Part 1 out of 4
Produced by Charles Franks, Delphine Lettau and the DP team
From the Series Ancient Classics for English Readers
REV. W. LUCAS COLLINS, M. A.
CHAPTER I. BIRTH.--EDUCATION.--CAMPAIGN WITH BRUTUS AND CASSIUS
CHAPTER II. RETURNS TO ROME AFTER BATTLE OF PHILIPPI.--EARLY POEMS
CHAPTER III. INTRODUCTION TO MAECENAS.--THE JOURNEY TO BRUNDUSIUM
CHAPTER IV. PUBLICATION OF FIRST BOOK OF SATIRES.--HIS FRIENDS.--
RECEIVES THE SABINE FARM FROM MAECENAS
CHAPTER V. LIFE IN ROME.--HORACE'S BORE.--EXTRAVAGANCE OF THE ROMAN
CHAPTER VI. HORACE'S LOVE-POETRY
CHAPTER VII. HORACE'S POEMS TO HIS FRIENDS.--HIS PRAISES OF
CHAPTER VIII. PREVAILING BELIEF IN ASTROLOGY.--HORACE'S VIEWS OF A
HEREAFTER.--RELATIONS WITH MAECENAS--BELIEF IN THE
PERMANENCE OF HIS OWN FAME
CHAPTER IX. HORACE'S RELATIONS WITH AUGUSTUS--HIS LOVE OF
CHAPTER X. DELICACY OF HORACE'S HEALTH.-HIS CHEERFULNESS--LOVE OF
BOOKS.--HIS PHILOSOPHY PRACTICAL.--EPISTLE TO AUGUSTUS.
No writer of antiquity has taken a stronger hold upon the modern mind
than Horace. The causes of this are manifold, but three may be
especially noted: his broad human sympathies, his vigorous common-
sense, and his consummate mastery of expression. The mind must be
either singularly barren or singularly cold to which Horace does not
speak. The scholar, the statesman, the soldier, the man of the world,
the town-bred man, the lover of the country, the thoughtful and the
careless, he who reads much, and he who reads little, all find in his
pages more or less to amuse their fancy, to touch their feelings, to
quicken their observation, to nerve their convictions, to put into
happy phrase the deductions of their experience. His poetical
sentiment is not pitched in too high a key for the unimaginative, but
it is always so genuine that the most imaginative feel its charm. His
wisdom is deeper than it seems, so simple, practical, and direct as it
is in its application; and his moral teaching more spiritual and
penetrating than is apparent on a superficial study. He does not fall
into the common error of didactic writers, of laying upon life more
than it will bear; but he insists that it shall at least bear the
fruits of integrity, truth, honour, justice, self-denial, and
brotherly charity. Over and above the mere literary charm of his
works, too--and herein, perhaps, lies no small part of the secret of
his popularity--the warm heart and thoroughly urbane nature of the man
are felt instinctively by his readers, and draw them to him as to a
Hence it is that we find he has been a manual with men the most
diverse in their natures, culture, and pursuits. Dante ranks him next
after Homer. Montaigne, as might be expected, knows him by heart.
Fenelon and Bossuet never weary of quoting him. La Fontaine polishes
his own exquisite style upon his model; and Voltaire calls him "the
best of preachers." Hooker escapes with him to the fields to seek
oblivion of a hard life, made harder by a shrewish spouse. Lord
Chesterfield tells us, "When I talked my best I quoted Horace." To
Boileau and to Wordsworth he is equally dear. Condorcet dies in his
dungeon with Horace open by his side; and in Gibbon's militia days,
"on every march," he says, "in every journey, Horace was always in my
pocket, and often in my hand." And as it has been, so it is. In many a
pocket, where this might be least expected, lies a well-thumbed
Horace; and in many a devout Christian heart the maxims of the gentle,
genial pagan find a place near the higher teachings of a greater
Where so much of a writer's charm lies, as with Horace, in exquisite
aptness of language, and in a style perfect for fulness of suggestion
combined with brevity and grace, the task of indicating his
characteristics in translation demands the most liberal allowance from
the reader. In this volume the writer has gladly availed himself,
where he might, of the privilege liberally accorded to him to use the
admirable translations of the late Mr Conington, which are
distinguished in all cases by the addition of his initial. The other
translations are the writer's own. For these it would be superfluous
to claim indulgence. This is sure to be granted by those who know
their Horace well. With those who do not, these translations will not
be wholly useless, if they serve to pique them into cultivating an
acquaintance with the original sufficiently close to justify them in
turning critics of their defects.
QUINTUS HORATIUS FLACCUS.
BORN, A.U.C. 689, B.C. 65. DIED, A.U.C. 746, B.C. 8.
BIRTH.--EDUCATION.--CAMPAIGN WITH BRUTUS AND CASSIUS.
Like the two greatest lyrists of modern times, Burns and Beranger,
Horace sprang from the ranks of the people. His father had been a
slave, and he was himself cradled among "the huts where poor men lie."
Like these great lyrists, too, Horace was proud of his origin. After
he had become the intimate associate of the first men in Rome--nay,
the bosom friend of the generals and statesmen who ruled the world--he
was at pains on more occasions than one to call attention to the fact
of his humble birth, and to let it be known that, had he to begin life
anew, he was so far from desiring a better ancestry that he would,
like Andrew Marvell, have made "his destiny his choice." Nor is this
done with the pretentious affectation of the parvenu, eager to bring
under notice the contrast between what he is and what he has been, and
to insinuate his personal deserts, while pretending to disclaim them.
Horace has no such false humility. He was proud, and he makes no
secret that he was so, of the name he had made,--proud of it for
himself and for the class from which, he had sprung. But it was his
practice, as well as his settled creed, to rate at little the
accidents of birth and fortune. A stronger and higher feeling,
however, more probably dictated the avowal,--gratitude to that slave-
born father whose character and careful training had stamped an
abiding influence upon the life and genius of his son. Neither might
he have been unwilling in this way quietly to protest against the
worship of rank and wealth which he saw everywhere around him, and
which was demoralising society in Rome. The favourite of the Emperor,
the companion of Maecenas, did not himself forget, neither would he
let others forget, that he was a freedman's son; and in his own way
was glad to declare, as Beranger did of himself at the height of his
"Je suis vilain, et tres vilain."
The Roman poets of the pre-Augustan and Augustan periods, unlike
Horace, were all well born. Catullus and Calvus, his great
predecessors in lyric poetry, were men of old and noble family Virgil,
born five years before Horace, was the son of a Roman citizen of good
property. Tibullus, Propertius, and Ovid, who were respectively six,
fourteen, and twenty years his juniors, were all of equestrian rank.
Horace's father was a freed-man of the town of Venusia, the modern
Venosa. It is supposed that he had been a _publicus servus_, or
slave of the community, and took his distinctive name from the
Horatian tribe, to which the community belonged. He had saved a
moderate competency in the vocation of _coactor_, a name applied
both to the collectors of public revenue and of money at sales by
public auction. To which of these classes he belonged is uncertain--
most probably to the latter; and in those days of frequent
confiscations, when property was constantly changing hands, the
profits of his calling, at best a poor one, may have been unusually
large. With the fruits of his industry he had purchased a small farm
near Venusia, upon the banks of the Aufidus, the modern Ofanto, on the
confines of Lucania and Apulia, Here, on the 8th of December, B.C. 65,
the poet was born; and this picturesque region of mountain, forest,
and river, "meet nurse of a poetic child," impressed itself indelibly
on his memory, and imbued him with the love of nature, especially in
her rugged aspect, which remained with him through life. He appears to
have left the locality in early life, and never to have revisited it;
but when he has occasion to describe its features (Odes, III. 4), he
does this with a sharpness and truth of touch, which show how closely
he had even then begun to observe. Acherontia, perched nest-like among
the rocks, the Bantine thickets, the fat meadows of low-lying
Forentum, which his boyish eye had noted, attest to this hour the
vivid accuracy of his description. The passage in question records an
interesting incident in the poet's childhood. Escaping from his nurse,
he has rambled away from the little cottage on the slopes of Mount
Vultur, whither he had probably been taken from the sultry Venusia to
pass his _villeggiatura_ during the heat of summer, and is found
asleep, covered with fresh myrtle and laurel leaves, in which the
wood-pigeons have swathed him.
"When from my nurse erewhile, on Vultur's steep,
I stray'd beyond the bound
Of our small homestead's ground,
Was I, fatigued with play, beneath a heap
Of fresh leaves sleeping found,--
"Strewn by the storied doves; and wonder fell
On all, their nest who keep
On Acherontia's steep,
Or in Forentum's low rich pastures dwell,
Or Bantine woodlands deep,
"That safe from bears and adders in such place
I lay, and slumbering smiled,
O'erstrewn with myrtle wild,
And laurel, by the god's peculiar grace
No craven-hearted child."
The incident thus recorded is not necessarily discredited by the
circumstance of its being closely akin to what is told by Aelian of
Pindar, that a swarm of bees settled upon his lips, and fed him with
honey, when he was left exposed upon the highway. It probably had some
foundation in fact, whatever may be thought of the implied augury of
the special favour of the gods which is said to have been drawn from
it at the time. In any case, the picture of the strayed child,
sleeping unconscious of its danger, with its hands full of wild-
flowers, is pleasant to contemplate.
In his father's house, and in those of the Apulian peasantry around
him, Horace became familiar with the simple virtues of the poor, their
industry and independence, their integrity, chastity, and self-denial,
which he loved to contrast in after years with the luxury and vice of
imperial Rome. His mother he would seem to have lost early. No mention
of her occurs, directly or indirectly, throughout his poems; and
remarkable as Horace is for the warmth of his affections, this could
scarcely have happened had she not died when he was very young. He
appears also to have been an only child. This doubtless drew him
closer to his father, and the want of the early influences of mother
or sister may serve to explain why one misses in his poetry something
of that gracious tenderness towards womanhood, which, looking to the
sweet and loving disposition of the man, one might otherwise have
expected to find in it. That he was no common boy we may be very sure,
even if this were not manifest from the fact that his father resolved
to give him a higher education than was to be obtained under a
provincial schoolmaster. With this view, although little able to
afford the expense, he took his son, when about twelve years old, to
Rome, and gave him the best education the capital could supply. No
money was spared to enable him to keep his position among his fellow-
scholars of the higher ranks. He was waited on by several slaves, as
though he were the heir to a considerable fortune. At the same time,
however, he was not allowed either to feel any shame for his own
order, or to aspire to a position which his patrimony was unable to
maintain. His father taught him to look forward to some situation akin
to that in which his own modest competency had been acquired; and to
feel that, in any sphere, culture, self-respect, and prudent self-
control must command influence, and afford the best guarantee for
happiness. In reading this part of Horace's story, as he tells it
himself, one is reminded of Burns's early lines about his father and
"My father was a farmer upon the Carrick border,
And carefully he bred me up in decency and order.
