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Satires (Horace)

Satires (Horace)

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The Satires are a collection of satirical poems written by the Roman poet Horace
Quintus Horatius Flaccus , known in the English-speaking world as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus.-Life:...

. Composed in dactylic hexameter
Dactylic hexameter
Dactylic hexameter is a form of meter in poetry or a rhythmic scheme. It is traditionally associated with the quantitative meter of classical epic poetry in both Greek and Latin, and was consequently considered to be the Grand Style of classical poetry...

s, the Satires explore the secrets of human happiness and literary perfection. Published probably in 35 BCE
35 BC
Year 35 BC was either a common year starting on Thursday or Friday or a leap year starting on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday of the Julian calendar and a common year starting on Thursday of the Proleptic Julian calendar...

 and at the latest by 33 BCE
33 BC
Year 33 BC was either a common year starting on Saturday, Sunday or Monday or a leap year starting on Sunday of the Julian calendar and a leap year starting on Saturday of the Proleptic Julian calendar...

, the first book of Satires represents Horace's first published work, and it established him as one of the great poetic talents of the Augustan Age. The second book was published in 30 BCE as a sequel.

In his Sermones (Latin for "conversations") or Satires (Latin for "miscellaneous poems"), Horace combines Epicurean
Epicurus was an ancient Greek philosopher and the founder of the school of philosophy called Epicureanism.Only a few fragments and letters remain of Epicurus's 300 written works...

, that is, originally Greek philosophy with Roman good sense to convince his readers of the futility and silliness of their ambitions and desires. As an alternative, he proposes a life that is based on the Greek philosophical ideals of autarkeia (Greek for "inner self-sufficiency") and metriotes (Greek for "moderation" or sticking to the Just Mean). In Serm. 1.6.110-131, Horace illustrates what he means by describing a typical day in his own simple, but contented life.

The second book also addresses the fundamental question of Greek Hellenistic philosophy, the search for a happy and contented life. In contrast to Satires I, however, many of this book's poems are dialogues in which the poet allows a series of pseudo-philosophers, such the bankrupt art-dealer turned Stoic philosopher Damasippus, the peasant Ofellus, the mythical seer Teiresias, the poet's own slave Dama, to espouse their philosophy of life, in satiric contrast to the narrator's.

Poetic Models

Horace's direct predecessor as writer of satires was Lucilius
Lucilius is the nomen of the gens Lucilia of ancient Rome.*Gaius Lucilius, satirist 2nd century BC. Lucilius was credited by Horace and others with originating the genre of satire.*Lucilius Junior, friend and correspondent of the younger Seneca....

. Horace inherits from Lucilius the hexameter
Hexameter is a metrical line of verse consisting of six feet. It was the standard epic metre in classical Greek and Latin literature, such as in the Iliad and Aeneid. Its use in other genres of composition include Horace's satires, and Ovid's Metamorphoses. According to Greek mythology, hexameter...

, the conversational and sometimes even "prosaic" tone of his poetry, and the tradition of personal attack. In contrast to Lucilius, though, the victims of Horace's mockery are not members of the nobility, but overly ambitious freedmen, anonymous misers, courtesans, street philosophers, hired buffoons, and bad poets. In accordance with the Epicurean principle Lathe biosas (Greek for "Live unnoticed"), Horace consciously does not get involved in the complicated politics of his times, but advocates instead a life that focuses on individual happiness and virtue.

Probably equally important is the influence of Greek diatribe
Diatribe is the name of a weekly column by Greek-Australian journalist, poet and lawyer Dean Kalimniou appearing in the Melbourne Greek language newspaper Neos Kosmos since 2001...

 in the tradition of the philosopher Bion
Bion of Borysthenes
Bion of Borysthenes , c. 325 – c. 250 BC, was a Greek philosopher. After being sold into slavery, and then released, he moved to Athens, where he studied in almost every school of philosophy. It is, however, for his Cynic-style diatribes that he is chiefly remembered...

 of Borysthenes (ca. 335-245 BCE). Horace's Satires share with this genre some of their themes, typical imagery and similes, and the fiction of an anonymous interlocutor whose objections the speaker easily refutes.

