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Maps of Misreading: The Presence of Horace’s Vergil in Augustine’s Horace

Eric J. Hutchinson

Hillsdale College

While Augustine’s appropriation of Vergil has received moderate scholarly attention (e.g. Bennett 1988; MacCormack 1998; Shanzer 2012), his reading of Horace has had almost none (but cf. the brief overview in Hagendahl 1967 and some scattered references in Courcelle 1968; Horace is unnamed in a list of Augustine’s “influences” in Marrou 1938). This paper is a small attempt to redress this imbalance through the analysis of an allusion to Horace, Carmina 1.3.20 (his propempticon to Vergil’s ship), in Confessiones 1.13.20, previously unnoticed and unremarked in, for example, Hagendahl 1967, Alfonsi 1976, O’Donnell 1992, and Clark 1995.

The allusion is indicated by Horace’s phrase siccis oculis in Augustine’s lament over his youth wasted on literature: “I was enduring my death apart from you with dry eyes (siccis oculis).” The reader can be certain that Augustine refers to Carm. 1.3, because the phrase siccis oculis is found nowhere else in extant Latin literature before Horace or between Horace and Augustine besides Pliny, Epistulae 3.16, and Ps.-Quintilian, Declamationes 10.16, and, as my argument will demonstrate, these are irrelevant. Augustine knew the poem: he refers to it in the account of his grief over the death of his friend in Conf. 4.6.11 (dimidium animae suae), discussed extensively in Pucci 1991. That phrase, of course, originally referred to Horace’s friendship with Vergil (animae dimidium meae, Carm. 1.3.8) and provided a motive for Vergil’s ship to return him safely from his voyage--a voyage that has itself been read as an allegory of Vergil’s undertaking in the Aeneid (see, among others, Santirocco 1986 and Clark 2004; the ancient commentator Ps.-Acron had already noted similarities between Horace’s poem and the Aeneid.)

Why is this Vergilian context significant? It is significant because it is precisely Vergil’s Aeneid that is the subject of Augustine’s reflection on the occasion of his first allusion to Carm. 1.3 in Conf. 1.13.20. The paragraph begins with Augustine’s inquiry as to why he did not like Greek literature in comparison to Latin (see Hunink 2009) and ends with a lament that he wept over the “wanderings” (errores) of Aeneas and the death of Dido while contemplating his own “wanderings” or “errors” (errores) “with dry eyes” (siccis oculis). It is of course true that Horace and Vergil both vaguely fit the background of Conf. 1.13.20 in so far as each attempts to work out the proper relation between Greek and Latin literature. But if that were all, the exercise of discussing the allusion would be banal. Instead, and more interestingly, Augustine is castigating his youthful love affair with Latin literature with a carefully chosen rod drawn from that same Latin literature: for Horace’s poem, while beginning (like Conf.) as a prayer, transmogrifies into a complaint about man’s impious daring that leads him to wander where he should not--that is, on the sea--without fear of death, beholding monsters “with dry eyes” (siccis oculis). Like the first sin in Genesis, man’s rushing headlong over forbidden boundaries (per vetitum nefas, Carm. 1.3.26) leads to death (32-3). Augustine’s allusion to Horace’s poem about Vergil’s (poem about Aeneas’) wandering serves, then, to metaphorize Augustine’s own wandering away from God that was enabled by the very Vergil whom Horace praises in the ode. An analysis of this allusion, then, will yield a textured picture of various and contradictory moments of reading, as Augustine responds to Horace’s response to Vergil, in the midst of his own response to Vergil through Horace, a move that is, in its turn, at once both pro-Horatian (because of Horace’s polemic against man’s audaciousness in transgressing his proper boundaries) and counter-Horatian (because of Horace’s praise of Vergil). Thus this paper will contribute to the wider study of the ways in which Augustine creatively reuses the classical past for contemporary ends.     

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Literary Texture in Augustine and Gregory

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