To accompany Steven Willett’s translations of selected Odes


  • AP = Ars Poetica (“Art of Poetry”)
  • C = Carmina (Odes, in four books)
  • CS = Carmen Saeculare (“Song of the Ages”)
  • E = Epistles (in two books)
  • I = Iambi (Epodes)
  • S = Satires (in two books)
  • Vita = A brief biography by the Roman historian Suetonius (2nd century CE). David Mulroy (below) has a complete translation.


65 Quintus Horatius Flaccus was born 8 December 65BC in Venusia, a Roman military colony in southeastern Italy on the border between Apulia and Lucania (Vita). His full name is attested in his poetry and an inscription on the “Carmen Saeculare,” a poem commissioned by Augustus for performance at the Secular games of 17BC: (1) Quintus (S.2.6:37), Horatius (C.4.6:44; E.1.14:5), Flaccus (I.15:12, S.2.1:18); (2) carmen composuit Q. Hor[at]ius Flaccus (“Q. Horatius Flaccus wrote the poem” [Carmen Saeculare] ILS 5050). His father was a manumitted slave (S.1.6:6 and 45-46) who worked as a coactor argentarius, or auction broker (S.i.6:86-87), and acquired a small holding (S.1.6:71) which Horace with disingenuous humility calls a “starveling farm.” Horace says nothing about his mother, but does mention the name of his nurse, Pullia (C.3.4:10).

51? His father had in fact enough money to take Horace while still young out of the local Venusian school run by Flavius and personally supervise his education at Rome under the strict disciplinarian Orbilius (S.1.6:71-88). Horace notes in the same passage (ll. 78-80), and in contradiction to S.1.6:71, that his clothing and attendant slaves suggested the son of a man with great ancestral wealth (rather than the acquired wealth his father had earned). During his secondary schooling in these Roman years, Horace studied the poetry of Livius Andronicus (E.2.1:69-71) and Homer (E.2.2:41-42).

46 Around age 19 Horace went to study moral philosophy and theory of knowledge at Athens (E.2.2:43-45), which served both as a university and finishing school for young upper-class Romans. One of his “classmates” was the son of Cicero.

44 M. Brutus the “liberator” arrived in Athens about autumn some six months after the assassination of Julius Caesar and began to attend philosophical lectures with the intention of recruiting young Romans to his cause as junior officers (Plutarch, Brutus 24 and Cicero ad Brutum 1.14 and 2.3.6). Horace fell under his sway (E.2.2:46-48), as did M. Cicero, and joined the hopeless attempt to reestablish the Republic.

43 Horace accompanied Brutus to Asia minor on his staff in late 43 or early 42 (as 1.7, the first of the satires and written before the Battle of Philippi in 42, clearly shows). Sometime before Philippi, Brutus appointed him without prior experience to the high post of military tribune (S.1.6:48-49), a position normally held only by sons of senators or equestrians intent on a magisterial or military career. It is very likely that Horace was already an eques on the basis of the equestrian census of 400,000 sesterces before this appointment (Lyne 3n7 and 7f).

42 Horace fought at the Battle of Philippi in November, which ended with the rout of Brutus’ army and the suicides of both Brutus and Cassius. In C.2.7:9-14 he tells an otherwise unknown friend Pompeius, who also fought with him at the battle, that he threw away his shield during the panic retreat. In ancient warfare, this was the preeminent sign of cowardice. But since Archilochus it had been a conventional poetic motif, and Horace’s use may only reflect his characteristic ironical self-deprecation as well as his sensitivity to Pompeius, who also took part in the celeris fuga (see Fraenkel 12).

41? However he did it, Horace fled from the field and, pardoned by the victorious triumvirate of Octavian, Antony and Lepidus, eventually made his way back to Rome where he found his paternal townhouse and estate confiscated (E.2.2:49-51). He claims that poverty drove him to write poetry (E.2.2:51-52), but he apparently still had enough monetary resources to purchase a sinecure as scriba questorius, or quaestor’s clerk, in the Treasury (Vita).

