Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2010.03.14

Niklas Holzberg, Horaz: Dichter und Werk.   München:  C. H. Beck, 2009.  Pp. 240.  ISBN 9783406579622.  €24.90.  

Reviewed by Tina Chronopoulos, King's College London (

[The contents are listed at the end of the review.]

With Horaz: Dichter und Werk Niklas Holzberg brings to four the number of major Classical Roman poets he has explicated for a wider readership.1 Holzberg offers his readers an interpretation of Horace's entire oeuvre: his approach is to paraphrase each poem and to draw out its major themes or points of interest. Holzberg starts with the first poem Horace ever wrote, and then keeps on reading and interpreting in a linear fashion until he reaches the end. Holzberg works (and interprets) his way through Horace's published oeuvre book by book, and likens this process to the reading practices of Horace's contemporaries, who would have read his poetry in a linear manner by unrolling and rolling up a papyrus scroll.2 This way of reading poetry brings out, as Holzberg argues, Horace's varying personae and allows the reader to see an overall story that threads itself through the different works. There are five chapters: the introduction is followed by a chapter each on the Satires, the Epodes, the Odes, and the Epistles. These are followed by the bibliography, a chronological table, a glossary, a general index, and index of works cited.

In the introduction (Historische und poetische Bruchstücke), Holzberg succinctly sketches the background to Horace's poetry. After a brief outline of Horace's life, Holzberg discusses the chronology of the publication of the poet's oeuvre before delving into each genre separately. This is necessary since there is little mention of the chronology in the actual discussion of each work. Holzberg then devotes some time to each genre (or work): for example, he explains the relationship of the Satires to Lucilius as well as how Horace innovates, and how they can appeal to a wide readership even today. In the case of the Odes, Holzberg introduces the reader to Alcaeus, Horace's most important model, and the various metres found in the lyric poems.

Towards the end of the chapter (p. 56-61) Holzberg reiterates his approach, already alluded to in the preface. He explicitly rejects the idea of reading the poems in a thematic way since he argues that this will result in their being taken out of their compositional context, which, as discussed above, is his main concern. In other words, Holzberg aims to unearth the themes and motives of the poems through a successive reading of each (p. 57) and to show how they are the unifying force of Horace's entire oeuvre. Holzberg identifies the key ideas as otium or ataraxia and adds Horace's humour and compassion.

The second chapter on the Satires (Spaziergänge, Schnurren und Schmausereien: Satiren in zwei Büchern) starts with the structure and relationship to each other of the two books, before embarking on a systematic read-through. Holzberg has grouped the poems of book 1 into three triads (1.1-1.3 ['sittenkritische Plaudereien'], 1.4-1.6 ['Horaz' Selbstilisierung als Mensch und Dichter'], 1.7-1.9 ['schwankhafte Kurzgeschichten aus Vergangenheit und Gegenwart']) plus one (1.10). The latter connects with 2.1, which is followed by groups of four (2.2-2.5), three (2.6-2.8), and one satires (2.9). Holzberg shows how in book 1 Horace tells a story about himself, his persona, while he allows his characters to speak for themselves in book 2, thus allowing the author to highlight different aspects of the same philosophical and moral questions.

The third chapter tackles the Epodes (Im Spannungsfeld zwischen Herrscher und Hexe: Epoden in einem Buch). Here Holzberg shows how the witch Canidia functions as a sort of transition or bridge from the Satires to the Epodes, and how Horace's resistance to her magic at the end of the book frees him for the composition of the Odes. Since her name is mentioned just as often as those of Augustus and Maecenas, Holzberg accords her a prominent position, hence the title of the chapter. Holzberg consistently shows how Horace leans on Archilochus but at the same time does his own thing.

Holzberg's linear approach shows its limits in the chapter on the Odes (Monument mit Erweiterungsbau: Oden in vier Büchern), where, in the space of 73 pages, he discusses all 103 lyric poems (the Carmen Saeculare figures in the introduction, p. 24-27). This means that some of them get no more than a brief mention and that, overall, the reading of this chapter is exhausting. At the same time, the grouping (and discussion) of Horace's oeuvre into genre-specific chapters means that book 4 of the Odes (the Erweiterungsbau) is taken out of its chronological context and placed before the discussion of the Epistles. This makes it difficult for the reader to appreciate fully the gap between the two groups of lyric poems and to locate Horace's other poetic activity within that.

For each book of the Odes Holzberg is careful to delineate an internal structure, and show how each is structurally connected with the rest.3 In the introduction, Holzberg talks of Horace as the zerstückelte poet, who survives in contemporary (German-speaking) culture by virtue of his bons-mots (p. 13-14), so that Holzberg sees himself as paying tribute to the entirety of Horace's oeuvre. It is all the more surprising then, for example, to find him bemoaning the fact that Ode 3.2.13 'immer wieder gerne aus dem Kontext gerissen [wurde]' (p. 151) without actually providing the full text of the poem himself.

The last chapter (Vom richtigen Leben und richtigen Schreiben: Episteln in zwei Büchern) addresses the Epistles, including the Ars Poetica. Holzberg divides book 1 into four pentads, while book 2 falls into a triptych. At this point, the reader has to remember what was said in the introduction about the dates of publication, since there is no mention here of the fact that books 1 and 2 appeared separately. Holzberg has only space to briefly point to the most important aspects of the letters and the Ars Poetica, but finishes with a flourish: enough already.

