You are here

A Defense of Horace, Ars Poetica 172

Courtney Evans

University of Virginia

dilator, spe longus, iners , <p>auidusque futuri

So reads Shackleton Bailey’s text of Ars Poetica 172.  The line has been the subject of controversy for centuries; at issue are the two phrases, spe longus and avidus futuri.  The root of the problem is simply that the phrases do not make sense as characteristics of old men to many critics.  This is compounded by the fact that spe longus in particular is at odds with Aristotle’s Rhetoric 2.12-14, widely accepted to be Horace’s main source for this section of the Ars.  Old men, according to Aristotle, are disinclined to hope (δυσέλπιδες, 2.13.11), and they are cowardly and fear everything ahead of time (καὶ δειλοὶ καὶ πάντα προφοβητικοί, 2.13.7).  One approach, therefore, has been to emend the text to something that conveys the notion that old men are disinclined to hope (e.g. Shackleton Bailey [1982] spe mancus, Bentley’s spe lentus); others try solving the problem by doing away with the mention of hope altogether (e.g. Powell [1984] splenosus, Campbell [1958] speculator).  Similarly swayed by Aristotle, many who have wished to retain the reading have taken a second approach, arguing that spe longus expresses something similar to Aristotle’s δυσέλπιδες, rather than its opposite (e.g. Alexander [1938]; Flickinger [1938]).  As Bentley showed long ago, however, any such interpretation is quite impossible.  While the phrase spe longus is without parallel, there are several occurrences of spes longa (and the related spes longinqua), including two from Horace himself.  In every case the phrase denotes a hope that takes some time to find fulfillment.  spe longus, therefore, must mean that old men are characterized by having long-range hopes, the very opposite of what Aristotle says.  But an over-reliance on Aristotle has caused an unnecessary suspicion of the text.  While this suspicion has not been shared by everyone, conjectures continue to be made and the text remains suspect in what are arguably the most important and influential modern editions and commentaries (Shackleton Bailey’s Teubner; Brink [1971] and Rudd [1989]), so there is some need yet for a defense. 

In this paper I examine the contexts in which the phrase spes longa occurs in Horace and Seneca EM 101, and μακρὰς ἐλπίδας at Philodemus De Morte 38, as well as avidus futuri in Seneca EM 32, the only other occurrence of that phrase in Latin literature.  An investigation of these texts reveals a nexus of what we might call symptoms of those with long-range hopes.  They tend to postpone things, especially the enjoyment of their possessions; they therefore have need of more time (indigentia temporis; EM 101.8), which in turn creates anxiety and a desire for the future (cupiditas futuri; EM 101.8); they are overly concerned with money and profit, wanting always to have enough to retire comfortably.  I then turn to a few characters in Horace’s poetry who exhibit these same symptoms: the old miser at Satires 2.3.111-123 who sleeps on straw and drinks vinegar, while having 300,000 bottles of wine and blankets rotting away; those contrasted with the sapiens formica at Satires 1.1.28-44, who endure their negotium in order to retire wealthy, but unlike the ant, they are unwilling to use their savings.  Thus by different roads I will arrive at the same conclusion as Citti (1992), that Horace’s description of the senex at Ars 172 is quite in keeping with what he says elsewhere in his poetry.  Furthermore, I will conclude by arguing that Horace has in mind here a particular kind of senex, namely the avarus senex from the Roman stage.  A brief examination of some senes from Roman Comedy, in particular Demea, will show that they all exhibit symptoms that Philodemus, Seneca, and indeed Horace himself, would consider entirely characteristic of those who are long in their hopes, and greedy for the future.  Horace, therefore, can reasonably say of the senex: dilator, spe longus, iners, auidusque futuri, and the text should stand.

Session/Panel Title

Lyric from Greece to Rome

Session/Paper Number


© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy