Obrazy na stronie
[ocr errors]


Plato once taught his disciples, he listened to the teachings of Thcomnestus, who was then the chief of that celebrated school of philosophy; probably, too, with something of the roving turn of mind, to which he often playfully alludes, he frequently strayed from the Academy to the lecture-room of Philodemus the Epicurcan, and of Cratippus the Peripatetic, who at this time numbered among his pupils the son of Cicero ;* and thus with the independent and practical spirit which always characterized him in later life, he heard all the great teachers of philosophy, and began to construct for himself, not a consistent speculative system, but a body of sound and valuable lessons, that might be taught and practised in the real life of the world. But we may well suppose that, guided by his prevailing tastes, he was constantly occupied at Athens with Attic literature, and especially with the immortal productions of the Attic Muse. Doubtless he studied Homer again, perhaps in the identical copy he had thumbed over at school, and he now read the great poet with a sense of freedom and a lively intelligent interest he had never felt under the rule of Orbilius; and to his more willing mind and more mature intellect the tale of Achilles' wrath, and of the wanderings of Ulysses, now began to reveal, as they had never done before, all their wondrous significance. The masterpieces of the Grecian drama must also have found their place in this more genial course of study; especially the plays of Aristophanes1 and of other writers of the Old Comedy, which undoubtedly had a large share of influence in developing that singular aptitude for the nice observation and skilful painting of life and manners, which he afterwards displayed in a kindred species of poetry in his own language. With the lyric writers, too, he gained a familiar acquaintance, and in the study of these great models trained himself for the honors he was destined to win

Sat. 1, 2, 121.

2 Quamquam te, Marce fili, annum jam audientem Cratippum, idque Athenis, etc., Cic. de Offic. 1, 1.

8 Epist. 2, 2, 42.

Sat. 1, 4, 1 & 2.

as the "minstrel of the Roman lyre." It was probably at this time that he applied himself to the composition of Greck verses; but warned by a vision from Romulus, or rather by the teachings of his own good sense, he speedily abandoned the gratuitous task, doubtless convinced "that no man can be a great poet except in his own native speech."


The stay of Horace at Athens was brought to an abrupt and unwelcome close by the political commotions of the times. From a place and from pursuits so congenial to his tastes, he was borne away by the storm of civil war that broke out at Rome, on the death of Julius Caesar, and had now involved in its spreading influence the provinces east of the Adriatic. The Caesarian party, headed by Octavianus, Antony, and Lepidus, was now in the ascendant at Rome. Brutus and the other conspirators, and all their adherents, had either fled from Italy or been cut down by the sword of proscription, and all things were gathering to that crisis which was to decide the fortunes of the Roman Commonwealth. Brutus, on his way to Macedonia' to secure that province with its legions, arrived at Athens; and with the rallying cry of "the Republic," uttered in a place where liberty had so many and so brilliant associations, he readily kindled the patriotic ardor of the Roman youth who were there residing, and drew them to the ranks of his party. Horace was one of the number who yielded to the summons of the republican commander, and though a young man of but twenty-two, the son of a freedman, and a stranger to the service, he was at once raised to the rank of military tribune; an appointment which, under the circumstances, might reasonably excite some pride in himself, as well as provoke the envious carping of the world. In this capacity he entered the republican army at

Sat. 1, 10, 31.

1 Romanae fidicen lyrae, O. 4, 3, 23.
Sat. 1, 10, 32 & 33.
* In silvam non ligna feras, etc., Sat. 1, 10, 34.
'Dura sed emovere loco me tempora grato, Epist. 2, 2, 46
• Civilisque rudem belli tulit aestus, etc., Epist. 2, 2, 47.
See note on Sat. 1, 7, 18.
Sat. 1. 6, 45-48.


the end of the year 43 B. c. It is probable that he went over into Asia at the beginning of the year 42, and was with Brutus and Cassius at their meeting in Sardis; and at that time visited Clazomenae1 and Lebedus, and perhaps other places,3 with which, in some of his poems, he seems to exhibit a personal acquaintance. But he was certainly present at Philippi, in the summer of 42, and took part in that decisive battle, which sealed the fate of the republic. He has recorded, in one of his Odes, his military experience at Philippi, confessing the abandonment of his shield and his hasty flight, and attributing his rescue to Mercury, the god of poets. This playful passage has been the subject of far too grave discussion by learned writers, who have labored in turn to accuse and to acquit Horace of rank cowardice; but the truth seems to be, that along with the frank admission from the poet that he was not born to be a soldier, "the abandoned buckler," "the hasty flight," and the rescue by Mercury,

"When Valor's self exhausted sank,

And forced was e'en the boldest rank
Th' ignoble dust to bite,"

point to a defeat which he shared with all his comrades, to the abandonment of a desperate cause, and to the flight from a field on which the republic itself had fallen for ever.

