1902 Encyclopedia > Horace

(Quintus Horatius Flaccus)
Roman poet
(65-8 BC)

HORACE (65-8 B.C.). No ancient writer has been at once so familiarly known and so generally appreciated in modern times as Quintus Horatius Flaccus. We seem to know his tastes and habits, and almost to catch the tones of his conversation, from his own works, as we know the character and manner of Dr Johnson from the pages of Boswell. His twofold function of a satiric moralist and a lyric poet give a peculiar value both to his self-por-traiture and to the impressions which he has left of his age. From his Satires, which deal chiefly with the manners and outward lives of men, we know him in his relations to society and his ordinary moods; from his Epistles, which deal more with the inner life, we best understand his deepest convictions and the practical side of his philosophy; while his Odes have perpetuated the finest pleasure which he derived from art, nature, and the intercourse of life, have idealized some of the graver as well as the lighter aspects of his reflexion, and given an elevated ex-pression to his sympathy with the national ideas and movement of his time.

His own writings afford much the fullest and most trust-worthy materials for his biography and for the estimate of his character. But a few facts, in addition to those recorded by the poet himself, are known from the sbort life originally contained in the work of Suetonius, De Viris Illustribus.

Horace was born on the 8th of December 65 B.C., in the consulship of L. Manlius Torquatus and L. Aurelius Cotta (Ode iii. 21, 1; Epode 13, 6). His birthplace was the town of Venusia on the borders of Lucania and Apulia, whence lie describes himself as "Lucanus an Apulus anceps " (Sat. ii. 1, 34.). In his "Journey toBrundusitim" (Sat. i. 5) he marks his recognition of the familiar shapes of the Apulian hills—

Incipit ex illo montes Apulia notos

Ostentare mihi;"

and in one of his finest odes he speaks of Mount Vulturnus as the scene of an adventure of his childhood, which marked him out as a special object of divine protection and as appointed to a poetic destiny. The descriptive touches in that passage, such as "celsae nidum. Acherontiae," show that the scenery by which be was surrounded in his early years had imprinted itself vividly on his mind, As he connects his native mountains with the dawn of his poetic inspiration, so he associates the name, of the "far-sounding Aufidus," the river familiar to his early recollection, in more than one passage of his Odes (iii. 30, 10; iv. 9, 2) with his hopes of poetic immortality. He dwells fondly on the virtues of the people belonging to his native district, as in that picture of family happiness and innocence which he paints in the second Epode—

"Quod si pudica mulier in partem juvet

Domum atque dulces liberos,

Sabina qualis, aut perusta solibus

Pernicis uxor Aptili;"

and elsewhere he recalls with pride the old martial glory of the race amongst whom his first years were passed (Ode, i. 22,14; iii. 5, 9). Like Virgil he regards the Sabellian stock as that branch of the Italian people which had con-tributed most to the virtue of Rome as well as to her greatness in war. In the Ofella of the Satires we meet with a still surviving type of that primitive virtue. The Servius Oppidius, whose dying directions to his sons are recorded in Sat. ii. 3, 168, &c., seems to have been another representative of "the wisdom unborrowed from the schools," who must have been known to Horace through the tie of neighbourhood. We note also, as a trace of the influence of early impressions on his later tastes, that the name of the "Bandusian fountain," which he has made as immortal as the names of Castalia or Aganippe, seems to have been transferred by him from a spring in his native district to one on his Sabine farm, which charmed and inspired him in the meridian of his poetical power. We may thus trace some of the germs of his poetical inspira-tion, as well as of his moral sympathies, to the early years which he spent on the farm near Venusia. But the most important moral influence of his youth was the training and example of his father, of whose worth, affectionate solicitude, and homely wisdom Horace has given a most pleasing and life-like picture (Sat. i. 6, 70, &c.). He was a freedman by position; and it is supposed that he, had been originally a slave of the town of Venusia, and on his emancipation had received the gentile name of Horatius from the Horatian tribe in which the inhabitants of Venusia were enrolled. After his emancipation he acquired by the occupation of "coactor" (a collector of the payments made at public auctions, or, according to another interpretation a collector of taxes) sufficient means to enable him to buy a small farm ("macro pauper agello," Sat. i. 6, 71), to make sufficient provision for the future of his son (Sat. i. 4, 108), and to take him to Rome to give him the advantage of the best education there. To his care Horace attributes, not,only the intellectual training which enabled him in later life to take his place among the best men of Rome, but also his immunity from the baser forms of moral evil (Sat. i. 6, 68, &c.). To his practical teaching he attributes also his tendency to moralize and to observe character (Sat. i. 4, 105, &c.)—the tendency which enabled him to become the most truthful painter of social life and manners which the ancient world produced. If Horace drew some of his poetical sensi-bility from the influences of his native district, we may believe that he derived his moral health and practical sagacity from a father who combined with the intelligence and prudence which raised him above his original position the serious spirit and respect for the morality handed down from their forefathers—