39 It is likely he had been working in the early 30s on the hexameter poems that would become the first book of Satires and perhaps a few of the Iambi. He must have been showing these works about, probably with the intention of gaining a patron, since his fellow poets Vergil and Varius introduced him to C. Cilnius Maecenas in 39 or 38. Some nine months after the first introduction, at which Horace could just stammer out a greeting, Maecenas accepted him into his circle of friends between late 39 and early 37 (S.1.6:54-62). Throughout his poetry, Horace always represents his relationship with Maecenas as based on mutual regard and friendship independent of their social relationship (I.1:2 and 23-24, S.1.6:49-54, S.1.9:45-60, 2.6:29-58). He clearly wished to dispel any notion that their relationship was one of patron to indigent or social-climbing client.

38 Horace was probably present with Maecenas at Octavian’s naval defeat off Cape Palinurus in 38 (Mankin 4 and C.3.4:28).

35 Publication of the first book of Satires, perhaps in the winter of 36/5 (Brown 3).

33? Sometime before 31, Horace acquired the famous Sabine farm (Lyne 6n18 and Muecke 194 and S.2.6:55n). From very early times it has been an inference from C.2.18:12-14 that Maecenas gave Horace the farm, but neither he nor Suetonius says that. A more probable interpretation of the passage in the ode is that Horace, satisfied with his Sabine farm, need not ask anything of his powerful friend (Mankin 2n13). Horace certainly did receive very substantial gifts from Maecenas (I.1:31-32, C.3.16:38 and E.1.7:14-28), but he was careful to represent them as freely given by friend to friend without ties of obligation (see 39BC above). There is no evidence that the poet, as both eques and scriba, was dependent on these or on patronage in general for his livelihood. Horace possessed at least three and possibly five properties, one of which and perhaps two were in the fashionable Tiburtine district (Lyne 9-11). It is also highly probable that Horace received monetary gifts from Augustus (Lyne 191n26), as did Vergil and Varius, each of whom got 1 million sesterces for their literary activities. Vergil is reported to have possessed 10 million sesterces ex liberalitatibus amicorum (at a time when the property qualifications for a senator were 1.2 million sesterces) and a house on the Esquiline next to the fabulously wealthy Maecenas: “These poets were rich, paid (as I have said) more like stars than academics” (Lyne 11).

31 Horace was present with Maecenas at the Battle of Actium on 2 September 31 BC (Mankin 2 and I.9.3n).

30 Publication of the second book of Satires and the Epodes.

23 Publication of Books 1-3 of the Carmina in the latter half of the year (N&H; 1.xxxvii).

20 Publication of Epistles 1 in 20 or early 19 (Mayer 10).

19 The Epistle to Florus (2.2), between late 20 and autumn 19 (Rudd 12-13).

17 Performance of the “Carmen Saeculare,” commissioned by Augustus, at the close of day on 3 June 17BC (Vita)

13 Publication of the fourth book of Carmina, commissioned by Augustus (Vita). See Putnam 23n6 on the date.

12? The Epistle to Augustus (2.1), commissioned by Augustus (Vita) and composed quite probably in early 12 (Rudd 1-2).

10? The Epistle to the Pisones or, as it is better known, the “Ars Poetica” (Rudd 19-21).

Horace died of a sudden illness shortly before his 57th birthday on 27 November 8BC, 59 days after the death of his patron Maecenas. He named Augustus his heir by dictated will, since the sudden onset of illness prevented him from writing and signing a formal will. He was buried on the Esquiline Hill next to the tomb of Maecenas.(all details from the Vita).

Annotated Bibliography

Editions and Commentaries

Brink, C. O., Horace on Poetry. Prolegomena to the Literary Epistles. Cambridge, 1963.

Brink, C. O., Horace on Poetry. The ‘Ars Poetica.’ Cambridge, 1971.

Brink, C. O., Horace on Poetry. Epistles Book II. The Letters to Augustus and Florus. Cambridge, 1982. These three works constitute the largest detailed study of Horace’s critical writings ever attempted in modern times. The gravamen of their argument makes Horace the most complex and subtle poet of poetic theory in the western tradition. Brink has had an impact far beyond the specific focus of his inquiry, and anyone who cares about poetry should read him.

