1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Horace
HORACE [Quintus Horatius Flaccus] (65–8 B.C.), the famous Roman poet, was born on the 8th of December 65 B.C. at Venusia, on the borders of Lucania and Apulia (Sat. ii. 1. 34). The town, originally a colony of veterans, appears to have long maintained its military traditions, and Horace was early imbued with a profound respect for the indomitable valour and industry of the Italian soldier. It would seem, however, that the poet was not brought up in the town itself, at least he did not attend the town school (Sat. i. 6. 72) and was much in the neighbouring country, of which, though he was but a child when he left it, he retained always a vivid and affectionate memory. The mountains near and far, the little villages on the hillsides, the woods, the roaring Aufidus, the mossy spring of Bandusia, after which he named another spring on his Sabine farm—these scenes were always dear to him and are frequently mentioned in his poetry (e.g. Carm. iii. 4 and 30, iv. 9). We may thus trace some of the germs of his poetical inspiration, as well as of his moral sympathies, to the early years which he spent 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, 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.
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 (45 B.C.) 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 Academus” as well as advancing 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 henceforth, though he was not less firm in his conviction that some causes were worth fighting for and dying for, he had but a poor opinion of his own soldierly qualities.
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 (Carm. 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 he was on intimate terms with Maecenas before the first book of the Satires (his first published work) appeared. He tells us in one of his Satires (i. 10. 31) that his earliest ambition was to write Greek verses. In giving this direction 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. 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 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 bitterness 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 recovered 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, near the modern Tivoli. This secured him pecuniary independence; it satisfied the love of nature which had been implanted in him during the early years spent on the Venusian farm; and it afforded him a welcome escape from the distractions of city life and the dangers of a Roman autumn. Many passages in the Satires, Odes and Epistles 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 (spoken of by himself as iambi) 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. In one of his Epistles (i. 19. 25) he rests his first claim to originality on his having introduced into Latium the metres and spirit of Archilochus of Paros. He may have naturalized some special form of metre employed by that poet, and it may be (as Th. Plüsz has suggested) that we should see in the Epodes a tone of mockery and parody. But his personal lampoons are the least successful of his works; while those 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, if they are serious at all, are chiefly interesting as a record of the personal feelings of Horace during the years which immediately 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 together about the end of 24 or the beginning of 23 B.C. 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. 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 government had not yet been chilled by experience of its repressing 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 and 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.
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 himself 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, especially with younger men engaged in public affairs or animated by literary ambition. After the death of Virgil he was recognized as pre-eminently the 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 (about 13 B.C.) 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 have been expected, as a great critic and lawgiver on literature, to have exercised a beneficial influence on the future poetry 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 judgment characterizes his opinions on poetry as on morals.
He died somewhat suddenly on the 17th of November of the year 8 B.C. He left Augustus to see after his affairs, and was buried on the Esquiline Hill, near Maecenas.
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 every day modern interest. In his self-portraiture, far from wishing to make himself out better or greater than he 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 he speaks 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 uncertain, 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, and 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 accordance 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 ordinary vein of irony and quiet sense into earnest indignation, it is in denouncing conduct involving treachery or malice in the relations of friends (Sat. i. 4. 81, &c.).
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 his 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 through all his life he had enjoyed from those much above him in social station (Epist. i. 20. 23). Yet there appears no trace of any unworthy deference in Horace’s feelings towards the great. Even towards Augustus he maintained his attitude of independence, 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 of Pope towards Bolingbroke than that which a client in ancient or modern times entertains towards his patron. He felt pride in his protection and in the intellectual 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.
There is indeed nothing more remarkable in Horace than the independence, or rather the self-dependence, of his character. 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 in the Epistles,
“Quem scis immunem Cinarae placuisse rapaci,”
shows that the pain of thinking of her could not have been very heartfelt. Even when the Odes addressed to real or imaginary beauties are most genuine in feeling, they are more the artistic rekindling of extinct fires than the utterance 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 he 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 ordinary dealings of men. He enjoyed the great world, and it treated him well; but he resolutely maintained his personal independence and the equipoise of his feelings and judgment. 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 he certainly recognized in the emperor a great and successful administrator and that his language 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,” to retain the “mens aequa” in all circumstances, 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 of Cyrene, rather than Epicurus himself, 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 subdue all violent emotion of fear or desire; to estimate all things calmly—“nil admirari”; to choose the mean between a high and low estate; and to find one’s happiness in plain living rather than in luxurious indulgence. 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. In some of the stronger utterances of his Odes, where he expresses sympathy with the manlier qualities of character, 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.
