How did Horace influence the Romantic poets?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Horace modeled for the Romantics what it means to go back into time and use the past as a referential point for artistic creation.  One of Horace's distinctive elements is that he turned to the Greeks for inspiration.  When Horace writes, Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit et artes intulit agresti Latio ("Conquered Greece took captive her savage conqueror and brought her arts into rustic Latium"), it becomes clear that the legacy of the past is to be harvested and understood by the future generations.  Horace's approach to looking to the Greeks to guide his art is something that the Romantics did in constructing their own work.  Just as Horace was innovative in using stylistic devices found in Greek works of art, he also was instrumental in bringing the works of the Greek poets to a Roman audience.  The Romantic poets did much of the same thing in their work.  Embracing a spirit of Classicism, the Romantic poets used what they saw in Roman and Greek poets as embodying the greatness of the Classical period.  Antiquity was considered as hallowed and sacred muse for the Romantic poet.  In this way, the Romantics were influenced by Horace's ideas of looking at the past and integrating it into artistic creation.

The Romantics were deliberate in how Horace influenced them. Byron directly referenced Horace in Childe Harold, reflecting the impact that Horace held upon him.  Wordsworth's style in writing is similar to Horace, in that both meant to write for a general audience.  Both styles are intended for direct appreciation in a larger setting, not reserved to the upper echelon of social stratification. Horace rejected "high-falutin" language and modes of expression in his work.  For example, in one of his Satires, Horace writes about a stroll in which he encounters a boar that accompanies him.  Wordsworth's emphasis on poetry "seeing into the life of things" and being about "commonplace subjects" is reflective of Horace's topics.  Keats' opening to "Ode to a Nightingale" is reminiscent of Horace's "Epode XIV."  Horace's idea of "the cup that brings on Lethean slumber" is reflected in Keats' "hemlock drunk."  Both speak to being transformed to a different state that enables transformative artistic capacity.  Such references help to illuminate how Horace influenced the Romantics.  The Romantic thinkers were active agents in embracing Horace in their works.

The influence was not solely in style and language.  Horace addressed topics that fascinated the Romantic thinkers. Horace's articulation of "carpe diem," literally translated to "believing in as little as possible in the morrow," is an idea that the Romantic thinkers embraced.  Horace's ideas such as Nunc est bibendum, nunc pede libero pulsanda tellus ("Now is the time for drinking, now the time to dance footloose upon the earth.) Horace's love of passion and embrace of individual freedom is another concept that the Romantics admired.  Romantic thinkers wanted to locate consciousness in the seat of the subjective found a supportive voice in the works of Horace.  In these ways, Horace cast a very large shadow on the Romantic thinkers.

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