He bade me act a manly part, though I had ne'er a farthing,
For without an honest manly heart no man was worth regarding."
The parallel might be still further pursued. "My father," says Gilbert
Burns, "was for some time almost the only companion we had. He
conversed familiarly on all subjects with us as if we had been men,
and was at great pains, while we accompanied him in the labours of the
farm, to lead the conversation to such subjects as might tend to
increase our knowledge, or confirm us in virtuous habits." How closely
this resembles the method adopted with Horace by his father will be
seen hereafter. [Footnote: Compare it, too, with what Horace reports
of "Ofellus the hind, Though no scholar, a sage of exceptional kind,"
in the Second Satire of the Second Book, from line 114 to the end.]
Horace's literary master at Rome was Orbilius Pupillus, a grammarian,
who had carried into his school his martinet habits as an old soldier;
and who, thanks to Horace, has become a name (_plagosus Orbilius_,
Orbilius of the birch) eagerly applied by many a suffering urchin to
modern pedagogues who have resorted to the same material means of
inculcating the beauties of the classics. By this Busby of the period
Horace was grounded in Greek, and made familiar, too familiar for his
liking, with Ennius, Naevius, Pacuvius, Attius, Livius Andronicus, and
other early Latin writers, whose unpruned vigour was distasteful to one
who had already begun to appreciate the purer and not less vigorous
style of Homer and other Greek authors. Horace's father took care that
he should acquire all the accomplishments of a Roman gentleman, in
which music and rhetoric were, as a matter of course, included. But,
what was of still more importance during this critical period of the
future poet's first introduction to the seductions of the capital, he
enjoyed the advantages of his father's personal superintendence and
of a careful moral training. His father went with him to all his classes,
and, being himself a man of shrewd observation and natural humour,
he gave the boy's studies a practical bearing by directing his attention
to the follies and vices of the luxurious and dissolute society around
him, showing him how incompatible they were with the dictates of
reason and common-sense, and how disastrous in their consequences to
the good name and happiness of those who yielded to their seductions.
The method he pursued is thus described by Horace (Satires, I. 4):--
"Should then my humorous vein run wild, some latitude allow.
I learned the habit from the best of fathers, who employed
Some living type to stamp the vice he wished me to avoid.
Thus temperate and frugal when exhorting me to be,
And with the competence content which he had stored for me,
'Look, boy!' he'd say,' at Albius' son--observe his sorry plight!
And Barrus, that poor beggar there! Say, are not these a sight,
To warn a man from squandering his patrimonial means?'
When counselling me to keep from vile amours with common queans;
'Sectanus, ape him not!' he'd say; or, urging to forswear
Intrigue with matrons, when I might taste lawful joys elsewhere;
'Trebonius' fame is blurred since he was in the manner caught.
The reasons why this should be shunned, and why that should be
The sages will explain; enough for me, if I uphold
The faith and morals handed down from our good sires of old,
And, while you need a guardian, keep your life pure and your name.
When years have hardened, as they will, your judgment and your
You'll swim without a float!' And so, with talk like this, he won
And moulded me, while yet a boy. Was something to be done,
Hard it might be--'For this,' he'd say, 'good warrant you can
And then as model pointed to some public man of note.
Or was there something to be shunned, then he would urge, 'Can you
One moment doubt that acts like these are base and futile too,
Which have to him and him such dire disgrace and trouble bred?'
And as a neighbour's death appals the sick, and, by the dread
Of dying, forces them to put upon their lusts restraint,
So tender minds are oft deterred from vices by the taint
They see them bring on others' names; 'tis thus that I from those
Am all exempt, which bring with them a train of shames and woes."
Nor did Horace only inherit from his father, as he here says, the
kindly humour and practical good sense which distinguish his satirical
and didactic writings, and that manly independence which he preserved
through the temptations of a difficult career. Many of "the rugged
maxims hewn from life" with which his works abound are manifestly but
echoes of what the poet had heard from his father's lips. Like his own
Ofellus, and the elders of the race--not, let us hope, altogether
bygone--of peasant-farmers in Scotland, described by Wordsworth as
"Religious men, who give to God and men their dues,"--the Apulian
freedman had a fund of homely wisdom at command, not gathered from
books, but instinct with the freshness and force of direct observation
and personal conviction. The following exquisite tribute by Horace to
his worth is conclusive evidence how often and how deeply he had
occasion to be grateful, not only for the affectionate care of this
admirable father, but also for the bias and strength which that
father's character had given to his own. It has a further interest, as
occurring in a poem addressed to Maecenas, a man of ancient family and
vast wealth, in the early days of that acquaintance with the poet
which was afterwards to ripen into a lifelong friendship.
"Yet if some trivial faults, and these but few,
My nature, else not much amiss, imbue
(Just as you wish away, yet scarcely blame,
A mole or two upon a comely frame),
If no man may arraign me of the vice
Of lewdness, meanness, nor of avarice;
If pure and innocent I live, and dear
To those I love (self-praise is venial here),
All this I owe my father, who, though poor,
Lord of some few lean acres, and no more,
Was loath to send me to the village school,
Whereto the sons of men of mark and rule,--
Centurions, and the like,--were wont to swarm,
With slate and satchel on sinister arm,
And the poor dole of scanty pence to pay
The starveling teacher on the quarter-day;
But boldly took me, when a boy, to Rome,
There to be taught all arts that grace the home
Of knight and senator. To see my dress,
And slaves attending, you'd have thought, no less
Than patrimonial fortunes old and great
Had furnished forth the charges of my state.
When with my tutors, he would still be by,
Nor ever let me wander from his eye;
And, in a word, he kept me chaste (and this
Is virtue's crown) from all that was amiss,
Nor such in act alone, but in repute,
Till even scandal's tattling voice was mute.
No dread had he that men might taunt or jeer,
Should I, some future day, as auctioneer,
Or, like himself, as tax-collector, seek
With petty fees my humble means to eke.
Nor should I then have murmured. Now I know,
More earnest thanks, and loftier praise I owe.
Reason must fail me, ere I cease to own
With pride, that I have such a father known;
Nor shall I stoop my birth to vindicate,
By charging, like the herd, the wrong on Fate,
That I was not of noble lineage sprung:
Far other creed inspires my heart and tongue.
For now should Nature bid all living men
Retrace their years, and live them o'er again,
Each culling, as his inclination bent,
His parents for himself, with mine content,
I would not choose whom men endow as great
With the insignia and seats of state;
And, though I seemed insane to vulgar eyes,
Thou wouldst perchance esteem me truly wise,
In thus refusing to assume the care
Of irksome state I was unused to bear."
The education, of which Horace's father had laid the foundation at
Rome, would not have been complete without a course of study at
Athens, then the capital of literature and philosophy, as Rome was of
political power. Thither Horace went somewhere between the age of 17
and 20. "At Rome," he says (Epistles, II. ii. 23),
"I had my schooling, and was taught
Achilles' wrath, and all the woes it brought;
At classic Athens, where I went ere long,
I learned to draw the line 'twixt right and wrong,
And search for truth, if so she might be seen,
In Academic groves of blissful green." (C.)
At Athens he found many young men of the leading Roman families--
Bibulus, Messalla, Corvinus, the younger Cicero, and others--engaged
in the same pursuits with himself, and he contracted among them many
enduring friendships. In the political lull which ensued between the
battle of Pharsalia (B.C. 48) and the death of Julius Caesar (B.C.
44), he was enabled to devote himself without interruption to the
studies which had drawn him to that home of literature and the arts.
But these were destined before long to be rudely broken. The tidings
of that startling event had been hailed with delight by the youthful
spirits, some of whom saw in the downfall of the great Dictator the
dawn of a new era of liberty, while others hoped from it the return to
power of the aristocratic party to which they belonged. In this mood
Brutus found them when he arrived in Athens along with Cassius, on
their way to take command of the Eastern provinces which had been
assigned to them by the Senate. Cassius hurried on to his post in
Syria, but Brutus lingered behind, ostensibly absorbed in the
philosophical studies of the schools, but at the same time recruiting
a staff of officers for his army from among the young Romans of wealth
and family whom it was important he should attach to his party, and
who were all eagerness to make his cause their own. Horace, infected
by the general enthusiasm, joined his standard; and, though then only
twenty-two, without experience, and with no special aptitude, physical
or mental, for a military life, he was intrusted by Brutus with the
command of a legion. There is no reason to suppose that he owed a
command of such importance to any dearth of men of good family
qualified to act as officers. It is, therefore, only reasonable to
conclude, that even at this early period he was recognised in the
brilliant society around him as a man of mark; and that Brutus, before
selecting him, had thoroughly satisfied himself that he possessed
qualities which justified so great a deviation from ordinary rules, as
the commission of so responsible a charge to a freedman's son. That
Horace gave his commander satisfaction we know from himself. The line
(Epistles, I. xx. 23), "_Me primis urbis belli placuisse
"At home, as in the field, I made my way,
And kept it, with the first men of the day,"--
can be read in no other sense. But while Horace had, beyond all doubt,
made himself a strong party of friends who could appreciate his genius
and attractive qualities, his appointment as military tribune excited
jealousy among some of his brother officers, who considered that the
command of a Roman legion should have been reserved for men of nobler
blood--a jealousy at which he said, with his usual modesty, many years
afterwards (Satires, I. vi. 45), he had no reason either to be
surprised or to complain.
In B.C. 43, Brutus, with his army, passed from Macedonia to join
Cassius in Asia Minor, and Horace took his part in their subsequent
active and brilliant campaign there. Of this we get some slight
incidental glimpses in his works. Thus, for example (Odes, II. 7), we
find him reminding his comrade, Pompeius Varus, how
"Full oft they sped the lingering day
Quaffing bright wine, as in our tents we lay,
With Syrian spikenard on our glistening hair."
The Syrian spikenard, _Malobathrum Syrium_, fixes the locality.
Again, in the epistle to his friend Bullatius (Epistles, I. 11), who
is making a tour in Asia, Horace speaks of several places as if from
vivid recollection. In his usual dramatic manner, he makes Bullatius
answer his inquiries as to how he likes the places he has seen:--
"_You know what Lebedos is like_; so bare,
With Gabii or Fidenae 'twould compare;
Yet there, methinks, I would accept my lot,
My friends forgetting, by my friends forgot,
Stand on the cliff at distance, and survey
The stormy sea-god's wild Titanic play." (C.)
