Reader's Encyclopedia

Horace (full Latin name Quintus Horatius Flaccus, 65 - 8 bc )

Roman lyric poet and satirist. The son of a freed slave, Horace was born at Venusia in southern Italy. His father, a tax collector, spared no effort or expense to provide his son with the best possible education; he took Horace to Rome to study under the best Roman grammarian. To complete his education, Horace, then a young man of twenty, enrolled at the University of Athens (45 bc ). While he was there, word came that Caesar had been assassinated. Like many Roman intellectuals, Horace rallied to the cause of revolution and liberty, and, when Brutus appeared at Athens, he followed him, entering the senatorial army as a military tribune. After the defeat of Brutus at Philippi (42), Horace returned penniless to Rome and managed to get a job with the Roman civil service as a clerk.

Here he began writing his first successful poetry: a group of clever satires and a melange of iambic poems after the manner of Greek lyrics. These poems won him the admiration of Vergil who, in 38 bc, introduced Horace to the influential patron Maecenas. Thus began a lifelong friendship between the patron and the young poet, and, in 33 bc, Maecenas gave Horace a small estate in the Sabine hills. There he polished his satires (The Sermones) and his iambic poems (The Epodes); he published them in 30 bc.

His great poetic work was his four - book collection of odes (The Carmina), the first three books of which appeared in 23 bc. In them he displayed what Petronius termed a " painstaking felicity " of expression. Horace was the finished master of stanzaic meters, just as Vergil was the incomparable master of the larger and more sonorous dactylic hexameter. Horace 's hexameters, as he used them in his satires and in his epistles (The Epistulae, composed 22 - 8 bc ), were deliberately unmajestic; they employed everyday diction, interspersed with occasional slang, and were written in a conversational tone in which whole passages, nevertheless, have the feeling of elegant, musical prose. Throughout his poetry, his personality, though seldom obtrusive, is always evident. His poetry is, indeed, his own most vivid biography. Here we sense the presence of a sly but never ungenerous man, a sometimes aloof lover of independence who was also the devoted friend of the emperor Augustus, of Maecenas, and of Vergil; an epicurean in good times and a stoic in adversity; an artist and a country gentleman who had learned the advantages of cultivating his own garden in poetry as well as in politics.

Among Horace's other works are the Carmen saeculare, a liturgical hymn composed for the secular games held at Rome in 17 bc, and the Ars poetica, which was adapted as a handbook on style by the neoclassicists of the 16th and 17th centuries. Horace died in 8 bc, only a few months after the death of his friend and supporter Maecenas, beside whose grave he was buried.