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

Introduction

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.

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    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.

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    • 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.

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      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.

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

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        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).

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

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          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.

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

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            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.

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            • 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.

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              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.

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

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                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.

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

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                  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.

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

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                    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.

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

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                      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.

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

                        DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511582875Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                        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.

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                        Text and Translation

                        The edition of Shackleton Bailey 2001 is now the standard text for Horace’s collected works, although the Oxford Classical Text of Wickham and Garrod 1912 is more readily available. For practical purposes Rudd 2004 provides the most readable and reliable prose translation of the collection. There is no poetic translation that can be recommended.

                        • Rudd, N., ed., and trans. 2004. Horace, Odes and Epodes. Loeb Classical Library 33. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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                          Includes text and facing English prose translation, with minimal editorial and explanatory commentary.

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                          • Shackleton Bailey, D. R. 2001. Horatius Opera. Munich and Leipzig: Saur.

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                            This is the fourth corrected edition of a text which first appeared in 1985, published then by Teubner; despite some bold conjectures and an austere apparatus criticus it is now largely accepted as the standard text.

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                            • Wickham, E. C., and H. W. Garrod. 1912. Q. Horati Flacci opera. Oxford Classical Texts. Oxford: Clarendon.

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                              This is the often reprinted Oxford Classical Text (OCT), first edited by Wickham in 1900, and revised by Garrod in 1912. It has a brief apparatus criticus. R. J. Tarrant is editing a new OCT.

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                              Commentaries

                              In the past commentaries on the Epodes, often expurgated, were attached to the Odes, as for instance by Kiessling and Heinze 1960, a classic work, or Numberger 1997, a useful tool for teachers. Nowadays there are three first-rate stand-alone commentaries on the book, Cavarzere 1992, Mankin 1995, and Watson 2003.

                              • Cavarzere, A. 1992. Orazio: il libro degli Epodi. Venice: Marsilio.

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                                The introduction, pp. 9–44, concentrates on generic issues: the title of the collection, the meter, Greek predecessors, iambic character (invective and humor). The Latin text is accompanied by an Italian translation by F. Bandini. The extensive scholarly commentary on each poem is preceded by a specific bibliography and literary analysis. In Italian.

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                                • Kiessling, A., and R. Heinze. 1960. Q. Horatius Flaccus Oden und Epoden. Berlin: Weidmann.

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                                  A classic literary commentary, first published in 1884, and repeatedly revised; this reprint has a valuable afterword and bibliography by Erich Burck, regrettably omitted from the 1968 reprint. In German.

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                                  • Mankin, D. 1995. Horace: Epodes. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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                                    The introduction covers the historical background, Greek models of “blame” poetry (controversially excluding Callimachus), the organization of the poems into a book, language and style, and meter. The commentary is well designed for the target audience, providing an introduction to each poem. The appendix of Greek poetic scraps is untranslated; the index is especially valuable.

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                                    • Numberger, Karl. 1997. Horaz. Lehrer-Kommentar zu den lyrischen Gedichten. Münster, Germany: Aschendorff Verlag.

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                                      A commentary on selected epodes (1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 9, 13, and 16), designed for schoolteachers. At times difficult to navigate, it nonetheless contains a wealth of practical information and scholarly references. In German.

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                                      • Watson, L. 2003. A commentary on Horace’s Epodes. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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                                        An ample and indispensable tool of research. Historical context, literary models (the fullest and most balanced account available), and detailed exegesis are all exemplary. Interpretation of the individual poems tends to be conservative, but also judicious and thoroughly informed about alternative approaches. The sole defect is the lack of the Latin text of the poems.

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                                        Interpretive Studies

                                        Until recently there has been little focus on the collection as a whole or on its dominant themes, but the tide is turning. Thematic studies have been tackled by Grassmann 1966 (erotic), Hawkins 2014 (anger), and Dozier 2015 (impotence: a significant issue in other essays). Only Johnson 2012 offers a comprehensive account of the collection. Bather and Stocks 2016 provides wide coverage in a collection of essays.

                                        • Bather, P., and C. Stocks, eds. 2016. Horace’s Epodes: Contexts, intertexts, and reception. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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                                          Contains nine stimulating chapters on various aspects of the Epodes, e.g., the Greek and Latin traditions of poetic censure, the civil war backdrop, gender and impotence, the relation to other poems of Horace, and reception both in antiquity and the modern day.

