Horace: The Epistles
Book I: Epistle XIX
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2005 All Rights Reserved
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BkIEpXIX:1-20 On slavish imitation
If you believe old Cratinus, learned Maecenas,
No poetry could ever live long or delight us
That water-drinkers pen. Since Bacchus enlisted
Poets, the barely sane, among his Fauns and Satyrs,
The sweet Muses usually have a dawn scent of wine.
Homer’s praise of it shows he was fond of the grape:
Ennius never leapt to his tales of arms, unless
He was drunk. ‘I’ll trust the Forum and Libo’s Well
To the sober, I’ll prevent the austere from singing’:
Since I made that edict, poets have never left off
Wine-drinking contests at night, reeking by day.
What? If a man imitated Cato’s fierce, grim look,
His bare feet, and the cut of his curtailed toga,
Would he then show us Cato’s virtues and character?
Emulating Timagenes’ speeches ruined Iarbitas,
Through straining so hard to be witty and eloquent.
Examples with reproducible faults mislead us:
If I were sallow, they’d swallow cumin to turn pale.
O Imitators, slavish herd, how often your noise
Has stirred my anger, how often stirred my laughter!
BkIEpXIX:21-49 Horace has forged his own style
I first planted my footsteps freely on virgin soil,
Touched by my feet, no others. He who trusts himself
Rules, as leader of the crowd. I was the first to show
Latium the Parian iambic, following
Archilochus in spirit and metre, though not
The theme or words that accused Lycambes. And lest you
Crown me with a lesser wreath, for fearing to change
Metre or style, it’s the beat of Sappho’s mannish Muse,
And of Alcaeus’, though his theme and order differ,
Not trying to smear his father-in-law with dark verse
Nor weaving a noose for his bride with slanderous rhyme.
Never sung before by other lips, I the lyrist
Of Latium made him known. I’m pleased to convey
New things, be read by gentle eyes, held by gentle hands.
Want to know why ungrateful readers love and praise
My works at home, then savage them unfairly abroad?
Because I don’t chase the votes of a fickle public
With costly dinners and gifts of second-hand clothes:
Because, student of noble writers, and avenger,
I don’t deign to court the tribe of stagy lecturers.
Hence the tears. If I say: ‘I’m ashamed to recite
Worthless writings in a crowded hall, and add weight
To trifles’ they say: ‘You’re teasing, you’re keeping them
For Jove’s ear: you alone distil poetic honey,
Sure enough, full of yourself.’ Fearing to show contempt
For that, and of being torn by a sharp nail in a fight,
I cry: ‘I don’t like the location,’ and call a truce.
That game indeed gives rise to restless strife and anger:
Anger to savage enmities, wars unto the death.
End of Book I Epistle XIX