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.
Horace wrote poetry ranging from iambi (epodes) and sermones (satires and epistles) to carmina (lyrics). These poems paint a detailed self-portrait—laughing poet of moderation; ironic and gentle moralist; enigmatic observer of the Augustan principate; and self-deprecating lover of the Italian countryside, good wine, his friends, and, most of all, his art. By offering a poetic persona who speaks to so many human concerns, Horace has encouraged each reader to feel that he or she is one of the poet's circle, a friend in whom he confides. Horace's life, however, is as much masked as revealed by his confessional narratives, which present a literary autobiography—the author as he wishes his audience to view him. The poet's delight in shifting perspectives also serves as a reminder that the poetic I gives voice to a persona and mood only of the moment. Perhaps the greatest irony of the poet who so relished irony is that by constantly talking about himself, he has left a portrait of a man varying not only from generation to generation but also from reader to reader.
In addition to the literary portrait offered by his own poetry, readers may learn something of Horace's life from a short biography written by Suetonius (f l. late first, early second century A.D.). Suetonius may have gleaned his material partly from the poetry itself, however, so both sources must be used cautiously.
Quintus Horatius Flaccus, the son, as he claimed, of a freedman, was born 8 December 65 B.C. under the consulship of L. Cotta and L. Torquatus. He was born in Venusia, a town in southeast Italy on the border between Lucania and Apulia (modern Puglia), where the Romans had founded a colony in 291 B.C. after the third Samnite War. Horace's father was not necessarily a slave who was later freed by his master. Venusia, typical of the towns to the south of Rome, provided a barricade between Rome and potentially hostile neighbors. In 91 B.C. the citizens of many towns such as Venusia revolted against their alliance with Rome. Venusia joined the revolt in 90 B.C. When the town was recaptured in 88 B.C., three thousand Venusian citizens were captured and, as was the custom, enslaved. Horace's father could thus have been a freeborn native, enslaved for siding with the revolutionaries in the Social War, who later regained his freedom. The elder Horace's freedman status might have been a fiction, part of the poet's literary persona.
Horace mentions a nurse, Pullia (Odes, 3.4.10), but not his mother or any siblings. He calls his father a modest landowner and a coactor, that is, a middleman who handles the cash in a sale of goods (Sat. 1.6; Epist. 1.20). Suetonius adds the rumor that Horace's father was a salsamentarius (a seller of salted fish). Neither profession was prestigious, but "fishmonger" is probably a literary rather than a biographical reference. Horace associates "salty wit" with the caustic humor of Bion of Borysthenes, a popular Hellenistic philosopher who also claimed his father was a freedman seller of salted fish (Epist. 2.2.60), as well as with his satiric predecessor Lucilius, who, Horace says, "rubbed down the city with a good deal of salt" (Sat. 1.10. 3-4).
Horace speaks with loving respect, not embarrassment, of his freedman father and portrays him as ambitious for his son, but not at the cost of personal virtue. The elder Horace is presented as a man of irreproachable character who wanted his son to live modestly and to comply with accepted social decorum. Like Demea, the strict and conservative father in Terence's comedy the Adelphoe, Horace's father taught his son appropriate behaviors by examples illustrating traditional viewpoints; he was proud of not being a philosopher, of guarding his son's behavior and reputation, and of educating him according to ancestral custom. Horace's biographical narratives turn the taunt "son of a freedman" to his own advantage: a poor man from a simple birth, versed in the straightforward ethics of the Italian countryside, makes a more convincing moral commentator than a rich and sophisticated one.
Instead of having his son educated by the local schoolmaster, Flavius, in the company of magni . . . pueri magnis e centurionibus orti (big sons sired by big centurions, Sat. 1.6.73-74), Horace's father took his son to Rome for his education (Sat. 1.6.76-78; Epist. 2.2.41-42). He wanted his son to have the best and to be taught in the city among the children of knights and senators, rather than with the children of small-town former army officials (Sat. 1.6.72-78). Horace's schooling suggests that his father's poverty was relative to the standards of the poet's later associations: his father could afford to move to Rome and to have his son educated and equipped with the proper accoutrements to render him indistinguishable from the sons of the elite. Although Horace did not have the education of the truly rich (both Cicero's son and nephew, for example, were privately educated at the home of Crassus), he did have the best of a semiprivate education: his teacher, Orbilius (Epist. 2.1.70-71), was eminent enough to be included in Suetonius's biography of distinguished grammatici et rhetorici (grammarians and rhetoricians). The Rome of Horace's adolescence was home to ambitious and experimental poets such as Lucretius and Catullus (both of whom probably died before Horace arrived in Rome), Calvus, Cinna, and Cornelius Gallus, and to philosophers who lectured on Hellenistic ethical thought.