("mi satis est si

Traditurn ab antiquis morem servare," &c.)—

-which formed the basis of the old Italian character.1

In one of his latest writings (Epist. ii. 2, 42, &c.) Horace gives a further account of his education; but we hear no more of his father, nor is there any allusion in his writings to the existence of any other member of his family or any other relative. After the ordinary grammatical and literary training at Rome, he went to Athens, the most famous school of philosophy, as Rhodes was of oratory; and he describes himself while there as "searching after truth among the groves of the Academy" as well as advanc-ing in literary accomplishment. His pleasant residence there was interrupted by the breaking out of the civil war. Following the, example of his young associates, he attached himself to the cause of Brutus, whom. he seems to have accompanied to Asia, probably as a member of his staff; and he served at the battle of Philippi in the post of military tribune. He shared in the rout which followed the battle, and in an ode addressed to his old comrade Pompeius Grosphus he alludes, in imitation of a similar confession of Alcaeus, to the inglorious casting away of his shield. In interpreting such passages in the works of Horace, we have always to bear in raind the irony habitual to him, and the reserve imposed on him by his subsequent relations to the chiefs of the victorious party. The enthusiasm which he had felt for the republican cause, though necessarily re-pressed, still betrays itself in some expressions of that ode, and in that addressed to Asinius Pollio (ii. 1, 21, &c.); and though he describes himself as

"Imbellis et firmus partim,"

and as more fitted to treat of the light warfare of love than of the themes of actual war, yet both tlie martial and the patriotic feeling expressed in many of his later Odes enables us to understand the motives which induced him to quit the placid haunts of art and literature for the harsher experience of the campaign and battlefield.

He returned to Rome shortly after the battle, stripped of his property, which formed part of the land confiscated for the benefit of the soldiers of Octavianus and Antony. It may have been at this time that he encountered the danger of shipwreck, which he mentions among the perils from which his life had been protected by supernatural aid (Ode iii. 4, 28). He procured in some way the post of a clerkship in the quaestor’s office, and about three years after the battle of Philippi, he was introduced by Virgil ,and Varius to Maecenas. This was the turning-point of his fortunes. He owed his friendship with the greatest of literary patrons to his personal merits rather than to his poetic fame; for, though some of his shorter and less important pieces may have been known to a small circle of friends before the date of this introduction, his first pub-lished work (book i. of the Satires) shows that the relations of intimacy and mutual confidence which were never after-wards disturbed had been established between the statesman and poet some time before this book was given to the world. He tells us in one of his Satires (i. 10, 31) that his earliest ambition was to write Greek verses. In giving this direc-tion to his ambition, he was probably influenced by his admiration of the old iambic and lyrical poets whom he has made the models of his own Epodes and Odes. A parallel to this may be found in the early Latin verse of Milton and Gray, in whom, as in Horace, the gift of expression has been brought to the highest perfection. His common sense as well as his national feeling fortunately saved him from becoming, a second-rate Greek versifier in an age when poetic inspiration had passed from Greece to Italy. and the

FOOTNOTE (page 160)

1 Cf. the line of Ennius. which Cicero compares to the voice of an oracles—

"Moribus antiquis stat res Romana virisque."

living language of Rome was a more fitting, vehicle for the new feelings and interests of men than the echoes of the old Ionian or Aeolian melodies. His earliest Latin compositions were, as he tells us, written under the instigation of poverty; and they alone betray any trace of the bitter-ness of spirit which the defeat of his hopes and the hardships which he had to encounter on his first return to Rome may have temporarily produced on him. Some of the Epodes, of the nature of personal and licentious lampoons, and the second Satire of book i., in which there is some trace of an angry republican feeling, belong to these early compositions. But by the time the first book of Satires was completed and published (35 B.C.) his temper had re-covered its natural serenity, and, though he had not yet attained to the height of his fortunes, his personal position was one of comfort and security, and his intimate relation with the leading men in literature and social rank was firmly established.

About a year after the publication of this first book of Satires Maecenas presented him with a farm among the Sabine hills, in the valley crowned by Mount Lucretilis and watered by the stream Digentia, which joins the main valley of the Anio near the modern Vico Varo (the "Varia" mentioned in the Epistles), and about 8 miles above the modern Tivoli. No kind of gift could have added more to the poet’s happiness or exercised a more salutary influence on his genius. It made him independent in point of fortune; it satisfied the love of nature which had been im-planted in him during the early years spent on the Venusian farm; and it afforded him.a welcome escape from the dis-tractions of city life and the dangers of a Roman autumn. The lines (Epist. i. 16, 15, &c.)—

"Hae latebrae dulces, etiam, si credis, amoenae,

Incolumem tibi me praestant Septembribus horis"—

express with simple and sincere feeling the charm of peace and outward beauty as well as the restorative influence which this retreat in the Sabine highlands afforded him. Many passages in the Satires, Odes, and Epistles, which recur to the memory of every reader of his poems, express the happiness and pride with which the thought of his own valley filled him, and the interest which he took in the simple and homely ways of his country neighbours. The inspiration of the Satires came from the heart of Rome; the feeling of many of the Odes comes direct from the Sabine hills; and even the meditative spirit of the later Epistles tells of the leisure and peace of quiet days spent among books, or in the open air, at a distance from "the smoke, wealth, and tumult" of the great metropolis.

