Horace 65 b.c.-8 b.c.
(Full name Quintus Horatius Flaccus) Roman satirist, lyric poet, literary critic, and essayist. See also See also Horace Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism.
Most well known for his Odes, Epistles, Epodes, and Satires, Horace is thought to be one of the most accomplished lyric poets to have written in Latin. His poetry is important because it provides a glimpse of peacetime in the Roman empire after years of civil war. Horace's poetry is known for its wit, and his Ars Poetica became a style manual for poets of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and was required reading in British schools.
Horace was born Quintus Horatius Flaccus in southern Italy in 65 b.c., the son of a freedman. Thanks to a father who recognized his talent early, Horace was educated in Rome, studying under Orbilius (a grammarian), and later in Athens where he encountered the Greek poets who profoundly influenced his work.
On the heels of Julius Caesar's assassination in 44 b.c., Horace joined Brutus's forces, traveling to Asia Minor and rising to the rank of tribune despite his humble background. His military exploits were short-lived, however, and he returned to Rome after Brutus's defeat at Philippi in November 42 b.c. Although the move to Rome garnered him a position in the Roman treasury, this was more importantly the time during which he began to write poetry.
The poetry written during this period impressed Virgil and other Roman poets, who eventually introduced Horace to Maecenas, with whom he formed a lasting friendship. Between 35 and 30 b.c., Maecenas is thought to have given Horace a small estate in the Sabine Hills. The area is often mentioned in his poetry and he remained there (and in Rome) until his death in November 8 b.c.
Horace's life, and hence his works, cover a crucial historical period; his poetry reflects the changing conditions and moods of those times and their events. These works include Satires Books I and II (c. 35 and 30 b.c.), Epodes (c. 29 b.c.), Odes Book I-III and Book IV (c. 23 and 13 b.c.), Epistles Books I and II (c. 20 and 15 b.c.), the Ars Poetica (c. 19 b.c.), and Carmen Saeculare (c. 17 b.c.).
The Odes and Epodes are most indebted to the Greek poets, especially those of the sixth and seventh centuries and those of the Hellenistic period, including Archilochus, Hipponax, Alcaeus, and Pindar. The Odes Books I-III include eighty-eight poems in Greek meter and concern philosophy and personal relationships.
The Epistles, excellent examples of Horace's casual, conversational approach, deal with the poet's concerns with respect to living a moral life. Epistles Book I includes twenty poems and gives the reader a window on Horace the man. One sees the change—a more melancholy mood—that took hold of the poet after the Satires. He is more concerned with finding answers to personal spiritual and moral questions and the ethos is decidedly philosophical. Epistles Book II, although it includes only three poems, is more intricate than Epistles Book I. It is a montage of examples, anecdotes, and vivid imagery that further the reader's understanding of the poet as a man.
The Ars Poetica is perhaps the poet's best-known work. Structured as a conversational collection of thoughts on a number of literary matters, it became a significant influence on a diverse group of authors including Ben Johnson, Dante, St. Augustine, and Alexander Pope.
Horace's work has gone through periods of interest and neglect. During his lifetime his work was honored and studied at academies, followed by a period of critical neglect and a rebirth of interest during the Renaissance and continuing through the nineteenth century. Current interest unfortunately lies primarily in the academic and scholarly communities, a result of the decrease in Latin courses offered in recent times.
Critical study of Horace has included Horace's use of Greek meter, Horace as a man, comparisons of his work with other poets, studies of his influence on other poets and the poets who influenced his work, his ability to interpret the events of his times, and specific, detailed analysis of his style and technique.
Thayer and Showerman discuss Horace the man—the information we can glean from his writings, his skill at interpreting and reporting the historical events of his life, his commonsense philosophy, and his skill as an observer. Thayer goes on to name several poets who have been influenced by Horace, including Browning, Tennyson, Keats, and Shelley but cautions that “there is no one who is to English letters what Horace is to Roman—nay, to all letters. He is unlike all others.” As a further window on Horace's life, Bowditch investigates the socioeconomic conditions that influenced Horace's work: “social relations of exchange provided more than a context for the production of verse; they also informed a shared system of rhetorical figures through which poets negotiated both their own interests and those of their varied audiences.”
Herrick and Russell address the Ars Poetica. Herrick's basis is that the growth of formal literary criticism began with the principles of Horace's Ars Poetica and Aristotle's Poetics. The author traces translations of these works into other languages and provides evidence of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century discussions of these principles and their significant influence on writers of these times. Russell offers an in-depth study of the Ars as “the last of the great innovator's creations.”
Reckford discusses the “Trip to Brunisium,” from the Satires, focusing on three aspects: “the theme of amicitia, private and public; the agon, or insult-match between Sarmentus the scurra and Messius Cicurrus; and the ‘wet dream’ and ‘failed miracle’ sequences toward the end.” Reckford sets the stage for his analysis by developing a hypothetical involving Horace's creation, first reading to friends, and first publication of this work.
In the area of analysis, West offers some basic principles for reading Horace, and is particularly concerned with the need to accurately translate the Latin and that the works be viewed with an open mind, unencumbered by prejudices of the reader's time: “So modern tastes do not like blood running in water. This is neither here nor there. What is important is that the Romans were familiar with the notion of sacrificing animals into fountains. … The critic must shed his local prejudices.” West also provides analysis of the Odes, focusing on certain poetic techniques. Williams, Santirocco, and Pucci also provide insight on the Odes. Williams offers ideas as to the Greek poets who may have influenced Horace and discusses the hymn and symposium poem forms and the themes of this collection. Santirocco considers the arrangement of the poems of Odes Books I-III, and Pucci examines Augustine's allusion to Odes 1.3 in his Confessions 4.6 and how the two texts can be compared with respect to the dilemma of writing. Ancona discusses the use of the temporal adverb and Horace's manipulation of time in Odes 1.25, 2.5, and 3.7. Lee considers the use and arrangement of words in Horace's works including the oxymoron, hendiadys, and word association.