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                                          • Dozier, C. 2015. Innovative invective: Strength and weakness in Horace’s Epodes and Quintilian’s Institutio oratoria. American Journal of Philology 136:313–352.

                                            DOI: 10.1353/ajp.2015.0026Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                            Argues that the iambic poet’s “impotence,” an innovative rhetorical element in Horace’s epodes, re-emerges in Quintilian’s theory of oratorical invective, a sort of passive-aggressive stance that may prove advantageous to the public speaker.

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                                            • Grassmann, V. 1966. Die erotischen Epoden des Horaz: Literarischer Hintergrund un sprachliche Tradition. Munich: Beck.

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                                              Groundbreaking informative study of the literary background of the erotic poems (8, 11, 12, 14, and 15), still regularly cited. In German.

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                                              • Hawkins, Julia N. 2014. The barking cure: Horace’s “Anatomy of Rage” in Epodes 1, 6, and 16. American Journal of Philology 135:57–85.

                                                DOI: 10.1353/ajp.2014.0006Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                Argues that the dog and canine imagery function as a cipher for trauma: the dog’s bark is therapy for a disordered society. Horace rehabilitates the iambic dog and its “rabid” rage within the social context of the Triumviral period.

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                                                • Johnson, T. 2012. Horace’s iambic criticism: Casting blame (Iambikē Poiēsis). Mnemosyne. Supplementum 334. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

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                                                  Coverage is not confined to the Epodes, but ranges over Horace’s subsequent works. Johnson aims to show a development of social-critical tone, the iambic strain, in the odes and Ars Poetica. Invective rage, in the author’s words, is “part of an iambic-lyric program featuring transgression, responsion and fusion.” Chapters 2–4 deal with the Epodes. Dense and sometimes hard to navigate.

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                                                  Individual Poems

                                                  If the collection as a whole has secured scant attention individual poems have often fared rather better, though not all of them. Du Quesnay 2002 and Sans 2010 focus on Epode 1, Skinner 2013 on Epode 3, Epodes 5 and 17 are dealt with by Barchiesi 2009, Oliensis 2009, Paule 2017, and Paulin 2008, Epodes 8 and 12 are combined by Henderson 2009, Epode 9 is discussed by Giusti 2016, Epode 11 by Woodman 2015, Epode 13 by Lowrie 1992, and finally Epode 14 by Watson 2001.

                                                  • Barchiesi, A. 2009. Final difficulties in an iambic poet’s career: Epode 17. In Horace: Odes and Epodes. Edited by Michèle Lowrie, 232–246. Oxford Readings in the Classics. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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                                                    Stresses themes of “reversibility,” ambiguity of the character of Helen (and so too of Canidia), ambiguity of praise which “corrects” vituperation, the witch as avatar of the iambic poet.

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                                                    • Du Quesnay, I. M. Le M. 2002. Amicus Certus in Re Incerta Cernitur: Epode I. In Traditions and contexts in the poetry of Horace. Edited by Tony Woodman and Denis Feeney, 17–37. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

                                                      DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511482427.003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                      Argues that the poem, here subjected to detailed analysis, is paradigmatic of the contemporary issues relating to the mutual duties and obligations of friends in wartime. Horace’s friendship with Maecenas proves exemplary in troubled times.

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                                                      • Giusti, E. 2016. Dithyrambic Iambics: Epode 9 and its general(s’) Con-fusion. In Horace’s Epodes: Contexts, intertexts, and reception. Edited by P. Bather and C. Stocks, 131–151. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press..

                                                        DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198746058.003.0006Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                        Thanks to the framing figure of Bacchus, “god of dissolution,” the epode highlights the “blurred identities” endemic in a period of civil conflict. This poem is the earliest manifestation of the Bacchic/Dionysiac poetics Horace will deploy in later poems to establish his place within the ideology of the principate.

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                                                        • Henderson, J. 2009. Horace talks rough and dirty: No comment (Epodes 8 & 12). In Horace: Odes and Epodes. Edited by Michèle Lowrie, 401–417. Oxford Readings in the Classics. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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                                                          According to Henderson’s abstract this essay offers “a strong reading of Epode 12 as erotic play with verbal violence . . . against the simpler abusive scenario of Epode 8, in accordance with the contemporary critical model of writer-reader relations as ‘staining.’” The original essay was published in 1999.