Horace himself had manifestly watched the angry surges from the cliffs
of Lebedos. But a more interesting record of the Asiatic campaign,
inasmuch as it is probably the earliest specimen of Horace's writing
which we have, occurs in the Seventh Satire of the First Book.
Persius, a rich trader of Clazomene, has a lawsuit with Rupilius, one
of Brutus's officers, who went by the nickname of "King." Brutus, in
his character of quaestor, has to decide the dispute, which in the
hands of the principals degenerates, as disputes so conducted
generally do, into a personal squabble. Persius leads off with some
oriental flattery of the general and his suite. Brutus is "Asia's
sun," and they the "propitious stars," all but Rupilius, who was
The Dog, whom husbandmen detest."
Rupilius, an old hand at slang, replies with a volley of rough
sarcasms, "such as among the vineyards fly," and
"Would make the passer-by
Shout filthy names, but shouting fly"--
a description of vintage slang which is as true to-day as it was then.
The conclusion is curious, as a punning allusion to the hereditary
fame of Brutus as a puller-down of kings, which it must have required
some courage to publish, when Augustus was omnipotent in Rome.
"But Grecian Persius, after he
Had been besprinkled plenteously
With gall Italic, cries, 'By all
The gods above, on thee I call,
Oh Brutus, thou of old renown,
For putting kings completely down,
To save us! Wherefore do you not
Despatch this King here on the spot?
One of the tasks is this, believe,
Which you are destined to achieve!'"
This is just such a squib as a young fellow might be expected to dash
off for the amusement of his brother officers, while the incident
which led to it was yet fresh in their minds. Slight as it is, one
feels sure its preservation by so severe a critic of his own writings
as Horace was due to some charm of association, or possibly to the
fact that in it he had made his first essay in satire. The defeat of
Brutus at Philippi (B.C. 42) brought Horace's military career to a
close. Even before this decisive event, his dream of the re-
establishment of liberty and the old Roman constitution had probably
begun to fade away, under his actual experience of the true aims and
motives of the mass of those whom Brutus and Cassius had hitherto been
leading to victory, and satiating with plunder. Young aristocrats, who
sneered at the freedman's son, were not likely to found any system of
liberty worthy of the name, or to use success for nobler purposes than
those of selfish ambition. Fighting was not Horace's vocation, and
with the death of Brutus and those nobler spirits, who fell at
Philippi rather than survive their hopes of freedom, his motive for
fighting was at an end. To prolong a contest which its leaders had
surrendered in despair was hopeless. He did not, therefore, like
Pompeius Varus and others of his friends, join the party which, for a
time, protracted the struggle under the younger Pompey. But, like his
great leader, he had fought for a principle; nor could he have
regarded otherwise than with horror the men who had overthrown Brutus,
reeking as they were with the blood of a thousand proscriptions, and
reckless as they had shown themselves of every civil right and social
obligation. As little, therefore, was he inclined to follow the
example of others of his distinguished friends and companions in arms,
such as Valerius Messalla and Aelius Lamia, who not merely made their
peace with Antony and Octavius, but cemented it by taking service in
RETURNS TO ROME AFTER BATTLE OF PHILIPPI.--EARLY POEMS.
Availing himself of the amnesty proclaimed by the conquerors, Horace
found his way back to Rome. His father was dead; how long before is
not known. If the little property at Venusia had remained unsold, it
was of course confiscated. When the lands of men, like Virgil, who had
taken no active part in the political conflicts of the day, were being
seized to satisfy the rapacity of a mercenary soldiery, Horace's
paternal acres were not likely to escape. In Rome he found himself
penniless. How to live was the question; and, fortunately for
literature, "chill penury" did not repress, but, on the contrary,
stimulated his "noble rage."
"Bated in spirit, and with pinions clipped,
Of all the means my father left me stripped,
Want stared me in the face, so then and there
I took to scribbling verse in sheer despair."
Despoiled of his means, and smarting with defeat, Horace was just in
the state of mind to strike vigorously at men and manners which he did
not like. Young, ardent, constitutionally hot in temper, eager to
assert, amid the general chaos of morals public and private, the
higher principles of the philosophic schools from which he had so
recently come, irritated by the thousand mortifications to which a man
of cultivated tastes and keenly alive to beauty is exposed in a
luxurious city, where the prizes he values most are carried off, yet
scarcely valued, by the wealthy vulgar, he was especially open to the
besetting temptation of clever young men to write satire, and to write
it in a merciless spirit. As he says of himself (Odes, I. 15),
"In youth's pleasant spring-time,
The shafts of my passion at random I flung,
And, dashing headlong into petulant rhyme,
I recked neither where nor how fiercely I stung."
Youth is always intolerant, and it is so easy to be severe; so
seductive to say brilliant things, whether they be true or not. But
there came a day, and it came soon, when Horace, saw that triumphs
gained in this way were of little value, and when he was anxious that
his friends should join with him in consigning his smart and scurril
lines (_celeres et criminosos Iambos_) to oblivion. The _amende_ for
some early lampoon which he makes in the Ode just quoted, though
ostensibly addressed to a lady who had been its victim, was probably
intended to cover a wider field.
Personal satire is always popular, but the fame it begets is bought
dearly at the cost of lifelong enmities and many after-regrets. That
Horace in his early writings was personal and abusive is very clear,
both from his own language and from a few of the poems of this class
and period which survive. Some of these have no value, except as
showing how badly even Horace could write, and how sedulously the
better feeling and better taste of his riper years led him to avoid
that most worthless form of satire which attacks where rejoinder is
impossible, and irritates the temper but cannot possibly amend the
heart. In others, the lash is applied with no less justice than
vigour, as in the following invective, the fourth of the Epodes:--
"Such hate as nature meant to be
'Twixt lamb and wolf I feel for thee,
Whose hide by Spanish scourge is tanned,
And legs still bear the fetter's brand!
Though of your gold you strut so vain,
Wealth cannot change the knave in grain.
How! see you not, when striding down
The Via Sacra in your gown
Good six ells wide, the passers there
Turn on you with indignant stare?
'This wretch,' such gibes your ear invade,
'By the Triumvirs'  scourges flayed,
Till even the crier shirked his toil,
Some thousand acres ploughs of soil
Falernian, and with his nags
Wears out the Appian highway's flags;
Nay, on the foremost seats, despite
Of Otho, sits and apes the knight.
What boots it to despatch a fleet
So large, so heavy, so complete,
Against a gang of rascal knaves,
Thieves, corsairs, buccaneers, and slaves,
If villain of such vulgar breed
Is in the foremost rank to lead?'"
The Sacred Way, leading to the Capitol, a favourite lounge.
When a slave was being scourged, under the orders of the
Triumviri Capitales, a public crier stood by, and proclaimed the
nature of his crime.
Modern critics may differ as to whom this bitter infective was aimed
at, but there could have been no doubt on that subject in Rome at the
time. And if, as there is every reason to conclude, it was levelled at
Sextus Menas, the lines, when first shown about among Horace's
friends, must have told with great effect, and they were likely to be
remembered long after the infamous career of this double-dyed traitor
had come to a close. Menas was a freedman of Pompey the Great, and a
trusted officer of his son Sextus. [Footnote: Shakespeare has
introduced him in "Antony and Cleopatra," along with Menecrates and
Varrius, as "friends to Sextus Pompeius."] He had recently (B.C. 38)
carried over with him to Augustus a portion of Pompey's fleet which
was under his command, and betrayed into his hands the islands of
Corsica and Sardinia. For this act of treachery he was loaded with
wealth and honours; and when Augustus, next year, fitted out a naval
expedition against Sextus Pompeius, Menas received a command. It was
probably lucky for Horace that this swaggering upstart, who was not
likely to be scrupulous as to his means of revenge, went over the very
next year to his former master, whom he again abandoned within a year
to sell himself once more to Augustus. That astute politician put it
out of his power to play further tricks with the fleet, by giving him
a command in Pannonia, where he was killed, B.C. 36, at the siege of
Siscia, the modern Sissek.
Though Horace was probably best known in Rome in these early days as a
writer of lampoons and satirical poems, in which the bitterness of his
models Archilochus and Lucilius was aimed at, not very successfully--
for bitterness and personal rancour were not natural to the man--he
showed in other compositions signs of the true poetic spirit, which
afterwards found expression in the consummate grace and finish of his
Odes. To this class belongs the following poem (Epode 16), which, from
internal evidence, appears to have been written B.C. 40, when the
state of Italy, convulsed by civil war, was well calculated to fill
him with despair. Horace had frequent occasion between this period and
the battle of Actium, when the defeat and death of Antony closed the
long struggle for supremacy between him and Octavius, to appeal to his
countrymen against the waste of the best blood of Italy in civil fray,
which might have been better spent in subduing a foreign foe, and
spreading the lustre of the Roman arms. But if we are to suppose this
poem written when the tidings of the bloody incidents of the Perusian
campaign had arrived in Rome,--the reduction of the town of Perusia by
famine, and the massacre of from two to three hundred prisoners,
almost all of equestrian or senatorial rank,--we can well understand
the feeling under which the poem is written.
TO THE ROMAN PEOPLE.
Another age in civil wars will soon be spent and worn,
And by her native strength our Rome be wrecked and overborne,
That Rome, the Marsians could not crush, who border on our lands,
Nor the shock of threatening Porsena with his Etruscan bands,
Nor Capua's strength that rivalled ours, nor Spartacus the stern,
Nor the faithless Allobrogian, who still for change doth yearn.
Ay, what Gennania's blue-eyed youth quelled not with ruthless sword,
Nor Hannibal by our great sires detested and abhorred,
We shall destroy with impious hands imbrued in brother's gore,
And wild beasts of the wood shall range our native land once more.
A foreign foe, alas! shall tread The City's ashes down,
And his horse's ringing hoofs shall smite her places of renown,
And the bones of great Quirinus, now religiously enshrined,
Shall be flung by sacrilegious hands to the sunshine and the wind.
And if ye all from ills so dire ask how yourselves to free,
Or such at least as would not hold your lives unworthily,
No better counsel can I urge, than that which erst inspired
The stout Phocaeans when from their doomed city they retired,
Their fields, their household gods, their shrines surrendering as a
To the wild boar and the ravening wolf;  so we, in our dismay,
Where'er our wandering steps may chance to carry us should go,
Or wheresoe'er across the seas the fitful winds may blow.
How think ye then? If better course none offer, why should we
Not seize the happy auspices, and boldly put to sea?
But let us swear this oath;--"Whene'er, if e'er shall come the time,
Rocks upwards from the deep shall float, return shall not be crime;
Nor we be loath to back our sails, the ports of home to seek,
When the waters of the Po shall lave Matinum's rifted peak.
