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Horace, Epistles 2. 2: Introspection and Retrospective

  • R. B. Rutherford (a1)

Extract

The epistle to Florus (Ep. 2. 2) has usually been grouped with the epistle to Augustus and the Ars Poetica, partly because of its length, which sets it, like the other two, apart from the letters of the first book, and partly because of the common interest in literary theory which is manifested in all three. These poems have always been the subject of controversy; but 2. 2 has received less attention than the others, perhaps because the elegance and humour of the poem, which have been so often praised, have eclipsed the possibility that it may have something to say, especially about Horace himself, his personality and his changing allegiances to philosophy and poetry. The object of this paper is to offer a reading of 2. 2, not as a piece of autobiography, nor as a mosaic of conventional motifs, but as an examination by Horace of his own poetry and poetic aims, in which he is testing and criticizing his own achievement, and himself. In this he continues one of the most attractive and impressive practices of the earlier book of epistles.

Horace here abnegates his role as a lyric poet, and this is generally taken literally as placing the poem quite precisely between the completion of Epistles 1 and Horace's resumption of lyric writing in the Carmen Saeculare and Odes 4. But more important is the way in which Horace in Ep. 2. 2 itself expresses a judgement about his own poetic ambitions. The philosophic themes of the Epistles and the more frivolous lyric subjects (‘iocos, Venerem, convivia, ludum’, 2. 2. 56) which he presents as the essence of his Odes, are both aspects of Horace's poetry and personality; the question is whether one should be considered more valid than the other in the poet's own mature judgement, whether Horace should in fact have outgrown either or both kinds of poetry. In this poem, then, it is important not only that he renews the renunciation of poetry and the gay life which he made at Ep. 1. 1. 10–11, but also that this decision is to some extent forced on him, and reluctantly made (2. 2. 55–7).

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1 As by McGann, M. J., RhM 97 (1954), 343–58; Brink, C. O., Horace on Poetry, i (Cambridge, 1963), pp. 184–5; Williams, G., Horace, G&R New Surveys 6 (1972), 40.

2 See especially Ep. 1. 8. 2 ff.; 1. 15. 16 ff.; Macleod, C. W., JRS 69 (1979), 16 ff.

3 So Wilkins and Kiessling-Heinze (p. 195) in their editions of the Epistles; Williams, op. cit. 38.

4 Lines 77–8; cf. Carm. 1. 1. 30–2; 2. 19. 1 ff.; 3. 4. 65 ff.; 3. 25; n. 19. But the description of the bard ‘somno gaudentis et umbra’ (78) rather undercuts Horace's dignified excuse, and brings out the theme of lethargy which runs through the poem (cf. n. 14).

5 Lines 146 ff.; cf. esp. Carm. 2. 2. 13 ff. and Nisbet-Hubbard ad loc.; Ep. 1. 1. 23–40), 1. 2. 34, etc.; also below, n. 19.

6 Lines 160 ff.; the vilicus Orbi is a local figure (Kiessling-Heinze on 160). Cf. Carm. 1. 17, 2. 3, 3. 18, 3. 29; Serm. 2. 6; Ep. 1. 10, 1. 14, 1. 16. 1 ff.; 1. 18. 104 ff. In general in Horace, and especially in the epistles, the farm and the countryside are symbols of security and moral integrity: cf. McGann, M. J., Studies in Horace's First Book of Epistles (Brussels, 1969), pp. 58 ff., 6675; Bramble, J. C., Persius and the Programmatic Satire (Cambridge, 1974), pp. 2930, 62–3.

7 Lines 147–8, 175–82, 190–2; cf. esp. Carm. 1. 20, 1. 31, 1. 38, 2. 10, 2. 11, 2. 16. 7 ff., 2. 18, 3. 1, 3. 29. 9–16; also Serm. 1. 6. 104–28, 2. 1. 71–4, 2. 2 passim; Mette, H. J., MH 18 (1961), 136 ff.; Bramble, op. cit., pp. 156–64.

8 Lines 65–76, 84–105. Compare above all Serm. 1. 9, especially for poetic rivalry and backbiting (further, Nisbet-Hubbard on Carm. 2. 20. 4); also Serm. 2. 6. 20–64, where also Horace's superiority to the city spirit of vanity and competition is open to question: see line 32. Similar is 2. 7. 29–35. For city vs. country cf. Ep. 1. 7, 1. 10, 1. 14.

9 Lines 158–74; see Nisbet-Hubbard, on Carm. 2. 14. 24 (esp. Serm. 2. 2, 129 ff.)

10 Lines 175–6, 191–2; see Nisbet-Hubbard, on Carm. 2. 14. 25, esp. Ep. 1. 5. 13 f.

11 cf. n. 23 below, and text. Note also Horace's consistent pose as an elderly man in the love-poems of the Odes, e.g. 1. 5, 2. 4. 22–4, 2. 5, 3. 14, 3. 26.