With the battle of Philippi, Horace renounced war and politics, and, availing himself of the indulgence of the conqueror, made his way back to Rome; by what route it is quite uncertain, unless we accept the view suggested by a line in one of his Odes, that he sailed for the western coast of Italy, and, on the voyage, escaped the peril of shipwreck off Cape Palinurus to which he there alludes.

On his return to Rome, the prospects of Horace were by

1 Sat. 1, 7, on which see the Introd.
'O. 1, 7, 11; Epist. 1, 3, 4; ib. 16, 13.
S -inopemque paterni Et Laris et fundi,


Epist. 1, 11, 6.

* O. 2, 7, 8-16. Epist. 2, 2, 50.

no means encouraging. His father had died during his absence; the little Venusian estate yielded him no longer its humble revenues, whether it had been sold, and the proceeds were now exhausted, or had been lately confiscated along with other Venusian lands, and assigned to some veteran of the triumviral army; the son of a freedman, he had no rich family connections; and, an ex-tribune in the republican army, he could hope for no favor from Octavianus and his associates. Casting about him for some way of support, he seems to have found sufficient means, from the remnant of his patrimony, or from some other source, to purchase the place of a quaestor's clerk,1 the small emoluments of which supplied his immediate wants. But the condition of Horace at this time was far from hopeless, and many a son of genius has risen to eminence from circumstances much less propitious. He had ample means of help near at hand, and within himself, and these were to be fully developed by the pressure of necessity. Nature had been kind to him at his birth; and, besides endowing him with rare intellectual gifts, had blessed him with a parent, who had furnished him with all the means of education, both at home and abroad, which the times afforded. His studies at Athens had widened and enriched his earlier literary culture; and even his brief and hapless military experience, while it damped his youthful ardor, and taught him some salutary lessons of life, added directly to his poetic resources, by storing his mind with lively images caught from the camp and the field. The exigencies of his situation now forced him to enter his proper career of literature; "bold poverty," to use his own emphatic words, "impelled him to write verses." These words have given rise to much speculation touching the immediate motives and expectations of Horace; but it seems obvious from the words themselves and from the scope of the

'This is a point involved in obscurity. Suetcnius (Vita Hor.) says: scriptum quæstorium comparavit. The only direct allusion which Horace makes to his holding such an office, is in Sat. 2, 6, 36 & 37.


* —paupertas impulit audax, Ut versus facerem; Epist. 2, 2, 51.


whole passage,' that he turned to poetry, at the impulse of "bold poverty," ," that he might thereby in some way or other better his condition, and rise to fame and fortune. Though some of the Epodes as well as of the Odes were probably composed at the very beginning of his career, yet he chiefly gave himself at first to the composition of satire; to which kind of poetry he was naturally drawn by the manners of the times, so fruitful in satiric themes, as well as by his own natural turn for the observation of character, and perhaps, too, by a sense of dissatisfaction with his present fortunes.

His poetical talents soon attracted the attention of Virgil and Varius, who had already acquired some celebrity, and were high in favor with the great men of the day. These two poets, discovering in the young Horace a congenial spirit, cultivated his acquaintance; and, generously aiming at his advancement in the world, procured him an introduction to Maecenas, who was no less distinguished for his patronage of men of letters, than for the active part he bore in public affairs. Of this interview Horace has given an interesting account in a Satire, written not long after it occurred. The poet approached the courtly statesman with some embarrassment, but told him with a manly frankness the story of his humble origin and fortunes; Maecenas received him with his usual reserve, and dismissed him with few words, and no proposals; and, after the cautious interval of nine months, summoned him again to his presence, and admitted him to the brilliant society of his house, and to a personal acquaintance with himself, which rapidly matured to an intimate and abiding friendship.

With the commencement of this near relation to Maecenas which belongs to the year 38 B. C., we have reached the decisive epoch of the poet's life; it was the auspicious event,

The words sed, quod non desit, etc., are plainly opposed to what has gone before, and the manifest meaning is, that, as he is now in comfortable circumstances, he is not, as he was then, compelled to write. 3 Sat. 1, 6, 56-62.

• Sat. 1 6, 55.

« PoprzedniaDalej »