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Wine and Roman Poets

by January 4, 2022

By Visnja Bojovic, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
When we think of wine in the ancient world, the first thing that comes to mind is the Romans and their luxurious banquets. We know that wine was an important part of the Roman culture; there were even precise rules for the way and quantity in which it was to be consumed. However, while we do know that wine played an enormous part in the life of the ancient Romans, we have to bear in mind that most of the information we have about wine and drunkenness in Roman society come from literary sources. As such, the information we get from these sources is entirely susceptible to the requirements of the genre.
If you wanted to find the most ardent fan of wine, look no further – you have found a man who not only resorts to wine for pleasure, but claims that his work itself entirely depends on it:

No poetry could ever live long or delight us

That water-drinkers pen. Since Bacchus enlisted

Poets, the barely sane, among his Fauns and Satyrs,

The sweet Muses usually have a dawn scent of wine.

The most important role that Horace attributes to wine is that of a source of inspiration, and he claims that he cannot write until directed to by Bacchus, the god of wine. He does not know where Bacchus will take him, but this direction also depends on Horace’s mood, as well as the type of wine that he is drinking.
We all know the famous line “seize the day”. What some of us may not know, however, is that Horace uses wine more than anything else to demonstrate the importance of this attitude. He says that there is no way to know what gods have in store for us, so the solution is:Be wise, strain the wine, and trim your long hope into a brief space … seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the next.” It is not useful to spend time thinking about bad things, and to get rid of these earthly cares, we should resort to wine.
Another important feature of wine, according to Horace, is its inability of being connected to the war in any way. He thinks that Bacchus brings only harmony, and that there is no place for war in the wine-drinking world. What is important to note, however, is the fact that Horace emphasizes the importance of moderation in drinking, and warns of the dangers if this moderation is not achieved.
As mentioned above, the exaggerated appraisal of wine that can be found in the works of these poets should not be taken literally. That is to say that, most probably, they were not such passionate wine-drinkers in their private lives. This is especially true when it comes to Propertius. We know almost for sure that Propertius the man would not allow himself to fall under the temptations caused by excessive intake of wine. Propertius the poet, on the other hand, continues the elegiac tradition in the best way possible.
He uses wine to emphasize the passion in his poems, and it is an almost inevitable feature of the lovers’ encounters. Similar to Horace, for Propertius, wine is the source of inspiration, his muse. However, Propertius is a bit more realistic, taking into account that wine does not only solve lovers’ problems, but it also creates them. In his prayer to Bacchus, Propertius says: Through you lovers are joined, through you they are broken up.
Propertius with his lover Cynthia
The poet’s ambivalent approach to wine can also be seen in the following verses:

Perish the man who discovered undiluted grapes and

first corrupted good water with nectar! … Beauty dies by wine, youth is broken by wine,

often a mistress does not know her own man because of wine

The two greatest passions of Tibullus are his lover and the countryside. For him, wine is an instrument that he uses to emphasize the importance of both, as it is not only related to love affairs, but also to the celebration of nature. When it comes to love though, he is a bit more moderate than his two colleagues. He takes Horace’s stance that wine can dissolve earthly cares, but he also agrees with Propertius that it is not always the case.
Tibullus was in love with a married woman named Delia. You can imagine how much suffering this situation can cause, especially for an elegy poet. Therefore, only wine and sleep can provide him with a temporary relief:

Add merum, and restrain new grief with wine,

so that victorious sleep might occupy the eyes

of a tired man.

On the other hand, wine can also help him seduce Delia, or bring sleep to her husband, leaving some lovers’ time to them. This poet’s stance on wine was very ambivalent, which usually depended on the nature of the relationship in question. When he was suffering, not even the countryside could soothe his sadness. When things were going well, however, there was nothing better than enjoying wine outside:

Let the wines celebrate the day: There is no shame

in dripping with wine on a feast day, and clumsily moving

wobbly feet

Even though we know for sure that these poets were merely conforming to the requirements of the genre, we can still learn a lot of actual wine facts from them, and take great pleasure in reading about their struggles and passions.
After all, we have all been there, haven’t we?

