Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.09.15 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.09.15

Philippa Bather, Claire Stocks (ed.), Horace’s Epodes: Context, Intertexts, and Reception.   Oxford; New York:  Oxford University Press, 2016.  Pp. xiv, 279.  ISBN 9780198746058.  $100.00.  

Reviewed by Amy Norgard, Truman State University (

[The Table of Contents is listed at the end of this review.]

Originating from a conference at the University of Manchester in 2012 that re-evaluated Horace’s Epodes, the volume under review consists of nine chapters and is narrated with the voices of nine different scholarly perspectives, including editors Philippa Bather and Claire Stocks. It offers a multi-dimensional and fresh look at Horace’s traditionally under-studied book of iambic poetry, composed during the Republican civil wars and published in 30 BCE.1 The analytical approach employed by the contributors is succinctly articulated by Michael B. Sullivan in the introduction to his chapter: “If we are to set ourselves the task of re-evaluating the Epodes, therefore, it is worth considering to what extent this often scabrous, seemingly least-coherent collection of Horatian poems actually diverges from the principles of elegance, good humour, and wit espoused by the Roman poet elsewhere in his corpus” (p. 86). And thus, this volume strives to rethink critical approaches to the Epodes “by resisting the (quite understandable) urge to treat these poems any differently from the poet’s other works on account of the putative lowliness of their genre or subject matter” (p. 87).

While scholarship on Horace has often ignored or underestimated the Epodes, the current volume is greatly aided by recent publications on the collection which have increased its visibility and accessibility, like Watson’s commentary and others. 2 In the companion-style volumes that have achieved recent popularity among publishers and readers, such as those that cover the Horatian corpus3 or iambic genre,4 there have been only a handful of chapters dedicated to the bawdy iambics, typically relegated to the position of ‘supporting role’ in preference to Horace’s mainstream works. The Epodes takes center stage in Bather and Stocks for the first time in a volume of this nature in English. Additionally, this volume continues the scholarly trend of re-evaluating Classical texts previously deemed inferior by traditional scholarship. Bather and Stocks admit that Horace’s Epodes benefits from the recent revitalization of Horace’s Satires. Now it’s the Epodes’ turn to get a taste of the ‘Satires treatment’—and with a number of scholars on board who have previously worked on satire (Bather, Ian Goh, and Emily Gowers) and the Horatian corpus (A.D. Morrison and Ellen Oliensis).

The chapters within Bather and Stocks’ volume, although not formally labeled, work as three triads that roughly adhere to the progression in the book’s subtitle, “Context, Intertexts, and Reception”—although, truthfully, all of the contributions exhibit multiple features of the subtitle. The first three chapters analyze previous literary influences on the Epodes (“Context”). Morrison gives a sweeping account of generic enrichment within the Epodes in keeping with its place in the “broad and complex” Greek iambic tradition (p. 32) while “pointing to contemporary poetic practice in Rome” (p. 35). Traces of Archilochus and Hipponax can be seen in the content and tone of the Epodes, and Callimachus has generally influenced the collection’s “shape, size, and breadth of content” (p. 58). Goh’s chapter asks the question “how satirical are the Epodes?” by tracing the echoes of Lucilian satire and satiric themes within the collection (p. 64). In comparison to his Satires, Horace’s Epodes displays more features traditionally associated with Lucilian satire (invective and libertas, “freedom of speech”), despite “downplaying his satiric predecessor’s contribution” to his iambics (p. 67). In the final chapter of this triad, Sullivan performs a close study of the avian imagery in Epode 1 through a variety of intertexts based on fable, prefiguring the entire collection’s incorporation of “obscene invective and animal imagery” (p. 91).

