Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.04.14

Andrea Cucchiarelli, La satira e il poeta: Orazio tra Epodi e Sermones. Biblioteca di "Materiali e discussione per l'analisi dei testi classici" 17.   Pisa:  Giardini editori e stampatori, 2001.  Pp. 255.  ISBN 88-427-0300-1.  EUR 50.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Dan Hooley, University of Missouri (
Word count: 2325 words

What would happen if we gave up for just a little while some of our recently hard-won conclusions about Horatian satire, of those teasingly evasive eighteen poems as they have come to be understood by the best of the new century's New Latinists? Surely not any more the shy, self-deprecating ironist of bygone days, but the revisionist, dab hand at generic refashioning; fabricator of that improbable rivalry with Lucilius (so long dead); conspicuous player in the political game of self-positioning in a life-long contest of prestige and patronage; the almost painfully self-conscious artist; and ultimately the winner, the writer who so masters his subject that he can in the short span of two books dramatize (literally) the rise of a virtually new mode of discourse, ingeniously distinct from all others, and then break it apart, first into a dialogic interplay and then into a weary dissolve, as guests disperse, fed up with a satiric feast gone off, a genre to be thrown casually away. Reading this Horace, we are mesmerized by the way this master works his subject, which is the joint project of his poems and himself, even as he works, and is worked by, the 'system' of Augustan letters. We see him dabble with invective, allude to comedy, play out his love-hate with Lucilius, and we know it's all done for effect, a game of mirrors, of artful, metaliterary prestidigitation that fascinates with its marvelous spectacle.

But, let's say that a young Italian of prepossessing scholarship should offer to take us back to beginnings via a critical methodology that smacks a little of the way they used to do things, and we went along for the ride. It just might all look different. And it is precisely on a 'ride' that Andrea Cucchiarelli (C.), hospitable and quirkily observant cicerone, takes his readers in this MD monograph (his revised Perfezionamento). His central text--of surprising reach throughout the corpus of satires--is the relatively short Satires 1.5, Horace's account of own ride from Rome to Brindisi in the early months of 37 BCE. 1.5 has had its share of attention recently for the very good reason that it has obvious and direct links to literary program and Lucilian precedent as well as to Horace's political landscape. Why the conspicuous occlusions of Antony and Octavian whose meeting to patch up a testy peace in the world was the raison d'être of this traveling entourage, why the barest mention of the political handlers Maecenas and Cocceius--Horace's dazzled, bleary eyes barely able to take them in with a painful blink? Why, in light of all the big things going on precisely here, does Horace dote so lovingly on the vulgar, intimate, and personal? And just how does Lucilius and his own travelogue (of his journey to Sicily) engage Horace's reprise? The questions bedevil readers and a fair number of good pages have been written attempting answers.

C. enters this terrain through a distinctly literary regard, raising first the question of the poem's impropriety though Gibbon's felicitous complaint: "The gross language of the boatman, and the ribaldry of two buffoons, surely belong only to the lowest species of comedy" (15). The radical fracture between the magnae res of the foedus Brundisinum and the carnal buffoonery of Horace and Co. surely has a point, and that point, for C., will lead us in the direction that Gibbon dismissively proposed: comedy. It is in fact strikingly odd that so little has been done of late with satire's relation to comedy since Horace explicitly claims allegiance to the masters of Old Comedy in the very opening of the programmatic 1.4. C., by contrast, does a great deal, from observations about satire's onomastic play, the frequency of comic incident and character type, both genres' use of the 'parodic sublime,' and much else; but he concentrates particularly on the intertextual presence of Aristophanes' Frogs in 1.5: those swampy voyages and those comic agones. Comic influence on 1.5 is interesting in itself--and as devoted a treatment as C.'s is, it leaves room for further work--but becomes particularly so in light of the metaliterary theory adumbrated in Horace's satires. C. points out, with remarkable perceptiveness and originality, how in a number of ways 1.5 answers 1.4's theoretical ploys. The start of 1.4 may be seen as an opening gambit: an arrangement of generic signals along the way to a newly-modeled formulation of generic convention balanced, as it were, among others (comedy, invective) in a kind of gravitational equilibrium. C. does not see it quite so; rather, a conscious adumbration of specific theoretical terms that are answered and demonstrated in the praxis of 1.5. The comic presence in satire is real, if transmuted, and employed toward a remapping of generic identity. In the broadest terms, the metaliterary quests of Aristophanes and Horace, through Dionysus/Xanthius and 'Horace,' are strikingly parallel: both dramatize a moment of keen literary self-consciousness by enacting a return to origins under the general theme of literature's relevance to contemporary political realities. Both the comedy and the satire are bathetic in manner but raise serious questions. In both cases, strong forbears, Cratinus and Lucilius, pattern the younger poets' contradistinguishing manners, as Horace, recalling Aristophanes' presentation of old and new tragedy, positions himself as analogous to Terence, new-comic heir to the old-comic tradition. But Lucilius remains the crucial figure for Horace; 1.4 confronts the aggressive and careless cavalier; 1.5 imitates the unpretending confider-in-his book of the Iter Siculum, in revising terms, whereby Lucilian copiousness finds riposte in the condensation of sketchy outline and brevity (104 lines to the entirety of Bk. III for Lucilius' Sicilian Journey).

