Hie Lessons of Homer

One of Horaces Epistuiae is a letter addressed to a young friend, Lollius Maximus, who was studying rhetoric in Rome. Horace tells how he is once again reading Homer, who in his opinion is a surer guide for correct conduct than any of the moral philosophers.

Troiani belli scriptorem, Maxime Lolli, dum tu declamas Romae, Praeneste relegi;

qui, quid sit pulchrum, quid turpe, quid utile, quid non, planius ac melius Chrysippo et Crantore dicit.

cur ita crediderim, nisi quid te distinet, audi, 5

fabula, qua Paridis propter narratur amorem

Graecia barbariae lento conlisa duello, text Q. Horati Flacci Opera, ed. D. R. Shackleton Bailey

(Bibliotheca Teubneriana, 2001) meter hexameter [§m 1]

Troia|ni bel|li || scrip|torem | Maxime | Lolli dum tu | decla|mas || Ro|mae Prae|neste re|legi if. The writer (scriptor scriptoris m.) of the Trojan War is Homer, whose two epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, were an important part of the educational program in both Greece and Rome (cf. Lucretius De rerum natilra 3,io37f., page 24)—Horace first mentions the moral lessons to be derived from the Iliad; Maxime Lolli voc.—the normal word order (nomen, cognomen) is inverted, and the friends first name (praenomen) is omitted; declamo -are make speeches (by way of practice); Romae loc. in Rome; Praeneste loc. in Praeneste (Praeneste Praenestis n.), a popular holiday resort southeast of Rome; relego -ere read again. 3f. The antecedent of qui is scriptorem in 1.1, i.e., Homer, but trans, he; the four clauses introduced by quid (supply sit with the last three) are indirect questions [§g 91] governed by dicit and pose problems of moral philosophy; pulchrum (here good) has as its opposite turpe (bad); utile useful; planius (compar. adv. of plane) more clearly; melius (compar. adv. of bene) better; Chrysippo et Crantore abl. of comparison [§G 42] than Chrysippus and Crantor, earlier Greek philosophers. 5 cur ita crediderim indirect question [§g 91] governed by the imp. audi; quid indef. pron. something; distined -ere distract. 6f. fabula is the subject of continet in 1. 8; qua (antecedent fabula) instrumental abl. [§G47], but trans, in which; Paris Paridis m. the Trojan prince whose elopement with Helen began the Trojan War; the subject of narratur is Graecia ... conlisa, lit., Greece brought into collision (conlido -ere + acc. and dat. bring [something] into collision with [something]); barbariae dat. after conlisa, trans, with the foreign world (barbaria -ae f., referring to Phrygia, of which Troy was the main city); lento ... duello (= bello) instrumental abl. [§G47] byaprolonged war—the Trojan War lasted ten years; trans. 1. 7 the collision of Greece with the foreign world in a prolonged war—Graecia conlisa is an example of a noun and participle used where English has an abstract noun and a genitive [§oy$].

stultorum regum et populorum continet aestus.

Antenor censet belli praecidere causam:

quid Paris? ut salvus regnet vivatque beatus, 10

cogi posse negat. Nestor componere litis inter Peliden festinat et inter Atriden:

hunc amor, ira quidem communiter urit utrumque.

quidquid délirant reges plectuntur Achivi.

seditione, dolis, scelere atque libidine et ira 15

Iliacos intra muros peccatur et extra.

rursus quid virtus et quid sapientia possit

8 stultus foolish-, take the genitives with aestus (passions; aestus -us m.), which is the object of continet (contineô -ëre encompass).

9 Antënor Antënoris m. a Trojan prince who suggested that the Trojans hand Helen over to the Greeks and so end the siege; censet recommends (censeô -ëre)— Horace uses the present tense here and later, since he is retelling Homer's narrative; praecïdô -ere remove.

