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The Cambridge Companion to Horace

The Cambridge Companion to Horace

by Stephen Harrison

Horace is a central author in Latin literature. His work spans a wide range of genres, from iambus to satire, and odes to literary epistle, and he is just as much at home writing about love and wine as he is about philosophy and literary criticism. He also became a key literary figure in the regime of the Emperor Augustus. In this 2007 volume a superb international


Horace is a central author in Latin literature. His work spans a wide range of genres, from iambus to satire, and odes to literary epistle, and he is just as much at home writing about love and wine as he is about philosophy and literary criticism. He also became a key literary figure in the regime of the Emperor Augustus. In this 2007 volume a superb international cast of contributors present a stimulating and accessible assessment of the poet, his work, its themes and its reception. This provides the orientation and coverage needed by non-specialists and students, but also suggests provoking perspectives from which specialists may benefit. Since the last general book on Horace was published half a century ago, there has been a sea-change in perceptions of his work and in the literary analysis of classical literature in general, and this territory is fully charted in this Companion.

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Cambridge University Press
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Cambridge Companions to Literature Series
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New Edition
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This volume

The last major synoptic treatment of Horace’s whole poetic output was Eduard Fraenkel’s Horace (1957). A half-century later, the current Companion cannot hope to rival Fraenkel’s volume in substance, individuality and consistency of vision, but its form of twenty-four chapters by twenty-one different scholars reflects the increased specialism and diversity of modern Horatian scholarship. A vast variety of topics in Horatian studies is investigated in detail in the more than one hundred items on the poet now appearing annually according to the records of L’Année Philologique, and it is arguably no longer possible for a single scholar to command the whole range of arguments and issues. Nor is this volume exhaustively encyclopaedic, in the manner of the splendid Enciclopedia Oraziana (Mariotti 1996–8), perhaps the most valuable product of the bimillennium of Horace’s death, to which much reference is made in our individual chapters. This Companion aims to give a lively survey of the state of play in Horatian studies in the first decade of the twenty-first century in a manner which will be useful to students and scholars in other disciplines as well as to scholars working in the field of Horace.

   The structure of the volume beginswith ‘Orientations’, which set the background for Horace’s poetic achievement. We commence in conventional style from the poet’s biography. In chapter 1, Robin Nisbet gives us what can be known or inferred about Horace’s life and career, information which is gathered almost wholly from his poems; in chapter 2, Stephen Harrison duly reminds us that poetry is not always a straightforward autobiographical source, and that Horace’s self-presentation can be fantastic and conventional as well as realistic.

   The second section of ‘Orientations’ provides an introduction to the repertoire of poetic and political knowledge needed by the modern reader in approaching Horace’s work. The importance of Greek poetic models is crucial, both archaic Greek poetry in the lyric and iambic genres (treated in chapter 3 by Gregory Hutchinson) and the aesthetics of brevity and polish of the Hellenistic period (discussed by Richard Thomas in chapter 4). At the same time, Horace’s context in Roman literature is also fundamentally important, both in his reactions to predecessors such as Lucilius and Lucretius and in his interactions with his contemporaries Virgil and the elegists (the subject of Richard Tarrant’s chapter 5); another central contemporary interaction is that with Augustus and his political framework, both through and without the patronage of Maecenas, dealt with by Michèle Lowrie in chapter 6.

   The second section of the volume looks at the individual Horatian poetic genres, beginning with chapter 7, on the early and difficult iambic Epodes, by Lindsay Watson. Chapters 8, 9 and 10 separate out Horace’s three enterprises in sermo, ‘colloquial’ hexameter poetry – the early Satires, treated by Frances Muecke, the middle- to late-period Epistles, discussed by Rolando Ferri, and the Ars Poetica, usually seen as Horace’s last work, here dealt with by Andrew Laird – while in chapter 11 Alessandro Barchiesi turns to the Odes, the middle- to late-period lyric work usually seen as the culmination of Horace’s poetic career, and the Carmen Saeculare, Horace’s only known work of public commission for the religious festival of the Ludi Saeculares in 17 BC, which is now receiving renewed scholarly attention.

