Quintus Horatius Flaccus (8 December 65 BCE – 27 November 8 BCE), known in the English-speaking world as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus.
Born in the small town of Venusia in the border region between Apulia and Lucania (Basilicata), Horace was the son of a freed slave, who owned a small farm in Venusia, and later moved to Rome to work as a coactor (a middleman between buyers and sellers at auctions, receiving 1% of the purchase price from each for his services). The elder Horace was able to spend considerable money on his son’s education, accompanying him first to Rome for his primary education, and then sending him to Athens to study Greek and philosophy. The poet later expressed his gratitude in a tribute to his father:
“If my character is flawed by a few minor faults, but is otherwise decent and moral, if you can point out only a few scattered blemishes on an otherwise immaculate surface, if no one can accuse me of greed, or of prurience, or of profligacy, if I live a virtuous life, free of defilement (pardon, for a moment, my self-praise), and if I am to my friends a good friend, my father deserves all the credit… As it is now, he deserves from me unstinting gratitude and praise. I could never be ashamed of such a father, nor do I feel any need, as many people do, to apologize for being a freedman’s son.”
Horace is generally considered to stand alongside Virgil and Ovid as one of the greatest poets of the Augustan Age. Several of his poetry’s main themes, such as the beatus ille (an appraisal of simple life) and carpe diem (literally “pluck the day”, more commonly rendered into English as “seize the day”, but perhaps closer to “enjoy the day”) were recovered during the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, influencing poets such as Petrarch and Dante.