Obrázky na stránke

world, and, weary of their own furious contentions, now began to slumber in the proud consciousness of universal empire. In him as in an individual example appears the change which took place in the fortunes, position, sentiments, occupations, estimation, character, mode of living, when the Roman, from the citizen of a free and turbulent republic, became the subject of a peaceful monarchy, disguised indeed, but not, therefore, the less arbitrary: while his acquaintance, and even his intimate friends, extending through almost every gradation of society, show the same influences, as they affect persons of different characters, talents, or station. Horace is exactly in that happy intermediate rank which connects both extremes. His poems are inscribed to Agrippa or Mæcenas, even to the Emperor himself, to his humbler private friend, or to his bailiff. He unites, in the same way, the literary with the social life; he shows the station assumed by or granted to mere men of letters, when the orator in the senate or in the forum ceded his place to the agreeable writer; the man who excited or composed at his will the strong passions of the Roman people, had lost his occupation and his power, which devolved, as far as the literary part of his fame, upon the popular author. The mingling intellectual elements blend together, even in more singular union, in the mind of the Poet. Grecian education and tastes have not polished off the old Roman independence; the imitator of Greek forms of verse writes the purest vernacular Latin; the Epicurean philosophy has not

subdued his masculine shrewdness and good sense to dreaming indolence. In the Roman part of his character he blends some reminiscences of the sturdy virtue of the Sabine or Apulian mountaineers, with the refined manners of the city. All the great men of his day are the familiars of the poet; not in their hours of state alone, but in the ease of social intercourse we become acquainted with their ordinary manners and habits; and are admitted to the privacy. of Mæcenas, of Augustus himself, of Virgil, and of Varius. Thus the Horatian poetry is more than historical, it is the living age itself in all its varied reality. Without the biography of the poet, even without that of some of his contemporaries, the poetry of Horace cannot be truly appreciated, it can hardly be understood; and by the magic of his poetry, the reader is at once placed in the midst of Roman society in the Augustan age.

Quintus Horatius Flaccus was born on the 8th of December, in the year u. c. 689, B. c. 65, during the consulship of L. Cotta and L. Manlius Torquatus. His father (such was the received and natural theory) owed his freedom to one of the illustrious family of the Horatii, whose name, according to general usage, he was permitted to assume. Recent writers, however, have shown from inscriptions, (') that Venusia, the town in the territory of which Horace was born, belonged to the Horatian tribe in Rome; and that the

(1) G. F. Grotefend in "Ersch und Gruber's Encyclopædie," Horatius; and C. L. Grotefend in the "Darmstadt Lit. Journal." Franke, Fasti Horatiani, note 1.

[ocr errors]

poet's works to any connection of this kind. At all events, the freed-man has thrown a brighter and more lasting lustre around that celebrated name, than all the virtues and exploits of the older patriots who bore it. We know no reason for his having the prænomen Quintus, nor the agnomen, by which he was familiarly known, Flaccus. The latter name was by no means uncommon; it is found in the Calpurnian, the Cornelian, the Pomponian, and the Valerian families. Horace was of ingenuous birth, which implies that he was born after his father had received his manumission. The silence of the poet about his mother, leads to the supposition that she died in his early youth.

The father of Horace exercised the function of collector of payments at auctions. (3) The collector was a public servant. This comparatively humble office was probably paid according to the number of sales, and the value of the property brought to market; and in those days of confiscation, and of rapid and frequent changes of property, through the inordinate ambition or luxury of some, the forfeitures or ruin of opulent landholders, and the extinction of noble families in the civil wars, the amount and value of the property brought to sale (sub hasta) was likely to enable a prudent public officer to make a decent fortune. This seems to have been the case with the elder Horace, who invested his acquisitions in a house

(3) Coactor exauctionum, Suet. in vit. Another reading, exactionum, would make him a collector of the indirect taxes, farmed by the publicans: the Roman municipalities in Italy being exempt from all direct taxation.

[ocr errors]

and farm in the district of Venusia, on the banks of the river Aufidus, close upon the doubtful boundaries of Lucania and Apulia. There he settled down into a respectable small farmer. In this house the poet was born, and passed his infant years. The romantic adventure of his childhood is told with his peculiar grace. One incident cannot but remind the English reader of our own old ballad of the Children in the Wood, "and Robin Redbreast piously did cover them with leaves."-Carm. III. iv. 9-20.

"Me, vagrant infant, on Mount Vultur's side,
Beyond my childhood's nurse, Apulia's, bounds,
By play fatigued and sleep,

Did the poetic doves

With young leaves cover. Spread the wondrous tale
Where Acherontia's sons hang their tall nests,
Through Bante's groves, the low
And rich Ferentine plain.

From the black viper safe, and prowling bear,
Sweet slept I, strewn with sacred laurel leaves,
And myrtle twigs-bold child,

Not of the gods unwatched."

The names and situation of the towns in this romantic district (the Basilicata) still answer to the description of the poet, the high-hung chalets of Acerenza, the vast thickets of Banzi, and the picturesque peaks of Mount Voltore. There are no monuments to mark the site of Bante; bones, helmets, pieces of armour, and a few bad vases, have been picked up near Acerenza.(') The poet cherished

(*) Keppel Craven's Tour in the Abruzzi. Lombardi, sopra la Basilicata, in Memorie dell' Instituto Archæologico.

« PredošláPokračovať »