Brown, Michael P., Horace Satires I. Warminster, 1993. A Latin text with facing prose translation and commentary that, among other things, tries to explore Horace’s artistry in S.1. This edition, with its companion volume below by Frances Muecke, is published by Aris & Phillips in a series of Greek and Latin texts with literal prose translations and commentaries. The series is useful but varies greatly in quality; only the poor printing is uniform. The sewn paperback editions are much better buys than the very expensive hardbacks.

Commager, Steele, The Odes of Horace. A Critical Study. New Haven, 1962. (The 1995 University of Oklahoma reprint has an appreciative foreword by David Armstrong.) This is another contender for the best general introduction to Horace. Commager’s book is longer and more detailed than Wilkinson’s, but also less sharply etched. He was heavily influenced by the New Criticism, and thus his individual critiques of odes have a richer, more complex ironical chiaroscuro than much in Fraenkel. Indeed, Commager casts his book as a direct rival to the approach of Fraenkel, but is distinctly weak in his treatment of the political odes where Fraenkel is at his best.

Fraenkel, Eduard, Horace. Oxford, 1957. This is a monumental study of selected poems drawn from the I, S, C and E that traces Horace’s entire poetic career. The selection is in part personal to Fraenkel, but the breadth of his grasp enables him to open up the entire body of Horace’s work in the process of discussing the selections. Fraenkel assumes a knowledge of Latin and Latin literature in general, but the forbidding look of Germanic scholarship should not deter the Latinless from reading it. Those who venture here will find not only vast scholarship but a very human, personal critic quite ready to express his opinion. Fraenkel’s exploration of the debt Horace owed Pindar in his six Roman odes (C.3.1-6), and the problems produced by the “anxiety of influence” as it has been recently called, is without equal in all Horatian scholarship.

Garrison, Daniel H., Horace Epodes and Odes. Norman and London, 1991. Includes Introduction, Latin text, notes, maps, and four appendices: biographical sketches of people named in the poems, meters, literary terms, and E. M. Forster’s “The Death of Cleopatra.”

Lyne, R. O. A. M., Horace. Behind the Public Poetry. New Haven and London, 1995. Lyne provides a fascinating tour through the complexities Horace faced in his relations with the powerful patrons Maecenas and Augustus. The heart of this study is a close examination of the “grand addressees” of C.1-3 and the ways that one ode can, from its different structural position, insidiously “sap” or undercut another.

Mankin, David, Horace Epodes. Cambridge, 1995. A Latin text and very full commentary in the Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics series (CGLC). This is currently the premier series of Greek and Latin commentaries for students, with far better editing and printing than the Aris & Phillips editions. The sewn paperback editions here are also a much better buy than the hardbacks. Mankin’s commentary is the only one we now have in English providing all the historical and philological means to appreciate these relatively neglected poems.

Mayer, Roland, Horace Epistles Book I. Cambridge, 1994. A Latin text and commentary in the CGLC series.

Mulroy, David, Horace’s Odes and Epodes. Translated with an Introduction and Commentary. Ann Arbor, 1994. Mulroy provides an excellent general introduction to a fairly lackluster set of translations cast in regulated accentual meters. Readers should not be misled by the word “Commentary” in the subtitle: the commentary here is nothing more than a brief series of explanatory notes on names and historical references appended to each translation.

Muecke, Frances, Horace Satires II. Warminster, 1993. A companion volume with Michael P. Brown’s edition of S.1.

Nisbet, R. G. M., Hubbard, M., A Commentary on Horace Odes I. Oxford, 1970.

Nisbet, R. G. M., Hubbard, M., A Commentary on Horace Odes II. Oxford, 1978. The two volumes of N&H; constitute one of the greatest Classical commentaries of this century and are indispensable for anyone serious about reading Horace’s odes in Latin. The commentaries provide no Latin text, but even the Latinless will profit from their lucid and economical remarks. N&H; open each ode with a brief list of prior critical studies, a paraphrase in English, a discussion of the background along with any Greek or Latin analogues and finally a capsule aesthetic evaluation. After this introduction, they provide a line-by-line commentary whose riches hold us all in their debt.

