Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2009.07.39 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.07.39

José Luis Moralejo (ed.), Horacio: Odas, canto secular, epodos. Biblioteca Clásica Gredos, 360.   Madrid:  Editorial Gredos, 2007.  Pp. 583.  ISBN 9788424928797.  €33.00.  

Reviewed by Jennifer Ferriss-Hill, Hofstra University / University of Miami (

"Horacio: Odas, canto secular, epodos" by José Luis Moralejo is an edition of Horace's Odes, Carmen Saeculare and Epodes. It contains a general introduction to Horace, an introduction specific to the works contained in this volume, and prose translations of the works, with explanatory notes. No Latin text is printed.

Moralejo 's work is volume 360 in the ambitious project undertaken by Biblioteca Clásica Gredos to produce a full library in Spanish of all Greco-Roman literature. In addition to canonical works and authors covering a wide time-span, fragmentary and rare works are also included, making this series the most complete collection in the world of Greek and Latin authors translated into a modern language. Biblioteca Clásica Gredos defines its mission as being to cater to a wide readership, including both those with knowledge of Latin and Ancient Greek, and those who are unable to access works of classical literature in the original languages. In this way Biblioteca Clásica Gredos is akin to the Loeb Classical Library ( neither series presents -- or is intended to present -- innovative interpretations or comprehensive critical editions), though its scope is rather greater. Although Moralejo 's volume has much to recommend it, both this volume and the others in the series seem unlikely to appeal to non-Spanish speakers. Furthermore, Biblioteca Clásica Gredos 's stated desire to appeal to both specialists and non-specialists seems to be the cause of certain tensions that pervade and somewhat hamper this volume. The explanatory notes accompanying each poem, being largely culled from Fraenkel1 and Nisbet-Hubbard2, are of little use to a classicist, who would undoubtedly prefer to read them in full in the original commentaries, and to have a Latin text to consult. At the same time, these notes occasionally seem unnecessarily extensive and detailed for the non-specialist.

Moralejo's volume is structured as follows:

First is a General Introduction (pp. 7-119), helpfully divided into individually-titled sub-sections. "Part I: Horace and his time" presents the sources for Horace's life, discusses his identity as the son of a freedman, the influence on him of the years spent at Athens, the difficulties he experienced during the civil war and his subsequent recovery, his place in Maecenas' circle and his relations with Augustus, the writing of the Odes and the eventual transition to the epistolary form, concluding with some thoughts on the mature Horace, vates of Rome. The second part of this introduction is entitled "Horace in Posterity: Antiquity and the Middle Ages", and presents a valuable treatment of reception that is not ordinarily found in editions of Horace. Part III discusses the manuscript tradition, gives a list of the primary editions and translations since Basilius' editio princeps of 1470, some explanatory comments on the present translation, and a bibliography. The decision to base the translations of the present volume on the 1982 Teubner text of Klingner, rather than on Shackleton Bailey's 1995 edition -- a decision that some might find curious -- is explained here as being due to the editor's perception of the latter as excessively innovative. Throughout this Introduction, and the one that follows, there are occasional instances of Latin phrases left untranslated or unexplained -- a habit that a reader lacking knowledge of Latin might find distracting (e. g., p. 17, "dura tempora," "civilis aestus"; p. 34, "poetae novi"; etc.).

The second section (pp. 121-243) is an Introduction specific to the current work, once again sub-divided into individual sections. The main topics include a history of the lyric genre, the role of other generic sources such as epigram, the place of the Odes in Horace's literary career, the primary themes and motifs of Horatian lyric, the composition of the Odes and their arrangement into books, their language, style and meter, and the survival of Horatian lyric since the Renaissance, concluding once again with a bibliography. Although the two Introductions are generally both to the point and comprehensive, the inclusion of six pages of detailed metrical schemata in the second seems peculiar, given that no Latin text is printed, and at odds with the stated desire to appeal to the non-specialist lacking knowledge of Latin.

Finally, the bulk of the work (pp. 245-563) is taken up by the translation of and explanatory comments on each poem, followed by two indices (565-583). A description of its contents, including socio-cultural, political and historical detail, as well as remarks on generic affiliations, introduces each poem. The translations themselves into Spanish prose are both accurate and readable. Footnotes explaining, inter alia, the meaning of particular phrases and, especially, the identity of named places or individuals, typically occupy between one third and two thirds of each page.

Exempli gratia, I present Moralejo's discussion of Odes II.20, as it seems to me particularly representative of his method throughout. The short introduction explains that the poem's placement at the end of the second book is to be considered deliberate, as it exhibits certain features typical of an epilogue (such as the claim to immortality and to a fame that is destined to grow, combined with a mention of humble origins) that make it akin to III.30. As does each introduction, the one to Odes II.20 includes a short summary of the contents. The translation is readable and clear, with line numbering that helpfully follows that of the Latin original. In the notes Moralejo explains, inter alia, that the poet is metamorphosing into a swan, and that this is a poetic metaphor seen elsewhere; he notes that Fraenkel found the graphic description contained in the third strophe ridiculous, and that Peerlkamp proposed excising it altogether; he points the reader to other places in the Odes where Horace mentions distant lands and peoples; and he remarks that Ennius' epitaph is a likely model for the reference to funeral dirges in lines 21-24. The note on the prevalence of the swan as a metaphor for the poet in Graeco-Roman literature and the explanation of geographical details are comments of the type that I believe would be helpful to a non-specialist. The final comment on Ennius' epitaph, however, is one of many that seems to embody the difficulties inherent in a project such as Biblioteca Clásica Gredos: a casual reader is unlikely to need or want such information, while the Classicist is left to track down the epitaph in the original Latin.

My criticisms of Moralejo's work therefore center on the tension resulting from trying to produce a work that caters to both non-specialists and specialists. Overall, however, this volume has much to recommend it, and, if it is at all representative of the series as a whole, so do the other volumes in Biblioteca Clásica Gredos, which now number almost 400. This series should find much success in the Spanish-speaking world, among both scholars in fields related to Classics and a general readership.


1.   Fraenkel, E. 1957. Horace. Oxford.
2.   Nisbet, R. G. M. and M. Hubbard. 1970. A Commentary on Horace, Odes, Book I. Oxford. Nisbet, R. G. M. and M. Hubbard. 1978. A Commentary on Horace, Odes, Book II. Oxford. Nisbet, R. G. M. and N. Rudd. 2004. A Commentary on Horace, Odes, Book III. Oxford.

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