History: E301_Horace

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Assigned: Ars Poetica (121-35).

Ars Poetica (circa 10 BCE)

Fun Exercise: lay down the rules, the "decorum," of some popular art or cultural form today, offering your best justification for such rules and your best defense of the art or cultural form you have chosen to describe. Bring the results to class.

1. What advice does Horace offer "you writers"? How would you contrast his advice, here and elsewhere in the letter, to post-romantic tenets about the individual poet and the creation of poetry -- i.e. most particularly the emphasis on originality, individualism, and the centrality of emotion in art? (124-25)

2. Horace compares the changes that a language undergoes with the changes that nature undergoes. What is the poet's role in shaping the language of an entire people? What might one infer from this analogy about the durability of culture itself? Can art, for Horace, embody universal and eternal values, or is that something we must not expect of it? Explain. (125)

3. Horace writes, "If you want me to cry, mourn first yourself." Does this sentence indicate an interest in language as an expressive vehicle, or does it have more to do with Horace's notions about imitation and decorum? Explain. (126)

4. How important is poetic tradition, according to Horace? To what extent may a poet depart from earlier traditions, and what limitations do poets face when they so depart? (126-27)

5. According to Horace, what is more important to a Roman audience than the poet's ability to convey individuality or emotional intensity? How are his remarks here important for their reflection on his central concern with "decorum," or artistic propriety? (127-28)

6. Concerning tragedy and the satyr plays connected with it, what, in Horace's view, is appropriate to show onstage, and what should instead be narrated rather than shown? Why? What are the proper functions of the dramatic chorus? (128-29)

7. How does Horace discuss the development of tragedy and the changes that have occurred in musical accompaniment? What do his observations suggest about his view of drama's social value, its relation to the audience's mores? Similarly, how does he view the connection between the Satyr play and the tragedy proper? (129)

8. What does Horace suggest about the artist's responsibility to the various Roman social classes? (129-30)

9. What contrasts does Horace make between Greek and Roman artists and art? He may appear to be casting his own people as pedestrian business-folk and builders, but is there more to his statements than that? Explain. (131-32)

10. What, according to Horace, is the source of good poetry? From whence comes the poet's material? Is content the first and most important thing to determine, or is form the first consideration? What is the relationship between form and content? (131-33)

11. What does Horace say is the best sort of poetry? Why should poetry both teach and delight (i.e. be "utile et dulce," useful and pleasant), rather than just one or the other? (132-33)

12. Horace writes that poetry is like painting -- ut pictura poiesis. Later Renaissance and Neoclassical critics made much of this statement, but what does it seem to mean here in Horace's letter? (132, line 361)

13. Why, according to Horace, is the poet, unlike the lawyer, not allowed to be second-rate? How does the poet's social purpose differ from that of the lawyer? (132-33)

14. What does Horace say were the first functions of poetry? Does he see much need to defend the arts against any detractors, or is it evident to him that art's value is beyond dispute? (133)

15. What does Horace assert about the ultimate source of good poetry? Is it a matter of genius, of cultivating one's talents, or both? What are your own thoughts about this longstanding critical debate? (133)

16. Horace ends his verse essay as he began it, with grotesque references to madness. Why do you suppose he brackets his letter with such references? What notion of poetry is he dismissing or downplaying by means of his final reference? How does the "mad poet" image invoke the Horatian poet's worst fears about the reception of his work, about his public standing? (134-35)

17. What were Plato and Aristotle interested in regarding art that Horace appears not to be interested in? How does his lack of interest here reflect a fundamental difference between the Greeks and the Romans? (general question)

18. Horace is an important figure for those interested in whether art shapes a given culture, or whether it merely or mainly reflects values already present in that culture. What do you think? Can/should art transform people and make them see things in radically new ways, or does/should it mostly reflect and validate (i.e. imitate or represent approvingly) what most people already think they know about morality, politics, and other broad areas of life? Or is the question too stark? (general question) 19. Do you think that your own generation is more "Horatian," i.e. conformist, than rebelliously "Romantic," or is it the other way around? Explain. (general question)

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B., ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: Norton, 2001. ISBN 0-393-97429-4.


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