Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet

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9781408843260: Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet

A wise and witty revival of the Roman poet who taught us how to carpe diem

What is the value of the durable at a time when the new is paramount? How do we fill the void created by the excesses of a superficial society? What resources can we muster when confronted by the inevitability of death? For the poet and critic Harry Eyres, we can begin to answer these questions by turning to an unexpected source: the Roman poet Horace, discredited at the beginning of the twentieth century as the "smug representative of imperialism," now best remembered―if remembered―for the pithy directive "Carpe diem."
In Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet, Eyres reexamines Horace's life, legacy, and verse. With a light, lyrical touch (deployed in new, fresh versions of some of Horace's most famous odes) and a keen critical eye, Eyres reveals a lively, relevant Horace, whose society―Rome at the dawn of the empire―is much more similar to our own than we might want to believe.
Eyres's study is not only intriguing―he retranslates Horace's most famous phrase as "taste the day"―but enlivening. Through Horace, Eyres meditates on how to live well, mounts a convincing case for the importance of poetry, and relates a moving tale of personal discovery. By the end of this remarkable journey, the reader too will believe in the power of Horace's "lovely words that go on shining with their modest glow, like a warm and inextinguishable candle in the darkness."

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About the Author:

Harry Eyres has become one of the most eloquent representatives of the worldwide Slow Movement. Having worked for leading newspapers and magazines as a wine writer, theater critic, and poetry editor, he created the international Slow Lane column in the Financial Times in 2004. Slow Lane encourages and facilitates thoughtful enjoyment of the profound, and often uncostly and unmonetized, pleasures and values that make life worth living. Eyres is the author of the poetry collection Hotel Eliseo, Plato's "The Republic": A Beginner's Guide, and several books on wine.


“Mr. Eyres writes with insight about why Horace first left him cold, then with intense feeling about all he has gained from the odes in recent years . . . [A] love of small experiences, closely observed, is what most binds Mr. Eyres to Horace. The ode he treasures most highly, and quotes as the book's epigram, celebrates a cooling spring called Bandusia that filled a small pool on Horace's farm. Such gem-like appreciations of the intimate, the local and the natural show Mr. Eyres the path toward his goal of ‘being a human being, in the fullest sense'--the path that also led him to become a poet . . . Readers of Horace and Me will . . . no doubt enjoy the cool drinks that Mr. Eyres scoops up from that rustic Bandusian spring.” ―James Romm, The Wall Street Journal

“In this beguiling book [Eyres] describes how . . . he came back to Horace, and to himself . . . With the lightest of touches Mr. Eyres sketches his own life and examines that of Horace . . . As Mr. Eyres began to ponder questions of existence, the excesses of a superficial society, the problem of how to live well and the inevitability of death, he came to realise that even after 2,000 years, Horace, his old nemesis, can provide some answers . . . Mr. Eyres begins and ends his book in the departure lounge of an airport. His companion is his small, battered edition of the "Odes." In one of them Horace made the outrageous claim that they were time-prof. This delightful book demonstrates that he was right. Hopefully, its seductive interweaving of a modern life and an ancient one will encourage a wider readership of this most appealing of Latin writers.” ―The Economist

“Harry Eyres's brilliant new book Horace and Me . . . is part biography of Horace, part autobiography of Eyres, part literary criticism, part travel (and wine) guide, part philosophical musing--but all is poetry. The writing is poetic and musical in every phrase and its inner message is poetry's power and relevance in a world squashed with materialism and its obsession with quantifiable measurements . . . An additional pleasure in this book is Eyres's own translations of the poems, included as signposts along the way. They are luminous and pungent, even startling at times in their modernity. They wake up these ancient writings as if some sleeping beauty and deserve a whole separate volume to themselves.” ―Stephen Hough, The Telegraph

“[An] amiable memoir-cum-treatise . . . Eyres displays a beautiful, serene understanding of the nuances of Horace and of life . . . This is an empathetic treatment of both a poet and a life. And it makes the reader want to pluck down a copy of Horace from the shelves, and savour its delights.” ―Philip Womack, The Telegraph

