The Marriage of Greece and Rome

in Horace, Epistles 2.1 and Epodes 8 and 12

A.P.A. (New York), December 30, 1996

© M. Hendry 1996-2000

Note: Due to time-constraints, the last paragraph of Part 1 was omitted from the lecture as delivered.

Like other poets, Horace aims to reshape the canon to include himself and his friends and allies and exclude his poetic enemies. Much of his work criticizes other poets, particularly Lucilius (throughout the Satires), but also an unnamed 'ape' of Calvus and Catullus (passage 1), and Propertius or someone very like him (passage 2). I would argue, first, that these rivals should be divided into two groups, the archaizers (admirers of Lucilius and Ennius) and the Hellenizers (Propertius and the epigones of Catullus and Calvus), second, that Horace associates his enemies with several binary oppositions, so that the archaizers are too Roman, while the Hellenizers are too Greek, the archaizers too masculine, crude, and unpolished, while the Hellenizers are effeminate and excessively refined, and third, that he sees himself as combining the virtues of each while avoiding their vices. So much is, I suspect, relatively uncontroversial. The original part of my paper is in the two particular examples offered.


The first of these is the Graecia capta passage of the Epistle to Augustus (passage 3). There are two traditional problems here:

First, scholars argue over whether post Punica bella in line 162 refers to the first, second, or third Punic war, and whether post means 'after the end of' or 'after the beginning of' whichever war is meant, which gives us no fewer than six possibilities.

Second, the subject of admouit in line 161 and coepit in the next line is unclear. Both Accius and Ennius have been suggested, while Brink (with most editors) argues that the subject should be understood from ferum uictorem in 156, an implied uictor or Romanus. Others have found the connection difficult enough to justify emendation: Shackleton Bailey posits a lacuna after serus enim, while W. A. Camps alters quietus to Quiritis, though the nominative singular of Quirites, in so far as it occurs at all, is Quiris, and Quiritis is attested only by Priscian.

Neither of these changes is necessary, once we see that the whole passage involves an allegorization of the marriage of Greece and Rome. Graecia is Greece as seen by the Romans: a woman, upper-class, wealthy, refined, and perhaps a bit silly. We might say that she is none other than the personified Graecia of lines 93-102 of this poem (passage 4), now of nubile age. The simile in the first passage prepares for the metaphor in the second.

Graecia's unnamed husband is not a Roman, but Rome itself as seen by the Romans. He is not named because none of the available words is the right gender: I will call him 'Romus', with apologies. Romus is the embodiment of the Roman character as idealized by the two Catos: small farmer, small businessman, tough and ruthless warrior, hard-working, shrewd in a low sort of way, vulgar, semi-literate, and not very clean. Romus acquires Graecia as part of the booty from one of his many foreign campaigns. She is not his only slave: he also owns Arabia, Bithynia, Cappadocia, and so on through the alphabet. But unlike any of the others, charming and beautiful Graecia captures his heart, and he takes her as his official wife. She in turn cleans him up, teaches him manners, and brings him up in the world, though her efforts at refinement are constantly thwarted by his innate beastliness, and are not entirely successful even in the long run.

This analysis solves the two problems outlined above. Graecia is named, but her Roman husband-owner, the subject of admouit and coepit, is not because none of the names available is the right gender. At the same time, the meaning of post Punica bella is clarified: it means 'when the Roman nation no longer faced a foreign threat and could turn from survival to culture'. No specific year or war is envisioned.

If I had more time, I could adduce some evidence from coins, sculptures, and descriptions of triumphal processions suggesting that personification of captured nations as female slaves was a common practice, and that the name of the country plus capta was the standard label. Propertius 2.10.15-18 (passage 5) provides a contemporary literary parallel for the basic idea. As Commager points out, "the language used of Augustus' projected conquest of virgin Arabia (intactae, 16) or of any other distant country, already shrinking from his hands (17-18), suggests an image of the ruler as a predatory ravisher."

