BMCR 2007.05.25

The Cambridge Companion to Horace

, The Cambridge companion to Horace. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. xiii, 381 pages ; 24 cm. ISBN 0521830028. $27.99 (pb).

2 Responses

This is a wide-ranging and successful collection, aimed at the scholarly non-specialist. The contents are as follows: Introduction (Harrison), Horace: Life and Chronology (Nisbet), Horatian self-representations (Harrison), Horace and archaic Greek poetry (Hutchinson), Horace and Hellenistic poetry (Thomas), Horace and Roman literary history (Tarrant), Horace and Augustus (Lowrie), The Epodes: Horace’s Archilochus? (Watson), The Satires (Muecke), The Epistles (Ferri), The Ars Poetica (Laird), Carmina: Odes and Carmen Saeculare (Barchiesi), Philosophy and ethics (Moles), Gods and religion (Griffin), Friendship, patronage and Horatian sociopoetics (White), Wine and symposium (Davis), Erotics and gender (Oliensis), Town and country (Harrison), Poetics and literary criticism (Rutherford), Style and poetic texture (Harrison), Ancient receptions of Horace (Tarrant), The reception of Horace in the Middle Ages (Friis-Jensen), in the Renaissance (McGann), in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Money), and in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Harrison).

This arrangement provides full coverage with a certain amount of overlap. I offer comment on two general themes and then make some passing observations, in all of which there will be some friendly dissent; but a large measure of agreement may be taken for granted. First, the matter of actuality. Nisbet, the volume’s worthy dedicatee, who does not always expect his friends to agree with him, tends to play down the reality of Horace’s women. Here Canidia is almost argued out of existence (11), and Phyllis is fictitious (16); there was no such person as Lalage (Nisbet-Hubbard 1.263). The same happens to unusual incidents; thus the appearance of the wolf ( Carm. 1.22) was trivial at best. Harrison (23-4) is also cagey: with the protection of the infant Horace ( Carm. 3.4.9-13) and with the Sabine wolf the realism lies in the landscape not in the event, though ‘it is hard to believe that the falling tree ( Carm. 3.4.27 etc.) is wholly fictional’. Why not say that the women are based, to various degrees, on real characters, and that all these incidents did take place (though embroidered with mythic-poetic material)? Horace admits that at Philippi there was a headlong rout ( Carm. 2.7.9); so it is entirely credible that he discarded his shield. (I am no longer neutral on this.) At the same time, to diminish his opposition to Octavian, he says that the shield was just a little one, and implies that his action was just the sort of thing that unheroic poets have always done; compare his stance in Epist. 2.2.41-54. Again, why maintain, as Tarrant advocates (73), that Vergil’s voyage to Greece ( Carm. 1.3) is really just a metaphor for the beginning of the Aeneid ? That idea becomes less and less likely after v.20, and is too narrow for the cosmic pessimism of the conclusion. So, in general, unless there is strong evidence to the contrary (as with the ship of state in Carm. 1.14), there is no reason to reject a basis in reality. The main difficulty with this approach has been the bolt from the blue ( Carm. 1.34). But last February Roland Mayer directed my attention to a case reported in the Times, in which two people had been killed by lightning near Siena; there had also been a clap of thunder, even though the sky overhead was clear and blue. A small dark cloud, however, had been noticed at a considerable distance from the tragedy. That cloud should save any believer from being branded ‘a simpleton’ by Griffin (192). Is it not a sad assumption that these famous odes were peopled by non-entities and prompted by non-events?

