BMCR 2011.01.20

A Companion to Horace. Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World. Literature and Culture

, A Companion to Horace. Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World. Literature and Culture. Chichester/Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. xiv, 464. ISBN 9781405155403 $199.95.

I should begin with a declaration of interest as editor of the parallel Cambridge Companion to Horace (2007, reviewed by Niall Rudd in BMCR 2007.05.25). Some comparison seems in order. The two volumes share two contributors (Gregson Davis himself and Michèle Lowrie), but are largely complementary in interests and format: the Cambridge companion has only one chapter on each of Horace’s works, includes a large thematically-organised section and has a reception section structured by period, while its Wiley-Blackwell counterpart has six chapters focussed on the Odes, four on the Satires and Epistles, has no formally thematic section and a reception section structured by genre. The larger overall bulk of the Wiley-Blackwell volume allows longer chapters and deeper excavation on certain topics; the Cambridge volume packs in more but rather briefer chapters (24 versus 19). Both volumes range worldwide in their contributors: the USA, Italy, Australia and Denmark as well as the editor’s UK for Cambridge, Canada, Italy, and Germany as well as the editor’s USA for Wiley-Blackwell. Between the two volumes most of the world’s best-known Horatian scholars have now given a recent succinct version of key aspects of their work.

The Wiley-Blackwell volume begins with a useful section of four chapters on ‘Biographical and Social Contexts’. In ‘The Biographical and Social Foundations of Horace’s Poetic Voice’, David Armstrong gives useful detail on the local landscapes of Horace’s home region and their appearance in his poetry, and on the social and economic position of Horace as an eques, scriba quaestorius and iudex selectus; on p.27 15 BCE for the date of the Carmen Saeculare is surely a misprint for 17. In ‘Horace’s Friendship: Adaptation of a Circular Argument’, William Anderson rightly argues that Horace’s own connexions and not a ‘Maecenatic circle’ (perhaps something of a straw man anyway, though Satires 2.1 could suggest some link with the so-called ‘Scipionic circle’) provide the literary-social environment of the Odes; p.36 seems to imply that Horace has been introduced to Maecenas by 40 BCE and even that the journey to Brindisi took place as early as that year (it was surely 38/37 as noted on pp.59 and 263 of this volume). Phebe Lowell Bowditch writes on ‘Horace and Imperial Patronage’, persuasively suggesting Horace’s artful presentation of his patronage relationship with Maecenas and Augustus as combining proper gratitude with the putative reciprocity of a gift economy, and as allowing for the negotiation of some independence alongside moments of anxiety; her analysis of the problematic Epistles 1.7 is subtle and interesting, though not all will join her in believing the evidence of the Suetonian Life on Augustus’ wishes as the genesis of Odes 4. Finally in this section we have a summary of the splendid Horace’s Villa excavation project by Bernard Frischer, clearly showing the impressive size of the building (with a quadriporticus 42 x 85m) likely to have been erected on the site of Horace’s Sabine house. It is fascinating to think that this rebuilt villa’s later role as the property of imperial ministers and freedmen may have been the consequence of Horace’s legacy to Augustus.

The longest section in the volume (more than one third) is naturally dedicated to analysis of the Odes and Carmen Saeculare, with one chapter on the Epodes. That chapter, by David Mankin, efficiently covers the key elements of diversity and unity in the book, its relationship with both Archilochean invective/erotic poetry and the more literary iambos of Callimachus, stressing the themes of lack of control and helplessness as well as the communitarian aspect of the genre. The three chapters on the Greek background to the Odes contain some of the most valuable material in the book and should be read by all scholars of Horatian lyric. Gregson Davis himself argues with excellent illustrations that the non-iambic poetry of Archilochus is much more important than previously thought in the construction of the value-system of the Odes and their stress on moderation and anti-materialism; something on Horace’s use of Archilochean metres in the Odes would have been a useful supplement. Jenny Strauss Clay on Lesbian lyric models rightly suggests that Horace aimed at including all Greek lyric in his collection, and stresses the value of Alcaeus for the allegorical interpretation of 1.14 (well known) and the importance of Sappho for the erotics of 4.1 (less well known and very interesting); her view that 2.13.33 illis carminibus refers just to Sappho’s poetry and not to that of Alcaeus too can be contested. William Race’s chapter on Pindar will be a standard point of reference on the topic, with excellent detailed analyses of a number of Pindarically coloured odes: he stresses the encomiastic elements common to the two poets, and the point that the sinner Pirithous forms the climax to 3.4 just as Phalaris forms the climax to Pythian 1 is a brilliant one.

