The Poetry of Criticism: Horace, Epistles II, and Ars Poetica

By Ross S. Kilpatrick | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 3
The Epistle to the Pisos
Ars Poetica

PROFESSOR BRINK'S MONUMENTAL work on the Ars Poetica was published over a decade and a half ago. 1 In his commentary and earlier Prolegomena ( 1963) he stressed an abiding determination to keep all windows open now that a complete cleaning and inventory had been done of the vast amount of data bearing on the poem. In the light of his exhaustive analysis of the ancient sources for the Ars, we now see much more clearly, for example, where and how Horace has made use of the poetic theory of the shadowy Neoptolemus of Parium as "a traditional system of reference in the intricate diversity of the poem." 2 But Brink also sees "a simpler scheme . . . within it, superimposed on that of the literary critics; 3 . . . by avoiding tediousness and technicality and the schools' language." Horace thus prevents the flow of the poem from being disturbed. 4 With the conceptual triad of poema (style), poesis (content), poeta (poet) artfully blurred, technical divisions which would otherwise have seriously depressed the level of the poetry subtly serve to support it. Brink rightly refuses to join the controversy over allegedly exclusive principles of design and unity, insisting always that the answers we receive from our enquiries about this work will differ according to the questions we ask. (Since other great Augustan poems continue to reveal a "multiplicity of patterns," why not also the Ars?) 5 Various underlying bipartite, tripartite, and even quadripartite schemes may coexist as complementary structures. 6

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