7 Lessons Horace Has Taught Me About Life

eric kim street photography -sapa-0006353

Read: “The Works of Horace

I’m really into the poet Horace– who mixed moral philosophy and poetry:

Here are some of my personal notes for myself, which I hope will give you some ideas:

1. Let the world adapt to you

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“[I] endeavor to adapt circumstances to myself, not myself to circumstances.” – Horace

In today’s world, we are told to be flexible. But often this leads us to ruin — we follow the crowd, and jump off the cliff like lemmings.

If we want to live a life true to ourselves, we need to let the world adapt to us, rather than adapt to the world.

2. Live a single life

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‘Nothing is preferable to, nothing better than a single life’ – Horace

I have a problem that I am always changing my mind. According to Horace, true happiness and wisdom is ‘constancy of mind’ — being consistent with your personal philosophy.

According to Seneca, wisdom is always desiring the same things, and always refusing the same things.

Moving forward in life, I will try to contract myself a little less each day, and follow my own rules that I set for myself.

3. Live well, now!

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“Don’t postpone the hour of living well.” – Horace

Why postpone our lives, when we don’t know when we will die? Horace tells us to ‘carpe diem’ (to seize the day), because we have no idea when we will die.

We can die from a heart attack, a stroke, getting hit by a drunk driver, or by texting-while-driving. Why delay our lives. We must live now. We must do creative work now. We must live each day as if it were our last.

“In the midst of hope and care, in the midst of fears and disquietudes, think every day that shines upon you is the last. Thus the hour, which shall not be expected, will come upon you with an agreeable addition.” – Horace

If we can really live our lives like today were our last, we will not fear tomorrow. And if we wake up tomorrow, we will do it with grateful hearts.

4. Praise the simple

My berkeley apartment
My old espresso machine at my old apartment / Berkeley, 2015

‘I praise the rocks overgrown with moss.’ – Horace

To me, happiness is simple. Happiness is gratitude. Gratitude for being alive, gratitude for nature, and my loved ones. The opportunity to do creative work, and share it with others.

‘I desire plain bread—better than honied cakes.’ – Horace

A practical way I’ve found more satisfaction in my simple things is to enjoy what is simple and plain.

For me, my biggest joys are from coffee and eggs. Coffee is what stimulates my mind to put words onto digital paper. Eggs are easy to cook, fast to cook, and cheap. And I can eat 10 of them at one time, and cook them in about a dozen different ways.

I love my simple possessions. I like my black UNIQLO clothes. I like my Ricoh GR II point and shoot digital camera. I like my (expensive) MacBook laptop.

But above all, I appreciate the small things. The gentle breeze on a warm summer day. The laughter of Cindy’s face. The soft and firm handshake from strangers. The opportunity to live in an age which empowers me with digital technology.

Each day, I try to count my blessings on blessings on blessings.

5. Don’t like the stuff of others

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Berkeley, 2015 #cindyproject

‘He to whom his neighbors lot (stuff) is agreeable, must of consequence dislike his own’ – Horace

Let us not covet the ‘lot’ (stuff) of others. Don’t desire the cars of others, the digital devices of others, the cameras of others, the clothes of others, or the bank account of anyone else.

I know for myself– I am trying not to even compliment others (on their stuff). Because whenever I do that, it makes me a little less happy with what I have.

So I guess the secret is this: don’t compliment the stuff of others. Only compliment the souls of others.

6. Don’t follow in the footsteps of others

cindy project eric kim black and white

‘I was the original, who set my free footsteps upon the vacant sod; I trod not in the steps of others.’ – Horace

In modern society, we are told to be modest. Horace wasn’t. He knew he was a great poet. Not only that, he didn’t need applause from the ‘vulgar’ crowd:

‘I hunt not after the applause of the inconstant vulgar.” – Horace

Not only that, but he paved his own path as a poet. His revolutionary Odes were new. Nobody ever wrote poetry like him. And for millennia, other poets have followed in his footsteps.

He also had the guts to be original. To set his own free footsteps upon the vacant land. To not follow in the footsteps of others.

Horace orders us to uplift ourselves, and to be our own leaders:

‘He who demands upon himself, as leader, commands the swarm.’ – Horace

I feel that gaining wisdom is truly knowing yourself, to follow your own gut, your own intuition, and having the courage to speak what is really on your mind. To stand up for your ideals and ideas.

Courage, courage, courage is what raises the blood of of life to crimson splendor (Horace).

7. Don’t care about the applause from the crowd

laughing ladies

“You grieve that you are shown but to a few.” – Horace

When I started photography, I wanted a lot of people to see and appreciate my work. But even in Horace’s day, poets weren’t widely read. Even Horace wasn’t that well-read.

We grieve because only a few people see our photos. But in reality, we shouldn’t crave the applause from the masses, and certainly not on social media.

Rather, we should first seek to please ourselves, and a few close friends, acquaintances, and those whose opinion we trust.

Whose opinion matters more to you — random strangers on social media, or your own opinion of yourself and your own art?


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I’ve found poetry to be a good source of inspiration for creative insights, as well as my photography.

To start, here are some ‘practical’ poetry I recommend:

  1. The Epistles of Horace (Book 1)
  2. Tao Te Ching (Taoism)
  3. The Moral Sayings of Publilius Syrus

Book Notes

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