During the poet's formative years in the Italian countryside, violent political factions plagued Rome. When Horace was two (63 B.C.), the consul Cicero discovered and suppressed Catiline's conspiracy against the government. When Horace was five (60 B.C.), Pompey, Julius Caesar, and Crassus joined political forces in the so-called first triumvirate, and Caesar was granted a five-year command in Gaul; in 56 B.C. their alliance and Caesar's command in Gaul were extended for an additional five years. Three years later Crassus died, leaving Caesar and Pompey to vie for power. Horace was fifteen (and surely in Rome) when Caesar's army crossed the Rubicon, the river that separated his province from Italy, thus breaking the law and beginning a civil war (49 B.C.). While Horace studied, Caesar battled Pompey and his supporters throughout the Mediterranean, returning victorious to Rome in 46 B.C.
Perhaps the same year, Horace went to Athens to study philosophy (Epist. 2.2.43-45), where he may have tried his hand at writing poetry in Greek (Sat. 1.10.31-35). Horace was in Athens when Caesar was assassinated by a group of Romans who feared his autocracy (44 B.C.). When the republican leader Marcus Brutus arrived in Athens about six months after Caesar's death, Horace left school to become a tribune in Brutus's army (43 B.C., Epist. 2.2.46-50). The tribunate was a junior military post usually held by either young men of equestrian rank or those whose family finances were large enough (400,000 sesterces) that the post would establish them as equestrians and offer an entrée into public life. Horace might already have been part of the latter group; it is also possible that the exigencies of war superseded the normal requirements for appointment.
Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony) and Octavian, Caesar's great-nephew and heir, defeated Brutus's republican forces at the Battle of Phillipi in November 42 B.C. An ode published nearly twenty years later, celebrating the return to Italy of a comrade-in-arms, Pompeius places Horace at the battle (Odes, 2.7). It also shows the difficulties inherent in reading Horace autobiographically. In typical Horatian fashion, the poet mixes a likely occurrence (that he was at Philippi under Brutus) with literary embellishment. Horace presents himself as a young soldier throwing away his shield in a panic to facilitate his escape, an allusion to the Greek lyric poets Archilochus and Alcaeus, who also claimed to have thrown away their shields while beating a hasty retreat. Just as Aphrodite saved her son Aeneas from battle in Homer's Iliad, so too Mercury wraps Horace in a cloud and carries him safely off the dangerous battlefield.
When Horace returned to Italy under the general amnesty granted to the defeated troops by the second triumvirate of Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus, he found his family's land confiscated (Epist. 2.2.50-51). He procured a post in Rome as scriba quaestorius (a scribe in the Treasury). The scribes in general were just below the equestrians as a social group; the scribae quaestorii were the highest-ranking scribes, however, and many achieved equestrian status. While little is known about the scribae, a candidate probably needed backing by a wealthy and powerful connection as well as the financial resources to purchase the desired post. Even at this early stage of his career, Horace may have had influential friends who recommended him for the appointment. (Some scholars have suggested Asinius Pollio, the consul of 40 B.C.). Whether wealthy supporters also helped Horace financially or despite the loss of his family property, he had sufficient resources to secure the office for himself is not clear.
Horace says almost nothing about his activities as a scribe beyond listing the expectations that accompany the post among the pressures of the city from which his country estate affords pleasant escape (Sat. 2.6.36-37). His duties provided him with income and left him time to write, although he later claimed (as part of an argument that he would rather nap than write poetry) that he wrote poetry when he was young because he was poor and needed the money (Epist. 2.2.51-54).
At some time between his return to Rome and 38 B.C., Horace became a friend of another young poet five years his senior, Virgil. In 38 B.C. Virgil and the poet Varius introduced Horace to Gaius Maecenas (died 8 B.C.), a wealthy equestrian descended from Etruscan nobility who was patron to the new generation of talented poets such as Virgil and, later, Propertius. As Octavian's longtime friend, Maecenas enjoyed a great deal of unofficial power in Rome, but he is best known for his prominent role in Horace's verse.