The fact that Horace chooses a confessional imitation of Lucilius to follow 1.4's self regarding program leads C. to a fruitful discussion of the poet as subject of his own satires, embodied in the neat paradox of satire's double valence: "la natura del poeta può essere satiricamente rappresentata come ragione della poesia, e la poesia a sua volta come effetto del poeta, per un processo di rispecchiameto . . . " (11). Whereas the poet, and particularly the poet's body, is blocked from the higher genres, satire, again taking a cue from comedy, literally incorporates (here, "il ventro . . . il sesso . . . e la lippitudo") so that the body becomes part of the poem's symbolic vocabulary. C. means by this a good deal more than traditional 'autobiographical' presence in the satires, though one might fault the presentation for being somewhat undertheorized. The line between traditional assumptions about authorial (usually ironic) self-representation and a symbolic vocabulary of the body, cast into literary register, is not always clear in this study; in fact 'irony' is something of a leitmotif at times giving the impression that the satires are really 'about' the (self-)portrayal of our bumbling, bygone friend of yore. But only at times; C.'s analysis is otherwise satisfyingly, even astonishingly, acute. C.'s second chapter ("Alius Lucilius: Modi satirici dell'imitazione") on the literary functionality of physiological signals is superb, and in its detail virtually beyond summary here. The chapter's subheadings capture the drift of argument--"Orazio poeta a piedi; Poeta lippus: storia comica di una malattia; Fisiologia della 'recusatio'; La satira e il silenzio"--and each of these sections is packed with sharp observation and compelling argument.

C.'s third chapter, "Orazio politico e faceto," is less satisfying. Meant to engage political aspects of the Satires, it confines its argument largely to literary/programmatic matter, tying the muted, less aggressive tenor of Horace's sermo to a preoccupation with amicitia, locating parallels and contrasts with the respective circles of Scipio and Maecenas/Augustus. Once again, although discussion ranges across the Satires, 1.5 is central, opening as it does with the comic sequence of misadventures, significantly with only the Greek scholar Heliodorus as companion, including the swamp crossing reminiscent of Aristophanes' catabasis ("mali culices ranaeque palustres ..."). But the advent of Maecenas and others introduces the themes of personal allegiance and shared sensibility that inform the 'satire' that follows. C. raises the interesting notion of 'symposiastic' satire, which, with its assumptions of shared values and mirthful entertainment, indirectly addresses the larger political context: satiric vis is directed to the pretentious upstart Aufidius Priscus ("linquimus...ridentes") and the mock-epic contest between the two scurrae Sarmentus and Messius Cicirrus. Both become group entertainments, hence reinforcing solidarity and, indirectly, precluding anything but happy resolution on even a grand scale: "È un mondo, questo, che non sembra lasciar spazio all'odio tra i due più potenti amici: quasi a suggerire la speranza che su quella coppia, binomio elementare, possa poggiare la pace dell'intera società" (100). Horace according to C. thus operates obliquely in the world of politics, through "il sorriso e ridicolo" illuminating an amicitia that entails its own seriousness ("la forma di serietà") in its not being untethered from the fate of nations. I think it is fair to say that as fascinating as C.'s argument is, too much of the political, in the broader sense (sexual politics and the 'presence' of social factors and pressures affecting poetic decision) as well as narrower sense (Horace's own politically active past), is left out.

