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Horace (65-8 B.C.E.)  
page: 1  2  3  

In Horace's poetry, effeminacy is not a quality to be attributed only to pubescent slave boys. The love-struck heterosexual male can also be described as departing from Roman standards of virility. In Sat 2.3.254-255, the poet asks the love-lorn if he will give up the effeminate tokens of romantic passion (garters, elbow-cushion, neck-wrap).

In Odes 1.8, Horace presents another description of the baleful effects of heterosexual passion: Sybaris, who has fallen in love with Lydia, has abandoned the manly pursuits of the gymnasium and military camp. His sudden effeminacy is further emphasized by comparison with Achilles' boyhood transvestism.

In fact, the notion of the effeminate heterosexual lover was commonplace in ancient literature. For instance, in the Pseudo-Lucianic dialogue Erotes, the heterosexual is depicted as "womanish" (he wears makeup) and morally inferior, whereas the homosexual is described as manly, athletic, and high-minded.

It is debatable to what extent, if any, Horace conceives of same-sex friendship in terms. Friendship was a central theme in Epicurean philosophy but was not understood as amatory. Nevertheless, the ardent tone in which the bond between friends is described by Horace and other ancient writers, tends to convey to modern Western readers a romantic impression that may be illusory.

Numida, returning from abroad, greets all of his friends with kisses but reserves the lion's share for his "sweet" Lamia. Horace's own expressions of affection for his friends are quite passionate by modern, Western standards.

Virgil is described as "one half of my soul"(Odes 1.3). Maecenas is "beloved" (dilecte, Odes 2.20). He is "part" of Horace's "soul"(Odes 2.17), and Horace forecasts that he cannot long survive Maecenas' death. (His projection proved true: the poet died only a few months after his patron.) He visualizes friends as placing one another before all other relations and sticking together through thick and thin (Odes 2.6 and 2.17).

Whatever the character of such references, there is little doubt that Horace's treatment of friendship inspired homosexuals in later ages. Certainly A. E. Housman, when he translated Odes 4.7 (More Poems 5), interpreted Horace's mention of the love between Theseus and Perithous as homoerotic.

Horace's love poetry, whether addressed to females or males, draws much of its drama from the delicate tension between the pretense of transient pleasure and the suggestion of real emotional disturbance. It is interesting that one of the rare occasions when the latter is explicitly stated occurs in Odes 4.1 (published and probably composed in middle age).

Although this poem begins with an expression of disillusionment with life and love, it ends with an expostulation to a slave boy:

Then why, alas, does the unwonted tear run down my cheeks,
Ligurinus? Why does my eloquent tongue falter indecorously
in silence in the midst of my words? In my dreams I am at
one moment holding you close, at another moment I pursue you
through the grasses of Mars' Field, or through the swift
waters, hard-hearted one.

Brad Walton

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literature >> Overview:  Poetry: Gay Male

The gay tradition in literature from ancient times to the present is primarily a tradition not of prose but of verse.

literature >> Overview:  Roman Literature

Roman writers on homosexual or bisexual themes generally followed Greek models; but unlike the Greeks, Romans condoned sex with slaves.

social sciences >> Overview:  Rome: Ancient

Ancient Rome's attitude toward same-sex sexual activity was remarkably various, with role, age, and status as important as gender in the regulation of sexual relations.

literature >> Housman, A. E.

A. E. Housman's poetry is inextricably rooted in homosexual experience and consciousness and is also a significant reflector of gay history.

literature >> Sappho

Admired through the ages as one of the greatest lyric poets, the ancient Greek writer Sappho is today esteemed by lesbians around the world as the archetypal lesbian and their symbolic mother.

literature >> Virgil

Virgil wrote approvingly of male love in many works, and his second eclogue became the most famous poem on that subject in Latin literature.


Armstrong, David. Horace. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.

Commager, Steel. The Odes of Horace. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962.

Connor, Peter. Horace's Lyric Poetry: The Force of Humour. Berwick: Aureal, 1987.

Griffin, Jasper. Augustan Poetry and Roman Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Kilpatrick, Ross. The Poetry of Friendship: Horace, Epistles I. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1986.

Lee, Owen. Word, Sound and Image in the Odes of Horace. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1969.

Putnam, Michael J. The Artifices of Eternity: Horace's Fourth Book of Odes. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1986.

Rudd, Niall. The Satires of Horace. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966.

Santirocco, Matthew. Unity and Design in Horace's Odes. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986.

Wilkinson, L. P. Horace and His Lyric Poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1946.


    Citation Information
    Author: Walton, Brad  
    Entry Title: Horace  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated October 10, 2007  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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