CJ Online Review: Davis, Companion to Horace

posted with permission:

A Companion to Horace. Edited by Gregson Davis. Oxford, Chichester, and Malden, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Pp. xiv + 464. Hardcover, £156.00/$209.95. ISBN 978-1-4051-5540-3.

Reviewed by Timothy S. Johnson, College of Charleston

Horace’s literary career spans thirty years from the final years of the republic to the middle years of the principate. He wrote in four different poetic modes. Any collection taking the title “Companion” to Horace faces the challenge of conveying his breadth and ingenuity. In this case, the challenge is well met.

There are nineteen contributors, who together represent thirty years of Horatian studies (William Anderson, Ronnie Ancona, David Armstrong, Phebe Bowditch, Susanna Braund, Jenny Clay, Andrea Cucchiarelli, Gregson Davis, Lowell Edmunds, Kirk Freudenburg, Bernard Frischer, Leon Golden, W. R. Johnson, Michèle Lowrie, David Mankin, Michael Putnam, William Race, Catherine Schlegel, Hans Peter Syndikus). While roughly maintaining a chronological order (the Satires are delayed), the collection moves in logical fashion from Horace’s “Social Contexts” (issues of self-representation and amicitia) to poetic types (lyric [epodes
and odes]; sermo [satires and epistles]), and then to reception. The whole ends where Horace likely did—with the Ars Poetica. Although each chapter fits well the general design, rather than give short snippets on each contribution, I offer the following sampler to give a taste of the collection’s quality and the various questions it raises.

William Anderson (“Horace’s Friendship: Adaptation of a Circular Argument,” 33–52) reminds that Horace’s professed interactions with Maecenas and Augustus are more complex than is conveyed by “circle,” defined as “Latin writers … focused around a man of distinction and centered by a system of mutual benefits” (34). If “circle” is a helpful metaphor at all, then Anderson suggests it should be Horace’s circle, because the poet groups his addressees around no one else but himself. Anderson disdains reading between the lines. For example, Horace’s naming of Vergil as his alter in S. 1.5 (maybe a sly reference to Eclogue 5) and the amusing exchange of insults by the parasites (while Horace was on a trip with his patron Maecenas and may have been writing his own iambics), as well as Trebatius’ advice that Horace stop his Satires and write instead praise for Caesar (S. 2.1) are too sketchy to be evidence. There may be some value in such conservatism: trying to peek behind the veil of ancient literary relationships, “friendships,” often pushes the imagination beyond reality. Then again being too cautious lessens our literary fun by causing us to miss the poet’s artful manipulation. Overall, Anderson takes Horace’s “ego-centric” statements of independence at face-value—but should we?

In “Horace and Imperial Patronage” (53–74) Bowditch argues, as before (2001), that Rome can be identified as what anthropologists call a gift economy and that this shapes how Horace talks about his own patronage. Here again she makes clear that even his most blatant reference to his own writing for profit (Epist 2.2.46–52) does not allow us easily to objectify his poetry as commodity. This is worth hearing, but it is hard to escape the poetry/commodity paradigm. For example, Bowditch states the fundamental problem: Horace equivocates between being a “grateful recipient” and “delicately negotiating his independence.” But why use the word “delicately” (“deftly,” 58), which itself implies a certain understanding of literary patronage, that some degree of deference needed to be maintained? Do we really know this? Horace much of the time, as illustrated in Epist. 2.2.46–52, is downright edgy about patronage and puts us on edge about its attendant attachments (cf., “oppressive alliances,” gravis … amicitias, C. 2.1.3–4). There is nothing delicate about this. Horace says that he would rather drink hemlock than sell his services any longer, and since people constantly change their minds about what poetic dish to order, Florus can be the one to wait on them. The younger Horace could be equally sharp. Bowditch cites Horace’s “tender” acknowledgement of Maecenas’s benefaction, “enough and more than enough” (satis superque, Epode 1.31; auctius … melius, S. 2.6.3–4), but it is missed that Horace also turns and uses the same language in his confrontation with Canidia (dedi satis superque poenarum tibi, Epode 17.19). How does this complicate matters to pull together Maecenas and Canidia (E. Oliensis, Horace and the Rhetoric of Authority (Cambridge 1998) 76–91)?

