"That one is Homer, Poet sovereign; He who comes next is Horace, the satirist; The third is Ovid, and the last is Lucan."

(Canto 4, lines 88-90)

Homer (maybe 8th century BC) was the preeminent poet of ancient Greece, the author of the famous epic poems "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey". The historical figure is much disputed, with some accounts romanticizing him as a blind beggar-poet, others doubting his existence altogether, instead proposing that the two epics were fashioned from rhapsodic material among the common people. Dante did not know Greek and according to commentators, his understanding of Homer primarily came through the works of Horace and Cicero; in his "Vita Nova," "Convivio" and "De Monarchia" are found borrowings from Homer as quoted in the works of Aristotle and Horace. Dante, who considered Homer among the greatest poets, here portrays him with "falchion in his hand", because of his great skill in composing poems of war.

Horatius reading
Public DomainHoratius reading - Credit: Fyodor Bronnikov

Horace (65-8 BC), full name Quintus Horatius Flaccus, was one of the most important Roman poets. He studied in Greece and was present at the battle of Philippi, where Octavian (later Augustus) and Mark Antony defeated the forces of Brutus and Cassius. He was a good friend of Virgil and is remembered for the two books of his "Satires" and two volumes of "Epistles", among others.

Ovid (43 BC - 17/18 AD), full name Publius Ovidius Naso, was another famous Roman poet. For some unknown reason, he was banished in 8 AD to Tomis, on the Black Sea, by emperor Augustus, where he remained until his death. His most famous work is maybe the "Metamorphoses".

Dante with the ancient poets
Public DomainDante with the ancient poets - Credit: Gustave Doré
Lucan (39-65 AD), full name Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, also a Roman poet, was a nephew of the philosopher Seneca the Younger. He is best remembered for his epic poem "Pharsalia" in ten books (taking its name from the decisive Battle of Pharsalus), commemorating the civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey. At the age of 26, he was accused of treason against the tyrant Nero, which led him to commit suicide. In his work "De vulgari eloquentia", Dante praised him and Ovid as models of literary style and calls him "great poet" in the Convivio.