Wednesday, July 09, 2008

BMCRn't you glad you're not Stuart?

My all-time favorite BMCR contributor, Steven J. Willett, has a new review of Stuart Lyons's Horace's Odes and the Mystery of Do-Re-Mi.

He touches on some of my favorite topics:

1) The fallacy of biographical reading.

The Roman Odes have long been a quarry from which critics try to extract hard traces of sincerity or insincerity, as if these were binary opposites, but the job of a court-poet is to reflect court agendas and not his own private opinions. ... Sincerity is a poetic illusion created by the poet's verbal and structural dexterity. We have no instrument to probe behind the illusion to mental states, even in the case of modern poets where we possess letters and contemporary documents.


2) The performance of Latin verse.
Whatever Horace's own theatrical performance might have involved, there is nothing to suggest his contemporary readers sang such complex, intricate, allusive, ambiguous and rhetorically informed odes. The only way to comprehend their riches is by reading. Lyons shows himself far too confident in drawing "inescapable" conclusions from literary conventions that lack the slightest external corroboration.


3) Versification.
[Lyons's] decision to use traditional English versification has dressed Horace in such traditional garb that he vanishes into the mob of pallid imitations that stretch back to the sixteenth century. No matter how hard Lyons tries to make the odes sing, they sound like Thomas Gray on a bad day when he had nothing better to do than write his "Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat."


Ouch.

1 comment:

Roger said...

Wonderful. I've admired Steven Willett in another context (a Renaissance mailing-list) for years, but I didn't know of BMCR. Thanks!