There is one special case. On the Vergil of Carm. 4.12 there are three improbable theories, of which one must be true. Unfortunately what I regard as by far the most improbable is supported by the weightiest authorities, namely Heinze, Fraenkel, Syme, Williams, and here, somewhat reluctantly, by Tarrant (74 n.32): they believe that the man is not Vergil the poet, but a banker of the same name, perhaps, or a dealer in perfumes. According to the second improbability, supported with some hesitation by Nisbet, West, and others, including (apparently) Davis (217), the ode was written some time after 23 BCE and before Vergil’s death in 19, and then included in Book 4 (c.13). This would contradict, without explanation, the implications of Carm. 3.30 and Epist. 1.1.1-10; it would also oblige us to take nobilium cliens and studium lucri as two weakly anachronistic witticisms. The third idea, which I regard as the least improbable, is that the ode, with its allusion to the Eclogues, is a fantasy recalling the early days of the poets’ friendship c.39 BCE; such a mood would suit the teasing spirit of nobilium cliens and studium lucri and chime with other nostalgic pieces in the book. One should bear in mind that invitation poems were not always tied to a real occasion: Nisbet calls them ‘a minor category of Hellenistic epigram’ (Nisbet-Hubbard 1.244). So here the occasion is fictitious, but the guest is not, and his inclusion would surely have brought a smile of surprise rather than shock and incredulity.1 By including Vergil along with Augustus in his last book of odes, and also Maecenas (whose public career was over), Horace recalls the trio mentioned at the beginning of Book 1 and at the same time pays a final tribute to the three most important figures in his adult life.

Sixty years ago the influence of Callimachus (especially the Aetia‘s Prologue) was commonly underrated. That mistake is unlikely to occur today; for there is now a huge interest in the subject—witness the contributions of Thomas, Watson, and Rutherford.2 With Watson’s full and impressive Oxford commentary on the Epodes (2003) and Mankin’s smaller volume in the Cambridge series we finally bid farewell to Wickham and Page, those two Victorian stalwarts who (allowing for a few fastidious lacunae) served us well for so long. Here Watson discusses the title ( Epodes or Iambics ?), indicates how Horace, like Callimachus, toned down the ferocity of Archilochus and Hipponax (mentioned with much else by Hutchinson), and draws attention to Horace’s original contributions.Wisely, I think, he does not discuss the pattern of ‘the Epode book’. To link, say, 1 to 9, 5 to 17, 7 to 16, and 8 to 12 does not provide a pattern; the most one can say is that the first ten pieces are in the same metre, and the next seven are not. (Contrast the scheme proposed by Kerkhecker for Callimachus’ Iambics.3)

With regard to the Aetia‘s Prologue some distinctions are in order. First, Callimachus’ name occurs only once in Horace, and then it is ironically bestowed on someone else ( Epist. 2.2.100). As Griffin points out (182), ‘Horace does not parade Callimachus as source or influence but . . . claims as his models the archaic poets.’ Why? Presumably because Archilochus, Alcaeus, and the rest represented the great originals, and by naming them Horace conferred prestige on himself. Yet the debt to Callimachus is clear. (1) The remarks on the hunter who is interested only in the chase ( Sat. 1.2.105-6) are a clever truncation of Callimachus’ epigram ( Greek Anth. 12.102), making the small original even smaller, and yet rejecting the writer’s attitude. (2) More positive is the comparison of Lucilius’ verse to a muddy river ( Sat. 1.4.11), alluding to Callimachus’ Hymn to Apollo, 108-9. (3) In Carm. 1.6 Horace declines to write epic or tragedy; such themes are too grand ( grandia) for one of slender powers ( tenuis). (4) In the tail-piece of Carm. 2.16 Horace has a spiritum tenuem, like Callimachus’ Μοῦσα λεπταλέη ( Aetia 1.24), and he spurns the resentful mob, as Callimachus does in Epig. 30.4 (Loeb).

