Horace’s concept of personal ethical cause and effect

Horace was a Roman poet who lived in the first century BC. Horace was previously an officer of the republican army defeated at Philippi in 42 BC, then switched sides after the battle when befriended by one of Augustus Caesar’s trusted men; Maecenas. Horace later became a state-funded bureaucrat.

Horace was obsessed with the concept of death. According to his writings, everyone ends up in Pluto’s realm (The underworld) after death. That, he said, was not a pleasant thing at all. He said that it was useless to start big projects, because they won’t do you any good when you’re dead. You can enjoy your possessions, but don’t overdo it. The only way to escape Pluto’s realm in Roman writing is by becoming a god. But, according to many Roman poets, only great political leaders could achieve that status.

Horace was impacted by several philosophical ideas in his writings. The main ideas he expresses are views from the philosophical schools of Stoicism and Epicureanism. The Stoics believed that man should not be perturbed by the things around him, but that he should always live according to virtue. The Epicureans thought that pleasure is what we should be seeking, but in moderation. He continually comes back to the concept of staying in “the golden mean”, a heavily Stoic concept. Horace also seems to be communicating that we should be quietly enjoying some pleasures that we have, an Epicurean concept.

In his Odes, Horace gives a poem of a sailor who has drowned in the sea and whose remains have washed up on the shore. Another sailor sees his bones on the shore. Horace puts words figuratively into the dead sailors mouth and asks that the living sailor would give the dead sailor a decent burial. Nothing big, just a little dirt to bury his bones. In Roman culture, the belief was that if you were not buried, then the spirit of the dead person would not be at rest until he or she was buried.

In his Satires, Horace gives directions on how to get along with people. When a couple is in love with each other, says Horace, they don’t focus on the bad aspects of each other, but rather the good ones. In like manner, you should always turn a blind eye to the other persons faults and focus on their good aspects.

In his poems, he also urges us to not put trust in posterity, because we can not control the future. He said that inheritance doesn’t matter. Wealth and power should not be sought, but rather tranquility: “The golden mean”. Horace argues for a middle class life in his poems.

The indication is that there are some things that you should do for your benefit in this life, but that in the long run, you will die anyway. Ethics, according to Horace, doesn’t really matter in the long run. History is not governed by ethics, and the sanctions for our actions are random. Fortune plays games with men, and there is ultimately no pattern to history in regards to ethics.


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