Saint Nicholas – the real Santa Claus?

by December 17, 2021

by Ed Whelan, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
We are all familiar with Santa Claus, at least in the western world.
The inspiration for the modern Santa was the Christian Saint Nicholas (285-342/343AD). Saint Nicholas was a famed miracle worker, known for his charity, and the patron saint of sailors, pawn brokers, children and others. The story of Saint Nicholas is essential to understand the evolution of the story of Santa, and also offers us a unique insight into Christianity in Late Antiquity.
The Life of Saint Nicholas
Saint Nicholas was probably a historical figure, and by the 6th century AD churches were dedicated in his name. We know very little about the real Saint Nicholas, and our sources concerning his life come from centuries after his death. Many of these are based on oral traditions and Christian works. It is possible that many of the stories of the Saint are based on the pagan philosopher Apollonius of Tyana.
According to the sources, Saint Nicholas was born in Patara, Lycia (modern Turkey) into a wealthy Christian family sometime in 285 AD. He was a very pious young man, and was orphaned very young. Some stories claim that much of his inheritance was stolen. Despite this, he was noted for his charity and almsgiving. In one story, he secretly gave away his money to the father of three poor girls so that they could marry. He travelled to the Holy Island, and during his voyage there he was able to miraculously calm a storm and save his ship. Because of this and other miracles, he is the patron saint of sailors.
An icon of Saint Nicholas
An icon of Saint Nicholas
His uncle was the Bishop of Myra (Demre in Turkey). The young saint went to visit his uncle, but discovered that he had died. The local Christian community then elected him their bishop, which was the custom in Late Antiquity. During Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of the Christians (303-313 AD), it is claimed that Nicholas was arrested and imprisoned. He miraculously survived, and went on to become a leader in the Christian Church during the reign of Constantine the Great. There is some evidence that Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea, and that he was a champion of Orthodoxy. In one account, he is alleged to have slapped the face of the heretical Arius.
Saint Nicholas was clearly a man of some standing. He is reputed to have stopped soldiers looting civilians in his province. A well-known legend has him saving the lives of three generals whose execution was ordered by the Emperor Constantine. These tales are indicative of the real influence and political power that Christian bishops had in the Roman Empire by the 4th Century AD. It is claimed by several authors that Saint Nicholas died on December 6th 342/343 AD. His bones were eventually brought to the Italian city of Bari, and this is why in some account he is referred to as Saint Nicholas of Bari. His relics are buried in the Basilica San Nicola. Forensic scientists have tested a bone fragment and established that it dates from the 4th century AD. Today, Saint Nicholas is still worshipped as a saint by many Christians, especially members of the Orthodox Churches. There is an island named after the Christian bishop off the southern coast of Turkey.
San Nicola Basilica, Bari, Italy
San Nicola Basilica, Bari, Italy
From Saint to Santa Claus
After his death, many stories were told about the miracles of St Nicholas. Indeed, he is often referred to as ‘Nicholas the Wonderworker’. Because of his charity and his kindness to the young, he became the patron saint of children. In one story, he brought three children back from the dead who had been murdered by a butcher who intended to sell their flesh as meat during food shortages. His cult grew, and Theodosius III ordered a Basilica to be built over his grave.
During the Middle Ages, the cult of Saint Nicholas spread all over Europe and the Near East. During the Reformation, his cult was suppressed in many lands, but continued to flourish in Catholic and Orthodox societies. In the Dutch Republic, by the 17th century Saint Nicholas was celebrated on the 6th of December. During these celebrations, children would receive gifts. The Dutch version of Saint Nicholas, affectionately known as Sinterklass was brought to America before the Revolution.
The America poet, Clement Clarke Moore, wrote a poem about Saint Nicholas, and he portrayed him as a portly and cheerful man, not at all like the pious and ascetic Christian bishop. Moore also described Nicholas as riding in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeers. This came straight out of the imagination of the poet. In the 1880s, the famous cartoonist Thomas Nast began to draw Saint Nicholas in a red suit with white fur. By the early 20th century, Saint Nicholas had morphed into Santa Claus (or Father Christmas).
Saint Nicholas inspired the stories of Santa Claus, probably because of his legendary charity and kindness to children. In reality he was a Christian saint who likely played a not insignificant role in Late Roman religion and society. The dramatic transformation from Saint to Santa demonstrates how narratives can shift.
Will YOU get a visit from Saint Nicholas this year?