Or skyey Apenninus down into the sea be rolled,
Or wild unnatural desires such monstrous revel hold,
That in the stag's endearments the tigress shall delight,
And the turtle-dove adulterate with the falcon and the kite,
That unsuspicious herds no more shall tawny lions fear,
And the he-goat, smoothly sleek of skin, through the briny deep
This having sworn, and what beside may our returning stay,
Straight let us all, this City's doomed inhabitants, away,
Or those that rise above the herd, the few of nobler soul;
The craven and the hopeless here on their ill-starred beds may loll.
Ye who can feel and act like men, this woman's wail give o'er,
And fly to regions far away beyond the Etruscan shore!
The circling ocean waits us; then away, where nature smiles,
To those fair lands, those blissful lands, the rich and happy Isles!
Where Ceres year by year crowns all the untilled land with sheaves,
And the vine with purple clusters droops, unpruned of all her
Where the olive buds and burgeons, to its promise ne'er untrue,
And the russet fig adorns the tree, that graffshoot never knew;
Where honey from the hollow oaks doth ooze, and crystal rills
Come dancing down with tinkling feet from the sky-dividing hills;
There to the pails the she-goats come, without a master's word,
And home with udders brimming broad returns the friendly herd.
There round the fold no surly bear its midnight prowl doth make,
Nor teems the rank and heaving soil with the adder and the snake;
There no contagion smites the flocks, nor blight of any star
With fury of remorseless heat the sweltering herds doth mar.
Nor this the only bliss that waits us there, where drenching rains
By watery Eurus swept along ne'er devastate the plains,
Nor are the swelling seeds burnt up within the thirsty clods,
So kindly blends the seasons there the King of all the Gods.
That shore the Argonautic bark's stout rowers never gained,
Nor the wily she of Colchis with step unchaste profaned;
The sails of Sidon's galleys ne'er were wafted to that strand,
Nor ever rested on its slopes Ulysses' toilworn band:
For Jupiter, when he with brass the Golden Age alloyed,
That blissful region set apart by the good to be enjoyed;
With brass and then with iron he the ages seared, but ye,
Good men and true, to that bright home arise and follow me!
The story of the Phocaeans is told by Herodotus (Ch. 165). When
their city was attacked by Harpagus, they retired in a body to make
way for the Persians, who took possession of it. They subsequently
returned, and put to the sword the Persian garrison which had been
left in it by Harpagus. "Afterwards, when this was accomplished,
they pronounced terrible imprecations on any who should desert the
fleet; besides this, they sunk a mass of molten iron, and swore
that they would never return to Phocaea until it should appear
This poem, Lord Lytton has truly said, "has the character of youth in
its defects and its beauties. The redundance of its descriptive
passages is in marked contrast to the terseness of description which
Horace studies in his Odes; and there is something declamatory in its
general tone which is at variance with the simpler utterance of
lyrical art. On the other hand, it has all the warmth of genuine
passion, and in sheer vigour of composition Horace has rarely excelled
The idea of the Happy Isles, referred to in the poem, was a familiar
one with the Greek poets. They became in time confounded with the
Elysian fields, in which the spirits of the departed good and great
enjoyed perpetual rest. It is as such that Ulysses mentions them in
Tennyson's noble monologue:--
"It may be that the gulfs shall wash us down,
It may be we shall reach the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew."
These islands were supposed to be in the far west, and were probably
the poetical amplification of some voyager's account of the Canaries
or of Madeira. There has always been a region beyond the boundaries of
civilisation to which the poet's fancy has turned for ideal happiness
and peace. The difference between ancient and modern is, that material
comforts, as in this epode, enter largely into the dream of the
ancient, while independence, beauty, and grandeur are the chief
elements in the modern picture:--
"Larger constellations burning, mellow moons and happy skies,
Breadth of Tropic shade and palms in cluster, knots of Paradise.
Never comes the trader, never floats an European flag,
Slides the bird o'er lustrous woodland, droops the trailer from the
Droops the heavy-blossomed bower, hangs the heavy-fruited tree,
Summer Isles of Eden lying in dark-purple spheres of sea."
To the same class of Horace's early poems, though probably a few years
later in date, belongs the following eulogium of a country life and
its innocent enjoyments (Epode 2), the leading idea of which was
embodied by Pope in the familiar lines, wonderful for finish as the
production of a boy of eleven, beginning
"Happy the man whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound."
With characteristic irony Horace puts his fancies into the mouth of
Alphius, a miserly money-lender. No one yearns so keenly for the
country and its imagined peace as the overworked city man, when his
pulse is low and his spirits weary with bad air and the reaction of
over-excitement; no one, as a rule, is more apt to tire of the homely
and uneventful life which the country offers, or to find that, for him
at least, its quietude does not bring peace. It is not, therefore, at
all out of keeping, although critics have taken exception to the poem
on this ground, that Horace makes Alphius rhapsodise on the charms of
a rural life, and having tried them, creep back within the year to his
moneybags and his ten per cent. It was, besides, a favourite doctrine
with him, which he is constantly enforcing in his later works, that
everybody envies his neighbour's pursuits--until he tries them.
Happy the man, in busy schemes unskilled,
Who, living simply, like our sires of old,
Tills the few acres, which his father tilled,
Vexed by no thoughts of usury or gold;
The shrilling clarion ne'er his slumber mars,
Nor quails he at the howl of angry seas;
He shuns the forum, with its wordy jars,
Nor at a great man's door consents to freeze.
The tender vine-shoots, budding into life,
He with the stately poplar-tree doth wed,
Lopping the fruitless branches with his knife,
And grafting shoots of promise in their stead;
Or in some valley, up among the hills,
Watches his wandering herds of lowing kine,
Or fragrant jars with liquid honey fills,
Or shears his silly sheep in sunny shine;
Or when Autumnus o'er the smiling land
Lifts up his head with rosy apples crowned,
Joyful he plucks the pears, which erst his hand
Graffed on the stem they're weighing to the ground;
Plucks grapes in noble clusters purple-dyed,
A gift for thee, Priapus, and for thee,
Father Sylvanus, where thou dost preside,
Warding his bounds beneath thy sacred tree.
Now he may stretch his careless limbs to rest,
Where some old ilex spreads its sacred roof;
Now in the sunshine lie, as likes him best,
On grassy turf of close elastic woof.
And streams the while glide on with murmurs low,
And birds are singing 'mong the thickets deep,
And fountains babble, sparkling as they flow,
And with their noise invite to gentle sleep.
But when grim winter comes, and o'er his grounds
Scatters its biting snows with angry roar,
He takes the field, and with a cry of hounds
Hunts down into the toils the foaming boar;
Or seeks the thrush, poor starveling, to ensnare,
In filmy net with bait delusive stored,
Entraps the travelled crane, and timorous hare,
Rare dainties these to glad his frugal board.
Who amid joys like these would not forget
The pangs which love to all its victims bears,
The fever of the brain, the ceaseless fret,
And all the heart's lamentings and despairs?
But if a chaste and blooming wife, beside,
The cheerful home with sweet young blossoms fills,
Like some stout Sabine, or the sunburnt bride
Of the lithe peasant of the Apulian hills,
Who piles the hearth with logs well dried and old
Against the coming of her wearied lord,
And, when at eve the cattle seek the fold,
Drains their full udders of the milky hoard;
And bringing forth from her well-tended store
A jar of wine, the vintage of the year,
Spreads an unpurchased feast,--oh then, not more
Could choicest Lucrine oysters give me cheer,
Or the rich turbot, or the dainty char,
If ever to our bays the winter's blast
Should drive them in its fury from afar;
Nor were to me a welcomer repast
The Afric hen or the Ionic snipe,
Than olives newly gathered from the tree,
That hangs abroad its clusters rich and ripe,
Or sorrel, that doth love the pleasant lea,
Or mallows wholesome for the body's need,
Or lamb foredoomed upon some festal day
In offering to the guardian gods to bleed,
Or kidling which the wolf hath marked for prey.
What joy, amidst such feasts, to see the sheep,
Full of the pasture, hurrying homewards come;
To see the wearied oxen, as they creep,
Dragging the upturned ploughshare slowly home!
Or, ranged around the bright and blazing hearth,
To see the hinds, a house's surest wealth,
Beguile the evening with their simple mirth,
And all the cheerfulness of rosy health!
Thus spake the miser Alphius; and, bent
Upon a country life, called in amain
The money he at usury had lent;--
But ere the month was out, 'twas lent again.
In this charming sketch of the peasant's life it is easy to see that
Horace is drawing from nature, like Burns in his more elaborate
picture of the "Cottar's Saturday Night." Horace had obviously watched
closely the ways of the peasantry round his Apulian home, as he did at
a later date those of the Sabine country, and to this we owe many of
the most delightful passages in his works. He omits no opportunity of
contrasting their purity of morals, and the austere self-denial of
their life, with the luxurious habits and reckless vice of the city
life of Rome. Thus, in one of the finest of his Odes (Book III. 6),
after painting with a few masterly strokes what the matrons and the
fast young ladies of the imperial city had become, it was not from
such as these, he continues, that the noble youth sprang "who dyed the
seas with Carthaginian gore, overthrew Pyrrhus and great Antiochus and
direful Hannibal," concluding in words which contrast by their
suggestive terseness at the same time that they suggest comparison
with the elaborated fulness of the epode just quoted:--
"But they, of rustic warriors wight
The manly offspring, learned to smite
The soil with Sabine spade,
And faggots they had cut, to bear
Home from the forest, whensoe'er
An austere mother bade;
"What time the sun began to change
The shadows through the mountain range,
And took the yoke away
From the o'erwearied oxen, and
His parting car proclaimed at hand
The kindliest hour of day."
Another of Horace's juvenile poems, unique in subject and in treatment
(Epode 5), gives evidence of a picturesque power of the highest kind,
stimulating the imagination, and swaying it with the feelings of pity
and terror in a way to make us regret that he wrote no others in a
similar vein. We find ourselves at midnight in the gardens of the
sorceress Canidia, whither a boy of good family--his rank being
clearly indicated by the reference to his purple _toga_ and
_bulla_--has been carried off from his home. His terrified
exclamations, with which the poem opens, as Canidia and her three
assistants surround him, glaring on him, with looks significant of
their deadly purpose, through lurid flames fed with the usual ghastly
ingredients of a witch's fire, carry us at once into the horrors of
the scene. While one of the hags sprinkles her hell-drops through the
adjoining house, another is casting up earth from a pit, in which the
boy is presently imbedded to the chin, and killed by a frightful
process of slow torture, in order that a love philtre of irresistible
power may be concocted from his liver and spleen. The time, the place,
the actors are brought before us with singular dramatic power.
