Plot: 17 short poems, a mixture of vicious attacks, lovesick swoons, and social commentary.
“The Epodes are, on the whole, the least interesting and satisfactory work of Horace” W. Y. Sellar, Horace and the Elegaic Poets, 1891.
Despite the less-than-ringing endorsement above, I headed back to the library and grabbed several different editions to try and find the most approachable. The easiest to follow and most attractive, mimicking the long-short alternative line structure used by Horace was found in The Odes and Epodes of Horace : a modern English verse translation by Joseph Clancy (University of Chicago Press, 1960)
Horace has become more strident and personal, although the poems attacking others are unsatisfying vague – readers outside his own circle of friends and intimates would not know who Horace is ranting against, or wishing to be shipwrecked. The only target named is Canidia (the witch from Satire I, viii) who reappears in Epode 5 in a horrific scene where she and her accomplices plan to sacrifice a young boy by burying him up to the neck and starving him, while food lies tantalisingly close, in order to plunder his remains for the final ingredient for a love potion; and again in the last Epode where the subject of the poem (Horace himself?) is begging her to remove the curse afflicting him.
The other remarkable Epodes were number 2 which describes in increasingly sentimental and idealised words, the idyllic pastoral life of ease as imagined by a city moneylender,
“when through his lands Autumn lifts his head
with a crown of ripening fruit,
how delighted he is, plucking the grafted pears
and the purple clusters of grapes ….
How pleasant to rest, sometimes beneath an old oak,
sometimes on a carpet of grass;
all the while the brook glides by between its high banks,
the birds are trilling in the trees,
and the splashing waters of springs play counterpoint,
a summons to easy slumber”
and number 3 which describes Horace’s overwhelming horror after he realises his patron has added some poisonous plant into Horaces’s meal.
“deadlier than hemlock … Have I been tricked by a salad with a dressing of viper’s blood?”
Yes, it’s Garlic!!!
Personal rating: Enjoyed these more than the Satires. Across all 17 poems, a 5/10
Next : The Georgics by Virgil