I spent much of Saturday afternoon in the magnificent Ashmolean Museum and got very excited when I discovered a larger than-life size statue of Cicero, perhaps Horace would be round the next corner. He wasn’t! Nevertheless, the time I spent in the museum was most enjoyable. Anyway, who needs a statue, Horace is already larger than life to me!
While I was recontextualising the Epodes and indeed while I’m recontextualising Odes Book I, I’ve often worried about whether I’m being creative enough, original enough; why for example, given this wonderful Oxford setting, with its history and architecture, am I not driven to write about it? Why, when sitting in the beautiful old library at Corpus, overlooking the stained glass chapel window and hearing college bells from all round the city striking every quarter hour, and really feeling a part of it all, am I bent on pursuing this old Roman poet? Truth is, he fascinates me; and the more I learn about him, the more this fascination grows.
I’m interested in contrasting the role of poetry and the poet at the time of Horace with the role of poetry and the poet now, so in between admiring the Corpus chapel window and listening to all the bells I was studying an article called ‘Poet and Audience in the Augustan Age by Kenneth Quinn, and I have to say I was much heartened when I found on page 95 this comment:
‘…the Roman poet makes a poem which is inspired first by his acquaintance with the poetry of other poets and then matches his poem to his own experience, or to his understanding of the story he sets out to tell’
I must remember this quote next time I doubt what I’m doing, or next time someone says, ‘but aren’t you just rewriting something someone’s already written’ because if this approach was good enough for Horace and his contemporaries, then who am I to doubt it? The point is to make it real for today, if by resetting Horace into my own worlds I manage to encourage people to engage with him, (and I have anecdotal evidence to suggest that this is the case), then that makes me happy. But it’s the nature of the man that comes over to me from his poetry, his wisdom, his humour and yes, OK maybe his jealousies as well, but most of all his earthy common sense – these are the qualities that attract me. He deals with life and people around him just as they are and that’s what I try to do.
I’m hoping to complete my version of Odes Book I in the not too distant future and yes they will have been inspired by becoming acquainted with the work of Horace, but they’ll also be based on direct observation of self and the world around me – in this case, the poetry world around me and as Quinn nicely puts it, ‘the poetry of [the most personal of Roman] poets seems to owe as much to the poetry of other poets as it owes to direct observation of the reality of self or of the human condition.’