This is a good and interesting book but one that could only be written by someone with Harry Eyres’s background – that is, who went to an English public school (which means a private school, confusingly for the rest of the world) and studied Classics there. Which is not a criticism, since the book is entirely accessible to all readers, but simply an observation.

It rang many bells for me, as I did Classics at school, albeit not at a private one but in one of the last state schools in the UK to offer Latin and Greek. I didn’t study Horace much, as it happens, though I knew one or two of his famous poems. Incidentally, he it was who wrote a beautiful poem, wonderfully translated here by Harry Eyres, that included the phrase ‘carpe diem’, which is one of the few Latin phrases still in current English usage. It means ‘seize the day’, or as Eyres translates it, ‘taste the day’. That is, experience it – live in the moment.

The book is partly memoir, partly biography and partly a study of Horace. It is quite briliantly put together, almost casually, although I am sure that much hard work went into creating that affable impression. One can imagine Eyres describing it as a ‘mere bagatelle, my dear fellow’. Downplaying effort and an excess of modesty are features of the traditional English gentleman.

Horace is, like all the great Latin and Greek writers, as relevant today as he has ever been. But Harry Eyres does a great service in setting out for the modern reader exactly how, and why.

Advertisements