Seven Sages of Ancient Greece

by November 24, 2021

by Ed Whelan, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
The seven sages of Ancient Greece were seven wise men who lived in the Archaic Period (6-7th century BC). They were thinkers, rulers and statesmen. Their wisdom was revered in the ancient world, offered practical advice, and also influenced the development of the Golden Age of the Classical World.  They were pioneers of Ancient Greek philosophy and politics, which still influences us to this day. Little is known about these figures or their thought and many appear to be semi-mythical.
Mosaïc of the Seven Sages, also featuring Socrates (top) and Calliope (center)
The origin of the Seven Sages
The idea of extremely wise men possibly originated in Ancient Mesopotamia.  The list of seven sages was drawn up by ancient writers including Herodotus, the ‘Father of History’. There was disagreement among the writers as to who should be included in the list. In total, about 23 men have been included in different versions of the list of the seven sages. The list of seven sages discussed below is the canonical list.
The Seven Wisest Men in Greece
Bias of Priene (6th century BC) Bias was a famous politician and lawyer. He renowned as an advocate and famous for his kindness and ransomed women who had been kidnapped. Despite this he believed that “Most men are bad.”  Little else is know about him.
Cleobulus of Lindos (lived 600 BC). Cleobulus was a poet who was famous for his riddles in verse and is believed to have studied in Egypt. He became the tyrant of the Rhodian city of Lindos, which he ruled for 40 years, and was the father of Cleobulina, a famous poetess. His best-known aphorism ‘moderation is the chief good’.
Solon of Athens (c 638-558 BC). Solon was an Athenian who was a great political and legal reformer. He rolled back the savage laws of Draco and attempted to ban debt slavery. After his reforms he travelled widely. Solon is often regarded as one of the founders of Athenian democracy. Among his best-known sayings are ‘nothing in excess’ and ‘count no man happy until he is dead’.
Solon of Athens by Merry Joseph-Blondel
Solon of Athens by Merry Joseph-Blondel
Chilon of Sparta  (c 500 BC). Chilon was a Spartan statesman who was instrumental in the militarization of Sparta and the development of its famous warriors. He is reputed to have died of joy when he heard that his son was victorious at the Olympics. His motto was ‘”You should not desire the impossible.”
Thales of Miletus – (c. 624 BC – c. 546 BC). Thales lived in Ionia and is one of the first known scientists and philosophers.  He is regarded as the founder of the Ionian School of philosophers.  Thales sought to explain the world using experiment and observation rather than myth.  He predicted an eclipse in 585 BC. His best know-saying was inscribed on the exterior of the Oracle of Apollo in Delphi was that  ‘surety brings disaster’.
Pittacus of Mytilene (c. 640–568 BC), was the ruler of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos. He was a famous general and once saved his city from an Athenian invasion. He was a democrat and favored the poorer classes. His saying it is ‘hard to be a good man’ was popular in the Classical World and was discussed by Plato in the Protagoras, one of his dialogues.  Another popular saying attributed to Pittacus was that, “You should know which opportunities to choose.”
Periander of Corinth (fl. 627 BC). Periander was a member of the Cypselid Dynasty and the rule of the city of Corinth. He was a capable administrator and established several colonies and under his rule, the city enjoyed a Golden Age.  In some sources he is shown to have been a cruel ruler. His most famous saying is, “Forethought in all things.”
Periander of Corinth
Periander of Corinth
Other Seven Wise Men
The following are often included in some lists of the wise men.
Myson of Chenae (6th-century BC). Myson was the son of a powerful tyrant. He seems to have withdrawn from public life and became a simple farmer. The Oracle at Delphi once called him the wisest man in Greece. Myson argued that facts should be used to settle any arguments.
Anacharsis (6th century BC) was a Scythian from what is now Ukraine. He travelled to Athens, and he dazzled the Athenians with his philosophy. Many believe that he influenced the development of the Cynic school of philosophy.  Herodotus claims that when Anacharsis returned to Scythia he was killed for his attempts to popularize Greek customs by his own brother.  
Several other eminent men were also regarded as sages by Hellenistic writers (4th century BC to 1st century BC). Among these were Lasus and Aristoxenus, about whom we know nothing.
The seven sages or wise men are often seen as transitional figures. When the myths no longer were convincing, the sages replaced figures such as Odysseus as figures who offered practical wisdom.  These sages and their sayings embodied popular Greek social norms and cultural values.  To say that the paved the way for a more empirical and rational worldview may be an exaggeration but the esteem in which they were held indicates the growing respect for reason in Ancient Greece.
Diogenes Laertius (1925). Lives of the Eminent philosophers. London: Loeb Classical Library.

