Odes 1.25:  Metapoetics and
Horace's Orphic Persona

Aaron Thomas

Florida State University

Since antiquity Odes 1. 25 has been described as a vicious attack upon Lydia, an aging prostitute whose charms and beauty are quickly fading.[1]  Accordingly, scholars have tended to recognize that the first half of the ode deals with Lydia's ever diminishing powers to attract young men, while the second half paints a stark image of  Lydia as the anus weeping over her lost youth and embittered by the contempt of her former admirers.  Yet this approach, although very useful for appreciating Lydia's loss and transformation, fails to account for Horace's role as an Orphic vates and the ode's importance in Horace's criticism of elegiac modes of poetry.    In addition, critics have neglected to recognize the spiritual and moral development of the young men (iuvenes) for whom Horace and Lydia seem to be competing.[2]  Such criticism assumes that Lydia is the real subject when in fact she is merely the means to address the role of lyric poetry in the restoration of the res publica and its iuvenes.

The following paper proposes that Odes. 1. 25 is much more than a virulent attack upon an aging prostitute or philosophical comment upon the cycle of life and death or parable of the incompatibility of love and old age[3]; rather this paper will argue that the ode serves as a metapoetic assault upon the immorality and adultery often celebrated by elegiac poetry; in addition, the ode also advances Horace's syncretic purpose of establishing  spiritual balance between Apollonian and Dionysian drives through lyric poetry.   Interpreted in this way, Odes 1. 25 is no longer an aberration within Book 1 of the Odes but rather justifies Horace's lyric enterprise as a didactic complement to the values of the Augustan regime. 

[1]  Pomponius Porphyrio, Pomponi Porfyrionis Commentum in Horatium Flaccu,  Ed. Alfred Holder (Hildesheim 1894) 34 tells us "haec ode in meretricem rapacem, sed iam vetulam, et merito ab amatoribus passuram, quae fecerat, scripta est."   A few modern scholars have focused upon the vicious nature of the ode.  Cf. T. E. Page, ed., Q. Horatii Flacci Carminum Libri IV, Epoden Liber, London, 1964, 189: "A coarsely expressed Ode . . . It has no merit, and may be omitted with advantage.";  Collinge, N.E. (1961): The Structure of Horace’s Odes, (London 1961) 52: "the crudest and nastiest poem in Horace's lyrics.";  Copley, Frank O. (1956): Exclusus amator. A Study in Latin Love Poetry, Wisconsin/London (Philological Monographs Published by the American Philological Association 17) 60: "not a pretty poem."   More recent scholars have made substantial efforts to appreciate the ode's themes, philosophical import, and relationship to Greek epigram. 

[2] Cf. Ancona  for a Lydia centered approach. 

[3] Cf.  Anderson 1999; Boyle 1973; Catlow 1976; Esler 1989; Fuqua 1968.


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