Persius as the Stoic Horace

Benjamin V. Hicks

University of Texas, Austin

Scholars have for a long time now noted that a close reading of Horace's Satires is necessary for the understanding of Persius' poetic program in his own Satires.  Yet many of these references, when observed, have been relegated to the conventional "cf." and therefore have gone underappreciated, as is the case of Persius' most ambitious satire, his fifth.  The significance of this intertextuality is that Persius incorporates Horace's own Callimachaean aesthetic, while simultaneously rejecting Horace's Epicureanism and adopting the voice of satire for his own Stoic values.

Horace, in contrast to the effusive Lucilius whom he characterized as being able to write two hundred lines standing on a single foot, generally wrote shorter poems in the vicinity of one hundred lines each.  Yet Horace's longest satire, 2.3, introduces Damasippus, a Stoic amateur, who relates the precepts of his mentor, Stertinius, to a disgruntled Horace.  The poem represents not only Horace's greatest deviation from his Callimachaean aesthetic, but a strong anti-Stoic sentiment. And it is the only satire that approaches the Lucilian, i.e. un-Callimachean, in length.  What has gone underappreciated, is that after the fine prologue to Persius' fifth satire in which he assimilates Horace's relation to Maecenas to his relationship with his own teacher Cornutus, except as Stoic, not Epicurean, and as pupil not teacher, Persius demonstrates his poetic talents by collapsing Horace's long Satire 2.3 from three hundred lines into Horace's more typical hundred line form.

While a fuller exposition of the intertextuality must be left for a written study, its essence and brilliance can easily be appreciated by contrasting how Horace and Persius treat four Stoic vices: ambition, avarice, luxury and superstition.  By treating essentially the same material in approximately one-fifth of the number of lines that Horace did, Persius demonstrates that he can trump Horace at his own game of Callimachaean Satire.  Persius appropriates satire for the Stoic voice not simply by removing unnecessary language, but also by correcting Horace's sloppy presentation of Stoic doctrines.  Additionally, whereas Satire 2.3 contains (as Freudenberg has shown) the roughest elisions and the most numerous proportionally in all of Horace's Satires--a device that Horace has used humorously to ridicule the Stoics—even Persius' versification has been recast favorably for the Stoics.


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