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W. R.


Tact in the Drusus Ode: Horace, Odes 4.4

I had best begin by saying that this paper has its origin in
the amusement I feel when I read the notorious praeteritioin theDrusus
ode and that I am chiefly concerned here to examine that amusement
and its stimulus.Whether so subjective amethod can produce any very
sound information about the poem I am uncertain, but I have found
that attempts to deal objectively with the passage tend to issue in
irritable bafflement, in decisions to dismiss the poem or obelize its
offending passage.1 That the praeteritiohas amused Fraenkel as well as
myself is, I suppose, a fact, and if we can agree with those who assert
(Horace, I think, is among them) that for poetry pleasure is of the
essence, one's own pleasure is perhaps not the worst place for an
attempt at criticism to begin.2
Whether Horace is imitating Pindar in the first four stanzas
of the poem or parodying him one cannot perhaps be sure, but what
ever the precise tone of the opening similes, whether utter sincerity of
homage or tough, carefully qualified admiration, the technical elabora
tions and, above all, the fullness and sweep of sound are unquestionably
grand; whether the opening of the poem shows serious imitation of
epinician or serious parody of epinician, we have here the master at
his most intricate and, at the same time, at his most free.3But why then,
1 See Elsbeth

1936) 48.

for good





in seinen Beziehungen

zu Pindar

(Diss. Marburg

2 E. Fraenkel, Horace (Oxford 1956) 430.

3One's difficulty with "tone" here is caused by the nature of good parody,
the degree of the parodist's
offers us, whatever
can produce.
and heart that only affection
of his mind


his victim,


W. Ralph Johnson
after he has created such splendid verse, after he has imagined the
eagle's first flight and the chilling onset of the young lion with such
verve, why does Horace present us with this banality?

videre Raeti bella sub Alpibus

Drusum gerentem Vindelici-quibus
mos unde deductus per omne
tempus Amazonia securi
dextras obarmet, quaerere distuli,
nec scire fas est omnia....
It is, formy part, as though a contestant in a ski-jump had taken the
run with full speed and full control, had executed the start of his jump
with utter power and grace, only to somersault of set purpose and
without warning so as to plummet ignominiously headfirst into the

These splendid similes were working up a breathless ex

citement: to what or whom are the magnificent beasts similar? This
fanfare promised a crescendo of praise, and when the laudandusand his
resgestae are mentioned at last everything should be bathed in radiance
and high solemnity. Instead we hear a kind of pathetic schoolmaster
muttering d propos de bottesof his laziness, perhaps of his incompetence.
If the archeological information was essential to his epinician, ought
he not to have spent more time in the library before he sat down to his
desk? If it was not essential after all, why any mention of it? If itwas
essential and he was lazy or incompetent, would it not be wiser to ignore
the whole business? Why, why this grotesque deliberate awkwardness?
One can see why some readers mutter at this point of failing powers,
why others scratch everything between Vindelici and seddiu as the work
of some dull anonymous prankster. If one gets rid of the verses one
way or another, either by suggesting that Horace himself should have
cut them or by insisting that Horace in fact did not write them, one
has a much smoother poem, a neater tour de force, a better prize poem,
the sort of poem perhaps that Augustus had in mind when he asked
Horace to write it. One also has, to my mind, a far duller poem, a
poem thatHorace would be unlikely to have written (orbe incapable of
having written, however old, whatever the occasion). Let us assume
for the moment that the praeteritio is neither a blunder nor an inter
polation; let us assume that it is ironic.