Horace gives his version of his first encounter with Maecenas and their subsequent friendship in Sat. 1.6, a poem that illustrates Roman social decorum, a prominent theme in Horace's poetry. The social gulf between him and Maecenas at first made Horace tongue-tied. Maecenas spoke with him briefly, asked questions that the young poet answered forthrightly, and then ended the interview. Eight months later Maecenas invited Horace to join his circle of friends. The poem compliments Maecenas for his recognition that nobility is a state of mind rather than of rank and reveals Horace as a worthy man who is comfortable with his role and status relative to Maecenas. As a result of temperament and training, Horace suggests, advancement in public life held little attraction for him. In fact, ambitious for literary prestige, he poured his competitive energies into writing poetry. The poem also suggests that, while Horace and Maecenas developed a friendship in the modern sense of the word during their long association, their relationship began as one of unequals, in which Maecenas was more powerful. The social dynamic that accompanied this unequal status did not wholly disappear with the growth of a companionable easiness between the two men.
By the time of his introduction to Maecenas, Horace was writing in at least two genres: satires that he called both sermones (verse conversations) and saturae (satires) as well as poems that he referred to as iambi (iambics), although that collection is commonly called the Epodes. Horace may have begun the iambics as early as 42 B.C., and he may have started working on the satires at the same time or earlier. Not until several years later did he publish a full work, Satires I (ca. 35 B.C.).
Greek poets had cultivated a lively satiric spirit, especially in iambic poetry and in comedy, but the genre itself was, as Quintilian claimed, completely new and Roman: "Satura quidem tota nostra est" (Institutio Oratoria, 10.1.93). Only scattered fragments remain of Ennius's (ca. 239-169 B.C.) several books of saturae. Horace, however, credits Lucilius (second century B.C.) with originating the genre (Sat. 2.1.30-34) and setting the precedent for dactylic hexameter as the meter of a satiric verse that claims moral authority against all manner of human failings.
Satire as a genre is something of a hodgepodge with a fitting name. Although the derivation of satura has long been the subject of controversy, it most plausibly refers to a lanx satura, or plate full of various foodstuffs. Food is a natural focus for satire, and several of Horace's satires center on food and mealtime decorum, but the "mixed plate" metaphor refers more to the variety of topics in this genre that center on human foibles. The humble imagery also suits the low status of the genre in the literary hierarchy, a status reflected in the arrangement of the various genres in complete texts of Horace's works: the epodes, satires, and epistles are printed after the more exalted genre of lyric. Combination and variety furthermore typify satire: Hellenistic philosophical diatribe joins with comic lampoon, iambic invective, and folksy narrative full of animal fables and deftly drawn character sketches. Sexual and scatological humor, although inappropriate in more-elevated genres, are quite at home in satire. The phallic god Priapus indulges in earthy language and jokes in the eighth satire, while the second, the bawdiest of the satires, concerns proper sexual partners.
Like the Eclogues (the book of bucolic poetry published by Virgil), each collection of Horace's satires was meant to be read as a poetry book. The ten poems of Satires I are presented to their audience both as distinct poems and as a unified work whose individual poems should be considered in relation to their neighbors and to the book as a whole. The careful arrangement of the poetry in the book invites division into parts large and small. Smaller components such as paired poems, sometimes adjacent and sometimes not, complement, contrast with, or comment on each other (as in Sat. 1.4 and 1.10, satires about writing satire). Poetry books often present a related series of poems, as in the three satiric diatribes that, part philosophical lesson and part harangue, begin Satires I. Scholars have divided Satires I into halves (1-5 and 6-10) and into thirds (1-3: diatribes; 4-6: the literary, ethical, political Horace; 7-9: short narratives; 10: conclusion). Another pattern balances the diatribes (1-3) followed by the first of the two "satires on satire" in the book (4) with the narrative satires (7-9) followed by the second of the literary satires (10). Between these sets are the two central poems focusing on Horace's friendship with Maecenas, the first a narrative of a shared journey (Sat. 1.5), the second an account of Horace's upbringing and introduction to Maecenas, which stresses the poet's lack of political ambition and contentment with his place in Roman society (Sat. 1.6). These divisions are complementary rather than definitive and are part of the complexity of the book.
The first poem of a poetry book, often programmatic, sets the tone for the rest of the book and provides information on the matter and style, the dedicatee, and the place of the work in the literary tradition as well as the poet's innovation. The discursive chatter to Maecenas in the opening poem of Satires I, which centers on discontent and greed, places Horace in the Lucilian literary tradition. Lucilius's persona was that of a wealthy equestrian confidently publicizing his opinions. The haphazard logic of Horace's narrator mimics the careless authority of those accustomed to voicing any and all of their opinions; his style is that of someone comfortably making judgments in the company of those who share his values and assumptions. The poem cannot be called a philosophical argument: the transitions are awkward, and the logic wanders. Solid ethical sense, however, shines through: people should be content with what they have, enjoying their resources and advantages instead of hoarding and competing with others.
