong for the year after, B. C. 31.
  Still so far there is no very great discrepancy in the various schemes; and (with the exception of M. Vanderbourg and Baron Walckenaer) the Epodes are generally allowed to be the third book in the order of publication; and Bentley and the more recent writers likewise nearly concur in the date of publication, the poet's 35th or 36th year. Bentley, however, and his followers authoritatively confine the period of its composition to the 34th and 35th year of his life. There can be no doubt that when he speaks of himself as a writer of iambics, Horace alludes to his Epodes. (Franke, note) The name of Epodes is of later and very questionable origin. But as he asserts that in his sweet youth he wrote iambics, either those iambics must be lost, or must be contained in the book of Epodes. The single passage in which he seems to rest his poetical fame up to a certain period on his Satires alone, is in itself vague and general (Sat. i. 4. 41.); and even if literally taken, is easily explicable, on the supposition that the Epodes were published later than the Satires.
  The observation of Bentley, which every one would wish to be true, that all the coarser and more obscene poems of Horace belong to his earlier period, and that he became in mature years more refined, is scarcely just, if the more gross of the Epodes were written in his 34th and 35th years : the adventures and connections to which they allude are rather those of a young and homeless adventurer, cast loose on a vicious capital, than the guest and friend of Maecenas, and the possessor of a sufficient estate. Franke dates the publica ion late B. C. 30, or early B. C. 29. (Vit. Hor. 36.) We are persuaded that their composition extended over the whole period from his first residence in Rome nearly to the date of their publication. Epodes vii. and xvi. ? are more probably referred to the war of Perusia, B. C. 40, than to that with Antony; and to this part of the poet's life belong those Epodes which allude to Canidia.
  The three first books of Odes follow by almost universal consent in the order of publication, though the chronologists differ as to their having appeared consecutively or at the same time. According to Bentley, they were composed and published in succession, between the 34th and 42d, according to Franke, the 35th and 41st or 42d year of the poet. Their successive or simultaneous publication within that period might appear unquestionable but for the great difficulty of the third Ode, relating to the poet Virgil about to embark for Greece. It is said by Donatus that Virgil did undertake such a voyage in the year B. C. 19, three years later than the last date of Bentley--five than that of Franke. Hence Grotefend and others delay the publication of the three books of Odes to that year or the following; and so perplexing is the difficulty, that Franke boldly substitutes the name of Quintilius for that of Virgilius; others recur to the last resort of desperate critics, and imagine another Virgilius. Dr. Weber, perhaps more probably, suspects an error in Donatus. If indeed it relates to that voyage of Virgil (yet may not Virgil have undertaken such a voyage before?), we absolutely fix the publication of the three books of Odes to one year, that of Virgil's voyage and death; for after the death of Virgil Horace could not have published his Ode imploring the gods to grant him safe return. We entertain no doubt that, though first published at one of these periods, the three first books of Odes contain poems written at very different times, some in the earliest years of his poetry; and Buttman's opinion that he steadily and laboriously polished the best of his smaller poems, till he had brought them to perfection, and then united them in a book, accounts at once for the irregular order, in point of subject, style, and metre, in which they occur.
   The first book of the Epistles is by Bentley assigned to the 46th and 47th (45th and 46th), by Franke is placed between the 41st and 45th years of Horace. Bentley's chronology leaves two years of the poet's life, the 44th and 45th, entirely unoccupied.
  The Carmen Seculare, by almost universal consent, belongs to the 48th year of Horace, B. C. 17.
  The fourth book of Odes, according to Bentley, belongs to the 49th and 51st; to Franke, the 48th and 52d years of the poet's life. It was published in his 51st or 52d year.
  The dates of the second book of Epistles, and of the Ars Poetica, are admitted to be uncertain, though both appeared before the poet's death, ann. aet. 57.
  There are several ancient Lives of Horace : the first and only one of importance is attributed to Suetonius; but if by that author, considerably interpolated. The second is to be found in the edition of Horace by Bond. The third from a MS. in the Vatican library, was published by M. Vanderbourg, and prefixed to his French translation of the Odes. A fourth from a Berlin MS. edited by Kirchner, Quaesliones Horatianae. These, however, are later than the Commentators, Acron and Porphyrion.
   The Editio Princeps of Horace is in 4to, without name or date. Maittaire (with whom other bibliographers agree) supposes it to have been printed by Zarotus at Milan, 1470...
  The translations of Horace in all languages are almost innumerable, perhaps because he is among the most untranslateable of poets. Where the beauty of the poetry consists so much in the exquisite felicity of expression, in the finished terseness and perspicuity of the Odes, or the pure idiomatic Latin of the Satires and Epistles, the transfusion into other words almost inevitably loses either the meaning or the harmony of thought and language. In English the free imitations of Pope and of Swift give by far the best notion of the charm of the Horatian poetry to an unlearned reader. Some of Dryden's versions have his merits and faults--ease and vigour, carelessness sand inaccuracy...

This text is from: A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, 1873 (ed. William Smith). Cited Nov 2005 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks


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