Tact in the Drusus Ode: Horace, Odes 4.4

Few readers of Cicero will suppose that Ciceronian
in the sense that he really imagines that he will fool
his reader-listener by pretending to pass over what he has just dwelt
on at some length, or by pretending that he has not time to mention
what it is all too clear he dare not mention (if the speech is pro), or
what he cannot mention because it is not true and everyone knows it is
not true (if the speech is contra); rather, the praeteritio for Cicero is
essentially a transitional device that allows by the way for malicious
emphasis or for begging of questions and special pleading:
sed iam stupra et flagitia omittamus. sunt quaedam quae
honeste non possum dicere. tu autem eo liberior quod ea
in te admisisisti quae a verecundo inimico audire non
posses. sed reliquum vitae cursum videte, quem quidem
celeriter perstringam. ad haec enim quae in civili bello,
in maximis rei publicae miseriis fecit, et ad ea quae
cotidie facit festinat animus...
etsi incidamus, opinor,
media ne nimis sero ad extrema veniamus.
(Phil. 2.47)
Cicero has just told an unusually gross (but plausible) lie about
Antony's sexual habits as a young man. The decorum, the tact, and the
modesty of the speaker, compounded with the hint that this sort of
material is endless, are audacious and funny, but the sexual licence is
presented as being only a prelude to perversions of the political intelli
gence, a theme which again offers inexhaustible material. Here moral
is the perfection of gravitas.
indignation is coupled with decorum-it
Or rather, it is gravitasmimed, a droll imitation of the real thing, an
action designed to irritate the victim and amuse the audience, for if
it always iswhen
praeteritio is not urbane, casual, mocking or witty-as
Cicero has his wits and his nerve-it is nothing.4
In this regard it is important to note that even in Pindar's
praeteritiowit is not absent; even for Pindar the vows to speak
no evil of gods and heroes, to repeat no malicious gossip about them,
are possessed of an almost Homeric charm, mock awe and witty dis
cretion in respect of celestial indecorum, elaborate horror of vulgarity.5
4 For an admirable description of the nature and functions of the figure, a
description as helpful for the appreciation of poetry as it is for the appreciation of oratory, see
S. Usher, " Occultatioin Cicero's Speeches", AJP 86 (1965) 175-192.
5 0.


52ff; 0.






W. Ralph Johnson
In the hands of Callimachus the device is overtly witty, and the suavity
has become in fact arch and vulgar, not because Callimachus could do
no better, but because he wanted to give ironic stress to the "triviality"
of his age and his own poetry as against the seriousness and high sig
nificance of a vanished (and quite dead) classicism:


aKaprTELyACUaoaS.6 Tinting

his own

praeteritio with

Alexandrian irony, self-deprecation, and frivolity, Horace uses the

Pindaric device of tactful praeteritio to undercut the grandeur of his
own version of Pindaric epinician. Nec scirefas est omnia: something
between a polite cough and a genial shrug.
But what in this celebration of the res gestae of Drusus
requires delicacy whether sincere or ironic? Amazonian weaponry or
pallid antiquarian passions ?7No, I think the poem could not continue
in the strain in which it had begun because the imagery of the heroic
beasts, the insistence on thumos,on instinct (olim iuventasetpatrius vigor /
nido laborumprotulit inscium)put too exact an emphasis on the core of


TO yEvvaLov



TraEpopwv TarLC

Aijal (P. 8.44-45).8 The opening similes, in short, accurately insist on

what might be called the genetics of areta,patrius vigor, and if something
drastic is not done, the ghost of the true father, Tiberius Claudius Nero
(not tomention the ghost of Augustus' own grandfather, the provincial
banker),9 must enter from the wings where it hovers impatiently. Such
an apparition would hardly be welcome in this poem and so must be
exorcised (and the necessity for the exorcism underlined with Calli
machean irony) by a praeteritiowhich forswears antique heroics (so,






in favor



realities, the importance of the vitricusand the primacy of good educa

6 Fr. 75.8 Pf. For an imaginative and plausible discussion of these verses see
E. Howald, Der DichterKallimachosvonKyrene (Erlenbach-Ziirich 1943) 34-35.
7This aspect of the joke-Horace's irony at the expense of anthropological
in themilitary epinician-is deftly treated by Fraenkel (supra, n. 2)
research and chorographia
8 See Pindar;
O. 9.107-108ff; 0. 13.13; P. 8.46ff; N. 3.38ff; N. 5.40-41,


(see Rhet.

ad Alex.



eav 8e ot 7rpjTroL fEv

act ctovSaot




For the theme see E. des Place, S. J., Pindare et Platon (Paris 1949) 42ff, 62ff; see, too, his
interesting discussion of the significance of Pindar's beasts (ce que l'on serait tented
menagerie),28f. The fact that theDrusus ode shows an embarrassment of beasts (seeCollinge's
amusing remarks, The Structureof Horace's Odes [Oxford 1961] 14) suggests "outdoing" in
the service of parody.
9With whom even John Buchan has some difficulty in his Augustus (Boston
1937) 7.

