Barry Baldwin: Horace and the ‘Last Assassin’

A guest post by my former professor from the University of Calgary ~ Barry Baldwin.

Apart from the usual suspects, chief character in Peter Stothard’s well-told tale, The Last Assassin: The Hunt for The Killers of Julius Caesar (2020) is Cassius of Parma, last of the Ides of March perpetrators to be cornered and killed in deference to Octavian’s implacable thirst for vengeance on those who had killed his adoptive father.

I am not going to repeat Stothard’s gripping narrative. One later, marginal matter intrigues me, if apparently nobody else: no discussion in the duumvirate of Fraenkel’s Horace or Syme’s The Roman Revolution, nor in the edition of Horace’s Epistles by A. S. Wilkins on which we were reared at school in the Classical Sixth.

In Epistles 1. 4. 3, addressed to the poet Tibullus, Horace wonders if his friend will scribere quod Cassi Parmensis opuscula vincat?

This diminutive is not as contemptuous as it might seem. Horace elsewhere (Epistles 1. 19. 35) applies it to his own poems. It suits Cassius of Parma, famous for his elegies and epigrams.

My question is: why would Horace adduce the man particularly hated by Octavian for the highly offensive and personal letter sent to him by Cassius (Suetonius, Augustus 4)?

Horace had, of course, fought at Philippi for the ‘Liberators’. Had the two met there or elsewhere and formed an ideological and literary friendship?

These Epistles seem to date to c. BC 24-20. Cassius was killed around 30 BC. How might Octavian (now Augustus in name, still Octavian in character) have reacted to this complimentary mention of the man he so detested? HIs multiple vengeances were complete in fact but surely not forgotten. Did Horace run a risk in reviving the name Cassius of Parma? Or was he relying on the ‘special relationship’ between himself and Augustus as depicted in Suetonius’ biography of him? It is worth subjoining that the fugitive young Horace had not been liquidated in the moppings-up of former ‘Freedom Fighters’.

I take the chance highly to recommend Stothard’s earlier books: On The Spartacus Road (2011); Alexandria: The Last Night of Cleopatra (2014); The Senecans: Four Men and Margaret Thatcher (2016)

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