BMCR 2003.09.32

The Influence of Callimachean Aesthetics on the Satires and Odes of Horace. Studies in Classics 19

, The influence of Callimachean aesthetics on the satires and odes of Horace. Studies in classics ; v. 19. Lewiston - Queenston - Lampeter: E. Mellen Press, 2001. xiii, 189 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 0773472479 $109.95.

The present book is probably a revised version of the author’s Ph. D. thesis, submitted at the State University of New York at Buffalo, although this origin is nowhere mentioned. After a brief preface by professor Martha Malamud (pp. xi-xiii), the book’s arguments are set out by means of a clearly organized structure of four chapters, the first being introductory and the fourth presenting conclusions. We shall here offer a general summary of the contents of each chapter, noting in each case our opinion on its merits or shortcomings.

Chapter one is the introduction (pp. 1-14). Coffta (= C.) first presents his subject (“I. Statement of purpose”, pp. 1-2): to examine the Callimachean principles, both poetic and stylistic, to be found in the Satires and Odes of Horace. The second part of this introduction is a status quaestionis (“II. Review of scholarship”, pp. 2-6): the author reviews the bibliography which has been taken into account in his research (rather than the bibliography available on the subject itself), in four main fields: the detection of Alexandrian influences on Horace (where C. gives individual attention to the contributions of Reitzenstein 1908, Pasquali 1920 and Commager 1962; I fail to understand why he does not add the study by Wimmel 1960);1 the biographical approach in Horatian criticism; structural analyses of Horace’s poetry (Collinge 1961, Dettmer 1983 and Santirocco 1986 are cited); and attention paid to the Satires (with special emphasis on the contributions by Fiske 1920, Rudd 1966 and Anderson 1982). In section “III. Calls for study of the Satires as programmatic statements” (pp. 6-7) C., basing his argument particularly on Gowers 1993 and Freundenburg 1993, defends the need to detect a metapoetic meaning in some passages of the Satires which at face value deal with everyday, not literary, matters. This is the book’s main thesis, which will then be applied and exemplified in detail in the second chapter and which, as we shall see, is in some cases fairly debatable. The next section, “IV. Historical and literary background” (pp. 7-14), goes on to inform the reader about the historical and literary background to the Callimachean programme: first there is a basic and concise introduction to the political and cultural situation of hellenistic Alexandria and to the life and works of Callimachus. On Alexandria one would have expected a mention of the monumental work by P. M. Fraser, Ptolemaic Alexandria, Oxford 1972. The text chosen to represent the Callimachean programme is the prologue to his Aetia (although incomplete lines are not restored, there is no mention of the edition from which the lines cited are taken and no English translation is offered). I do not share C.’s idea that Callimachus is defending brevity in poetry through a passage which is itself brief: the prologue to the Aetia has over 50 lines in the surviving version and was probably much longer in its original version. Finally in this introductory chapter, the neoteric movement in Rome is discussed as the first poetic current to introduce Callimachean principles into Roman literature.

Chapters two and three, which are basically of the same length, form the main body of the book. They deal with the presence of the Callimachean programme in Horace’s Satires and Odes respectively. In chapter two (pp. 15-62) there is a close examination of reference to Callimachean elements (especially in matters of figurative imagery and poetic principles) in Satires 1.1, 1.4, 1.10, 2.1 and 2.8. Previously it is rightly pointed out (p. 15) that there is in principle a contradiction between Callimachean poetics (which stand for precision, brevity and refined style) and the genre of satire (colloquial, verbose and lacking in refinement). C.’s thesis is therefore that Horace aimed to compose Callimachean satire, which represents a contradiction in terms.

C. goes on to study a set of Satires which, in some passages, reveal the influence of Callimachean principles. Sometimes the links detected by C. are unquestionable. It is clear, for example, that in Satire 1.1.49-60 (a passage criticizing avarice as a moral vice), Horace picks up on water-imagery from Callimachus’ Hymn to Apollo, ll. 105-12, using for a moral topic images which in Callimachus had a literary application. But the problem is that C. always establishes the corollary that this similarity of imagery implies a similarity in semantic implications: that is, that Horace always uses Callimachean images for poetic communiqués. However, in the passage from the Satires cited it seems clear that Horace is reusing Callimachean images for the purpose of moral and ethical, and not literary, enlightenment.