The second book of Satires was published in 29 B.C.; the Epodes apparently about a year earlier, though many of them are, as regards the date of their composition, to be ranked among the earliest extant writings of Horace. Horace speaks of them under the name of "iambi." In one of his Epistles (i. 19, 25) he rests his first claim to origin-ality on his having introduced into Latium the metres and spirit of Archilochus—

"Parios ego Primus iambos

Ostendi Latio, numeros animosque secutitus


Yet, wbatever technical claim he may have to have naturalized some special combination of metre employed by the poet of Paros, Catullus, Calvus, and Bibaculus had in the preceding generation employed the iambic metre in the spirit of Archilochus more effectively than Horace. His personal lampoons are the least successful of his works;

and those of the Epodes which treat of other subjects in a poetical spirit are inferior in metrical effect, and in truth and freshness of feeling, both to the lighter lyrics of Catullus and to his own later and more carefully meditated Odes. The Epodes are chiefly interesting a record of the personal feelings or Horace during the years which imimmediately followed his return to Rome, and as a prelude to the higher art and inspiration of the first three books of the Odes, which were published togetber about the end of 24 or the becinning of 23 B.C.1 The composition of these Odes extended over several years, but all the most important among them belong to the years between the battle of Actium and 24 B.C., at which time the poet was between the age of thirty-five and forty, His lyrical poetry is thus, not, like that of Catullus, the ardent utterance of his youth, but the mature and finished workmanship of his manhood. The state of public affairs was more favourable than it had been since the outbreak of the civil war between Caesar and Pompey for the appearance of lyrical poetry. Peace, order, and national unity had been secured by the triumph of Augustus, and the enthusiasm in favour of the new govern-ment had not yet been chilled by experience of its repress-ing influence. The poet’s circumstances were, at the same time, most favourable for the exercise of his lyrical gift during these years. He lived partly at Rome, partly at his Sabine farm, varying his residence occasionally by visits to Tibur, Praeneste, or Baiae. His intimacy with Maecenas was strengthened. He was no longer one among a favoured band of poets, but he had become the familiar friend of the great minister. He was treated with distinction by Augustus, and by the foremost men in Roman society. He complains occasionally that the pleasures of his youth are passing from him, but he does so in the spirit of a temperate Epicurean, who found new enjoyments in life as the zest for the old enjoyments decayed, and who considered the wisdom and meditative spirit,—"the philosophic mind that years had brought,"—an ample compensation for the extinct fires of his youth. The sobering influence of time is acknowledged by him in such lines as

"Lenit albescens animos capillus;"

or in the still finer expression of the Epistles (ii. 2, 211),

"Lenior et melior fis accedente senecta?"

About four years after the publication of the three books of Odes, the first book of the Epistles appeared, introduced, as his Epodes, Satires, and Odes had been, by a special address to Maecenas. From these Epistles, as compared with the Satires, we gather that he had gradually adopted a more retired and meditative life, and had become fonder of the country and of study,and that, while owing allegiance to no school or sect of philosophy, he was framing for him-self a scheme of life, was endeavouring to conform to it, and was bent on inculcating it on others. He maintained his old friendships, and continued to form new intimacies, especi-ally with younger men engaged in public affairs or ani-mated by literary ambition. After the death of Virgil he was recognized as pre-eminently tbe greatest living poet, and was accordingly called upon by Augustus to compose the sacred hymn for the celebration of the secular games in 17 B.C. About four years later he published the fourth book of Odes, having been called upon to do so by the emperor, in order that the victories of his stepsons Drusus and Tiberius over the Rhaeti and Vindelici might be worthily celebrated. He lived about five years longer, and during these years published the second book of Epistles, and the Epistle to the Pisos, more generally known as the "Ars Poetica." These later Epistles are mainly devoted to literary criticism, with the especial object of vindicating the poetic claims of his own age over those of the age of Ennius and the other early poets of Rome. He might havo beeti expected, as a great critic and lawgiver on literature, to have exercised a beneficial influence on the future poetry

FOOTNOTE (page 161)

1 The date is determined by the poem on the death of Quintilius Varus (who died 24 B.C.), and by the reference in Ode i. 12 to the young Marcellus (died in autumn 23 B.C.) as still alive. Cf. Wickman’s Introduction to the Odes.

of his country, and to have applied as much wisdom to the theory of his own art as to that of a right life. But his critical Epistles are chiefly devoted to a controversial attack on the older writers and to the exposition of the laws of dramatic poetry, on which his own powers had never been exercised, and for which either the genius or circumstances of the Romans were unsuited. The same subordination of imagination and enthusiasm to good sense, and sober judg-ment characterizes his opinions on poetry as on morals.

