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Integrating Sappho and Alcaeus in Horace Odes 1.22

Justin Hudak

University of California, Berkeley

Classical scholars interested in Aeolic influence upon Horatian poetry tend to read Odes 1.22 in one of two ways: either in relation to Sappho (Ancona 2002, Putnam 2006, Young 2015) or in relation to Alcaeus (Burzacchini 1976, 1985, 1994). However, Horace’s poetic practice protests against such segregation. Indeed, when he refers explicitly to one of the Lesbian poets, he more often than not refers to the other as well (Odes 2.13, 4.9; Epistles 1.19). Although Odes 1.22 does not mention either precursor by name, it is consistent with this general picture.

            In this paper, I argue that Horace’s ode, unlike its purportedly integer and purus persona, is the “contaminated” product of a poet reveling in his lyric promiscuity. By integrating the erotic experience portrayed in Sappho fr. 31 with the exilic experience described in Alcaeus fr. 130b, Odes 1.22 helps to solidify Horace’s claims to the Aeolic lyre (Odes 1.1, 3.30). At the same time, it serves to distinguish him from his forerunners: whereas he appears to exult in extremis, they are forced to endure in his poem what their speakers claim in the aforementioned fragments to have suffered: life at the margins. This time, those margins are literal, for the Lesbian poets are relegated to the iconic edges of an ode that opens with an Alcaic motto (Integer uitae ~ ἄγνος τοὶς βιότοις) and closes with a Sapphic locution (dulce loquentem ~ ἆδυ φωνείσας). Far from being confined, Horace utilizes the space between these borders to enact transgression. Inserting himself between his precursors, he derives from the ululation (ὀλολύγας) heard in Alcaeus fr. 130b and the limb-loosening vocalizations heard in Sappho fr. 31 an enchanting figure of his own: Lalage, who as the virtual hypostasis of Horatian song (Oliensis 1998) defends not only against the purely imagined slings and arrows of exile and eros, but also against the very real burden of poetic belatedness.

            My argument unfolds in three stages. First, in an effort to widen fields previously tilled by other scholars (Barchiesi 2009, Feeney 2009, and Clay 2010), I briefly re-survey the Aeolic landscape reflected in the Horatian corpus. Building especially upon Woodman (2002), my primary contention here is that Sappho and Alcaeus are on roughly equal footing throughout Horace’s oeuvre, despite commentators’ (and, to a certain extent, the poet’s own) claims to the contrary. Next, in an effort to weave together two hitherto separate strands in the scholarship (strands tantalizingly but fleetingly brought side-by-side in Morgan 2010), I interpret Odes 1.22 in the light of its dual Aeolic heritage. I show how this poem can be read, along stanzaic lines, as an elaborate chiasmus. The farther Horace moves inward from his ode’s Aeolic poles, the farther he strays from his precursors. Thus, the second and penultimate stanzas flaunt his speaker’s disregard for the geographical remoteness and extreme temperatures which had aggrieved Alcaeus and Sappho, respectively. Most transgressive of all are the lupus and the Lalage of the ode’s central stanzas. If the speaker of Alcaeus fr. 130b is indeed likened to a “wolf-spearman” (Lefkowitz and Lloyd-Jones 1987), then he contrasts sharply with the speaker of Odes 1.22, who has no need of spears and scares off a wolf whilst completely unarmed. Horace plays a similar game with Lalage. Insofar as this name constitutes a calque upon dulce loquentem, its invocation should lead to disintegration (à la Sappho’s ἆδυ φωνείσας); instead, it keeps the Horatian speaker intact. In the final part of this paper, I show how my reading of Odes 1.22—which sees Aeolic integration as integral to the poem’s meaning—not only accords with a recent definition of influence-anxiety as “literary love, tempered by defense” (Bloom 2011), but also adds to the traditional Bloomian arsenal a new mode of defense whereby two parent-poems are permitted to complete and oppose one another, while the poem which is the fruit of their interaction looks on in unadulterated amusement.

Session/Panel Title:

Lyric from Greece to Rome

Session/Paper Number

56.3

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