The three middle chapters conduct a close study of topics within individual epodes, emphasizing the collection’s internal cohesion and adherence to similar themes—particularly, the various ways Horace manifests fear and anxiety during this period of civil war (“Intertexts”). Gowers, who is well known for her commentary on Satires Book 1 (2012) and The Loaded Table: Representations of Food in Roman Literature (1993), tackles the “ambiguous gender allegiance of iambic” (p. 118). By arguing that Maecenas is portrayed as a midwife figure for Horace’s poetic process, and the old women in Epodes 8 and 12 may in fact be men impersonating women as cinaedi, Gowers concludes that “these images of worn-out old women or prematurely old and effeminate men—wrinkled and barren, limp and impotent—exude the opposite of fertility and future promise” (p. 128). Elena Giusti explores the dithyrambic (and nausea-inducing) qualities of Epode 9 —along with its conflation of friends and enemies, and Romans and barbarians—and its relationship to another Horatian drinking poem, Ode 1.37. Giusti writes, “The narration of the battle in Epode 9 nestles within Bacchus’ sympotic, intoxicating frame, which sets in motion a distorted and blurred vision of the events and characters involved” (p. 140). Stocks’ chapter, informed by her monograph on The Roman Hannibal (2014), demonstrates the significance of Hannibal’s appearance across Horace’s oeuvre (especialy Epode 16 and Ode 4.4). The adjectives used of Hannibal in the Epode 16 (dirus, abominatus) invokes “the language of ill-omens, magic, and ritual expiation” and Horace’s bleak worldview (p. 161). By Ode 4.4, however, just as Hannibal’s threat has been neutralized, the power of lyric has “dispelled the darkness and language of curse poetry” (p. 173).

The final three chapters are dedicated to exploring how the readers of Horace’s Epodes (re)interpreted the collection immediately after its publication and beyond (“Reception”). Tom Hawkins, author of Iambic Poetics in the Roman Empire (2014), considers how Ovid fashions his Ibis as the “mirror opposite” of Horace’s Epode 16 through inverted themes and imagery that reflect “the impression of a disparity between Horace’s success and Ovid’s failure at working under the imperial system” (p. 197)—specifically with respect to the poet’s relationship to Augustus, perceptions of Rome, distance from civil war, and even physical location in (or exiled from) Rome. Bather uses Epodes 8 and 12, and Ovid’s Amores 3.7 as a “literary template for Encolpius’ sexual impotence” with Circe in the Satyricon 130 (p. 204). The paradigm of young male lover and older, repulsive female paramour provides “a highly fitting and realistic generic frame for the chaotic, oppressive, grotesque, and sadistic world of the satirical Petronian corpus” (p. 211); and by adopting moderation as a “cure” for impotence, Petronius conforms to a “precedent for the practical application of moderation in sexual matters” established elsewhere in Horace’s corpus, in “a highly ironized context” (p. 216). The final contribution by Oliensis traces the Nachleben of Horace’s iambics. Previous edited volumes have focused on the reception of Horace’s Odes and Satires,5; however, several recent studies have turned their attention to the Epodes.6 Contrary to Oliensis’ assumptions, the Epodes had a lively reception in English literature. “It turns out,” she writes, “that what is exceptional is not the current revival of interest in the collection but its temporary eclipse early in the last century” (p. 219). Generally, reception of the Epodes was less rich than thatof Horace’s lyric and satiric poetry, but Oliensis finds evidence that the Epodes were sometimes required reading in Victorian schools, despite known practices of textual bowdlerization during this time. Often the Epodes would be folded in as the “fifth book of Horace’s Odes,” which inevitably meant that the iambic poetry was “less likely ... to succumb to decanonization” (p. 223). Oliensis provides many illuminating exempla, from resonances of Epodes14 in Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” (1819), to quotations from Epode 7 (“quo quo scelesti ruitis?”) in the critically-acclaimed film, “The Reader” (2008).

A common concern with edited volumes of this nature is cohesion—how much do the individual chapters, authored by disparate perspectives, come together to create a unified whole? In Bather and Stocks, the authors and editors make a great deal of effort to engage with and complement one another, which provides a deeper, more nuanced interpretation of Horace’s Epodes (with an emphasis on Epodes 1, 5, 8, 9, 12, 16 and 17). The authors frequently reference one other’s chapters in the footnotes, but the cohesion also goes deeper. As mentioned above, the theme of civil war is constant throughout the volume, which should be expected given the composition and publication dates of the Epodes. The topic of intertexts between the Epodes and Horace’s poetic corpus is also thoroughly addressed (Goh, Gowers, Giusti, Stocks). Other common undercurrents include the pervasive theme of friendship despite the generic expectations of iambic poetry (Morrison, Sullivan, and Gowers), and frequency of animal imagery (Goh, Sullivan, and Stocks). This volume also provides nuanced perspectives of Canidia, the witchy bogeywoman who pervades Horatian iambics and satire, portraying her as de-feminized (Gowers), the cause of male impotence (Bather), and perhaps a “household” name (p. 240) due to her prolific reception (Oliensis, in a standout chapter that returns to Canidia after her seminal work on the character7).