Putnam, Michael C. J., Artifices of Eternity. Horace’s Fourth Book of Odes. Ithaca and London, 1986. This is currently the only comprehensive study of C.4 in English. Putnam provides a Latin text of each ode, an accurate prose translation and a sustained aesthetic analysis that argues (against received opinion) for their artistic success as a pendant to C.1-3.

Rudd, Niall, Horace Epistles Book II and Epistle to the Pisones (‘Ars Poetica’). Cambridge, 1989. A Latin text and commentary in the CGLC series by one of the finest critics of Horatian satire.

Shackleton Bailey, D. R., Q. Horati Flacci Opera. Stuttgart. 1985. This is the standard Latin edition of Horace’s works in the Bibliotheca Scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana series (usually just called “BT,” or “Teubners,” for short). The 1985 edition came with a long list of corrigenda that were corrected in the second (1991) and third (1995) editions.

Syndikus, H. P., Die Lyrik des Horaz, vol. I. Darmstadt, 1972.

Syndikus, H. P., Die Lyrik des Horaz, vol. II. Darmstadt, 1973. This, along with N&H;, is the other major commentary on the odes. For those who read German, Syndikus covers C.1-4 with full, nuanced and penetrating literary analyses in a series of short essays. Their depth of understanding and compaction of comment belie their length. Syndikus is commonly raided, often without attribution, for the seeds of ideas that later sprout into full papers.

West, David, Horace Odes I. Carpe Diem. Text, Translation and Commentary. Oxford, 1995. West’s facing translations are rough accentual versions very little different than prose, but the brief commentaries are full of rare common sense and wisdom. Unlike many commentators who see Horace as a disengaged ironist rarely if ever conveying genuine lived emotion, West views Horace as “a profound poet of love, religion, and friendship” (ix) and tries to demonstrate that in his book.

Wickham, E. C., Q. Horati Flacci Opera, 2nd ed. H. W. Garrod. Oxford, 1912. This is an inexpensive and widely-used Latin edition in the Oxford Classical Text series.

Wilkinson, L. P., Horace and his Lyric Poetry. Cambridge, 2nd ed.1951. (The corrected 1968 reprint of the second edition is now available as a paperback from Bristol Classical Press.) This is arguably the best single introduction to Horace’s poetry that we have: it is clear, balanced, thorough and imbued with a deep sympathy for the poet. The verve and aphoristic power of the writing make it a painless delight to read.

Williams, Gordon, Tradition and Originality in Roman Poetry. Oxford, 1968. An outstanding study that many consider the best of its kind. It provides an invaluable background to Horace’s own work, and is in fact a contender for the book on Horace.

Williams, Gordon, The Third Book of Horace’s Odes. Oxford, 1969. This is currently the only English commentary on C.3. It was designed primarily for British sixth-formers and undergraduates. Williams offers a Latin text of each ode, a prose translation and a short critical essay. The introduction has a good section on the Horatian style, but offers virtually no help with meters. An appendix gathers some Greek sources and analogues (all translated). Despite the brevity of the running essays, there is much worth reading here.


Horace in English, edd. D. S. Carne-Ross and Kenneth Haynes, intro. D. S. Carne-Ross. London: Penguin Books, 1996. This anthology of Horatian translations provides a convenient one-volume chronological survey of translations from Surrey to the modern period. It covers most of Horace’s work in a wide variety of translational techniques. The introduction by Carne-Ross is generally sensible and helpful except for his comments on Auden’s meters, which are wildly wrong (p. 46). The greatest defect of the collection, aside from a partiality for certain translators–at least one of whom should never touch Horace–is the complete lack of any representative translations by J. B. Leishman.

Leishman, J. B., Translating Horace. Oxford: Bruno Cassirer, 1956. This is the most successful of the very few sustained attempts to translate Horace using accentual templates. Leishman translates 30 odes and introduces them with a long discussion of the structure of the Horatian ode and a detailed account of his own methods. The primary weaknesses are his tendency to distort stanza structure, to paraphrase needlessly and (perhaps worst of all) to pad out Horace so that most of his aphoristic point is completely lost. Nevertheless, these are great efforts and should be reprinted. Their silent exclusion from Horace in English speaks volumes for the editors’ taste.