Of the three further chapters on the Odes, Ronnie Ancona provides an interesting analysis of female figures, rightly including deities and stressing that they are marked as ‘other’ in the generally male world of Horatian lyric; her ironic reading of 1.37 is interesting, though she could factor in the quasi-Socratic aspect of Cleopatra’s suicide via ‘drinking’ poison and retaining impassivity, and she persuasively shows that the erotic odes present a series of recurring postures and themes rather than any kind of autobiography, and stresses the thematization of time as an agent in erotic affairs and perspectives. Hans-Peter Syndikus gives a fairly traditional reading of the Roman Odes, emphasising their character as a kind of founding document for the new Augustan state and their function of providing moral paradigms from antique Rome: he discounts the possible Alexandria-allegory of 3.3, perhaps too readily, but allows some Antony/Cleopatra allegory in 3.4, surely rightly. It would have been interesting to have his view on the radical theory that 3.1-6 could be a single poem. Michèle Lowrie’s treatment of Odes 4 considers Horace’s ‘need to redefine lyric in an altered sociopolitical and cultural landscape’, and plausibly regards the book as a bottom-up offering rather than as the result of a top-down directive; she detects an ambivalent approach to praise poetry, and while her general approach to the book as a retrospective on the first three books of Odes is rewarding (e.g. her view of 4.15 as a rerun of 1.6), not all will agree with her emphasis on the ‘ideology of song’ and the possibilities of performance of Book 4. Finally in this section, Michael Putnam provides an effective analysis of the Carmen Saeculare, identifying key intertexts in Catullus, Lucretius, Vergil and Tibullus as well as earlier and later Horatian lyric and sermo, showing that despite its occasional nature the Carmen is fully embedded in contemporary poetry.

A section of four chapters on Horatian sermo follows. Catherine Schlegel gives a good account of Horace’s relationship to Lucilius in the Satires, showing in a series of helpful readings how Horace’s presentation of the earlier satirist’s supposed excessive vituperation and low craftsmanship functions as a means of differentiating himself from the dominant figure in the genre (we might have had more material from Lucilius himself here to reinforce the point). Kirk Freudenburg provides a subtle and illuminating exposition of Horace’s self-presentation in these works as always a discursive entity, rightly resisting the old distinction between ‘poet’ and ‘persona’, and plausibly pointing to the role of the reader in constructing the figure of the poet: ‘the self Horace gives us in satire (or rather his many selves and self-parts) is shot through with remembered images, remembered patterns of presentation, and previous literary selves’ (280). Andrea Cucchiarelli gives us a rich reading of Epistles 1 with many excellent details (e.g. the links between Epistles 1.1, 1.9, 1.10 and Satires 1.1, 1.9. and 1.10, the idea that Florus in Epistles 1.3 is a quasi-Horatian figure): as in Freudenburg’s presentation of the Satires, editorial and readerly manipulation of past Horatian passages is a key strategy in Horace’s self-definition. Finally in this section, W.R. Johnson gives us a characteristically independent and free-flowing overview of the Epistles : not all will agree that Epistles 1 is ‘characteristically an old man’s book’ (321) or tune into the biographising approach (‘He looked up at Augustus’ Palatine, he heard Propertius muttering his asinine slurs, he watched Maecenas falter and fail’, 322), though Johnson’s exploration of the links with Philodemus and the theme of freedom is certainly worthwhile.

The final section on reception begins with Lowell Edmunds on the reception of the Odes. This moves in lively fashion from the physical transmission of the poems to their use in education and Horace’s fascinating appearance as a protagonist in 17C and 18C French fiction through German reception from Herder to Jauss, concluding with a rich Jaussian reading of 1.23. Susanna Braund presents the reception of Horace’s sermones in a nicely-distributed selection of key authors from the Renaissance and early modern period (Ariosto, Régnier, Boileau, Jonson’s Poetaster and Pope), an original investigation which has many points of interest (on Jonson we can now add Victoria Moul, Jonson, Horace and the Classical Tradition, Cambridge 2010). Finally, Leon Golden gives us a history of the vernacular influence of the Ars Poetica from its medieval beginnings through its key influence in the Renaissance and early modern period (Boileau and Pope naturally reappear, the latter at appropriate length) to the Romantics (his treatment of Byron’s little known version in Hints from Horace is very welcome) to the Second World War poem Essay on Rime of Karl Shapiro (d.2000), adding as a coda a sophisticated interpretation of the ending of the Ars as carrying some serious appreciation of artistic torment.

This is a fine and well-organised work that every Horatian scholar will need to consult, and which students of Horace and colleagues from non-classical disciplines will also find useful. Its hardback price is at prosperous library level, but as usual in this series it should appear in a year or so in decently affordable paperback form.