Two famous characterizations of Horace come from this first satire. The first typifies his facetious manner: "ridentem dicere verum / quid vetat" (What's wrong with someone laughing as they tell the truth? Sat. 1.1.24-25). The second signals the balance and moderation that mark his work as a whole: "est modus in rebus, sunt certi denique fines / quos ultra citraque nequit consistere rectum" (there is a middle ground in things; there are, finally, definite boundaries, on either side of which Right is unable to take a stand, Sat. 1.1.106-107).
The second and third satires, similarly discursive treatments of sex (Sat. 1.2) and friendship (Sat. 1.3), illustrate the poet's interest in Hellenistic ethical thought. The second mentions Philodemus, a prominent Epicurean philosopher. Horace ridicules and dismisses followers of the doctrines of Chrysippus, the head of the Stoic school during the third century B.C. (Sat. 1.3.127), like Fabius (Sat. 1.1.14; 1.2.134) and Crispinus (Sat. 1.1.120; 1.3.139; 1.4.14). The third satire criticizes Stoic tenets such as all failings are equal; justice is natural, not normative; and only the wise man is good. The poem advocates a mutual and affectionate acceptance of failings among friends rather than a rigid stoicism.
The book on the whole is a testimony to Horace's friendship with Maecenas. The narrator represents himself as an enthusiastic, loyal, and deserving friend who has access to a close relationship with the powerful Maecenas. Satisfied with his role and having no political ambitions, the poet enjoys the company of a group that—while exclusive, intellectually sophisticated, and powerful—is yet internally free from ambition and competition. Saying he is following Lucilius in composing witty, conversational narratives straight from his life (Sat. 1.4.1-8), Horace portrays his life as a poet and friend of Maecenas as he would have his audience see it, often to their frustration. Written against a backdrop of great political turmoil and change, the satires do not willingly yield firm information or political nuances. Consequently, Horace's relationship to and attitude toward the leading figures who play a role in his poetry continue to be subjects of speculation and controversy.
The spectre of civil war had not yet passed, even though the satirist had traded in his armor for a stylus. From 40 B.C. until the battle of Actium in 31 B.C., full-scale civil war was avoided by, in effect, a division of the Roman world, with Antony controlling the East and Octavian the West. The sparring between Octavian and Antony prompted two peacekeeping expeditions to southern Italy. A teasing version of the poet's participation in such a diplomatic expedition is the subject of Sat. 1.5, often called the Journey to Brundisium. Sat. 1.5 has been read in various ways: as a political portrait aimed to influence Roman opinion, as a reminiscence composed primarily for the pleasure of his fellow travelers, as a realistic depiction of an actual event, as a purely literary creation, and as a programmatic poem reacting to Lucilius, who had also written a satire about a journey.
The goal of the expedition that forms the background for Sat. 1.5 was of considerable interest to Horace's ancient audience and is still of interest today, for its goal was the reconciliation of the two leading men of Rome. Horace intensifies and frustrates the reader's curiosity about what he, as a companion to Maecenas, saw and heard on that journey. The reader learns virtually nothing of political significance. Instead, the poem emphasizes that the traveling party is a solid and intimate group. Even mishaps—an overnight stopping place almost catching on fire (71-81) and Horace's anecdote about his sexual frustration after waiting half the night for a woman who does not appear (82-85)—are presented as bonding experiences, memorable if unpleasant events evolving into anecdotes that continued to bind the group even after the experience has ended. When the party finally arrives at Brundisium, Horace ends the narrative, having provided only enough information to assure the reader that he was a part of an elevated inner circle.
Sat. 1.9 also gives the poet the opportunity to reveal much by revealing little about the close—and closed—group around Maecenas. The poet makes clear that his interests and talents lie in writing poetry, not in social maneuvering, by telling a tale at his own expense about the antics of an ambitious pest who confounds Horace's attempts at escape. A stranger to guile, Horace is at the mercy of his pursuer, who seeks an introduction to Maecenas. Horace declares that the group is free from social posturing and competition: each member knows and is happy with his own place (48-52):
We do not live there
as you suppose. There is no house more unsullied than
or more free from such mischief. It bothers me not at all, I
because someone is more affluent or more learned; each
his own place.
