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Inachia, Horace, and Neoteric Poetry

James Townshend

Horace’s relationship with Neoteric poetry is ambivalent. His work seems steeped in principles embodied in the poetry of his late Republican predecessors. At the same time, he never really has anything good to say about them—certainly not directly. This paper interprets the figure of Inachia in Epodes 11 and 12 in light of this Horatian ambivalence toward Neoteric poetry.

Inachia first appears in Epode 11 as the former object of Horace’s love. Horace presents this love in identifiably elegiac terms: Inachia even inspires a paraclausithyron in iambics (Epod. 11.19–22) (for the elegiac content, see e.g., Luck 1976; Barchiesi 1994: 129–132). While the poem may directly confront Propertian elegy (see Heslin 2011: 55–66; cf. Barchiesi 1994: 133–134), I suggest that we can understand a more general engagement with neoteric poetics. The poem’s premise is that unlike his love for Inachia, Horace’s current love prevents him from deriving any pleasure/benefit in writing little verses (uersiculos) (Epod. 11.1–2). The term uersiculi may recall the nugae of the Neoterics (see esp. Catullus Carm. 16.3 and 6; 50.4). Furthermore, the name Inachia suggests Io, daughter of Inachus (Watson 2003: 367; Mankin 1995: 196), and more specifically by the end of the Republic the eponymous heroine of Calvus’ neoteric epyllion.

Epode 12 expands this engagement with neoteric poetics through the reintroduction of Inachia. There Horace verbally assails an old woman after she complains about his failure to perform sexually. This assault—a vivid indictment of the old woman’s repulsiveness (Epod. 12.1–12)—is constructed precisely as a response to her complaint: he compensates for his sexual impotence with verbal violence (Oliensis 1998: 75). Without the woman, therefore, there would be no iambic poetry. Her decrepit body does not simply represent stylistic elements (see e.g., Clayman 1975), it embodies iambic invective (Gowers 1993: 288; Oliensis 1998: 75–76). The woman complains that although Horace can satisfy Inachia three times in a night, he cannot get it up once for her; she then curses Lesbia who suggested Horace when she was looking for a “bull” (Epode 12.14–17). The bull imagery strengthens the identification of Inachia with Io who was transformed into a heifer (Watson 2003: 408; Mankin 1995: 210). Moreover, the final lament of the old woman (o ego non felix, Epod. 12.25) points specifically to Calvus’ Io as it ironically reworks her famous cry a uirgo infelix (fr. 9 Morel = 20 Hollis). The specifically neoteric resonance of Inachia is also confirmed by the occurrence of the name Lesbia, which in a literary and erotic context cannot but remind the reader of Catullus’ mistress. The appearance within three lines of not one, but two women closely associated with the neoteric poets is surely no coincidence, especially since on the only occasion when Horace names either Catullus or Calvus, he names them together (Sat. 1.10.19). Therefore, through this rivalry of Inachia and the old woman, Epode 12 seems to establish an antagonism between neoteric and iambic poetry.

This antagonism is more apparent than real: even Catullus and Calvus wrote scurrilous verses (e.g., against Julius Caesar: Suet. Iul. 49.1 and 73.1). If each woman in Horace represents a type of poetry, their sexual encounters with the poet represent Horace’s poetic endeavours. In Epode 12, his liaison with the old woman, rather than Inachia, suggests an active preference for iambic. Additionally, the old woman’s claims about Inachia conflict with what has been said in Epode 11 where the affair has been over for three years and, it seems, Horace’s passion was never consummated (Epod. 11.5–6, 11–12). Yet Horace’s sexual failure in Epode 12 may indicate a real pull away from iambic and towards the neoteric, and it is precisely this failure that generates the poem. Despite the poet’s explicit allegiance to iambic, Epode 12 dramatizes his implicit adherence to neoteric principles and so exemplifies Horatian ambivalence toward neoteric poetry.

Session/Panel Title

Running Down Rome: Lyric, Iambic, and Satire

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