HORATIUS FLACCUS, known in English as Horace, was born at Venusia,
near the border of Apulia, in 65 B.C. His father, a former slave
who had freed himself before the birth of his son, sent him to
school in Rome. As a young man Horace went to Athens and studied
philosophy at the famous schools. When the Civil War broke out
he enlisted in the army of Brutus, served at Philippi, and came
back to Rome not long after. Deprived of his property as a result
of the proscriptions, he began life anew at the age of twenty-four
as a clerk in a public office. Not long after, he attracted the
attention of Mæcenas, and soon became acquainted with Varius
and Virgil, henceforth devoting himself to literary pursuits.
HIs first work, the first book of Satires, was published
in 35 B.C. About a year later, Mæcenas presented him with
the celebrated Sabine Farm, and Horace was at liberty to the
end of his life to do as he liked. Before he died he was famous:
the Emperor Augustus commissioned him to write the fourth book
of Odes. He died eight years before the birth of Christ.
The Epistle to the Pisos, or Art
of Poetry, has been assigned by various authorities to the
period between 24 and 7 B.C. Professor Nettleship (in his Lectures
and Essays) believes it to have been written between 24 and
20 B.C. Its interest and value are considerably enhanced in view
of the fact that it is, in Professor Saintsbury's words, "the
only complete example of literary criticism that we have from
any Roman." It is significant that the greater part of its
subject-matter is concerned with the drama. While it has been
clearly substantiated that Horace drew upon a non-extant treatise
by Neoptolemus of Parium, an Alexandrian critic of uncertain
date, the fact that Horace made use of and molded the ideas of
his predecessor is important. The Art of Poetry is on
the whole a somewhat arbitrary manual; the greatest importance
is there attached to the purely formal side of writing; the dramatist
must adhere closely to the five acts, the chorus, and son on;
proportion, good sense, decorum, cannot be neglected. Of the
practical value of the work before the Renaissance, it is impossible
to know; of its influence since that time, it can only be said
that it was as widespread as that of Aristotle.
Horace's doctrine of "pleasure and profit" was to be
repeated innumerable times, and is still a criterion of criticism.
Mr. Spingarn's statement that "critical activity in nearly
all the countries of western Europe seems to have been ushered
in by the translation of Horace's Ars Poetica into the
vernacular tongues" is but another proof of the popularity
of the work.
This article was originally
published in European Theories of the Drama. Barrett H.
Clark. Cincinnati: Stewart & Kidd Company, 1918..
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