“[A] sweetly meandering reexamination of Horace's virtues . . . Horace wrote about small things, about home, about wine, about friendship, and about love . . . He focused on crafting a lyric that could reflect the human scale of life, the human voice--a kind of voice and scale that might be useful to us in the busy world today . . . For Eyres, Horace's lyric not only reflects our sense of being human but in some ways creates a space in which we learn how to be human at all . . . I left this book ready to make a new--if indeed, rather rare and old--literary friend.” ―Tess Taylor, The Barnes & Noble Review

“[Eyres and Horace] are almost perfect companions. Both are funny and like complaining. Both feel deeply but also exhibit a degree of what people now call commitment-phobia. Both have a faintly neurotic taste for ease, yet you could not call them quietists: they flare up angrily at stupidity, cruelty and ostentation. Both love nature and art, and the relation between the two. Above all, perhaps, both believe in poetry as ‘a few true words'--fewer, and truer, than other words . . . [This book is] about one poet, understood by another. With modern, idiomatic, yet timeless clarity, Eyres translates many of Horace's greatest poems into new English ones.” ―Charles Moore, The Telegraph

“Harry Eyres, with the help of the poetry of Horace, has written a book about some of the essential questions. He has squeezed from the life of the poet and from poems two thousand years old lessons that are fresh and relevant today. Horace and Me is a book about the love of poetry and its practical value in these troubling times. A delightful thought-provoking book into which a lifetime of reading and musing has casually strolled.” ―Ben Okri, Booker Prize–winning author of The Famished Road

“Why has no one done this before?--explored themselves through their reading of a great voice from the past? What Horace wrote (about love, about wine, about happiness) can have revelatory relevance. Harry Eyres puts his lyrics in a contemporary and personal context, where he sounds fresher and more to the point than ever.” ―Hugh Johnson, author of A Life Uncorked

“Horace combines awareness of the fragility and randomness that characterize our destinies with an inspiration to enjoy the pleasures of life--without greed, but with temperance and a spirit of conviviality. This, together with a sensitivity to nature, is in line with the philosophy of Slow Food. Harry Eyres has been able to bring the thoughts and spirit of this ancient poet to our everyday lives.” ―Carlo Petrini, Slow Food founder and president.

“Being both poet and wine writer, Eyres has a taste for Horace's wine as well as an ear for the vigorous Latin with which it is evoked. In Horace and Me, he blends these with memoir to create a paean to Horace and a polemic for the wise life, and for classical literature in general. He makes Horace very appealing: a paunchy, sociable man, who esteemed friendship more highly than lust, and honest lust more highly than love . . . Eyres's take on Horace is enlightening, and best of all he provides his own witty, exuberantly updated translations of the verses. Roman carriages become SUVs, a perfumed youth becomes a boy drenched in Pour Homme, and a long-forgotten Roman uprising is transplanted to Basra. This keeps Horace surprising and fresh. It sends the reader to the original--not for a more conventional translation but for a long sip of the Latin, which Eyres makes clear we cannot do without.” ―Sarah Bakewell, Financial Times

“[A] sweetly meandering reexamination of Horace's virtues . . . I left this book ready to make a new--if indeed, rather rare and old--literary friend.” ―Tess Taylor, Barnes and Noble Review

“Slow down for this read . . . Don't worry if you haven't had Latin . . . In the telling of his own life, Eyres meanders. No hurry. He's charming and lyrical. Yes, of course he's a poet himself. All the translations of the Horace odes in this book are his . . . Get the book. Pour some wine. Eyres recommends a Brunello.” ―Isabel Nathaniel, The Dallas Morning News

“[Eyres] rightly disparages the abstruse theorising of academics who use literary works to prosecute their grudges about colonialism or the politics of gender. For him, a great book is a boon companion, a friend to man like Keats's Grecian urn; he believes that literature is a criticism of life and potentially a guide to living well, which is why in times of personal stress he has been morally sustained by Horace as well as by his psychotherapists.” ―Peter Conrad, The Observer

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