In addition, Horace alludes to another inspiration, the poet Lucretius
Titus Lucretius Carus was a Roman poet and philosopher. His only known work is an epic philosophical poem laying out the beliefs of Epicureanism, De rerum natura, translated into English as On the Nature of Things or "On the Nature of the Universe".Virtually no details have come down concerning...

 whose didactic epic De rerum natura ("On the Nature of Things"), also written in hexameters, popularized Epicurean physics in Rome. For example, Horace's comparison of his satires with cookies that a teacher uses to encourage his students to learn their letters reminds of Lucretius' more traditional comparison of his poetry with the sugar that sweetens the bitter medicine of philosophy. Moreover, Lucretian stock phrases like nunc ad rem redeo ("now I return to the matter at hand") give Horace's philosophical "conversations" (Sermones) a subtly Lucretian flavor.


Satire 1.1, Qui fit, Maecenas ("How come, Maecenas"), targets avarice and greed.

Most people, the satirist argues, complain about their lot yet do not really want to change it. Our insatiable greed for material wealth is just as silly. Man's true basic needs, food and water, are easily satisfied. A person who recognizes the natural limit (modus) set for our desires, the Just Mean between the extremes, will in the end leave the Banquet of Life like a satisfied guest, full and content.

Satire 1.2, Ambubaiarum collegia ("The trade unions of fluteplaying geishas"), deals with adultery and other unreasonable behaviour in sexual matters.

The satirist claims that there is also a natural mean with regard to sex. Our basic sexual urges are easily satisfied (any partner will do), so it seems silly to run after married noblewomen instead.

Satire 1.3, Omnibus hoc vitium est ("Everyone has this flaw"), demands fairness when we criticize other people’s flaws. In the case of friends, we should be especially lenient.

Satire 1.4, Eupolis atque Cratinus ("Eupolis and Cratinus"), in a programmatic declaration of Horace's poetic views, he applies these same critical principles to poetry and shows that his own satires follow them.

Satire 1.5, Egressum magna ... Roma ("Having left great Rome"), describes a journey from Rome to Brundisium.

Alluding to a famous satire in which Horace’s poetic model, Lucilius, described a trip to his knightly estates near Tarentum, this satire offers a comic self-portrait of Horace as an insignificant member in the retinue of his powerful friend Maecenas when the latter negotiated one last truce between Antony
Mark Antony
Marcus Antonius , known in English as Mark Antony, was a Roman politician and general. As a military commander and administrator, he was an important supporter and loyal friend of his mother's cousin Julius Caesar...

 and Octavian, the Peace of Brundisium (36 BCE
36 BC
Year 36 BC was either a common year starting on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday or a leap year starting on Wednesday of the Julian calendar and a common year starting on Wednesday of the Proleptic Julian calendar...

). A highpoint of the satire is the central verbal contest that again, just like in ‘’Sat.’’ 1.4, distinguishes scurrility from satire. Here, Horace pitches a ‘’scurra’’ (buffoon) from the capital, the freedman Sarmentus, against his ultimately victorious local challenger, Messius Cicirrus (“the Fighting Cock”).

Satire 1.6, Non quia, Maecenas ("Not because, Maecenas"), rejects false ambition.

With the same modesty, with which he just depicted himself in Satire 1.5, Horace explains why he is not interested in a career in politics even though he once, during the Civil War, served as the tribune of a Roman legion (48). People would jeer at him because of his freedman father, and his father taught him to be content with his status in life (85-87) even though he made sure that his son could enjoy the same education as an aristocrat (76-80).

Satire 1.7, Proscripti Regis Rupili pus atque venenum ("The pus and poison of the proscribed Rupilius Rex"), deals with a trial that Persius, a Greek merchant of dubious birth (hybrida, 2), won against the Roman Rupilius Rex.