This volume will find a wide readership base among enthusiasts of Greek and Roman iambics, Horatian studies, and Augustan literature, culture, and history. With translations provided for all Greek and Latin text and usable indices, the volume is accessible to specialists and advanced students alike. Typographic errors are few and do not impede close study of the text. Many readers will find the contributions inspiring and may even be encouraged to pick up the Epodes again, or perhaps for the first time. Bather and Stocks hope the volume will generate enthusiasm and new ideas surrounding the rich, diverse, and perplexing nature of Horace’s Epodes, positively stating that “there is, however, still much work to be done” (p. 22).

Authors and Titles

Horace’s Epodes: Introduction
1. Lycambae spretus infido gener | aut acer hostis Bupalo: Horace’s Epodes and the Greek Iambic tradition / A.D. Morrison
2. Of Cabbages and Kin: Traces of Lucilius in the First Half of Horace’s Epodes / Ian Goh
3. Poetic Justice: Iambos, Fable, and Horace’s First Epode/ Michael B. Sullivan
4. Girls Will Be Boys and Boys Will Be Girls, Or, What is the Gender of Horace’s Epodes? / Emily Gowers
5. Dithyrambic Iambics: Epode 9 and its General(s’) Confusion / Elena Giusti
6. Monsters in the Night: Hannibal, prodigia, and the Parallel Worlds of Epode 16 and Ode 4.4 / Claire Stocks
7. The Underwood of Satire: Reading the Epodes through Ovid’s Ibis / Tom Hawkins
8. Horace’s noxiosissimum corpus: Horatian Impotence (Epodes) and moderation (Satires, Epistles 1) at Petronius Satyricon 130 / Philippa Bather
9. Scenes from the Afterlife of Horace’s Epodes (c.1600-1900) / Ellen Oliensis


1.   L. Watson. A Commentary on Horace’s Epodes. Oxford and New York, 2003: 1-4.
2.   R.W. Carrubba. The Epodes of Horace: A Study in Poetic Arrangement. The Hague, 1969; W. Fitzgerald. “Power and Impotence in Horace’s Epodes.” Ramus 17, 1988: 176-91; E. Oliensis. Horace and the Rhetoric of Authority. Cambridge, 1998; J.G.W. Henderson. Writing Down Rome. Oxford, 1999; and T.S. Johnson. Horace’s Iambic Criticism: Casting Blame. Leiden, 2012.
3.   S.J. Harrison (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to Horace. Cambridge, 2007; and G. Davis (ed.). A Companion to Horace. Malden, MA, 2010. See also M. Lowrie (ed.). Oxford Readings in Classical Studies: Horace Odes and Epodes. Oxford, 2009. Although the selections in Lowrie pertaining to the Epodes are well-chosen and highly informative, they are not equally represented with the Odes as the name of the volume suggests.
4.   A. Barchiesi. “Horace and Iambos: The Poet as Literary Historian,” in A. Cavarzere, et al. (edd.). Iambic Ideas: Essays on a Poetic Tradition from Archaic Greece to the Late Roman Empire. Lanham, MD, 2001: 141-64.
5.   C. Martindale and D. Hopkins (edd.). Horace Made New: Horatian Influences on British Writing from the Renaissance to the Twentieth Century. Cambridge, 1993; K. Freudenburg (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to Roman Satire. Cambridge, 2005; Harrison 2007; L.B.T. Houghton and M. Wyke (edd.). Perceptions of Horace. Oxford, 2009; Davis 2010. See also T. Ziolkowski. “Uses and Abuses of Horace: His Reception since 1935 in Germany and Anglo-America.” IJCT 12: 183-215.
6.   M. Almond. “Horace on Teesside,” in S.J. Harrison (ed.), Living Classics. Oxford, 2009: 19-42; and S.J. Harrison. “Expurgating Horace, 1600-1900,” in S.J. Harrison and C. Stray (edd.), Expurgating the Classics: Editing Out in Latin and Greek. Chichester, 2012: 115-26.
7.   Oliensis 1998.

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