Sappho: the Tenth Muse

by November 18, 2021

By Van Bryan, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Besides being born on the island of Lesbos around 630 BCE (and this date is often disputed), surprisingly little is known about the life of this beloved poet. The only reliable source of biographical information about Sappho comes from her own poetry. Additionally, much of her writing has been lost to the ages. We do know, however, that she was considered the equal of Homer and numbered among the Nine Lyric Poets of ancient Greece. She was prolific and wrote around 10,000 lines (about 2,000 less than the Odyssey), but today only about 650 lines survive.
Painting of Sappho in Pompeii
Woman with wax tablets and stylus (so-called “Sappho”)
Still, her name has survived, and her reputation as a gifted lyrical poet with it. She wrote extensively about love and passion for all peoples, and for both men and women.
These discoveries have lead to the assumption that Sappho was a lesbian. The term “lesbian” derives from the name of her homeland Lesbos, and the term “sapphic love” is derived from the poet’s own name. We may never know for sure if Sappho loved women; the love for women described in her poetry may have been entirely fictional. But given that she is believed to have written of her life in other fragments, this seems unlikely.
However, in her own time period, she was not considered gay. Quite the opposite: in classical Athenian comedy (from the Old Comedy of the fifth century, to Menander in the late fourth and early third centuries BC), Sappho was caricatured as a promiscuous heterosexual woman. It wasn’t until the Hellenistic period (about three centuries after her death), that she was described as a homosexual.
Some ancient writers assumed that there had to have been two Sapphos: one the great poet, the other a very promiscuous woman. There is an entry for each in the Suda, the large 10th-century Byzantine encyclopedia of the ancient Mediterranean world.
The truth is, we can only draw conclusions from various scraps of poetry that have been attributed to Sappho. And they really are ‘scraps’. All of the surviving works by Sappho are partially destroyed, save for Hymn for Aphrodite. More than half of the original lines survive in around ten more fragments and the rest of the extant fragments of Sappho contain only a single word. Her poems are actually categorized as fragment 1- fragment 213. These fragments have been attributed to several books that the poet is believed to have authored during her literary career.
Vase of Sappho
Alcaeus and Sappho. Side A of an Attic red-figure kalathos, ca. 470 BC. From Akragas (Sicily).
Recently, there have been major discoveries of more of Sappho’s poetry. In 2004, the Tithonus Poem and a new, previously unknown fragment was discovered, and in 2014, fragments of nine poems: five already known but with new readings, including the Brothers Poem, were found in an ancient Egyptian vase.
Even though very little of her work has survived, from what remains we can determine that Sappho was extraordinarily talented. She possessed a clarity of language and simplicity of thought that creates images that are sharply defined and beautifully constructed.
She wrote and sung in an Aeolian dialect, a type of Ancient Greek that was a pitch-accented language, a bit like Chinese is today. She used a rhythmic scheme that Sappho is said to have invented called the “Sapphic Stanza”. Each four-line stanza consists of three metrically identical lines, eleven syllables in length, followed by a shorter fourth line of five syllables.
Bust of Sappho
Hermaic pillar with a female portrait, so-called “Sappho”; inscription “Sappho Eresia” ie. Sappho from Eresos. Roman copy of a Greek Classical original.
She was admired by other poets of her time. One Greek author, writing three centuries after her death, confidently predicted that “the white columns of Sappho’s lovely song endure / and will endure, speaking out loud . . . as long as ships sail from the Nile.”
Solon, the poet, statesman and all-round wiseman, asked to be taught one of her songs “so that I may learn it and then die”
The philosopher Plato wrote of her in the Anthologia Graeca, a collection of ancient poems by esteemed writers, when he states:
“Some say the Muses are nine: how careless! Look, there’s Sappho too, from Lesbos, the tenth.”
While much of her work has been lost, we still maintain enough poetry from Sappho to appreciate her skill as a poet and her importance as an ancient writer.

