Classics Horace’s Epodes
Roland Mayer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0324


Long the least regarded of Horace’s works, the Epodes have recently enjoyed fresh initiatives in interpretation and elucidation. The traditional title of the collection, epodes, describes the metrical character of most of the seventeen poems in the collection (see under Language, Style, and Meter). Horace may, however, have entitled the collection Iambi, again a metrical descriptor, but also pointing to an aggressive poetry of personal abuse. The issue of the title remains open. The collection is distinctive for its diversity: there are poems of abuse (some deeply misogynistic), but also poems on current affairs, chiefly the disturbed political life of the 30s BCE, when the poems were composed. There are also light-hearted poems designed to amuse and entertain. A modern note is struck by the themes of bad sex and magic. Almost all the poems are “occasional,” generated by a particular incident. The collection is increasingly prized for its generic experimentation, but as with all experiments there are failures as well as successes.

General Overviews

Mariotti 1996–1998 is indispensable for its extraordinary range and outstanding scholarship. A number of author-specific companions or handbooks, Davis 2010, Günther 2013, Harrison 2007, and Harrison 2014, now serve as user-friendly introductions to the whole of Horace’s work, with chapters dedicated to the Epodes written by scholars of international repute, as well as chapters on broader issues that crop up throughout Horace’s poetry. One recurrent and contested issue is the poet’s debt to his literary predecessors, the Greeks Archilochus and Callimachus, and the Roman Catullus. Likewise monographic studies of the poet by Fraenkel 1957 and Oliensis 1998 also devote chapters to the Epodes, highlighting themes and issues which recur elsewhere in Horace’s poetry. Cavarzere, et al. 2001 is a comprehensive study of iambic poetry in antiquity, with three essays devoted to Horace. Holzberg 2017 provides up-to-date bibliographical information.

  • Barchiesi, A. 2001. Horace and Iambos: The poet as literary historian. In Iambic ideas: Essays on a poetic tradition from Archaic Greece to the Late Roman Empire. Edited by Antonio Aloni, Alessandro Barchiesi, Alberto Cavarzere, 141–164. Lanham, MD, and Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield.

    Demonstrates with subtle perception how Horace’s dynamic positioning of his iambic poems within the generic tradition affects the interpretation of individual poems and the sense of the book as a continuous discourse. An essay of fundamental value.

  • Cavarzere, A., A. Aloni, and A. Barchiesi, eds. 2001. Iambic ideas: Essays on a poetic tradition from archaic Greece to the Late Roman Empire. Lanham, MD, and Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield.

    This collection of original essays surveys the whole tradition of “iambic,” i.e., aggressive, poetry in antiquity. Three of the essays (Barchiesi 2001, Harrison 2001, and Watson 2001, cited under Individual Poems) are on the Epodes.

  • Davis, Gregson, ed. 2010. A companion to Horace. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

    D. Mankin provides the chapter on the Epodes, “The Epodes: Genre, Themes, and Arrangement,” pp. 93–104, with a guide to further reading (English-language only). The issues covered are the title, literary models (informative on the archaic Greek “blame poetry” of Archilochus, less so on Callimachus), major themes (escapist fantasy, ineffectual attack, magic), the arrangement of the book, and the historical and political background (epodes 1, 4, 7, 9, and 16).

  • Fraenkel, Eduard. 1957. Horace. Oxford: Clarendon.

    Still regarded as fundamental: translated into a number of languages, and reprinted in 2002. The second chapter, pp. 24–75, is dedicated to the Epodes; the focus is, typically for the time, on the “serious” civic poems, 1, 7, 9 and 16, which deal with contemporary political issues and the battle of Actium.

  • Günther, Hans-Christian, ed. 2013. Brill’s companion to Horace. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill.

    H.-C. Günther provides the chapter on the Epodes, “The Book of Iambi,” pp. 169–210; coverage of chronology, meter, and book structure is uncontroversial. In assessing the literary context he argues strongly that Horace repudiated features of the poetics of Callimachus and his Roman follower Catullus in a return to the archaic invective of Archilochus. There is discussion of each poem, except for the two on Canidia, 5 and 17. A learned, traditional account, unsympathetic to over-subtle interpretation.

  • Harrison, S. J. 2001. Some generic problems in Horace’s Epodes: or, On (Not) Being Archilochus. In Iambic Ideas: Essays on a Poetic Tradition from Archaic Greece to the Late Roman Empire. Edited by Antonio Aloni, Alessandro Barchiesi, and Alberto Cavarzere, 165–186. Lanham, MD, and Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield.

    The core problem identified in this essay was generated by the need to adapt the Greek iambic tradition to the Roman literary and cultural context of Horace’s time. The aggression of Archilochus had to be toned down, a mitigation achieved by interaction with a variety of non-iambic genres, specifically lyric and erotic elegy.

  • Harrison, Stephen J., ed. 2007. The Cambridge companion to Horace. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    L. Watson provides the chapter on the Epodes, “The Epodes: Horace’s Archilochus?,” pp. 93–104, with a valuable guide to further reading. Coverage of title, chronology, literary models, dominant themes, e.g., poet as helpless “victim” and magic, are exemplary. Comprehensive and sympathetic to the poet’s achievement.

  • Harrison, Stephen J. 2014. Horace. Greece & Rome. New Surveys in the Classics 42. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Provides an indispensable and judicious guide to recent scholarship on the poet’s life, work, and reception. Chapter 3 deals with the Epodes on pp. 42–45.

  • Holzberg, Niklas. 2017. Horaz: Eine Bibliographie. Munich.

    Comprises an indispensable online bibliography to all of Horace’s poetry, with the Epodes on pp. 204–209. Reviews of books are also helpfully cited. Accessible to download online.

  • Mariotti, Scevola, ed. 1996–1998. Orazio: Enciclopedia oraziana. 3 vols. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia italiana.

    A monumental and comprehensive resource, drawing on the expertise of numerous front-rank international scholars. Aldo Setaioli provides the survey article with an ample bibliography on the Epodes in Volume 1, pp. 267–274. In Italian.

  • Oliensis, E. 1998. Horace and the rhetoric of authority. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511582875

    The second chapter, pp. 64–101, entitled “Making Faces at the Mirror: The Epodes and the Civil War,” locates the poems figuratively within the historical crisis of civil war, arguing that they take the form of socially engaged and consequential acts, with a heightened emphasis on hierarchy and exclusivity.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.