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Horace (December 8, 65 BC – November 27, 8 BC)

In his highly accomplished and influential poetry, Horace reflects the easy bisexuality of the Roman upper class in the first century B.C.E. (Picture: Horace, as imagined by Anton von Werner)

Quintus Horatius Flaccus, or Horace, as he is usually known among English speakers, was the son of a freed slave of Venusia in southeastern Italy. His father was sufficiently successful in business, and sufficiently ambitious for his son, to afford him a literary education. Accomplishment in literature could give access to a career in the Roman civil service or, in the case of a budding poet, to the networks of aristocratic patronage.

In addition, at about the age of twenty, Horace was sent to Athens to study philosophy. Such training was common for the sons of established and upwardly mobile families. He would have been exposed at least to the lineaments of several philosophical traditions, and his later writings suggest that he achieved some depth, as well as breadth, in his philosophical studies.

During his years in Athens, Horace also began to establish "friendships": relationships with young Roman aristocrats that were not only social but also political and professional.

With the outbreak of civil war, triggered by the conflicts between Octavian, Mark Anthony, and their supporters on the one hand, and Brutus, Cassius, and their supporters on the other, Horace's student career abruptly ended.

Brutus was received with great enthusiasm by the Romans in Athens, many of whom favored the established order that he represented. Horace undertook an appointment as a junior officer (tribunus militum) in Brutus' army, a rather exalted position for a freedman's son. However, Horace's military career, which was spent chiefly in plundering the eastern provinces to finance the war, was cut short by the defeat of Brutus and Cassius at Phillipi, Macedonia, in 42 B.C.E., a battle in which Horace took part.

On his return to Italy, Horace found that his estates in Venusia had been confiscated for distribution to Octavian's veterans. He had enough money, however, to purchase a lucrative position as a civil servant (scriba quaestorius) in the Roman government.

Although eligible by age thirty to stand for public office, he declined to do so. Playing political hardball was uncongenial, and he decided that he was satisfied with a middling social rank.

He did, however, enter enthusiastically on the social life of Rome. His observations of the follies, pretensions, and social aspirations, not only of his fellow citizens, but also of himself, form the basis for his earliest published work, two volumes of Satires, which appeared in 35 and 30 B.C.E.

These paint an unforgettable picture of Roman society as Horace knew it during his twenties and early thirties, reflecting both high and low life, elegance and vulgarity, and showing the poet in an environment of dinner parties, social climbing, literary study, warm friendships, and apparently uncomplicated erotic adventures.

Two of the most important relationships of Horace's life were established by the time he produced his Satires.

One was with the poet Virgil, for whom he appears to have entertained feelings of sincere tenderness: He refers to him as "one half of my soul" (Odes 1.3).

The other was with Maecenas, five or ten years older than Horace, a fabulously wealthy aristocrat of Etruscan origin who flouted the self-consciously earnest morality of respectable Roman society. Although an intimate member of Octavian's inner circle of power, Maecenas refused to enter the Senate or behave like a typical Roman statesman.

He wore jewelry, loose, flowing garments and liked to conduct business déshabillé. He had numerous love affairs with persons of both sexes, maintained a stormy relationship with his beautiful wife, and ignored criticism.

Maecenas took Horace under his protection and gave him a farm near Tibur, some miles east of Rome. This "Sabine" farm, celebrated in several passages in his works, was the source of great happiness to the poet.

Seutonius (De Vita Horatii) reports that Maecenas claimed to love Horace "more than my own bowels" and asked Augustus to remember the poet "as being dear to me" (Horati Flacci ut mei esto memor).

Horace's greatest poetic achievement is normally identified with his four books of Odes (Carmina), the first three of which were published in 23 B.C.E., the fourth about eight years later. His program in the Odes, from a metrical point of view, was to apply the rhythms of the Greek lyric poets, especially of Sappho and Alcaeus, to Latin poetry, a project that, he claims, he was the first poet to undertake.

Horace lived and died a bachelor. He was short and fat and complained of premature baldness. After his death on November 27, 8 B.C.E., he was buried beside the tomb of Maecenas.

Horace often appears indifferent to the sex of a love partner, whether his own or a friend's. He refers to his own "thousand passions for girls, thousand passions for boys" (Sat. 2.3.325).

It is debatable to what extent, if any, Horace conceives of same-sex friendship in homoerotic terms. Friendship was a central theme in Epicurean philosophy but was not understood as amatory. Nevertheless, the ardent tone in which the bond between friends is described by Horace and other ancient writers, tends to convey to modern Western readers a romantic impression that may be illusory.

Virgil is described as "one half of my soul"(Odes 1.3). Maecenas is "beloved" (dilecte, Odes 2.20). He is "part" of Horace's "soul"(Odes 2.17), and Horace forecasts that he cannot long survive Maecenas' death. (His projection proved true: the poet died only a few months after his patron.) He visualizes friends as placing one another before all other relations and sticking together through thick and thin (Odes 2.6 and 2.17).

Citation Information
Author: Walton, Brad
Entry Title: Horace
General Editor: Claude J. Summers
Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture
Publication Date: 2002
Date Last Updated October 10, 2007
Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/horace.html
Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL 60607
Today's Date November 27, 2012
Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.
Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates

Further Readings:

The Complete Odes and Epodes (Oxford World's Classics) by Horace
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (December 15, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0199555273
ISBN-13: 978-0199555277
Amazon: The Complete Odes and Epodes

Horace (65-8 B.C.) is one of the most important and brilliant poets of the Augustan Age of Latin literature whose influence on European literature is unparalleled. Steeped in allusion to contemporary affairs, Horace's verse is best read in terms of his changing relationship to the public sphere. While the Odes are subtle and allusive, the Epodes are robust and coarse in their celebrations of sex and tirades against political leaders. This edition also includes the Secular Hymn and Suetonius's "Life of Horace."


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Tags: author: horace, gay classics, literary heritage
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