When, however, Horace adopts a manner that is tenuis rather than grandis, he may also be drawing on rhetorical theory.4 That is certainly the case with professus grandia turget ( Ars Poet. 25-8), where he is summarizing the defects of the three styles.5 Again, the plain style allowed humour.6 So after seventeen noble stanzas, Carm. 3.3 ends ‘This will never do for a light-hearted lyre ( iocosae lyrae) . . . Cease, Muse, to diminish ( tenuare) momentous matters with trivial strains.’ Yet again, we should not expect to find Callimachus’ slenderness when Horace is boasting. In Carm. 2.20, though he may be, like Callimachus ( Epig. 23.4), beyond the reach of envy, he now becomes a swan and soars on a wing which is not normal ( usitata) and not flimsy ( tenuis). In Carm. 3.25, full of Bacchic inspiration, he will sing nothing small ( parvum) or in a lowly style ( humili modo). So, too, in Carm. 3.30 his collection is a monument more lofty than the pyramids, it will last as long as Rome stands, and the Muse is asked to take pride in his achievement in bringing Aeolian verse-forms to Italian tunes (i.e,. Latin poetry). There is no room here for Callimachus. In Carm. 4.2, however, the matter is more complicated. Now Pindar is the swan (25) and Horace the quasi-Callimachian bee (27); but we have already seen that this very strange bee can reach almost Pindaric heights. Perhaps it would show a lack of humour to exclude Callimachus from the context of Epist. 1.7.29-33 with its tenuis vulpecula, but anyone who maintained that, say, Lycoris in Carm. 1.33.5 had a Callimachian forehead ( tenui fronte) would be showing symptoms of what a continental Latinist has diagnosed as Callimachosis. I add some more discursive observations. Moles was a good choice for the chapter on Philosophy and Ethics, though he is a little harsh in labelling Mayer and the reviewer as ‘anti-philosophy'(180).We differ mainly on the degree to which the various systems have been assimilated and processed so as to serve Horace’s poetic purpose. As an account of Horace’s outlook Moles’ section links up with that of White, which provides a wide-ranging and impartial survey on Friendship and Patronage. One’s only slight regret is that, as a world authority on the subject, White did not argue more specifically for his own views.

Griffin gives an elegant account of the part played by religion in Horace’s attitude to state affairs and to his own poetic gift, making it clear from the outset that the relation to actual cult is almost always indirect. This is naturally connected with Lowrie’s essay on Horace and Augustus, and Muecke’s on the Satires. The multi-faceted Mercury can be used as an illustration. Damasippus, before his ruin, was dubbed satirically as ‘Mercury’s man’ ( Sat. 2.3.25); but Horace thanks the god sincerely for his estate ( Sat. 2.6.5). More grimly, Mercury conducts the soul of Quintilius to Hades ( Carm. 1.24.18). But on two occasions he saved the poet’s life ( Carm. 2.7.13, 17.27) and is expected to assist him in his love-affairs ( Carm. 1.30.8, 3.11.1). Why does he appear in more weighty company as a possible divine counterpart of Octavian ( Carm. 1.2)? Surely because of his vital capacity as herald: having avenged Caesar, he is the one to bring peace and reconciliation; compare the beautiful illustration from the Iliad in Carm. 1.10.13-15.7

There is no need to underline the relation of Tarrant’s chapter (5) to those of Ferri (9), Laird (10), and Rutherford (18), which all have their own virtues. But something should be said about the contemporary approaches taken by Barchiesi (11) and Oliensis (16). Barchiesi ascribes Horace’s success as a lyricist to the fact that he has appealed to ‘those who really matter—the modern, European, middle-aged male, empowered citizens of a nation-state’. More precisely, Horace is ‘an honorary Englishman and an ideal clubman’.8 Yet a glance at the globe might indicate that even the former category is a little narrow. Many readers, I suspect, do not confess to social snobbery but happily defend cultural snobbery. Horace admits to both. But he is sensitive about his success, which was due to a combination of ability and luck. Though grateful, he distrusted the latter and was ready to forego his prosperity ( Sat. 1.6.87, 2.6.115-17, Carm. 3.29.49-64, Epist. 1.7.34, 95). Again, in certain passages the poet is open to criticism for his attitude to women (especially in Sat. 1.2.119-34, Epod. 8 and 12, Carm. 1.25, 3.15, 4.13). Yet, however unpleasant, those passages effectively convey the emotion in question. Other passages show him in a very different light. Oliensis, however, treats him with the same witty sarcasm whether he is using women or is dominated by them. That is her privilege; yet many women do like Horace, and it should be added that in some moods he thinks wistfully of a happy marriage ( Carm. 1.13.17-20, a stanza not mentioned by Oliensis). Naturally, Horace mirrors the defects of his society, so he is unlikely to appeal to the committed socialist or feminist. But he is more frank about himself and his shortcomings than any other ancient poet; and most readers respond to his request for tolerance: amicus dulcis, ut aequum est / cum mea compenset vitiis bona ( Sat. 1.3.69-70).