Tact in the Drusus Ode: Horace, Odes 4.4

tion as against mere genes. Abruptly at 25 themood of the poem changes;
we seem to have done with splendid fictions in order that we may
concentrate on sober home truths:


lateque victrices catervae




sensere, quid mens rite, quid indoles

nutrita faustis sub penetralibus
posset, quid Augusti paternus
in pueros



fortes creantur fortibus et bonis;

est in iuvencis, est in equis patrum
virtus, neque imbellem feroces
progenerant aquilae columbam;
doctrina sed vim promovet insitam,
rectique cultus pectora roborant;
utcumque defecere mores,
indecorant bene nata culpae.
The oxymoron, benenata culpae, lightens the scales against
the Pindaric doctrine (,roSe kva Kpd1TLCTroV
cNra,0. 9.107-108)10 and
so insures the triumph of Augustus as stepfather and as educator.
At this point itmay be objected that Pindar himself knew
that one cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, that teachers can
not discipline what is not there, and itmay be objected that we would
be naive to take Pindar seriously when he talks of Phua and so give
undue emphasis to this aspect of epinician symbolism.11 Such an ob
10See des Place, 66 and E. L. Bundy, StudiaPindarica I, The EleventhOlym
(Berkeley, Los Angeles 1962) 29-32.
11For attempts to soften the doctrine see Paul Shorey, "Physis, Melete,
Episteme,"TAPA 40 (1909) 188, and R. Lattimore, "Pindar, Olympian , 100-112", CP 41
(1946) 230-232. For the trainer in Pindar see0. 8.54ff; 0. 10.16-17ff; N. 4.93ff; N. 5.48ff;


I. 4.72.


also Bacchyl.



the remarks

of A. Parry

in his notes


the versions of R. Fagles [NewHaven and London 1961] 114).These passages seem tome to

too few

in number


in emphasis



to sweeten


(for modern



distasteful notion which I posit as Pindaric "orthodoxy." The short Isthmian passage has
suffered least qualification and ismost "sophistic" in tone. The passage in Olympian10 looks


W. Ralph Johnson
jection would ignore, I feel, the kind of emphasis Pindar insists on, an
emphasis Horace carefully phrases (fortes creanturfortibus,patrumvirtus)
in order to be able to refute it adequately. The nature of Pindar's
epinician symbolism in respect ofphua and suggenesruns something like
this: The athletes I praise are descended from great families and cities
which are in turn descended from heroes who are in turn sired by gods
and by Zeus himself;12 there is a genealogy of glory, a natural and
unfailing divine order, of which both athletes and poets are part; poets
have wisdom and a sense of tokalon, athletes, strength and valor, these
gifts being amanifestation of divine grace and kinship of gods with men,
genius being not a matter of effort but of grace, a thing which may
vvaAa !ua, 0. 10.22) but which
indeed be guided by mortal men (0EoOov
really needsno guidance.13 It is an arrogant sort of symbolism, perhaps,
but it is in itsway not without truth-if one insists,with Poincare, that
"the greatest bit of chance is the birth of a great man," one might insist
as well that good teachers, and so, good education, are rare enough.
But, in any case, we can no more read Pindar with pleasure unless we
take for granted what he sings (i.e., means) about the purity and
primacy of uninstructed genius, than we can readWhitman successfully
without suspending our disbelief and believing for the time being, against
all evidence, in the reality and the awful supremacy of his naivete.
The shift in emphasis that Horace provides is as Horatian
as one could wish, ars extolled, ingeniumdemoted,14 and, as a matter of
fact, the emphasis on intellect (and education) as against "spirit"
(and nature) has an important place in the conventions of Alexandrian
panegyric.15 But it is finally tact that demands this shift in emphasis,
to natural talent and to divine grace. Most extensive and most interesting is the passage in
Olympian8 where Pindar insists that the only teacher for a great athlete is a great athlete.
This view offers no violence to hismajor symbolism of genius and triumph as grace, but it is
alien, nevertheless, to his central inspiration and fails to engage his imagination.
12Pindar 0. 9.28-29; P. 1.41-42. Isoc. Evagoras 14.Callim. Zeus 78.
13See Jaeger's discussion of Chiron in Jemean 3 in Paideia I (Oxford 1939,
1962) 218-219.Jaeger does not, it seems tome, quite resolve the difficulty he poses. Ifwe admit
that "education cannot act unless there is inborn areta for it to act upon," are we, in fact,
asserting that education is thereforenecessary? In point of fact, Achilles seems to understand
which asserts
what he is about beforeChiron sets eyes on him; the juxtaposition of the sententia
the self-sufficiencyof inborn aretawith the figure of Chiron isbrilliantly ironic-at the expense
of educators and their pretensions.What the passage says is, heroes don't need to be taught,

