As Catullus and Horace are invariably thought to be Rome's two supreme lyric poets, it is cause for some comment that, in all his writings, Horace mentions his predecessor only once, and then in an indirect and, to all appearances, uncomplimentary aside. In the tenth satire in the first book, recommending that those who would write well first immerse themselves in the literature of the past, Horace refers with plain contempt to a contemporary litterateur as ‘that ape who was clever at reciting nothing but Calvus and Catullus’:
nil praeter Calvum et doctus cantare Catullum.
How are we to explain this startling passage? We can say, with some older writers, that Horace is singling out for criticism only insensitive imitators of Catullus and Calvus; about Catullus himself he says nothing and, in the context, need say nothing. But more recent writers on the passage feel that it bears an at least implied criticism of Catullus and Calvus and the rest of the neoterics. Reasons why Horace need not have liked them are not hard to seek. The earlier poets paraded their learning (while Horace, in the ninth satire, tries to avoid a bore who is similarly doctus). They were ready to improvise in any meter (while Horace, in the Ars Poetica, insists the meter must fit the theme). They were handy with purple patches (and the two panni Horace objects to — Diana's altar smoking and a rainbow on the Rhine — sound like references to poems by neoterics Valerius Cato and Furius Bibaculus). Above all, they chose for lyric models the blasé Alexandrians (when they might have striven, as Horace did, to equal the much older, fresher, and more accomplished Aeolians, most especially Alcaeus and Sappho).