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Drawing by Anton von Werner

"Give up trying to learn knowing is wrong! what span of life the gods
Plan for me or for you, Leuconoë, draw up no more of these
Babylonian charts. Simply accept all that the future brings,
Whether Jupiter means we are to know many a winter more
Or makes this one the last, now dashing waves over the porous rocks
Of Tyrrhenian shores. Show yourself wise: strain the wine clear, and trim
Lengthy hope to the short space of our lives. Envious time escapes
Even now as we speak. Harvest this day, discount tomorrow's gains."
Quintus Horatius Flaccus, Ode 3.11 (translation by Charles E. Passage)

Quintus Horatius Flaccus (8 December 65 27 November 8 BC), better known as Horace, was a leading Roman poet during the time of Augustus Caesar. He is best known for his odes, which the rhetorician Quintillian deemed the only Latin lyrics worth reading; and his Ars Poetica, a verse letter in which he gives advice on writing poetry and drama. His eleventh ode from the first book of odes is the source of the aphorism "carpe diem".

Horace was born in Venusia, as he himself relates, of a father who was a freedman and a collector of taxes, and even then, it has been thought, a dealer in salt fish. Called up for the Philippi campaign, Horace obtained a tribuneship of soldiers from General Marcus Brutus, and when amnesty was granted by the winning side he procured an appointment as scribe in a quaestor's office. But finding favour first with Maecenas, then with Augustus, he held no ordinary place in the affections of both. Maecenas esteemed him highly, as attested in his epigram: "ni te visceribus meis, Horati, / plus iam diligo, tu tuum sodalem / Ninnio videas strigosiorem", or "If more than my own vitals, Horace, I do not cherish you now, may you see your boon companion more wasted than Ninnius".

Augustus also offered Horace the post of secretary, and was not angry when he refused, saying in one of his letters: "Make yourself at home with me as if you were a member of my household; you will be helping yourself, and not for nothing, whereas I have wanted the benefit of your company, if your health permits."

He spent most of his life in Sabine or Tiburtine retreats, and his house was pointed out near Tiburnus's grove.

He died on 27 November 8 BC, naming Augustus as his heir before witnesses when, because of extreme weakness, he was unable to sign the tablets of his will.

Works:

  • Satires (c. 35-34 BC, c. 30 BC): Horace composed two books of satires, in which he explores the secrets of human happiness and literary perfection, all in a playful sly tone. These poems are written in dactylic hexameter. (in this context, "satire" is from the Latin word "satira" or "satura", meaning "medley" or "a little bit of everything". The characteristics of sarcasm were incidental features of this form of poetry.)
  • Epodes (30 BC): A book of poems known as "iambics", invective poems written in iambic meter, consisting of a "trimeter" and a "dimeter" (the ancient Greeks and Romans thought of iambuses in pairs; two iambuses is considered one foot).
  • Odes (c. 23 BC, c. 11 BC): A collection of lyric poems, in which he imitates the Greek lyric poets, like Pindar, Sappho, and Alcaeus. Horace composed the first three books around 23 BC and the fourth around 11 BC. This is also the source of the aphorism "carpe diem", taken from the eleventh ode of book one.
  • Epistles (c. 21 BC, c. 11 BC): Horace wrote two books containing letters written in dactylic hexameter. The first book, written around 21 BC, is the source of the phrase "sapere aude" ("dare to know"). The second one, from around 11 BC, contains the Ars Poetica, a letter from around 10-8 BC in which he gives advice on writing poetry and drama. It serves as an influential source of literary criticism.
  • The Centennial Hymn (17 BC): Also known as the Carmen Saeculare or Song of the Ages. It is the earliest fully preserved lyric poem for which there is definite information about its public performance. Horace wrote this in Sapphic meter, and is commissioned by Augustus in 17 BC.

Tropes present in the works of Horace:

  • Carpe Diem: The Trope Namer. This is the central point of "Ode 3.11". Horace is saying that we cannot know what the future has in store for us, but we should make the most of it anyway.
  • Erotic Dream: Records getting one in "Satire 1.5" as a result of getting stood up by a girl who initially promised to sleep with him.
  • Garlic Is Abhorrent: The central topic of "Epode 3". Horace was apparently given a meal that had garlic in it, and he found it abhorrent.
  • Nocturnal Emission: In an oft-bowdlerised or omitted section of "Satire 1.5", Horace stayed at a farm not too far from Trivicum for the night, and a girl stood him up and left him to sleep alone, resulting in this.
    "There, like a fool, I stayed up a good half of the night for a wench that
    Promised and lied when she promised, till sleep took away the erection
    Venus delights in; and then to my dreams came an off-color wraith of
    Fancy, who left me with stains on my nightshirt and down-pressing belly."
  • Magical Barefooter: In "Priapus", he mentions the witches Canidia and Sagana the Elder doing magic at night, "both of them barefoot".
  • Patriotic Fervor: "Ode 3.2" is an exhortation for the Romans to grow in martial strength, so that the enemies of Rome would be too intimidated to resist. It also contains the famous line: "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori".
    "To die for country offers a grace, a joy:
    Death also overtakes any man that flees,
    Nor does it spare the young who lack for
    Spirit, or knees of a running coward."
  • Satire: Horace's satires provide the characteristics of the more light-hearted, playfully sly kind, also known as "Horatian satire". He even provides his own description in his first satire:
    "Furthermore, not to go rattling off lists the way comics tell one joke
    After another, yet what's to forbid our amusement at telling
    Truths, the way teacher cajole little boys by awarding them cookies,
    Coaxing them on to the point where they want to learn more of their letters?"

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