&Tt'raTAev and






a neat,



in M.

Cunnigham's "Otis on theMetamorphoses,"CP 61 (1966) 247.

15 Iso. Evagoras41ff, 65, 69, 71, 80; Callim. Zeus 84ff; Theo. 17, 13-15.


Tact in the Drusus Ode: Horace, Odes 4.4


for the spectre of Tiberius Claudius Nero must be dispelled before it

inevitably materializes, even as the importance and the honor of the
vitricusmust be vindicated. Or is the tact itself tinged with irony ?The
juxtaposition of the pure epinician gestures with a sudden, dramatic
rejection of epincian ideals, the collision between patrius vigor / patrum
virtusand Augustipaternusanimus,may well recall the scandal ofAugustus'
marriage with Livia and the rumors about the peculiarities of Drusus'
birth and even perhaps of his "real " parentage.16 Faustis subpenetralibus?
TOLS eVTOXOvoL KalLtplprqva





"evades" rumors of adultery, of wife-stealing, of the ardent Octavius,

the indulgent Tiberius, the pregnant Livia, of what Carcopino aptly
terms "ce romancomique,"even as it "rejects" the primacy of blood and
the doctrine of inherited greatness. The ancient splendor is spurned in
favor of new splendors, the gaudy fictions, in favor of profound facts.
At the center of his celebration of virtusHorace places not the athlete
nor (as would be more proper) his father (that is, his ancestors, his
family, his city and its heroes, the distant but divine origins) but his
trainer, that is to say, Augustus. This innovation in (this reversal of)
epinician technique is as clever as it is necessary, aswitty as it is tactful,
and, beyond the tact, the irony is inevitable and cool.
If the structure of the poem up to this point is rather
peculiar (similes, 1-16; res gestae, 17-18; praeteritio, 18-22; res gestae,
22-25; sententia, 25-36) the structure of the remainder is hardly less
so.Having begun towrite an epinician, Horace denies themetaphysical
16See Suet. Aug. 62, 69; Tib. 4; Claud. 1. Dio 48.44.2 and 5. Veil. Pat.
2.75.1, 79.2, 94.1, 95.1. Tac. Ann. 1.10. See R. Syme, The RomanRevolution (Oxford 1939,
1956) 229, and Tacitus I (Oxford 1958) 425. The sources arewell discussed byJ. Carcopino,
"Le mariage d'Octave et de Livia," Revuehistorique161 (1929) 225-236. E. S. Shuckburgh
puts thematter succinctly in his Augustus (London 1903) 110-112: "Even to the lax notions
of divorce and re-marriage then current this [marriage] seemed somewhat scandalous.A year
was held to be the necessary interval for a woman between one marriage and another. But
the object of this convention was to prevent ambiguity as to the paternity of the children;
and when Caesar consulted the pontifices, they told him that, if therewas no doubt as to the
paternity of the child with which Livia was pregnant, the marriage might lawfully take
place at once. No opposition seems to have been made by Livia's husband, who was at least
twenty years her senior.He acted as a father in giving her to her new husband, and enter
tained the bridal pair at a banquet. The marriage was so prompt that a favorite page of
Livia's, seeing her take her place on the same couch as Caesar, whispered to his mistress that
she had made

a mistake,

for her husband



the other



the story of the

page's remark isprobably fictitious, it perhaps indicates contemporary reaction: the situation
was both rather ludicrous and rather suspicious.
17The verse is found in Suet. Claud. 1, and is paraphrased by Dio 48.44.5:
reading, Corn.Attic. Fr. III, 449, fr. 213. See Carcopino, 227.