In his discussion of the beginning of Horace’s Satire 1.1, C. postulates that “substitutional images” (the motif of the desire to exchange ways of life) can be interpreted metaphorically as an invitation on Horace’s part to interpret his own poetry allegorically, because a “given item can be (and mean) more than one thing” (p. 16). Similarly, in the book’s conclusions it is claimed that the Satires contain “numerous examples of poetic substitution which allowed Horace to write about poetry even as he ostensibly discussed other things altogether” (p. 127). This theory, which takes us back to the allegorical interpretations of the ancient commentators (such as that of Servius with regard to Virgil), is a daring one and, though interesting, is one which cannot be proved and therefore constitutes a declaration of intent on the part of the author.

Applying the interpretative versatility which he recognizes in Horace’s text, and following Gowers 1993 (the constant reference for the debate), C. uses this “allegorizing” methodology in particular to interpret from a literary perspective passages of the Satires of Horace with gastronomic subject-matter: 1.1.117-119 (p. 22), 2.4 (pp. 43-49) and 2.8 (pp. 49-54). An extensive excursus is devoted to satire 1.4, in an attempt to demonstrate the acceptability of this type of interpretation (pp. 43-49). The result is that, according to C., it is always valid to extract an “aesthetic meaning” (p. 48) from these passages which are supposed to be merely gastronomical. This is not always convincing. For example, in Satires 1.1.117-119, in the context of criticism of discontent over one’s own lot (p. 22), Horace states that few men exit life like a satisfied dinner guest: inde fit, ut raro, qui se vixisse beatum / dicat et exacto contentus tempore vita / cedat uti conviva satur, reperire queamus. The simile comes from Lucretius 3.938 (which is not mentioned by the author) and C. interprets it from a poetic perspective, the conviva satur metaphorically representing the genre of satire, which according to Callimachean principle should aspire to brevity (exacto tempore, l. 118). It is very difficult to share this allegorical interpretation: it overlooks the force of vixisse beatum, and grammatically it is extremely doubtful whether exacto tempore can be taken to mean just “brief”. The same allegorical interpretation is accorded to Horace’s allusions to his humble social background, for example on p. 89 apropos of pauperum / sanguis parentum (Odes 2.20.5-6): this is made out to be a reference to the “sparing style” (genus parvum) of Callimachean poetics.

Sounder, and easier to accept, is C.’s contention that in Satires 1.4 and 1.10 Horace builds up his criticism of Lucilius with extensive use of Callimachean images. C. goes on (“VIII. The Persona as a Rhetorical Stance”, pp. 54-62) to introduce a question of great import. Following critics who established the concept of persona in Horace, such as Freudenburg 1990 and Davis 1991, the author postulates that, in his Satires, Horace speaks through the mouth of a fictitious interposed persona. We should not necessarily see in this persona the historical and biographical reality of the poet. According to C., the creation of this persona involves a selective adaptation of real and biographical data, but the features selected would serve simply to characterize the persona in accordance with Callimachean poetics. For example, the anecdote about Horace’s abandoning his shield at the battle of Philippi, related in Ode 2.7, is impossible to verify biographically but, according to Davis 1991, would serve in any case to place Horace in the tradition of the lyrical genre (since Archilochus had told a similar story about himself in 5 W.). C. extends this mode of interpretation to the passages of the Satires and Epistles (especially Epistles 1.20.19-28) and, in the Callimachean tradition, interprets on a literary level the biographical information offered by Horace. Thus, for instance, when Horace presents himself as being of limited height, corporis exigui (Epistles 1.20.24), this is seen as an allusion to the ideal that a work should be brief and refined (the poetics of the tenuis or λεπτός) typical of Callimachean poetic principles (p. 61). This appears far-fetched and unprovable.

Chapter three (pp. 63-118) examines the same Callimachean elements, this time in the Odes, especially 1.1, 1.38. 2.1, 2.20, 3.1, 3.30, 4.1 and 4.15. In general, it is easier to share C.’s analyses in this section, because Horace frequently uses the topos of recusatio in his Odes. And this device can obviously be traced back to Callimachus.