Archimedes’ Awesome Inventions That Will Blow Your Mind

by November 4, 2021

We are just too inspired. Your editor and her small family are exploring the island of Sicily… and our surroundings have forced us to pen/type a few thoughts on our recent locale.
In fact, we have a pretty spectacular object in our sights… though it’s not exactly ancient… but straight out our window is one of the world’s largest megayachts… really. 
Sporting two helicopters, a whirlpool, a glass bottomed pool and a ten person submarine, the 126 meter Octopus, owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, is an impressive sight to behold. It also boasts a cinema, a juice bar and a music recording studio… and is protected by Navy Seals.
I spy with my little eye…. a super yacht!
It’s seriously money. 
Now, this ultra modern ship may seem out of place in an ancient seaside town, indeed in these pages as well. But actually, it’s quite fitting… because this isn’t the first impressive vessel to wade these waters.
In fact, this Sicilian port was once home to classical antiquity’s largest boat, one that was only 16 meters shorter than the Octopus.
Built around 240 BC, the Syracusia could hold almost 2,000 passengers and reputedly bore more than 200 soldiers. Features included a garden, an indoor bath room with hot water, a library, a gymnasium, as well as a small temple dedicated to Aphrodite.
There were eight towers on the top deck which was supported by beautifully crafted wooden Atlases. All public spaces were decorated with ivory and marble and floored with mosaics depicting the entire story of the Iliad.
Oh, and there was a catapult.
Not much is known about the outside appearance of the ship, but Athenaeus describes that the top deck, which was wider than the rest of the ship, was supported by beautifully crafted wooden Atlases instead of simply wooden columns. Additionally, the top deck featured eight towers, equipped with two archers and four fully armed men. On the bow of the ship was a raised platform for fighting, on top of which was a giant catapult. 20 rows of oars would also have been visible from the outside, and possibly a promenade lined with flowers and tents for use by the passengers.
Makes our modern equivalents look pretty puny, eh?
But amazingly enough, the man behind the Syracusia was even more impressive.
The designer of Syracuse’s magnificent ship was the city’s most famous native. A polymath and a verifiable genius, he is generally considered the leading scientist and greatest mathematician of antiquity, indeed one of the greatest of all time.
We are talking about Archimedes.
Ah… the “Eureka!” man, you may be thinking… and you would be right.
The most famous anecdote of the mathematician comes from his days in service of King Hiero II. According to Vitruvius, a votive crown for a temple had been made for the king of Syracuse, who had supplied the gold for such a purpose. However, the royal was a bit suspicious that the crown was wholly gold, thinking that the greedy goldsmith had kept some for himself and used silver to make up the weight.
Archimedes was set on the task of finding out…without damaging the crown. It was a tricky problem, as the answer lie in finding out the density, not just the weight of the piece in question.
But then Archimedes took a bath (or so the story goes), and as he sunk into the tub he noticed the water rising… ah displacement!
It was at this moment that our hero figured out that by dividing the mass of the crown by the volume of water displaced, the density of the crown could be obtained… cheaper materials (aka not gold) would have a lesser density.
