Horace: Odes and Poetry

Introduction

The Odes (Latin: Carmina) are a collection in four books of Latin lyric poems by Horace. The Horatian ode format and style has been emulated since by other poets. Books 1 to 3 were published in 23 BC. According to the journal Quadrant, they were "unparalleled by any collection of lyric poetry produced before or after in Latin literature".[1] A fourth book, consisting of 15 poems, was published in 13 BC.

The Odes were developed as a conscious imitation of the short lyric poetry of Greek originals – Pindar, Sappho and Alcaeus are some of Horace's models. His genius lay in applying these older forms to the social life of Rome in the age of Augustus. The Odes cover a range of subjects – Love, Friendship, Wine, Religion, Morality, Patriotism; poems of eulogy addressed to Augustus and his relations; and verses written on a miscellany of subjects and incidents, including the uncertainty of life, the cultivation of tranquility and contentment, and the observance of moderation or the "golden mean."[2]

The Odes have been considered traditionally by English-speaking scholars as purely literary works. Recent evidence by a Horatian scholar suggests they may have been intended as performance art, a Latin re-interpretation of Greek lyric song.[3] The Roman writer Petronius, writing less than a century after Horace's death, remarked on the curiosa felicitas (studied spontaneity) of the Odes (Satyricon 118). The English poet Alfred Lord Tennyson declared that the Odes provided "jewels five-words long, that on the stretched forefinger of all Time / Sparkle for ever" (The Princess, part II, l.355).


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