It is interesting to trace the growth of Horace in elevation of sentiment and serious conviction from his first ridicule 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 fortitude and self-sacrifice. A similar modification of his religious and political attitude may be noticed between his early declaration of Epicurean unbelief and the sympathy which he shows with the religious reaction fostered by Augustus; and again between the Epicurean indifference to national affairs 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 merely artistic or symbolical. Yet in some cases 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 to realize 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 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 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 immature workmanship of the former, and to adapt the forms, manners and 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.
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 comment 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” (Sat. i. 5) reproduced the outlines of Lucilius’s “Journey to the Sicilian Straits.” The discourse of Ofella on luxury (Sat. ii. 2) was founded on a similar discourse of Laelius on gluttony, and the “Banquet of Nasidienus” (Sat. ii. 8) may have been suggested by the description by the older poet of a rustic entertainment. There was more of moral censure and personal aggressiveness 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 and man of the world, rather than to assail vice with 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 him 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 regarded 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 reproduction in form, manner, substance and tone of the satire of Lucilius; or rather it is a casting in the mould of Lucilius of his own observation and experience. 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 and charming 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 accomplishment. It was a happy idea of Horace to adopt this form for his didactic writings 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, with the urbanity of a friend rather than the solemnity of a preacher. In spirit the Epistles are more ethical and meditative than the Satires. Like the Odes they exhibit the twofold aspects of his philosophy, that of temperate Epicureanism 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 thought. 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. The cause of all this aimless restlessness and unreasonable desire is summed up in the words “Strenua nos exercet inertia.”
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. 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 inspiration 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 to 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. 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,” he has endeavoured to reproduce something of the intricate movement, the abrupt transitions, the interpenetration of narrative and reflection, which characterize the art of Pindar. He frequently reproduces the language and some of the thoughts of his masters, but he gives them new application, or stamps them with the impress of his own experience. He brought the metres which he 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. 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.
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.
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. With Horace the mastery over the vehicle of expression was merely an essential preliminary to making a worthy and serious use of that vehicle. The poet, from Horace’s point of view, was intended not 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 admirable 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.
Authorities.—For the life of Horace the chief authorities are his own works and a short ancient biography which is attributed to Suetonius. The apparatus criticus is most fully described in O. Keller’s preface to vol. i. of the 2nd ed. (1899) of Keller and Holder’s recension of Horace’s works. This edition also gives by far the largest collection of variants and emendations to the text and of the testimonia of ancient writers.
What might have proved the most important manuscript of Horace, the so-called vetustissimus Blandinius, is now lost, and we know it only from the account of J. Cruquius who saw it in 1565. The relations of the extant MSS. to each other and the presumed archetype present an intricate problem; and Keller’s solution has not proved generally acceptable. See a résumé of the controversy Horazkritik seit 1880 by J. Bick (Leipzig, 1906) and F. Vollmer in Philologus. Supp. x. 2, pp. 261-322. Many MSS. of Horace contain ancient scholia which are copied or taken with abridgment from the commentaries of Porphyrio, who lived about A.D. 200, and Helenius Aero, a still earlier grammarian. These scholia also have been collected and edited—the Porphyrio scholia by A. Holder (1902) and the “Acronian” (or pseudo-Acronian) by O. Keller (1902–1904). R. Bentley’s epoch-making edition (1711) has been reprinted with an index by Zangemeister (1869). Of the modern commentaries the most useful are those of J. C. Orelli (4th ed., revised by O. Hirschfelder and J. Mewes, 1886–1890, with index verborum), and of A. Kiessling (revised by R. Heinze, Odes, 1901, 1908, Satires, 1906, Epistles, 1898). The best complete English commentary is that of E. C. Wickham (2 vols., 1874–1896). Other editions with English notes are those of T. E. Page (Odes, 1883), A. Palmer (Satires, 1883), A. S. Wilkins (Epistles, 1885), J. Gow (Odes and Epodes, 1896, Satires, i., 1901), P. Shorey (Odes and Epodes, 1898, Boston, U.S.A.). L. Müller’s elaborate edition of the Odes and Epodes was published posthumously (1900). Of the critical editions Keller and Holder’s still holds the field: to this Keller’s Epilegomena zu Horaz (1879) is a necessary adjunct. F. Vollmer’s text (1907) uses Keller’s materials on a new principle. Of illustrated editions H. H. Milman’s (1867) and C. W. King’s (1869, with text revised by H. A. J. Munro) deserve mention. The best verse translation is that of J. Conington lately reprinted with the Latin text from the recension in Postgate’s new Corpus poetarum. For further information see Teuffel’s Geschichte der römischen Litteratur (Eng. trans. by G. C. Warr), §§ 234-240, and M. Schanz’s excellent account in his Geschichte der römischen Litteratur, vol. ii. §§ 251-266. (W. Y. S.; J. G.*)
- ↑ 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. Wickham’s Introduction to the Odes.