Horace NewBioImage 2
Born 65 B.C.E.

Venusia, Italy, Roman Republic

Relevant Work Ars Poetica


(NATC, 2nd ed.)

Biography Edit

  • Quintus Horatius Flaccus was born 65 B.C.E. in Venusia, Italy—died Nov. 27, 8 B.C.E., Rome.
  • He was regarded as an outstanding Latin lyric poet and satirist under the emperor Augustus.
  • The most frequent themes of his Odes and verse Epistles are love, friendship, philosophy, and the art of poetry. [1]

Ars PoeticaEdit

Background and Historical Context Edit

The Ars Poetica was written somewhere around 10 B.C.E. though the exact date is unknown. This poem was written during the age of Augustan Age, associated with the Emperor Augustus, as it was written during his reign from 27 B.C.E.- 14 C.E. Augustan Age will become a term to describe the second of three literary eras within Neoclassical Period in English literature. These works emphasized the importance to society of order, balance, propriety, civility, and wit (Murfin, 32-33). [2]

Though Horace comments on poetry, this version in the The Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism is in prose. The textbook acknowledges that Ars Poetrica is a long conversational poem about poetry. Translating it to modern English while still keeping its verse form is difficult, as Horace moves throughout the poem through verbal association ad rhetorical tone, rather than logical argumentation. Also, when trying to translate Horace's wit and meter, it doesn't come out well. Thus, a prose selection was selected (120). [3]

Key Words and Terms Edit

Dues Ex Machina - Literally translated from Latin as "God from the machine" is a reference to the Greek practice of a divine character being "lowered from above the stage to conveniently resolve the action at the end of a play" (126) Horace makes reference to such a practice when he states "there should be no god to intervene" (126). [3]

Decorum - "The discernment and use of appropriateness, propriety, proportion, and unity in the arts, whether in painting, sculpture, or poetry" (120). [3]

Satyr-Plays - "[T]hese featured Silenus and satyrs in burlesque episodes of myth: style and meter were those of tragedy, not comedy. The piece was commonly performed as a fourth play after three tragedies" (127).

Old Comedy - Initial phase of ancient Greek comedy (c. 5th century bc). [4] Aristophanes was the most important playwright of Old Comedy (129). [3]

Key Quotations Edit

"Most of us poets.. are deceived by appearances of correctness," (122).

"You writers must choose material equal to your powers" (122).

"As to words: if you're delicate and cautious in arranging them, you will give distinction to your style if an ingenious combination makes a familiar word new" (123).

"As woods change in leaf as the seasons slide on, and the first leaves fall, so the old generation of words dies out, and the newly born bloom and are strong like young men" (123).

"It is not enough for poetry to be beautiful; it must also be pleasing and lead the hearer's mind where it will. [101] The human face smiles in sympathy with smilers and comes to the help of those that weep. If you want me to cry, mourn first yourself; then your misfortunes will hurt me..." (124).

How much better was the way of that poet whose every endeavour is to the point!" (125)

"My advice to the skilled imitator will be to keep his eye on the model of life and manners, and draw his speech living from there" (129).

"Latium would have been as famous for literature as for valour and deeds of arms if the poets had not, one and all, been put off by the labour and time of polishing their work" (129).

"Sometimes a play is devoid of charm, weight, and skill, but attractive with its commonplaces and with the characters well drawn, gives the people keener pleasure and keeps them in their seats more effectively than lines empty of substance and harmonious trivialities" (129). "Poets aim either to do good or give pleasure-or, thirdly, to say things that which are both pleasing and serviceable for life" (130).

"Poetry is like painting. Some attracts you more if you stand near, some if you're further off. One pictures likes a ark place, one will need to be seen in the light because it's not afraid of the critic's sharp judgement. One gives pleasure once, one will please if you look it over ten times" (130).

Discussion Edit

Poetry's Uses Edit

Of all the authors discussed in English 661, Horace is perhaps the one most concerned with how we derive pleasure from poetry. Though, in the section "Choice and Handling of Myth," Horace focuses on the poets handling of famous myths. He makes several salient points about the formation of characters in literature. In stating, "Let Medea be proud and indomitable, Ino full of tears, Ixion, treacherous, Io never at rest, Orestes full of gloom," Horace expresses a need for characters to remain "true to form" (124, 125). [3]

Limiting Poetry Edit

A noteworthy component of this piece is that Horace is taking some thinking from Plato. For example, when it comes to what should or should not be added to plays, poetry, dramas, etc, it is all about what Horace wants to see. Several times he gives advice to people writing these things and says, "Do these things and you'll make me happy." It's utopian, but unoriginal. What he is trying to do is keep people in a box that they can't step out of without being disregarded.

While Horace is very much focused on Plato's ideas of what should and shouldn't be included in poetry, he also carries some of Aristotle's ideas regarding categories and classification. Horace insists that writers follow the structures and characteristics that were set in place long ago by the Greeks. He believes firmly that playwrights should have the "ability [and] knowledge to keep the duly assigned functions and tones of literature" (124). [3] With that kind of perspective, there is little room for exploration or creativity, even of language. He also argues that, "everything must keep the appropriate place to which it was allotted" (124). [3] Both of these quotes demonstrate Horace's emphasis on categorizing written works and following predetermined rules, which shows a blend of Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy.

Major Criticism and Reception Edit

From The Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism: "His practical approach to poetry as a craft, or ars, contrasts markedly with the more theoretical bent of his predecessors, especially Aristotle and Plato" (119). [3] It is an argument for poetry as a craft, rather than just a mark of genius's work or madness. As art it has rules and convention that required both instruction and practice. His work continues to influence poets and literary critics for thousands of years. One of Horace's famous sayings is that poems should both "instruct and delight" audiences.

"Horace critics have complained that the long epistle is disorganized, that it sometimes sacrifices sense for the sake of wit, and that it lacks grandeur, being preoccupied with audience response. Since its appearance, however, the Ars Poetica has appealed to those literary critics interested in codifying the principles of poetic composition, in arguing the relative merits of craft and genius in poetry, and in debating whether the primary goal of literature is pleasure or instruction" (121). [3]

Related Works Edit

  • Aristotle. Poetics. Translated by Richard Janko. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, edited by Vincent B. Leitch, W.W. Norton & Company, 2010, p.p. 88-115.
  • Kilpatrick, Ross S. The Poetry of Criticism: Horace, Epistles III and the Ars Poetica. 1990.
  • Frischer, Bernard. Shifting Paradigms: New Approaches to Horace's "Ars Poetica". 1991
  • Plato. Republic. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, edited by Vincent B. Leitch, W.W. Norton & Company, 2010, p.p.45.
  • Marx, Karl. Capital, Volume 1. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, edited by Vincent B. Leitch, W.W. Norton & Company, 2010, p.p. 663.
  • McCall, Leslie. "The Complexity of Intersectionality."
  • Foucault, Michael. The History of Sexuality, Volume 1. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, edited by Vincent B. Leitch, W.W. Norton & Company, 2010, p.p.1502.
  • Moretti, Franco. "Maps, Graphs, and Trees." The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, edited by Vincent B. Leitch, W.W. Norton & Company, 2010, p.p. 2441.

References Edit

  1. Encyclopædia Britannica. (2017). Horace | Roman Poet. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Oct. 2017]
  2. Murfin, Ross C., and Supryia M. Ray. The Bedford glossary of critical and literary terms. 3rd ed., Bedford/St. Martins, 2009.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 Leitch, Vincent B., editor. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed., W.W. Norton & Co., 2010.
  4. Encyclopædia Britannica. (2017). Old Comedy [online] Available at: [Accessed 02 Oct. 2017].