164. Satires by Horace (c.35-30 BC)

164. Satires by Horace (c.35-30 BC)

Plot:   Two books of poetry gently attacking men’s foibles.

My versions this time were (i) The Satires by Horace, translated by A. M. Juster (University of Pennsylvania, 9780812240900) and (ii) my trusty Penguin edition Horace, Satires and Epistles; Persius, Satires, translated by Niall Rudd (0140455086)

My thoughts:  Trying to break my addiction to Penguin Classics, I brought home a nice shiny library copy of Juster’s rhyming version, but after four attempts at trying to follow Horace’s train of thought, I had to admit defeat and buy an e-copy of Rudd. After reading his introduction and explanation of the structure, I realised the main section of the poems in Book 1 (published circa 33 BC) often contain an unlabelled dialogue which presents different sides of the argument (these dialogues are more clearly labelled in Horace’s second book of Satires, published around 30 BC). After that, I read Rudd’s prose translation, checking back with Juster on verses I especially like to see how he handled them.

Horace was the son of an ex-slave, who left university and joined Brutus’ armies and was routed at the Battle of Philipi, only to return home to find his beloved father dead and his farmland inheritance confiscated. Luckily, his writing left a favourable impression with Virgil, who introduced him to a wealthy patron Maecenas, which set Horace up for the rest of his days.

Although labelled satires, these poems are more rebukes against various vices and follies – greed, ambition, adultery, intolerance, gluttony etc. Unlike his predecessor, Horace rarely attacks individuals by name – he is not barbed or abusive but aims his criticism as suggestions for us all

“if you expect your friend to put up with your boils

You’ll forget about his warts”                   Satire I, iii   Lines 73-74 (Rudd)

Not all the poems are cast in this mould – some are like letters home on the personal events of Horace’s day, but my favourite was a story of a wooden statue carved from a tree trunk and placed in a paupers’ graveyard who happens to witness two loathsome witches performing black magic and decides ..

“With a sudden report like a burst balloon I let a fart

Which split my fig-wood buttocks; the hags scurried off downtown;

Canidia dropped her false teeth, the high wig

Tumbled from Sagana’s head …. If only you’d seen it!”         Satire I, viii   Lines 46-50 (Rudd)

And surprisingly one of the last poems in the second book (II, vi) includes Aesop’s fable of the town mouse and the country mouse!

Favourite lines/passages:

“We can rarely find a man who says

He has lived a happy life and who, when his time is up

Contentedly leaves the world like a guest who has had his fill”        Satire I, i   Lines 117-119 (Rudd)

“Winter may be drawing the snowy day into a smaller circle, but go I must”    Satire II, vi  Lines 25-26 (Rudd)

And this statement from Rudd’s introduction resonated with me:

“[Horace] did believe that men could spare themselves a great deal of misery by acceptance, restraint, good humour and tolerance”  p.18-19

Personal rating:  4/10

Also in those years:

Herod is made King of Judea by the Romans (37 BC)

The second Roman Triumvirate (Lepidus, Antony and Octavius) begins to split apart, as Lepidus and Octavius spar over each other’s lands in Africa and Sicily. Antony marries Octavius’ sister Octavia, averting civil war; but then goes and falls in love and bigamously marries Cleopatra (36 BC). Octavius (the future Emperor Augustus) defeats Antony and Cleopatra’s fleet at the Battle of Actium (31 BC), and the losing couple escape to Egypt and commit suicide (30 BC)

The reads in between: 

The Man with Two Left Feet, and other stories, by P. G. Wodehouse. Notable for the first appearance of Bertie Wooster and (albeit briefly) his butler Jeeves in the second story. A mixed bag of stories, including two told from a dog’s point of view. Still not old Plum’s very best, but even an average Wodehouse is streets ahead of most authors.

Dragonkeeper by Carole Wilkinson. A slave girl in ancient China runs away with the Emperor’s last dragon. Aimed at readers 10-14 and very enjoyable despite one unpleasant scene towards the end. Recommended.

Next :  Epodes by Horace

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