HORACE AND SENECA: Interactions, Intertexts, Interpretations

Edited by Martin Stöckinger, Kathrin Winter, Andreas T. Zanker

De Gruyter (2017) h/b 437pp £98.99 (ISBN 9783110524024)

This set of fourteen essays is the fruit of a conference held in Heidelberg in 2015 and is an engaging and interesting look at the relationship between these two titans of Roman literature—examining both how Seneca was influenced by Horace and also how they approached the same themes in very different ways. Nor is it simply a matter of the Neronian author looking back in nostalgia at his Augustan predecessor—although that is certainly a factor in much Neronian literature—but rather a set of reflections on the anxiety of influence and the ways in which very different milieux produced work of such comparable distinction. Both authors were concerned with philosophical and ethical matters, and both also wrote exquisite lyric poetry. Both, above all, had the ear of an emperor and were to some extent an influence on (and a reflection of) public opinion.

The enterprise does not look promising at first sight. Seneca only actually quotes Horace four times in his entire work—and so it does not look as though the Augustan made much of an impression. There are places where Seneca echoes the sentiment (e.g. Horace Epistles 1.11.27 in Seneca Letters 28.1, discussed by Ute Tischer) without quoting the ipsissima verba but when one considers the lapidary memorability of Horace’s choicer phrases it is hard to believe that the finely turned ear of a Seneca did not recall the turn of phrase as well as the general gist, and what look like intertextual links may be topoi mediated through other sources.

The first major section of the book is in the field of philosophy and literature. Barbara Del Giovane examines the diatribe tradition, and argues that Horace acts as a conduit for Cynic ideas which Seneca (with his refined Stoicism) picked up on. She shows how Odes 3.16 is a wonderful poem on the theme of austerity, full of Epicurean and Cynic themes on wealth and the notion of aplêstia.

Francesca Romana Berno compares Seneca Ep. 60 with Horace Epistles 1.4. This is a lovely short poem addressed to Tibullus, ending with the poet’s self-identification as Epicuri de grege porcum. Tibullus was the country poet par excellence and here is being imagined in his familiar pastoral haunts making himself a suitable recipient for Horace’s wisdom. Berno sees him as ‘wandering distressed’ (58) but this may not be the case: reptare here surely corresponds to περιπατέω as the mot juste for a philosophical walk, while curantem looks back to salubris and suggests simply that he is looking after his soul as well as his body. Sallust (Cat. 1.1) criticises those who look down and simply ‘obey their belly’: in like manner Seneca condemns the self-satisfied pig of Epicurus, preferring the rational tranquillity of the Stoic.

Catharine Edwards looks at some links between the Horace of the Satires and Seneca, examining in particular their use of the Saturnalia. Horace Satires 2.7 has the poet’s slave Davus offering advice to him ‘with December license’ while Damasippus in 2.3 expounds his newly acquired Stoicism. Seneca Ep. 18 begins with an allusion to the Saturnalia being enjoyed lustily in Rome but proposes the simple life, and recommends that Lucilius train himself to endure austerity rather than to allow such indulgence.

The second section of the book is concerned with Horatian verse in Senecan tragedy. Richard Tarrant’s piece concerns itself with the political side of the two writers. He makes the point that the chorus of a Senecan drama is in a subservient position towards the principal characters just as citizens are towards an emperor, whereas Horace’s lyric persona is one of positive trust in a ruler whose actions are both ‘knowable and reliably benevolent’ (p. 93). In Horace, the ruler does not constrain but rather safeguard the freedom of his citizens, as shown in some splendid close-reading of texts such as Odes 3.14 and 4.15. Seneca has a chorus which is critical of divine rulers (Agamemnon 589-609) and other passages where fate is regarded as supreme ruler over all (Oedipus 980). The Stoic Seneca refashions Horace’s language and his metre to suit the changed conditions of the Neronian age, making use of Augustan idea(l)s and the relationship between ruler and ruled to point out the way in which different times call for different ways to express and fashion the same concepts.

Christopher Trinacty continues the intertextual approach to Seneca and suggests that such allusions are not simply snippets of verbal reminiscence but rather expect us to feel the larger context of the source text. This is a hard one to call—aude / incipe in Epistles 1.2.40-1 may perhaps be recalled in Seneca Medea 566, but then one might also refer Medea 567 to Catullus 76.16 and the effect is thereby only fleeting. There is more weight where there is more content—so Canidia in Epode 5 does look forward to Medea 13, and having a heroine speak like a witch so early on helps to set the characterisation for what is to come. Similarly Phaedra’s beloved Hippolytus reminds us of Horace’s Ligurinus, and the language of Oedipus recalls the Carmen Saeculare.

