Horace the Epistles by Colin Macleod

By Colin Macleod

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But look at the virtues of the aberra tion, this mild form of madne ss. A bard is not a money -grubb er; his only love is verse. He laughs off losses, runaw ay slaves and fires, he would never do down a partne r or a ward, he lives on bean-p ods and black bread , an idle and worthl ess soldier , but useful to his countr y if you grant that great affairs can be helped by small ones. The poet mould s our tender , fumbli ng lips in childh ood, tweaks our ears away from smut; later he shapes our hearts with kind advice, corrects our roughn ess, envy and bad tempe r, records good deeds, suppli es the age with models from the past, consoles the poor and the despon dent.

This is designedly incongruous in a work devoted to ethics: it is the poet's way of mocking, while apparently denying, his amour propre (compare Epistle 13); for the mere fact of publication goes ill with the aspiring philosopher's detachment from popular acclaim. In conclusion comes a miniature biography of the writer, which covers the main topics of that gente in antiquity: origins, deeds and honours, appearance, character, dates. In this again Horace reveals with d eliberate candour a touch of vanity, besides commenting on his irascibility: here, as throughout the Epistles, he is as much the fallible as the exemplary human being.

158. 177. 194. 195. 210. 216. 247. 255. 73 of Roman history : that the practic e of poetry tends to go with moral laxity. Silvanus was a rustic god, the guardi an of bound aries. The "Sharer" (genius) is the life-sp irit of a man, associated, as here, with his natura l appeti tes.

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