Incredibly pleased with this realization, Archimedes jumped out the bath, still naked, crying, “Eureka!” (I’ve found it!)
Of course, this could be a slightly fanciful version, as the story does not actually appear in any of the known works by Archimedes.
Moreover, on a scale of wow to super Archimedes cool, the crown yarn hardly ranks on the list.
His warfare inventions, however, are truly something to talk about. In fact, our own Van Bryan has done an excellent job covering some of his stranger/more villainous inventions. (If you haven’t had a chance to read it, we highly suggest giving it a lookover here:
Other notable (less violent) contributions from the Sicilian are the odometer, the compound pulley and the Archimedes pump screw, a still popular tool for bringing water upwards (out of the bottom of the hull of a giant ship, for example).
But it was in Mathematics where Archimedes truly shone… where his insights have had the greatest impact. He anticipated modern calculus and analysis by applying concepts of infinitesimals and the method of exhaustion to derive and rigorously prove a range of geometrical theorems, including the area of a circle, the surface area and volume of a sphere, and the fun area under a parabola.
Pretty important stuff really…
Archimedes’ other mathematical achievements include deriving an accurate approximation of pi (he was really very close), defining and investigating the spiral bearing his name, and creating a system using exponentiation for expressing very large numbers. He basically made his own numbers, not being fully satisfied with those already in existence.
He was also one of the first to apply mathematics to physical phenomena, founding hydrostatics and statics, as well as an explanation of the principle of the lever.
You can’t help but be impressed by Archimedes.
In fact, even his enemies were… when Archimedes was killed at the end of the siege of Syracuse, the Roman General Marcus Claudius Marcellus, the man heading the attack, was very upset. He had requested that the great mind be spared… and when he hadn’t, the General ensured that Archimedes was properly buried. His tomb illustrated the mathematician’s favorite proof, consisting of a sphere and a cylinder of the same height and diameter.
Death of Archimedes (1815) by Thomas Degeorge
137 years after Archimedes’ death, the famous Roman Orator, Cicero, found himself dispatched to Sicily. He wanted to find the mathematicians’ tomb, but the locals were not able to tell him the location. Eventually Cicero discovered it, unkept and overgrown, near the Agrigentine gate in Syracuse. After cleaning it up, Cicero saw the carving and read some of the verses that had been added as an inscription.
Sadly, the tomb’s location has once again been lost… neglected or hidden somewhere on this island.
While Archimedes’ other contributions have not been forgotten, not all have maintained their once esteemed statuses. His beautiful ship, the Syracusia, only sailed once to Alexandria before she was outdone.
Ptolemy’s son won the prize of having the largest vessel when he ordered the construction of a huge warship, the Tessarakonteres. It was 128 meters long, and bore more than 4,000 oarsmen and 2,850 soldiers… though according to Plutarch, it was almost immobile.
Our modern counterpart, the Octopus, still moored outside our window, suffered the same fate. While it held the honor of largest megayacht in the world after its completion in 2003, it now stands in the 11th position. The Azzam, a full 54 meters longer, is now the winner…but we suspect it can move.

