The Poet Horace: Venusian

He was from the town of Venusia, in an old Samnite area of southern Italy. So he was literally a Venusian. (Usually spelled Venutian in this case, to avoid confusion.)

Something else I didn’t know — he was freeborn, but the son of a freedman.

After being manumitted, his dad became a “coactor,” which was explained by ancient scholia (explanatory notes by scholars) as a “coactor argentarius,” a sort of auctioneer who paid the seller on spec, and then took his money plus interest from the buyer.

Horace wrote a surviving poem in tribute to his father, who not only paid for his education and encouraged him, but moved to Rome to oversee his education in the big city. He gives his father all the credit for his virtues and achievements, and says that he will never be ashamed of being a freedman’s son.

I have absolutely no idea why I’ve never seen this pointed out in any mentions of Horace, his elegance, his farm, and so on.

We don’t know anything about Horace’s mom.

Horace ended up going to Athens at the age of nineteen, and then got recruited by Brutus to serve as a tribunus militum. He ended up on the losing side, but accepted Octavian/Augustus’ amnesty in return for surrendering.

(And we don’t hear anything about his father from Athens on. So scholars think that Dad probably died and left Horace his money, and that’s how we went to Athens to study in the first place.)

The poem about Horace’s dad, being mocked for his dad’s status, and why he didn’t care who was jealous of his military career, is Satire 6 in Volume I of his Satires. It’s addressed to his buddy Maecenas, who was a rich guy of noble ancestry. He praises Maecenas for being the kind of guy who only worries about his friends’ character, and then gently teases him for having the care-worn life of a senator instead of the free life of an ordinary citizen. He is relieved of the burden of ambition, because he can’t legally rise any higher than he has. (And he had that Brutus tie to avoid flaunting.)

Which is kind of a wry note. All of Horace’s elegant living and writing is based on that, isn’t it? He couldn’t rise any higher, so his Sabine farm was something he could build himself.

And yet he himself owned slaves, which is kind of a twist. Sigh.

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