Why Horace? A Collection of Interpretations

Why Horace? A Collection of Interpretations

Why Horace? A Collection of Interpretations

Why Horace? A Collection of Interpretations

Excerpt

The title of the volume might be read in a tone of complaint: Why do I or we have to read Horace of all people? That is obviously not the intention of those who have carefully chosen to add Horace to the subjects of Advance Placement and then have given considerable thought to the poems which students should read from his versatile output. Nor is it my intention as I have put together this volume: Horace is one of my favorite Latin poets, and I have worked with affection for all those who would benefit from exposure to him. Or we may think of the title rather as an answer to a question, addressing, we hope, the curiosity and interest of readers who perhaps know a little about Horace or have read some of his verse and, having done so, want to know more. The essays in this volume have a lot of enthusiastic answers.

Except for one, all the Horatian poems in this volume are odes, and all but one of them come from the collection which Horace published in 23 B.C. in three Books or book-rolls. Mainly, then, you are being asked to encounter a series of lyric poems that were written by a man of thirty going on to forty. What Horace did before he was thirty is very interesting and no doubt affected the ways he regarded Rome and the momentous changes it experienced while he was composing these odes; and it certainly influenced his view of poetry. Let us then briefly go back to the year of his birth, December in 65 B.C., and review the thirty-five years that take us to the approximate beginning of the Odes in 30.

Horace could not claim distinguished origins. He came from Apulia in the south of Italy; his father had been a slave, acquired his freedom, and as a libertinus worked his way into the middle class; of Horace's mother, we know nothing, so presumably she died when he was very young. Horace was unaware, we may assume, of the confused and menacing political events that wracked Rome when he was a child in Venusia: Cicero and Catiline; Crassus and Pompey; the rise of Julius Caesar. But early in the 50s, the ambitious father packed up, moved to Rome, and devoted every effort to seeing that his son Horace received the best education that money could buy and a father's constant attention could insure. He actually escorted the boy to and from his classes, acting as a humble pedagogue instead of the affluent man he was: it must have been embarrassing at the time, but an experience to which later the mature Horace would look back with pride and gratitude. So Horace was a schoolboy while Caesar formed and controlled the First Triumvirate and while Catullus was amazing . . .

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