While the reader might agree with his antagonist that Horace's claims are difficult to believe, the idealized representation of the lesser-status friend who is secure in his own place and free from ambitious envy has a long tradition in Roman culture. The glimpse available to outsiders makes the group more desirable and at the same time more unattainable.
Sat. 1.9 is the last of a series of three fairly short narratives. Sat. 1.7 vividly recounts an anecdote from Horace's army days in Asia—a legal altercation (with Brutus presiding) between a proscribed Italian and a Greek businessman. The witch Canidia makes the first of her several appearances in Horace's poetry in Sat. 1.8. She and Sagana, another witch, are frightened from the Esquiline by a flatulent statue of Priapus, a fertility god who protected gardens.
The intersection of literature with life, implicit in all Horace's poetry, is the explicit focus of the two literary satires, 1.4 and 1.10. Both these poems explore satire as an amalgam of the aesthetic and the ethical in explicit comparisons with Lucilius. Horace prides himself on following his predecessor's tradition of courageously attacking the failings of people of any rank. While there is a good deal of dismissive raillery at the expense of those outside of his social and literary circles (for example, the pest in Sat. 1.9, the fawning praetor in Sat. 1.5, and the witch Canidia in Sat. 1.8), the satires are in fact neither biting invective nor attacks against powerful living people. Rather, homespun wisdom tinged with Hellenistic philosophy in a conversational style is directed in a manner more mocking than vituperative at the victims the poet can afford to scorn—and at himself.
Horace also criticizes his predecessor's metrical and rhetorical practice: in highly polished, concise, and exact verse, Horace reproves Lucilius as a muddy, verbose, and slipshod writer (Sat. 1.4). The charges levied against Lucilius are repeated in the final satire of the book (Sat. 1.10). Just to be witty is not enough, insists Horace. A poet's thoughts should run smoothly and at the right pace; there should be a good variety in tone; and the poet should assume different roles suited to the matter at hand. The language itself should be plain and pure Latin, with no Greek neologisms mixed in. Horace evades the question of the literary status of the genre, insisting the satires are merely versified conversations. Despite its informality and mundane subject matter—the antithesis of epic—satire in Horace's hands is more than versifying. Behind the informal veneer of the genre, every word has been chosen and placed with a tightly controlled artistry of which the poet is justifiably proud.
The two satires look at the context of the genre from different perspectives. The fourth satire roots Horace's literary endeavors in the rigorous ethical training of his childhood and credits his father with instilling the lessons that inspire satire. The tenth focuses on the present; Horace compliments by name poets writing in other genres and literary friends whose approval he seeks. The poet's expression of his preference for an elite and refined group of readers over popular acclaim closes the book.
Sometime between the publication of the first book of satires (35/34 B.C.) and 31 B.C. Horace acquired an estate in the Sabine Hills outside of Rome. Although he also had a home in Rome and later at Tibur, a fashionable resort town northeast of Rome, the Sabine estate figured most prominently in Horace's poetry. It afforded the poet not only a peaceful place in which to think and write but also the landed respectability so important to the Romans. Maecenas has usually been credited with helping Horace to acquire the Sabine estate. In recent years, however, some scholars have suggested that Horace, a man of equestrian rank and a scribe, had the financial resources to buy the estate without Maecenas's aid. Assuming that he did so, however, ignores the references to substantial material benefits received from Maecenas (for example, Epod. 1.31-32 and possibly Odes 2.18.11-14, 3.16.37-38). The extent of Maecenas's financial assistance is uncertain. Further, ancient sources have not provided enough about relative wealth in Rome to demonstrate that even a man of equestrian rank would necessarily have the wherewithal to afford an estate in the Sabine Hills.
Five years later (30 B.C.) Horace published a second book of satires; this book both continues and departs from its predecessor. Food and philosophy—and even food as philosophy—play prominent roles in this book whose individual poems balance and comment on one another. Book 2 is full of advice, but, unlike the advice of book 1, little is offered by the poet's persona. The dialogue of the first satire sets the tone for the rest of the book. Instead of diatribes sprinkled with a few interlocutors (book 1, 1-3) or monologues (Sat. 1.4, 1.10, 1.6) or narratives recounted either by the poet's persona (Sat. 1.5, 1.7, 1.9) or, in Sat. 1.8, by a wooden statue of Priapus, the second book presents various scenes. The poet may take the secondary role as the interlocutor while other characters speak in diatribes (Sat. 2.3, 2.7). A chance encounter becomes the stimulus for a lecture on food (Sat. 2.4) or a narrative about a fancy dinner gone awry (Sat. 2.8).
