Horace, Epodes XVI.1-66

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A remedy for civil war

Name of the author: 
Horace
Date: 
41 BCE
Place: 
Rome
Language: 
Latin
Category: 
Roman
Literary genre: 
Poetry
Title of work: 
Epodes
Reference: 

XVI.1-66

Commentary: 

In this poem, Horace continues his tirade against the civil wars that Rome is engaged in, which was also the theme of the seventh Epode. Indeed, themes and motifs are picked up here from Epode VII, such as the use of the verb ruere,“to ruin” (cf. the use of ruitis in VII.1), and the motif of animals (cf. VII.11-12) (David Porter, Horace’s Poetic Journey, p. 258). Here, the poets adopts the language of Greek and Roman legislature (e.g. the use of sententia, a “judgement” or “resolution”, in verse 17, which utilises the language of the Senate) in order to suggest that the better portion of citizens, the “part superior to the ignorant herd” (verse 37) abandon Rome completely, and instead find utopian islands on which to resettle, which are full of wealth and idyllic prosperity, and provided by Jupiter himself (verse 63). The imaginary escape which Horace envisages is, of course, merely rhetorical – the poet is not seriously advocating that Rome’s best citizens simply leave and go in search of a mythical paradise. However, the rhetoric serves a perfectly serious purpose – to highlight the dire state of current affairs.

The second generation, aetas, that Horace blames for bringing Rome to ruin (verse 1) is second to that of Marius and Sulla (c.88 BCE). Horace then lists a series of past conflicts which the Romans have overcome. The Marsians (verse 3) refer to the leaders of the Social War of 91-88 BCE, in which neighbouring Italian cities unwillingly allied with Rome united in revolt, and attempted to make Corfinium Italy’s capital city. Lars Porsena was an Etruscan warlord who attempted to topple king Tarquin at the beginning of the Roman Republic (see Livy, History of Rome II.9-13, who records that Porsena decided to make peace with Rome after being impressed by various acts of bravery from her citizens) In Horace’s account here, Porsena is not successful (verse 4). The rival valour of Capua (verse 5) recalls the time after Rome’s defeat by Hannibal at Cannae (216 BCE), when the city of Capua subsequently attempted to make herself the capital of Italy. Spartacus’s revolting slaves of 73-71 BCE were all crucified on the Appian Way (verse 5), and the ‘unfaithful’ Gallic Allobroges (verse 6) are so called because they betrayed Catiline and revolted themselves against Rome (see Sallust, Conspiracy of Catiline 40). The blue-eyed youth of verse 7 are the Cimbri and Teutones who invaded Rome, and were defeated between 102 and 101 BCE, and the invasion of Hannibal during the Second Punic War (218-201 BCE) was so destructive that Roman parents deeply detested him for it (verse 8). Verses 8-9, however, show that in Horace’s mind, Rome is somewhat fated to suffer all of these conflicts (impia aetas) due to the curse brought upon the city’s future generations by Remus’s wrongful killing. It is this which he sees as the most impious of acts committed by one of Rome’s people – that it was her founder makes the situation all the more ominous. Rome is now paying the price for Romulus’s impiety. In punishment for this murderous act, Rome must endure the trampling hooves of enemy troops, and even worse, may see her founder’s bones (Quirinus is the name given to Romulus after his deification) scattered and desecrated (verses 12-13).

In his un-serious suggestion that Rome’s most prestigious citizens flee the carnage and go in search of utopian lands afar (verses 35-39), Horace takes inspiration from Hesiod’s Works and Days 172-173, and also from Virgil’s fourth Eclogue, which looks forward to the arrival of a new golden age, where Octavian’s peacekeeping and instigation of laws will recreate some of the bliss, albeit in a different form, that the plenteous and abundant earth provided in the first golden age of Saturn. Unlike the Phoceans, who abandoned their home when invaded by the Persians and fled to Corsica (see Herodotus I.165), Horace states that the Romans must have the courage not to return to Rome (Herodotus reports that some of the Phoceans did in fact turn back). That the elite Romans should never return is emphasised by a series of seven near impossibilities (verses 25-34), including the mating of tigers and hawks with their weaker prey, stags and doves! The description of the golden age in verse 43-62 elaborates both on the fruitfulness of the land, and the sinless state of mankind. Olives, figs, and honey will be in plentiful supply, and like Virgil, Horace also describes goats voluntarily coming in to be milked (see Virgil, Eclogue IV.21-22). The description that Horace gives here also recalls the description of Saturn’s rulership given by Ovid (Ovid, Metamorphoses I.89-212). Both Ovid and Horace make reference, for instance, to the untilled ground, which has never been subject to the plough, yet still provides a veritable harvest of produce each year (Ovid, Metamorphoses I.101-102). As Daniel Garrison notes, verses 51-62 express the character of the blissful land through a series of negatives, which highlight the escape from harsh, violent things (Daniel Garrison, Horace: Epodes and Odes, p. 195). There will be no predatory bears, vipers, or scorching sun to damage crops. The Colchian (v. 58) refers to Medea, who Greek tragedy narrates killed her own children – this sort of violence has no place in this new world. Moreover, the land has not been discovered and contaminated by anyone, not even the Sidonians (the Phoenician sailors, who were famed for being daring and formidable in their exploits at sea). This haven was set aside by Jupiter, when he overthrew Saturn’s golden age and replaced it with that of bronze (verse 63-64), as a reward for the just of Rome, and Horace declares himself the prophetic voice bringing this good news (verse 66). As David Porter asserts, the balancing of this Epode with Epode II is striking, with one coming second in the collection and the other the penultimate poem; the fact that both project a pleasant, yet unrealistic worldview is highly suggestive of Horace’s intentions in arrangement (David Porter, Horace’s Poetic Journey, p. 259). For Ellen Oliensis, the description of paradise is a “model of female virtue,” where “female sexuality remains safely under control.” The lack of ploughing, grafting, and pruning of the plants in verses 43-46 suggests, Oliensis argues, their moral excellence. This morality mirrors original virtue and the integrity of the human race before desire corrupted it, which the new utopia will once again embody (Ellen Oliensis, Horace and the Rhetoric of Authority, p. 78-79).

Horace’s distress at Rome’s engagement in civil war is essentially that it is unnatural – a point made clear in his seventh Epode. It is therefore only logical that these events are attributed to a curse brought on by the unnatural killing of Remus by Romulus. This act of fratricide has upset the natural order, and thus thrown Rome’s future generations into disarray and continued impiety, thus explaining the civil war between Caesar and Pompey. Yet, the fact that Horace advocates (granted un-seriously) a small portion of Rome’s citizens escape and find a new life elsewhere indicates that he does in fact wish to maintain that Rome’s people, even if just an elite representation of them, have a divine right (they are going to land provided for them by Jupiter) and a duty to continue and flourish. Just like Aeneas’s Trojans, they must embrace the tragedy that currently ensnares their city and use it as an opportunity to resettle (metaphorically in this case) and rebuild an even greater state.

Bibliographical references: 
Acknowledgements: 
Sylvie Franchet d'Espèrey
Realized by: 

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Horace, Epodes XVI.1-66
Author(s) of this publication: Kimberley Fowler
Publishing date: Fri, 07/29/2016 - 21:10
URL: http://judaism-and-rome.cnrs.fr/horace-epodes-xvi1-66
Visited: Tue, 03/19/2019 - 19:58

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