CHARACTER AND VIEWS
IT is difficult for us, who use words primarily as a means of conveying what we believe to be the truth, to penetrate the mind of Roman writers, who, like the Italians of to-day, often used them primarily 'for effect'. To obtain insight into the real mentality of Horace in particular it is not sufficient to collect testimonia from the pages of his works. We must take into account the social and literary climate in which he wrote, and our resultant impression of him may be one against which his own words may often be quoted. Those who take him at his face value have a superficial advantage in argument, but they leave an uneasy feeling in the mind that they have got things out of focus.
The distorting influences are of three kinds, literary, political and individual. Roman literary education, apart from reading, consisted largely of rhetoric, the art of making out a case regardless of strict veracity. And not only were boys thus allowed to say with conviction what they did not think: they were also not encouraged to think for themselves on fresh lines. Originality was not highly valued; the favourite exercise was the re-dressing of commonplace themes (communes loci).1 This doubtless sharpened their wits, but it confined the range of their minds and kept them to beaten tracks. Roman poetry itself, having originated as translation, rarely dispensed with the aid of Greek originals. It was also permeated with understood conventions. Thus when a poet says 'uidi ego', that is no evidence of autopsy. Even the subjective love-poets Propertius and Tibullus wove traditional themes and situations into the record of their experience. These considerations may suffice to illustrate the danger of taking Roman poetry too literally as evidence for the poet's life and opinions.
On the political side also there were causes of distortion. It was widely held by eminent Romans, as by eminent Greeks, that some beliefs, though admittedly false, were useful as 'dope for the people'. Again, the Augustan poets' connection with the principate naturally____________________
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Publication information: Book title: Horace & His Lyric Poetry. Contributors: Not available. Publisher: Unknown. Place of publication: Cambridge, MA. Publication year: 1945. Page number: 19.
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