Philip Hills, Horace. London: Duckworth / Bristol Classical Press, 2005. Pp. 160. ISBN 1-85399-674-2. UK£10.99.
Classics, University of Cape Town
The highly successful 'Ancients in Action' Series aims to introduce important individuals from Classical Antiquity to the modern general reader. The assumption, then, is that the primary target audience will not have reading competence in the ancient languages. The addition of Horace to this series, though unavoidable, might have presented a particular challenge, since teachers of Classical literature habitually claim that this poet is the least tractable author for study through translation. Despite the number of serviceable English versions available, it is still felt that Horace, probably Rome's greatest poet after Virgil, does not come across well in translation. Hills is therefore to be congratulated on producing a survey and assessment that succeeds in doing justice to this poet, and in conveying his accomplishments to the Latinless reader.
After brief remarks on the basic details of Horace's life and the historical context (pp. 9-13), each portion of Horace's corpus is given its own chapter, following the generally accepted chronological order of composition: Satires (pp. 14-22), Epodes (pp. 23-38), Odes 1-3 (pp. 39-92), Epistles 1 (pp. 93-105), Odes 4 including the Carmen Saeculare (pp. 106-23), Epistles 2 and Ars Poetica (pp. 124-40). The sequence is not only adopted for convenience but also because it permits the author to trace developments in Horace's work and perspective (particularly in relation to his patron Maecenas and Octavian/Augustus), a feature of Hill's treatment which enables the reader to view the poet's work as an organic whole (or at least to appreciate the various masks which Horace adopts over his poetic career), rather than as a series of flirtations with discrete literary forms. Another strength of this book is the attention it gives both to the literary and generic pedigrees for Horace's own efforts, and to the cultural and socio-political context in which the poems were composed and performed. Thus in the chapter devoted to the Satires, Horace's debt and interaction with Callimachus, Ennius, Lucilius, and Varro are helpfully acknowledged at appropriate points, while in his discussion of the Epodes allusion to Virgil's Eclogues is signalled in addition to the more obvious kinship these poems have with Archilochus, Hipponax, and Callimachus' Iambics. No doubt some readers may feel that Hills has not been exhaustive in cataloguing literary influences or intertextuality. There seems to be no mention of Roman comedy in the Satires chapter, for instance, and although the importance of Hellenistic epigram is acknowledged in his discussion of Odes 4.10 (p. 115) and Philodemus receives a credit in the section on the Ars Poetica (p. 136), Hills does not dwell on the influence of this tradition on the formation of Odes 1-3, choosing instead to emphasise the poet's reworking and recontextualising of themes amd metres from Pindar and the Archaic lyric poets. The reader will hardly be inconvenienced by these omissions. Throughout, Hills is at pains to stress the innovative nature of Horace's treatment of themes and forms which he inherited from the past. In general, Hills adopts a sensible compromise on the notorious debate on whether the situations described in Horace's poetry are pure literary fantasy or ultimately rooted in the social practices of the Roman elite (see, for example, pp. 78f.).
The various genres in Horace's corpus do not receive equal attention. For the Satires Hills is content with a brisk march through the two books, pausing to outline themes and to draw attention to the significant positioning of poems within the structure of the book. This prepares the reader for the continued preoccupation with structure in the Epodes and Odes 1-3, an important prerequisite for any informed appreciation of the poet's craft and design. Roughly twice as much space is devoted to the Epodes, perhaps because they tend to be less frequently read. The chapter on Epistles 1 reminds the reader that the poet has made the transition from iuvenis to senex, an age which requires, superficially at least, preoccupation with more philosophical subjects, but also that the poet (despite his wish to withdraw from society) has earned the right to engage with his friends and acquaintances on a different footing. As in Odes 4, Hills helpfully traces the delicate articulation of Horace's independence as a poet with respect to Maecenas and others. It is gratifying to see a compact but essential appreciation of the Carmen Saeculare. Hills' description of the inscription, discovered in the late nineteenth century, which preserves the acta of the games of 17 B.C. and even mentions Horace as the composer of the hymn, succeeds in giving substance to Horace's frequent posturing as the 'National Poet'.
The chapter on the first three books of the Odes occupies nearly one third of the book, and is divided into four sections. The first 'Horace as as Roman Lyric Poet' (pp. 39-50) introduces Horace's literary project and his adaptation of archaic Greek lyric for a new Roman context. Due attention is given to the vast differences which separate the performative settings of the original Greek models and those afforded by Horace's Roman milieu. There follows a presentation of 'Horace as a vates' (pp. 50-64) which maps Horace's complex relationship with Octavian and his policies. 'Horace as a Love Poet' (pp. 65-82) contains some fine close readings of indvidual poems, especially 1.5, 9, 13, 25, 33, and 3.14. The latter poem is examined in some detail (pp. 79-83) as an illustration of Horace's skill in combining the public sphere (celebration of Augustus' triumphant return from Spain) with the Hellenised sophistication of the poet's private leisure (including wine, perfume, and musical escorts). It is precisely this superficial incompatability that puzzles many first readers of Horace today. The final section, 'Horace and Maecenas' (pp. 83-92), not only documents Maecenas' presence in Horace's lyric poetry and examines the nuances of amicitia, but also detects changes in the 'balance of power' between Horace and his patron.
The book concludes with a brief description of Horace's fortunes in the literary canon from late antiquity down to Stoppard's 1997 play The Invention of Love (pp. 141-53), and a short but useful guide to further reading (pp. 154-56).
Ultimately, the success of a book such as this will be judged by whether it replaces introductory works which are already available. For my part, I shall certainly prescribe it to students as essential introductory reading in any course which includes Horace's poetry.