Monday, February 04, 2008


For my year 12 students, who have just started reading some the Odes, here is a bit of information about Horace:

Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus) (65-8 B.C.) was the son of a freedman of Venusia on the Aufidus in S. Italy, a Latin colony which had joined the rebellion of 90 B.C. and had then been granted the citizenship. It has been conjectured that the name Horatius was taken by his father from the Horatian tribe, in which Venusia was included. He was five years younger than Virgil. His father was a coactor exactionum, a collector of payments at auctions, and had acquired a small estate. He gave his son the best education obtainable, first at Rome under Orbillius, and later at Athens. The Civil War broke out while Horace was in Greece; he recieved a commission as tribune in the army of M. Brutus and fought (and, he says, ran away) at Phillipi (42 B.C.) Thereafter he returned to Italy and made his submission.

He obtained a clerical post in the civil service (he was one of the scribae quaestiorii or quaestor's clerks), but his estate was forfeited and poverty drove him to write verses. About 38 B.C. he was introduced by Virgil to Maecenas, who after some delay took him under his protection, admitted him to the circle of Augustan poets, and about 33 B.C., gave him the Sabine Farm (near Tibur, in the valley of the Digentia, now the Licenza) which was to be the source of much hapiness to Horace and the inspiration of some beautiful passages in his writings.

About 35 B.C. he had issued the first Book of his Satires. It was followed about 30 B.C., after Actium, by the second Book of the Satires and the Epodes (which include some of his earliest poems). The first three Books of the Odes, composed gradually in the course of some ten years and reflecting the political events of 33-23 B.C., were published in 23; the first Book of the Epistles about 20. The Carmen Saeculare appeared in 17, Book IV of the Odes about 15 B.C. There remain three literary essays, two of which form Book II of the Epistles, while the third is known as the Epistle to the Pisos, or more usually as the Ars Poetica. These are generally assigned to the last years of the poet's life; but the question of their date is undecided. The second epistle of Book II and the Ars Poetica are placed by some authorities as early as 19 B.C.

Horace died in 8 B.C., a few months after Maecenas, with whom he had maintained a friendship of thirty years. He was never married. We have a life of Horace by Suetonius, who describes him as short and stout. Horace speaks of himself as prematurely grey.

Horace's position as one of the greatest of Roman poets rests on the perfection of his form, the sincerity and frankness of his self-portaiture, his patriotism, his urbanity, humour, and good sense. His poems give a vivid picture of the Roman society, high and low, of his day. He has endowed literature with a multitude of happy phrases. If surpassed by Catullus in passion and force and by Lucretius in grandeur, he in turn surpasses both in the breadth of his interests, and Catullus in moral dignity. Quintilian calls him 'felicissime audax' ['most happily bold'], and Petronius refers to his 'curiosa felicitas' or 'studied felicity'.

Horace has been so universally read and admired that his influence on English poetry, both Lyrical and satirical, is almost all pervading. Of direct imitations the most famous and successful are Pope's adaptions of certain of the Satires and Epistles (1733-8). Milton translated his Ode to Pyrrha (I.5).

[From The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, ed. Sir Paul Harvey]


Anonymous said...

"...if surpassed by Catullus in passion and force and by Lucretius in grandeur, he in turn surpasses both in the breadth of his interests, and Catullus in moral dignity"

Well, Sir, I hate to say it, but way to state the obvious.

We may have only translated one of Horace's odes thus far (or two, if one has completed their extension homework... which THIS particular "one" has), but already that's evident.

I mean, compare the penultimate stanza of Catullus 11:
cum suis vivat valeatque moechis,
quos simul complexa tenet trecentos,
nullum amans vere, sed identidem omnium
ilia rumpens
; even just the first stanza of Horace's I.22:

Integer vitae scelerisque purus
non eget Mauris iaculis neque arcu
nec venenatis gravida sagittis,
Fusce, pharetra,

The words, "Well, duh" seem to suffice.

Anonymous said...

stating the obvious indeed. good examples.