On pp. 65-73 C. offers a complete and relevant analysis of Ode 1.1, showing that it represents a programmatic (and therefore Callimachean) recusatio of a series of alien values and the subsequent declaration of the poet’s own scale of values. However, I believe that in this ode Horace always moves in an ambit of socio-political preferences, while C. detects literary symbolism in terms like turba (l. 7), which he sees as referring to the uncultured lower orders, and even in horreo (l. 9; not 10, as is erroneously stated here), which is supposedly an allusion to literary excesses. In the second part of the Ode (ll. 29-36) the Callimachean elements are more obvious and incontrovertible, especially the phrase secernunt populo (l. 32), which echoes epigram 28 of Callimachus.

C.’s interpretative approach, inclining as it does towards allegory, continues in his analysis of Ode 1.38 (Persicos odi, puer, apparatus…). Here, in opposition to literal interpretations such as those of Nisbet and Hubbard 1970, according to which Horace is making clear his abhorrence of luxury in banquets, C., closely following Cody 1976, postulates that the Ode functions as a programmatic assertion or poetic manifesto.

Ode 1.38 is interpreted as a recusatio or refusal to write an epic on a contemporary theme. According to C., this Ode goes back to and expands upon material from Satire 2.1. With regard to Ode 2.20, the allegorical interpretation enables C. to suggest that the tone of the poem is not parodic or humorous but that the poem is a setting-out of Callimachean principles: the expression Non usitata… pinna (ll. 1-2) is seen as a reference to the untrodden paths championed by Callimachus in literature.

C. shows that Ode 3.1 is very Callimachean in content, as a statement of a literary programme. This seems very clear as regards the rejection of popular tastes (Odi profanum volgus et arceo, l. 1), but C. insists on detecting poetic and literary significance in social and philosophical statements such as quod satis est (l. 25), which at face value refers to the suppression of desires, but according to C. suggests elaboration of style and brevity. On Ode 3.30, C. comments on the pompous style and the haughtiness of the content, which at first sight would seem to be at odds with Callimachean poetics, but the author is right in detecting a Callimachean image in the verb deduxisse (l. 14), a reference to the tenuis style characteristic of Callimachus.

To C., Ode 4.1 represents a peculiar case of recusatio. The poem represents an introduction to book 4. Horace is rejecting love and erotic poetry in favour of political topics.

In relation to Ode 4.15, C. perceptively comments that it constitutes a special form of recusatio, under the auspices of a divine agent (and that it therefore follows in the wake of the recusationes of Callimachus in the Aetia and the Hymn to Apollo). However, in contrast to Callimachus’ treatment, Horace, having rejected epic poetry, does not opt for a lesser literary genre but reveals a preference for panegyric poetry on Augustus. C. rightly points out that Horace’s version, which emulates Callimachus, has felt the intermediate influence of Latin poets like Virgil (Eclogues 6.3-4) and Propertius (3.3.13-16).

In his Conclusions (pp. 119-135) C. recapitulates on two basic principles: that the Satires represent a systematic exposition of Callimachean poetics; and that they anticipate vocabulary, metaphors and rhetorical strategies which would later reappear in the Odes. Adduced in support of these conclusions is the allegorical interpretation of Odes 3.3.69-72, Epistles 2.1.1-4 and even the famous Pyrrha Ode (1.5). Following an interpretative procedure with which C. has familiarized us in the course of the book, the Pyrrha Ode is interpreted as a programmatic poem à clef, referring not to the rejection of romantic love and elegiac poetry (as is held by the doctrina communis), but to the championing of a certain poetics. Pyrrha is thus taken to symbolize both simple style (simplex munditiis, l. 5) and grand epic style (l. 7: aequora, which picks up on Callimachean sea symbolism). Horace rejects both approaches but, paradoxically, feels capable of composing poetry of both types.

