Monday, April 23, 2007

Vengeance in Horace Odes 1.2

Words related to the verb ulciscor (pf. ppl. ultus) appear three times in Odes 1.2, the poem in which Horace makes the interesting transition, during the 'kletic' part of the ode, from Mercury to Augustus in what West calls (I believe, but I'll have to doublecheck) a syntactical sleight-of-hand.

The first instance comes in l. 17, referring to the personified Tiber: ...Iliae dum se nimium querenti/ iactat ultorem ('...while he vaunts himself as the avenger for Ilia, lamenting vehemently'). On what account would Ilia seek vengeance? It seems that there could be a few things in view: 1) her execution for becoming pregnant while a Vestal Virgin; 2) the murder of one of her sons, Remus, by her other son (this seems to me the least likely to be in view here, though Tiber does attempt to flood the monumenta regis (15). The Regia, of course, is properly connected with Numa, but one cannot forget Romulus' position as the first rex of Rome); 3) the assassination of Julias Caesar, her descendant.

The second use connect with 3) mentioned above. In invoking Mercury imitating a youth (=Augustus), Horace describes him this way: ...patiens vocari/ Caesaris ultor ('...allowing [yourself] to be called the avenger of Caesar') (43-4). We have moved from the divine (but personified) Tiber as avenger to the blurred human/divine of Mercury/Augustus as avenger.

The final use comes in the second-to-last line of the poem and is addressed to Caesar: ...neu sinas Medos equitare inultos ('...nor may you allow the Medes to ride unavenged') (51). Now in the purely human realm, we learn that the Parthians are unavenged. The focus has changed from vengeance for civil strife to a wish for vengeance turned to the world outside of Rome, reprising a point Horace had made in lines 21-2. This makes perfect sense in the larger context of the poem, as it is a plea to end civil wars and to turn that energy elsewhere.

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