Bryn Mawr Classical Review 95.03.30


Frances Muecke, Horace, Satires II. Warminster: Aris and Phillips, 1993. Pp. xii + 243. $49.95 (hb). $24.95 (pb). ISBN 0-85668-531-3 (hb). ISBN 0-85668-532-1 (pb).


Reviewed by Lee T. Pearcy, The Episcopal Academy (pearcy@sju.edu).

Roast peacock, if we can believe Horace, has this in common with other exotic meats: it tastes just like chicken (Sat. 2.2, 23ff). Why, then, bother to prepare and consume the exotic bird? To do so suggests some fundamental misunderstanding of what eating is for. Quintus Horatius Flaccus was almost certainly never as hungry as the desperate poor who clamored for grain in ancient cities (Dio Chrysostom Orat. 46) or had to be kept from raiding the offerings left on funeral pyres (Catullus 59), but in the second book of the Satires he creates an authorial persona who appreciates the importance of food, eating, and the moral and ethical dimensions of cuisine. Dining, menus, gastronomy, gastrosophy, and the symposium form a leitmotif running through the book.

Food and the thematic use of it figure prominently in the Introduction (9-11) and notes of this useful new edition of Satires Book 2. Like other volumes in this series from Aris and Phillips, it includes a facing translation, an extensive bibliography, which to me at least seemed oddly located at the front of the volume (pp. v-xii), and an introduction and notes keyed to the translation, not the Latin text, and aimed at Latin students past the intermediate level. Muecke's commentary concentrates on Realien and on the social context of Horace's satire. It aims, as the Introduction declares, to remove the difficulties that L. P. Wilkinson saw standing in the way of appreciation of the Satires: "their difficulty, their moralizing character, the width of their vocabulary ..., and the extent to which reading them with understanding depends upon a detailed knowledge of Roman social life and values" (iv). Once liberated from these difficulties, however, the reader is free to notice what the commentary does not include. I give four examples: two Greek physicians practicing at Rome, a Greek philosopher domesticated by the Roman aristocracy, and a Roman poet of the generation before Horace's.

Somewhere behind Horace's intellectualizing of food lies the corpus of dietetic treatises, whose earliest examples appear in the Hippocratic books On Regimen and On Regimen in Health. The belief that mixing opposed humors did harm drives the dietary recommendations at Satires 2.2, 70-93, as Muecke notes. The prescription offered by Trebatius at Satires 2.1, 7-12 begins with advice that might have come from On Regimen in Health or Aphorisms, although it does not return an exact echo of anything in either treatise. A nearer source for Trebatius' recommendation of massage and swimming may be the therapeutic practices of Asclepiades of Bithynia, who, according to Pliny NH 26.13 treated his Roman clients with "five common aids," abstinence from food and from wine, massage, walks, and controlled passive movement (gestationes). Perhaps we should think also of Antonius Musa, physician to Augustus Caesar. Like Horace's Trebatius he recommended a regimen including hydrotherapy, and like Asclepiades he may have been an adherent or forerunner of the Methodist school of medical thought, which advocated a restricted range of therapies based on an atomist physiology.

Atomist physicians and Epicurean philosophers used each other's language and imagery. Horace's teacher Philodemus, whose importance for Roman thought and literature in the first century B.C. is rapidly coming into sharper focus thanks to the Philodemus Translation Project, wrote on curing sick souls through parrhesia, frank speech. Philodemus's Epicurean doctrine may have provided the theoretical underpinnings of Horace's reworking of Lucilian satire; if so, it is typical of Horace that the notion of curing sick souls through philo-sophy, which is compared to a dose of medicinal hellebore (Sat. 2.3,82), appears in the mouth of a convert to Stoicism. Ever evasive, Horace refuses to give a reader the easy option of saying, "Aha, all this is only versified Philodemus."