Horace – Poet of the Golden Age

by October 15, 2021

by Ed Whelan, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Mediocrity in poets has never been tolerated by either men, or gods, or booksellers.”
So wrote Horace, one of the most celebrated of all the Roman poets. He lived during the Golden Age of Latin literature which occurred in the last decades of the Roman Republic, and continued into the First Century A.D. Great writers such as Vergil, Tacitus, and others created masterpieces that have proven to be enormously influential. The work of Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65-8 BC), better known as Horace, offers a unique insight into Roman life and thought of the period. He also provided a vision of the world that continues to inspire readers to this day.
The life of Horace
The poet was born to a freed slave who was probably originally from the highlands of central Italy.  His father, whom Horace greatly respected, became a moderately successful businessman in Venusia. Horace’s family was affluent enough to send him to be educated in Rome. In about 46 BC the future poet travelled to Athens. After the assassination of Julius Caesar, Greece was occupied by his assassins. Horace joined the Republican army of Brutus and Cassius. While serving in the army, he became an officer, fought at the Battle of Philippi (42 BC) and commanded a legion. After the total defeat of Brutus and Cassius, however, Horace fled back to Italy.
He returned to discover that his father’s property had been confiscated by Octavian (later, better known as the first Roman Empoeror, Augustus).  Horace was later pardoned for serving in the army of the assassins of Julius Caesar, and he became a clerk in the Roman treasury. During his time in Rome, he circulated some of his poems and they came to the attention of Gaius Maecenas, one of the most powerful men in Rome.  He became Horace’s patron, and the poet joined a circle of writers, which included Vergil. At some date Maecenas introduced him to Octavian. It appears that Horace supported the Principate, like so many other members of the elite, to prevent Rome descending into another Civil War.  Some have criticized Horace for becoming associated with a tyrant like Augustus.  It does seem that Horace did benefit from his relationship with the first Roman Emperor, but based on his verse he still retained some of his old Republican sympathies.
It appears from his poetry that he accompanied Maecenas on a journey to the south of Italy and may have even been present at the Battle of Actium. Horace became a good friend of Augustus who offered him a role in his government, but the poet refused and preferred the simple life. He was later made a Knight. He died not long after his patron Maecenas.
The work of Horace
His finest early poetry of Horace were the Epodes that were modelled on Hellenistic verse and were written after the Battle of Philippi. These poems are concerned with satire, love and occasionally politics. During his first years in Rome, Horace wrote the Satires. These are often humorous, but they were also profoundly philosophical. Horace was an Epicurean who wanted a life of peace (ataraxia) and he believed that the best way to achieve this was by self-sufficiency and to enjoy a simple life of pleasure. The Satires are an attempt to show how men could live in accordance with traditional values in the new age ushered in by Augustus.
After the Battle of Actium (31 BC), Horace wrote another book of satires. His most important works are considered to be his Odes. Some of these verse praise Augustus, but also denounce what the poet saw as the corruption in Roman life. These Odes, which were modelled on Classical Greek examples, also portray elite life in Rome and argue for a simple life dedicated to small pleasures.  These poems were not well received by his critics. Next Horace wrote his Epistles, letters in verse. His most important epistle was the Ars poetica (19 or 18 BC). This is often mistakenly regarded as a piece of literary criticism. In fact, it provides insights into the nature of poetry. In this work Horace argues that the poet, or indeed any artist, should hone his or her natural ability by long years of study. Horace’s health declined as he grew older and one of his last know works was a long poetic work Secular Hymn. He also completed some more odes despite their relative unpopularity before his death.
16th century copy of Horace’s work
16th century copy of Horace’s work
Influence of Horace
The poetry of Horace was enormously influential. The work of Ovid and the Roman elegist Propertius were deeply influenced by his Odes. Despite his Epicurean views, the poet was very popular in the Medieval era, and was possibly the most influential Latin writer for many centuries. Horace’s work was widely read in the Renaissance and deeply impressed Petrarch. Many prose writers frequently quoted Horace, and his Odes and Epistles were widely translated. Generations of schoolboys grew up with the works of Horace. Many scholars argue that Horace’s ideas on a refined, yet simple life played a key role in the development of the concept of a ‘gentleman’. This was an enormously important social concept until the 20th century in the western world.
Horace was a Republican who used his poetic gifts to flourish in the Principate. He was one of the greatest of all Latin poets. He promoted a view of the world that has proven to be enormously popular. Horace’s works decisively shaped western poetry for over a millennium, but in recent decades because of changing tastes his appeal has declined. Nevertheless, one phrase of his remains eternally popular: carpe diem – seize the day.
Hornblower, S., Spawforth, A. and Eidinow, E. eds., 2012. The Oxford classical dictionary. Oxford University Press.
Commager, S., 1995. The odes of Horace: A critical study. University of Oklahoma Press.