The details of the Graecia capta metaphor are worth considering, though it is difficult to see just where to stop. First, the connotations of artis. As Brink puts it (ad loc.), these are "the civilized arts and refinements, of which poetry is one". However, the ruling metaphor affects the tone of the word considerably: these artes are depicted as feminine adornments and luxury items — culture as the cosmetics on the ugly face of life. The word is particularly significant in combination with cepit. Graecia has captured Romus not literally, but by infatuation. The verb capere is almost a technical term for infatuation in erotic elegy: note that cepit is precisely the form Propertius uses for his capture by Cynthia in the first line of his first elegy: Cynthia prima suis miserum me cepit ocellis. Graecia's artes are thus also the tricks with which she traps her stronger adversary. ferus and agrestis are appropriately elegiac or comic adjectives for an unwilling or inexperienced lover, seen as the prey of the female hunter: Romus is little better than a miles gloriosus in love. The whole sentence, like so much else in Horace, is not so much double-edged as triple-edged, combining militia, uenatio, and amor into a deceptively simple compound.

It is possible that the mention of Graecia's munditiae (158) involves a bilingual pun: not only 'cleanliness', but 'cosmopolitanness', as if from mundus meaning kósmos. We might also take the graue uirus of 158 as if it were etymologically related to uirilitas. The phrase uestigia ruris in 160 can also be taken two ways: these are not only metaphorical 'traces' or 'remnants' but literal footprints: boorish Romus never remembers to wipe his feet, and tracks mud into the house, despite his disgusted wife's entreaties.

In 161, it seems to me that the non-Greek chartae which Romus has previously spent his time with are the account-books of his farm. In 163, ferrent seems to keep some implication of its financial meaning, 'to bring in as profit'. The grasping Romus is looking into these Greek papers to see whether he can profit from them. This interpretation is consistent with the accounting language which runs through large portions of the poem, and particularly with the section on Plautus and his money-box just a few lines further down (not on your handouts).

Finally, it is worth noting that the Graecia capta passage is the last of a disconnected series of scenes built on the theme of 'The Ages of Man'. Beginning with the childhood of Greece (93-102), we jump to the adolescence of Rome (139-55), and then move directly, even abruptly, to the marriage of Greece and Rome (156-76). The second stage is more disguised than than the first and third, but note the emphasis on wild spirits and the necessity to curb them by just punishment, and in particular the phrase formidine fustis (154). It is not clear why the scheme is so disguised, and why the rather miscellaneous section on the virtues of the early Romans and the uses of poetry (103-38) is inserted between the first and third.


I can handle my second example more briefly.

D. L. Clayman has argued that Horace's two obscene attacks on older women, Epodes 8 (passage 6) and 12 (passage 7), should be read as poetic allegories. In a paper at CAMWS last April, Roger Macfarlane went one step further, suggesting that Epode 12 specifically attacks the neoterics, pointing in particular to the mention of Lesbia and Coan Amyntas and the holodactylic meter. I will go two steps further.

First, I will argue that the woman in Epode 8 represents the archaizers. (There is no reason to believe the scholiasts who identify the two.) She is very old and revoltingly ugly, but not slathered with disgusting cosmetics, like the woman in Epode 12. She has Stoic booklets (line 15) and political connections (lines 13-14), is rich (line 11), and seems to be married and even older than the one in 12.

Second, it seems to me that Epode 12 in particular contains a cruel literary joke. The neoterics had written poems to their mistresses as if they were goddesses. Catullus and Calvus were now dead, and their epigones — the 'neo-neoterics' — were not much good. Horace therefore suggests that the problem with human muses is that they get old. We might say that the woman in Epode 12 is the jaded muse of the neoteric school.

To conclude, it seems to me that Kreuzung der Gattungen is a technique that not only creates unique, bizarre, sterile hybrids like Herodas' Mimiambi, but also strong and healthy ones that combine the strengths of their parents. Indeed, Horace's own poetry is among the most remarkable offspring of the marriage of Greece and Rome.