The reader hears several of the narratives at a far remove. Catius repeats a lecture (4); Fundanius, a story (8); the poet, the precepts of Ofellus (2) and the fable of his neighbor Cervius (6); Damasippus, the lecture of Stertinius (3); and Davus, the precepts of Crispinus as overheard by his doorkeeper (7). Twice, however, the reader eavesdrops on conversations. In keeping with one of the motifs of the book, both concern expert advice. The book opens in the midst of a consultation between the poet and the legal expert Trebatius. Just as in the literary satires of the first book, the poet takes the stance of having been attacked for writing satire. Trebatius counsels his friend to give up satire, or, if he has to write, to compose epic praises of Octavian. The poem defends the poet's talent as well as his choice of genre; no matter what, Horace promises, he will write (57-60):
In short: whether a peaceful old age waits for me
or death circles with black wings,
rich, poor, at Rome, or if thus chance bids, an exile,
whatever the complexion of my life, I will write.
The second consultation begins the second half of the book. In this poem the reader is transported to the underworld of Greek mythology to eavesdrop on the famous seer Tiresias advising Odysseus on the best way to ingratiate himself with the elderly rich in hopes of being left a legacy (Sat. 2.5).
Ofellus, the focus of the second satire, stands in contrast to other characters in the book. Ofellus lost his farm—but retained his convictions—when his land was transferred to veteran soldiers. Against Ofellus's precepts that hard work, simple food, and plain but unstinting living are best, Horace has set those of Catius (Sat. 2.4), who zealously recounts in philosophical style a lecture he has just heard on gourmet delicacies. Balancing Catius's amusing precepts is the story told by Fundanius, Horace's friend and writer of comedies (Sat. 1.10.40-42), about the dinner party given by Nasidienus, who tries to impress Maecenas with trendy food and wines (Sat. 2.8).
Two diatribes directed at Horace make fun of, among other things, the ripple effect of contemporary interest in Hellenistic ethical thought (Sat. 2.3, 2.7). Both take place during the December Saturnalia, when the distinction between slaves and masters is blurred. Damasippus, a convert to philosophy, sees his new learning as yet another in a string of schemes to get ahead in the world (Sat. 2.3). A captive Horace is treated to the various proofs that all fools are mad and only the Stoic wise man is sane, arguments that Damasippus has learned from a single encounter with the Stoic Stertinius, whose lecture he reiterates at length (the poem is 326 lines, Horace's longest next to Ars poetica). In Sat. 2.7 Davus, one of Horace's slaves, also takes advantage of the license allowed during the Saturnalia to accuse his master of the shallowness and pretense of virtue that other characters in the book display. Davus had become a philosopher through the servant grapevine: he learned the rudiments of Stoic argumentation from the Stoic Crispinus's doorkeeper, who had in turn learned them by eavesdropping on his master's lectures.
Davus's harangue comments on Horace's self-portrait in Sat. 2.6 and points out the complex presentation of the satires. The praises of simplicity in Sat. 2.6 contrast with the extremes of philosophizing (Sat. 2.3, 2.7), gourmandizing (Sat. 2.4, 2.8), and moneygrubbing (Sat. 2.5) portrayed in the book. The poet represents himself as grateful and content, living a simple life far from ambitious Rome, where folk wisdom and animal fables—like the tale of the city mouse and country mouse with which the satire ends—take the place of urban philosophizing. In the next poem, however, Horace offers a different reading of Sat. 2.6 and makes the reader wonder if the poet is partly the object of his own satire in both poems. The effusive gratitude and deep contentment expressed in the previous satire, Davus's tirade suggests, reflect the poet's mood, not a stable sentiment: "you can't stand your own company for an hour, you are unable to make good use of your leisure and, a fugitive and a wanderer, you avoid your very self, seeking one minute to drink away, the next to sleep away your troubles" (112-115). Davus uses the argument that all fools are slaves to eradicate the social distinctions between himself and his master. His master suffers from all the same desires and foibles as Davus, but the master's social station allows him to make aesthetic distinctions and masquerade in ways unavailable to (and unnecessary for) his slave.