Tobias Allendorf looks closely at the verbal music of Seneca’s lyrics and in particular the use of metre and sound effects: alliteration in his evocation of Livius Andronicvus (pp. 144-5), asclepiads in his imitation of the Roman Odes in Agamemnon 589-595, or of Odes 2.1 in Oedipus 731-4. His thesis is that the choral odes are the poetic core of the tragedies, and he makes it well.

Metre is the focus of Jonathan Geiger’s paper which uses statistical analysis to compare and contrast some features of the rhythm in Horace and Seneca as they each attempted to smooth the transition from Greek lyric to Roman lyric in their adaptation of the Greek metres for Roman use.

The next four papers looks at broader themes. Gregor Vogt-Spira examines ‘Time’, distinguishing the carpe diem theme of mutability and urgency familiar in the lyric love poet with the insight of Seneca that time is the one commodity which we own and that we need to adopt an economic attitude towards it.

Barak Blum examines the theme of book collections in his piece on ‘Loaded Libraries’. Seneca abhors the pointless accumulation of unread books simply for show but recommends acquiring the texts which will assist us in living wise and happy lives: Horace by contrast allows his abuse of the older woman in Epode 8 to include her ostentatious reading of Stoic libelli (somewhat like Juvenal 6.434-56) with the ironic joke that she is beata only in the sense of being rich, not in any philosophical sense. Horace—like all docti Roman poets—needed his book collection as a studiorum instrumentum, and also plays with the idea that books are of great moral as well as literary value.

Elena Giusti examines poetic madness and how Horace both distances himself from it (Ars Poetica 453-6) and also confesses his strong attraction to it (e.g. Odes 3.19.18), a practice which is similar to Seneca’s advice to Serenus in de tranquillitate animi both to seek tranquillity of mind and also to enjoy Platonic/Democritean enthousiasmos. Serenus’ state of mind is akin to a ship at sea, now navigating the storms peacefully, now becoming the Bacchic ship (which we also remember from Ovid Metamorphoses 3). Serenus had the unfortunate job of prefect of the watch under Nero, and so Liber/Lyaeus in all his manifestations was a vital part of his ‘liberation’ from the anxiety which went with supervising the emperor’s ‘amorous intrigues’ (p.261).

Alexander Kirichenko’s paper points out the dissimilarities between Horace and Seneca rather than the intertextual links. He gives us a good account of the way Horace expresses his persona in the form as well as the content of his verse, and he nicely brings out the way the poetry enacts the ‘analogy between ethics, politics and poetics’ (p.274).

The last section of the book is devoted to reception issues. Ute Tischer, in her piece on quotation, selects good examples of places where both Horace and Seneca cite the same passage from (e.g.) Terence for very different reasons and in different contexts. She also addresses the ways in which quotations from standard ‘classics’ become a form of holy writ to add persuasive weight to the argument. More could be said perhaps here about the difficulties in Roman times of actually checking quotations from scarce and unwieldy texts, with the inevitable result that locating the correct words was cumbersome and writers may have relied on memory rather than research: and there are many cases where we have an example of a topos rather than a direct influence, or where a theme such as commutatio loci (well expressed in Horace Epistles 1.11.27) may become something of an ethical commonplace and so find its way indirectly into Seneca (Ep. 28.1).

This applies even more to Martial, whom Nina Mindt brings into the discussion in her essay: a poem such as Martial 10.47 draws on a lot of earlier ethical writing in both prose and verse, Greek and Latin, and yet manages to read as fresh as if the poet were simply making it all up in propria persona. The epigrammatic style of Horace is adopted and adapted by both Seneca in his more pithy moments and by Martial in his own lapidary epigrams, and this process brings about a change in the way we read the ‘original’ sources by a process she calls ‘allelopoetic’, in which the influence goes both ways, forwards and backwards.

The final chapter by Victoria Moul looks further afield to the Anglo-Latin moralising lyric of Early Modern England, a period which saw Horace as more of a moralist than a sensualist and which allowed more scope to the view of Horace as a moral and religious lyricist in the age of the English hymn book. Senecan tragic lyrics provide further abundant resources for these poets and the tradition lasted at least as far as Kipling’s ‘If…’.

The book is generally well copy-edited and proof-read, although some items referred to in the text are not in the bibliography (e.g. ‘Gibson (2007)’ at p. 266 n.3) and there are minor typographical slips (Seneca de tranquillitate 8.9 (not ‘the end of 9’) as cited p. 52 should read nec and not lice for instance). Quotations from Latin and Greek are all translated into English, but not all quotations from modern foreign languages—although it is unlikely that this scholarly book would be tackled by many monoglot readers. As well as the index and bibliography the book contains a comprehensive bidirectional Table of Correspondences between Horace and Seneca running to twenty-eight pages, distinguishing between verbal and thematic echoes. A huge amount of work has gone into this book and it is a dazzling display of scholarship and intelligent close reading of these two enormous ancient talents. They deserve no less.

John Godwin

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