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Horace

Updated on November 1, 2009

Horace was a Roman poet. Born Quintus Horatius Flaccus, at Venusia (now Venosa), Italy, December 8, 65 B.C.

Horace was one of the greatest and most popular lyric poets of all time. He wrote with unique charm and urbane humor, and he had an exceptional mastery of form and expression. His Odes are among the foremost works of ancient literature. Although some of his poems have a tone of ironic and detached amusement, others treat serious moral and philosophical themes.

As a child, Horace was taken to Rome by his father, a freed slave, who saw to it that his son received an excellent education. In 44 B.C., while studying in Athens, Horace joined the army of Brutus and Cassius, who had taken part in the assassination of Julius Caesar. After they were defeated at the Battle of Philippi in 42 B.C. by Mark Antony and Octavian (later Emperor Augustus), Horace returned to Rome penniless. There he managed to secure a clerical position and began to write poetry. In 38 B.C., Horace won the favor of Maecenas, a wealthy patron of the arts and a close friend of Octavian's. Through Maecenas, Horace met the literary and political society of Rome.

Most of Horace's important works were published between 35 B.C. and 15 B.C. The Odes, probably his most widely read poems, are lyrics of great beauty and subtlety. Although Horace was influenced by the Greek poets in the subject matter and meters of his odes, he was thoroughly Roman in spirit and showed considerable originality. The themes range from such topics as love and friendship to morality and patriotism.

Horace's other important poems include the Satires and the Epistles. The Satires, in the form of rambling conversations in verse, deal primarily with philosophy and literature but also contain shrewd observations on human character and behavior. The Epistles are formal letters in verse to friends and include comments on philosophy, literature, and society. One of the Epistles, later called the Ars Poetica ('The Art of Poetry'), is an important critical discussion of poetry.

Horace's literary theories greatly influenced European writers during the Renaissance and the Neoclassical period of the 17th and 18th centuries. Among the many writers who modeled their works on his style and precepts were Petrarch, Ronsard, Montaigne, Ben Jonson, Milton, Nicolas Boileau, and Alexander Pope.

Horace died in Rome, Italy on November 27, 8 B.C.

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