Tuesday, April 24, 2007

On the Sublime (In Two Odes of Horace)

In the opening poems of Books 1 and 3 of Horace's Odes, we find a use of the adjective sublimis near the end. The two usages highlight two different types of achievement with a lofty result.

In 1.1, to Maecenas, Horace constructs a long priamel, and caps it by noting that poetry distinguishes him from the masses:

me doctarum hederae praemia frontium
dis miscent superis, me gelidum nemus
Nympharumque leves cum Satyris chori
secernunt populo, si neque tibias
Euterpe cohibet nec Polyhymnia
Lesboum refugit tendere barbiton. (29-34)
He then tells Maecenas that, if he will include Horace in the canon of lyric poets, he will strike the stars with his exalted head:
quodsi me lyricis vatibus inseres,
sublimi feriam sidera vertice. (35-6)

In 3.1, on the other hand, Horace contrasts the peace experienced by the simple rustic with the problems attendant upon the successful and materially rich. Since 'fear and threats' (37) follow where the master goes, why should Horace trouble himself to build a lofty, cutting-edge new house and give up his modest Sabine farm?
...cur invidendis postibus et novo
sublime ritu moliar atrium?
Cur valle permutem Sabina
divitias operosiores? (45-8)

Horace brings this imagery of rising aloft via poetry vs. via material construction full circle in the last ode of Book 3, 3.30, where he claims (in the first ode in this meter, which Garrison labels the 'first Asclepiadean', since 1.1) to have built a 'monument' out of his poetry that excels all material construction and even endures through the ravages of storm and time:
exegi monumentum aere perennius
regalique situ pyramidum altius,
quod non imber edax, non Aquilo impotens
possit diruere aut innumerabilis
annorum series et fuga tempora. (1-5)

1 comment:

M. said...

All of Book One of Horace's Odes can now be downloaded for free from the LATINUM podcast, read by Robin Bond (University of Canterbury, NZ). There is also a small selection of other material from Horace, quite a lot of Catullus, and a smattering of other Classical authors, in addition to downloadable free lessons in spoken Latin.