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A DAY WITH HORACE
ROM Theotimus of Athens, to Meton, the Philosopher, at
his house, in the Garden of Academus.
Written from Rome, in the third year of the one hundred
and eighty third Olympiad.
Many thanks, most venerable and dear Meton, for the
letters of commendation, especially for that which bore
the superscription of Quintus Horatius Flaccus. I
chanced to find him at home, and though he was busy (I
saw a parchment, on which a slave had been writing from
his dictation), he welcomed me most warmly, and
constrained me to take up my abode in his house.
That first day, we talked of men and things in Athens,
till the third watch of the night was nearly spent.
Never was any one more simple, more
 candid, more gay. You will remember, that you warned me
not to speak of his doings as a soldier, yet by some
inconceivable awkwardness—for which,
when the word was uttered, I could have bitten off my
tongue,—I stumbled upon that very subject. Yet I need
not have troubled myself: he certainly was not disturbed.
"Ah" said he, "I should have done well to have listened
to the wise Meton. I was a foolish lad of twenty, and
they offered me a Tribune's commission—surely they must
have been in sore need of officers, if they could not
make a better choice.
"Well, I went to our dear friend. 'What madness!' he
cried, 'You have, for your years, a fair smattering of
philosophy and a very pretty talent for writing verses,
but as for being a leader of soldiers—'tis the veriest
folly. And are you sure,' he went on, 'that you are on
the right side? I take it, that your friends did a bad
day's work when they killed your Caesar. Depend upon
it, you will go farther and fare worse, if your friend
Brutus, who really thinks of nothing but himself, and
Cassius who is a pedant, not a statesman, get the upper
hand. But, if you will go, go as a private soldier, and
risk no life but your own.'
"Well, I did what other people do, who ask for advice;
I took my own way, and into a pretty slough it led me.
As for soldiering, I knew no more about
 it than a babe. Happily I had two dry nurses, in the
shape of two veteran centurions, and I had no chance of
making any bad blunder. Indeed the whole business
lasted only a few months and my first battle was my
"Did I run away? you are too polite to ask me, but you
would like to know. Well, I did, and I did not. I
stopped where I was, till it was practically all over,
and when my betters ran, I followed them. As for my
shield—well, your own Alcaeus lost his shield, and he
was as good a fighting man, according to all accounts,
as he was a poet.
"But to tell the truth, I had a motive in talking as I
did about my share in the battle. You see, I had to
make friends with the conqueror, and what was the good
of making out that I had fought desperately to the
last? That would have been no recommendation. So I
rather laughed at myself, and if other people laugh at
me, well. I can shrug my shoulders and bear it. I shall
not be unhappy if they think I am a poor soldier, if
they will allow that I am something of a poet."
But certainly, if I try to write down even a tenth of
what this most delightful of talkers said to me, I
shall more than fill my letter, and you asked me
 to describe one of my days at Rome. To that therefore
let me turn without further delay.
Five days after my arrival, my host said to me, "You can
rise early, is it not so?" and when I assented, he went
on. "We will go to-morrow, and salute my dear friend
Maecenas. At sunrise then, we will start." I suppose
that I looked somewhat surprised, for he said, "We set
about our business betimes at Rome, and as for Maecenas,
we cannot be too early; he sleeps so ill, that he
cannot rise too soon, and he likes his callers to do
At the appointed hour we went. It was a house of the
most magnificent proportions, with the very highest
tower in all Rome surmounting it, and within, it was
furnished with a splendour to which, there is, I am
told, nothing equal. As for the Emperor, he lives very
simply. The great man himself, I must own, did not
impress me very favourably. To speak
plainly, he was too much of a fop; the scent of the
unguents with which he was, so to speak, drenched,
almost overpowered me, and I could barely see his
fingers, for the rings with which they were covered.
His face was pale; his eyes sunken and weary, yet it
was good to note how he lighted up at the sight of the
"You have brought something for me, I hope," he said,
and when my host shook his head. "Nay, but this is
intolerable. There are, at least, twenty
 poets there," and he pointed to the crowd of callers,
who half filled the hall, "and every one has his pocket
full of bad verses, and you, who really can write, are
as idle as a sea-calf."
Then he greeted me most politely, and beckoned to us,
to sit beside him.
But how shall I describe what I saw and heard that
morning? Maecenas, you know, has the ear of the emperor,
and every one who wants anything, a clerkship, a
commission in the army, a pension, a word to one of the
judges, a lease of land, a free pass for travelling
abroad, comes to him, to make his request. He had too a
number of visitors of his own.
His liberality to men of letters, is beyond belief.
