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QUINTUS HORATIUS Flaccus was born on the 8th of December, in the year 65, B. C., at Venusium, a town situated between Apulia and Lucania. Although a freedman, his father possessed competent means, and left him a comfortable patrimony on the banks of the Aufidus.
To the education of our poet the greatest attention was paid, and no means were spared to endow him with the highest gifts of mental culture. The severe Orbilius was his guide through the realms of Roman literature, for the poets of which he seems to have conceived an early distaste, preferring the more finished and less rugged beauties of the Greek originals, from whose sources he was himself destined hereafter to draw so largely, and with such distinguished success.
The life of Horace, although spent in the society of those who were most actively mixed up with public affairs, is rather a detail of every-day transactions with the ordinary world, a table-talk of private acts and feelings, than a succession of stirring political relations, exploits, and embarrassments.
While engaged in the study of philosophy at Athens, a study which was hereafter to form the ground-work of his literary fame, the assassination of Julius Cæsar brought on the crisis between the contending interests of Rome. Horace joined the republican party, and attained the rank of a military tribune under Brutus. In whatever light we regard his flight at the subsequent battle of Philippi, it is certain that the disgrace was shared but by too many upon that day, in which the Romans lost their last hopes of freedom, and exchanged public virtue for private luxury and refinement.
With the probability that his small possessions, like those of Virgil, were confiscated to remunerate a soldiery who had fought against their own countrymen, we may fairly suppose that this misfortune first tended to develop the poetical genius of Horace, and that his necessities became a powerful motive for the exertion of talents which had been chastened and ripened by every advantage afforded by the times. Gradually his powers of wit and repartee, aided perhaps by the propitiatory oblation of little poems “upon occasion,”
” increased his friendships with the great, and introduced him to the intimacy of Mæcenas. A friendship of the firmest kind sprang up from what was at first but a distant and patronizing courtesy, and Horace, like Virgil, henceforth became the constant friend and associate of Mæcenas, whom he accompanied upon the most confidential missions. About the year 37, B. C. (for the date is very uncertain,)' Horace followed his
1 See Dunlop, Lit. Rom. vol. iii. p. 201, note.
patron to Brundusium, where, in company with Cocceius Nerva and Capito, he was engaged in negotiating a reconciliation between Antony and Augustus. A most amusing description of “ travelers' miseries,” in the fifth Satire of the first Book, commemorates this event, and gives an entertaining picture of the domestic habits of the wealthier ciasses at Rome during the Augustan age. In accompanying Mæcenas in the war against Sextus Pompey, a storm arose, and our poet narrowly escaped being drowned in the Gulf of Velia, Nevertheless, he volunteered himself as his companion in the expedition that ended in that decisive battle of Actium, an offer which Mæcenas, probably out of tenderness to the health of his friend, declined to accept.
Mæcenas was not a mere complimentary friend, but one of tried liberality. To his kindness our poet was indebted for his villa at Tib'ır, and to his intercession with Augustus, for a grant of land in the Sabine district. The emperor even offered him the appointment of private secretary to himself, but he declined this honor, as it would have separated him from the frequent society of Mæcenas. Augustus bore this refusal in good part, and even personally encouraged our poet to further literary exertions.
Alternating between his dwelling on the then healthy Esquiline hill at Rome, and the quieter and more congenial retirement of his villa at Præneste, Horace lived a life of Epicurean enjoyment, nor wholly untainted with the vices of the times, but yielding to them rather with the carelessness of a wit, than with the wantonness of a voluptuary. His mode of living at home
was simple and unostentatious, but he was by no means insensible to the pleasures of the table, especially in society. He was a kind and indulgent master, and a faithful friend. In fact, an unruffled amiability, relieved by a keen and well-expressed perception of other men's foļlies, seems to have been the leading feature in our author's conduct, and the guiding principle of his writings. The beautiful compliment paid to the memory of his father,” is unsurpassed either as a description of what education ought to be, or as a grateful tribute of filial affection.
At the age of fifty-seven, in the year 8, B. C., Horace died suddenly at Rome, having nominated Augustus as his heir. Mæcenas died about the same time, almost fulfilling the melancholy prediction of his poet friend, though it is uncertain which first departed from life. In death they were scarcely separated, the remains of Horace being deposited near those of Mæcenas on the Esquiline hill.
The popularity of Horace, as a writer, is, perhaps, unexampled. Read, recited, and quoted in his own time by all classes, throughout the cheerless period of superstition and analytical dullness which oppressed the middle ages, he was one of the few bright spirits, in whose jokes and geniality the Schoolman might forget even his Latin Aristotle. His works became a constant source of delight and imitation to almost all subsequent poets, especially those of Italy, while commentary upon commentary began to point out beauties, and clear away difficulties. His manifold imita
2 Satire i. 6.