W. Ralph Johnson
basis of the genre and switches to Hellenistic panegyric; having con
tracted the achievement of the laudandusinto a bare four verses (and
in the bargain having disrupted those verses with a joke), he makes the
achievement of the stepson illumine the greatness and wisdom of the
stepfather, as if both epinician melody and the real triumph of Drusus
existed only to frame the splendor of the princeps;having dared somuch
up to this point, he simply inverts his design and unwrites, as it were,
the poem he has been writing, the poem which seemed to have been
tending toward, seemed to have been culminating in the sententiawhich
glorifies Augustus.
We have heard that culpaemay tarnish or mar the glory
of a great family, may subvert the inheritance of virtus,and we have seen
how discipline and education, even when furnished by an outsider,
may make good the losses and stop the process of ruin. Is the sententia
very general indeed, has it no particular relevance to Drusus, or,
possibly, are we to remember that for a longwhile the politics of Drusus'
father were exactly counter towhat they ought to have been (i.e., were
culpae)?We have just learned that, important though birth may be,
education and example are the essential factors in themaking of a great
man. What do we learn now? We learn that the Claudii have always
been great and probably always will be. The gospel of Pindar, which
discretion has disallowed, is here reasserted, and the epinician glitter,
which had been threatened by praeteritioand snuffed out by stern sen
tentia, is now rekindled, more splendid than before. In the mouth of
Hannibal the epinician conventions take on a very rich, very powerful
music, and the ferocity of sound and image, the speed and the disso
nance utterly overwhelm the tact and decorum (and the praise of
Augustus) which we found at the poem's center; they rush to light up
the victor at Metaurus, the conqueror of Hasdrubal. In short, the
undying glory of the Claudian gens is affirmed in epinician measure,
together with those notions about the nature of greatness on which the
epinician as a serious variety of poetry stands or falls. Hannibal's
speech centers on a supernatural monstrosity which cannot be finally
overcome, however often it seems to have been destroyed, and the echo
of Pindar's simile of the aristocratic oak18whose virtue is proof against
t iOov rrep'avras, P. 4.265)
all attempts to destroy or change it (S8LoZ
has fine irony, for the poem which had turned on Augustus and his
18Fraenkel (supra, n. 2) 430. See also R. W. B. Burton's Pindar's
Odes (Oxford 1962) 168-169.

Tact in the Drusus Ode: Horace, Odes 4.4


triumphs as a good stepfather (and his triumphs over a hostile aristo

cratic family) now shifts to the virtues of Drusus' family, to the ineluct
able genius and the unfailing achievement of the Claudii.
Let a prose synopsis of the poem's theme run something
like this: "Drusus has accomplished fine things in the Raetian cam
paign, partly because of inherited valor and intelligence, but especially,
essentially, because his natural gifts have been carefully tended and
brought to full perfection by his stepfather-not that this sort of thing
isn't pretty much in the family tradition; one thinks of Metaurus, for
instance." This precis, the driest I can distill from the poem, is still by
way of being anti-Pindaric and, though it is hardly hostile to him, not
specially warm to Augustus. Horace affirms and then denies and then
reaffirms the Pindaric theory of-well, let us not be shy-Herrenmoral,
a tough code that abhors sophistic foolishness about the possibilities of
educating anybody, for the hard, explicit Pindaric dogma is this
(whatever margin we may want to allow for private ironies): thosewho
might be taught do not need to be taught, those who need to be taught
cannot be taught: instinct is all. So to affirm, deny, reaffirm, so to palter
deliberately, is to shape a paradox which, though it may finally do no
harm toDrusus' achievement or toAugustus vitricus,throws some doubt
on the possiblities of modern epinician and tampers with the serene
grandeur of Augustan propaganda. Reduced to the prose synopsis I
offer, the poem's argument is banal and, at least, silly. Hammered into
gorgeous mannered verse, the silliness sparkles and tinkles, and the
banality is transformed into something almost radiant, but from some
where within the dazzling cadences, from the swirl, from the leaps
from one mood to another, somewhere from the poetry there rever
berates a quiet steady laughter: someone inside the poetry, in a place
of "prudent withdrawal and disinterested curiosity from afar"19 is
laughing, not maliciously, not bitterly, not wildly, about (not at) the
idea of the epinician, about Pindar, about the intimations of the Prima
Porta, about all sorts of things.
Those who see a classic structure in this poem, or, to be
more precise, those how hear a single voice intoning this poem, the
voice of the Prima Porta's flamen, can dislike the poem or ignore it or
like it, but even those who like it do not really warm to itmuch. I am
very fond of the poem, and, so far as I can discover, one of the things
about it that pleases me is its characteristic but unusually fine structure,
19S. Hook, The Hero inHistory (Boston 1943, 1955) 6.