Canidia's burst of wonder and rage that the spells she deemed all-
powerful have been counteracted by some sorceress of skill superior to
her own, gives great reality to the scene; and the curses of the dying
boy, launched with tragic vigour, and closing with a touch of
beautiful pathos, bring it to an effective close.
The speculations as to who and what Canidia was, in which scholars
have run riot, are conspicuous for absurdity, even among the wild and
ridiculous conjectures as to the personages named by Horace in which
the commentators have indulged. That some well-known person was the
original of Canidia is extremely probable, for professors of
witchcraft abounded at the time, combining very frequently, like their
modern successors, the arts of Medea with the attributes of Dame
Quickly. What more natural than for a young poet to work up an
effective picture out of the abundant suggestions which the current
stories of such creatures and their doings presented to his hand? The
popular belief in their power, the picturesque conditions under which
their spells were wrought, the wild passions in which lay the secret
of their hold upon the credulity of their victims, offered to the
Roman poet, just as they did to our own Elizabethan dramatists, a
combination of materials most favourable for poetic treatment. But
that Horace had, as many of his critics contend, a feeling of personal
vanity, the pique of a discarded lover, to avenge, is an assumption
wholly without warrant. He was the last man, at any time or under any
circumstances, to have had any relations of a personal nature with a
woman of Canidia's class. However inclined he may have been to use her
and her practices for poetic purposes, he manifestly not only saw
through the absurdity of her pretensions, but laughed at her miserable
impotence, and meant that others should do the same. It seems to be
impossible to read the 8th of his First Book of his Satires, and not
come to this conclusion. That satire consists of the monologue of a
garden god, set up in the garden which Maecenas had begun to lay out
on the Esquiline Hill. This spot had until recently been the burial-
ground of the Roman poor, a quarter noisome by day, and the haunt of
thieves and beasts of prey by night. On this obscene spot, littered
with skulls and dead men's bones, Canidia and her accomplice Sagana
are again introduced, digging a pit with their nails, into which they
pour the blood of a coal-black ewe, which they had previously torn
"So to evoke the shade and soul
Of dead men, and from these to wring
Responses to their questioning."
They have with them two effigies, one of wax and the other of wool--
the latter the larger of the two, and overbearing the other, which
cowers before it,
"Like one that stands
Beseeching in the hangman's hands.
On Hecate one, Tisiphone
The other calls; and you might see
Serpents and hell-hounds thread the dark,
Whilst, these vile orgies not to mark,
The moon, all bloody red of hue,
Behind the massive tombs withdrew."
The hags pursue their incantations; higher and higher flames their
ghastly fire, and the grizzled wolves and spotted snakes slink in
terror to their holes, as the shrieks and muttered spells of the
beldams make the moon-forsaken night more hideous. But after piling up
his horrors with the most elaborate skill, as if in the view of some
terrible climax, the poet makes them collapse into utter farce.
Disgusted by their intrusion on his privacy, the Priapus adopts a
simple but exceedingly vulgar expedient to alarm these appalling hags.
In an instant they fall into the most abject terror, suspend their
incantations, and, tucking up their skirts, make off for the more
comfortable quarters of the city as fast as their trembling limbs can
carry them--Canidia, the great enchantress, dropping her false teeth,
and her attendant Sagana parting company with her wig, by the way:--
With laughter long and loud might view
Their herbs, and charmed adders wound
In mystic coils, bestrew the ground."
And yet grave scholars gravely ask us to believe that Canidia was an
old mistress of the poet's! These poems evidently made a success, and
Horace returned to the theme in his 17th Epode. Here he writes as
though he had been put under a spell by Canidia, in revenge for his
former calumnies about her.
"My youth has fled, my rosy hue
Turned to a wan and livid blue;
Blanched by thy mixtures is my hair;
No respite have I from despair.
The days and nights, they wax and wane,
Yet bring me no release from pain;
Nor can I ease, howe'er I gasp,
The spasm, which holds me in its grasp."
Here we have all the well-known symptoms of a man under a malign
magical influence. In this extremity Horace affects to recant all the
mischief he has formerly spoken of the enchantress. Let her name what
penance he will, he is ready to perform it. If a hundred steers will
appease her wrath, they are hers; or if she prefers to be sung of as
the chaste and good, and to range above the spheres as a golden star,
his lyre is at her service. Her parentage is as unexceptionable as her
life is pure, but while ostentatiously disclaiming his libels, the
poet takes care to insinuate them anew, by apostrophising her in
"Thou who dost ne'er in haglike wont
Among the tombs of paupers hunt
For ashes newly laid in ground,
Love-charms and philtres to compound,
Thy heart is gentle, pure thy hands."
Of course, Canidia is not mollified by such a recantation as this. The
"Branding her name with ill renown,
Made her the talk of all the town,"
is not so lightly to be forgiven.
"You'd have a speedy doom? But no,
It shall be lingering, sharp, and slow."
The pangs of Tantalus, of Prometheus, or of Sisyphus are but the types
of what his shall be. Let him try to hang, drown, stab himself--his
efforts will be vain:--
"Then comes my hour of triumph, then
I'll goad you till you writhe again;
Then shall you curse the evil hour
You made a mockery of my power."
She then triumphantly reasserts the powers to which she lays claim.
What! I, she exclaims, who can waste life as the waxen image of my
victim melts before my magic fire [Footnote: Thus Hecate in
Middleton's "Witch" assures to the Duchess of Glo'ster "a sudden and
subtle death" to her victim:--]--I, who can bring down the moon from
her sphere, evoke the dead from their ashes, and turn the affections
by my philtres,--
"Shall I my potent art bemoan
As impotent 'gainst thee alone?"
Surely all this is as purely the work of imagination as Middleton's
"Witch," or the Hags in "Macbeth," or in Goethe's 'Faust.' Horace used
Canidia as a byword for all that was hateful in the creatures of her
craft, filthy as they were in their lives and odious in their persons.
His literary and other friends were as familiar with her name in this
sense as we are with those of Squeers and Micawber, as types of a
class; and the joke was well understood when, many years after, in the
8th of his Second Book of Satires, he said that Nasidienus's dinner-
party broke up without their eating a morsel of the dishes after a
certain point,--"As if a pestilential blast from Canidia's throat,
more venomous than that of African vipers, had swept across them."
"His picture made in wax, and gently molten
By a blue fire, kindled with dead men's eyes,
Will waste him by degrees."--
An old delusion. We find it in Theocritus, where a girl, forsaken by
her lover, resorts to the same desperate restorative (Idylls ii. 28)--
"As this image of wax I melt here by aidance demonic,
Myndian Delphis shall so melt with love's passion anon."
Again Ovid (Heroides vi. 91) makes Hypsipyle say of Medea:
"The absent she binds with her spells, and figures of wax she
And in their agonised spleen fine-pointed needles she thrusts."
INTRODUCTION TO MAECENAS.--THE JOURNEY TO BRUNDUSIUM.
Horace had not been long in Rome, after his return from Greece, before
he had made himself a name. With what he got from the booksellers, or
possibly by the help of friends, he had purchased a patent place in
the Quaestor's department, a sort of clerkship of the Treasury, which
he continued to hold for many years, if not indeed to the close of his
life. The duties were light, but they demanded, and at all events had,
his occasional attention, even after he was otherwise provided for.
Being his own--bought by his own money--it may have gratified his love
of independence to feel that, if the worst came to the worst, he had
his official salary to fall back upon. Among his friends, men of
letters are at this time, as might have been expected, found to be
most conspicuous. Virgil, who had recently been despoiled, like,
himself, of his paternal property, took occasion to bring his name
before Maecenas, the confidential adviser and minister of Octavius, in
whom he had himself found a helpful friend. This was followed up by
the commendation of Varius, already celebrated as a writer of Epic
poetry, and whose tragedy of "Thyestes," if we are to trust
Quintilian, was not unworthy to rank with the best tragedies of
Greece. Maecenas may not at first have been too well disposed towards
a follower of the republican party, who had not been sparing of his
satire against many of the supporters and favourites of Octavius. He
sent for Horace, however (B.C. 39), and any prejudice on this score,
if prejudice there was, was ultimately got over. Maecenas took time to
form his estimate of the man, and it was not till nine months after
their first interview that he sent for Horace again. When he did so,
however, it was to ask him to consider himself for the future among
the number of his friends. This part of Horace's story is told with
admirable brevity and good feeling in the Satire from which we have
already quoted, addressed to Maecenas (B. I. Sat. 6) a few years
"Lucky I will not call myself, as though
Thy friendship I to mere good fortune owe.
No chance it was secured me thy regards,
But Virgil first, that best of men and bards,
And then kind Varius mentioned what I was.
Before you brought, with many a faltering pause,
Dropping some few brief words (for bashfulness
Robbed me of utterance) I did not profess
That I was sprung of lineage old and great,
Or used to canter round my own estate
On Satureian barb, but what and who
I was as plainly told. As usual, you
Brief answer make me. I retire, and then,
Some nine months after, summoning me again,
You bid me 'mongst your friends assume a place:
And proud I feel that thus I won your grace,
Not by an ancestry long known to fame,
But by my life, and heart devoid of blame."
The name of Maecenas is from this time inseparably associated with
that of Horace. From what little is authentically known of him, this
much may be gathered: He was a man of great general accomplishment,
well versed in the literature both of Greece and Rome, devoted to
literature and the society of men of letters, a lover of the fine arts
and of natural history, a connoisseur of gems and precious stones,
fond of living in a grand style, and of surrounding himself with
people who amused him, without being always very particular as to who
or what they were. For the indulgence of all these tastes, his great
wealth was more than sufficient. He reclaimed the Esquiline hill from
being the public nuisance we have already described, laid it out in
gardens, and in the midst of these built himself a sumptuous palace,
where the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore now stands, from which he
commanded a superb view of the country looking towards Tivoli. To this
palace, salubrious from its spacious size and the elevation of its
site, Augustus, when ill, had himself carried from his own modest
mansion; and from its lofty belvedere tower Nero is said to have
enjoyed the spectacle of Rome in flames beneath him. Voluptuary and
dilettante as Maecenas was, he was nevertheless, like most men of a
sombre and melancholy temperament, capable of great exertions; and he
veiled under a cold exterior and reserved manners a habit of acute
observation, a kind heart, and, in matters of public concern, a
resolute will. This latent energy of character, supported as it was by
a subtle knowledge of mankind and a statesmanlike breadth of view,
contributed in no small degree to the ultimate triumph of Octavius
Caesar over his rivals, and to the successful establishment of the
empire in his hands. When the news of Julius Caesar's assassination
reached the young Octavius, then only nineteen, in Apollonia, it has
been said that Maecenas was in attendance upon him as his governor or
tutor. Be this so or not, as soon as Octavius appears in the political
arena as his uncle's avenger, Maecenas is found by his side. In
several most important negotiations he acted as his representative.
