BMCR 2007.06.07

Response: Oliensis on Rudd on Stephen Harrison, The Cambridge Companion to Horace

Response to 2007.05.25

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I am dismayed as well as bewildered to discover that Niall Rudd experienced my contribution to The Cambridge Companion to Horace (“Erotics and Gender”) as a sustained exercise in “witty sarcasm” at Horace’s expense. To the contrary, I am myself one of those “many women” who “do like Horace” (as Rudd puts it), or rather (as I would put it) one of those many readers who love Horace’s poetry. Hence my description of Epistles 1 as “one of Horace’s most engaging and innovative works,” Odes 1.5 as “a quintessential song of experience,” Odes 1.37 as a “brilliant poem,” etc.

Rudd concedes that “in certain passages the poet is open to criticism for his attitude to women,” as if this were the burden of my essay. But I would not dream of boring my readers by rehearsing these passages for such a purpose. My goal, in the section of the essay Rudd seems to have in mind here, was to illuminate not Horace’s attitudes but the rhetorical function of women in his poetry — as a repository of anxieties aroused by civil war, for example. Much of my essay, in any case, is about men, including the beautiful boys who elicit some of Horace’s most marvelous poetry. And though my essay may omit Odes 1.13.17-20, my final pages are lovingly devoted to Horace’s last love poem, Odes 4.11. A domestic reenactment of the Ludi Saeculares, featuring a quasi-choral rout of (slave-) “girls mixed with boys,” the ode replaces the defensive affirmation of gender differentiation with the sublime erotics of gender-blending: Phyllis is a mirror-image of the aging Horace — a “moment of identification across gender lines” I find to be “peculiarly moving.” Horace’s staying power partly depends, I think, on the intricacy of the evolving pas de deux of erotics and gender across his poetry. It is a compelling performance, and one reason I keep returning to Horace.

[For a response to this response by Niall Rudd, please see BMCR 2007.06.31.]