Horace’s attitude toward Roman civil war and foreign war
One of Horace’s noblest odes, III.2, proclaims the undying glory to be won in war (17-24). It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s fatherland, he declares. Death will overtake the coward anyway (14-16); one must seize the opportunity to die in a manner that will win him lasting fame. Yet this same poet also wrote—without any apparent embarrassment—that he himself had, as a young man, thrown down his shield and fled the field of battle at Philippi. How can the same man have written both poems? His motivation in writing these odes must remain enigmatic, if the poems are read by themselves. It may have been true for Horace’s readers that each ode was written and comprehensible in and of itself. But the modern reader will often find single poems that appear puzzling, while any two or three poems selected at random will frequently present attitudes that are unrelated or even seem contradictory. The two odes cited above are an excellent illustration of this reality.
The solution that suggests itself is a systematic study of the entire Horatian corpus, with an eye to discovering what attitude or attitudes, if any, Horace has toward the problem of Roman civil and foreign war. This approach has its pitfalls as well: even in such a comprehensive study, one is still confronted with the task of distinguishing the real Horace from his masks. Even in cases where pretense seems out of the question, Horace’s complexity of character and eclectic approach to life confound attempts to isolate and define any one Horatian trait or idea.
Master’s Thesis, University of Ottawa, 1972