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Historical context[ edit ] Horace composed in traditional metres borrowed from Archaic Greeceemploying hexameters in his Satires and Epistles, and iambs in his Epodes, all of which were relatively easy to adapt into Latin forms.
His Odes featured more complex measures, including alcaics and sapphicswhich were sometimes a difficult fit for Latin structure and syntax.
Despite these traditional metres, he presented himself as a partisan in the development of a new and sophisticated style. He was influenced in particular by Hellenistic aesthetics of brevity, elegance and polish, as modeled in the work of Callimachus.
Though elitist in its literary standards, it was written for a wide audience, as a public form of art. Archilochus and Alcaeus were aristocratic Greeks whose poetry had a social and religious function that was immediately intelligible to their audiences but which became a mere artifice or literary motif when transposed to Rome.
However, the artifice of the Odes is also integral to their success, since they could now accommodate a wide range of emotional effects, and the blend of Greek and Roman elements adds a sense of detachment and universality. It was no idle boast. His Epodes were modeled on the verses of the Greek poet, as 'blame poetry', yet he avoided targeting real scapegoats.
Whereas Archilochus presented himself as a serious and vigorous opponent of wrong-doers, Horace aimed for comic effects and adopted the persona of a weak and ineffectual critic of his times as symbolized for example in his surrender to the witch Canidia in the final epode.
He imitated other Greek lyric poets as well, employing a 'motto' technique, beginning each ode with some reference to a Greek original and then diverging from it. Horace was a mere freedman's son who had to tread carefully.
His work expressed genuine freedom or libertas. His style included 'metrical vandalism' and looseness of structure. Horace instead adopted an oblique and ironic style of satire, ridiculing stock characters and anonymous targets. His libertas was the private freedom of a philosophical outlook, not a political or social privilege.
There was nothing like it in Greek or Roman literature. Occasionally poems had had some resemblance to letters, including an elegiac poem from Solon to Mimnermus and some lyrical poems from Pindar to Hieron of Syracuse. Lucilius had composed a satire in the form of a letter, and some epistolary poems were composed by Catullus and Propertius.
But nobody before Horace had ever composed an entire collection of verse letters,  let alone letters with a focus on philosophical problems. The sophisticated and flexible style that he had developed in his Satires was adapted to the more serious needs of this new genre. His craftsmanship as a wordsmith is apparent even in his earliest attempts at this or that kind of poetry, but his handling of each genre tended to improve over time as he adapted it to his own needs.
Nevertheless, the first book includes some of his most popular poems. His Epodes and Satires are forms of 'blame poetry' and both have a natural affinity with the moralising and diatribes of Cynicism. This often takes the form of allusions to the work and philosophy of Bion of Borysthenes [nb 13] but it is as much a literary game as a philosophical alignment.
By the time he composed his Epistles, he was a critic of Cynicism along with all impractical and "high-falutin" philosophy in general. Over time, he becomes more confident about his political voice.
Epicureanism is the dominant influence, characterizing about twice as many of these odes as Stoicism. A group of odes combines these two influences in tense relationships, such as Odes 1. While generally favouring the Epicurean lifestyle, the lyric poet is as eclectic as the satiric poet, and in Odes 2.
This book shows greater poetic confidence after the public performance of his "Carmen saeculare" or "Century hymn" at a public festival orchestrated by Augustus.The Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University houses writing resources and instructional material, and we provide these as a free service of the Writing Lab at Purdue.
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