Horace is one of the world's greatest lyric poets, but not one of the most accessible. I would like this book to do three things: to help non-Latinists who like poetry to enjoy Horace; to stimulate young people who have to study the poems; and to add to the scholarly debate by putting forward my own views, which seem on occasion to go against present-day orthodoxies. Horace is a profound poet of love, religion, and friendship, with a rich sense of humour and love of fantasy, a master of tone and pace and shape. The book tries to demonstrate this by translating the poems in versions slightly adjusted from those printed in the volume in the World's Classics series, The Complete Odes and Epodes of Horace ( Oxford, 1997), and by providing brief comments to describe how the poetry works. A knowledge of Latin is not necessary. Since the first few odes happen to require rather elaborate commentaries, readers new to Horace are advised to start with poems 4-8.
The title of this book is the last two words of Odes 2.6, where Horace calls himself friend and bard, the word translated as bard being vates, which means that Horace sees himself as poet, priest, and prophet of the Augustan regime. As amicus he addresses thirteen contemporary figures in these twenty odes. Five of the poems, 12, 13, 17, 18, 20, concern Maecenas, one of the chief ministers of Augustus, who was also Horace's patron and, if the poems are to be believed, his dearest friend. The book is, amongst other things, an Art of Friendship.
Realizing that Carpe Diem, my commentary on the first book of the Odes ( 1995a), is light on theory, I have tried to explain my views on some such questions as they arose in the course of Book 2: on intertextuality, puns, and metapoetic interpretations, for example, at the end of my notes on Odes 6, 8, and 9. These views are usually negative. The reason is that for me literary theory is worse than a waste of words. If we approach poems with a theory in mind, we shall see what we expect to see. My own theory is that the duty of those who write about literature is to point out what is there and, where necessary, explain it historically. The target is to understand the texts as they were understood by contemporary readers. This is impossible since no two contemporary readers reacted identically,