In Odes 1.17, Horace combines the locus amoenus of bucolic poetry with a sympotic aesthetic, presenting a rural setting as an ideal location for drinks, song, and possible erotic play within the confines of a lyric poem. The double nature of the setting—bucolic and sympotic—mirrors the poet’s combination of genres, and in the end, highlights the duplicitous nature of the poet and locale. The mixed site, it seems, must be approached with a mixed mind.
As poet and host, Horace creates an illusory place for a tryst—a sanitized bucolic landscape—emphasizing safety while simultaneously undermining these efforts. The poem begins with a re-creation of rural tranquility that recalls the innocence of a golden age, as Horace’s lambs are left to frolic blithely with wolves in sunny fields. The safety of this locale is highlighted throughout the first four stanzas: defendit 3, impune and tutum 5, tuentur 13, and benigno 15. Faunus and other gods have everything under control, allowing the poet to let his livestock wander into the wilds unscathed. Tyndaris is invited to share in the rustic bounty, with the assumption that the same safety afforded to the livestock will apply equally to her.
This beginning might give us pause, since Horace’s conventional locus amoenus seems suspiciously out of place: what is bucolic doing in a lyric ode? Horace’s solution connects the bucolic setting with a symposium, described complete with usual sympotic tokens of wine and poetry (pocula Lesbii, 21 and fide Teia,18). Even the landscape takes part in the symposium as the countryside itself reclines, Usticae cubantis (11), another guest at this event. Horace’ central placement of the description in the middle stanza highlights the mixed locale of sympotic and bucolic space as the very crux of the poem.
Of course, any poetic heroine versed in literary tradition ought to know not to linger in such a place, but as usual, the lush, bucolic locus compels and deceives. The innocentis at the beginning of the sixth stanza (21) verbally injects a hint of nocens into the picnic setting, still hidden within its own negation. Here, the possibility of harm, cloaked within the language itself, begins to reveal the cracks in the façade of Horace’s safe countryside party. Multiple fissures, illuminated by prolepsis, ultimately lead to a detailed, albeit negated, threat against Tyndaris’ safety.
Recent scholarship has tended to side against worrywarts, reading 1.17 as light-hearted and playful, rather than examining the combination of landscapes and genres as sites of danger (cf. Pucci 1975: 259-60; Davis 1991: 200-4; Oliensis 1998: 121-4; Spencer 2006: 267). Yet the double nature of the poem calls for a suspicious reading. The subtlety of description in the final stanza, proleptically outlining in vivid detail what could happen if the rival Cyrus were to appear, leaves the reader to wonder whether such an outing is safe for Tyndaris after all. Despite the description of the safety that will follow the girl if she comes to his farm for an outdoor symposium, Odes 1.17 hints at the possibility of sexual danger and violence, including the very things Horace sought to exclude through vehement negation.