He died somewhat suddenly in the November of the year 8 B.C., within a few weeks of the death of Maecenas, thus strangely confirming the declaration made by him in one of his Odes (ii. 17), Though not an old man, he had reached the full maturity of his faculties, and fully accom-plished the work he was fitted to do in the world. He lived longer than any of the illustrious poets immediately contemporary with him or belonging to the preceding generation; and his works show a mature character and a mellow wisdom in striking contrast to the tone of the only other great lyrical poet of Rome, "the young Catullus."

Horace is one of the few writers, ancient or modern, who have written a great deal about themselves without laying themselves open to the charge of weakness or egotism. His chief claim to literary originality is not that on which he himself rested his hopes of immortality,—that of being the first to adapt certain lyrical metres to the Latin tongue,—but rather that of being the first of those whose works have reached us who establishes a personal relation with his reader, speaks to him as a familiar friend, gives him good advice, tells him the story of his life, and shares with him his private tastes and pleasures,—and all this without any loss of self-respect, any want of modesty or breach of good manners, and in a style so lively and natural that each new generation of readers might fancy that he was addressing them personally and speaking to them on subjects of everyday modern interest. In his self-portraiture, so far from wishing to make himself out better or greater than ho was, he seems to write under the influence of an ironical restraint which checks him in the utterance of his highest moral teaching and of his poetical enthusiasm. He affords us some indications of his personal appearance, as where be seaks of the "nigros angusta fronte capillos" of his youth, and describes himself after he had completed his forty-fourth December as of small stature, prematurely grey, and fond of basking in the sun (Epist. i. 20, 24).

In his later years his health became weaker or more un-certain, and this caused a considerable change in his habits, tastes, and places of residence. It inclined him more to a life of retirement and simplicity, ani also it stimulated his tendency to self-introspection and self-culture. In his more vigorous years, when he lived much in Roman society, he claims to have acted in all his relations to others in accord-ance with the standard recognized among men of honour in every age, to have been charitably indulgent to the weakness of his friends, and to have been exempt from petty jealousies and the spirit of detraction. If ever he deviates from his or-dinary vein of irony and quiet sense into earnest indignation, it is in denouning conduct involving treachery or malice in the relations of friends—as in the lines (Sat. i. 4, 81, &c.)—

"Absentem qui rodit amicum,

Qui onn defendit alio culpante, solutos

Qui captat risus hominum famanique dicacis,

Fingere qui non visa potest, commissa tacere

Qui nequit, hic niger est, hunc tu, Romane, caveto."1

FOOTNOTE (page 162)

1 He who maligns an absent friend's fair fame,

Who says no word for him when others blame,

Who courts a reckless laugh by randoin hits,

Just for the sake of ranking among wit,

Who feigns what he, ne'er saw, a secret blabs,

Beware him, Roman! That man steals or stabs."


He claims to be and evidently aims at being independent of fortune, superior to luxury, exempt both from the sordid cares of avarice and the coarser forms of profligacy. At the same time he makes a frank confession of indolence and of occasional failure in the pursuit of his ideal self-mastery. He admits bis irascibility, his love of pleasure, his sensitiveness to opinion, and some touch of vanity or at least of gratified ambition arising out of the favour which tbrough all his life he had enjoyed from those much above him in social station, "Me primis urbis belli placuisse domique" (Epist. i. 20, 23). Yet there appears no trace of any un-worthy deference in Horace’s feelings to the great. Even towards Augustus he maintained his attitude of independ-ence, by declining the office of private secretary which the emperor wished to force upon him; and he did so with such tact as neither to give offence nor to forfeit the regard of his superior. His feeling towards Maecenas is more like that which Pope entertained to Bolingbroke than that which a client in ancient or modern times entertains towards his patron. He felt pride in his protection and inthe intel-lectual sympathy which united him with one whose personal qualities had enabled him to play so prominent and beneficent a part in public affairs. Their friendship was slowly formed, but when once established continued unshaken through their lives. Many passages in the Odes and the Epistles show how perfect the confidence was between them, how completely Horace remained his own master, how certainly the bond that united them was one of mutual affection and esteem, not of vanity and interest.

There is indeed nothing more remarkable in Horace than the independence, or rather the self-dependence, of his character. This saved him from the danger to which his genial qualities exposed him of becoming, like Moore or Burns, the slave of society or the slave of passion. The enjoyment which he drew from his Sabine farm consisted partly in the refreshment to his spirit from the familiar beauty of the place, partly in the "otia liberrima" from the claims of business and society which it afforded him. His love poems, when compared with those of Catullus, Tibullus, and Propertius, show that he never, in his mature years at least, allowed his peace of mind to be at the mercy of any one. They are the expressions of a fine and subtle and often a humorous observation rather than of ardent feeling. There is perhaps a touch of pathos in his reference in the Odes to the early death of Cinara but the epithet he applies to her irt the Epistles,