Satiric spirit finds a more forceful expression in some of the Epodes, published around the same time as Satires II. All but the final poem (17) are written in couplets in which the two lines are of different lengths and sometimes different metrical patterns—hence the designation epode, which means "after the ode" and technically refers to the second verse of the couplet. Horace, however, referred to the poems as iambi, putting himself in the literary tradition of the archaic Greek poet Archilochus of Paros, whose meter and manner he claims to imitate (Epist. 1.19. 23-25).
Horace adapted various combinations of Archilochus's meters to his native Latin, but Archilochus is not the only model for the iambs. The prolific works of the third-century-B.C. scholar-poet associated with the Mouseion at Alexandria, Callimachus of Cyrene, include thirteen iambs, followed in the manuscripts by four lyric poems, for a total of seventeen, the same number of poems as Horace included in his iambs. Callimachus associates his iambs with the sixth-century-B.C. poet Hipponax, whose work also influenced Horace.
Unlike Archilochus, however, for whom the iamb was a weapon (A.p. 79), Horace's aggressive epodes attack only safe or fictional characters. As part of his warning that his adversary be wary of attacking one well-equipped to retaliate, the narrator of the sixth epode names the well-known enemies of Archilochus, Lycambes and Hipponax (Bupalus), but his own victim remains anonymous. Horace attacks unnamed women in Epodes 8 and 12, both poems so scathing and coarse that they are often explained away as "allegories" or "literary exercises." An indignant citizen berates a nameless former slave in the fourth poem, accusing him of rising to the status of military tribune through newly acquired wealth and political connections. This poem has sometimes been thought to repeat inaccurate gossip against Horace's own military past (referred to in Sat. 1.6).
Some named characters in the iambs may or may not refer to historical individuals. In a distorted propempticon (Epod. 10), a type of poem in which the gods are invoked to give safe voyage to a friend, Horace prays for Maevius's death at sea (identified by the scholia as the same poet Virgil had mentioned disparagingly in Eclogue 3.90). The fervent champion of rural life in Epode 2, one of Horace's most frequently imitated poems, turns out, in the end, to be Alfius, an urban moneylender. Canidia, a favorite character in the epodes (as in the satires), is a predatory witch who kidnaps a young boy in order to use his entrails in a love potion (Epod. 5). She is the automatic suspect when Horace complains Maecenas has poisoned him with a garlic-laden feast (Epod. 3); her spells finally overwhelm the poet, who in vain begs release from his torment (Epod. 17).
A perverse eroticism is a vehicle for invective against Canidia in Epodes 5 and 17 as well as in the eighth and twelfth epodes. Of the three other erotic poems in the collection, only one is aggressive; two touch on the effect of love on writing poetry. A rejected Horace promises his past lover that he will have the last laugh in a poem that comes closest to the Odes in tone (Epod. 15). In Epode 11 the narrator complains that he is love's perpetual victim, suffering a misery not even writing poetry can alleviate; in Epode 14 being in love provides an excuse to Maecenas for promised but unfinished poetry.
Iambic poetry is appropriate for political expression as well, and the epodes reflect a poetic reaction to the political upheaval of their time. As the book opens, Horace, despite his unwarlike character, announces he will follow Maecenas anywhere, even off to war. The dedication to Maecenas underscores the poet's gratitude toward and concern for his friend, made vivid by the crisis of civil war. Horace may in fact have accompanied Maecenas, early in their relationship, to the battle at Cape Palinurus, where Octavian suffered a naval defeat (Odes 3.4.28). Horace may also have been with Maecenas at Actium, the occasion of the ninth epode.
Whether or not he actually witnessed the battle, the war, either directly or in the background, informs much of the book. In Epode 7 the poet appeals to his countrymen to stop the destruction and frenzy, a curse he says is rooted in Romulus's fratricide. In a poem that is frequently compared with Virgil's fourth eclogue, Horace proposes that Rome's best citizens abandon the city, which has been ravaged by its own might. Under the guidance of Horace as their vates (prophet-poet) Romans can find a new home set in a golden age (Epod. 16). The sorrows of war inform a sympotic epode as well (Epod. 13). The poet encourages his companions to turn a winter storm to their advantage and to chase away their worries with old wine, scented oils, and song. As an authority for the curative powers of wine, the poet cites the centaur Chiron, Achilles' tutor. After revealing to Achilles his fate in the Trojan War, the centaur encourages his ward to banish trouble and sorrows with wine and song, even in the midst of war.
