Classics Horace
by
Randall McNeill
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 June 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0027

Introduction

Horace (Q. Horatius Flaccus, 65–8 BCE) was one of the foremost poets of what is traditionally known as the Golden Age of Latin literature, which roughly spanned the late Republican and the Augustan eras (c. 90 BCE–14 CE). He rose from obscure beginnings to become a close friend of the poet Virgil (P. Vergilius Maro) and a valued client and friend of the great literary patron C. Maecenas, ultimately attracting the personal attention and favor of the emperor Augustus, who commissioned him to write the commemorative hymn for the Secular Games of 17 BCE. Horace was celebrated in his own lifetime for his beautifully subtle, intricate, and technically polished poetry: his verse Satires, his predominantly iambic Epodes, his literary Epistles, and especially his lyric Odes. His popularity and influence continued throughout Antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the 17th and 18th centuries, which ensured the survival of his published works into the modern day.

Biography

Horace says a great deal about himself and his life in his poetry, and his works represent the main source for any biographical account. Supplementary information is contained in the brief Vita that appears in the fragmentary De poetis ascribed to Suetonius, who served as head of the imperial archives under Trajan in the early 2nd century CE, and as such had access to Augustus’s correspondence; see Rostagni (Suetonius 1944) or Rolfe (Suetonius 1997). Horace’s extreme self-consciousness as an author, however, means that he constantly manipulates or masks the details of his “autobiography” for literary, rhetorical, or social-political effect; as a result, most scholars exercise caution when drawing conclusions about Horace’s “real” life and circumstances (and many strive to avoid the topic altogether). For recent contributions to the study of this issue, see the essays by Robin Nisbet and Stephen Harrison in Harrison 2007. For important and influential discussions of some of the interpretive issues involved, see Highet 1974 and Griffin 1985. For an overly simple biographical reading of Horace, see Levi 1998; more careful but still biographical is Mayer 1995. Horsfall 1998 typifies a more cautious approach.

  • Griffin, Jasper. 1985. Latin poets and Roman life. London: Duckworth.

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    On the question of “real life” in Latin poetry, see especially chapter 3 (pp. 48–64).

  • Harrison, Stephen J., ed. 2007. The Cambridge companion to Horace. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    On Horace’s biography and issues of Horatian self-presentation, see the essays by R. G. M. Nisbet and Stephen. J. Harrison in part 1, pp. 7–35.

  • Highet, Gilbert. 1974. Masks and faces in satire. Hermes 102:321–337.

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    A widely cited discussion of the problems involved in biographical interpretations of poetry.

  • Horsfall, Nicholas. 1998. The first person singular in Horace’s Carmina. In Style and tradition: Studies in honour of Wendell Clausen. Edited by P. E. Knox and C. Foss, 40–54. Stuttgart, Germany: Teubner.

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    Emphasizes the rhetorical considerations of Horace’s poetic self-representations.

  • Kiernan, V. G. 1998. Horace: Poetics and politics. New York: St. Martin’s.

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    A heavily biographical treatment of Horace’s poetry, to be used with caution.

  • Levi, Peter. 1998. Horace: A life. New York: Routledge.

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    Takes a very old-fashioned approach, essentially ignoring all Horatian scholarship of the past fifty years. Somewhat naive in its willingness to accept everything Horace says at face value.

  • Mayer, Roland. 1995. Horace’s moyen de parvenir. In Homage to Horace: A bimillennary celebration. Edited by Stephen J. Harrison, 279–295. Oxford: Clarendon.

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    Focuses on Horace’s accounts of his social advancement.

  • Suetonius (Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus). 1944. Suetonio De poetis e biographi minori. Edited by Augusto Rostagni. Turin, Italy: Chiantore.

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    The standard text for this particular work of Suetonius.

  • Suetonius (Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus). 1997. Suetonius. Edited by J. C. Rolfe; revised by G. P. Goold. 2d ed. 2 vols. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    First published in 1914. Includes Latin text and facing translation. For the Vita of Horace, see vol. 2, pp. 460–467. For Suetonius’s reliability and sources of information, see the introduction by K. R. Bradley in vol. 1, pp. 1–34.

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