Thus (B.C. 40), the year before Horace was introduced to him, he,
along with Cocceius Nerva, negotiated with Antony the peace of
Brundusium, which resulted in Antony's ill-starred marriage with
Caesar's sister Octavia. Two years later he was again associated with
Cocceius in a similar task, on which occasion Horace and Virgil
accompanied him to Brundusium. He appears to have commanded in various
expeditions, both naval and military, but it was at Rome and in
Council that his services were chiefly sought; and he acted as one of
the chief advisers of Augustus down to about five years before his
death, when, either from ill health or some other unknown cause, he
abandoned political life. More than once he was charged by Augustus
with the administration of the civil affairs of Italy during his own
absence, intrusted with his seal, and empowered to open all his
letters addressed to the Senate, and, if necessary, to alter their
contents, so as to adapt them to the condition of affairs at home. His
aim, like that of Vipsanius Agrippa, who was in himself the Nelson and
Wellington of the age, seems to have been to build up a united and
flourishing empire in the person of Augustus. Whether from temperament
or policy, or both, he set his face against the system of cruelty and
extermination which disgraced the triumvirate. When Octavius was one
day condemning man after man to death, Maecenas, after a vain attempt
to reach him on the tribunal, where he sat surrounded by a dense
crowd, wrote upon his tablets, _Surge tandem, Carnifex_!--
"Butcher, break off!" and flung them across the crowd into the lap of
Caesar, who felt the rebuke, and immediately quitted the judgment-
seat. His policy was that of conciliation; and while bent on the
establishment of a monarchy, from what we must fairly assume to have
been a patriotic conviction that this form of government could alone
meet the exigencies of the time, he endeavoured to combine this with a
due regard to individual liberty, and a free expression of individual
At the time of Horace's introduction to him, Maecenas was probably at
his best, in the full vigour of his intellect, and alive with the
generous emotions which must have animated a man bent as he was on
securing tranquillity for the state, and healing the strife of
factions, which were threatening it with ruin. His chief relaxation
from the fatigues of public life was, to all appearance, found in the
society of men of letters, and, judging by what Horace says (Satires,
I. 9), the _vie intime_ of his social circle must have been
charming. To be admitted within it was a privilege eagerly coveted,
and with good reason, for not only was this in itself a stamp of
distinction, but his parties were well known as the pleasantest in
"No house more free from all that's base,
In none cabals more out of place.
It hurts me not, if others be
More rich, or better read than me;
Each has his place."
Like many of his contemporaries, who were eminent in political life,
Maecenas devoted himself to active literary work--for he wrote much,
and on a variety of topics. His taste in literature was, however,
better than his execution. His style was diffuse, affected, and
obscure; but Seneca, who tells us this, and gives some examples which
justify the criticism, tells us at the same time that his genius was
massive and masculine (_grande et virile_), and that he would
have been eminent for eloquence, if fortune had not spoiled him.
However vicious his own style may have been, the man who encouraged
three such writers as Virgil, Propertius, and Horace, not to mention
others of great repute, whose works have perished, was clearly a sound
judge of a good style in others.
As years went on, and the cares of public life grew less onerous,
habits of self-indulgence appear to have grown upon Maecenas. It will
probably be well, however, to accept with some reserve what has been
said against him on this head. Then, as now, men of rank and power
were the victims of calumnious gossips and slanderous pamphleteers.
His health became precarious. Incessant sleeplessness spoke of an
overtasked brain and shattered nerves. Life was full of pain; still he
clung to it with a craven-like tenacity. So, at least, Seneca asserts,
quoting in support of his statement some very bad verses by Maecenas,
which may be thus translated:--
"Lame in feet, and lame in fingers,
Crooked in back, with every tooth
Rattling in my head, yet, 'sooth,
I'm content, so life but lingers.
Gnaw my withers, rack my bones,
Life, mere life, for all atones."
In one view these lines may certainly be construed to import the same
sentiment as the speech of the miserable Claudio in "Measure for
"The weariest and most loathed worldly life
That age, ache, penury, and imprisonment
Can lay on nature, is a paradise
To what we fear of death."
But, on the other hand, they may quite as fairly be regarded as merely
giving expression to the tenet of the Epicurean philosophy, that
however much we may suffer from physical pain or inconvenience, it is
still possible to be happy. "We know what we are; we know not what we
Not the least misfortune of Maecenas was his marriage to a woman whom
he could neither live with nor without--separating from and returning
to her so often, that, according to Seneca, he was a thousand times
married, yet never had but one wife. Friends he had many, loyal and
devoted friends, on whose society and sympathy he leant more and more
as the years wore on. He rarely stirred from Rome, loving its smoke,
its thronged and noisy streets, its whirl of human passions, as
Johnson loved Fleet Street, or "the sweet shady side of Pall Mall,"
better than all the verdure of Tivoli, or the soft airs and exquisite
scenery of Baiae. He liked to read of these things, however; and may
have found as keen a pleasure in the scenery of the 'Georgics,' or in
Horace's little landscape-pictures, as most men could have extracted
from the scenes which they describe.
Such was the man, ushered into whose presence, Horace, the reckless
lampooner and satirist, found himself embarrassed, and at a loss for
words. Horace was not of the MacSycophant class, who cannot "keep
their back straight in the presence of a great man;" nor do we think
he had much of the nervous apprehensiveness of the poetic temperament.
Why, then, should he have felt thus abashed? Partly, it may have been,
from natural diffidence at encountering a man to gain whose goodwill
was a matter of no small importance, but whose goodwill, he also knew
by report, was not easily won; and partly, to find himself face to
face with one so conspicuously identified with the cause against which
he had fought, and the men whom he had hitherto had every reason to
Once admitted by Maecenas to the inner circle of his friends, Horace
made his way there rapidly. Thus we find him, a few months afterwards,
in the spring of B.C. 37, going to Brundusium with Maecenas, who had
been despatched thither on a mission of great public importance
(Satires, I. 6). The first term of the triumvirate of Antony,
Octavius, and Lepidus had expired at the close of the previous year.
No fresh arrangement had been made, and Antony, alarmed at the growing
power of Octavius in Italy, had appeared off Brundusium with a fleet
of 300 sail and a strong body of troops. The Brundusians--on a hint,
probably, from Octavius--forbade his landing, and he had to go on to
Tarentum, where terms were ultimately arranged for a renewal of the
triumvirate. The moment was a critical one, for an open rupture
between Octavius and Antony was imminent, which might well have proved
disastrous to the former, had Antony joined his fleet to that of the
younger Pompey, which, without his aid, had already proved more than a
match for the naval force of Octavius.
To judge by Horace's narrative, all the friends who accompanied
Maecenas on this occasion, except his coadjutor, Cocceius Nerva, who
had three years before been engaged with him on a similar mission to
Brundusium, were men whose thoughts were given more to literature than
to politics. Horace starts from Rome with Heliodorus, a celebrated
rhetorician, and they make their way very leisurely to Anxur
(Terracina), where they are overtaken by Maecenas.
"'Twas fixed that we should meet with dear
Maecenas and Cocceius here,
Who were upon a mission bound,
Of consequence the most profound;
For who so skilled the feuds to close
Of those, once friends, who now were foes?"
This is the only allusion throughout the poem, to the object of the
journey. The previous day, Horace had been baulked of his dinner, the
water being so bad, and his stomach so delicate, that he chose to fast
rather than run the risk of making himself ill with it. And now at
Terracina he found his eyes, which were weak, so troublesome, that he
had to dose them well with a black wash. These are the first
indications we get of habitual delicacy of health, which, if not due
altogether to the fatigues and exposure of his campaign with Brutus,
had probably been increased by them.
"Meanwhile beloved Maecenas came,
Cocceius too, and brought with them
Fonteius Capito, a man
Endowed with every grace that can
A perfect gentleman attend,
And Antony's especial friend."
They push on next day to Formiae, and are amused at Fundi (Fondi) on
the way by the consequential airs of the prefect of the place. It
would seem as if the peacock nature must break out the moment a man
becomes a prefect or a mayor.
"There having rested for the night,
With inexpressible delight
We hail the dawn,--for we that day
At Sinuessa, on our way
With Plotius,  Virgil, Varius too,
Have an appointed rendezvous;
Souls all, than whom the earth ne'er saw
More noble, more exempt from flaw,
Nor are there any on its round
To whom I am more firmly bound.
Oh! what embracings, and what mirth!
Nothing, no, nothing, on this earth,
Whilst I have reason, shall I e'er
With a true genial friend compare!"
Plotius Tucca, himself a poet, and associated by Virgil with Varius
in editing the Aeneid after the poet's death.
Next day they reach Capua, where, so soon as their mules are unpacked,
"Maecenas hies, at ball to play;
To sleep myself and Virgil go,
For tennis-practice is, we know,
Injurious, quite beyond all question,
Both to weak eyes and weak digestion."
With these and suchlike details Horace carries us pleasantly on with
his party to Brundusium. They were manifestly in no hurry, for they
took fourteen days, according to Gibbon's careful estimate, to travel
378 Roman miles. That they might have got over the ground much faster,
if necessary, is certain from what is known of other journeys. Caesar
posted 100 miles a-day. Tiberius travelled 200 miles in twenty-four
hours, when he was hastening to close the eyes of his brother Drusus;
and Statius (Sylv. 14, Carm. 3) talks of a man leaving Rome in the
morning, and being at Baiae or Puteoli, 127 miles off, before night.
"Have but the will, be sure you'll find the way.
What shall stop him, who starts at break of day
From sleeping Rome, and on the Lucrine sails
Before the sunshine into twilight pales?"
Just as, according to Sydney Smith, in his famous allusion to the
triumphs of railway travelling, "the early Scotchman scratches himself
in the morning mists of the North, and has his porridge in Piccadilly
before the setting sun."
Horace treats the expedition to Brundusium entirely as if it had been
a pleasant tour. Gibbon thinks he may have done so purposely, to
convince those who were jealous of his intimacy with the great
statesman, "that his thoughts and occupations on the event were far
from being of a serious or political nature." But it was a rule with
Horace, in all his writings, never to indicate, by the slightest word,
that he knew any of the political secrets which, as the intimate
friend of Maecenas, he could scarcely have failed to know. He hated
babbling of all kinds. A man who reported the private talk of friends,
even on comparatively indifferent topics,--
"The churl, who out of doors will spread
What 'mongst familiar friends is said,"--
(Epistle I. v. 24), was his especial aversion; and he has more than
once said, only not in such formal phrase, what Milton puts into the
mouth of his "Samson Agonistes,"
"To have revealed
Secrets of men, the secrets of a friend,
How heinous had the fact been! how deserving
Contempt, and scorn of all, to be excluded
All friendship, and avoided as a blab,
The mark of fool set on his front!"
