“What! are you a little touched with the sublime lash?” someone asks in George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, scenting an affair of the heart. No footnote was needed pointing the reader to sublimi flagello in Horace, OdesIII.26, for these Horatian tags were part of the small coin of educated conversation. An unworthy purpose for a great poet to serve, one might think, but one that Horace would probably not have taken amiss. A double-dyed ironist, he smilingly collaborates with his own under-reading, and one can imagine him saying, If you want to respond to my verses at this level, feel free to do so. In a poem addressed to a distinguished Roman soldier, he protests his inability to strike the required heroic note:


It falls to me to make up easygoing

Songs about such battlefields as parties,
Epic encounters between young men...

 
Introduce yourself to The New Criterion for the lowest price ever—and a receive an extra issue as thanks.
Popular Right Now