For several years Horace had lived a regulated and retiring life dedicated to philosophy, and had written poems of an avowedly ethical nature embodying the fruits of his contemplation. These poems are letters addressed to his several friends, and of course to his patron, and are as MacLeod defined them: ‘ethical poems in which the epistolary form led to the presentation of moral matters.’ These poems were in the fulness of time collected and, after well-documented literary custom, were arranged in a significant order. A final poem was written (as was usual) in which unequivocally Horace set his seal (his sphragis) on his latest collection, identifying himself as the writer. He indicated his parentage, his achievement (which belied his humble origins) and, finally, stated his age.
In the opening lines of his signature poem, Horace suggested that his book wanted only to go whoring in Rome. He does this by writing of his book in words which apply equally to a young slave who yearns for the bright lights of a free life in the world at large. The book/slave imagery is sustained throughout and seems to organise the poem along an orderly (and limited) progress from beginning to end. But the poet's attitudes are so complex, his stance about poetry is so provocative (in the poem he seems to create a conflict of interest between the poet and his poems) and, for all the tour de force of his imagery, so single-mindedly fierce and uncompromising that, though we particularly relish the fine verbal control, the poem opens up new horizons of perception.