« PreviousContinue »
LIFE OF HORACE.
In tracing the biography of Horace through the casual allusions of his own sportive genius, it is remarkable how exactly the poet seems to be at once the creation and the expression of the age in which he lived. The simplicity of ancient manners had been gradually corrupted by the introduction of Grecian novelties and Asiatic luxuriousness, and a period, perhaps heretofore unexampled for political profligacy and for ferocity in civil strife, had given place, by a revolution comparatively peaceful, to the undisputed supremacy of Cæsar Octavianus. It was still a fashion to talk of Sabine virtues ; but after the civil wars even the military qualities of the Roman character speedily degenerated ; whilst the doctrines of the Greek philosophers of the later schools soon completed that laxity of domestic principle which had commenced in social disorder. The tone of society resembled that which prevailed at the Restoration, or that of the higher ranks in France during the wars of the Fronde in the minority of Louis XIV; vices the more dangerous, because partially concealed under a veil of refinement; scepticism in religion, because in politics it was not safe to doubt. We shall therefore judge Horace harshly if we do not measure his character by his times. Though “ parcus deorum cultor,” he is not ashamed to offer a hymn of gratitude ; the inconstant lover and pliant courtier is an affectionate son and a faithful friend. He sports, doubtless, with vice and profligacy, weaves chaplets with the Epicurean, and even enters into the grosser indecencies of the day with little less reluctance than his fellows; but still precepts of high morality attest the better feeling of the poet of Venusia, and lead us to think that in a purer age his works would have been less censurable on these serious grounds. There are many instances of levity of expression, mary indications of a false system of morals, which a Christian teacher cannot but deplore ; but while we absolutely suppress such as are directly offensive, and seek to neutralise by suitable reflections those in which the evil lurks more covertly, we may rejoice to point to many noble passages in which upright and kindly and generous sentiments are most gracefully and forcibly expressed. Rightly studied, Horace teaches while he jests, as Persius has described his fascinating power :
“ Omne vafer vitium ridenti Flaccus amico
Sat. i. 116. If the instruction be on many points erroneous, it is hoped that a due reference to higher principles of action, and to an unerring standard of truth, will prove to the youthful student a sufficient preservative from harm.
B, C. 65.
Quintus HORATIUS Flaccus, son of a freedman by legal servitude (Libertinus ') of the great Horatian family, was born on the 8th of December?, in the consulship of L. Aurelius Cotta and L. Manlius Torquatus. Cicero had been prætor the year previous, when, by the Manlian Law, the conduct of the Mithridatic war was committed to Pompey; and Virgil was no more than five years old. His birthplace was Venusia, (now Venosa,) a border town of Lucania and Apulia“, on the great. Appian Way leading to Tarentum, and about fifteen miles south of the river Aufidus." His father possessed a small farm near his birthplace® ; and had, in early life, been a coactor, or collector of the monies from purchasers at public sales.” As no mention is made of his mother, or of any brother or sister, it has been conjectured that he was an only child, and that his mother died in his infancy. Of his earlier years we have few reminiscences, except the poetic presage of his preservation on
M. Vulture, the serio.comic warning against idle chatterers", 63. and the honest wisdom of the rude Ofellus. 10 In the mean
time, the conspiracy of Catiline had opened the way, by the
disruption of parties, to the formation of the first triumvirate in 60. the consulship of L. Afranius and Q. Cæcilius Metellus Celer."
J. Cæsar, now in Gaul, made his first expedition into Britain in 54. the year B. c. 55, and a second in the summer of the subse53. quent year... About this time the elder Horace, desirous to
give his child a better education than Venusia could supply, removed to Rome, and there sent the future poet, with a proper attendance, to the schools
of the grammarians, and more especially to that of Orbilius Pupillus, late of Beneventum"3, whose flogging propensities were long recollected. Orbilius appears to have cultivated his pupil's taste for Greek and Latin poetry", and to have recommended to him especially the works of
1 1. Sat. vi. 45.
1. Epist. xx. 20. '1. Epist. xx. 27. 3 M. Carm. xxi. l.
Epode xiii. 6. 4 II. Sat. i. 34. : 111. Carm. iv. 9.
1. Sat. v. 77.
5 iv, Carm. ix. 2.
III. Carm. xxx. 10.
II. Epist. ii 50.
10 11. Sat. ii. 112.
Homer and of Livius. But the discipline of his heart and moral feelings was the anxious study of a judicious parent, whose care and precepts he gratefully acknowledges in the 4th and 6th Satires of the First Book. In this year Rome was astounded by the intelligence of the defeat and death of Crassus.? This loss increased the rivalry between Cæsar and Pompey ; and in B. C. 49, the former crossed the Rubicon, and in the subsequent year gained the battle of Pharsalia. About this time Horace must have assumed the toga virilis. At the 48. age of eighteen, or a little later, he was sent to Athens, as to a university, for the completion of his education. Here 47. he studied natural and moral philosophy, (perhaps in conjunc- . tion with Marcus, the son of Cicero, who then attended the lectures of Cratippus“,) and here the future Roman lyrist essayed to write Greek verses. We learn, incidentally, that he travelled in Northern and Southern Greece®; and that, after a few years' residence, he exchanged his studies with regret for the turmoil of the civil wars. The death of J. Cæsar, and 44. the preparations of Antony, brought Brutus to Athens on his way to his province of Macedonia ; and on the news of the formation of the second triumvirate, he levied troops as imperator 43. for himself. He was joined by Horace, who received the rank of a tribunus militum®, and by M. Cicero, who was made legatus. Brutus and Cassius ravaged Lycia and Rhodes in the winter of this year, and Horace was probably with them there and at Sardis.' He shared also in the defeat at Philippi “0, in the consulship of L. Munatius Plancus and M. Æmilius Lepidus" ; and he frankly acknowledges, in an ode addressed to a fellowsoldier', that he had there shown that better part of valour called discretion, by running away from the field of battle. He might have pleaded the precedent of his brother poets Archilochus and Alcæus, both of whom left their shields behind them. The forbearance of the conqueror soon allowed him to return to Italy; but on his voyage, (for to this period we may with probability refer the circumstance,) he narrowly escaped shipwreck off the coast of Sicily.13 Finding on his return that 42. his father was dead, as the patrimonial farm had been either sold or confiscated, he was happily led, by the exigency of his situ. 41. ation, to enlist himself in the service of the Muses. 14 Virgil was brought to Rome about the same period by the sequestration of his farm15 ; and the intimacy of the two poets with one another, and with Varius, probably commenced at this time. 16 According to the Life by Suetonius, he now purchased a clerk's place in the treasury, (scriptum quæstorium”,) either with the
11. Epist. ii. 1, &c.
11. Epist. ii. 41.
11. Epist. i 69. m. Carm. v. 9.
III. Carm. vi. 9.
6 1. Carm, vii. 10.
1. Carm. vii. I, &c.
12 11. Carm. vii. 9.
and xxvii. 18. 14 11. Epist. ii. 50_54. 15 Virg. Eclog. i. 16 1. Sat. v. 40. 17 11. Sat. vi. 36.