" Quem scis immumen Cinarae placuisse rapaci,"

shows that the pain of thinking of her could not have been very heart-felt. Even when the Odes addressed to real or imaginary beauties are most genuine in feeling, they are more the artistic rekindling of extinctfires than the utter-ance of recent passion. In his friendships he had not the self-forgetful devotion which is the most attractive side of

the character of Catullus; but he studied how to gain and keep the regard of those whose society he valued, and be repaid this regard by a fine, courtesy and by a delicate

appreciation of their higher gifts and qualities, whether proved in literature, or war, or affairs of state, or the ordi-nary dealings of men. He made life more pleasant to himself and others by restraining the propensities which give pain to others, as well as by active good offices and the expression of kindly feelings. He enjoyed the great world, and it treated him well; but he resolutely main-tained his personal independence and the equipoise of his feelings and judgment. The mention of Virgil and Maecenas elicits from him warmer expressions of affection and appreciation than that of any of the other famous men of the tinie; but there is no strain of exaggeration in the language which he applies even to them. If it is thought that in attributing a divine function to Augustus he has gone beyond the bounds of a sincere and temperate admiration, a comparison of the Odes in which this occurs with the first Epistle of the second book shows that be certainly recog-nized in the emperor a great and successful administrator on whom depended the peace, order, and prosperity of the world, and that the language, which at first sight offends our modern sensibilities is to be regarded rather as the artistic expression of the prevailing national sentiment than as the tribute of an insincere adulation.

The aim of Horace’s philosophy was to "be master of oneself"—

"Ille poetens sui

Laetusque deget," &c.;

to retain the "meus aequa" in all circumstances—

"Quod petis hie est,

Est Ulubris, animus si te non deficit aequus;"

to use the gifts of fortune while they remained, and to be prepared to part with them with equanimity; to make the most of life, and to contemplate its inevitable end without anxiety. Self-reliance and resignation are the lessons which he constantly inculcates. His philosophy is thus a mode of practical Epicureanism combined with other elements which have more affinity with Stoicism. In his early life he professed his adherence to the former system, and several expressions in his first published work show the influences of the study of Lucretius. At the time when the first book of the Epistles was published he professes to assume the position of an eclectic rather than that of an adherent of either school (Epist. i. 1, 13-19). We note in the passage here referred to, as in other passages, that he mentions Aristippus, the chief of the, Cyrenaic school which antici-pated the doctrines of Epicurus, rather than Epicurus him-self, as the master under whose. influence he from time to time insensibly lapsed. Yet the dominant tone of his teaching is that of a refined Epicureanism, not so elevated or purely contemplative as that preached by Lucretius, but yet more within the reach of a society which, though luxurious and pleasure-loving, had not yet become thoroughly frivolous and enervated. His advice is to make the most of the present which alone is within our power—

"Quod adest memento

Componere aequus; "

to enjoy the pleasures of youth in their season, but to choose some more serious object as life goes on—

"Nec lusisse pudet, sed non incidere ludum;"

to subdue all violent emotion of fear or desire to estimate all things calmly—"nil admirari to choose the mean between a hihh and low estate; and to find one’s happiness in plain living rather than in luxurious indulgence. His social and friendly qualities, his enjoyment of refined and simple pleasures, the attitude which he assumed of a critical spectator rather than of an active participator in the various modes of human activity, were all in harmony with the practice and the teaching of Epicurus. Still there was in Horace a robuster fibre, inherited from the old Italian race, which moved him to value the dignity and nobleness of life more highly than its ease and enjoyment. This is perhaps the secret cause of that weariness and dissatisfaction with the comfortable routine of existence which occasionally betrays itself in some of his later writings. But in some of the stronger utterances of his Odes, where he expresses sympathy with the manlier qualities of character, whether manifested in the persons of the ancient national heroes or in the civic dress of his own day, we recognize the resistent attitude of Stoicism rather than the passive acquiescence of Epicureanism. The concluding stanzas of the address to Lollius (Ode iv. 9) exhibit the Epicurean and Stoical view of life so combined as to be more worthy of human dignity than the genial worldly wisdom of the former school, more in harmony with human experience than the formal precepts of the latter:—

"Non possidentem multa vocaveris

Recte beatum; rectius occupat

Nomen beati, qui deorum

Muneribus sapienter uti

Durainque callet pauperiem pati,

Pejusque leto flagitium timet;

Non ille pro caris amicis

Aut patria timidus perire."

