Horace and the Dialectic of Freedom

Horace and the Dialectic of Freedom: Readings in "Epistles" 1

W. R. Johnson
Volume: 53
Copyright Date: 1993
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 172
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Horace and the Dialectic of Freedom
    Book Description:

    Informal in tone and seemingly effortless in movement, Horace's Epistles have haunted and delighted readers for two millennia. W. R. Johnson offers an extraordinarily suggestive new interpretation of Book 1 of the Epistles, an interpretation not only of the poems but of the poet they reveal.

    Johnson regards the Epistles as the fruit of the poet's search for freedom, clarity of perception, and inner harmony in a complex society. He portrays Horace as a paradoxical combination of sophist and gardener, working both nature and culture within a terrain bounded on the one side by chaos and on the other by technocracy. Resisting any linear, progressive reading, he traces the key themes in the poems, such as Horace's relationships with his father and with Rome, his adoptive city, and the conflicts between urban vitality and rustic serenity and between inner freedom and outer freedom.

    While in the end Johnson maintains that the Epistles uphold the possibility that the individual can achieve a dynamic balance of heart and soul, he demonstrates that what nourishes the poems are the suffering and fear, resentment and anger that underlie their carefully controlled surface. Horace and the Dialectic of Freedom will engage and challenge classicists, students of Latin literature, and others interested in satire and in the history of poetry.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6693-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    W. R. Johnson
    (pp. 1-17)

    Here at the outset I offer a description of what I take to be the raw materials from which Horace shaped the interdependency of content and form which we know as his Epistles 1. But before I attempt to examine this materia, I want first, as a way of framing my discussion of Horace’s relationship with his father and with his adoptive city, to look at two poems that provide useful contrasts to the poems we’ll presently be dealing with.

    Epistle 2.2, a long letter to Julius Florus, to whom E. 1. 3 is also addressed, includes remarks about giving...

    (pp. 18-53)

    It isn’t my intention in these next few pages, I hasten to say, to try transforming Horace into Rat Man, but since Horace did have a father and since he mentions him in some of his earlier poems with an emphasis and an affection that literary models—Demea, for instance—or other modes of the intertextual don’t quite manage to account for, it seems to me reasonable to begin my discussion of Horace’s rag and bone shop by looking at his versions of his father and the images they offer us of the poet’s conflicts and frustrations with regard to...

    (pp. 54-83)

    Just after publishing Odes 1–3, Horace may have felt free at last (again) from his father’s commands, because, by achieving so complex and difficult a design, he had in effect satisfied those commands and in so doing found that what his father valued was—at least for him—insufficient, needed to be transcended. He may also have felt free, at least temporarily, from the crowds and their king, because he had effected an “internal retreat” to a sort of internal emigration, by going off to that now-famous Sabine farm (the physical one and the one of the mind). But,...

    (pp. 84-112)

    That doesn’t sound very much like heroic spiritual journeying, but there is worse to come: nunc agilis fio et mersor civilibus undis, “Now I become public-spirited and plunge into (and am drowned by) the rough waters of civic duty”—virtutis verae custos rigidusque satelles,” I, the protector, the fanatic bodyguard of True Virtue,” 16–17 (perhaps he has in mind here the misreadings of the Roman odes, based on the equation Flaccus = Cato the Elder, which were apparently already getting ready to creep into the schoolroom and its commentaries). A little out of character, perhaps, this claim to be...

    (pp. 113-140)

    The question of the form (Gehalt) of the Epistles (or, to put it in a slightly different way, of their genre) is a vexed one, and is likely to remain vexed. Few readers seem now to believe that these are real letters that were really sent and that really expressed the sorts of thoughts, emotions, and opinions that real (and ordinary) epistlers express when they write letters. But if we are fairly certain that real letters are not in question here, and feel therefore free to go on to investigate other, more plausible generic kinships for the Epistles, does it...

  9. 6 GARDENS
    (pp. 141-160)

    Musonius Rufus, that sanest of the Neronian Stoics, in his fragment I I, “On Suitable Means of Earning a Living for a Philosopher,” explicitly relegates sophists to the city, which allows him to find—Socrates, for one, would be surprised—a very natural habitat for philosophers in the countryside, on the farm. The farmer’s vocation embraces an honest way of making a living, decides Musonius, an opinion we have already encountered (above, p. 50) in Cato’s introduction to his book of agriculture, and since there are few honest ways to earn a living (as Stoics view the matter), this is...

    (pp. 161-168)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 169-172)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 173-175)