Page images



the most celebrated lyric poet of the Romans, and who in all ages, and among all nations which have felt an interest in poetry and intellectual culture, has been greatly admired and much imitated, was born in the year 65 B. C., in the consulship of L. Manlius Torquatus and L. Aurelius Cotta. Hence in Odes, iii. 21, he addresses to an amphora the words O nata mecum consule Manlio; and in Epist. i. 20, he mentions that in the December of 21 B. c., he had completed his forty-fourth year. December was therefore his birth-month; and we learn from a short notice of Horace's life, which probably formed a chapter in Suetonius' Lives of the Roman Poets, that the day was the 8th of the month (a. d. vi. Id. Dec.) Horace was consequently six years younger than Livy, five years younger than Virgil, and two years older than Augustus. His native place was Venusia, an ancient Latin colony, which, at the time of the Social War, 91 B. C., had received the full Roman franchise, and was consequently a municipium. Venusia was in Apulia, but just on the confines of Lucania; in which, indeed, a part of the territory belonging to it in later times was situated. Hence Horace, in Sat. ii. 1, 34, in speaking of himself, jokingly says, Lucanus an Appulus anceps. His father belonged to the lowest class of freemen: he was a freedman (libertinus), which indicates that he had formerly been a slave; and had, upon his manumission, assumed the name of his master-Horatius. Whether he had a cognomen or not, is unknown. That of Flaccus, which his son bore, was properly given to persons with long loose ears.

The poet himself was therefore freeborn (ingenuus); and this fact, considering the great number of freedmen who lived at Rome, and rose to wealth and influence, was of itself something to be proud of (compare Sat. i. 6, 7.) Horace acknowledges his humble birth; but his education, he says, was equal to that of one destined for the highest position in society, although his father would have been satisfied if his son had followed the same calling as himself—namely, that of a coactor (Sat. i. 6, 86); or, as Suetonius in Horace's life more fully says, exactionum coactor; that is, an agent of the argentarii, who, for a certain percentage or commission, collected from purchasers at auctions the money due for what they had bought. The father, however, was besides the possessor of a small estate near Venusia.

The school at Venusia, though the town was a considerable one, and wealthy, was yet but second-rate. It was good enough, however, for boys intended for handicrafts or a mercantile life; writing and arithmetic were taught; and even the higher class of citizens—the magni centuriones, as the poet calls them (Sat. i. 6, 73) were content with it. But young Flaccus was taken by his father to Rome, to be educated there. The father himself left his home, settled in the capital, and accompanied his son to all the teachers whom he attended. The poet praises this conduct as very self-sacrificing, and considers himself fortunate in having been thus preserved from the follies and seductions to which youth is liable in a large city: (compare the whole of Satire 6, book i.) Horace studied in Rome Latin and Greek grammar; and afterwards, under the same teachers, rhetoric. He mentions (Epist. ii. 1, 71) that, when a boy, he attended the school of the grammarian Orbilius, who used to dictate passages from the writings of the old Latin poet Livius Andronicus, and give grammatical prelections on them. He also states (Epist. ii. 42), that Homer was explained to him, no doubt by a Greek grammarian. In such studies Horace's life passed on, till it became time for him to decide whether he would enter into public life or not. To do so he had to become either an advocate or a soldier. He was not inclined to adopt either profession; for the latter, indeed, he probably had not physical strength. Besides, the Roman state seemed falling to pieces: the civil war came on, then the murder of Cæsar. Horace withdrew from this scene of confusion; and after the fashion of high-born Roman youths, went to Athens to pursue his studies, especially in philosophy. His father appears to have been dead by this time. The most distinguished philosopher then teaching at Athens was Cratippus the peripatetic, to whom Cicero had sent his son. Horace men

tions (Epist. ii. 2, 45) that he had attended the discourses of a peripatetic-probably Cratippus. He felt happy in the quiet and

tranquillity of Athens, and attended closely to his studies. He attempted also the composition of Greek verses; but gave it up, seeing that in Greek poetry no laurels were now to be won, whereas the Latin literature of his time had but few great poets to point to (Sat. i. 10, 31.) His quiet was broken in upon by the civil war; of which the republican party, under Brutus and Cassius, transferred the seat to Greece. Young Horace was enthusiastic for liberty, whose representative Brutus was considered to be. He therefore joined the republican army as a volunteer, and was soon advanced by Brutus to the rank of tribunus militum. This was a high honour for the son of a freedman to obtain, especially one who had no great fortune; consequently envious enemies were not wanting, but still he was able to maintain his position. He seems to have visited Asia Minor with Brutus at least if he was an eye-witness of the occurrence which he describes in Sat. i. 7. In 42 B. c., however, he returned to Greece, and took part in the battle of Philippi. After this battle-in which the republicans were defeated, and the leaders fell by their own hands-the greater part of the troops entered the service of the trium virs, the officers were dismissed, and only a few continued the war under Sex. Pompeius and Domitius Ahenobarbus. Horace, in Odes, ii. 7, 9, describes himself as having been among the fugitives, saying that he had left his shield on the field of battle. As soon as the state of politics permitted, he returned to Italy, and went to Rome, where alone he could hope to rise by his abilities.

