National Geographic : 1935 Dec
HORACE-CLASSIC POET OF THE COUNTRYSIDE BY W. COLEMAN NEVILS, S.J., D.D., PH.D. AUTHOR OF "THE PERENNIAL GEOGRAPHER (VERGIL)," IN THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE THE old Romans used the same word for a prophet and for a poet. Some how they seemed persuaded that there was something of the seer in the inspired writer of verse. Two thousand years ago there was born a poet whose prophetic lines have certainly seen fulfillment. In an out burst of joy he exclaimed: "I shall not wholly die; my bones shall be interred, but my name and my song will live on and will ever increase in the praises of men." Had he foreseen the decay of Empire, the fall of classic Rome (Roma), and the dire destruction by Vandals and other public enemies, he would probably have sung with less assurance. His prophecy has never theless been fulfilled and his writings have had, and still have, an influence on the literature of all nations of culture, while the Roman Forum is a heap of ruins, the Capi tol, the palaces of the Caesars, and many other great monuments of the Empire have fallen and are no more. CELEBRATIONS IN MANY LANDS During the past months there have been Horatian pilgrimages elaborately carried out, and in other countries as well as in Italy unusually brilliant exercises have been held commemorating the two-thousandth anni versary of the year 65 B. C. when Horace, the popular classical poet, was born. Five years ago there was a world-wide celebration in honor of the two-thousandth anniversary of the birth of the great Roman poet, Publius Vergilius Maro. It is not surprising that 1935, which is the bimil lennium of Horace's nativity, should have similar or even greater commemoration. Perhaps we should say the celebration is more popular, for of all ancient writers Horace seems to have the strongest human appeal; he is, as the inimitable Spanish puts it, simpatico, the most companionable of writers, and no poet of antiquity has been more frequently quoted. When Burke and Lord Chatham and other English scholars were selected as statesmen and were recognized as political leaders, it was quite the vogue to throw spice into a speech by quoting a line or two from Horace, and sometimes in repartee the phrase proved to be a telling blow. His marvelous power of using the most expres sive word and the happiest phrase has won for him an immortal crown of bay leaves. HORACE BORN A SMALL-TOWN BOY On December 8, sixty-five years before the Christian Era, Quintus Horatius Flac cus was born at Venosa, which the old Romans called "Venusia"; it had been colo nized by Rome in 291 B. C., after the Sam nite War. Nestling in the Apennines, on the borders of Lucania and Apulia (Puglia), it has not had a very thriving existence. Now there are only about 9,000 inhabitants. The town possesses an ancient structure called Casa di Orazio, but up to the present there has been slight evidence that the great poet lived there. In the Piazza there is a statue of Horace, its value as sculpture not very high (see page 777). Somewhere in or near this town was born the freedman's son who was to fulfill in the strictest sense the belief that "poets are born, not made." Venusia made so little impression on the ancient annalists that we are forced to re gard it as just another town in the provinces of Italy. Even today its main claim to be noticed is that Horace was born there. What is now the public plaza, or piazza, was probably the site of the town's forum, where a few shops did a meager business and farm produce and other wares were on display. Here, too, the townsmen assem bled and discussed public questions of the day, and no doubt settled them with the same finality and assurance we find in many of our country stores today. In Horace's time social distinctions were rather rigidly defined, somewhat as in France in the 18th century. There was, first of all, the Senatorial order, which Augustus himself had created, and to which admission depended entirely on the will of the Emperor. The second rank embraced the Knights, the moneyed class, which then, as now, held great power. Next came the people, "plebes," among whom were found the schoolmasters, architects, physicians, and tradesmen.