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Revolutionary Horaces

Jeri DeBrohun

            In 1786, in Philadelphia, two poetic collections were published, whose title pages reflected their authors’ revolutionary allegiances: The Lyric Works of Horace translated into English…by a Native of America, was the work of John Parke (1754-1789), who served in the Continental Army, translating a number of Horace’s lyrics while encamped at Valley Forge, and led a regiment into the battle of Monmouth (Kaiser); The Poems of Philip Freneau, Written Chiefly During the Late War, had an author whose anti-British views were well known from his numerous prior publications (Leary). While Parke’s collection included all the poems in Horace’s four books of Odes, plus the Epodes and Carmen Saeculare, there were also Horatian adaptations among Freneau’s poems. Both poets translated or imitated Odes 1.15 and 2.16, and Epode 10.

            I concentrate here on the two poets’ versions of Horace’s Epode 10, considering the poems in relation to the Horatian original, in their own rights, and in relation to each other. Both Parke and Freneau used the labels “translation,” “imitation,” and “paraphrase” to distinguish between different types of adaptations of earlier poets’ works. Still, Parke’s “translation” of Epode 10, while it reproduces the Horatian original in most particulars, also involves considerable amplification of certain elements (e.g., the ideas in Horace’s 13-14 and 21-24 are considerably expanded). Freneau’s “imitation” is nearly as faithful to Horace’s words, but he takes liberties in inserting the name of his contemporary addressee and exchanging the “Atlantic main” for Horace’s Ionian gulf (Ionius sinus, 19). Both Parke’s and Freneau’s versions of Ode 1.15 are labeled “translations,” and their Ode 2.16 renditions are called “imitations;” these poems share the features noted above, which suggests a common understanding of these terms, most likely inherited by the poets inherited from their intermediate British models (Dryden, Pope, Swift).

            A significant aspect of both poets’ versions is the choice of addressee. Horace’s epode is a negative propemptikon invoking a curse upon the voyage of a certain “stinking Maevius” (olentem Mevium, 2), an unidentified figure, for whom no obvious referent is known (Mankin, 184), who has betrayed the poem’s speaker in some way. Vergil’s use of the name for a bad poet in Eclogue 3 has led some to conjecture that Horace’s target is also a poet (Fraenkel, 27). Both Parke and Freneau, however, construe Maevius as a decidedly political target. Parke’s poem has the inscription: “Addressed to his Excellency the Right Honorable John Earl of Dunmore, late Governor of Virginia, Pirate, Kidnapper, and Negro-Merchant, on his departure for England,” which curiously goes unmentioned in the recent biography of Dunmore (David). Freneau’s target is Benedict Arnold; the inscription notes that the poem was “Written in December 1781, upon the departure of Gen. Arnold from New-York.”

            On a possible relationship between the two poems: Freneau’s poem, which he dates (in an inscription beneath the poem’s title) December 1781, was published in the Freeman’s Journal, published in Philadelphia, in the issue of July 10, 1782 (Leary, 429). The subscription to Parke’s poem reads: “Philadelphia, July 31, 1782;” and it seems probable that Parke had read Freneau’s poem. There are similarities in expression (Freneau 5 “With horrid waves insult his vessel’s sides” and Parke 4 “And lash his vessel’s feeble sides;” Freneau 14 and Parke 11 “sad Orion”), but common renderings of the Latin (especially Horace’s tristis Orion) are unsurprising. While the nature of the relationship between the two poems bears consideration, we can, I argue, feel confident that Parke did not view himself as consciously indebted to Freneau. In his preface (xxi-xxiii), Parke lists every poem or passage that is owed in part or whole to another poet. Of the Epodes, he states, “the whole book of epodes…are my own.” Also, within his 1786 collection (the month of publication for which is not available), Parke includes a verse epistle “To Mr. Philip Freneau, on his Volume of excellent Poems, printed by Mr. Bailey” (297).

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Problems of Triumviral and Augustan Poetics

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