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                                                          • Lowrie, M. 1992. A sympotic Achilles: Horace Epode 13. American Journal of Philology 113:413–433.

                                                            DOI: 10.2307/295462Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                            Often judged the most satisfying poem in the collection from an artistic standpoint, it does however appear to leave a gap between the exemplum, Achilles who is doomed to die, and the poetic occasion, a symposium which relieves cares. Lowrie argues for a dynamic double movement of exemplum and occasion, which may not correct despair but “integrates on a poetic level the expression of the darker side of things.”

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                                                            • Oliensis, E., 2009. Canidia, Canicula, and the Decorum of Horace’s Epodes. In Horace: Odes and Epodes. Edited by Michèle Lowrie, 160–187. Oxford Readings in the Classics. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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                                                              Canidia, with her “speaking” name (“bitch”), embodies, as both hag and witch, an indecorous poetics of female power against which Horace defines his own practice; his misogyny is a gesture of self-defense.

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                                                              • Paule, M. T. 2017. Canidia, Rome’s first witch. London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

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                                                                This work, clearly and engagingly written, brings together all references to the witch, not just the two epodes. Canidia is assumed to be a fictional character, and of her appearances is regarded as confined within a discrete poetic entity. Horace’s unusual engagement with witchcraft and the demonic is fully assessed.

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                                                                • Paulin, Sara. 2008. Quid dixit aut quid tacuit? El discurso de la magia en los epodos 5 y 17 de Horacio. Anales de Filología Clásica, Buenos Aires (Argentina) 21:23–62.

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                                                                  The article examines Horace’s manipulation of the discourse of magic, and his strategies of control, disavowal, and marginalization. In Spanish.

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                                                                  • Sans, B. 2010. De la sphère publique à la sphère privée: le diptyque de l’image de soi dans l’Épode I d’Horace. Les Études Classiques 78:25–35.

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                                                                    The structure of the poem is closely analyzed: it falls into two halves, clearly marked by the use of the plural (nos) and the singular (ego) first-person pronouns. This produces a complementary “diptych” of the writer’s image of himself. In French.

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                                                                    • Skinner, Marilyn B. 2013. Horace, Catullus, and Maecenas. Syllecta Classica 24:29–45.

                                                                      DOI: 10.1353/syl.2013.0012Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                      An unwelcome gift links the third epode to Catullus 14, and there is a further allusion to Catullus 13, all of which suggests the Horace is teasing Maecenas for his fondness for neoteric verse, a tradition into which his own verse composition falls.

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                                                                      • Watson, L., 2001. Epode 14: Horace’s Carmen Inconditum? In Iambic ideas: Essays on a poetic tradition from Archaic Greece to the Late Roman Empire. Edited by A. Cavarzere, A. Aloni, and A. Barchiesi, 187–204. Lanham, MD, and Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield.

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                                                                        Concentrates on the compositional stratagems, chiefly Callimachean, in the fashioning of a complex poem, saturated in irony. An exemplary close reading of a very difficult poem.

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                                                                        • Woodman, A. J. 2015. Problems in Horace, Epode 11. Classical Quarterly 65:673–681.

                                                                          DOI: 10.1017/S0009838815000166Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                          The poem has been subjected to considerable, but largely fruitless, analysis, which is here passed in careful review. The focus is on the opening and closing six lines, which, properly interpreted, frame a central parenthetical flashback and in combination provide a smooth erotic progression from the poet’s love of Inachia to love of Lyciscus.

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                                                                          Collections of Articles

                                                                          Valuable contributions have been made over the years to the interpretation of significant themes in the collection of academic journals or books. The more important and accessible of them have been collected by Lowrie 2009, Harrison 1995, and Nisbet 1995.

                                                                          • Harrison, Stephen J., ed. 1995. Homage to Horace: A bimillenary celebration. Oxford: Clarendon.

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                                                                            This important and influential collection of original essays contains L. C. Watson, “Horace’s Epodes: The Impotence of Iambos?” (pp. 188–202), which tackles a fundamental issue, addressed by other students of the poems, the traditional “amechania” or impotence of the iambic poet, whose irony is often self-deflating.

