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The Farmer and the Faenerator: Anticipation and Affect in Horace Epode 2

Duncan MacRae

University of California, Berkeley

Recent studies of anticipation in contemporary societies have emphasized the plurality and variability of human “future-making” in particular social contexts. In particular, anthropologists have emphasized that forms of anticipation are embedded in particular political economies, from traditional agrarian societies to post-socialist states to neoliberal globalization; they have also revealed the common coexistence of, even competition between, futures that are the product of calculation and those informed by hope or imagination (Guyer 2007; Appadurai 2013 285-300; Bryant and Knight 2019). Building on this literature, this paper offers a historicist reading of Horace’s Epode 2 as a satirical social commentary on contrasting forms of future-making in late first-century BCE Italy; not only to highlight the plurality of Roman forms of anticipation, but also to demonstrate how that plurality could be the object of reflection.

This poem opens with praise of the farmer’s life. Beatus ille qui procul negotiis, ut prisca gens mortalium… (Epode 2.1-2). The encomium continues through the activities of each season using timeless present tense verbs which emphasize the cycle of the year; there are also many reminders of the regularity of agricultural and human reproduction. The poem resolves suddenly: we have been listening to Alfius the moneylender who ends the poem preoccupied by his short-term financial future: omnem redegit idibus pecuniam,/ quaerit kalendis ponere (2.69-70). The iambic joke of Epode 2 — that the moneylender is the speaker who praises life solutus omni faenore (2.4) — depends on the disjunction between the two forms of anticipation: the predictability of the blessed farmer’s agricultural cycle and the risk associated with the moneylender’s calendar.

But Horace’s satirical observation also depends on the patterns of affect that motivate forms of anticipation. The faenerator Alfius will be a farmer any day now, he writes in the final lines (2.68: iam iam futurus rusticus). Modern readers have sometimes struggled with this line — particularly those who have read it as a literal statement about Alfius’ career (e.g. Cipriani 1980) — but the effect is to make the makarismos of the pristine farmer not just a hypocritical sermon, but a temporalized utopia, an object of hope. In tension with this emotion, however, Horace also insinuates the pressure of anxiety on Alfius, who is still seeking, as the poem ends, an investment opportunity by the first of the month. Other Roman texts reveal a stereotype that the Kalends and Ides — the typical due dates for debts — would produce anxiety in those on either side of loans (Cic. Cat. 1.14; Sen. Ep. 87 and de Ben. 1.2.3; Plut. Mor. 828a); by contrast, Alfius’ farmer is the subject of repeated verbs of positive sentiment and security.

Session/Panel Title

Roman Anticipations: Material Cognitive and Affective Histories of the Roman Future

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