Horace, Satire 2.1.1-20

Hapax Legomenon

Horace, Satire 2.1.1-20

by Elizabeth Engelhardt, '04

The most conspicuous difference between the Horatian persona of Satire 2.1 and the narrator of Book I of the Satires first appears in the fifth line of Satire 2.1, after Horace asks, "Trebati,/ quid faciam? praescribe," ["Trebatius, what should I do? Advise me"] (4-5). Book I has also opened with a question, but there, "Qui fit, Maecenas," ["How does it come about, Maecenas"] (1.1.1) is not meant to elicit a reply, but to serve as a rhetorical device for beginning a monologue. The narrator of 1.1 makes clear his intention to answer his own questions, accompanied by compliant silence from his listeners, by commanding "audi/ quo rem deducam," ["Listen/ to what end I shall draw out the matter"] (1.1.14-15).

In Satire 2.1, on the other hand, the imperative praescribe (2.1.5) explicitly demands a reply to "quid faciam?" and causes Trebatius to respond, "Quiescas," ["Rest."] (5). His answer comes between the principal caesura in the third foot and the dieresis between the fourth and fifth feet of line 5, a position that causes "quiescas" to stand out from the line and underscores the importance that this initial brief utterance has on the whole of Satire 2.1. With this one reply, the self-assured monologue of Book I of the Satires has suddenly split into a dialogue. We are not, it appears, dealing with the same persona who narrated Horace's first book of satires. Identifying exactly how and why the Horatian persona in Satire 2.1 is different, however, proves to be a complicated task.

Initially, the voice of Horace in the opening to Satire 2.1 seems less confident than the one that narrated Book I. For example, the satires in Book I open with general observations (1.1, 1.3), biographical or historical facts (1.2, 1.4, 1.5, 1.8, 1.9), or judgments made by the narrator, such as, "Nempe incomposito dixi pede currere versus/ Lucili," ["I have said truly that the verses of Lucilius ran with a deformed foot"] (1.10.1-2) These open lines statements go largely unchallenged, and discuss Horace's perceptions of the public. The first lines of Satire 2.1, meanwhile, focus on the public's perception of Horace. The poem begins, "Sunt quibus...videar," ["There are those to whom...I seem"] (2.1.1), establishing an apparent concern with public opinion that is reiterated by the phrase "pars...putat" ["part [of the people]...think"] (2.1.3). Frequently, Horace's speeches in the passage mention his deficiencies and failings. He is accused of writing "sine nervis" ["without muscle," or, more figuratively, "without strength or talent"] (2). He says, "neqeuo" ["I am not able"] (7), and tells Trebatius, "cupidum...vires/ deficient" ["My abilities fall short of my desire"] (12-13). Finally, after turning the monologue into a dialogue with his initial statement of doubt "quid faciam?"(5), Horace emphasizes his continuing uncertainty in the poem by repeating this question, once in its entirety (24) and once abbreviated to "quid?"(62).

The Horatian persona of Satire 2.1 also pays more attention to the contemporary political events, particularly those concerning Octavian, than the narrator did in Book I. In Satire 2.1, the word "Caesar" appears twice in lines 1-20 alone (2.1.11, 19), which is the same number of times the name turns up in the whole of Book I (1.3.4, 1.9.18). Moreover, the mentions of Caesar in 2.1 portray Octavian as a living, active human being. He is called "invicti" ["invincible"] (2.1.11), has an "attentam...aurem" ["attentive...ear"] (19), and, if approached at the wrong time, will "recalcitret" ["kick back"] (20). In Book I, by contrast, Caesar is removed from Horace's immediate experience and connected to dead men. The name Caesar comes up only to link Octavian to a singer (1.3.4) previously mentioned as deceased (1.2. 3), and to denote the gardens of the dead Julius Caesar (1.9.18). Moreover, while Horace studiously avoids mentioning Octavian when he describes Maecenas' journey to negotiate a treaty for Octavian in Satire 1.5, Satire 2.1 finds Octavian's accomplishments suggested as a topic for Horace's poetry (10-12).

