November 27 in Literary History: Roman Poet Horace Dies

The most significant events in the history of books on the 27th of November

8 BC: Horace dies. The Roman poet whose full name was Quintus Horatius Flaccus once observed, ‘It is not enough that poetry is agreeable, it should also be interesting.’ He wrote the Satires, the Odes, and numerous other poems, including the Ars Poetica (‘The Art of Poetry’), a poem that doubles up as a sort of ‘how-to’ guide for aspiring poets. Several well-known phrases, such as carpe diem (‘seize the day’) and dulce et decorum est pro patria mori (‘it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country’), derive from Horace’s work.

1621: John Donne is elected Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, with a big house to go with it. Using his remarkable facility John Donnewith language to reach the people of London, Donne preached against lust, fornication, and other sins – everything that the young Donne had embraced wholeheartedly! By all accounts he was a terrifying figure in the pulpit: he would use an hourglass to time his sermons, often reminding the congregation that time was running out – as the sand fell in the glass – for them to be saved.

1907: L. Sprague de Camp is born. A prolific American author of fantasy novels, de Camp is a familiar name to fans of Robert E. Howard’s creation Conan the Barbarian: de Camp was a driving force in keeping Conan alive as a fantasy character after Howard’s death in 1936.

2014: P. D. James dies. Although she is best known for her detective novels featuring the poet-detective Adam Dalgliesh (what a pleasing combination!), James also wrote a dystopian novel (Children of Men) and, more recently, a detective-come-romantic sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, called Death Comes to Pemberley. Pleasingly, the Oxford English Dictionary‘s earliest citation for ‘flip-flops’ is from a 1958 Customs and Excise report itemising P. D. James’s personal luggage.

Image: John Donne, after a miniature by Isaac Oliver; Wikimedia Commons.

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