Moreover, reticence, the indispensable quality, not of statesmen
merely, but of their intimates, was not so rare a virtue in these days
as in our own; and as none would have expected Horace, in a poem of
this kind, to make any political confidences, he can scarcely be
supposed to have written it with any view to throwing the gossips of
Rome off the scent. The excursion had been a pleasant one, and he
thought its incidents worth noting. Hence the poem. Happily for us,
who get from it most interesting glimpses of some of the familiar
aspects of Roman life and manners, of which we should otherwise have
known nothing. Here, for example, is a sketch of how people fared in
travelling by canal in those days, near Rome. Overcrowding, we see, is
not an evil peculiar to our own days.
"Now 'gan the night with gentle hand
To fold in shadows all the land,
And stars along the sky to scatter,
When there arose a hideous clatter,
Slaves slanging bargemen, bargemen slaves;
'Ho, haul up here! how now, ye knaves,
Inside three hundred people stuff?
Already there are quite enough!'
Collected were the fares at last,
The mule that drew our barge made fast,
But not till a good hour was gone.
Sleep was not to be thought upon,
The cursed gnats were so provoking,
The bull-frogs set up such a croaking.
A bargeman, too, a drunken lout,
And passenger, sang turn about,
In tones remarkable for strength,
Their absent sweethearts, till at length
The passenger began to doze,
When up the stalwart bargeman rose,
His fastenings from the stone unwound,
And left the mule to graze around;
Then down upon his back he lay,
And snored in a terrific way."
Neither is the following allusion to the Jews and their creed without
its value, especially when followed, as it is, by Horace's avowal,
almost in the words of Lucretius (B. VI. 56), of what was then his
own. Later in life he came to a very different conclusion. When the
travellers reach Egnatia, their ridicule is excited by being shown or
told, it is not very clear which, of incense kindled in the temple
there miraculously without the application of fire.
"This may your circumcised Jew
Believe, but never I. For true
I hold it that the Deities
Enjoy themselves in careless ease;
Nor think, when Nature, spurning Law,
Does something which inspires our awe,
'Tis sent by the offended gods
Direct from their august abodes."
So Tennyson, in his "Lotus-Eaters:"--
"Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind,
In the hollow Lotus-land to live and lie reclined
On the hills like gods together, careless of mankind."
See the whole of the passage.
Had Horace known anything of natural science, he might not have gone
so far to seek for the explanation of the seeming miracle.
Gibbon speaks contemptuously of many of the incidents recorded in this
poem, asking, "How could a man of taste reflect on them the day
after?" But the poem has much more than a merely literary interest;
thanks to such passages as these, and to the charming tribute by
Horace to his friends previously cited.
Nothing can better illustrate the footing of easy friendship on which
he soon came to stand with Maecenas than the following poem, which
must have been written before the year B.C. 32; for in that year
Terentia became the mistress of the great palace on the Esquiline, and
the allusion in the last verse is much too familiar to have been
intended for her. Horace, whose delicacy of stomach was probably
notorious, had apparently been the victim of a practical joke--a
species of rough fun to which the Romans of the upper classes appear
to have been particularly prone. It is difficult otherwise to
understand how he could have stumbled at Maecenas's table on a dish so
overdosed with garlic as that which provoked this humorous protest.
From what we know of the abominations of an ordinary Roman banquet,
the vegetable stew in this instance must have reached a climax of
"If his old father's throat any impious sinner
Has cut with unnatural hand to the bone,
Give him garlic, more noxious than hemlock, at dinner.
Ye gods! the strong stomachs that reapers must own!
"With what poison is this that my vitals are heated?
By viper's blood--certes, it cannot be less--
Stewed into the potherbs; can I have been cheated?
Or Canidia, did she cook the villainous mess?
"When Medea was struck by the handsome sea-rover,
Who in beauty outshone all his Argonaut band,
This mixture she took to lard Jason all over,
And so tamed the fire-breathing bulls to his hand.
"With this her fell presents she dyed and infected,
On his innocent leman avenging the slight
Of her terrible beauty, forsaken, neglected,
And then on her car, dragon-wafted, took flight.
"Never star on Apulia, the thirsty and arid,
Exhaled a more baleful or pestilent dew,
And the gift, which invincible Hercules carried,
Burned not to his bones more remorselessly through.
"Should you e'er long again for such relish as this is,
Devoutly I'll pray, wag Maecenas, I vow,
With her hand that your mistress arrest all your kisses,
And lie as far off as the couch will allow."
It is startling to our notions to find so direct a reference as that
in the last verse to the "reigning favourite" of Maecenas; but what
are we to think of the following lines, which point unequivocally to
Maecenas's wife, in the following Ode addressed to her husband (Odes,
"Would you, friend, for Phrygia's hoarded gold,
Or all that Achaemenes' self possesses,
Or e'en for what Araby's coffers hold,
Barter one lock of her clustering tresses,
While she stoops her throat to your burning kiss,
Or, fondly cruel, the bliss denies you,
She would have you snatch, or will, snatching this
Herself, with a sweeter thrill surprise you?"
If Maecenas allowed his friends to write of his wife in this strain,
it is scarcely to be wondered at if that coquettish and capricious
lady gave, as she did, "that worthy man good grounds for uneasiness."
PUBLICATION OF FIRST BOOK OF SATIRES.--HIS FRIENDS.--RECEIVES THE
SABINE FARM FROM MAECENAS.
In B.C. 34, Horace published the First Book of his Satires, and placed
in front of it one specially addressed to Maecenas--a course which he
adopted in each successive section of his poems, apparently to mark
his sense of obligation to him as the most honoured of his friends.
The name _Satires_ does not truly indicate the nature of this
series. They are rather didactic poems, couched in a more or less
dramatic form, and carried on in an easy conversational tone, without
for the most part any definite purpose, often diverging into such
collateral topics as suggest themselves by the way, with all the ease
and buoyancy of agreeable talk, and getting back or not, as it may
happen, into the main line of idea with which they set out. Some of
them are conceived in a vein of fine irony throughout. Others, like
"The Journey to Brundusium," are mere narratives, relieved by humorous
illustrations. But we do not find in them the epigrammatic force, the
sternness of moral rebuke, or the scathing spirit of sarcasm, which
are commonly associated with the idea of satire. Literary display
appears never to be aimed at. The plainest phrases, the homeliest
illustrations, the most everyday topics--if they come in the way--are
made use of for the purpose of insinuating or enforcing some useful
truth. Point and epigram are the last things thought of; and therefore
it is that Pope's translations, admirable as in themselves they are,
fail to give an idea of the lightness of touch, the shifting lights
and shades, the carelessness alternating with force, the artless
natural manner, which distinguish these charming essays. "The
terseness of Horace's language in his Satires," it has been well said,
"is that of a proverb, neat because homely; while the terseness of
Pope is that of an epigram, which will only become homely in time,
because it is neat."
In writing these Satires, which he calls merely rhythmical prose,
Horace disclaims for himself the title of poet; and at this time it
would appear as if he had not even conceived the idea of "modulating
Aeolic song to the Italian lyre," on which he subsequently rested his
hopes of posthumous fame. The very words of his disclaimer, however,
show how well he appreciated the poet's gifts (Satires, I. 4):--
"First from the roll I strike myself of those I poets call,
For merely to compose in verse is not the all-in-all;
Nor if a man shall write, like me, things nigh to prose akin,
Shall he, however well he write, the name of poet win?
To genius, to the man-whose soul is touched with fire divine,
Whose voice speaks like a trumpet-note, that honoured name assign.
'Tis not enough that you compose your verse
In diction irreproachable, pure, scholarly, and terse,
Which, dislocate its cadence, by anybody may
Be spoken like the language of the father in the play.
Divest those things which now I write, and Lucilius wrote of yore,
Of certain measured cadences, by setting that before
Which was behind, and that before which I had placed behind,
Yet by no alchemy will you in the residuum find
The members still apparent of the dislocated bard,"--
a result which he contends would not ensue, however much you might
disarrange the language of a passage of true poetry, such as one he
quotes from Ennius, the poetic charm of which, by the way, is not very
apparent. Schooled, however, as he had been, in the pure literature of
Greece, Horace aimed at a conciseness and purity of style which had
been hitherto unknown in Roman satire, and studied, not
unsuccessfully, to give to his own work, by great and well-disguised
elaboration of finish, the concentrated force and picturesque
precision which are large elements in all genuine poetry. His own
practice, as we see from its results, is given in the following lines,
and a better description of how didactic or satiric poetry should be
written could scarcely be desired (Satires, I. 10).
"'Tis not enough, a poet's fame to make,
That you with bursts of mirth your audience shake;
And yet to this, as all experience shows,
No small amount of skill and talent goes.
Your style must he concise, that what you say
May flow on clear and smooth, nor lose its way,
Stumbling and halting through a chaos drear
Of cumbrous words, that load the weary ear;
And you must pass from grave to gay,--now, like
The rhetorician, vehemently strike,
Now, like the poet, deal a lighter hit
With easy playfulness and polished wit,--
Veil the stern vigour of a soul robust,
And flash your fancies, while like death you thrust;
For men are more impervious, as a rule,
To slashing censure than to ridicule.
Here lay the merit of those writers, who
In the Old Comedy our fathers drew;
Here should we struggle in their steps to tread
Whom fop Hermogenes has never read,
Nor that mere ape of his, who all day long
Makes Calvus and Catullus all his song."
The concluding hit at Hermogenes Tigellius and his double is very
characteristic of Horace's manner. When he has worked up his
description of a vice to be avoided or a virtue to be pursued, he
generally drives home his lesson by the mention of some well-known
person's name, thus importing into his literary practice the method
taken by his father, as we have seen, to impress his ethical teachings
upon himself in his youth. The allusion to Calvus and Catullus, the
only one anywhere made to these poets by Horace, is curious; but it
would be wrong to infer from it, that Horace meant to disparage these
fine poets. Calvus had a great reputation both as an orator and poet.
