Horace also crafted elegant hexameter verses (Satires and Epistles) and caustic iambic poetry (Epodes). The hexameters are amusing yet serious works, friendly in tone, leading the ancient satirist Persius to comment: "as his friend laughs, Horace slyly puts his finger on his every fault; once let in, he plays about the heartstrings".
His career coincided with Rome's momentous change from a republic to an empire. An officer in the republican army defeated at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC, he was befriended by Octavian's right-hand man in civil affairs, Maecenas, and became a spokesman for the new regime. For some commentators, his association with the regime was a delicate balance in which he maintained a strong measure of independence (he was "a master of the graceful sidestep") but for others he was, in John Dryden's phrase, "a well-mannered court slave".
Horace can be regarded as the world's first autobiographer – In his writings, he tells us far more about himself, his character, his development, and his way of life than any other great poet in antiquity. Some of the biographical writings contained in his writings can be supplemented from the short but valuable "Life of Horace" by Suetonius (in his Lives of the Poets).
He was born on 8 December 65 BC in the Samnite south of Italy. His home town, Venusia, lay on a trade route in the border region between Apulia and Lucania (Basilicata). Various Italic dialects were spoken in the area and this perhaps enriched his feeling for language. He could have been familiar with Greek words even as a young boy and later he poked fun at the jargon of mixed Greek and Oscan spoken in neighbouring Canusium. One of the works he probably studied in school was the Odyssia of Livius Andronicus, taught by teachers like the 'Orbilius' mentioned in one of his poems. Army veterans could have been settled there at the expense of local families uprooted by Rome as punishment for their part in the Social War (91–88 BC). Such state-sponsored migration must have added still more linguistic variety to the area. According to a local tradition reported by Horace, a colony of Romans or Latins had been installed in Venusia after the Samnites had been driven out early in the third century. In that case, young Horace could have felt himself to be a Roman though there are also indications that he regarded himself as a Samnite or Sabellus by birth. Italians in modern and ancient times have always been devoted to their home towns, even after success in the wider world, and Horace was no different. Images of his childhood setting and references to it are found throughout his poems.
Horace's father was probably a Venutian taken captive by Romans in the Social War, or possibly he was descended from a Sabine captured in the Samnite Wars. Either way, he was a slave for at least part of his life. He was evidently a man of strong abilities however and managed to gain his freedom and improve his social position. Thus Horace claimed to be the free-born son of a prosperous 'coactor'. The term 'coactor' could denote various roles, such as tax collector, but its use by Horace was explained by scholia as a reference to 'coactor argentareus' i.e. an auctioneer with some of the functions of a banker, paying the seller out of his own funds and later recovering the sum with interest from the buyer.