Humble country mouse?

April 8, 2013 / Art & Archaeology
Licenza, Lazio
horace-villa4Remember the story of the humble country mouse (Rusticus) that welcomes the visit of his city-dwelling cousin, Urbanus? With little to offer, he does his best to put together what scraps of food he has, and after their meal he is instead convinced to go with Urbanus to the city, where despite the plenty of food, they are chased out of the city kitchen by hounds and barely manage to save their skin. A “thanks but no thanks” later, Rusticus packs up and heads home.

Horace, the famous Roman lyric poet, wrote the story. Maybe it was autobiographical? After all, he was given a country home east of Rome by Maecenas, great patron of the arts and advisor to Octavian (later Emperor Augustus). Horace often mentions it in his writings as his “modest farmhouse”. Originally from the countryside in Campania and the son a freedman, perhaps he often longed for the peace and quiet of his countryside home that his role as leading imperial court poet kept him from enjoying fully.

Head out to Licenza, a small town in the hills about 30 miles east of Rome, and you visit the ruins of his villa.. And sure enough, what a lovely setting! What a serene location! What a humble little ho…

Wait. Scratch that. Humble? Little? As if!

horace-villa7Walk around the site and after the first couple of minutes you begin to realize that the layout of the place is absolutely enormous! Multiple terraced courtyards, internal and external fountains and pools, 100 meter long columned porticoes, thermal bath-houses, radiant floors, service quarters… Rusticus the country dwelling mouse was living LARGE!

Overall, it seems the “modest farmhouse” comes to about 20,000 square feet, and that’s just what has been excavated so far. Maybe it’s no surprise Horace calls it “the fulfillment of all my hopes and prayers.”

*Here at ItalianNotebook we hate to ruin a good story with the truth; what you read above was a first (and uninformed) reaction. Some research however, and it turns out that Horace bequeathed his home to Augustus… what we see today is likely the imperial villa that was extended over time (and probably over the much smaller foundation of Horace‚Äôs humble abode). If we know this, it is thanks to years of meticulous research, excavation, and effort, so credit where credit’s due… Prof.Bernard Frischer, the American Academy in Rome, the Classics program at UCLA, and the Archaeological Superintendency for Lazio of the Italian Ministry of Culture, together with many many volunteers, have made it possible for the public to fully appreciate this incredible site as we see it today.





by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

11 Responses to “Humble country mouse?”

  1. S. Anderson

    G.B.’s contributions are always great. I would love to be having a picnic amongst those beautiful ruins!

  2. Loved this post, with the fable + current location to visit (made it on to my list of where to go in Italy) + the note at the end! It is amazing how much new information comes to light on the various layers of history in Italy. Why there is ALWAYS something new to explore!

  3. Angela Finch

    Thank you. I enjoyed the tale and the facts and the fiction and the photos


  4. umberto levrini

    u make being a subscriber to italian notebook a joy and an education -u give one so many reasons to continue visiting my beautiful Italy -thank u again

  5. Fantastic! The Romans knew how to live! It would be wonderful to see a rendering of how this site looked back when! My Rome visit list is growing, thank to you! Grazie.


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