An eclectic philosophy (R. Mayer, "Horace's Epistles I and Philosophy," AJP 107 [1986], 55-73) went hand in hand with other kinds of independence. One task facing Horace after Actium and before the Odes was to locate the Sabine farm or an invitation from Maecenas in a context of poetic response to the new political conditions. At the same time, he had to establish his own, independent voice in the face of social and perhaps aesthetic pressure from his patrons. For a poet, meaning and independence come from and may find expression in confrontation with one's predecessors in the art. Horace in the Satires no less than Vergil at the same time in the Georgics declared their need to transform the Callimacheanism of the Neoterics, their fathers in poetry. Private poetry on defiantly trivial themes no longer offered the nourishment required by the body politic.

It is hardly surprising, then, that Catullus is a constant but unacknowledged presence in the second book of the Satires. The second and third satires expand on the themes of Catullus 44, the connection between ill-health and folly and the common madness of all humans. Recherche vocabulary like autumat (2.3,45; cf Cat. 44,2) makes it just possible to recognize the allusion. Among the urbane topics that Horace rejects in his idealized picture of rustic conversation at 2.6, 60-76 is Catullan lepos -- although here, as Muecke notes, Charm appears to be the name of a dancer in pantomime. The city mouse, however, is a thorough-going Neoteric. His house and Peleus's palace have the same interior decorator (cf. Sat. 2.6, 102-103, rubro ubi cocco tincta super lectos canderet vestis eburnos with Cat. 64, 45-49, candet ebur soliis . . . tincta tegit roseo conchyli purpura fuco), and this splendor is described in two consecutive, neoteric "golden lines" (103 and 104) before being brought back to the quotidian reality of leftovers in baskets (105). Horace, pledged to swear by the words of no guru (Epist. 1,1 14), declares his independence by refusing to be pinned down or declare allegiance. Overt recusatio is the simplest of his tactics; more often, he simply eludes analysis or conceals the names of those who influenced him. In the Satires he is elusively intertextual, reticent about the sources of his poetic persona, and fiercely independent. The references closest to the surface of the text may not be those most important in creating its texture. Hence a commentator faces a difficult task. To talk about what Horace talks about is in some sense to play along with the deception that Horace practices on his readers.

Muecke plays along. Hippocrates, Asclepiades, Philodemus, and Catullus do not appear in her index, although Catullus does turn up in a few notes (e.g. on 2.6, 102f.). The introduction and notes concentrate on matters familiar to students of the Satires: the Cynic diatribe, structural patterns, the influence of Lucilius and Old Comedy, and the nature of satire. This is commentary in the tradition of Nisbet and Hubbard, and indeed Muecke dedicates the volume to the latter.

In some quarters it is fashionable to depreciate commentary in this vein, as though elucidation of the referential meaning of a Latin text were somehow trivial. I find it difficult to agree with this opinion as applied to any ancient text. It is doubly difficult when the text at hand is Horace's Satires. Without the kind of learning represented in Muecke's commentary, the ability to read these important texts is in danger of being lost. The merely obscure or allusive will become impenetrable. This is a useful book which will smooth the road to understanding for everyone, Latinist or not, who reads Book 2 of the Satires. If interpretation can begin only when one has laid Muecke's work down, that is the fate of commentaries: to build the road along which others may travel.

Outright errors are rare and misprints few. In the Third Satire, line 246 surely refers to the practice of marking the feet of slaves with chalk when they were put on the market (e.g. Pliny NH 35.58 [199]) and to the obligation to display a notice, probably written on board with charcoal, announcing any of their defects (Gellius NA 4.2,1); Horace's rhetorical question asks whether the dissipated progeny of Arrius, when reduced to slavery, will even be saleable. In the Latin text of the same satire, line 225 has been misplaced to follow 227. There are no other misprints of any consequence. Thracian gladiators wear "greaves," not "grieves" (p. 202). None of these minor slips detracts from the utility of this edition, which will point many readers to new and productive understandings of the Satires.