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This webpage reproduces a work of
C. Suetonius Tranquillus

published in the Loeb Classical Library,

The text is in the public domain.

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 p485  Suetonius
The Life of Horace

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Quintus Horatius Flaccus of Venusia had for a father, as he himself writes, a freedman who was a collector of money at auctions; but it is believed that he was a dealer in salted provisions, for a certain man in a quarrel thus taunted Horace: "How often have I seen your father wiping his nose with his arm!" Horace served as tribune of the soldiers in the war of Philippi, at the instance of Marcus Brutus, one of the leaders in that war. When his party was vanquished, he was pardoned and purchased the position of quaestor's clerk. Then contriving to win the favour, first of Maecenas and later of Augustus, he held a prominent place among the friends of both. How fond Maecenas was of him is evident enough from the well known epigram:

"If that I do not love you, my own Horace, more than life itself, behold your comrade leaner than Ninnius."1

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] But he expressed himself much more strongly in his last will and testament in this brief remark to Augustus: "Be as mindful of Horatius Flaccus as of myself." Augustus offered him the post of secretary, as appears in this letter of his to Maecenas: "Before this I was able to write my  p487 letters to my friends with my own hand; now overwhelmed with work and in poor health, I desire to take our friend Horace from you. He will come then from that parasitic table of yours to my imperial board, and help me write my letters."2 Even when Horace declined, Augustus showed no resentment at all, and did not cease his efforts to gain his friendship. We have letters from which I append a few extracts by way of proof: "Enjoy any privilege at my house, as if you were making your home there; for it will be quite right and proper for you to do so, inasmuch as that was the relation which I wished to have with you, if your health had permitted." And again, "How mindful I am of you our friend Septimius can also tell you; for it chanced that I spoke of you in his presence. Even if you were so proud as to scorn my friendship, I do not therefore return your disdain." Besides this, among other pleasantries, he often call him "a most immaculate libertine"3 and "his charming little man," and he made him well to do by more than one act of generosity. As to his writings, Augustus rated them so high, and was so convinced that they would be immortal, that he not only appointed him to write the Secular Hymn, but also bade him celebrate the victory of his stepsons Tiberius and Drusus over the Vindelici, and so compelled him to add a fourth to his three books of lyrics after a long silence. Furthermore, after reading several of his "Talks,"4 the Emperor thus expressed his pique that no mention was made of him: "You must know that I am  p489 not pleased with you, that in your numerous writings of this kind you do not talk with me, rather than with others. Are you afraid that your reputation with posterity will suffer because it appears that you were my friend?" In this way he forced from Horace the selection which begins with these words:

"Seeing that single-handed thou dost bear the burden of tasks so many and so great, protecting Italy's realm with arms, providing it with morals, reforming it by laws, I should sin against the public weal, Caesar, if I wasted thy time with long discourse."5

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] In person he was short and fat, as he is described with his own pen in his satires6 and by Augustus in the following letter: "Onysius has brought me your little volume, and I accept it, small as it is, in good part, as an apology. But you seem to me to be afraid that your books may be bigger than you are yourself; but it is only stature that you lack, not girth. So you may write on a pint pot, that the circumference of your volume may be well rounded out, like that of your own belly."

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] It is said that he was immoderately lustful; for it is reported that in a room lined with mirrors he had harlots so arranged that whichever way he looked, he saw a reflection of venery. He lived for the most part in the country on his Sabine or Tiburtine estate, and his house is pointed out near the little grove of Tiburnus. I possess some elegies attributed to his pen and a letter in prose, supposed to be a recommendation of himself to Maecenas, but I think that both are spurious; for the elegies are commonplace and the letter is besides obscure, which was by no means one of his faults.

 p491  [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] He was born on the sixth day before the Ides of December in the consulate of Lucius Cotta and Lucius Torquatus, and died on the fifth day before the Kalends of the same month in the consulship of Gaius Marcius Censorinus and Gaius Asinius Gallus, fifty-nine days after the death of Maecenas, in his fifty-seventh year. He named Augustus as his heir by word of mouth, since he could not make and sign a will because of the sudden violence of his ailment. He was buried and laid to rest near the tomb of Maecenas on the farther part of the Esquiline hill.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Ninnius is unknown, but if the reading be correct, he was notorious for his leanness; cf. Telegenius, Claud. xl.3.

2 It seems probable that there is a word-play on the double sense of rex, "king" and "wealthy patron," since Augustus would hardly use regiam literally of his table. The meaning would then be "let the parasite change tables (and patrons)."

3 See Th. Birt, Müller's Handbuch, 13.3.166.

4 Sermones was apparently the title which Horace gave his "Satires"; the term saturae is broader and covers the Epistles as well; see p488 and note 6.º

5 Epist. 2.1.1 ff.

6 Epist. 1.4.15; 1.20.24; see note on p487.

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Page updated: 16 Jul 08