Both of these characteristics of the narrator in Satire 2.1, however, appear very differently when considered in light of the striking resemblance of the character "Horace" in Satire 2.1 to the aspirant to Maecenas' circle who plagues Horace in Satire 1.9. Both characters invoke the similar oaths "dispeream ni" (1.9.47) and "peream male nisi" (2.1.6) [both "May I die if...not"], the only two instances of this particular oath in all of Horace's writing. More importantly, both use the phrase "haud mihi deero" ["and I will not fail myself"] to describe their plans to approach men with higher social standing: Maecenas in the aspirant's case, Caesar in Horace's (1.9.56, 2.17). When one notices this connection between Horace's assertion of confidence in himself in Satire 2.1 and the aspirant's cocky boast in 1.9, the apparent lack of certainty in Horace's persona begins to seem suspect. "quid faciam?" (2.1.5), for example, appears not as an honest expression of doubt, but as Horace's attempt to ingratiate himself with a social better by feigning deference, as when the aspirant tells Horace, "dubius sum quid faciam" ["I am doubtful as to what I should do"] (1.9.40).

In this light, the increased consciousness of contemporary politics in 2.1 also seems to arise from an increased desire to curry favor with men in power, which Horace had earlier rejected as "misera ambitione" ["wretched ambition"] (1.6.129). Horace worries, for example, about making sure that his words approach Caesar "dextro tempore" ["on the right occasion"] (2.1.18), echoing the aspirant's vow, "quaeram tempora" ["I shall seek opportunities"] (1.9.58). Horace is tempted by Trebatius' offer "multa laborum/ praemia laturus" ["You will carry away many accolades for your works"] (2.1.11-12) even though in Book I praemia appear only to serve as the object of Horace and his friends' laughter when a glorifed scriba [clerk] displays them ostentatiously (1.5.35-36).

In a particularly damaging bit of diction, Horace describes his actions to win Caesar's favor with the word palpere [caress/ flatter] (2.1.20). palpor appears only here in Horace. Its appearances in other extant Latin literature are confined almost exclusively to Plautus and a fragment of Lucilius, neither of whom use it in a favorable sense. In Plautus, palpor has a decidedly negative connotation. In one play, the palpator [flatterer] is included in the list "malum, periurum, palpatorem" ["a wicked man, a liar, a flatterer"] (Rudens 126), and in another, in the pairing, "sycophantae et palpatores" ["tricksters and flatterers"] (Menaechmi 260). Lucilius writes "videt, subblanditur palpatur caput scabit" ["He sees [me], caresses [me], flatters [me], and scratches my head"] (883). palpatur is associated with fawning, even degrading, behaviors here; some versions of this line even end with "legit pedes," which loosely translates into "collects the lice from my feet," emphasizing the demeaning nature of the actions listed. From this literary context in Plautus and Lucilius, palpor comes to imply ingratiating, borderline obsequious, behavior that smacks of dishonesty. In short, Horace's use of the word palpere to describe his attentions to Caesar in Satire 2.1 links his persona in this poem to the social climbers whom he brutally lampooned in Book I.

By this point the character "Horace" in Satire 2.1 has developed into an amalgam of failure, sycophant, and hypocrite, a compilation of all the defects that the narrator of Book I repeatedly criticized. In the context of the Satires, this opposition makes perfect sense and is entirely in keeping with Horace's frequently employed technique of saying one thing and doing the opposite. In Satire 1.4, Horace denies that he writes poetry (1.4.39-40), but proceeds to count himself among the mob of poets (1.4.141-43) at the end of the poem and to insert a number of mock-epic phrases and lines into the beginning of the following poem. In Satire 2.1, Horace justifies his claim that he cannot write an epic about Caesar by saying:

neque enim quivis horrentia pilis
agmina nec fracta pereuntis cuspide Gallos
aut labentis equo describit vulnera Parthi.

 

[For not just anyone can describe columns bristling with spears and Gauls dying on broken spear points or the wounds of the Parthian slipping from his horse.]
(2.1.13-15)

However, in the course of explaining why he cannot write effectively about epic subjects, Horace demonstrates that he is actually entirely capable of doing so. Horace's poems seldom contain words such as vulnera [wounds], which appears on only three other occasions in his works and cuspis [spear point], which appears only once elsewhere in Horace, but he shows here that he does have the capacity to use them. Moreover, in claiming not to be able to describe dying Gauls, Horace neatly uses word order to verbally reinforce the intended visual image of the phrase "fracta pereuntis cuspide Gallos." (14). The "fracta...cuspide" is in fact broken in two by "pereuntis," while the positioning of "cuspide" between "pereuntis" and "Gallos" literally pierces the dying Gauls through the middle with a spear point.

With these examples in mind, it appears wholly plausible that, having parodied ambitious aspiring poets in Satire 1.9, Horace intentionally causes himself to appear like one in Satire 2.1. While certain superficial aspects of the Horatian persona change from poem to poem, on the whole the persona retains continuity throughout the Satires precisely through its perpetual tendency to contradict itself.