When Gregson Davis (“Defining a Lyric Ethos: Archilochus lyricus and Horatian melos,” 105–27) faces the fundamental problem of characterizing Archilochean/Parian iambic, how to conceive of it and Horace’s adaptation of it as an organic whole (Parios ego primos iambos / ostendi Latio, numeros animosque secutus / Archilochi, non res agentia verba Lykamben, Epist. 1.19.23b–25), he takes a sidestep. He simply designates those poems in Archilochus that do not appear to be heavily invested in blame as non-iambic (see also David Mankin’s contribution, 96–7), and Horatian lyric has an affinity with this non-iambic Archilochus. Bifurcating Archilochus simplifies the comparison to Horatian lyric, but it says little about how Horace conceptualized in any positive way the iambic spirit (animos Archilochi) and conveyed it in his lyrics. All that is left for an explanation is a coincidence in certain themes (125–6) between the “non-iambic” Archilochus, if this is a meaningful category, and Horace’s lyric. In other words, must Archilochus lyricus not be Archilochus iambicus in order to be identified with Horatian melos? This question goes to the heart of Horace’s iambic/lyric praxis. The most concise definition that Horace gives for his lyric is that it is a “socializing” of disparate elements (verba loquor socianda chordis, C. 4.9.4), a process also characteristic of iambic. Such a vision of lyric supports the presupposition of the Roman Odes, as explored by Syndikus (“The Roman Odes,” 193–209), that “Horace sees lyric song as capable of showing the way to reconciliation and peace in the domain of state affairs and politics (203).” It is unlikely that Horace relinquishes this leading role even in the panegyrics of his later poetry; compare Syndikus (206) with Putnam (“The Carmen Saeculare,” 231), Lowrie (“Horace: Odes 4,” 210), and Johnson (“The Epistles,” 331–2).

Jenny Clay enters this conversation with one of the finest, and shortest, introductions to Horatian lyric, when she by-passes the worn-out debate over the “archaizing” versus “Callimachean” Horace and takes him at his word, that he is above all a poet of the symposion (“Horace and Lesbian Lyric,” 128–31). This stance offers Horace particular advantages inherited from his predecessors, many of whom he references explicitly (129–30, 137): a voice of equality (an imagined group of philoi); a self-consciousness in which songs can reflect the values and activities of the symposiasts; an emphasis on the immediate moment, which Horace can translate into an exhibition on the performative and re-performative nature of song. The sympotic nature of lyric presses Clay into the thorny interpretive tangle in Horace’s defense of his iambic/lyric achievement (Epist. 1.19.21–33). Here she moves a step closer to a full appreciation of Horatian carmina by arguing for continuity between the Epodes and Odes.

Only one selection considers Horace’s representation of the female (R. Ancona, “Female Figures in Horace’s Odes,” 174–92), which requires covering his works from beginning to end. Horace’s female figures are diverse (muses, gods, historical, fictive, inhabiting the present, past, and future) and deployed in a variety of literary strategies (transitional figures either divine or human, sources for or deterrents to inspiration, types of high morality or degeneracy). Nonetheless, for all their differences, they, like their male counterparts, are addressed, and therefore become a mechanism for self-fashioning on the part of the speaker. Talking about the “other” is a reflective way of talking about “self.” Also, for the most part, Horace’s women, like names in comedy, lend an imaginary quality to his poetry. But does Ancona overstate when she concludes that accordingly Roman “social conventions are, for the most part irrelevant”? This is not the case in comedy nor in regard to Horace’s Canidia, who, however amusing or menacing she may be on any given occasion, personifies deviance. Given that Horace gives Canidia the last word in the Epodes, he might well appreciate that Ancona passes over her in silence.

Cucchiarelli begins (“Return to Sender: Horace’s sermo from the Epistles to the Satires,” 291–318) with the letter as object and the premise that it is sent (epistolē) to bridge distance between the author and someone absent. Through this posture (quasi ad absentes missas, Porph. ad S. 1.1.1) there is a discontinuity between epistolary sermo and the Satires, the immediacy of which neither presents nor pretends such distance. Cucchiarelli instead proves continuity (see also Clay, supra; S. J. Harrison, “There and Back Again: Horace’s Poetic Career,” in P. Hardie and H. Moore, eds., Classical Literary Careers and their Reception (Cambridge 2010) 39–58; T. S. Johnson, Horace’s Iambic Criticism (Leiden 2011) 181–2). Through a parallel linear reading of Epistles I and Satires I, he exposes the conjunctions between them so that Horace can be reread and revitalized, the later through the earlier and the earlier through the later. Through the whole we catch a glimpse of Horace, now the older grand master, resituating himself and his poetry among a new and younger literary coterie. Perhaps this is the real distance Horace must confront—how does an “old” established artist answer/write back, when he is imitated and critiqued by the young?

To concentrate on certain selections while omitting others of necessity diminishes the whole, but those singled out illustrate the caliber of scholarship one can expect. In the Fall of 2011, the Companion was required reading for my advanced undergraduate reading course in Horatian lyric. It provided a sound introduction for students coming to Horace for the first time and still proved thought-provoking for returning readers. This Companion does what a collection should: with a broad view, it informs and raises essential questions.

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