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Horace

“iste quidem veteres inter ponetur honeste, qui vel mense brevi vel toto est iunior anno.” 45utor permisso, caudaeque pilos ut equinae paulatim vello et demo unum, demo etiam1 unum, dum cadat2 elusus ratione ruentis acervi, qui redit in3 fastos4 et virtutem aestimat annis miraturque nihil nisi quod Libitina sacravit. 50Ennius et sapiens et fortis et alter Homerus, ut critici dicunt, leviter curare videtur, quo promissa cadant et somnia Pythagorea. Naevius in manibus non est et mentibus haeret paene recens? adeo sanctum est vetus omne poema. 55ambigitur quotiens, uter utro sit prior, aufert Pacuvius docti famam senis, Accius alti, dicitur Afrani toga convenisse Menandro, Plautus ad exemplar Siculi properare Epicharmi, vincere Caecilius gravitate, Terentius arte.

  • 1etiam, I: et item (or idem), II.
  • 2cadet M.
  • 3ad E, Porph.
  • 4fastus a MRπ.
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Epistles II

surely will find a place of honour among the ancients, who is short by a brief month or even a whole year.” I take what you allow, and like hairs in a horse’s tail, first one and then another I pluck and pull away little by little, till, after the fashion of the falling heap,a he is baffled and thrown down, who looks back upon the annals, and values worth by years, and admires nothing but what the goddess of funerals has hallowed.

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Ennius,b the wise and valiant, the second Homer (as the critics style him), seems to care but little what becomes of his promises and Pythagorean dreams.c Is not Naevius in our hands, and clinging to our minds, almost as of yesterday?d So holy a thing is every ancient poem. As often as the question is raised, which is the better of the two, Pacuvius gains fame as the learned old writer, Accius as the lofty one. The gowne of Afranius, ’tis said, was of Menander’s fit; Plautus hurries alongf like his model, Epicharmus of Sicily. Caecilius wins the prize for dignity, Terence for art. These authors

  • aHorace makes use of the logical puzzle known as sorites (σωρός, a heap). How many grains of sand make a heap or pile? The addition of no one grain will make that a heap which was not a heap before. He also seems to have asked how many hairs make a tail. See Plutarch’s story of the two horses in his Sertorius.
  • bHorace is giving a summary of the conventional literary opinions of his day as to the old writers. Ennius is called sapiens because of his philosophical poems, and fortis, because in his Annales he recounted the fortia facta patrum. As to alter Homerus, this exaggerated phrase was used of him by Lucilius (ed. Marx, frag. 1189).
  • cEnnius tells us that Homer, appearing to him in a dream, informed him that his soul now dwelt in Ennius’s body. This doctrine of transmigration of souls was taught by Pythagoras.
  • dNaevius died in 199 b.c. He wrote both tragedies and comedies, as well as an epic, the Bellum Punicum (this in Saturnian metre). Of the other writers named here, Pacuvius and Accius were tragic poets; the rest comic poets. For Livius see note a overleaf.
  • eHorace mentions the toga of Afranius, because that writer’s plays were called togatae, being comedies based on Italic characters and customs, in contrast with the palliatae, which were Greek throughout.
  • fThe verb properare implies rapidity of movement, which we are to associate with Epicharmus, the great writer of Sicilian comedy. This was “essentially burlesque” (Jevons, Hist. of Greek Lit. p. 240).
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DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.horace-epistles.1926