His patrimonial estate, which had never been large, had during the civil war been quite lost (Epist. ii. 2, 50), not by the proscriptions, by which the trium virs had attempted to alter the condition of Italy for Horace was too humble to be affected by thembut by the general calamities of the country. The trium virs had to reward the soldiers who had assisted them against the republican party, and this could be done only by granting them small estates. In the most flourishing cities of Italy the owners of land were obliged to give up their property to the soldiers. Compensation in money was promised indeed, but could not be given at once, because the state treasury had been too thoroughly drained during the constant wars of the period; and it is very doubtful whether full payment was ever made. Octavianus settled a colony of veterans at Venusia, and Horace's estate was one of those assigned to them. How was he now to live? The bloody and deso. lating nature of the wars had, after the battle of Philippi, which secured peace for a while, produced a reaction: people began to rejoice in peace, and feel a longing after its arts. But eloquence, which Cicero had carried to such a pitch of excellence, could not be awakened under a tyranny; history, amid the still

smouldering ashes of political rancour, would have to let slip the truth, and flatter the ruling party. Under these circumstances, men of ability took refuge in poetry and the regions of fancy; and little else was heard now in the intellectual circles of Rome but recitations of poetry and criticisms thereon. Among the distinguished poets of the time we may mention especially Virgil, whose charming pastorals had delighted all, and gained for him the favour and patronage of Octavianus; also Varius, who had recommended himself by a poem on the death of Cæsar; and many others, to whom Horace occasionally alludes. Horace, too, felt an inclination towards poetry: he says (Epist. ii. 251) that poverty, which impels men to bold undertakings, had driven him to attempt verse-making. He sought in poetry the means of subsistence, by writing occasional verses. These were not directly paid for, but presents were sent in acknowledgment of them, and they gained for him the patronage of wealthy men, on whose bounty he lived. He soon became known to his brother poets at Rome; and first Virgil, then Varius, spoke of him to Maecenas. The latter invited Horace to visit him, and asked him a few questions about his family. Horace answered timidly and modestly. Maecenas then dismissed him without any definite promise; and it was not till nine months thereafter that he again summoned him, and made him one of his friends (amici.) This happened probably in the beginning of the year 40 B. C.

Maecenas has been richly repaid for his kindness to Horace by the praises which the latter everywhere bestows upon him, and which have made his name a current word for 'a patron of literature.' He was one of the most influential men in Rome; not from his rank or birth; but purely from his political skill and sagacity. He was descended from an ancient but not a noble family; for none of his ancestors had held any curule office in Rome. He was a simple Roman knight, and inclined to remain so: though often invited to take office, he always declined, preferring the quiet of private life, which his wealth enabled him to enjoy, to the activity of a bustling political career. He was the friend and confidant of Octavianus, whom he aided with his advice and co-operation in the most critical situations; and to whom he was so much attached, that at the time of the battle of Actium (30 B. c.), and previously, when Octavianus was obliged to be absent from the city, he undertook the responsible and laborious office of praefectus urbi. This confidence of Octavianus 'n Maecenas, being well known to all, raised the latter in actual power above most men in the state, and all aspirants to the emperor's favour flocked to pay their homage to Maecenas. He was at the same time well acquainted with, and had a fine taste for literature, and took the deepest interest in it. He attempted poetry himself too,

not unsuccessfully. Horace, as it appears, became the chief literary assistant of Maecenas: he gave him information about new books, helped him in his own compositions, and wrote poems for his gratification and amusement. A great part of the Satires, for instance, was undoubtedly intended primarily for Maecenas and the intellectual circle that he had drawn around him. Horace acted also as his secretary in such state affairs as he had to attend to. This is apparent from the sixth Satire of the second book, where a person requests Horace to obtain the signature of Maecenas to a paper, asking his assistance quite in the style in which one addresses the secretary of a great man. In one passage, also, Horace complains that the amount of business which he has to go through at Rome prevents him from having any leisure. The favour of Maecenas soon obtained for our poet the means of making a sufficient livelihood: he became a scriba. This he himself indicates in Sat. ii. 6, 36; and his biographer Suetonius says, scriptum quaestorium comparavit he bought for himself a clerkship to the quaestors.' These scribae formed by no means an uninfluential class in Rome. They were the under-secretaries in all the government departments, and the affairs of the state were in a great measure managed by them. The chief secretaries were changed annually, and consequently could be but very imperfectly acquainted with the duties of their office, which therefore devolved necessarily on the scribae, they holding their posts for life. The state required from the scribae security for good conduct and integrity, and thus it happened that they formed a strong and exclusive corporation; and their offices became saleable, like commissions in the British army. As to how Horace contrived to unite his new duties with his employments at the house of Maecenas, we can only form conjectures. Either he was allowed to perform the duties of scriba by proxy, or he performed them at the house of Maecenas, since the latter, being often engaged in state affairs, could not dispense with the attendance of his secretary. This, however, is certain-that Horace gradually withdrew himself from business, and gained leisure enough to follow his poetical inclinations undisturbed.

At first, perhaps, Horace lived in the house of Maecenas, and was treated as a dependant; but as the latter became more acquainted with the poet's merits, he gave him greater freedom and independence. Let us now imagine to ourselves Horace's condition and mode of spending his time. He has his own house in town, with three servants to wait upon him. He has his own particular friends and associates, but he goes, perhaps daily, at a certain hour, to the house of Maecenas on the Esquiline Hill; and to a special invitation from his patron even a promise made to another must give way. Out of Rome, Horace possesses a

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »