TWO ROMAN POETS: Horace and Ovid


Rather than abridge extensive material on these two important authors, about whom there is simply too much to say, I am going to refer the reader to the HORACE and OVID articles in the famous Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edition (l910) This is the last of the great editions of the Britannica, fine scholarly articles signed by leaders in their fields.

THere are detailed scholarly backgrounds, firstrate descriptions of their poetry by one of the leading critics of the turn of the century (Sellar) --- read these articles carefully and enjoy their scholarly but at the same time well-written prose style. One cannot do better in this case than "refer".




Often it is hard to grasp the infinite care and polish of Horace's Odes, especially when one is struggling at intermediate level with the complex language structure, let alone the difficult verse forms. Although it seem a strange notion, I strongly suggest reading Houseman's Shropshire Lad carefully as the best way of preparing for grasping the infinite polish of Horace's style.

Houseman was of course a complete Classical scholar, as well as poet. Although his rhyming poems may seem at first glance quite diffrent from Horace's rhythmically accented Latin, the compactness and tightness of form is much the same. But beyond this, Houseman has the same notions of filing and polishing for which Horace is famous, and I can think of no bettr analog for Horace than very slow and careful reading of Houseman.

On the other hand, Horace often depends on finish so much than one wonders if he invested much of himself personally in his poems. Catullus as compared to Horace, is all fire, anger, bitter thrusts......and much of this appears in Houseman. For a start, get the Shropshire Lad and have a careful look at the postem of which these are famous line. (Browsing the slim volume to find these poems will do you no harm at all...)

"Others I am not the first...."

"...stock still lies Fred and sleeps...."

... by brooks too broad for leaping.....

I have always felt that Houseman intuitively, even perhaps consciously, blended into his gem-like poems the fire of Catullus along with the finish and execution of Horace. Do not be set off by the tinkle of rhymed verse in Houseman, as this century closes we think of poetry as mandatory blank-verse of one kind or another. But that is a silly snobbism, it is the finish and execution of poems which marks their worth. Think of Shakespear's Sonnets.....

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William Harris
Prof. Em. Middlebury College
www.middlebury.edu/~harris