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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 April 2013

Jacqueline Klooster
Ghent University


Carmen 4.2 is one of the most commented upon of the odes of Horace. It is indeed a complex poem. To summarize roughly: addressing the young poet Iullus Antonius, Horace presents the dangers of emulating Pindar, offering what seems like a lengthy description as well as an approximation of Pindar's own poetic style (1–24). Not as a doomed Icarus imitating the grand Pindaric swan, but in his own preferred mode, like a bee on the banks of Tibur, Horace will continue to produce his own highly refined poems on a small scale (25–30). Iullus Antonius, on the other hand, will sing of Augustus’ triumph maiore plectro (33, a phrase which in all likelihood refers to his activity as an epic poet). Modestly, Horace himself will be content to join in with the popular chants for Augustus’ triumphal return as one happy civilian among the crowd (33–52). Iullus Antonius will moreover offer a grand sacrifice of ten bulls and as many cows on that occasion, whereas Horace promises a single bull-calf that he is saving especially for the purpose (53–60). I will try to offer a new interpretation of these last two strophes by pointing out an unnoticed allusion to a Hellenistic subtext.

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 2013

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I am most grateful to Alex Hardie whose comments improved this article, and who offered me sight of his own forthcoming article on this Horatian ode.


2 I refer to the text of Shackleton Bailey (1995).

3 Cf. Pasquali, G., Orazio lirico (Florence, 1964 2 [1920]), 782Google Scholar, who first posed the conundrum as to why Horace imitates Pindar (‘pindareggia’) in a disavowal of his style. See further e.g. Quinn, K., Horace: The Odes (Bristol, 1996 2 [1980]), 300Google Scholar; Davis, G., Polyhymnia: The Rhetoric of Horatian Lyric Discourse (Berkeley, 1991)Google Scholar, 134 reads this as revealing ‘the speaker's competence to undertake precisely what he claims to be incapable of doing’.

4 Bücheler, F., ‘Zu Horaz Od. IV.2’, RhM 44 (1889), 161–3Google Scholar quotes the ancient commentary of Pseudo-Acro: Iullus Antonius heroico metro Diomedias duodecimo libros scripsit egregios, praeterea et prosa aliquanta. Cf. Harrison, S.J., ‘Horace, Pindar, Iullus Antonius and Augustus: Odes 4.2’ in id. (ed.), Homage to Horace: A Bimillenary Celebration (Oxford, 1995), 107–27Google Scholar, at 118–22 with parallels for the expression maiore plectro meaning epic.

5 The date of the triumph referred to is taken by most commentators to be 13 b.c.

6 Cf. e.g. Heinze, R., Horaz (Leipzig, 1914–30, a revision of A. Kiessling, 1884–90) ad loc.Google Scholar; Fraenkel, E., Horace (Oxford, 1957), 432Google Scholar; Quinn (n. 3), 300–1.

7 For the characteristics of recusatio poetry in Rome, see Wimmel, W., Kallimachos in Rom. Die Nachfolge seines apologetischen Dichtens in der Augusteerzeit (Wiesbaden, 1960)Google Scholar, passim. For the Flavian poets in particular, see Nauta, R.R., ‘The recusatio in Flavian poetry’, in id., van Dam, H.-J. and Smolenaars, J.J.L. (edd.), Flavian Poetry (Leiden, 2006), 2140Google Scholar. For a revisionary reading of the entire structure of this poem, see A. Hardie (forthcoming) in this journal.

8 Harrison (n. 4), 10; cf. Wimmel (n. 7), 270.

9 Freis, R., ‘The catalogue of Pindaric genres in Horace Ode 4.2’, ClAnt 2 (1983), 2736Google Scholar shows that the catalogue of Pindaric genres echoes Horace's own poetic production.

10 Pind. Ol. 10.98; Nem. 3.77; Isthm. 5.53; Pyth. 10.53–4; Call. Hymn. 2.110–12. The general Callimachean ideal of small and highly refined work as expressed in the Aetia prologue is of course relevant here.

11 Cf. Davis (n. 3), 142; Harrison, S.J., Generic Enrichment in Vergil and Horace (Oxford, 2007), 198204, at 204CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

12 Adapted from the translation by J.P. Clancy (Chicago, 1960).

13 See e.g. Putnam, M.C.J., Artifices of Eternity: Horace's Fourth Book of Odes (Ithaca, NY, 1986)Google Scholar.

14 Wimmel (n. 7), 271 points further to similar images of small offerings with great (poetic) value at Prop. 2.10.24; Hor. Carm. 2.17.32; Tib. 1.1.22. Davis (n. 3), 143 moreover refers to Verg. Ecl. 3.85–7.

15 Cf. e.g. Thomas, R.F., Horace. Odes Book IV and Carmen Saeculare (Cambridge, 2011), 120Google Scholar; Harrison (n. 4), 125–7 and (n. 11), 203–4 discusses the parallels between the imagery of Iullus’ grand offering and epic poetry. Besides these allusions to Hellenistic poetic programmes, various critics have pointed out parallels in Horatian poetry for the loving detail with which the young and tender victim is described, most notably the kid in Hor. Carm. 3.13; cf. also 2.17.31–2; 3.17.14–16; Epist. 1.3.36 (adduced by Thomas 120).