Then come the endnotes (pp. 137-171; their position makes consultation irritatingly cumbersome) and an extensive bibliography (pp. 173-186; it is not a critical bibliography but rather a list of bibliographical references, in view of the fact that in the course of the book the author cites by means of the parenthetical system of author – date – page). In the bibliography one cannot help but notice the great preponderance of works in English (155 items out of a total of 168). Twelve works are in German and only one in Italian (Pasquali’s Orazio lirico); there is no mention of any works in French or Spanish. It is curious and significant that the fullest treatment of the question, the book by W. Wimmel, Kallimachos in Rom (1960), though cited in the final bibliography (p. 185), is not once brought to bear upon C.’s argument (it would seem that it was not actually used). I have also noted the absence of R. F. Thomas, “From recusatio to commitment: the evolution of the Vergilian programme”, in F. Cairns (ed.), Papers of the Liverpool Latin Seminar. Fifth volume. 1985, Liverpool 1986, 61-73; and of William H. Race, “Modifying the poetic tradition: the recusatio”, in Classical genres and English poetry, London 1988, 1-34. The book closes with a short index rerum (pp. 187-189), which, to be of any use, would have had to be more extensive.

The presentation is good on the whole (it would have been preferable to have italics instead of underlining). Errata are few and far between (I note tantali for tantuli on p. 19, a self-interested and by no means casual erratum, in that C. claims to detect a “verbal correspondence” between tantali (l. 59) and Tantalus (l. 68) in Satire 1.1). And I found the price of the book exorbitant (the author is of course not to blame)

The present book will be of particular interest to Latin philologists specializing in Horace. Its main plus points are: suitable structuring of the subject-matter, clarity of argument, ample bibliographical documentation (skilfully and intelligently assimilated), a bold, original approach in the theories presented and a balanced combination of theory and philological commentary. The work is not suitable for students approaching Horace for the first time, as it presents an excessively heterodoxical and controversial viewpoint. In particular, not all readers will be convinced by the author’s main thesis (that the texts of Horace should be interpreted allegorically and symbolically, in order to relate them constantly to poetic and literary questions). Another shortcoming in his research is his limited focus: he studies the echoes and influence in Horace of only three texts of Callimachus (the prologue to the Aetia, the Hymn to Apollo and epigram 28), when it might have been justifiable to broaden the horizon somewhat to include other Alexandrian authors (like Theocritus and Apollonius of Rhodes, as well as other texts by Callimachus himself) and other Latin poets, such as Virgil, Horace or Propertius (the last-mentioned of whom proclaimed himself the Roman Callimachus: on this point see the book, not cited by C., by A. Álvarez Hernández, La poética de Propercio (autobiografía artística del Calímaco romano), Assisi 2001). To sum up, this is a book which, for all its controversial points, is a bold, thought-provoking and stimulating contribution to the study of the influence and survival of Callimachus in Roman letters and to the interpretation of the satirical work of Horace.2


1. Bibliographical references cited in this review: Anderson 1982 = W. S. Anderson, Essays on Roman Satire, Princeton 1982. Cody 1976 = J. V. Cody, Horace and Callimachean Aesthetics, Bruxelles 1976. Collinge 1961 = N. E. Collinge, The Structure of Horace’s Odes, London 1961. Commager 1962 = S. Commager, The Odes of Horace: A Critical Study, New Haven 1961. Dettmer 1983 = H. Dettmer, Horace: A Study in Structure, Hildesheim 1983. Fiske 1920 = G. C. Fiske, Horace and Lucilius: A Study in the Classical Theory of Imitation, Madison 1920. Freundenburg 1993 = K. Freundenburg, The Walking Muse: Horace on the Theory of Satire, Princeton, 1993. Gowers 1993 = E. Gowers, The Loaded Table: Representations of Food in Roman Literature, Oxford 1993. Nisbet – Hubbard 1970 = R.G.M. Nisbet and M. Hubbard, A Commentary on Horace Odes, Book I, Oxford 1970. Pasquali 1920 = G. Pasquali, Orazio lirico, Firenze 1920. Reitzenstein 1908 = R. Reitzenstein, “Horaz und die hellenistische Lyrik”, Neue Jahrbücher für klassische Altertum 21 (1908), 81-102. Rudd 1966 = N. Rudd, The Satires of Horace, Cambridge 1966. Santirocco 1986 = M. S. Santirocco, Unity and Design in Horace’s Odes, Chapel Hill, 1986. Wimmel 1960 = W. Wimmel, Kallimachos in Rom, Weisbaden 1960.

2. I am grateful to Mr. J.J. Zoltowski for the English translation.