Among the greatest names in Roman—and European—poetry has always been that of Horace. Through all the centuries since his death in 8 B.C., his superb poetic craftsmanship has remained unassailable. Yet the full range and depth of his humanity continue to prove curiously elusive, especially for the nonspecialist reader to whom above all this book is directed. In the days when Latin was generally read, Horace was too often seen as the poet of establishments, whether the establishment involved was the imperial Roman court, the aristocracy of Augustan England, or the nineteenth-century educational system, and something of that reputation has lingered on even into our own day. To see him thus is the entire aim of David Armstrong’s new study. From it emerges not just the illustrious master (“famous, calm, and dead”) in the arts of lyric and satiric poetry, but the freedman’s son who struggled through the terrible upheavals of the collapsing Roman Republic to become, by sheer force of genius, a member of the brilliant circle surrounding the Emperor Augustus. To the very end of that adventurous career on the fringes of power, Horace retained an extraordinary candor, independence, and common sense. It is as the ultimate critic and connoisseur, not merely of literature but also of love and life itself, that he surveys the Augustan scene: the tragicomedy of bisexual politics in the demi-monde, the pretentious fashions of middle-class dinner parties, the pomposity of jurists and philosophers, the idiocies of the literati, and not least the grandeur and terror of a novel political entity—an empire almost coextensive with the known world. The poetry thus restored to life proves to be a poetry for all thinking and feeling people.
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