It is interesting to trace the growth of Horace in eleva-tion of sentiment and serious conviction from his first ridi-cule of the paradoxes of Stoicism in the two books of the Satires to the appeal which he makes in some of the Odes of the third book to the strongest Roman instincts of forti-tude and self-sacrifice. A similar modification of his religious and political attitude may be noticed between his early declaration of Epicurean unbelief—

"Namque deos didici securum agere aevum"—

and the sympathy which he shows with the religious reac-tion fostered by Augustus; and again between the Epicurean indifference to national affairs expressed in the words

"Quid Tiridatem terreat unice


and the strong support which he gives to the national policy of the emperor in the first six Odes of the third book, and in the fifth and fifteenth of the fourth book. In his whole religious attitude he seems to stand midway between the consistent denial of Lucretius and Virgil’s pious endeavour to reconcile ancient faith with the conclusions of philosophy. His introduction into some of his Odes of the gods of mythology must be regarded as m erely artistic or symboli-cal. Yet in such lines as

"Di me tuentur, dis pietas mea

Et musa cordi est,"

"Dis te minorem quod geris, imperas,"

" Immunis arain si tetigit manus," &c.,

we recognize the expression of a natural piety, thankful for the blessing bestowed on purity and simplicity of life, and acknowledging a higher and more majestic law, governing nations through their voluntary obedience. On. the other hand, his allusions to a future life, as in the "domus exilis Plutonia," and the "furvae regna Proserpinae," are shadowy and artificial. The image of death is constantly obtruded in his poems to enhance the sense of present enjoyment. In the true spirit of paganism he associates all thoughts of love and wine, of the meeting of friends, or of the changes of the seasons with the recollection of the transitoriness of our pleasures—

"Nos, ubi decidimus

Quo pius Aeneas, quo dives Tullus et Ancus,

Pulvis et umbra sumus."

Horace is so much of a moralist in all his writings that, in order to enter into the spirit both of his familiar and of his lyrical poetry, it is essential that we should realize to ourselves what were his views of life and the influences under which they were formed. He is, though in a different sense from Lucretius, eminently a philosophical and reflective poet. He is also, like all the other poets of the Augustan age, a poet in whose composition culture and and criticism were as conspicuous elements as spontaneous inspiration. In the judgment he passes on the older poetry of Rome and on that of his contemporaries, he seems to attach more importance to the critical and artistic than to the creative and inventive functions of genius. It is on the labour and judgment with which he has cultivated his gift—

"Spiritum Graiae tenuem Camenae"—

that he rests his hopes of fame. The whole poetry of the Augustan age was based on the works of older poets, Roman as well as Greek. Its aim was to perfect the more imma-ture workmanship of the former, and to adapt the forms, manners nd metres of the latter to subjects of immediate and national interest. As Virgil performed for his generation the same kind of office which Ennius performed for an older generation, so Horace in his Satires, and to a more limited extent in his Epistles, brought to perfection for the amusement and instruction of his contemporaries the rude but vigorous designs of Lucilius. Notwithstanding great differences in their intellectual tastes and culture, and the great differences between a time of republican freedom and one of imperial restraint, in which their respective lots were cast, there was a real affinity of temper and disposition between the first and the second in the line of the great Roman satirists. Horace seems to have made Lucilius to some extent his model, in his manner of life as well as in the form and substance of his satire. We find in the fragments of Lucilius expressions of a love of freedom and independence, ot indifference to wealth or public employment, joy at escaping from the storms of life into a quiet haven, of contentment with his own lot, of the superiority of plain living to luxury, identical in spirit and often similar in manner to those, that are almost the common-places of Horace.

It was the example of Lucilius which, induced Horace to commit all his private thoughts, feelings, and experience "to his books as to trusty companions," and also to com-ment freely on the characters and lives of other men. Many of the subjects of particular satires of Horace were immediately suggested by those treated by Lucilius. Thus the "Journey to Brundusium." reproduced the outlines of Lucillus’s "Journey to the Sicilian Straits." The discourse of Ofella on luxury was founded on a similar discourse of Laelius on gluttony, and the "Banquet of Nasidienus" may have been suggested by the description by the older poet of a rustic entertainment. The same kinds of excess are satirized by both, especially the restless passion of money-making and the sordid anxieties of money-saving, and the opposite extreme of profuse and ostentatious expenditure. There was more of moral censure and personal aggressive-ness in the satire of the older poet. The ironical temper of Horace induced him to treat the follies of society in the Spirit of a humorist nd man of the world rather than to assail vice witli the severity of a censor; and the greater urbanity of his age or of his disposition restrained in him the direct personality of satire. The names introduced by bim, to mark types of character, such as Nomentanus, Maenius, Pantolabus, &c., are reproduced from the writings of the older poet. Horace also followed Lucilius in the variety of forms which his satire assumes, and especially in the frequent adoption of the form of dialogue, derived from the "dramatic medley" which was the original character of the Roman Satura. This form suited the spirit in which Horace reoarded the world, and also the dramatic quality of his genius, just as the direct denunciation and elaborate painting of character suited the "saeva indignatio" and the oratorical genius of Juvenal.