Modern References:

C. O. Brink, Horace on Poetry, Epistles Book II, Cambridge, 1982.
W. A. Camps, "Horace Epistles 2,1,156ff.", PLLS 3 (1981), 418-19.
D. L. Clayman, "Horace's Epodes VIII and XII: More Than Clever Obscenity?", CW 69, 1975, 55-61.
H. Steele Commager, A Prolegomenon to Propertius, Cincinnati, 1974, p. 58.
D. R. Shackleton Bailey, "Vindiciae Horatianae", HSCP 89 (1985), 153-70.

Ancient Quotations:

Horace, Sat. 1.10.18-19

                simius iste
nil praeter Calvum et doctus cantare Catullum
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Horace, Epist. 2.2.99-102

discedo Alcaeus puncto illius; ille meo quis?
quis nisi Callimachus? si plus adposcere uisus,
fit Mimnermus et optiuo cognomine crescit.
multa fero, ut placem genus inritabile uatum,
. . . .
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Horace, Epist. 2.1.157-163

Graecia capta ferum uictorem cepit et artis
intulit agresti Latio. sic horridus ille
defluxit numerus Saturnius, et graue uirus
munditiae pepulere; sed in longum tamen aeuum
manserunt hodieque manent uestigia ruris.
serus enim Graecis admouit acumina chartis
et post Punica bella quietus quaerere coepit,
quid Sophocles et Thespis et Aeschylus utile ferrent.
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Horace, Epist. 2.1.93-94, 99-100

ut primum positis nugari Graecia bellis
coepit . . .
sub nutrice puella uelut si luderet infans,
quod cupide petiit mature plena reliquit.
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Propertius 2.10.15-18

India quin, Auguste, tuo dat colla triumpho,
    et domus intactae te tremit Arabiae;
et si qua extremis tellus se subtrahit oris,
    sentiat illa tuas postmodo capta manus!
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Horace, Epode 8

Rogare longo putidam te saeculo,
    uiris quid eneruet meas,
cum sit tibi dens ater et rugis uetus
    frontem senectus exaret
hietque turpis inter aridas natis
    podex uelut crudae bouis.
sed incitat me pectus et mammae putres,
    equina quales ubera,
uenterque mollis et femur tumentibus
    exile suris additum.
esto beata, funus atque imagines
    ducant triumphales tuum
nec sit marita quae rotundioribus
    onusta bacis ambulet.
quid, quod libelli Stoici inter Sericos
    iacere puluillos amant:
inlitterati num minus nerui rigent
    magisue languet fascinum?
quod ut superbo prouoces ab inguine,
    ore adlaborandum est tibi.
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Horace, Epode 12

Quid tibi uis, mulier nigris dignissima barris?
    munera quid mihi quidue tabellas
mittis nec firmo iuueni neque naris obesae?
    namque sagacius unus odoror,
polypus an grauis hirsutis cubet hircus in alis,
    quam canis acer ubi lateat sus.
qui sudor uietis et quam malus undique membris
    crescit odor, cum pene soluto
indomitam properat rabiem sedare neque illi
    iam manet umida creta colorque
stercore fucatus crocodili iamque subando
    tenta cubilia tectaque rumpit,
uel mea cum saeuis agitat fastidia uerbis:
    'Inachia langues minus ac me;
Inachiam ter nocte potes, mihi semper ad unum
    mollis opus. pereat male quae te
Lesbia quaerenti taurum monstrauit inertem,
    cum mihi Cous adesset Amyntas,
cuius in indomito constantior inguine neruus
    quam noua collibus arbor inhaeret.
muricibus Tyriis iteratae uellera lanae
    cui properabantur? tibi nempe,
ne foret aequalis inter conuiua, magis quem
    diligeret mulier sua quam te.
o ego non felix, quam tu fugis, ut pauet acris
    agna lupos capreaque leones.'
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