This paper approaches Horace’s Sermones II.5 as a short play intended for oral performance. It identifies and examines the dramaturgical cues encoded within the satire, in particular the metrical prompts, stage directions, and ethopoeia of comedic stock characters. I argue that these are all part of a deliberate rhetorical strategy aimed at calling attention to the theatrical nature of the satire’s central subject, the patron-client relationship.
The first part of the paper explores Horace’s manipulation of meter for comic effect. At line 20, for example, he uses it to illustrate the lightning speed of Ulysses’s degradation from epic hero to comic parasite. Line 20 (paÅ«pÄ›r Ä›rÄ«s fÅrtem hÅc ÄƒnÇmÅ«m tÇ’lÄ›rÄrÄ› iÇ”bÄ“bÅ) is markedly dactylic and brisk. Aside from the expected spondaic resolution in the final foot of the hexameter, there is only one other spondee in the line. It occurs in the second foot, with the final syllable of eris and the first syllable of fortem. This is the exact point at which the speaker shifts from Tiresias to Ulysses: Tiresias predicts that Ulysses will be poor (pauper eris) unless he stoops to ignoble measures and Ulysses promptly agrees to sacrifice his dignity for material wealth (fortem hoc animum tolerare iubebo). The hero processes and articulates his response, literally without a missing a beat. His reply immediately picks up and completes the rhythm introduced by Tiresias. The elision between fortem and hoc further suggests the haste of his speech. It is as if Ulysses cannot get the words out of his mouth fast enough and he ends up slurring them together.
The second part of the paper investigates Horace’s use of stage directions. In conjunction with the dialogue format, these stage directions effectively turn the satire into a script. An example occurs when Ulysses asks Tiresias, “quid rides?” at line 3. Horace is indicating that the actor playing Tiresias should laugh at that moment. It is telling that laughter is the very first gesture that Horace chooses to describe. With these two simple words, quid rides, he establishes a playful tone for the poem, right from the start. Tiresias’s laughter confirms that we are about to witness a comedy, and our expectations about the genre ultimately inform our understanding of the extremely cynical content that follows.
The final part of the paper examines Horace’s use of ethopoeia. He encourages his actors to “do voices,” pronouncing direct speech for a motley crew of comedic stock characters. Over the course of Sermones II.5, Tiresias performs a series of dramatic vignettes for Ulysses, the satire’s internal audience. The prophet demonstrates not only how the hero should behave, but also what he should say in rather delicate social situations. In this way, he functions as playwright, director, and actor in this theatrical world. For example, when Tiresias advises Ulysses on how to approach a potential patron, he comes up with the dialogue, explains Ulysses’s motivation, and ultimately acts out the scene himself: “Quinte,” puta, aut “Publi,” (gaudent praenomine molles/ auriculae) “tibi me virtus fecit amicum…” (32-33). Manipulating several layers of theatricality, Horace depicts Tiresias playing Ulysses playing a comic parasite. By having Tiresias perform these diverse roles, both for Ulysses and us, Horace animates his story and highlights the theatricality of both the satire and its subject matter.