With Chapter Four C.'s book shifts to new ground (hence the book's subtitle: "Orazio tra Epodi e Sermones"). The awkward transition to perhaps the intellectually richest section of this study is made via Horace's own awkward transition from the end of his Book 1 to Book 2. In 2.1, the first of those dialogic satires, Horace, who had marked out a consistently self-effacing and retiring persona in Book 1, seems to be tarred with a Lucilian brush: "sunt quibus in satira videar nimis acer...." The oddity is explicable, C. contends, if we recall that Horace was writing his Epodes at the same time (the mala carmina of that satire?). And this launches C. into an exploration of Horace's tonal duplicity in the Satires, his play with the tension of satiric and iambic idea, of apolitical retreat and activism, of humor and aggression. Isolating images associated with the iambic (poison/pharmakos, the biting teeth of wolf and dog, sword/phallus...), C. maps their occurrences in extra-iambic, satiric setting or considers contrastive responses to the prompt of setting itself: Horace's retreat in Sat. 1.9 from the via Sacra juxtaposes his fixed and hostile regard, on that same via Sacra, of the money-proud (unnamed) ex-slave of Epode 4. Correctly, C. begins by qualifying Horatian invective: Epodes 1 and 17 are liminal experiments with the idea of 'Horace' as invective poet (in 17 Canidia takes that role away from the poet); 2 and 3 are also false starts; 14 and 16 may be odd poems out. Only with 4 (and arguably not even there) does Horatian invective get into full swing. C. is particularly interested in Epode 6, which he sees (as others have) as programmatic: Horace there portrays himself as fierce guardian dog, a Molossian, amica vis pastoribus, opposed to the merely aggressive beast of generic invective. Plato's Guardians from Bk. III of the Republic, protecting against the wolf without, are adduced as parallel. The idea of literary aggression 'in service' is both productively intriguing and a bit more ambiguous (with respect to Horace) than C. allows here, but he traces it out through the major figures of satiric-iambic correspondence in Sat. 1.8, where Canidia, horrific in Epode 5 and triumphant in Epode 17, is overcome by the "forza del riso" of the Esquiline-protector Priapus' ridiculous blast. Intriguingly, C. also sees 1.8 as a civilizing response to the pessimism and intractable aggression of Epodes 16 and 17. Further discussion of invective elements of Satires 1.5 and 1.7 precedes an extended treatment of 2.1, where the Horatian take on literary aggressiveness is explicit. Satiric transmutation of iambic aggression is there played out; the mala carmina of 82-3 identified with the Epodes, and the barking dog of Epode 6 reappears, and the poem dissolves in laughter.

The remainder of the fourth chapter addresses iambic intersections with other satires of the second book, 2.8, 2.7, 2.6 respectively, discussing the iambic elements there as closural elements (Canidia as final sendoff of 2.8 stands out). Finally, C. undertakes yet another intertextual relationship, that between Callimachus and Horace, exploring Hipponax/Callimachus and Lucilius/Horace parallels, not only in Callimachus' moderation of Hipponactean iambic but as a means of introducing generic mobility in Horace's satires (subheadings: "Orazio πολυειδής, ovvero Callimaco maestro di trasformazioni" 168; "Vita e poesia di un autore polimorfo (satirico, giambico, lirico)" 179). Iambic plays a crucial role here in bridging the 'prose' of the satires to the poetry of lyric. Epistle 1.19 occupies, with good reason, a pivotal role in this discussion. This entire section deserves a review of its own, full as it is of observed detail and correspondence. I find nearly the whole of it enlightening.

The book closes with endpieces on Persius and Juvenal, very briefly discussed in the terms accorded to Horace earlier. His point is obviously not coverage but to indicate crucial connections. But even at this, one gleans too sketchy a picture of the later satirists, and these sections might well have been left for more extended treatment in another publication.

What to say in summary of such a complex and protean work? Despite its want of explicitly theoretical engagement (particularly of Horatian 'presence' in the poetry), its reluctance to push political implications harder, and a restiveness of focus that works against coherence, this is nonetheless one of the richest explorations of Horatian satire in recent memory. C.'s strength as a critic is his uncanny ability to make connections, and to entertain a vision of Horatian poetry as a mobile, intricately self-reflexive whole. Virtually every page yields some new and worthwhile perception. Every page too is packed with notes; reflecting its academic origins, the discussion is more copiously documented than a literary study published for general consumption strictly needs to be. But that feature too, in its attention to less widely known Italian work, is a service. Cucchiarelli has written a brilliant, even necessary, book.

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