HORACE QUESTIONS FOR E256 INTRO TO THEORY AND CRITICISM
Assigned: Ars Poetica (122-33).
Ars Poetica (circa 10 BCE)
1. On pages 122-123, 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?
2. On page 123 ("Fashion in Words"), 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.
3. On page 124 ("Emotion and Character"), 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 mostly have to do with Horace's notions about imitation and decorum? Explain. (If you are presenting on this question, You might also want to consider Aristotle's remarks about poets on page 102.)
4. On pages 124-25 ("Choice and Handling of Myth") How important is sticking with poetic tradition in the representation of one's characters, according to Horace? To what extent may a poet depart from earlier traditions, and what challenge does he or she face when trying something new?
5. According to Horace on pages 125-26 ("Choice and Handling of Myth"), what is more important to a Roman audience than the poet's ability to convey raw individuality or emotional intensity? How are his remarks here important for their reflection on his central concern with "decorum," or artistic propriety?
6. On pages 126-27 ("Some Rules for Dramatists"), what does Horace set forth as appropriate to show onstage during a tragedy, and what should instead be narrated rather than shown? Why? What are the proper functions of the dramatic chorus?
7. On pages 127-28 ("Development of Tragedy" and "Satyr-Plays"), 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 manners and moral quality? Similarly, how does Horace view the connection between the Satyr play and the tragedy proper -- what do his remarks here suggest about the artist's responsibility to the various Roman social classes?
8. On pages 128-29 ("Greek Models," "Inventiveness of the Greeks in Drama," Inventiveness of the Romans"), 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.
9. On page 129 ("The Poet"), what does Horace set forth as the "starting-point and source" of good poetry? Do these remarks suggest anything about whether content is the first and most important thing to determine, or form should be considered first? How do you think Horace would respond if we asked him about the relationship between form and content? (131-33)
10. On pages 130-31 ("Greek and Roman Attitudes"), what does Horace say is the best sort of poetry? Why should poetry both teach and delight, rather than just doing one or the other Ã¢â‚¬â€œ how does Horace's rationale address the quality and variety of a Roman poet's audience? (Note: the usual formula is "utile et dulce," useful and pleasant. The exact Latin in Horace's text is "Omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulci, / lectorem delectando pariterque monendoÃ¢â‚¬Â¦" lines 343-44. Translated idiomatically, "A poet who delights even as he instructs carries the day with every reader" )
11. On page 130 ("Greek and Roman Attitudes"), 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 verse letter? What sorts of "mistakes" are we likely to let pass for the sake of the overall effect? What image of the good critic and reader is Horace setting forth here?
12. On pages 130-31 ("Greek and Roman Attitudes"), 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?
13. On page 131 ("Poetry and Its Social Uses and Value"), 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?
14. On pages 131-32 ("Art and Nature"), 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?
15. On pages 131-32 ("The Mad Poet"), 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?
16. General Question: 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)
17. General Question: 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)
18. General Question: 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)
19. General 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.
Edition: Leitch, Vincent B., ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 2010. ISBN 978-0-393-93292-8.