Images of Sexual Maturity
in Horace's Odes 1.23 and 2.5

William Tortorelli

Brigham Young University

Sexual development takes two equally important forms.  Physical development is obviously a necessary prerequisite to sexuality, but the emotional development of sexual maturity is the foundation of intimacy.  The two do not necessarily proceed apace.  Horace was acutely conscious of the dynamics of relationships which cross emotional time-zones.  In Odes 1.23, Vitas inuleo me similis, Chloe, he examines the insecurities and fears of a woman during the process of maturing sexually.  Chloe is compared to a fawn which has lost track of its mother.  She experiences a vivid array of emotional responses to the sights and sounds of the forest around her.  The poet employs imagery of the advent of spring to represent the physical landscape of Chloe's adolescence.  The fawn/girl is startled by rustling leaves and the appearance of lizards parting the brush.  Images of harmful beasts intrude upon the peaceful springtime locus, as she envisions a loss of self through consumption by lions or tigers.  This paper argues that the poem's shifts of addressee demonstrate the narrator's distance and result in a detached and objective portrayal of a girl torn between fear of her own nascent sexual maturity and the physical and emotional stirrings she feels.  The narrator's conclusion is not an exhortation to love, but advice promoting natural development.

             Odes 2.5, Nondum subacta ferre iugum valet, demonstrates a similar advisory tone and concern for issues of sexual maturity.  Criticism of this poem has focused on the subject of lust toward immature girls, but a close analysis of the poem reveals a complex interplay of images and possibilities of meaning.  This paper argues that the poem's addressee desires not a trivial tryst, but a deeper bond than Lalage is willing to accede.  The poem's structure supports this reading.  The opening pair of stanzas offers the graphic sexual metaphor of a heifer at play.  The second pair comprises an exhortation to the addressee to wait for his love's readiness to commit.  The closing pair, although usually criticized as unrelated and "slackening the tempo," in fact follows the narrator's progression of thought and distinguishes the intended relationship with Lalage from three exempla of immature romances.

             Due to the graphic content of these two poems, recent critics have at times been blind to the sensitive personal issues depicted therein, seeing only victimized girls and self-gratifying lust.  These misreadings rely on a faulty critical engagement with the language of violence and consumption found in the poems.  This paper will present a reading of the poet's concern for the hardships of developing humans. I provide a close philological analysis of each poem's structure and diction to demonstrate the shifting narrative stance that removes the poet's narrator-persona from direct involvement in the dynamics of desire and power.

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