Augustus and I: Negotiating Identity in Horace, Ode 3.14

Raymond Marks

University of Missouri-Columbia

Scholars have long grappled with Horace's two voices or roles in Ode 3.14; in stanzas 1-3 he plays the herald, who announces Augustus' return from Spain and calls on Rome's mothers to celebrate, but in stanzas 5-7 plays the symposiast-lover, who makes preparations for a party at his house to which he invites the courtesan Neaera. Over the past thirty years political readings have shown the relationship between Horace and Augustus to be a central concern in the poem, but for insisting that Horace represents a public, "Augustan" view-point in its first half and a private, "Horatian" one in its second have unnecessarily limited the interpretive possibilities; the choice is always the same, whether those view-points coexist comfortably (and bespeak Horace's univocality with Augustus' vision) or uncomfortably (and bespeak his demurral). This paper challenges both the methods and conclusions of these approaches to the poem.

First, the distinction between two halves of the poem is less stable than is generally believed. In stanzas 5-7 Horace extensively echoes stanzas 1-3 and in doing so blurs the boundaries between these parts of the poem and their respective "Augustan" and "Horatian" voices such that distinguishing between them becomes difficult and acknowledging their interrelatedness unavoidable. Also, by variously assimilating himself to and differentiating himself from the emperor through these echoes, Horace offers a shifting, composite view of himself, which never entirely becomes "Augustan," but never entirely "Horatian" either. These conflicting tendencies, the "Augustanizing" and "Horatianizing," are also evident on the level of structure: on the one hand, Horace distances himself from Augustus by placing the emperor (Caesar) and himself (ego) in extreme positions in the poem (the first and last stanzas); on the other hand, he signals their proximity to one another by "meeting" Augustus in the fourth stanza (ego, Caesare) and, further, suggests their interconnectedness by setting himself and the emperor in an interlocked relation between stanzas 1, 4, and 7 (Caesar-ego-Caesare-ego).

As political interpretations traditionally require that we see either a clear similarity or a clear distinction between Horace and Augustus, they do not sufficiently account for such "slippages" between the two. An alternative explanation is, therefore, proposed, that Horace is involved in a kind of identity-negotiation, an attempt to define himself in relation to a dominant, "Augustan" paradigm of Romanitas without losing all perspective on himself and his "Horatian" individuality. Ode 3.14, then, is less political commentary on Augustus than an occasion for Horace to scrutinize, through his own example, Roman identity as it was evolving in the mid-20s, when the poem was composed. He realizes that his "self" is neither synonymous with the role, accomodated to the Augustan ideology, that he plays in the poem's first half nor the consequence of a journey inwards, of the search for some pure, unadulterated Horatian "self" that he undertakes in its second half. Instead, his identity occupies a negotiated space between the "Augustan," which has permeated and touched on the public and private lives of all Romans, and the "Horatian," which is constituted out of those personal experiences that have uniquely shaped him.


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