THE "ROMAN ODES"                                                        46

The first six odes in book 3 are often referred to as the "Roman Odes", although Horace never calls them that nor singles them out explicitly in any way. They are bound together by a common metre (Alcaic), solemn style, lack of address to an individual, the affinity of the main themes and the central position which Augustus and his rule occupy in them. Were they conceived as a unified cycle at one moment or, (as seems more likely) were one or two written earlier than the rest before the idea of a cycle had occurred to Horace?
Wickham says of the cycle:- "The sequence of six odes in the same metre and dealing with the same general subject is by itself sufficiently different from the poet's usual practice to attract remark.. The unity, however, of general purpose is obvious. The ends social, moral, religious, political which a good government would set before itself in Rome are reviewed, and it is once more promised that Caesar's regime is to compass them. "
The first three books of the Odes were published in 23BC in the form in which we have them today.

Odes 111.1

The 2 stanza unit is the block of sense. NB I have no use... I bar. ...No-one performing a ritual was permitted to speak in his own person. He merely acted as the mouthpiece of the people. Horace is telling us that he is not acting as a real priest but as "the Muses' priest". The personal opening is picked up by the personal ending.

He declares at the beginning whom he does not address - the general mass. He is addressing the new generation. The great generalization in the second stanza:- Kings are under Jove (and like all great men are subject to death). Note the similarity with III.6.5. He mentions the Gigantomachy with which the cycle culminates (III.4.42-76)

In stanza six, note the contrast with the previous stanza.
Looking back from the end of the poem the reader can see that Horace's thought was basically "What is the point of personal ambition?"

Odes 111.2

The value of poverty is the moral advantage conferred by the absence of wealth and ambition.
Stanza 2 recalls Iliad III.146ff.

The ideas move from honest poverty, to soldierly qualities, to bravery, to patriotism, to virtue that faces opposition, to the trusty silence that acquiesces in what is right but unpopular. For comparison with stanza 4 read 11.7

In stanzas 5 and 6 Horace defines true worth as exploiting positively the situation in which a man's life is forfeit whatever he does.

Odes 111.3

3 and 5 are parallel: dominating both of them is a speech, by Juno in 3 and by Regulus in 5. Taken together they show the two vital strands in Roman thought -Greek myth and Roman history. These two strands are run together in much of Latin literature. Both are themes worthy to be sung. A just and brave man's steadfastness was something noble and essential to Horace, something that he was glad to praise. That gives the first two stanzas their importance. In constructing this scene he has used a favourite device, condensing the main points of the action into a direct speech and adding only the minimum narrative to make it intelligible.

The just and steady-purposed man may well refer to Augustus. Hercules, Pollux (with his twin. Castor) and Dionysus/Bacchus, make up the alexikakoi "those who ward off mischief". They occupied a special place of honour in Roman (and Greek) thought. They are also those who won immortality for themselves by their services to mankind. Horace adds Romulus to their number here, and invents the speech by which Juno welcomes him into the company of the gods. Augustus is clearly portrayed as about to become one of the alexikakoi. Juno's speech Compare Aeneid XII lines 819-828. The mythical scene provided Horace with a means of increasing the size (not the mere length) of the poem. Juno's speech contains a great deal of magnificent detail interwoven with the main theme of the goddess' solemn promise, and her warning against greed (which links this ode with the whole cycle. especially 5 and 6).

To run away with scorn etc.: The Romans were convinced that an important factor in their superiority over other nations was their piety (cfp. Aen.XII),of which rejection of greed is a part. It is not part of Juno's stipulation, but an explanation of how the Romans will be able to be superior. It allows them to take credit for their conquests, which are thus due not to fate but to their high moral character.

There is a link between this moral virtue and Augustus' constancy in lines 1-8..

Eager to see the Sights there: This is a hardly a normal quest for a soldier; it links the Romans with the ever-questing intellect of the Greeks.

Juno's ban: We are told that there was a rumour that Augustus planned to move the capital of the Empire to the East, and that this poem was written as propaganda at Augustus' suggestion to squash the rumour. But we should not believe this theory: when a goddess makes a concession there has to be a condition. The purpose of the ban is purely dramatic/poetic.

G. Wlliams says that Juno's speech is the counterpart of Jupiter's speech in Aeneid XII, and explains to the reader of the Aeneid how and why Juno's anger relented. (I think that Vergil did that).

Pluss says that Juno's ban is symbolic: Rome must abandon the old that is doomed to destruction, ie. the Republic. Take your pick!  


Based on Pindar's First Pythian Ode. Pindar's 1st Pythian was written to celebrate the chariot victory (in the Pythian Games) of Hiero, tyrant of Syracuse, and to celebrate the founding of a new city for his son to rule.

It opens with praise of music, the golden lyre, both in the here and now, and in the hereafter. Then the thought extends to the power of music throughout the world, power to lull the thunderbolt and still the eagle on Zeus' sceptre, and beguile even Mars.

But "those with whom Zeus is not in friendship" are alarmed when they hear the Muse. All, including Typhos the giant who fought against Zeus, and who is buried under Mt Etna - beside which the new town was built. His body is made to stretch out to Cumae. At Cumae Hiero and another tyrant Gelon had fought and defeated the barbarian Etruscans. Pindar links this with the more momentous defeat of the Carthaginians by Gelon and Theron of Akragas. He praises these successes because they secure "harmonious peace".

The monsters whom Zeus defeated threatened the world with chaos. : so did the barbarians whom Hiero defeated. Music is elevated to a spirit of serenity, order and concord throughout the universe.

