Horace 65 b.c. -8 b.c.
(Full name Quintus Horatius Flaccus.) Latin poet.
Considered one of the great Latin lyric poets, Horace is renowned for his Odes (c. 23 b.c. and c. 13 b.c.), which express in conversational style the pleasures of friendship and love, and his Satires (c. 35 b.c. and c. 30 b.c.), which are mild and witty and represent a break from the invective-laden attacks of his predecessors. The Odes are unrivaled in their adaptation of Greek meter for Latin verse and are noteworthy for appearing to be autobiographical and ironically self-effacing. Horace's poetry is also important historically because it reflects the mood of the Roman empire at a time of peace following a long period of civil wars. The Ars Poetica (On the Art of Poetry; c. 19 b.c.) served as a manual of style for neoclassical poets in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Horace’s poems and satires, considered exemplary, were compulsory study in British schools, influencing Samuel Johnson, Andrew Marvell, and John Dryden, among others. Eminently quotable, Horace is given seven pages in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. With the designation of the Horatian ode and the Horatian satire genres, his name has also become an adjective.
Horace was born in 65 b.c. to a former slave who eventually owned a small property in the Apulian military colony of Venusia, in southeast Italy. His father earned enough money to send his son to Rome to be educated by Orbilius, a recognized grammarian. Under his strict teacher, Horace studied Greek and read the works of Livius Andronicus, Homer, and other poets. Horace credited his father with teaching him much about human nature and the absurdities of the world. Leaving Rome, Horace studied with various noblemen at the Academy in Athens. After Julius Caesar's assassination by Brutus in 44 b.c., Horace joined Brutus's army, eventually attaining the rank of tribunus militum—a notable achievement for his age and his low social status. After the disastrous defeat of Brutus in the military campaign of Philippi, Horace returned home to Rome where, although his father's property had been seized, he was given a job as a civil servant. He began writing poems and these led his friends Virgil and Varius to introduce him in about 38 b.c. to Gaius Maecenas, an important adviser of Octavian, Brutus's successor. Horace took pains to avoid a typical sycophantic relationship with his patron and he and Maecenas formed a strong friendship based on mutual respect. It is to Maecenas that Horace dedicates his first two books of the Satires and his Epodes (c. 29 b.c.). Horace was able to return to the country, to a modest Sabine farm (possibly a gift)—a life he loved and used as a backdrop to many of his poems. He politely turned down other government positions offered him by Octavian, now known as Augustus, but with the death of Virgil, Horace became the nation's unofficial poet laureate—evidenced in part by his commission in 17 b.c. to write the Carmen Saeculare (Secular Hymn), in honor of the revival in Rome of the Secular Games. Horace outlived Maecenas by only a few months and is buried beside him.
There is considerable debate among scholars about the dating of much of Horace's work. Historical references and allusions sometimes indicate a likely date, but often not a definitive one. Analysis of his meter in terms of line length and syllable count also yields clues, but it is unlikely that critics will ever completely agree on absolute dates. Horace's first volume of Satires consists of ten poems in hexameter verse, their subject matter usually involving the poet's praise for balance in everything and disdain for public life and ambition. One of his best-known edicts from this work is “There is measure in everything. There are fixed limits beyond which and short of which right cannot find resting-place.” The second volume of Satires contains eight poems, mostly in the form of dialogues, and may have been published slightly after the Epodes, a work of seventeen poems—mostly iambics written in the manner of Archilochus—in which Horace expounds on political and social problems, pokes fun at various acquaintances, and remembers the battle in which Antony and Cleopatra were vanquished by Octavian. Books I through III of the Odes are generally believed to have been published together around 23 b.c. although their date of creation undoubtedly spans many years. These Odes, widely considered Horace's masterwork, comprise eighty-eight poems in the meter of the Greek poets Alcaeus and Sappho; their subject matter concerns personal relationships and practical philosophy. The fifteen odes which form the fourth volume were published around 13 b.c. Two volumes of Epistles date from about 20 b.c. and 15 b.c. In hexameter verse Horace adopts what seems to be a casual, conversational tone to express his concerns regarding a moral life. The dating of his most famous epistle, the Ars Poetica, is problematic, ranging from 19 b.c. to 10 b.c. It contains numerous maxims intended to guide poets, for example: “It is when I struggle to be brief that I become unintelligible”; “You may gain the finest effects in language by the skillful setting which makes a well-known word new”; “If you wish to draw tears from me, you must first feel pain yourself”; and “To poets to be second-rate is a privilege which nether men, nor gods, nor bookstalls ever allowed.”
Horace was revered in his own lifetime and many of his poems were analyzed in academies. For centuries no one improved on his efforts in using Greek meter in Latin. After a lengthy period of relative neglect, vigorous interest in Horace's poetry was reawakened during the Renaissance, and Horace’s works remained influential and extremely praised through the nineteenth century. With the demise of Latin courses in modern times, public appreciation of his work has declined and his poetry is now chiefly the province of scholars. Horace, with typical self-mockery, acknowledged that he was not the most original or most inspired of poets; while recognizing this, critics find much to praise in him, particularly his ability to come across as a friend to his readers, his lack of bitterness, and his mastery of stanzaic meter. Moses Stephen Slaughter writes: “His thought, never very original or very intense, has long since become absorbed in the common thought of the world, but his happy expression of it can never be neglected or forgotten.” Taking a historical/political view, Grant Showerman writes that Horace’s work “is the eloquent record of the life of Rome in an age which for intensity is unparalleled in the annals of the ancient world.”