Following the account of Horace's youth in Sat. 1.6, this satire tells a story from his service under Brutus during the Civil War. Just like Sat. 1.5, it features a verbal contest in which two different kinds of invective are fighting against each other. Initially, Greek verbosity seems to succumb to Italian acidity, but in the end, the Greek wins with a clever turn of phrase, calling on the presiding judge, Brutus
Brutus is the cognomen of the Roman gens Junia, a prominent family of the Roman Republic. The plural of Brutus is Bruti, and the vocative form is Brute, as immortalized in the quotation "Et tu, Brute?", from Shakespeare's play, Julius Caesar....

 the Liberator, to do his duty and dispose of the "king" (Latin: 'rex') Rupilius Rex (33-35).

Satire 1.8, Olim truncus eram ("Once I was a tree trunk"), describes a funny victory over witchcraft and superstition.

Another hybrida like Persius in Sat. 1.7, Priapus
In Greek mythology, Priapus or Priapos , was a minor rustic fertility god, protector of livestock, fruit plants, gardens and male genitalia. Priapus is marked by his absurdly oversized, permanent erection, which gave rise to the medical term priapism...

, half garden god, half still a barely shaped piece of wood, narrates the visit of two terrible witches to Maecenas' garden that he is supposed to protect against trespassers and thieves. Maecenas' garden on the Esquiline Hill used to be a cemetery for executed criminals and the poor, and so it attracts witches that dig for magic bones and harmful herbs. The god is powerless until the summer heat makes the figwood that he is made of explode, and this divine "fart" chases the terrified witches away.

Satire 1.9, Ibam forte Via Sacra ("I happened to be walking on the Sacred Way
Via Sacra
The Via Sacra was the main street of ancient Rome, leading from the top of the Capitoline Hill, through some of the most important religious sites of the Forum , to the Colosseum....

"), the famous encounter between Horace and the Pest, relates another funny story of a last-minute delivery from an overpowering enemy.

Horace is accosted by an ambitious flatterer and would-be poet who hopes that Horace will help him to worm his way into the circle of Maecenas' friends. Horace tries in vain to get rid of the Pest. He assures him that this is not how Maecenas and his friends operate. Yet he only manages to get rid of him, when finally a creditor of the Pest appears and drags him off to court, with Horace offering to serve as a witness (74-78).

Satire 1.10, Nempe incomposito ("I did indeed say that Lucilius' verses hobble along"), functions as an epilogue to the book. Here Horace clarifies his criticism of his predecessor Lucilius, jokingly explains his choice of the genre ("nothing else was available") in a way that groups him and his Satires among the foremost poets of Rome, and lists Maecenas and his circle as his desired audience.

Literary Success

Both in antiquity and in the Middle Ages, Horace was much better known for his Satires and the thematically related Epistles than for his lyric poetry. In the century after his death, he finds immediate successors in Persius and Juvenal
The Satires are a collection of satirical poems by the Latin author Juvenal written in the late 1st and early 2nd centuries AD.Juvenal is credited with sixteen known poems divided among five books; all are in the Roman genre of satire, which, at its most basic in the time of the author, comprised a...

, and even Dante
Delivery of Advanced Network Technology to Europe is a not-for-profit organisation that plans, builds and operates the international networks that interconnect the various national research and education networks in Europe and surrounding regions...

still refers to him simply as "Orazio satiro" (Inferno 4.89). CONTE 318 writes, "Over 1,000 medieval quotations from his Satires and Epistles have been traced, only about 250 from his Carmina."

critical editions of the Latin text

  • Borzsák, Stephan. Q. Horati Flacci Opera. Leipzig: Teubner, 1984.
  • Shackleton Bailey, D. R. Q. Horati Flacci Opera. Stuttgart: Teubner, 1995. ISBN 3519214369. Makes more use of conjectural emendation than Borzsák.