Instead of twenty, he might have said fifty poets. One
man brought an Epic. It was as much as he could hold in
his hand. "It is twice as long as the Iliad," said the
great man, without changing a muscle on his face, and
the silly creature thought he was serious.
"He pays them all," whispered my host to me, "and of
course they go on writing. He has positively raised the
price of parchment in Rome, but 'tis a fault on the
right side, and I who have profited by it, should be
the last to blame." And as he said this, I saw the
tears in his eyes. Horace has the tenderest and most
grateful heart in the world.
 Well the stream went on for two hours, and might have
been going on now, if the door had not been shut.
Maecenas would have us stop, and share his morning meal.
"Share" I say, but as a matter of fact, the great man
took nothing, but a draught of wine cooled with snow,
and my host but a little salad and some water. (You
must understand, that he praises wine, but for the most
part drinks water.) As for myself, I relished an
omelette and some broiled fish, for I cannot bring my
stomach to their Roman fashion of fasting till mid-day.
The meal over, we went to the Senate-House, where a
great cause was being tried.
"Ah!" said the great man as we bade him farewell.
"Every day, I thank the Gods that I am but a simple
knight. If I had to go to the Senate, and hear the
trial of Fabius, life would not be worth having."
To me, indeed, as a stranger, the thing was interesting
enough. Fabius had been governor of a province, and was
on his trial for extortion. We heard the peroration of
the prosecutor and the examination of three or four
witnesses. What a story it was that they told! If only
a quarter were true, Fabius must have been the most
scandalous thief since Sisyphus. One old man, a
temple-servant, told the Senate how the governor
scraped the gold from off the gates, in fact laid his
hands on every thing that had the least
 value. He described how the priest had hidden a gold
shield, an offering they said, by Alexander of Macedon,
and how Fabius had heard of it. "He tortured me to make
me tell him the secret" said the man, and held up his
hands, which were twisted out of all shape.
The judges, who had seemed very careless till then,
were visibly moved: and the Emperor, who, I should
have said, was presiding, a singularly handsome man of
about forty, flushed with anger.
Fabius himself sat as haughty and indifferent as though
he had no concern in the matter. "It will go hard with
him," said my host, as we came out. "Fabius seems to
have thought he was living under the Republic, when
these things were winked at, but the Emperor has
different ways. He is not going to sacrifice his
provinces that the nobles may dine off gold plate. Yes,
it will want all, and more than all Pollio's eloquence,
to get off his client."
From the Senate-house we went home, to the mid-day
meal. Horatius ate nothing but vegetables, drinking a
little wine, very much diluted, but his cook had
procured a piece of roast kid for me.
After the meal came a short siesta, and then we went to
what seems a common entertainment at Rome, a literary
reading. A young author was to recite some of his poems
to a circle of friends. Horatius was one of those
invited, he does not like
 these things, but he went nevertheless, for he is good
nature itself. It was but a poor business. The audience
was not large at the beginning, and it grew
smaller and smaller, till at last there were but a
"Poor fellow," said my host, "I am afraid this will
cost him more than he will get. You see the room was
lent, but he had to pay for the benches and other
matters, and I suspect had to hire the very fine rings
which he wore on his fingers. It is the etiquette for a
reader to make himself very fine; why I know not, for
the race are notoriously poor."
After the reading, a stroll to the Field of Mars, the
Roman playground, was welcome. The sports were very
clumsy; nothing could be more barbarous than the bits
which the riders use, great jagged things which must
tear the horse's mouth to pieces. The Romans are not
particularly fleet of foot, nor agile jumpers, but
their swimming is marvellously good. I saw young lads
cross the Tiber which was running high, and pass, three
or four times without resting.
It was a gay and brilliant scene. You must know that
the ladies who are allowed, or take, a liberty which
would seem strange to us, come to the Field, and look
After the sports came dinner, a gorgeous entertainment,
to which with my whetted appetite, I did justice.
 Earth and sea were ransacked to furnish the feast.
There were turbots, fresh from the Black Sea, mullets
caught in Charybdis itself, oysters from Britain, an
outlandish isle in the frozen sea, I am told, rare
birds from Africa, a wild boar from Gaul, hares and
coneys and I know not what besides; one thing I
remember, a peacock, very splendid to look at, but as
tough and tasteless a meat as I ever ate.
Our host was a "nouveau riche," who wearied us by
telling us the cost of every dish, and every flagon of
wine. Of all tiresome entertainments, this was the
worst, and I was heartily glad, when, somewhere about
midnight, (our host and half his guests being no longer
masters of themselves) to find myself in the open air
I like our quiet Athens tenfold better than this
splendid Rome. Farewell.