Horace’s satire is accordingly to a great extent a repro-duction in form, manner, substauce, and tone of the satire of Lucilius: or rather it is a casting, in the mould of Lucilius of his own observation and experience. There is little trace of the influence of his Greek studies either in the matter or the manner of this thoroughly Roman work; though he mentions in one passage that, as aids to composition, he had carried with him to the country the works of Archi-lochus, and of the comic poets Eupolis, Plato, and Menander. But a comparison of the fragments of Lucilius with the finished compositions of Horace, brings out in the strongest light the artistic originality and skill of the latter poet in his management of metre and style. Nothing can be rougher and harsher than the hexameters of Lucilius, or cruder than his expression. In his management of the more natural trochaic metre, he has shown much greater ease and simplicity. It is one great triumph of Horace’s genius that he was the first and indeed the only Latin writer who could bend the stately hexameter to the uses of natural and easy, and, at the same time, terse and happy conversational style. Catullus, in his hendecasyllabics, had shown the vivacity with which that light and graceful metre could be employed in telling some short story or describing some trivial situation dramatically. But no one before Horace had succeeded in applying the metre of heroic verse to the uses of common life. But he had one great native model in the mastery of a terse, refined, ironical, and natural conversational style, Terence; and the Satires show, not only in allusions to incidents and personages, but in many happy turns of expression very frequent traces of Horace’s familiarity with the works of the Roman Menander.

The Epistles are more original in form, more philosophic in spirit, more finished in style than the Satires. The form of composition may have been suggested by that of some of the satires of Lucilius, which were composed as letters to his personal friends. But letter-writing in prose, and occasionally also in verse, had been common among the, Romans from the time of the siege of Corinth; and a practice originating in the wants and convenience of friends temporarily separated from one another by the public service was ultimately cultivated as a literary accomplish-ment. It was a happy idea of Horace to adopt this form for his didactic writinas on life and literature. It suited him as an eclectic and not a systematic thinker, and as a. friendly counsellor rather than a formal teacher of his age. It suited his circumstances in the latter years of his life, when his tastes inclined him more to retirement and study, while he yet wished to retain his hold on society and to extend his relations with younger men who were rising into eminence. It suited the class who cared for literature,—a limited circle of educated men, intimate with one another, and sharing the same tastes and pursuits. While giving expression to lessons applicable to all men, he in this way seems to address each reader individually, "admissus circum praecordia ludit," with a subtle power of sympathy and of inspiring sympathy, which respects both himself and his reader. In spirit the Epistles are more ethical and medi-tative than the Satires. Like the Odes they exhibit the twolfold aspects of his philosophy, that of temperate Epicu-reanism and that of more serious and elevated conviction. In the actual maxims which he lays down, in his apparent belief in the efficacy of addressing philosophical texts to the mind, he exemplifies the triteness and limitation of all Roman thouht. But the spirit and sentiment of his practical philosophy is quite genuine and original. The individuality of the great Roman moralists, such as Lucretius and Horace, appears not in any difference in the results at which they have arrived, but in the difference of spirit with which they regard the spectacle of human life. In reading Lucretius we are impressed by his earnestness, his pathos, his elevation of feeling; in Horace we are charmed by the serenity of his temper and the flavour of a delicate and subtle wisdom. We note also in the Epistles the presence of a more philosophic spirit, not only in the expression of his personal convictions and aims, but also in his comments on society. In the Satires he paints the outward effects of the passions of the age. He shows.

us prominent types of character—the miser, the parasite, the legacy-hunter, the parvenu, &c., but he does not try to trace these different manifestations of life to their source.

In the Epistles he finds the secret spring of the social vices of the age in the desire, as marked in other times as in those of Horace, to become rich too fast, and in the tendency to value men according to their wealth, and to sacrifice the ends of life to a superfluous care for the means of living. In the Satires lie dwells on the discontent of men with their actual condition as he noticed the outward manifes-tation of this spirit in the various callings of life; in his, Epistles he lays his finger on the real evil from which society was suffering, The cause of all this aimless restlessness and unreasonable desire is summed up in the words "Strenua nos exercet inertia." In point of style. the Epistles occupy a middle position between the "sermo pedestris" of the Satires, and the studied grace or the grave majesty of the Odes. It is the perfection of that kind of style which conceals much thought, insight, and character under a quiet and unpretending exterior. It combines two great excellences of manner both in writing and in conduct, self-restraint with sincerity and simplicity.

In his Satires and Epistles Horace shows himself a genuine moralist, a subtle observer and true painter of life, and an admirable writer. But for both of these works he himself disclaims the title of poetry. He rests his claims as a poet on his Odes. They reveal an entirely different aspect of his genius, his spirit, and his culture. He is one among the few great writers of the world who have attained high excellence in two widely separated provinces of literature. If this division of his powers has been un-favourable to the intensity and spontaneity of his lyrical poetry, it has made him more interesting as a man, and more complete as a representative of his age. Through all his life he was probably conscious of the "ingeni benigna vena," which in his youth made him the sympathetic student and imitator of the older lyrical poetry of Greece, and directed his latest efforts to poetic criticism. But it was in the years that intervened between the publication of his Satires and Epistles that his lyrical genius asserted itself as his predominant faculty. At that time he had outlived the coarser pleasures and risen above the harassing cares of his earlier career; a fresh source of happiness and inspira-tion had been opened up to him in his beautiful Sabine retreat; he had become not only reconciled to the rule of Augustus, but a thoroughly convinced and, so far as his temperament admitted of enthusiasm, an enthusiastic believer in its beneficence. But it was only after much labour that his original vein of genius obtained a free and abundant outlet. He lays no claim to the "profuse strains of unpremeditated art," with which other great lyrical poets of ancient and modern times have charmed the world. He recognizes with modest and truthful self-appreciation the source of his power in the lines in which he contrasts his genius with that of Pindar:—

"Ego, apis Matinae

More modoque,

Grata carpentis thyma per laborem

Plurimum, circa nemus uvidique

Tiburis ripas, operosa parvus

Carminaa fingo."