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                                                                            • Lowrie, Michèle, ed. 2009. Horace: Odes and Epodes. Oxford Readings in the Classics. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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                                                                              Contains among other previously published articles on the Epodes, William Fitzgerald’s essay on “Power and Impotence in Horace’s Epodes” (pp. 141–159), which challenges the common view of the collection as a miscellany, experimental in character, i.e., somehow tentative and unsatisfactory. Fitzgerald stresses the interwovenness of the themes and images in the collection and their relation with the political, sexual, and social situations in which Horace finds himself. An important piece, often cited.

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                                                                              • Nisbet, R. G. M. 1995. Collected papers on Latin literature. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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                                                                                Contains (pp. 161–181) an essay entitled “Horace’s Epodes and History,” originally published in T. Woodman and D. West, Poetry and Politics in the Age of Augustus (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press), pp. 1–18. Nisbet argues that the Epodes started life as the product of defeat and alienation, but after meeting Maecenas the poet’s attitude changed to one of acceptance, even support, of the new regime.

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                                                                                Language, Style, and Meter

                                                                                The linguistic registers of the Epodes are very varied, given the range of themes in the collection. Coarse language, “aeschrologia,” is counterbalanced by elegiac, lyric, and epic tones. The General Index in Mankin 1995 (see pp. 318–321, cited under Commentaries) is helpful, especially the headings “Graecism,” “language and style,” “neologisms,” and “word play.” All the commentators listed under Commentaries explain the meter characteristics of epodic poems; they also note that the collection is divided into two metrically distinct groups, 1–10 and 11–17, each with its peculiar tone. Naylor 1922 reveals the artistry of Horace’s word placement.

                                                                                • Naylor, H. Darnley. 1922. Horace, Odes and Epodes: A study in poetic word order. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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                                                                                  An impressive and comprehensive analysis of Horace’s consummate artistry in the placement of words in sentences, lines, and stanzas. Reprinted in 2013.

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                                                                                  Organization of the Book

                                                                                  Poetry books in Rome were more or less carefully organized, and the Epodes is no exception. Carruba 1969 provides the only comprehensive account, though the issue of arrangement is discussed by all the recent commentators (see under Commentaries) and in the chapters on the collection cited in General Overviews.

                                                                                  • Carruba, R. W. 1969. The Epodes of Horace: A study in poetic arrangement. The Hague and Paris: de Gruyter.

                                                                                    DOI: 10.1515/9783111654331Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                    This study seeks to establish in the fourth chapter, pp. 22–83, that the guiding principle of arrangement is thematic. A good deal of the rest of the book focuses rather on the structure of individual poems, interesting but not entirely relevant to the advertised issue.

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                                                                                    Reception

                                                                                    Few of the Epodes have generated much progeny in subsequent literary traditions, with the exception of the second, which is exhaustively illustrated by Røstvig 1954. Oliensis 2016 has ably set the ball rolling, let us hope.

                                                                                    • Oliensis, Ellen. 2016. Scenes from the Afterlife of Horace’s Epodes (c. 1600–1900). In Horace’s Epodes: Contexts, intertexts, and reception. Edited by P. Bather and C. Stocks, 219–239. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

                                                                                      DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198746058.003.0010Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                      The focus is on English-language writing, especially translations and parodies; school curricula are also taken into account. It is shown that the fourth epode has had considerable influence, and that the figure of Canidia (not confined to the Epodes) has been particularly attractive. A lively essay which it may be hoped will stimulate further study of reception of the collection. L. B. T. Houghton reviewed the volume, with a focus upon Oliensis’ chapter, in the international Journal of the Classical Reception 25 (2018) pp. 89–92, and he indicated additional lines of research in the reception of the Epodes.

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                                                                                      • Røstvig, M. -S. 1954. The happy man. Studies in the metamorphoses of a classical ideal 1600–1700. Oslo, Norway: Akademisk Forlag.

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                                                                                        The most popular by far of the Epodes is the second, a (self-deluding) reverie on the good fortune of the countryman. The afterlife of this poem is extraordinarily rich in translations and parodies, all fully accounted for in this survey of English poetry in the 17th century. This is a classic study.

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