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Descending Doubles in Horace, Satires II

Andrew Horne

University of Chicago

Latin poetry books often manifest architectural schemes on both a large and small scale. Scholars have argued for architectural patterns in Vergil’s Eclogues (Van Sickle), Horace’s Odes (Santirocco, Lowrie) and Epodes (Cucchiarelli), and Propertius’s four books (Hutchinson). It has also long been recognized that Horace’s first three satires form a grouping, the diatribe satires (e.g. Rudd). No architectural patterns have hitherto been proposed for Satires book II, despite increasing interest in the collection (Gowers, Freudenburg, Sharland, Yona).

This paper suggests that Satires II is one of Horace’s most compellingly arranged books, structured in a pattern of descending doubles. Sandwiched between an introduction (II.1) and conclusion (II.8), the central poems of the book (II.2-II.7) are arranged into three pairs, each offering a particular take on the philosophical life (sapiential, material, and religious). This alone is a worthwhile pattern; but within each pair there is also a descending structure. The first poem offers a positive and the second a negative or perverted version of the ethics at hand. My presentation will offer complete argumentation for the first pair and a shorter demonstration of the pattern’s persistence in the next two.

In the first pair, II.2-II.3, the ethics preached is one of virtue and self-control. In II.2, the farmer Ofellus displays perfect self-reliance (“the highest pleasure is to be found… in yourself, in te ipso,” 19-20). In multiple vignettes, Ofellus recommends making life artificially harder for yourself in order to increase your self-possession (9-16, 80-92, 94-101, 106-111). In striking contrast, II.3 perverts this sapiential approach to ethics. The speaker, a bad Stoic named Damasippus, gives a long speech proving that everyone is just as insane (insanus) as he is. Whereas Ofellus brought other people up to his level, Damasippus drags them down to his. His moral examples are exclusively negative: from the morbidly greedy (84-103, 141-57), to parricides (126-40), to insane people both mythological and contemporary (64-76, 187-207). Although Ofellus and Damasippus agree on ranking virtue above the goods of fortune, the first takes an optimistic and the second a pessimistic view of the possibility of implementing that value scheme.

The next pair manifests a comparable pattern. II.4 frames the happy life (17-20, 78-88) as a matter of ordering things well in the material (especially culinary) sphere. II.5, on legacy-hunting, takes a similar tack—it locates the end of life in material well-being—but recommends criminal activity in order to get that well-being. Again there is a single approach to ethics, but a positive and negative take on it. The final pair explores the notion that happiness could be entirely outside human control. In II.6, Horace claims to rely on the gods. In II.7, a slave offers a nihilistic rant about how everyone is a slave and should enjoy being one. The notion of surrendering control has likewise a positive and a negative version. Horace’s interest in moral philosophy has long been recognized, but not its role as an architectural principle. Satires II is structured in a pattern of descending doubles.

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Triumviral Literature

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