By their practice, the great Roman poets Horace and Juvenal set indelibly the lineaments of the genre known as the formal...
While the victor of Actium, styled Augustus in 27 bc, settled down, Horace turned, in the most active period of his poetical life, to the Odes, of which he published three books, comprising 88 short poems, in 23 bc. Horace, in the Odes, represented himself as heir to earlier Greek lyric poets but displayed a sensitive, economical mastery of words all his own. He sings of love, wine, nature (almost romantically), of friends, of moderation; in short, his favourite topics.
The "Epistle to Florus" of Book II may have been written in 19 bc, the Ars poetica in about 19 or 18 bc, and the last epistle of Book I in 17-15 bc. This last named is dedicated to Augustus, from whom there survives a letter to Horace in which the Emperor complains of not having received such a dedication hitherto.
By this time Horace was virtually in the position of poet laureate, and in 17 bc he composed the Secular Hymn (Carmen saeculare) for ancient ceremonies called the Secular Games, which Augustus had revived to provide a solemn, religious sanction for the regime and, in particular, for his moral reforms of the previous year. The hymn was written in a lyric metre, Horace having resumed his compositions in this form; he next completed a fourth book of 15 Odes, mainly of a more serious (and political) character than their predecessors. The latest of these poems belongs to 13 bc. In 8 bc Maecenas, who had been less in Augustus' counsels during recent years, died. One of his last requests to the Emperor was: "Remember Horace as you would remember me." A month or two later, however, Horace himself died, after naming Augustus as his heir. He was buried on the Esquiline Hill near Maecenas' grave.
Yet, before the hymn, Horace had already written the magnificent Roman Odes, numbers one to six of Book III--a great tribute to Augustus' principate, perhaps the greatest political poetry that has ever been written. But these Odes are by no means wholly political, for much other material, including abundant Greek and Roman mythology, is woven into their dense, compact, resplendent texture. This cryptic, riddling sonority is the work of a poet who saw himself as a solemn bard (vates), a Roman reincarnation of Pindar of Thebes (518-438 bc), a stately Greek lyricist. Pindar increasingly becomes Horace's model in the further state odes of his fourth and last book.