National Geographic : 1946 Nov
Horace's Villa in the Sabine Hills «W 7O BUT the wealthy get any sleep in Rome?" com VV plained the satirist Juvenal. No wonder that the city-pent Roman dreamed of the countryside. No wonder that with the passing of winter Horace hied him to his beloved farm in the Sabine Hills. Such retreats had been increasingly popular since late republican times. Cicero in his Letters admits owning no fewer than seven villas scattered between Rome and the Bay of Naples. So great an abundance of habitations was due partly to the need for resting places where he or his friends could put up on their journeys to the south. There were no hotels for the public in those times and the taverns offered only wretched accommodation. Several of Cicero's villas were luxurious country houses, such as that at Tusculum in the hills overlooking the distant city, and included baths with warm-water pools, elaborate gardens, and rooms for reading, writing, and banqueting. All the comforts of the city were reproduced; yet no sooner was the typical Roman installed in the idyllic solitude of a country villa than he longed for the diversions and excite ments of the city, to cry with Cicero, "The city! the city! That is the place to live, that is the light of life! Travel is mere concealment and misery for men whose activities can shed luster on Rome!" The cosmopolitan town might be the perfect environ ment for those who practiced politics or lived off their fellows' wealth and favors; but there were professions which did not lend themselves so well to its endless interruptions. Horace, the court poet whose elegant verses were intended for cultivated city-bred ears, passed hisdays bypreference in a solitary villa on a farm intheSabine Hills. There, in the interval of talking tohis rustic neighbors and over seeing the homely tasks ofthe eight slaves who worked his farm, he wrote the mostcarefully well-bred and cultured verse that Rome was everto produce. Through the winter hekept reasonably warm byre turning to Rome; but thespring saw him back again to watch the anemones break onthehillside surrounding his little valley. He returnedto thecountry long before his own carefully tended garden beds had bloomed behind their trellis grills below the long, raised portico where heused to wander up and down in sun orshade astheseason changed. Horace was neither wealthy nornobly born. For him the simple actualities of peasant lifewere familiar and at tractive. His country place was notransference ofthe magnificence of the Roman palaces toanampler setting of fountain-cooled terracesand stately walks. His ancestors had lived off the land, not merely onit;and though the house was airy and comfortable, itsmacked ofrural sim plicity and the devices ofthe farm. There he enjoyed greater happiness than Rome orthe emperor's court could give, asolitary butnotalonely bachelor. There, on occasion, hisintimate friends from the town must have visited him. Among them thegreatest of all Latin poets, his ownunrivaled contemporary, Virgil, may well have sought himout inhisretreat, bringing with him the young Propertius,aminor poet who wrote love verses such as neither Virgil norHorace tried toequal.