His first efforts were apparently imitative, and were directed to the attainment of perfect mastery over form, metre, and rhythm. The first nine Odes of the first book are experiments in different kinds of metre. They and all the other metres employed by him are based on those employed by the older poets of Greece,— Alcaeus, Sappho, Archilochus, Alcman, &c. He has built the structure of his lighter Odes also on their model, while in some of those in which the matter is more weighty, as in that in which he calls on Calliope "to dictate a long continuous strain," be has endeavoured to reproduce some-thing of the intricate movement, the abrupt transitions, the interpenetration of narrative and reflexion, which char-acterize the art of Pindar. He frequently reproduces the

language and some of the thoughts of his masters, but he gives to them new application, or stamps them with the impress of his own experience. He brought the metres which be has employed to such perfection that the art perished with him. A great proof of his mastery over rhythm is the skill with which he has varied his metres according to the sentiment which he wishes to express. He has impressed the stamp of his own individuality or of his race upon all of them. Thus his great metre, the Alcaic, has a character of stateliness and majesty in addition to the energy and impetus originally imparted to it by Alcaeus. The Sapphic metre he employs with a peculiar lightness and vivacity which harmonize admirably with his gayer moods. In his combinations of the Asclepiadean we note the grave and thoughtful temperance of tone which pervades those in which the three Asclepiadean line are combined with one Glyconic as in the "Quis desiderio, &c.," "Inclusam Danaen," &c., the "Divis orte bonis," &c., and the peculiar simplicity and grace, of a graver character than that of the Sapphic, in those Odes in which two Asclepiadean lines are combined with one Pherecratean and one Glyconic, as in the

"Quis multa gracilis te puer in rosa,"

or the

"Ofons Bandusiae, splendidior vitro."

Again in regard to his diction, if Horace has learned his subtlety and moderation from his Greek masters, he has tempered those qualities with the masculine characteristics of his race. No writer is more Roman in the stateliness and dignity, the terseness, occasionally even in the sobriety and bare literalness, of his diction. The individuality of the man is equally marked in his vivid and graphic con-densation of phrase, whether employed in description of outward scenery or in moral portraiture, in the latent fervour or ironical reserve employed in the indication of personal feeling, and in the generalizing maxims which transmute the experience of some special occasion into a universal experience.

While it is mainly owing to the extreme care which Horace gave to form, rhythm, and diction that his own prophecy

"Usque ego postera

Crescam laude recens"

has been so amply fulfilled, yet no greater injustice could be done to him than to rank him either as poet or critic with those who consider form everything in literature. Had he been a writer of that stamp he would probably have attached himself to the school of Alexandrian imitators; and such excellence as he might have obtained would have been appreciated only by limited coteries, whose opinion and tastes do not long influence either the educated of uneducated world. With Horace the mastery over the vehicle of expression was merely an essential preliminary to making a worthy and serious use of that vehicle. He may have erred, in theory at least, rather in the other extreme of exaggerating the didactic office of poetry. If an explanation is to be sought for his disparaging reference to the lyrical art of his predecessor, Catullus, it is not necessary to find that explanation in jealousy, nor in any insensibility to a power of expression of which he has shown the sincerest admiration by attempting to imitate it. It is more likely that he was repelled by the purely personal and, as he may have thought, trivial subjects, whether of love or hate, to which the art of his predecessor was almost exclusively limited. The poet, from Horace’s point of view, was intended nut merely to give refined pleasure to a few, but, above all things, to be "utilis urbi." Yet he is saved, in his practice, from the abuse of this theory by his admir-able sense, his ironical humour, his intolerance of pretension and pedantry. Opinions will differ as to whether he or Catullus is to be regarded as the greater lyrical poet. Those who assign the palm to Horace will do so, certainly not because they recognize in him richer or equally rich gifts of feeling, conception, and expression, but because the subjects to which his art has been devoted have a fuller, more varied, more mature, and permanent interest for the world.

For the most complete and exact account of the MSS. and the various editions of Horace, readers are referred to the Introduction to the admirable edition of Mr E. C. Wickham, of which only the first volume, containing the Odes and Epodes, has appeared. For English readers the translation of the Odes and Satires by Sir Theodore Martin, and of the Odes, Satires, and Epistles by the late Professor Conington, and the Life of Horace by the late Dean Milman, may be especially recommended. (W. Y. S.)

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-23 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries