ExClass 12, 2008, 367-373

Eduard Fraenkel opened the first chapter of his judicious study of Horace with the statement: »Horace tells us far more about himself, his character, his development, and his way for life (his βíοζ), than any other great poet in antiquity.«1 Even once we have mentally rewritten this sentence, in accordance with changes in critical attitudes towards the »lives« of ancient poets since 1957, and understand that the »Horace« that Horace tells us about is essentially a literary fiction, Fraenkel´s fundamental point, that Horace is an intensely self- reflexive poet, remains true. It is indeed this quality, perhaps above all others, which makes his poetry so alluring to us: he seems to invite us into his life and his world, and however fictional or literary that world turns out to be, the poet frequently succeeds in making us feel that we are in that world with him. Nina Mindt's new book, Die meta-sympotischen Oden und Epoden des Horaz, is therefore a welcome study of the workings this sell-reflexivity in Horace's lyric corpus:, focusing upon the theme of the symposium - arguably one of the most polyvalent and sell-reflexive themes in the lyrics, since, as Mindt well demonstrates, it is through his creation of poetic symposia that we are brought into close contact with the various individuals who make up his social and literary circle (largely, but not exclusively the circle of Maecenas) his quasi-philosophical reflections on life and mortality, and the different personae he adopts, ranging from the lover to the more overtly political ,and public vates.

To demonstrate how this works, Mindt places Horace's particular development of sympotic themes in its historical context - in terms of both cultural and literary developments. As Hellenistic literature became more popular among elite circles at Rome, the more traditional Roman convivium was gradually influenced by the Greek- style symposium, and it became fashionable to engage in a kind of literary game, which Morelli described as a »mascherata simposiale.«2 Working within what was in Augustan Rome the most elite of these social-literary clubs, Horace had a unique opportunity to exploit his vantage point in order to create a type of lyric that employed all of the elements of traditional, Hellenic (and Hellenistic) sympotic poetry, but was totally revitalized by being at the same time thoroughly Roman and contemporary. If the people in Maecenas' circle were donning the guise of the εταιρειαι of early Greece, Horace could invent symposia for them, symposia in which they could participate purely within his poetic world. This last point is really at the heart of Mindt's thesis, and the use of the term »meta-sympotic« to describe this poetic activity: at its most intensely powerful and successful, Horace's meta-sympotic poems do not describe, but become symposia themselves, so that rather than celebrating a birthday by holding a real drinking party for the honorand and his friends, Horace creates a poetic experience of a symposium, which takes the place of the putative real party (whether or not it ever took place) 3

Within this general framework, Mindt argues, Horace is able to give a sense of liveliness and immediacy to a number of different themes (sometimes overlapping). So for example in carm. 2.11., in which Quinctius is urged to forget the troubles of the times and enjoy a sensuous revel with the Horatian speaker, the densely woven appeals to the senses actually enact the carpe diem theme by a direct appeal to the senses actually enact the carpe diem theme by a direct appeal to the hic et nunc of the (imagined) poetic symposium taking place for the internal addressee and the reader at the same time. The immediacy inherent in the performance contexts of Greek sympotic lyric is here re-created by Horace, Mindt argues, in this vivid meta- symposium offered to Quinctius. In carm. 2.7 the underlying bitterness of past experiences in war shared by the Horatian speaker and Pompeius turns to an occasion for celebrating Pompeius' homecoming, and no sooner is the symposium proposed than it is already taking place, as the urgent imperatives and the apostrophic questions show. Mindt concludes: »Damit werden Einladungsgedichte zum Ersatz der Einladung selbst und das im Gedicht geschilderte Symposion Ersatz des symposion selbst.« This reading accomplishes several things. In addition to being perhaps the best illustration of what Mindt means by »meta- sympotic,« it also shows how Mindt sees Horace's use of meta- sympotic verse to bridge the gap between the painful past of the civil wars and the enjoyment of the present state of peace (discussed also in the conclusion, pp. 81-2), as well as the gap between the public and private spheres (a theme explored in her discussion of 3.14, pp. 61-3). It also reveals the warmth and beauty of this poem, so often missed in other interpretations.

The readings Mindt offers for these poems are provocative and exciting, and they provide the strongest support for her thesis. Unfortunately, the development of her argument is obscured by her decision to discuss the odes in their published sequence, rather than grouping together the odes that demonstrate the constituent elements of meta-sympotic poetry as she sees them working in Horace's odes and epodes. In the second chapter, in which she presents various background and methodological considerations, she includes sections on Hellenistic epigram and on »Buchkultur,« which raises the expectation that the reason she has chosen to discuss the poems in their published order is to demonstrate something about the development of the sympotic motif over the course of Horace's lyric career, but this is not the case. Instead, the various aspects of Horace's technique (e.g. situating the carpe diem concept in a vivid mimetic setting of the hic et nunc (»carpe- diem- Konkretisierung«); activating the reader's imagination of the scene (»Deixis am Phantasma«); and the use of multiple levels of addressees), which is her real subject, are scattered here and there. Even when she summarizes these topics in her conclusion, she does not always include specific references to the poems discussed, which illustrate each of these techniques, and this produces the effect of making her argument seem more disjointed than it actually is.

Another weakness in the discussions of individual poems, which range in length from three pages to one paragraph, is the absence of specific references to and discussion of Horace's Greek models in the tradition of sympotic poetry. Given her emphatic insistence on Horace's status as an innovator - which echoes Horace's own insistence on his originality and firstmanship- one might expect the degree to which Horace is in fact accomplishing something new in his meta-sympotic poems to be illustrated through specific comparisons. For example, in her discussion of carm.1.27, while she mentions Anacreon fr. 356 Page (preserved in Athenaeus 427ab and probably the poem referred to by Porphyrio ),5

I would have liked to see more in-depth discussion of how the theme of sympotic behavior as it is found in earlier Greek poetry (not just lyric) is developed differently by Horace. The impression one might form from Mindt's treatment is that, apart from the few passages she cites (but does not quote or discuss), and the mention of the general trend towards increasingly mimetic scenes in Hellenistic poetry, Horace has merely created a fresh re-working of Anacreon. In fact, from the archaic period onwards the themes that make up the contents of this poem are quite common in Greek elegiac verse: in an anonymous elegiac fragment (Adesp. Eleg. 27 West) a speaker instructs the symposiasts on the proper limits of drinking-banter (χαιρετε συμπσται ανδρεξ ομ [...... ε] ζ αγαθου γαρ / αρζαμευοξ τελεω του λοφου [ ε ]ιξ αφα [ θο ]υ ...κ.τ.λ.); the delight symposiasts could take in tormenting their friends - especially regarding erotic suffering - while in their cups is also attested in Theognis 1041-2 (δευρο συν αυλητηρι παρα κλαιοντι γελωντεξ / πινωμεν, κεινου κηδεσι τερπομενοι)6

This theme is also taken up and developed by the Hellenistic epigrammatists, whose absence from Mindt's discussion is also disconcerting, considering their importance for Roman poetry of the Late Republican and Augustan periods. After she mentions Hellenistic epigrams and epigram collections with other preliminary matter in chapter 2 (pp.17-8) they make few appearances in the discussions of Horace's poems, and no epigrams are discussed in detail. 7 This is particularly disappointing since so much important work has been done recently on the Hellenistic epigram, much of which has great relevance for the poetic devices which Mindt sees operating in Horace's meta-sympotic poems, especially in terms of how poets can create a suggestive mimetic / dramatic setting indirectly, something Mindt draws attention to in Horace (e.g. on carm. 1.9, pp. 38-40).8 Along similar lines, the function of parainetic discourse is central to her reading of carm.1.7. (Laudabunt alii claram Rhodon): the parainesis links the mythic exemplum to the present occasion of the poem, and it also links the internal addressee with the wider audience, since it is effectively addressed to both on different levels. Precisely this use of parainetic discourse is a major feature of early Greek poetry, especially from Homer and Hesiod down to Pindar, and it has been well studied, especially by Nagy and Martin.9 Does Horace's originality here consist in using the parainesis as an exhortation to celebrate a symposium? In the absence of substantive discussion of the Greek models from which Horace appropriated and developed the techniques he employed-and not just from lyric, but from epic, elegy, and epigram as well, as the few examples cited above should show - the interpretations offered cannot fully demonstrate what is unique about Horace's own employment of these elements, that is to say, what is unique about the meta-symposia Horace creates.

Nina Mindt presents a sophisticated argument about the workings of Horace's meta-sympotic poetry, an argument which is particularly successful in illuminating several aspects of the social functions of these pieces in the context of Augustan Rome, and in the psychological aftermath of the civil wars, but to my mind the study suffers from the same thing which so many studies of Roman poetry suffer from: while there is the outward recognition of the heavy dependence upon Greek, and particularly Hellenistic, literature, not enough space is given to consideration of the details of the dependence, which alone can present  the particular accomplishments of any given Roman poet in the round, especially when the topic is as directly rooted in Greek culture and poetry as the symposium is. 


Joel S. Hatch


1 E. Fraenkel, Horace, Oxford 1957, 1.

2 A. M. Morelli, L'epigramma latino prima di Catullo, Casino 2000, 302,

quoted by Mindt, p. 24.

3 E.g. carm. 4.11 (to Maecenas), on which our author writes: »Der Geburtstag des Maecenas liefert den Festanlass und das Gedicht umgekehrt liefert Horazens Geschenk fur ihn - er wird für beide 'nutzbar.'«

4 This is, of course, a ubiquitous theme in Roman poetry in general,

self-conscious as it is of its status as secondary to Greek literature. See the excellent discussion in Stephen Hinds, Allusion and Intertext: Dynamics of Appropriation in Roman Poetry, Cambridge 1998, chapter 3, esp. 52: »Claims of poetic primacy and innovation in Roman literary history down to the Augustan period are characteristically claims of an epiphany of Hellenic influence.« In Horace, apart from the closing odes of the second and third books (2.20 and 3.30) cf. carm.1.32

5 She also cites Call. Fr. 178 Pf. (the Ician guest), but this piece describes a completely different sort of gathering, and the occasion is the public religious festival of the Anthesteria.

6 In chapter 2.3, on mimetic poetry, Mindt observes that there are few

fragments of early Greek lyric containing mimetic elements. Whatever one makes of this doubtful claim, lyric was clearly not the only source Horace drew upon in generating his sympotic poetry, and the two passages cited above, for all their brevity, are clearly mimetic - there are imperatives and addresses to persons imagined to be present at the scene of a symposium.

7 Relevant to carm.1.17 are e.g. Call. 29 Pf. (A. P.12.51), 30 Pf. (A. P.12.71) and esp. 43 Pf. (A. P.12.134) Ελκοξ εχων ο ζεινοξ ελανθανεν (κ.τ.λ.) In her discussion of carm. 3.19 (Quantum distet ab lnacho) one misses discussion of Posidippus 140 Austin - Bastianini (A. P. 12.168). In her discussion of carm. 1.20 Mindt observes that this poem is the first »invitation-poem« of the meta-sympotic odes, but there is no mention of Horace's near-contemporary , Philodemus, and his invitation-poem to Piso (24 Sider, A. P.11.44), even though Nisbet and Hubbard, A Commentary on Horace Odes I, Oxford 1970, 244 note that »the invitation-poem was in fact a minor category of Hellenistic epigram.«

8 To cite just two examples of studies that would have given greater depth to Mindt's interpretations, and would have brought into clearer focus the degree of Horace's dependence on epigram: P. Bing »Ergänzungsspiel in the Epigrams of Callimachus,« A&A 41, 1995, 115-31, on the method whereby the poet requires the reader to use his or her imagination in order to fully understand the imagined context of the poem, which has relevance to the concept of »Deixis am Phantasma« used by Mindt, p. 35-6, on carm.1.6; G. B. Wash, »Callimachean Passages: The Rhetoric of Epitaph in Epigram,« Arethusa 24, 1991, 77-103, on strategies of self-disclosure, whereby the speaker indirectly characterizes himself, a recurring theme in Horace's meta-sympotic poems, noted by Mindt on carm. 1.20, pp. 44-5.

9 0n the αινοζ at the heart of par-ain-esis see G. Nagy, Pindar's Homer: The Lyric Possession of an Epic Past, esp. 146-50; more generally see R. P. Martin, »Hesiod, Odysseus and the Instruction of Princes,« TAPA 114,1984, 29-48, and »The Seven Sages as Performers of Wisdom,« in Cultural Poetics in Archaic Greece, ed. Carol Dougherty and Leslie Kurke; Cambridge 1993, 108-28. 






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