Between publication of the Epodes and Odes I-III, Rome underwent momentous changes. Returning triumphant to Rome, Octavian began the refashioning of the state that won him the honorific title Augustus in 27 B.C. Part of his vision included building on the Palatine River a temple to Apollo, which was connected to his home (dedicated in 28 B.C.). The temple complex also housed two libraries—one Latin, one Greek—which held the best of Greek and Latin literature. Horace writes of having one's works shelved in the library as an honor, a symbol of acceptance into the Roman literary canon.
Horace was not alone in striving for inclusion in the Palatine library. These were years of great literary activity. Virgil published the Georgics (29 B.C.) and began the Aeneid. The next year Propertius published the Monobiblos and joined Maecenas's circle. A few years later Tibullus published his first book of elegies; Propertius published his second and third elegiac books. In prose, the historian Livy was working on his sweeping annals of the rise of Rome, and Vitruvius published his De architectura. The prestige of native literature was increasing so much that Caecilius Epirota, a schoolmaster, began to teach Virgil's poetry.
During this time Horace was working on what many consider his masterpiece, three books of lyric poetry to rival Greek lyric in Latin (Odes I-III). The earliest datable poem, Odes 1.37, concerns the Battle of Actium (31 B.C.) and the subsequent suicide of Cleopatra. Horace worked on the odes for at least seven years and published them in 23 B.C. when he was forty-two. The three books comprise a total of eighty-eight carefully arranged poems. The number of poems in each book varies (book 1 includes thirty-eight poems; book 2, twenty poems; and book 3, thirty poems), as does the total number of verses (book 1 includes 876 lines; book 2, 572 lines; and book 3, 1,008 lines) and length of individual poems (from the shortest, which consisted of eight lines, to the longest, which consisted of eighty).
Both names for Horace's lyric, odes and carmina, are reminders of the roots of the genre in song accompanied by the lyre. The Odes display the influence of Greek monodic (for a single performer) and choral poetry from the archaic through the Hellenistic periods. Horace knew and imitated the seventh-century-B.C. monodic poets Alcaeus and Sappho of Lesbos and the sixth-century-B.C. Anacreon of Teos. The special debt owed to the meter and themes of Alcaeus is acknowledged by the reference to the lyre of Lesbos at the close of Odes 1.1. Horace also admired the sixth-century-B.C. choral poets Stesichoros and Simonides and the fifth-century-B.C. Bacchylides, who provided a model for the mythological Odes 1.15. Among the choral poets, however, the fifth-century-B.C. poet Pindar most influenced Horace (as in Odes 1.12, 3.4, and 4.2).
Although he admires—and imitates—Pindar's rushing torrents of verse, Horace prefers his own "slender Muse," whom he likens to a small bee fashioning painstakingly elaborated poems (Odes 4.2). Horace's tenuis Musa plays several roles. A poetic talent suited only for lighter, personal themes provides Horace an excuse, in a poetic form known as the recusatio, for not writing the epic praises of great men. He compliments Agrippa (Odes 1.6) and Augustus (Odes 2.12, 4.2), for example, by telling them that his talents are not equal to creating the poetic praise they deserve. The poet's ethical as well as literary aesthetics are shaped by the opposition between the grand and the slight. As in the satires, there are many statements of Horace's preference for the small and simple over the grandiose.
The opening poem, dedicated to Maecenas as judge of the worth of the collection, challenges the lyric tradition and offers Horace as a candidate for the ranks of the Greek lyric poets. Horace writes that the rarefied company of the great Greek lyricists will mark him as learned and win him literary acclaim. In an extended priamel (in which a series of foils highlight the poet's own preference), the poet rejects various pursuits that engage human ambition in favor of poetic success. In the middle of the poem, literary ambition is balanced by the equally Horatian image of a man taking a break from the long day, stretched out with some good wine in the cool shade or by a refreshing spring. Meticulous dedication, the soul of Horace's poetry, is offset by a love of the simple pleasures of living in the present, enjoying the gifts of the hour. Serious poetic ambition is tempered by the comic self-deprecation recurrent in Horace's work: the poem ends with the image of an exalted Horace banging his head on the stars.
The priamel of the first ode hints at other themes familiar through the Satires and the Epodes—a love of the countryside that dedicates a farmer to his ancestral lands; the ambition that drives one man to Olympic glory, another to political acclaim, and a third to wealth; the greed that compels the merchant to brave dangerous seas again and again rather than live modestly but safely; and even the tensions between the sexes that are at the root of the odes about relationships with women.
While indebted to Greek literary tradition, the Odes