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Roman Satire                              368                                                                                       Features of Horatian satire

As you read each Satire, look out for and note down the following features and the stylistic techniques associated with them:


form, content, approach

style, technique


Horace calls these poems ‘conversations’ (sermones).  We can imagine them as one side of a dialogue with us, the audience.  They also contain conversations between characters in the poems.

Direct speech, use of second person (“you”), colloquial language.

Story telling

The conversations are often placed in a narrative setting.  Sometimes an anecdote or fable is recounted, to illustrate a point or moral.

Rapid pace, rapid transitions, vivid detail.


There is always a ‘message’.  The poems are designed to persuade us about some moral issue.

Many examples, wide-ranging approach, gentle treatment.


Horace criticises by using gentle mockery – including self-mockery.  This can make the message seem more acceptable, and the author less pompous.

Sympathetic human touch, telling detail;  mock epic.

The narrator’s voice

Horace usually speaks for himself – or rather a literary version of the real Horace (a persona – literally ‘actor’s mask’).  Occasionally someone else narrates – probably not a real person.  Does such a narrator represent Horace’s views?

Use of first person (“I”), (apparently) autobiographical detail.

Literary comments

Horace sometimes writes literary criticism, especially about the genre of satire (including criticism of Lucilius).  He shows a self-conscious awareness of literary theories and techniques.