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Horace (65-8 B.C.) - Qintus Horatius Flaccus

Outstanding Latin lyric poet and satirist. The most frequent themes in Horace's ODES and verse EPISTLES are love, pleasures of friendship and simple life, and the art of poetry. When writings of a number of other Roman poets disappeared after the fall of the Roman empire, Horace's oeuvre survived and influenced deeply Western literature. In his own time Horace could boast that his ARS POETICA was sold on the banks of the Bosphorus, in Spain, in Gaul, and in Africa.

" This used to be among my prayers - a piece of land not so very large, which would contain a garden, and near the house a spring of ever-flowing water, and beyond these a bit of wood."

Quintus Horatius Flaccus - known in the English-speaking world as Horace - was born at Venusia (Venosa). His father was a former slave, who had worked as a tax collector. As a businessman he earned enough money to buy a small estate and educate the future poet in Rome. Later Horace expressed his deep gratitude to his father who not only supervised his early education but also influenced his moral training. When Horace about 19-years old, he continued his studies of philosophy in Athens. After Julius Caesar's murder in March 44 B.C., Horace joined Marcus Brutus' army and gained the rank of military tribune.

The defeat of Brutus and Cassius at Philippi in 42 B.C. in northern Greece, where also Horace fought a tribunus militum, bought the republic to an end. Horace returned to Italy sad, disillusioned, and penniless. His father had died and he sought Octavian's (later styled Augustus) favour. In this he was helped by Maecenas, Octavian's friend and political adviser, who was also known patronage of literature, supporting the poet Vergil (Vergilius) among others. Since Horace's property had been confiscated, he secured a position as scriba quaestorius, or clerk of the treasury. To earn extra money he began to write satires in his spare time. During these years Horace produced his earliest EPISTLES, which attacked social abuses. SATIRES, written in hexameter verse and stating poet's rejection of public life, was probably published around 35 B.C.

Horace's contact with Maecenas deepened into intimate friendship. Maecenas bought him a farm in the hilly Sabine country, beyond Tibur (Tivoli). There Horace devoted himself to writing. When he needed peace, Horace escaped from Rome to his farm and expressed in several of his poems the joys of simple life. "In Rome you long for the country; in the country - oh inconstant! - you praise the distant city of stars." In 30 B.C. Horace published his second book of SATIRES and the collection of EPODES, iambic poems. His three books of ODES appeared in 23 B.C.; the reception was luke-warm. Three years later appeared the first book of EPISTLES. The familiar phrase 'snatch the day' (carpe diem) occurs in Horace's Odes (I, xi):

--Dum loguimur, fugerit invida
Aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.

With the death of Vergil in 19 B.C., Horace became the most celebrated poet of the Augustan age, although the social status of a poet was not very high. However, in the Augustan age the court and private individuals supported arts on a grand scale. The emperor was overtly worshipped as divine not only by plebians but also by Horace and Virgil, who acted as poet laureate of the new regime. Overburdened by work, Augustus offered Horace the position of his private secretary, but the poet declined the offer. As an emperor Augustus started a wide reform program, which aimed to restore the glory of the empire. "I found Rome brick and I left it marble," Augustus once said. Horace's CARMEN SAECULARE (Secular Hymn), appeared in 17 B.C., and was commissioned by Augustus. When Maecenas died in 8 B.C, Horace died himself a month or two later on November 17.

Horace's works were often autobiographical and dealt with moral and political issues. In his EPODES Horace suggest leaving Rome to find a new Golden Age in the distant islands in the Atlantic. In the Secular Hymn Horace expresses his approval of Augustus' reforms and in the fourth book of the Odes he reflects on the inevitability of death - "Time's winged chariot hurrying near," was his recurrent reverse side of poems praising simple pleasures. In the famous Soracte ode he advices to defy the chill of winter by drinking good wine, and to enjoy life. Several poems dealt with with the complexities of love: "To whom now Pyrrha, art thou kind? / To what heart-ravish Lover / Dost thou thy golden Locks unbind, / Thy hidden sweet discover, / And with large bounty open set / All the bright stores of the rich Cabinet?" For Horace's disappointment, the Roman public did not receive the poems as warmly as he hoped. Horace defended himself: "I don't go on the hunt for the votes of a fickle public by giving dinners…. I listen to good writers and return their compliment, but I don't canvas the tribes of literary critics."

Among Horace's mature works is EPISTULA AD PISONES, usually known as Ars Poetica. According to some researchers it was made 20 B.C. or even earlier, but it has also dated to 17-13 B.C. In it Horace discusses with informality and humour such topics as the unity of poem, the importance of decorum (the which is fitting in language, style and subject matter), and the necessity for a writer to have both innate ability and adequate training.

"Think to yourself that everyday is your last; the hour to which you do not look forward will come as a welcome surprise. As for me, when you want a good laugh, you will find me, in a fine state, fat and sleek, a true of hog of Epicurus' herd"

Horace's ARS POETICA had much influence on Western poetry - SEE ALSO: Alexander Pope. His works were copied throughout the dark age and quoted by early Christian writers, among them St. Jerome. His lyric meters were used by Prudentius and other hymn composers. Dante listed Horace in his Divine Comedy third among poets, after Homer and Virgil. Horace's works were read and are still read in schools and his influence is seen in the works of such authors as Montaigne, Ben Johnson, Henry Fielding, John Gay, Lord Chesterfield and Horace Walpole.

For further reading: Profile of Horace by D.R. Shackleton Bailey, et al.(1982); Polyhymnia: The Rhetoric of Horatian Lyric Discourse by Gregson Davis (1992); The Odes of Horace: A Critical Study by Henry Steele Commager (1995); Artifices of Eternity: Horace's Fourth Book of Odes by Michael C. J. Putnam (1996); Horace: A Life by Peter Levi (1998); Horace: Poetics and Politics by V. G. Kiernan (1999) ; The Complete Odes and Satires of Horace by Sidney Alexander et al (1999) - Note: Iamb is a prosodic foot of two syllabes, an unstressed followed by a stressed one: 'The cur/few tolls/ the knell/ of parting day'. - Hexameter is classical prosody, a line of six metrical feet (Greek) or six metra (Latin), usually dactyls (- u u ). The epics of Homer and Vergil are composed in dactylic hexameter. Horace's epodes were written in iambi, adapted from Greek models. - Suom: Horatiukselta on myös suomennettu Oodeja ja epooodeja (1930), valikoima Horatiuksen oodeja (1989). Runoja on myös teoksessa Maailmankannel (1908).

Selected works:

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