Sunday, September 11, 2016


Bald-Headed, Pot-Bellied, Underbred, Sycophantic

Ezra Pound (1885-1972), "Horace," Criterion 9 (January 1930) 217-227, rpt. in Arion 9.2/3 (Summer-Autumn, 1970) 178-187 (at 178-179):
Neither simple nor passionate, sensuous only in so far as he is a gourmet of food and of language, aere perennius, Quintus Horatius Flaccus, bald-headed, pot-bellied, underbred, sycophantic, less poetic than any other great master of literature, occupies one complete volume of the British Museum Catalogue and about half the bad poetry in English might seem to have been written under his influence, but as almost no Englishman save Landor has ever written a line of real criticism this is not perhaps very surprising. There are people called the 'English Critics' (sometimes the gt. E.C.) who have put down a few rules of thumb about finding rhymes, or about the religious bearing of literature, or indulged in metaphysical speculation, but Landor was almost unique in examining specific passages of verse to see whether they were well or ill written or if they could be improved. Thus books on Horace abound, but there has been very little attempt to define the art of Maecenas' protégé.

Horace is a liar of no mean pomposity when he claims to have been the first to bring in the 'Æolic modes', for Catullus preceded him, and Catullus wrote better Sapphics. Catullus frankly translated one poem and frequently improves on Greek style. Horace lifts passages; incorporates lines; I doubt if he improves on Alc‎æus.

Both Catullus and Ovid add something to world poetry, something which is not in the Greek poetry that has come down to us. Horace at his best is sometimes more, sometimes less than a translation, but there is a definitely Horatian art. Apart from Catullus he was the most skillful metrist among the Latins, Propertius excelling him in but one habitual metre.

Against the granite acridity of Catullus' passion, against Ovid's magic, and Ovid's sense of mystery, Horace has but the clubman's poise and no stronger emotion than might move one toward a particularly luscious oyster. His jibes at old women are like petty personal fusses lacking the charm of Palladas' impartial pessimism or the artistic aloofness, the Epicurean and really godlike impersonality of Catullus' poem containing the phrase, 'habet dentes', which is the first Wyndham Lewis drawing, perhaps the only Wyndham Lewis drawing, in literature.

Yet Horace remains untranslated. There are charming approximations. For four centuries, French and English poets have written pleasing poems on Horatian themes, but he has given rise to nothing comparable with Gavin Douglas' Virgil, Golding's Metamorphoses or Marlowe's translations of the Ovidian Elegies.
Id. (at 186):
Horace lived under that crapulous presbyterian Caesar Augustus and carried his camouflage with all the unction of an adulterous Methodist deacon.
Related post: Huysmans on Vergil and Horace.

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