16 Cf. Gall, D., Die Bilder der horazischen Lyrik (Meisenheim am Glan, 1981), 195Google Scholar; see also Kiessling–Heinze (n. 6), ad loc.; Syndikus, H.P., Die Lyrik des Horaz. Eine Interpretation der Oden (Darmstadt, 1973), 293–4Google Scholar; Fraenkel (n. 6), 437; Putnam (n. 13), 60–1.

17 For this observation pertaining to 4.2.54, see Davis (n. 3), 142, with references. See further Harrison (n. 11 [2007]), 70. For other instances where tener has been read metapoetically (i.e. as equivalent of metapoetic tenuis, and deductum, cf. e.g. Verg. Ecl. 1.2 tenui … auena; Hor. Epist. 2.1.224–5 nostros et tenui deducta poemata filo) are: Prop. 1.18–21; Verg. G. 1.63–93, 2.177–190 (where tener is in repeated opposition to pinguis, itself evoking Greek παχύς).

18 This means he leaves out the middle line 86, ὄσσɛ δ’ ὑπογλαύσσɛσκɛ καὶ ἵμɛρον ἀστράπτɛσκɛν, which was perhaps more suited to the erotic context of Moschus’ original.

19 See e.g. Zanker, P., Augustus and the Power of Images (Ann Arbor, 1990), 230–8Google Scholar.

20 It has been suggested to me by Alex Hardie that the word uitulus could be related to Varro's etymology, who links it to the name of Italia (so Gell. NA 11.1.1, from the Antiquities). If so, it could refer back to Horace's emphatically Italian geographical references in the bee simile (27, 31–2), as opposed to the Theban setting of the swan.

21 Kiessling–Heinze (n. 6), 398.

22 For instance Thomas (n. 15), 121 suggests that ‘The horns of the calf are still in a subcutaneous state, with the bulge on either side giving the appearance of a crescent whose two ends point upwards’. He is led to this assumption by comparison with the similarly metapoetic description of the kid in 3.13.4–6.

23 Cf. Vita Arati 1.20. Contra: Jacques, J.-M., ‘Sur un acrostich d'Aratos (Phén. 783–787)’, REA 62 (1960), 4861CrossRefGoogle Scholar, who believes that the acrostic refers to the unintentional acrostic in the opening lines of Iliad 24 (λɛυκή). I do not see why both could not be true at the same time.

24 Davis (n. 3), 133 translates ‘ruddy’; Putnam (n. 13), 50, 62 ‘tawny; golden brown’.

25 The phrase relicta matre (54–5) may moreover remind us of the image of the mourning mother cow whose calf (uitulus) has been sacrificed at Lucr. 2.352–66. The Lucretian image serves to exemplify how each combination of atoms (in the example of the mother cow, this combination of atoms would be the calf) is unique and instantly recognizable by its parent; given the ancient Democritean analogy between letters and atoms (DK 67A6), the Lucretian passage might actually be relevant here, although this is perhaps too speculative.

26 Thomas (n. 15), 104–5. See also his useful remarks on the subject of aemulatio and imitatio here.

27 Thomas (n. 15), 104: ‘Nititur pinnis at the start of 3 descends in the next line to nomina ponte with nomina drawing attention to the play.’ It may be problematic that the ‘i’ doubles as the semi-consonant ‘j’ in the name Iullus here. Note moreover the anagram identified by Di Liddo, A.D.: ‘Pindarum quisquis studet aemulari (Hor. Carm. 4,2)’, Aufidus 18 (2004), 2169Google Scholar, at 23 n. 9 (‘Pindarus / pinnis … daturus’).

28 See Vit. Arat. 2.12.16–17.

29 It has been suggested to me by A. Hardie that ignis (57) needs a parallel in the Aratean subtext as well, but the fiery moon occurs only in Phaen. 798. If we are willing nevertheless to include it, in the Horatian context (the fiery moon forebodes storm) it might somehow refer back to the storm-swollen river of Pindaric poetry.

30 These are: Callimachus, Anth. Pal. 9.507; Leonidas, Anth. Pal. 9.25; ‘King Ptolemy’ (it is debated which Ptolemy this refers to), Suppl. Hell. 712 (= Vit. Arat. 1.10.4–7).

31 See M. Fantuzzi in Brill's New Pauly, s.v. ‘Aratus’.

32 See Bing, P., ‘A pun on Aratus’ name in verse 2 of the Phainomena?’, HSPh 93 (1990), 181–5Google Scholar. Callimachus, Anth. Pal. 9.507.3–4 (note the enjambment): χαίρɛτɛ | λɛπτα ῥήσιɛς, Ἀρήτου σύντονος ἀγρυπνίη. Leonidas, Anth. Pal. 9.25.1–2 (again, note the enjambment): Γράμμα τόδ’ Ἀρήτοιο δαὴμονος, ὅς ποτɛ λɛπτῇ | ϕροντίδι δηναιοὺς ἀστέρας ἐϕράσατο. ‘King Ptolemy’, Suppl. Hell. 712.4: ἀλλ’ ὅ γɛ λɛπτολόγος σκῆπτρον Ἄρατος ἔχɛι.

33 As Bing (n. 32) argues, Callimachus and Leonidas also identify and refer to a pun on Aratus’ name in line 2 of the Phaenomena.

34 Cf. Davis (n. 3), 143: ‘With its subdued but sophisticated closure, the ode perfectly corroborates its own contention that an abbreviated encomium in the hands of a master can accomplish the purposes of a more expansive epinikion.’

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