On-line editions of the Horace's Satires, Latin

Horace's Satires, in English translation

  • Satires, Epistles, and Art of Poetry (Engl.). Translated into English verse by John Conington, m.a. corpus professor of Latin in the university of Oxford. Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 20 September 2010. N.B. Satire I-2 is excluded.
  • First book of Satires, with notes (all in English). R. M. Millington 1869. Retrieved 20 Sept. 2010.
  • Epodes, Satires and Epistles, in English. Also an introduction (of 5 pages). Rev. Francis Howes 1845. Retrieved 20 Sept. 2010.
  • Alexander, Sidney. The complete Odes and Satires of Horace. Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 1999. ISBN 0691004285.
  • Juster, A.M. The Satires of Horace. Philadelphia, PA : University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. ISBN 9780812240900.
  • Rudd, Niall. Horace, Satires and Epistles; Persius, Satires. London : Penguin, 2005. ISBN 0140455086 (verse translation with introduction and notes).


  • Brown, P. Michael. Horace, Satires I. Warminster, England: Aris & Phillips, 1993. ISBN 0856685305 (introduction, text, translation and commentary)
  • Muecke, Frances. Horace, Satires II. Warminster, England: Aris & Phillips, 1993, repr. with corr. 1997. ISBN 0-85668-531-3 (hb). ISBN 0-85668-532-1 (pb) (introduction, text, translation and extensive scholarly commentary)

short surveys

  • Conte, Gian Biagio. Latin Literature. A History. Translated by Joseph Solodow. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994. ISBN 0-8018-4638-2.
  • Braund, Susan H. Roman Verse Satire. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992. ISBN 019-922072-7.
  • Freudenburg, Kirk. Satires of Rome : Threatening Poses from Lucilius to Juvenal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. ISBN 052100621X.
  • Hooley, Daniel M. Roman Satire. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2007. ISBN 1405106891.

more specialized literature

  • Anderson, William S. "Ironic Preambles and Satiric Self-Definition in Horace Satire 2.1." Pacific Coast Philology 19 (1984) 36-42.
  • Bernstein, Michael André. "O Totiens Servus: Saturnalia and Servitude in Augustan Rome." Critical Inquiry 13 (1986-1987) 450-74.
  • Braund, Susan H. "City and Country in Roman Satire." In: Braund, S. H., ed. Satire and Society in Ancient Rome. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1989, 23-47.
  • Clauss, James J. "Allusion and structure in Horace Satire 2.1. The Callimachean response." Transactions of the American Philological Association 115 (1985) 197-206.
  • Classen, Carl Joachim. "Horace – A Cook?" Classical Quarterly 72 (1978) 333-48.
  • Freudenburg, Kirk. "Horace's Satiric Program and the Language of Contemporary Theory in Satires 2.1." American Journal of Philology 111 (1990) 187-203.
  • Cucchiarelli, Andrea. La satira e il poeta : Orazio tra Epodi e Sermones. Pisa : Giardini, 2001. ISBN 8842703001.
  • Freudenburg, Kirk. The Walking Muse : Horace on the Theory of Satire. Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 1993. ISBN 0691031665.
  • Hudson, Nicola A. "Food in Roman Satire," in: Braund, Susan H., ed. Satire and Society in Ancient Rome. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1989, 69-87.
  • Knorr, Ortwin. Verborgene Kunst : Argumentationsstruktur und Buchaufbau in den Satiren des Horaz. Hildesheim : Olms-Weidmann, 2004. ISBN 3487125390.
  • Muecke, Frances. "Law, Rhetoric, and Genre in Horace, Satires 2.1." In: Harrison, Stephen J., ed. Homage to Horace. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995, 203-218.
  • Niall Rudd. The Satires of Horace. Berkeley : University of California Press, 1966 (2nd. ed., 1982). ISBN 0520047184.
  • Roberts, Michael. "Horace Satires 2.5: Restrained Indignation," American Journal of Philology 105 (1984) 426-33.
  • Rothaus Caston, Ruth. "The Fall of the Curtain (Horace S. 2.8)." Transactions of the American Philological Association 127 (1997) 233-56.
  • Sallmann, Klaus. "Satirische Technik in Horaz' Erbschleichersatire (s. 2, 5)." Hermes 98 (1970) 178-203.
  • Schlegel, Catherine. Satire and the Threat of Speech : Horace's Satires, Book 1. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005. ISBN 0299209504.

External links