Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Venusia, December 8, 65 BC – Rome, November 27, 8 BC), known in the English-speaking world as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus.
Born in the small town of Venusia in the border region between Apulia and Lucania (Basilicata), Horace was the son of a freed slave, who owned a small farm in Venusia, and later moved to Rome to work as a coactor (a middleman between buyers and sellers at auctions, receiving 1% of the purchase price from each for his services). The elder Horace was able to spend considerable money on his son's education, accompanying him first to Rome for his primary education, and then sending him to Athens to study Greek and philosophy. The poet later expressed his gratitude in a tribute to his father:
If my character is flawed by a few minor faults, but is otherwise decent and moral, if you can point out only a few scattered blemishes on an otherwise immaculate surface, if no one can accuse me of greed, or of prurience, or of profligacy, if I live a virtuous life, free of defilement (pardon, for a moment, my self-praise), and if I am to my friends a good friend, my father deserves all the credit... As it is now, he deserves from me unstinting gratitude and praise. I could never be ashamed of such a father, nor do I feel any need, as many people do, to apologize for being a freedman's son. Satires 1.6.65–92
After the assassination of Julius Caesar, Horace joined the army, serving under the generalship of Brutus. He fought as a staff officer (tribunus militum) in the Battle of Philippi. Alluding to famous literary models, he later claimed that he saved himself by throwing away his shield and fleeing. When an amnesty was declared for those who had fought against the victorious Octavian (later Augustus), Horace returned to Italy, only to find his estate confiscated; his father likely having died by then. Horace claims that he was reduced to poverty. Nevertheless, he had the means to gain a profitable lifetime appointment as a scriba quaestorius, an official of the Treasury, which allowed him to practice his poetic art.
Horace was a member of a literary circle that included Virgil and Lucius Varius Rufus, who introduced him to Maecenas, friend and confidant of Augustus. Maecenas became his patron and close friend and presented Horace with an estate near Tibur in the Sabine Hills (contemporary Tivoli). Horace died in Rome a few months after the death of Maecenas at age 57. Upon his death bed, having no heirs, Horace relinquished his farm to his friend, the emperor Augustus, for imperial needs and it stands today as a spot of pilgrimage for his admirers.
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