Horace Biography

(Leading Roman Lyric Poet During the Time of Augustus)

Birthday: December 8, 65 (Sagittarius)

Born In: Venosa, Italy

Quintus Horatius Flaccus (better known as Horace in the English-speaking world) was a Roman lyric poet who lived during the time of Augustus. The leading poet of his era, he also composed elegant hexameter verses and sarcastic iambic poetry. His father was a freed slave with strong capabilities who ensured that young Horace received a strong foundation in education. He continued his education in Athens and enrolled at The Academy founded by Plato. It was here that he developed a deep interest in the ancient tradition of Greek lyric poetry. As an educated youth, he began his military service high in the ranks and commanded a legion at the Battle of Philippi. He later returned to his father’s now lost estate and took up a job as a scribe. As a poet, he often wrote on topics, such as politics, love, philosophy, and ethics. His collection of Latin lyrical poems, Odes, is considered to be one of the best lyrical works of all time. With poems on a range of subjects, the collection also included poems of eulogy addressed to Augustus. His surviving works also include three books of letters or epistles and two books of satire.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Quintus Horatius Flaccus

Died At Age: -58

Born Country: Roman Empire

Quotes By Horace Poets

Died on: November 27, 8

place of death: Rome, Italy

Childhood & Early Life

Quintus Horatius Flaccus was born on 8 December 65 BC, in Venusia, Italy, Roman Republic. His father, probably a Venutian, had once been a slave but was later able to gain freedom. A man of strong character, he owned some land and also worked as a tax collector. Nothing is known about Horace’s mother or other family members.

His father was a caring and ambitious parent who spent a small fortune on Horace’s education. He took the young boy to Rome, where he personally oversaw his schooling under the tutelage of a famous Sabellian named Orbilius.

From Horace’s works, it is evident that he had great respect for his father and the two shared a deep bond.

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Later Life

After his father’s death, Horace went on to further his studies in Athens. He enrolled in The Academy, a school of higher education founded by Plato. At the time of Horace’s admission into the school, most of the teachers there were Stoics and Epicureans, whose teachings had a deep impact on him.

In Athens, he also got the chance to socialize with elite Roman youths, including emerging poets and philosophers. During this time, he also became familiar with the ancient tradition of Greek lyric poetry.

Julius Caesar was assassinated in March 44 BC, and Athens, along with other parts of the eastern empire, came temporarily under the control of his assassins, Brutus and Cassius. 

Brutus sought support for his cause in Athens and recruited young men, including Horace, in his army. Horace, being considerably educated, could begin military service high in the ranks and was made tribunus militum. He learned warfare and the skills required to be effective in battle during his military life.

In 42 BC, Brutus’ republican army clashed against the troops of Mark Antony (Marcus Antonius) and Octavian (later Augustus), Caesar’s great-nephew and heir at the Battle of Phillipi in November. The republican forces were crushed at the battle, and Horace fled the battleground without his shield. 

The victorious Octavian granted amnesty to his opponents and Horace returned to Italy. Upon his return, he realized that his father’s property had been confiscated. During this time, he focused on his poetry and made acquaintances with a few poets and their elite patrons.

With the help of an influential contact, he was able to secure a job as a scriba quaestorius, a civil service position at the treasury. This job was profitable enough and not much demanding, allowing him to focus on his literary pursuits.

Literary Works

The exact chronological order of publication of Horace’s works hasn’t been established. In 35-34 BC, he published Satires I, a collection of satirical poems composed in dactylic hexameters. The poems explore the secrets of human happiness. The volume Satires II was published in 30 BC as a sequel.

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His collection of iambic poems, Epodes, was published in 30 BC. It falls under the genre of “blame poetry” and contains 17 poems on a range of topics, including politics, eroticism, magic, and food.

His collection of three books of Latin lyric poems, Odes 1-3, were published in 23 BC. Book 1 contains 38 poems while book 2 and book 3 have 20 and 30 poems, respectively. These poems are on themes like love, morality, friendship, patriotism, and religion.

His Epistles (or Letters) were published in two books, in 20 BC and 14 BC, respectively. Some scholars believe his epistles to be a continuation of his satires in the form of letters. But the letters are more philosophical than his satirical poems.

The fourth book of Odes was published in 13 BC. It contained 15 poems.

His poem Ars Poetica or The Art of Poetry was written in hexameter verse as an epistle. In this work, he advises writers on the art of composing poetry and writing drama. He also discusses the principle of decorum.

Major Work

Horace was commissioned by the Roman emperor Augustus to write the Carmen Saeculare (Latin for "Secular Hymn" or "Song of the Ages"). He composed the hymn in Sapphic meter in 17 BC. It was sung by a chorus of 27 young women and 27 young men on the occasion of the Ludi Saeculares.

Family & Personal Life

Horace never married or had any known children. He led a hedonistic lifestyle and was sexually active. He was allegedly addicted to obscene pictures.

He died on 27 November 8 BC, at the age of 56. 

See the events in life of Horace in Chronological Order

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