Horace was inspired by Pindar. But Pindar had a natural, ready-made setting for his Ode - the victory celebrations following the chariot race. These victories were normally celebrated with song and dancing. Horace has to create his own setting. He is left to his own experience as an individual, and to his personal inspiration. That is why he tells us so much about his childhood etc. The bold first person "I" with which he opens the cycle of the "Roman Odes" has its counterpart in the extensive personal passages in number 4.

In connection with the Gigantomachy (the battle between the Titans and the Olympians) it is important to stress the universality of the equation:- giants = barbarism (ie a lower order of life that threatens harmony and civilisation) in the minds of the Greeks and Romans, eg Pheidias' statue of Athene in the Parthenon, and the altar of Zeus at Pergamum.

This is the longest of all Horace's odes. It is the principal ode in the cycle of six, and Horace has carefully framed it between the two parallel odes 3 and 5. Augustus is to be identified with Hiero and his son Deinomenes rolled into one.

The opening is not inferior to the opening of the whole cycle. In the second stanza we hear the music (as Pindar's audience would in actual fact).

In stanzas 3-5 Horace links himself with a long tradition of poets protected by the gods (read Fraenkel p.275).

Stanza 6 - Horace's activities mark him out as an Italian.

Stanza 7 - The Muses are his guardians in peace and war.

Stanza 10 - The still wider function of the Muses, champions of order and peace against the forces of violence and destruction.

We see Augustus on his way to godhead in 3.9-12, and in 5.1- 4. These two pictures frame the altus Caesar of 4.37.

Odes 111.5

Did Horace introduce Crassus so that he could talk about Regulus, or vice versa ? To what extent is this ode versified politics?

Ode 111.6

This is probably the earliest of the Roman Odes, and is similar in some ways to his earlier collection of poems, the Epodes. Certainly the political attitude is the same as in Epodes 7 and 16. The opening suggests a date of composition not later than 28BC.

It is remarkable that 3 years after Actium Horace should be inspired to write such a pessimistic poem, and moreover to conclude this solemn cycle with it. Admittedly poets don't always revise earlier works when they publish, but we need more of an explanation here. Perhaps Augustus, Maecenas and the poets all felt that there was a danger of complacent recidivism {ie. slipping back into civil war because people ceased to work at peace). The whole picture is stained with dark colours and this picture is the concluding piece of the great patriotic cycle with altus Caesar as its centre.

Stanza 1 - On the rebuilding of the temples~ it was one of Augustus' boasts in the Res Gestae that he rebuilt the temples of Rome which had fallen in to decay.

Compare Vergil Georgics 1.501ff for the belief that by inflicting civil wars on the Romans the gods were punishing some ancestral crime. {Could we imagine that it was the sin of Laomedon?)

The theory that the breakdown of the republican institutions was caused by increasing moral corruption is found in other Roman writers (Posidonius, Sallust and others).


Horace's political attitudes in the Odes can be separated into 4 main areas:-

1. Augustus             Here we can trace a development from the early odes to the later ones. In 1.2 he is the personification on earth of Mercury, but in the later odes we see Augustus portrayed as Jupiter's lieutenant on earth, and as holding sway under the gods. This develops yet again in Book IV where the country folk make a thank-offering to Augustus alongside their offering to the Lares who watch over the home.

2. Foreign Policy   Here again a development is discernible. In the early odes Augutus will avenge the Roman defeat by the Parthians at Carrhae, will recover the standards lost by Crassus, and will make new subjects of the Britons. In Book IV there is little mention of the Eastern frontier, and a new found confidence in the successes of Drusus and Tiberius in the Alpine passes. Horace has moved from rather hollow-sounding chest-beating aggressiveness to a jubilant celebration of the young princes' victories. All this is tempered by a proper magnanimity towards the conquered (eg Cleopatra).

3. The Civil Wars    The early ode 111.6 portrays the civil wars as just ended, and shows a morbid fear that without vigilance on the part of the Romans they may return. The later odes express the belief that the Romans were being punished for past sins by having civil war inflicted on them, and express relief that Augustus has brought them to an end. Aggression can now be turned, as it properly should be, against the foreigners. In book IV the civil wars are practically forgotten.

4. Moral Reform             Horace evolves from idealising the simple purity of contemporary primitive societies such as the Getae, to idealising the primitive past of the Romans. In this latter formula he found a concept very dear to the Roman mind - the tough, courageous, virtuous simple-living countryman. He criticizes the lax morals of his own day, and chastises with equal vigour sexual behaviour, greed, excess, and so forth. Augustus is portrayed as a just and determined leader who will not be swerved from his purpose by the unpopularity that moral legislation may bring.

The validation of Horace's seriousness of purpose is difficult. I can identity three lines of attack:-

1. The TONE of the writing: this is very subjective, and should not be stressed overmuch; but one may find a note of heartfelt relief at the cessation of war, and genuine anxiety at the absence of Augustus and so on. Each reader must find his/her own quotations to support this.

2. The CONSISTENCY of the attitudes: this is easier to substantiate, because Horace is fairly consistent in denouncing greed, the civil wars etc. Furthermore, as stated above, one can trace a development in his thinking along consistent lines. There is the anomaly of his dulce et decorum est pro patria mori when set alongside his own admission of what may look like cowardice on the battlefield of Philippi. Readers must make of this what they will, but one could argue that Philippi was a civil war battle, and that therefore Horace ran away for other motives, and would perhaps have been prepared to die for his country.

3. EXTERNAL EVIDENCE: - here one could look at statements that Horace makes elsewhere about his political attitudes (ie in the other odes, and in his other writings) and look for consistency/discrepancy. We could also 1ook at the statements of other writers of the time, to see whether Horace's attitude is generally consistent with that of eg Vergil or Livy. This latter evidence is by no means conclusive, but could be used with caution.