Search more than 3,000 biographies of contemporary and classic poets.


Roman lyric poet, satirist, and critic Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus) was born in Apulia, Italy, in 65 B.C. His father, an Italian Freedman, sent Horace to the finest school in Rome—the grammaticus Orbilius. He then studied literature and philosophy in Athens. In 44 B.C., he became a staff officer in Brutus' army. He fought in the battle of Philippi in 42 B.C., where Marc Antony and Octavian (later Augustus) defeated the forces of Brutus. Horace claimed to have fled from the battle, leaving his shield behind. As a result of the defeat, his military career was over and he lost his family's estate.

Augustus offered amnesty to the defeated soldiers, and Horace moved to Rome where he worked as a clerk in the Treasury. It is unclear whether he wrote poems before this time, but he turned now to writing with the hope of receiving recognition and patronage. He became friends first with the poets Virgil and Varius, and in around 38 B.C. with Maecenas, who was an advisor to Augustus. Horace first published his Satires in two books in 35 B.C. Maecenas gave Horace a farm in the Sabine country, near Tivoli, which allowed Horace a modest income and the leisure to write. He enjoyed life on the farm; Suetonius reports that he often lay in bed until 10 a.m.

In 29 B.C. he published the Epodes, in 23 B.C. the first three book of Odes, and in 20 B.C. his first book of Epistles. Augustus asked Horace in 17 B.C. to write a ceremonial poem celebrating his reign to be read at the Saecular Games. In 14 B.C. he published he second book of Epistles, which he followed a year later with his fourth book of Odes. In the final years of his life, he wrote his Ars poetica. He died in 8 B.C.

Horace is best known today for his Odes, which often celebrate common events such as proposing a drink or wishing a friend a safe journey. Although he wrote in many different meters and of different themes, the odes often express ordinary thoughts and sentiments with a deceptive finality and simplicity. Alexander Pope wrote of them saying, "what oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed." His Ars poetica, which was written in the form of a letter to the Pisones, has also had a profound influence on later poetry and criticism. In it, Horace advises poets to read widely, to strive for precision, and to find the best criticism available. Along with Virgil, Horace is the most celebrated of the Augustan poets. His work would deeply influence later writers including Ben Jonson, Alexander Pope, W.H. Auden, Robert Frost, and many others.

By This Poet


Book 1, Ode 5, [To Pyrrha]

What slender youth bedewed with liquid odours
Courts thee on roses in some pleasant cave,
   Pyrrha? For whom bind'st thou
   In wreaths thy golden hair,
Plain in thy neatness? O how oft shall he
On faith and changèd gods complain: and seas
   Rough with black winds and storms
   Unwonted shall admire:
Who now enjoys thee credulous, all gold,
Who always vacant always amiable
   Hopes thee; of flattering gales
   Unmindful? Hapless they
To whom thou untried seem'st fair. Me in my vowed
Picture the sacred wall declares t' have hung
   My dank and dropping weeds
   To the stern god of the sea.

Book 4, Ode 1, [To Venus]

"Intermissa, Venus, diu."

Venus, again thou mov'st a war
     Long intermitted, pray thee, pray thee spare! 
I am not such, as in the reign
     Of the good Cynara I was; refrain 
Sour mother of sweet Loves, forbear
     To bend a man, now at his fiftieth year 
Too stubborn for commands so slack:
     Go where youth's soft entreaties call thee back. 
More timely hie thee to the house
      (With thy bright swans) of Paulus Maximus: 
There jest and feast, make him thine host
     If a fit liver thou dost seek to toast. 
For he's both noble, lovely, young,
     And for the troubled client fills his tongue: 
Child of a hundred arts, and far
     Will he display the ensigns of thy war. 
And when he, smiling, finds his grace
     With thee 'bove all his rivals' gifts take place, 
He'll thee a marble statue make,
     Beneath a sweet-wood roof, near Alba lake; 
There shall thy dainty nostril take
     In many a gum, and for thy soft ear's sake 
Shall verse be set to harp and lute,
     And Phrygian hau'boy, not without the flute. 
There twice a day in sacred lays,
     The youths and tender maids shall sing thy praise! 
And in the Salian manner meet
     Thrice 'bout thy altar, with their ivory feet. 
Me now, nor girl, nor wanton boy
     Delights, nor credulous hope of mutual joy; 
Nor care I now healths to propound
     Or with fresh flowers to girt my temples round. 
But why, oh why, my Ligurine,
     Flow my thin tears down these pale cheeks of mine? 
Or why my well-graced words among,
     With an uncomely silence, fails my tongue? 
Hard-hearted, I dream every night
     I hold thee fast! but fled hence with the light, 
Whether in Mars his field thou be,
     Or Tiber's winding streams, I follow thee.