   The third and longest section looks at a range of topics and themes of particular importance in Horace’s poetry. Ethics are never far from the surface in Horatian verse, and John Moles in chapter 12 surveys the importance of philosophy in general for his work, stressing the range of schools alluded to (not just Epicureanism). In chapter 13 Jasper Griffin points to the importance of gods and religious themes in Horace, arguing that the literary aspect is especially important and that the more elevated the genre the more frequent divine appearances are. In chapter 14 Peter White considers the key topics of friendship and patronage, to some extent co-extensive in the world of Horace and Maecenas, looking at the careful Horatian focus on and elaboration of social relationships as a literary theme. Gregson Davis in chapter 15 tackles the subject of wine and the symposium, showing its key relationship to Horatian value-systems and literary interests. In chapter 16 Ellen Oliensis scrutinises Horace’s presentation of issues of gender and erotic desire, Horace being an elite male writing for other elite males; Oliensis stresses the general lack of significant female figures in his poetry and the largely stereotypical presentation of the objects of elite male desire. In chapter 17 Stephen Harrison treats the topic of town and country, relating it to Roman cultural systems and to philosophical ideas, and considering it as the locus of both moral virtue and proper pleasure. In chapter 18Richard Rutherford surveys the ideas about literature and its function which form a continuous focus for Horatian poetry, especially in the Odes and literary Epistles; this is paired with chapter 19, in which Stephen Harrison shows some of the key features of Horace’s own literary style, looking in detail at three poems from three different genres.

   The final section presents five chapters on reception, which as elsewhere in classical studies is achieving a higher profile in contemporary scholarship; these chapters seek as a whole to give a continuous sketch of the afterlife of Horace’s poetry, concentrating on English among the vernacular languages. In chapter 20 Richard Tarrant considers the reception of Horace’s poetry from immediate reactions through the high Empire and late antiquity to a final coda on the Carolingian period; in chapter 21 Karsten Friis-Jensen takes up the story in the high medieval period, looking at the commentary tradition and its impact on the medieval view of Horace as well as literary appropriation in Latin; in chapter 22Michael McGann takes us from Petrarch to Ben Jonson via Ariosto, looking at Horace’s impact on poetry both in neo-Latin and in the vernacular languages in the Renaissance. Two further chapters fill out the picture: David Money (chapter 23) looks at the rich tradition of Horatianising neo-Latin in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Britain, Europe and the New World, while Stephen Harrison (chapter 24) covers the impact of Horace, still at the centre of the educational system, on poetry in English (including the USA and New Zealand) in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with some glimpses at ongoing Horatian imitation in the twenty-first.

Bibliographical resources

Each chapter is equipped with a paragraph pointing to items of further interest on its topic, but here I list a few general bibliographical resources.

Editions, commentaries and translations currently available

(a) Satires, (b) Epodes, (c) Odes and Carmen Saeculare, (d) Epistles and Ars Poetica]

   Latin texts: all works in Shackleton Bailey (1984); (b) and (c) in Rudd (2004); (b) in G. Lee (1998). Free online texts of all the works can be found at

   English translations: (a) and (d), Rudd (1979b); (b) and (c), D. West (1997), Rudd (2004); (b) G. Lee (1998)


   Book 1: P. M. Brown (1993); Book 2: Muecke (1993)

   Mankin (1995); L. Watson (2003)

   Book 1: Nisbet and Hubbard (1970); D. West (1995). Book 2: Nisbet and Hubbard (1978); D. West (1998). Book 3: Nisbet and Rudd (2004); D. West (2002). Book 4: Putnam (1986)

   Book 1: Mayer (1994); Book 2 and Ars Poetica: Rudd (1989); Brink (1963, 1971, 1982).

Bibliography and collections of material

The massive Horatian bibliography for 1936–75 in Kissel (1981) and its supplement for the years 1976–91 in Kissel (1994) are both valuable. See also the survey of Horatian bibliography for the years 1957–87 by Doblhofer (1992). Much good material is now available on the internet (see e.g. $?>); especially useful for recent work is the sequel to Kissel (1994), covering the years 1992–2005, published online by Niklas Holzberg in early 2006 at http://www.psms.homepage. $?>. Very full bibliographical listings are to be found in the already mentioned Enciclopedia Oraziana (Mariotti 1996–8), which is always worth consulting if a copy is available.

© Cambridge University Press

Meet the Author

Stephen Harrison is Professor of Classical Languages and Literature at the University of Oxford and Fellow of Corpus Christi College.

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