A Commentary on Horace: Odes, Book 1

A Commentary on Horace: Odes, Book 1

A Commentary on Horace: Odes, Book 1

A Commentary on Horace: Odes, Book 1

Synopsis

Horace's Odes are among the most popular and the most misunderstood of ancient writings. In this new paperback edition, the authors discuss each ode against its Greek and Roman background to ensure a clearer understanding of its classical and scholarly nature. The commentary includes a large number of parallel passages--showing how Horace plays new variations on old themes--sections on chronology and meter, and a select bibliography for each ode.

Excerpt

The Odes of Horace are too familiar to be easily understood. They have been the most important single influence on European lyric verse, not only the proclaimed models of a Ronsard or a Herrick, but the unacknowledged source of many poetic themes. But there are important differences between the ancient and modern ways of writing poetry, and since the Romantic movement the gap has been widened by ideological disagreement, disconcerting even when recognized. The present sketch is an attempt to suggest some of the more distinctive qualities of the Horatian ode. Yet it is dangerous to generalize about a hundred self-contained and remarkably varied entities: the ideas of poets cannot be summarized without consideration of context and occasion. The unit of discussion must remain the individual ode, and an account of each will be found in the commentary. The most that can be done here is to provide signposts and cross-references.

One of the most striking characteristics of a classical poet is his awareness of his literary pedigree. In Greece the categories of poetry were sharply divided according to function, and each had its own conventions of dialect, metre. and style. The scholarly Alexandrians naturally cultivated the traditional manners, while the Romans from the start tried to reproduce the forms of the Greeks. Yet the nature of this imitation can easily be misrepresented. The poet obeys the lex operis, the rules of the genre; to do otherwise would be a breach of literary decorum (an obsolete concept in the twentieth century). In particular he imitates familiar passages of illustrious predecessors: thus Horace borrows from Alcaeus to proclaim that he is writing lyric, and Persius borrows from Horace to proclaim that he is writing satire. Such allusions are not displays of private erudition, but acknowledgements of a shared culture; associations and contrasts are suggested to the reader's mind without waste of words. But one must establish one's independence as well as one's allegiance, and the Roman poets rightly claimed originality even while they flaunted their borrowings (1. 26. 10 n.). They speak mainly of the technical difficulty of transferring alien metres and standards of finish to their intractable language, but in fact they achieved much more. Though the subject-matter of poetry was traditional, that did not limit the poet's freedom, but rather let him concentrate on what . . .

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