But, except some insignificant fragments, nothing of what he wrote is
left. How Catullus wrote we do, however, know; and although it is
conceivable that Horace had no great sympathy with some of his love
verses, which were probably of too sentimental a strain for his taste,
we may be sure that he admired the brilliant genius as well as the
fine workmanship of many of his other poems. At all events, he had too
much good sense to launch a sneer at so great a poet recently dead,
which would not only have been in the worst taste, but might justly
have been ascribed to jealousy. When he talks, therefore, of a pair of
fribbles who can sing nothing but Calvus and Catullus, it is, as
Macleane has said in his note on the passage, "as if a man were to say
of a modern English coxcomb, that he could sing Moore's ballads from
beginning to end, but could not understand a line of Shakespeare,"--no
disparagement to Moore, whatever it might be to the vocalist.
Hermogenes and his ape (whom we may identify with one Demetrius, who
is subsequently coupled with him in the same satire) were musicians
and vocalists, idolised, after the manner of modern Italian singers,
by the young misses of Rome. Pampered favourites of fashion, the
Farinellis of the hour, their opinion on all matters of taste was sure
to be as freely given as it was worthless. They had been, moreover, so
indiscreet as to provoke Horace's sarcasm by running down his verses.
Leave criticism, he rejoins, to men who have a right to judge. Stick
to your proper vocation, and
"To puling girls, that listen and adore,
Your love-lorn chants and woeful wailings pour!"
In the same Satire we have proof how warmly Horace thought and spoke
of living poets. Thus:--
"In grave Iambic measures Pollio sings
For our delight the deeds of mighty kings.
The stately Epic Varius leads along,
And where is voice so resonant, so strong?
The Muses of the woods and plains have shed
Their every grace and charm on Virgil's head."
With none of those will he compete. Satire is his element, and there
he proclaims himself to be an humble follower of his great
predecessor. But while he bows to Lucilius as his master, and owns him
superior in polish and scholarly grace to the satirists who preceded
him, still, he continues--
"Still, were he living now--had only such
Been Fate's decree--he would have blotted much,
Cut everything away that could be called
Crude or superfluous, or tame, or bald;
Oft scratched his head, the labouring poet's trick,
And bitten all his nails down to the quick."
And then he lays down the canon for all high-class composition, which
can never be too often enforced:--
"Oh yes, believe me, you must draw your pen
Not once or twice, but o'er and o'er again,
Through what you've written, if you would entice
The man who reads you once to read you twice,
Not making popular applause your cue,
But looking to find audience fit though few." (C.)
He had himself followed the rule, and found the reward. With natural
exultation he appeals against the judgment of men of the Hermogenes
type to an array of critics of whose good opinion he might well be
"Maecenas, Virgil, Varius,--if I please
In my poor writings these and such as these,--
If Plotius, Valgius, Fuscus will commend,
And good Octavius, I've achieved my end.
You, noble Pollio (let your friend disclaim
All thoughts of flattery, when he names your name),
Messala and his brother, Servius too,
And Bibulus, and Furnius kind and true,
With others, whom, despite their sense and wit,
And friendly hearts, I purposely omit;
Such I would have my critics; men to gain
Whose smiles were pleasure, to forget them pain." (C.)
It is not strange that Horace, even in these early days, numbered so
many distinguished men among his friends, for, the question of genius
apart, there must have been something particularly engaging in his
kindly and affectionate nature. He was a good hater, as all warm-
hearted men are; and when his blood was up, he could, like Diggory,
"remember his swashing blow." He would fain, as he says himself
(Satires, II. 1), be at peace with all men:--
"But he who shall my temper try--
'Twere best to touch me not, say I--
Shall rue it, and through all the town
My verse shall damn him with renown."
But with his friends he was forbearing, devoted, lenient to their
foibles, not boring them with his own, liberal in construing their
motives, and as trustful in their loyalty to himself as he was assured
of his own to them; clearly a man to be loved--a man pleasant to meet
and pleasant to remember, constant, and to be relied on in sunshine or
in gloom. Friendship with him was not a thing to be given by halves.
He could see a friend's faults-no man quicker-but it did not lie in
his mouth to babble about them. He was not one of those who "whisper
faults and hesitate dislikes." Love me, love my friend, was his rule.
Neither would he sit quietly by, while his friends were being
disparaged. And if he has occasion himself to rally their foibles in
his poems, he does so openly, and does it with such an implied
sympathy and avowal of kindred weakness in himself, that offence was
impossible. Above all, he possessed in perfection what Mr Disraeli
happily calls "the rare gift of raillery, which flatters the self-love
of those whom it seems not to spare." These characteristics are
admirably indicated by Persius (I. 116) in speaking of his Satires--
"Arch Horace, while he strove to mend,
Probed all the foibles of his smiling friend;
Played lightly round and round each peccant part,
And won, unfelt, an entrance to his heart." (Gifford.)
And we may be sure the same qualities were even more conspicuous in
his personal intercourse with his friends. Satirist though he was, he
is continually inculcating the duty of charitable judgments towards
"What's done we partly may compute,
But know not what's resisted,"
is a thought often suggested by his works. The best need large grains
of allowance, and to whom should these be given if not to friends?
Here is his creed on this subject (Satires, I. 3):--
"True love, we know, is blind; defects, that blight
The loved one's charms, escape the lover's sight,
Nay, pass for beauties; as Balbinus shows
A passion for the wen on Agna's nose.
Oh, with our friendships that we did the same,
And screened our blindness under virtue's name!
For we are bound to treat a friend's defect
With touch most tender, and a fond respect;
Even as a father treats a child's, who hints,
The urchin's eyes are roguish, if he squints:
Or if he be as stunted, short, and thick,
As Sisyphus the dwarf, will call him 'chick!'
If crooked all ways, in back, in legs, and thighs,
With softening phrases will the flaw disguise.
So, if one friend too close a fist betrays,
Let us ascribe it to his frugal ways;
Or is another--such we often find--
To flippant jest and braggart talk inclined,
'Tis only from a kindly wish to try
To make the time 'mongst friends go lightly by;
Another's tongue is rough and over-free,
Let's call it bluntness and sincerity;
Another's choleric; him we must screen,
As cursed with feelings for his peace too keen.
This is the course, methinks, that makes a friend,
And, having made, secures him to the end."
What wonder, such being his practice--for Horace in this as in other
things acted up to his professions--that he was so dear, as we see he
was, to so many of the best men of his time? The very contrast which
his life presented to that of most of his associates must have helped
to attract them to him. Most of them were absorbed in either political
or military pursuits. Wealth, power, dignity, the splendid prizes of
ambition, were the dream of their lives. And even those whose tastes
inclined mainly towards literature and art were not exempt from the
prevailing passion for riches and display. Rich, they were eager to be
more rich; well placed in society, they were covetous of higher social
distinction. Now at Rome, gay, luxurious, dissipated; anon in Spain,
Parthia, Syria, Africa, or wherever duty, interest, or pleasure called
them, encountering perils by land and sea with reckless indifference
to fatigue and danger, always with a hunger at their hearts for
something, which, when found, did not appease it; they must have felt
a peculiar interest in a man who, without apparent effort, seemed to
get so much more out of life than they were able to do, with all their
struggles, and all their much larger apparent means of enjoyment. They
must have seen that wealth and honour were both within his grasp, and
they must have known, too, that it was from no lack of appreciation of
either that he deliberately declined to seek them. Wealth would have
purchased for him many a refined pleasure which he could heartily
appreciate, and honours might have saved him from some of the social
slights which must have tested his philosophy. But he told them, in
every variety of phrase and illustration--in ode, in satire, and
epistle--that without self-control and temperance in all things, there
would be no joy without remorse, no pleasure without fatigue--that it
is from within that happiness must come, if it come at all, and that
unless the mind has schooled itself to peace by the renunciation of
"We may be wise, or rich, or great,
But never can be blest."
And as he spoke, so they must have seen he lived. Wealth and honours
would manifestly have been bought too dearly at the sacrifice of the
tranquillity and independence which he early set before him as the
objects of his life.
"The content, surpassing wealth,
The sage in meditation found;"
the content which springs from living in consonance with the dictates
of nature, from healthful pursuits, from a conscience void of offence;
the content which is incompatible with the gnawing disquietudes of
avarice, of ambition, of social envy,--with that in his heart, he knew
he could be true to his genius, and make life worth living for. A man
of this character must always be rare; least of all was he likely to
be common in Horace's day, when the men in whose circle he was moving
were engaged in the great task of crushing the civil strife which had
shaken the stability of the Roman power, and of consolidating an
empire greater and more powerful than her greatest statesmen had
previously dreamed of. But all the more delightful to these men must
it have been to come into intimate contact with a man who, while
perfectly appreciating their special gifts and aims, could bring them
back from the stir and excitement of their habitual life to think of
other things than social or political successes,--to look into their
own hearts, and to live for a time for something better and more
enduring than the triumphs of vanity or ambition.
Horace from the first seems to have wisely determined to keep himself
free from those shackles which most men are so eager to forge for
themselves, by setting their heart on wealth and social distinction.
With perfect sincerity he had told Maecenas, as we have seen, that he
coveted neither, and he gives his reasons thus (Satires, I. 6):--
"For then a larger income must be made,
Men's favour courted, and their whims obeyed;
Nor could I then indulge a lonely mood,
Away from town, in country solitude,
For the false retinue of pseudo-friends,
That all my movements servilely attends.
More slaves must then be fed, more horses too,
And chariots bought. Now have I nought to do,
If I would even to Tarentum ride,
But mount my bobtailed mule, my wallets tied
Across his flanks, which, napping as we go,
With my ungainly ankles to and fro,
Work his unhappy sides a world of weary woe."
From this wise resolution he never swerved, and so through life he
maintained an attitude of independence in thought and action which
would otherwise have been impossible. He does not say it in so many
words, but the sentiment meets us all through his pages, which Burns,
whose mode of thinking so often reminds us of Horace, puts into the
"My freedom's a lairdship nae monarch may touch."
And we shall hereafter have occasion to see that, when put to the
proof, he acted upon this creed. "Well might the overworked statesman
have envied the poet the ease and freedom of his life, and longed to
be able to spend a day as Horace, in the same Satire, tells us his
days were passed!--
"I walk alone, by mine own fancy led,
Inquire the price of potherbs and of bread,
The circus cross, to see its tricks and fun,
The forum, too, at times, near set of sun;
With other fools there do I stand and gape
Bound fortune-tellers' stalls, thence home escape
To a plain meal of pancakes, pulse, and pease;
Three young boy-slaves attend on me with these.
Upon a slab of snow-white marble stand
A goblet and two beakers; near at hand,
A common ewer, patera, and bowl;
Campania's potteries produced the whole.
To sleep then I....
I keep my couch till ten, then walk awhile,
Or having read or writ what may beguile
A quiet after-hour, anoint my limbs
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