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Philodemean Poetics in Horace, Satires 1.2

John Svarlien

Transylvania University

As Horace begins to wrap up the case he is making in Satires 1.2 about the frustrations and perils of adultery, he brings in two Greek erotic epigrams. At lines 105-8, he quotes from and paraphrases a poem by Callimachus (AP 12.102 = Ep. 31 Pf.) to illustrate the frustration an adulterous affair entails. At lines 120-2, he claims that Philodemus models in one of his epigrams a much more sensible approach to managing male libido. Horace’s point here, scholars have maintained, is that the writings of an Epicurean like Philodemus are a much better guide to safe sex than the versiculi of an Alexandrian aesthete. What has not been registered and fully appreciated is the fact that the one time Horace names Philodemus he cites him not as a moralist but as a famous poet (see Cic. Pis. 70) whose epigrams are very much in the Hellenistic tradition of Callimachus, Posidippus, et al.

As Sider (1995: 45) notes, “any philosopher of poetic theory who himself writes poetry invites us to read the latter with the former in view.” Horace’s contemporaries would have read Philodemus’ epigrams as a concrete expression of his poetics as laid out in his treatise On Poems.

Philodemus claims that a tight nexus of συνθέσις τῆς λέξεως (compositio) and διάνοια (res) is essential in defining poetry qua poetry. Any alteration of the compositio of a line of verse will necessarily change the meaning of the verse and, consequently, of the poem as a whole. Horace deliberately subjects Callimachus’ epigram to paraphrase, abbreviation, syntactical rearrangement (metathesis), generic transformation (sympotic-erotic epigram into Roman verse satura), and contextual reorientation (transposition from a Hellenistic book of epigrams to the Horatian poetry book of Satires I). These changes to the συνθέσις τῆς λέξεως of Callimachus’ carefully crafted epigram alter, according to Philodemean poetics, the διάνοια (thought content) of the original. This presents a serious problem. Horace’s ostensible purpose is to use what he alleges to be the thought content of the epigram as evidence to support his own claims about the best way to manage male libido. In utilizing Callimachus’ epigram in this fashion, Horace misreads or at least misrepresents Callimachus’ epigram. Indeed, Horace does not read Callimachus’ epigram as a poem; he is interested only in the practical lesson he claims can be extracted from the poem.

We can put Callimachus’ epigram side by side with Horace’s rendering of it and offer a detailed comparative study. Horace practices metathesis on the original text and he ignores the meta-poetical dimension of Callimachus’ epigram, to point out just two ways Horace misconstrues Callimachus’ poetry in order to make the poem a protreptic tool.

There are good reasons to recognize irony in Horace’s use of Callimachus in Satires 1.2. Oberhelman and Armstrong 1995 and Freudenburg 1993 in their reading of Satires 1.4.39-63 have identified clear lines of connection between Philodemean and Horatian poetics: the tight nexus of λέξις and διάνοια is an essential principle in both. In this passage from 1.4, where Horace reviews different contemporary notions of poetry, he artfully demonstrates the impossibility of metathesis in poetry while at the same time seeming to disavow that he is a poet. In what amounts to a studied misreading of Callimachus’ epigram in Satires 1.2, Horace illustrates the truth of a fundamental principle of Philodemean poetics: any alteration of the compositio destroys the delicate weave of λέξις and διάνοια that defines good poetry. Horace directs the reader to look back to Satires 1.2 when he quotes verbatim 1.2.27 at 1.4.92. This paper will show how 1.2, with its references to Philodemean poetics, prepares the reader of Satires I for Horace’s more extended treatment of poetry and the contemporary critical theory wars about poetry in Satires 1.4.

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Latin Poetics and Poetic Theory

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