Horace's Odes 1.15 and Vergil's Epic Sea Voyage

William Tortorelli

Brigham Young University

Odes 1.15, pastor cum traheret, has been considered unique in the Odes in that it narrates a mythological tale seemingly without a contemporary reference.  This has led scholars to impose upon it an awkward association between its tragic pair, Paris and Helen, and the ill-fated Antony and Cleopatra.  Those unwilling to adopt this suspect position have been forced to accept a poem that does little more than ape epic narrative in a lyric meter.  Nisbet and Hubbard (1970, 189) discuss the literary pedigree of the ode's prophecy motif, and a notice in the Porphyrio scholia links the poem to a lost poem of Bacchylides.  The complexity of Horace's art is further unearthed along with the recent Simonides fragment 3W, which provides a possible model (Harrison 2001, 268).  Another recent study has explored the influence of tragedy, as well as that of Simonides, identifying generic elements common to prophecies in choral poetry (Athanassaki 2003, 85-101).  Without diminishing the value of these insights or the significance of the demonstrated literary influences, I would suggest that there is, in fact, a contemporary allusion in Odes 1.15, but a poetic, rather than political, allusion.  As in Odes 1.3, Horace here allegorically discusses Vergil's great poetic project of the Aeneid.  The character of Paris represents both the pastoral poet trying his hand at epic and the poet's hero Aeneas, with clear allusions to Homer's Iliad and to the first book of the Aeneid.

As opposed to the prayer offered on Vergil's behalf at the beginning of his voyage in Odes 1.3, the prophecy is here given to the pastor in the middle of his hazardous enterprise.  This necessitates a change from the setting of the Bacchylides model.  Cassandra becomes Nereus, a sea god who halts the lovers' ship so as to give a prophetic admonition in a scene that Nisbet and Hubbard (1970, 192) liken to Aeneid 1.55-56.  The pastor is upbraided for his effeminacy and his nature unsuited to war, and there are references to Vergil's situation: Veneris praesidio (13) is a vague intimation of Vergil's Julian patronage which caesariem (14) makes more explicit.  The formerly bucolic poet is associated with this pastor who "performs songs pleasing to women."  Carmina divides (15), a phrase worried over by the commentaries (see discussion in Nisbet and Hubbard 1970, 195), but usually rendered "you will sing," with an assumed reference to obscure musical theory, may have a double meaning involving Vergil's play in a new genre.  The lyre and the dandying belong to Hector's scorn of Paris in Iliad 3.54-55, but here the lyre is an inbellis cithara, not just ineffectual in war, but altogether unsuited to martial themes, in Horace's opinion (cf. Odes 1.6, 2.12).

Nereus describes Paris as beset by notables of the Greek forces at Troy, but the two given the most attention in the text are Diomedes and Sthenelus (24-32).  These two complete this ode's allusion to Aeneas, also protected by Veneris praesidio (13), which protection barely saves Aeneas in Iliad 5: while Diomedes beats Aeneas to the ground, Sthenelus drives his prize horses toward the Greek camp.  Horace sneaks a reminder of this in with, Sthenelus sciens pugnae, sive opus est imperitare equis non auriga piger (24-26).

Horace seems to be making a point about Vergil's being more suited to pastoral verse.  The pastor drags a reluctant Helen, traheret Helenen (1-2), and the Greek forces that surround him will not be bested.  Homer's muse will win in the end, Horace playfully asserts, when Vergil's heroic poem, and its cultus hero, fail to fit the epic mold.


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