BEHIND THE POETIC MASK
Death of Horace and Maecenas
There is something very odd about the received version of these events. We are asked to believe that Maecenas died without having made a will, but gave an oral command that his entire estate should go to Octavian. On his death bed he also made a request to Octavian that Octavian should treat Horace as he would do himself. Then in less than two months Horace has also expired, once again without making a will, and with the same oral wish that Octavian be his sole beneficiary.

Only the extremely gullible (or a certain type of study-bound scholar) would believe this version of the events. Maecenas was immensely rich - it is inconceivable that he would not have made a will. Apart from his own family, there would have been charitable bequests to be made, and of course arrangements for disposal of his private papers.

And there we come to the nub. It's all about power. Octavian would not be interested in Maecenas wealth as much as he would be in the power it could bestow on a recipient other than himself. And there is the issue of Maecenas papers. There would be letters stored in Maecenas' archives that Octavian had written to Maecenas decades before, necessary at the time, but they would not show Octavian in a good light now. And of course Octavian could anticiapte finding out all sorts of things that Maecenas had kept from him when Maecenas was alive. Who else might have been involoved in the plot of 20 BCE? What about Horace, Maecenas long-standing associate?

The same thing would happen when Horace died. After all Horace might have all sorts of papers squirrelled away. But the closeness of the two deaths makes one uneasy.

One should always be wary about reported death-bed requests, but in this case I believe that it probably happened exactly as the vita horati relates.

It is a chilling scenario. Octavian is charged by Maecenas on his death bed to treat Horace as he had the more powerful Maecenas. In effect to let Horace pass his remaining time in peace, not harry him now his protector was gone. Experience tells us that Octavian wouldn't have taken much notice of that.


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