1 off. quid Paris? what [does] Paris [say]?; ut introduces two noun clauses governed by côgï (pres. pass. inf. of côgô -ere force); salvus safe, but trans, by an adverbial phrase [§055], in safety; regno -ire rule; trans, beatus by an adverb [§055], happily; posse negat ... declares that he cannot ...—Paris means that he cannot rule Troy in safety without giving up Helen, but without her he cannot be happy; Nestor Nestoris m. the elderly warrior whose contribution to the Greek expedition consisted wholly of giving advice—the incident referred to here is the quarrel between the Greek leader, Agamemnon, and the foremost Greek fighter, Achilles, over a captive woman, Briseis; compônô -ere settle; Ixtïs acc. pi. of lis litis F. quarrel; inter is repeated for emphasis; Pëlïdën and Atriden Greek acc. sg. of Pëlïdës (-ae m.) son of Peleus, i.e., Achilles, and Atridës (-ae m.) son of Atreus, i.e., Agamemnon—patronymics are common in Homer (cf. English surnames such as Adamson and Masterson); festinat (festïnô -are hasten) governs componere in l.H.

13 hunc here the former, i.e., Achilles, who had fallen in love with Briseis; supply urit (ûrô ùrere burn, inflame) with amor; quidem (lit., indeed) contrasts amor and ira, trans, but; communiter alike.

14 quidquid délirant rëgës whatever the kings rave (dëlirô -are); plectô -ere punish; Achivi (-ôrum m.pl.) = Graeci—Horace means that the common Greek soldiers suffered because of the follies of their leaders (here called rëgës).

15 The nouns are all ablatives of cause [§g48]; sëditiô sëditiônis f. discord; dolus -i m. act of treachery; libido libidinis f. lust.

16 Iliacus of Troy, Trojan; both intra and extra govern muros; peccatur (impers.) lit., it is blundered (peccô -are), trans, mistakes are made.

17 rursus on the other hand—whereas the Iliad gives examples of human folly and vice, the Odyssey, to which Horace now turns, gives a model of virtue and wisdom in the character of Ulysses; the two indirect questions are governed by the main clause in 1.18, trans, [as to] what virtue and wisdom (sapientia -ae f.) can [do].

utile proposuit nobis exemplar Ulixen, qui domitor Troiae multorum providus urbes et mores hominum inspexit latumque per aequor, 20

dum sibi, dum sociis reditum parat, aspera multa pertulit, adversis rerum immersabilis undis.

18 utile... exemplar acc. in apposition [§g52.] to Ulixen (acc, of Ulixes Ulixis m. Ulysses), trans. Ulysses [as] a useful model (exemplar exemplaris n.); proposuit he (i.e., Homer) has set forth (propono -ere); nobis dat.for us. igf. The antecedent of qui is Ulixen; domitor (domitoris m. conqueror) in apposition [§g 52] to qui—Ulysses played the major role in the capture of Troy, particularly with his suggestion of the Wooden Horse; take multorum ... hominum with urbes et mores, which are accusative after inspexit (inspicio -ere observe)— Horace uses the perfect tense when telling of the Odyssey (cf. note to 1.9); providus also in apposition to qui, trans, [and a] prudent [man]; latum per aequor (over the broad sea (aequor aequoris n.)) is part of the next clause. 2if. dum (while) is repeated for emphasis—it is idiomatically followed by the present [§g6i]; sibi... sociis dat. of advantage [§G3i]/or himself [and his] companions; reditus -us m. return; parat trans, [tried to] secure—Ulysses finally managed to return to his home from Troy, but his companions perished along the way; aspera multa lit., many harsh [things], trans, many hardships; pertulit he endured (perfero -ferre); immersabilis (unsinkable) is qualified by adversis rerum ... undis (instrumental abl. [§G47], but trans, amid the hostile waves of circumstances (lit,, things)).


The rat race of modern Western societies, existed in Augustan Rome, and moralists were quick-to' point-out thefutility of believing that an extravagant lifestyle or excessive material possessions could buy happiness. For Horace, the worries and troubles of the rich could not be alleviated by leisure activities, such as horseback riding, that were available to them alone.

Post equitem sedet atra cura. Odes 3.1.40

Dismal (lit., black) care sits behind the rider.

His meaning has often been misinterpreted by Latin learners as The black lady sits cautiously behind-the horseman.

For more Horatiana, seepages 28, 86, 89,100, and 176.

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