Horace, The Roman Poet

Wood engraving of of Horace looking to the right.
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Horace was the major lyric Latin poet of the era of the Roman Emperor Augustus (Octavian). He is famed for his Odes as well as his caustic satires, and his book on writing, the Ars Poetica. His life and career were owed to Augustus, who was close to his patron, Maecenas. From this lofty, if tenuous, position, Horace became the voice of the new Roman Empire.

Early Life

Horace was born in Venusia, a small town in southern Italy, to a formerly enslaved mother. He was fortunate to have been the recipient of intense parental direction. His father spent a comparable fortune on his education, sending him to Rome to study. He later studied in Athens amidst the Stoics and Epicurean philosophers, immersing himself in Greek poetry. 

While led a life of scholarly idyll in Athens, a revolution came to Rome. Julius Caesar was murdered, and Horace fatefully lined up behind Brutus in the conflicts that would ensue. His learning enabled him to become a commander during the Battle of Philippi, but Horace saw his forces routed by those of Octavian and Mark Antony, another stop on the former’s road to becoming Emperor Augustus. When he returned to Italy, Horace found that his family’s estate had been expropriated by Rome, and Horace was, according to his writings, left destitute.

In the Imperial Entourage

In 39 B.C., after Augustus granted amnesty, Horace became a secretary in the Roman treasury by buying the position of questor's scribe. In 38, Horace met and became the client of the artists' patron Maecenas, a close lieutenant to Augustus, who provided Horace with a villa in the Sabine Hills. From there he began to write his satires. 

When Horace died at age 59, he left his estate to Augustus and was buried near the tomb of his patron Maecenas.

Appreciation of Horace

With the arguable exception of Virgil, there is no more celebrated Roman poet than Horace. His Odes set a fashion among English speakers that come to bear on poets to this day. His Ars Poetica, a rumination on the art of poetry in the form of a letter, is one of the seminal works of literary criticism. Ben Jonson, Pope, Auden, and Frost are but a few of the major poets of the English language who owe a debt to the Roman.

The Works of Horace

  • Sermonum Libri II (Satura) - The Satires (2 Books) (starting 35 B.C.)
  • Epodon Liber - The Epodes (30 B.C.)
  • Carminum Libra IV - The Odes (4 Books) (starting 23 B.C.)
  • Epistularum Libri II - The Epistles (2 Books) (starting 20 B.C.)
  • De Arte Poetica Liber - The Art of Poetry (Ars Poetica) (18 B.C.)
  • Carmen Saeculare - Poem of the Secular Games (17 B.C.)
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Gill, N.S. "Horace, The Roman Poet." ThoughtCo, Oct. 24, 2020, thoughtco.com/roman-poet-horace-quintus-horatius-flaccus-119116. Gill, N.S. (2020, October 24). Horace, The Roman Poet. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/roman-poet-horace-quintus-horatius-flaccus-119116 Gill, N.S. "Horace, The Roman Poet." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/roman-poet-horace-quintus-horatius-flaccus-119116 (accessed June 5, 2023).