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Horace, Catullus, and Maecenas

From: Syllecta Classica
Volume 24 (2013)
pp. 29-45 | 10.1353/syl.2013.0012



This essay argues that the scenario of Horace’s Epode 3 is modeled upon that of Catullus 14. In each case the speaker protests against a practical joke played by a friend; the obvious programmatic stance of the latter poem, moreover, casts light on the operations of the former. In c. 14, Catullus threatens to respond to Calvus’ gag volume of doggerel with his own collection of no less awful verse. Suffering heartburn from a dish primed with garlic, Horace meanwhile wishes garlic breath upon his host Maecenas should he try the same trick again. Both malefactors will thus be repaid in kind. Like the anthology of bad poets, the garlic arguably has metapoetic significance, and an allusion to Catullus 13 at the close of the epode suggests that Horace is poking fun at Maecenas’ fondness for composing verse in the neoteric style. Fragments of Maecenas’ own hendecasyllabics addressed to Horace support that possibility.

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