12 A position sometimes approached by Nisbet, and Hubbard, in their commentary on the Odes, e.g. i., pp. vvi, xxiiinit., xxv–vi.

13 contra Nisbet-Hubbard, i., p. xxvi init.

14 The metaphor of sleep and torpor is regularly applied to moral sluggishness, unwillingness to wake to one's responsibilities: e.g. 1.2.27–31, Heracl. B73, Arist. Protr. frr. B83 and 90 During, Magna Mor. 1185a 10 ff., Sen. Ep. 53. 7–8, Pers. 3. 1 ff., 58ff., M. Aur. 4. 46, 6. 31.

15 Ep. 1. 11, esp. lines 22 ff.; cf. Carm. 2. 16. 17 ff., Serm. 2. 7. 111 ff., Ep. 1. 14. 13–14.

16 Esp. Serm. 1. 4. 73–4. Locus classicus for literary and philosophical criticism of the practices of recitationes: Mayor on Juv. 3. 9.

17 For such techniques of transfusion see Bramble, op. cit., chh. 1–2.

18 cf. Brink, op. cit., pp. 224–5,235, and his commentary on Ars P. 391 ff.; Fraenkel, E., Horace (Oxford, 1957), p. 391.

19 See SVF 3. 657 ff.; Cic. Paradoxa 4; Hor. Serm. 2. 3; Rudd, N., The Satires of Horace (Cambridge, 1966), pp. 173–88. For the mad poet, a devaluation of poetic inspiration, see Ars P. 453–76 and Brink ad loc. For the related ideas of disease and blindness, see Bramble, op. cit., p. 35.

20 See also Chadwick, H., RLAC x. 1056; Oltramare, A., Les Origines de la diatribe romaine, (Lausanne, 1926), pp. 55, 178.

21 cf. Macleod, art cit. 22.

22 See Nisbet-Hubbard, on Carm. 1. 6, 2. 12; Commager, S., The Odes of Horace: A Critical Study (New Haven and London, 1962), pp. 34 ff.; Innes, D. C., CQ n.s. 29 (1979), 165–71. Note also ps.-Virg. Catal. 5; Donatus, vit. Virg. 129 Hardie (probably derived from Geo. 2. loc. cit.); Lyne on Ciris 1 ff.

23 This is a dominant theme of all Horace's later poetry: see e.g. Carm. 4. 1, 7, 10, 11. 31 f.; Ars P. 60 ff., and Commager, op. cit., pp. 264 f.

24 cf. Ep. 1. 18. 107 ‘et mihi vivam’; ibid. 101 ‘quid te tibi reddat amicum’ (pointed at the end of a sermon on a cruder kind of amicitia). Ancient moralists regularly concentrate on their own moral deficiencies and how to correct these: see e.g. M. Aur. 10. 4, 10. 30, 10. 37 and Farquharson ad loc. This should not be viewed as selfishness, but as a response to the greatest and most immediate challenge. Further, Macleod, art. cit. 21.

25 As suggested above, pp. 1–2 and nn. 4–11. For examples of self-imitation in Augustan poetry see Cairns, F. in Creative Imitation and Latin Literature, ed. West, D. and Woodman, T. (Cambridge, 1979), pp. 124–5. Similarly in another of Horace's poetic ‘retrospects’, Ep. 1. 19, the vigour and pugnacity (esp. lines 10–20) may recall his imitation of Archilochus, about which he is there writing: notice especially the reference to ‘bilem’ in line 20; bile and equivalents are characteristic of the fury of the iambist or satirist, cf. Epode 11. 16; Ars P. 79; Juv. 1. 79.

26 For avarice as a stock theme of diatribe and satire, see Herter, H., RhM 94 (1951), 142; Mayor on Juv. 14. 139; Kindstrand on Bion, fr. 35.

27 On Epicurean and Horatian attitudes to death see Macleod, C. W., G&R 26 (1979), 25 ff.

28 cf. 1. 1. 33–40; Ars P. 343–4. For Horace and his addressees both poetry and philosophy are a source of solace and instruction.

29 For the history of this image, and many examples, see Kindstrand on Bion, fr. 68.

30 cf. Ep. 1. 1. 10 ‘versus et cetera ludicra pono’; Nisbet-Hubbard, on Carm. 1. 32. 2.

31 The evidence of the manuscripts (see e.g. Brink's commentary on the Ars Poetica, p. 14) does not support the view that the second book of epistles should include the Ars (as maintained by e.g., Williams, op. cit. (n. 1) 38 ff.).

32 I am happy to acknowledge my debt to the teaching and example of Colin Macleod. I have also been helped by discussions with Stephen Halliwell and Victoria Harris.

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