W. Ralph Johnson
a structure that skips, staggers and flutters, a structure devised by aman
who would not have seen life steadily and whole even had he thought
it possible. Or rather, I hear several voices in this poem, a weird trio
that produces an unnerving but finally lovely dissonance in which we
hear things about the limitations of man's greatness that were never
quite said that way before and were never said quite that way again.
From qualemministrum to gerentemVindelici (1-18) a Pindaric persona
sings typically but beautifully of instinctive valor and of high virtue;
at 18 this voice is interrupted by a Callimachean persona who tells a
small but pleasant joke; at 22 the Pindaric persona is allowed to resume
his song, but at 25, with quid mens rite, an Horatian persona, using a
particular voice that we hear frequently throughout the odes (specially
in theRoman odes) but not so frequently as some imagine, takes up the
burden of the song and continues at least through 36, benenata culpae.It
seems tome that from quid debeas (37) till the beginning of Hannibal's
speech at 50 the Horatian and the Pindaric personae may be singing a
duet, but clearly at 50 the Pindaric voice starts a solo that continues
until, perhaps, in the final stanza the Horatian voice joins with the
Pindaric for emphasis, for irony, for fun:

nil Claudiae non perficient manus,

quas et benigno numine Iuppiter
defendit et curae sagaces
expediunt per acuta belli.
After all the monsters and the gore this final stanza of Hannibal's
speech is a bit gracious, a bit dry, rather dandified; it is not a question
of Hannibal's not saying these verses but rather a question of the charm
and wit involved in having this archaic Pindarizing barbarian talk
suddenly out of the blue like a very elegant and very modern poet.
In closing, I find that Imay not dodge a rather important
supposing that Horace dared write such a poem at the
Augustan revivalism, why would he write such a poem
very height
after having written the carmen? I do not know the answer to this
question, and not knowing makes me nervous. But I am made just as
nervous by coming upon so many dates for Horace's conversion to
Augustan politics (and we are offered as many reasons as we are
offered dates); I am bothered by certain of the proofs offered for these
dates and reasons; and, in short, I need more careful explanations of

Tact in the Drusus Ode: Horace, Odes 4.4
what sort of conversion it was, I need some persuasive elucidations of
the tone of Augustus' correspondence toHorace and of the tone of the
Epistle toAugustus itself. Though I very strongly doubt thatHorace was
a crypto-Cato, though I believe that he approved in some degree the
order that Augustus had brought to the life of Rome, I am uncertain
whether there was ever any very deep enthusiasm either for the
princeps himself or for his technique of government. Given Horace's
memorable temperament, themelancholy, the sensuality, the austerity,
above all, the skepticism and the wit, it does not seem to me unlikely
that, having been asked (or required) to praise someone of high birth
and adequate achievement, he should comply with due courtesy, that
he should proffer congratulations, but that he should make no clear
unequivocal statementas to what those congratulations meant or what
any congratulations mean; rather, we ought not to be surprised if we
are faced with a richly modulated, ironic meditation, a song in which
moods are evoked, illumined, let go. And when the song is ended, the
mind wakens from its delight tomurmur: what then is glory?
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