Born of poor parents in southern Italy, Horace (HOHR-uhs) studied in Rome and later in Athens. Having lost his family property in the civil strife after the assassination of Julius Caesar, he worked as a civil servant in Rome. In 38 b.c.e., his early poetry brought him to the attention of Gaius Maecenas, adviser to the future emperor Augustus. With official support and encouragement, Horace became a leading literary figure of the day, publishing the Epodes (c. 30 b.c.e.; English translation, 1793) and the Satires (c. 30 b.c.e.; English translation, 1712). The first three books of Odes (c. 23 b.c.e.; English translation, 1793) appeared in 23 b.c.e., with a fourth written later at the request of Augustus. Horace also wrote verse letters and a work of literary criticism called Ars poetica (n.d.; Art of Poetry, 1709). He disliked the fast pace of the city and often retired to his small farm at Tibur outside Rome.
During his lifetime, Horace reinterpreted earlier Greek and Latin literary works for his contemporaries, fashioning them to reflect the cultural, political, and social tastes of Augustan Rome. Known and appreciated throughout the Middle Ages and beyond, the poet’s works have been read, translated, and imitated since their creation.
Commager, Steele. The Odes of Horace. Reprint. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995. Commager’s book is widely regarded as the most substantial, incisive commentary on Horace’s verse in English. He approaches Horace as a “professional poet,” one committed to art as a vocation. Horace’s distinctive characteristic is that he writes poetry about poetry, as if he wants to define the idea and demonstrate verbal craftsmanship at the same time.
Fraenkel, Edouard. Horace. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957. Extensive twentieth century commentary on the poet’s works. Although not intended as a biography, a chapter on Horace’s life is thorough and illuminating. Concentrates on close readings of selected poems which illustrate the...
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