The Walking Muse: Horace on the Theory of Satire.
The book opens with a declaration of (new) critical principle: "all personal poetry, such as satire, elegy, and lyric, is essentially impersonal, or . . . personal only in a restricted sense, for the poet chooses to create and project a specific image of himself as speaker just as he would create any other character to play a role in his fictional poetic world" (3). This emphasis on the persona - Freudenburg acknowledges W. S. Anderson and J. E. G. Zetzel as important forerunners here - generates many valuable insights. Freudenburg has much of interest to say about the characterization of the speaker in Satires 1.1-4 and about the kinship between this speaker and other homespun moralizers such as "Bion" and the "Horace" of Horace's first epistle. This kinship has profound consequences: it means that we should read the diatribes "not as true ethical treatises but as fiction, complex works of art intended as art" (14). Freudenburg takes the argument a step further: the speaker's "shortcomings," which are "obvious at every turn" - for example, in his mishandling of the mempsimoiria theme in 1.1 and in his "absurd" personification of the penis in 1.2 - imply that "he is himself the chief object of satire" (21), a character out of comedy, a doctor ineptus like Terence's Demea. The diatribes delivered by this speaker are thus "parodies of diatribe" (27), "completely detached from the true spirit and intent of the ethical treatises that they imitate" (17).
Freudenburg's demonstration of the satirist's shortcomings is illuminating and largely convincing. But to claim that the satirist is not only one object of satire but "the chief object" is, I think, a significant overstatement. In fact Freudenburg goes back and forth between "parody" (the model of Terence's ignorant Demea) and the more restricted term "self-parody" (the model of Plautus' canny Saturio). The difference is not just a matter of emphasis or degree. "Self-parody" reinscribes within the persona the split between author and persona. If the speaker is himself the parodist - if the mask is capable of keeping "a straight face" (25) - then the mask may after all do more than provoke laughter. In 1.5 (the "journey to Brindisium"), for example, the ludicrous indifference to public affairs displayed by the persona effectively demonstrates the author's discretion, as Jasper Griffin has pointed out ("Augustus and the Poets," in Caesar Augustus, edited by F. Millar and E. Segal [Oxford, 1984] 19798). It is no accident that Maecenas arrives while our hero is anointing his eyes (oculis ego nigra meis collyria lippus / illinere, interea Maecenas advenit, 1.5.3031). The gesture is an emblem of the poem: when it comes to Maecenas' affairs, not only Horace's lips but his eyes are sealed. It is this kind of pragmatic approach, exemplified by the work of critics such as Ian DuQuesnay and Duncan Kennedy, that is largely blocked off by Freudenburg's new critical insistence on the gap between author and persona.
For Freudenburg, the ultimate subject of poetry is poetry: "Horace, it seems, is always writing about writing" (187). In the first section of chapter 4, Freudenburg sets out to demonstrate that Satires l.l and 1.2, too often dismissed as "simpleminded moralizing," are in fact as "literary" and "programmatic" as 1.4 and 1.10 (198). Later a similar apology is mounted for 1.7: "Although the satire is certainly not Horace's best, it deserves more credit than it has traditionally received for its buried literary allusions and aesthetic aims" (208). The desire to redeem these satires as "high art" (185) produces some strained interpretations. The premise here, in itself promising, is that the speaker - now a serious moralist, contra chapter 1 - is "a Bion in Epicurean guise," whose "lessons concerning nature's mean . . . apply at a metaphorical level to the writing of poetry" (192). But while the sensitive reading of the end of 1.1 is persuasive, other interpretations here are less so. I am not convinced, for example, that Tantalus in 1.1 is a "portrait of insatiate verbal greed" (191). The adjectives applied to Horace's preferred sexual partner at the end of 1.2 (munda, longa, alba, etc.) may have "literary connotations," but do these connotations support Freudenburg's identification of the "perfect lover" with the "perfect poem" (197)? I have no objection to programmatic readings as such, but these highly specified allegorical readings strike me as unconvincing. Mote satisfying is the suggestive discussion, in the book's closing pages, of the saturnalian satirist's social (not aesthetic) "mission of leveling" (212).
Satires 1.4 and 1.10, the focus of the central chapters, are quite indisputably about poetry (among other things), and Freudenburg is extremely well suited and well equipped to discuss them. Like politically minded readers of the satires such as DuQuesnay and Kennedy, although in pursuit of very different interests, he reads these satires as interventions in an ongoing debate (all but abandoning the concept of the parodied persona, he now writes quite unabashedly of "Horace"). In these pieces of what might be called literary propaganda, he argues, Horace polemically misrepresents his opponents; "restoring the real cogency of. their critical tenets" (110) is one of Freudenburg's goals. In general, he succeeds magnificently in bringing the "real polemical context" (92) within which Horace was writing back into focus - indeed back to life.
In chapter 2 Freudenburg details the two "divergent and hostile traditions" (86) concerning poetic humor which were current in Horace's day: the milder Aristotelian (and Ciceronian) theory of the liberal jest, and the fiercer iambographic tradition which came to be associated with old Republican libertas. He concludes that "Horace's programmatic claims in Satires 1.4 and 1.10 combine the best features" of both theories; the "self-contradictory" (108) list of the satirist's reading material at 2.3.11-13 elegantly clinches the point at the chapter's end. Although Freudenburg stops short of analyzing the political import of Horace's combination, a combination he characterizes as "impossible and absurd" (107), his thorough and sensible exploration of the genealogy of these alternative theories helps bring Horace's satiric theorizing into sharper relief.
Chapter 3, the longest and best of the four, situates the satires within the context of late Republican debates over stylistic theory. The fruits of this chapter, which should be read in tandem with Freudenburg's excellent article on Satires 2.1 (published here in 1990), are manifold. Freudenburg fleshes out the ghostly figures of Horace's rivals (Fabius, Crispinus, Tigellius, and Fannius), concluding that "their shared sentiments . . . suggest the cohesiveness of a literary circle" (118) with a pronounced Stoic flavor. One particularly illuminating discussion - 1.4 will never read the same again - demonstrates conclusively that "the views expressed at Satires 1.4.38-63 are not Horace's own, but those of his opponents" (128) (the second-person forms at 1.4.41-42 are thus not indefinite but contrastive). In another key discussion, Freudenburg argues that 1.10 addresses not the Stoic advocates of "rugged" style whom Horace took on in 1.4 but an entirely new set of critics with diametrically opposed stylistic tenets. The discussion of the extraordinarily fine points at issue in some of these debates (the treatment of final s, for example) is also rewarding. In general, the reader seeking an introduction to late Republican theories of composition could not do better than to consult this chapter. Freudenburg's work reminds us that we need to take the literary debates of Horace's day as seriously as Horace did and helps us do so.
ELLEN OLIENSIS YALE UNIVERSITY
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|Publication:||American Journal of Philology|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1995|
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