Although the introduction aptly sketches the intellectual background to Horace's poetry, Holzberg asks a lot of his general reader throughout,4 for example when he discusses metre (an appendix might have served the purpose). At the same time, there is very little opportunity for the reader to get a full flavour of Horace's poetry since only nine poems (Epod. 6; Carm. 1.14, 23, 32, 34, 38; 2.11, 16; 4.10) are actually given at full length. An in-depth discussion of representative whole poems from each genre might have served the purpose better.5 The absence of footnotes, endnotes or suggestions for further reading to each chapter makes it difficult for anyone to verify Holzberg's claims or even to pursue particular interests which he may have awakened in his reader. A separate list of books containing the works of Horace (with a German translation) in the otherwise large bibliography would have been helpful in furthering Holzberg's aim of bringing this difficult author to a broader readership.

In sum, this is a clearly written book, free of academic jargon, thus making it very accessible and enjoyable for the student and the general reader. Its structure is equally clear, in that it takes the reader chronologically through each of the genres in which Horace survives. It sits neatly next to Holzberg's other books on Catullus, Ovid, and Vergil and completes the quartet of Roman poets Holzberg has put on the map of world literature. It is an heroic effort but the sheer vastness of Horace's poetic achievement is not quite matched by the endeavour of Holzberg, who has attempted the impossible: to elucidate this most elusive of Roman poets by focussing on a linear reading of every single poem, rather than letting the poet speak for himself through a representative selection of his best and perhaps lesser-known poems.6

Table of Contents

Vorwort, p. 7

Historische und poetische Bruchstücke, p. 11
Der zerstückelte Dichter, p.11
Ritter auf dem richtigen Ross, p.15
Aufstieg von Rolle zu Rolle, p. 19
'Die Satire gehört ganz uns', p. 30
Vom Fuchs zum Hütehund, p. 36
Symposien mit und ohne Lyra, p. 41
Das Schwein aus der Herde Epikurs, p. 51
'Kleine' Poesie am kleinen Tisch, p. 56

Spaziergänge, Schnurren und Schmausereien: Satiren in zwei Büchern, p. 62
Sittenkritische Plaudereien, p. 63
Von Lucilius zu Maecenas, p. 68
Vergangenheits- und Gegenwartsbewältigung, p. 74
Brücke von Buch zu Buch, p. 78
Der Club der lebenden und toten Lehrer, p. 82
Sabinum, Saturnalien und Symposion, p. 90

Im Spannungsfeld zwischen Herrscher und Hexe: Epoden in einem Buch, p. 96
Knoblauch statt Gift, p. 98
Cherchez la femme, p. 102
Liebe versus Spott, p. 106
Abschied vom Jambus, p. 110

Monument mit Erweiterungsbau: Oden in vier Büchern, p. 114
Themen- und Metrenparade, p. 115
Von Pindar zu Catull, p. 121
Von Anakreon zu Tibull, p. 126
Buchschluss mit viel Wein, p. 131
Alkaios und Sappho im Wechsel, p. 135
Zwischen Hadesvision und Höhenflug, p. 143
'Süss und ehrenvoll ist es...', p. 149
Liebe und Wein zum Dessert, p. 154
Für jeden etwas, p. 159
Finale mit Ausblick, p. 166
Von Venus zu Augustus, p. 171
Vergänglichkeit und Nachruhm, p. 176
Endgültiges Finale, p. 181

Vom richtigen Leben und richtigen Schreiben: Episteln in zwei Büchern, p. 187
Auch den Weisen plagt der Schnupfen, p. 187
Seelenruhe und ihr Gegenteil, p. 191
Von Chios nach Salernum, p. 196
Sabinum, Sozialkunde und Selbstreflexion, p. 200
Einsamer an Einsamen, p. 205
Verse über den Abschied von den Versen, p. 210
Vom Monstrum zum Blutegel, p. 214

Bibliographie, p. 221
Zeittafel, p. 231
Glossar, p. 232
Personen- und Sachregister, p. 235
Werkindex, p. 239


1.   Ovid: Dichter und Werk (Munich, 1997) [English: Ovid: the poet and his work (London, 2002)], Catull: Der Dichter und sein erotisches Werk (Munich, 2002), Vergil: Der Dichter und sein Werk (Munich, 2006).
2.   Preface, p. 9: 'Ich betrachte die neun Bücher ... als ganze, indem ich sie linear lese. So verfuhren höchstwahrscheinlich die Zeitgenossen, die während der Lektüre nicht Blätter umwendeten, sondern einen Papyrus aufwickelten.' So also in the preface to Ovid: Dichter und Werk, p. 7: 'Wir werden Ovids Werke .. chronologisch betrachten und dabei, soweit es geht, das Wickeln nachvollziehen.'
3.   An illustrative table or two might have made things even clearer, such as those found in H. Dettmer, Horace: a study in structure (Hildesheim, 1983), passim.
4.   whom Holzberg describes as der weitere Kreis der an Weltliteratur interessierten, derjenige der gebildeten Laien, p. 11.
5.   D. Armstrong's Horace (London, 1989) already does this for the English reader.
6.   I have noticed very few mistakes and the book itself is produced to a high standard, as one might expect of a publishing house such as C.H. Beck.

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