memorem an superbos Tarquini fasces, dubito,
an Catonis nobile letum
Horace's Rather Odd Way of Praising Augustus in Carm. 1.12

Cami Slotkin

Tulane University

The mention of Cato Uticensis in Quem virum aut heroa (Carm. 1.12.35-6), a poem ostensibly celebrating Augustus, is, to put it plainly, baffling.  Attempts to explain the inclusion of Caesar's great enemy among the men, heroes, and gods who might be expected to glorify Caesar's adopted son by association are awkward at best.  Nisbet and Hubbard (1970, 156-7) seek to justify the tribute to Cato on the premise that his posthumous popularity shed its political incorrectness as the cause he had represented grew irrelevant, but the rationale does not adequately account for the specific commemoration of Cato's suicide--in defiance of the man whose heir would ultimately realize the ambitions Cato attributed to him.  Bentley and Hamacher reject Catonis altogether, but their respective emendations disregard the transmitted text, the plausibility of Catonis nobile letum, and, moreover, Horace's steadfast esteem for Republican idealists (Nisbet and Hubbard, 157; Fraenkel, 1957, 295).  The latter is generally accepted as a probable explanation for Cato's decidedly unexpected appearance here (Commager, 1962, 186), however, as such, that Horace respects him offers limited clarity.  This paper proposes that the problem lies in reading the ode as an encomium of the emperor.  Both Cato's presence and his position in the Pindaric catalogue of remarkable figures suggest that, with Quem virum, Horace is praising the fallen Republic.

"Cato's noble death" is a striking conclusion to a stanza (33-36) in which Horace claims to wonder whether he should follow the Greek heroes (25-28) with Romulus (33), "the peaceful reign of Pompilius" (33-4), or "the proud fasces of Tarquin" (34-5).  But Cato is nevertheless separated from the series of kings by dubito, and the following stanza attends to Regulus, the Scauri, and Paulus (37-8), all of whom chose to die (or to drive a son to suicide) rather than to bring shame on the Republic by surrendering or surviving a defeat.  Cato killed himself rather than surrender to Caesar, survive the defeat of the Republic, and witness, as he believed, the return to monarchy; his placement immediately after the monarchs is less puzzling than poignant.  Horace's question is whether the Roman heroes begin with the kings--the first, the most peaceful, or the last and most warlike--or with the last Roman to refuse to suffer any king at all.  And Horace decides he will continue with historical exempla of those men so intransigent in their loyalty to Rome, and then of men famed for their austerity (41-44).  The Roman heroes were Republican.

Augustus was not.  Horace addresses him, indirectly through Jupiter, as a king.  Fama Marcelli (46) and Iulium sidus (47), while complimentary enough, acknowledge divinity and dynasty; issues which belong to Hellenistic monarchs, not to Roman heroes.  Horace may wish that Jupiter reign with Augustus nearest him in authority, tu secundo Caesare regnes (51-2), but in doing so, he identifies Augustus as rex; the real veneration in this poem is not for him.


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