I decline to comment on Horace in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance for the best possible reason. But those chapters do give an impression of the enormous scope of his influence, and they may well persuade the reader to choose some of the writers mentioned, and to follow up their debt to Horace in the works of Friis-Jensen and McGann as listed in the Bibliography.

At the beginning of his able chapter on the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries Money mentions Jonson’s Poetaster in passing. As it happens, the play supplies an odd Horatian link with the next century. In Act 5, Scene 3 the character ‘Horace’ has been slandered by ‘Crispinus’, a bête-noire from Satires 1. In revenge Crispinus is induced to swallow two emetic tablets, which cause copious vomiting. Later Pope (who, like Jonson, was the Horace of his age) tricked his rascally publisher, Curll, into swallowing an emetic, with the same explosive result. A bizarre coincidence? Not so; for ‘Crispinus’ meant ‘curly’.

In the last chapter Harrison conducts a reconnaissance over modern territory. He quotes Byron: ‘Then farewell Horace whom I hated so,/ Not for thy faults but mine.’ Yet in ‘A Hint from Horace’ Byron also wrote the most dextrous version of the Ars Poetica. Similarly, though Tennyson had been overdosed with Horace as a boy, he never lost his admiration for the poet’s technique (see, for instance, the Alcaics on Milton). From the twentieth century we do have more than ‘a heap of broken images’; but Harrison is over-generous in speaking of Pound’s ‘prowess as a linguist’ (343).9

Before ending I must mention the attractive re-dating of Epist. 2.2 and 1, and the Ars Poet., to after Carm. 4.This was adumbrated by Kilpatrick, but has now been worked out in detail by Harrison10 and is summarized here by Nisbet (18-19). After two millennia it is exceptional to meet a proposal of this kind which is both new and true.

With a few minor reservations, then, congratulations to all concerned.

[For a response to this review by Ellen Oliensis, please see BMCR 2007.06.07.]


1. A similar leap of the imagination is required by Cicero in De Fin. 5, which was written in the mid 40’s but is set in the Athens of 79 BCE. Cicero, however, left us in no doubt about what he was doing.

2. Alan Cameron’s important study Callimachus and his Critics, Princeton 1995, is unexpectedly omitted from the Bibliography.

3. A. Kerkhecker, Callimachus’ Book of Iambi, Oxford 1999, p.285.

4. Cicero, Orator 75-86.

5. Auct. ad Herennium, 4.15-16.

6. Cicero, Orator 87-90.

7. J.C. Orelli, I find, makes the point in his note on Carm.1.2.41-4.

8. Barchiesi acknowledges the influence of the late Don Fowler in this area (145 n.1).

9. I discuss the matter in The Classical Tradition in Operation, Toronto 1994, chapter 5.

10. Harrison’s article is forthcoming in PLLS, 2008. Suetonius’ remark need not cause a problem. Not having been addressed in Epist. 2.2, Augustus recalled that, although mentioned in Book 1 (no. 13), he had not been addressed there either. So in his letter he expressed some pique: he above all might have expected to be addressed in most of the hexameter poems ( in plerisque eiusmodi scriptis); was Horace afraid that if he were seen to be the emperor’s friend it would blight his reputation with posterity? That led to the Epistle to Augustus.