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The poet, who first tried his skill in tragic verse for the paltry [prize of a] goat, soon after exposed to view wild satyrs naked,1 and attempted raillery with severity, still preserving the gravity [of tragedy]: because the spectator on festivals, when heated with wine2 and disorderly, was to be amused with captivating shows and agreeable novelty. But it will be expedient so to recommend the bantering, so the rallying satyrs, so to turn earnest into jest; that none who shall be exhibited as a god, none who is introduced as a hero lately3 conspicuous in regal purple and gold, may deviate into the low style of obscure, mechanical shops; or, [on the contrary,] while he avoids the ground, affect cloudy mist and empty jargon. Tragedy4 disdaining to prate forth trivial verses, like a matron commanded to dance on the festival days,5 will assume an air of modesty, even in the midst of wanton satyrs. As a writer of satire, ye Pisos, I shall never be fond of unornamented and reigning terms:6 nor shall I labor to differ so widely from the complexion of tragedy, as to make no distinction, whether Davus be the speaker. And the bold Pythias, who gained a talent by gulling Simo; or Silenus, the guardian and attendant of his pupil-god [Bacchus]. I would so execute a fiction7 taken from a well-known story, that any body might entertain hopes of doing the same thing; but, on trial, should sweat and labor in vain. Such power has a just arrangement and connection of the parts: such grace may be added to subjects merely common. In my judgment the Fauns, that are brought out of the woods, should not be too gamesome with their tender strains, as if they were educated in the city, and almost at the bar; nor, on the other hand, should blunder out their obscene and scandalous speeches. For [at such stuff] all are offended, who have a horse,8 a father, or an estate: nor will they receive with approbation, nor give the laurel crown, as the purchasers of parched peas and nuts are delighted with.

A long syllable put after a short one is termed an iambus, a lively measure, whence also it commanded the name of trimeters to be added to iambics, though it yielded six beats of time, being similar to itself from first to last. Not long ago, that it might come somewhat slower and with more majesty to the ear, it obligingly and contentedly admitted into its paternal heritage the steadfast spondees; agreeing however, by social league, that it was not to depart from the second9 and fourth place. But this [kind of measure] rarely makes its appearance in the notable10 trimeters of Accius, and brands the verse of Ennius brought upon the stage with a clumsy weight of spondees, with the imputation of being too precipitate and careless, or disgracefully accuses him of ignorance in his art.

It is not every judge that discerns inharmonious verses, and an undeserved indulgence is [in this case] granted to the Roman poets. But shall I on this account run riot and write licentiously? Or should not I rather suppose, that all the world are to see my faults; secure, and cautious [never to err] but with hope of being pardoned? Though, perhaps, I have merited no praise, I have escaped censure.

Ye [who are desirous to excel,] turn over the Grecian models by night, turn them by day. But our ancestors commended both the numbers of Plautus, and his strokes of pleasantry; too tamely, I will not say foolishly, admiring each of them; if you and I but know how to distinguish a coarse joke from a smart repartee, and understand the proper cadence, by [using] our fingers and ears.

1 There was a kind of tragic comedies among the Greeks, which they called Satyrs, because the chorus was formed of Satyrs, who sung the praises of Bacchus between the acts, and said a thousand low pleasantries. The only piece of this kind remaining to us is the Cyclops of Euripides, in which Ulysses is the principal actor. The Romans, in imitation of the Greek Satyrs, had their Atellanae, so called from Atella, the city where they were first played.

2Potus et exlex.Hor. Ars 224 The lines,

Indoctus quid enim saperet liberque laborum
Rusticus urbane confusus, turpis honesto

were, I observed, certainly misplaced. They should, I think, come in here, where their sense is extremely pertinent. The poet had been speaking of the satyric drama, which, says he, was added to the tragic,

eo quod
Illecebris erat, et grata novitate morandus
Spectator, functusque sacris, et potus, et exlex.

But why, it might be asked, this compliance, in so false a taste, with a drunken, lawless rabble? The answer is natural and to the purpose. "Because their theaters necessarily consisted of a mixed assembly, every part of which was to be considered in the public diversions." The question then hath an extreme propriety, “"Indoctus quid enim saperet liberque laborum, Rusticus urbane confusus, turpis honesto?"” The rusticus and turpis demanded the satyric piece. It was the necessary result of this mixutre; as, to gratify the better sort, the urbanus and honestus, the tragic drama was exhibited. It is some prejudice in favor of this conjecture, that it explains to us, what would otherwise appear very strange, that such gross ribaldry, as we know the Atellanes consisted of, could ever be endured by the politest age of Rome. But scenical representations being then intended, not as in our days, for the entertainment of the better sort, but on certain great solemnities, indifferently for the diversion of the whole city, it became necessary to consult the taste of the multitude, as well as of those, “quibus est equus et pater et res.Hor. Ars 248

3 This proves that the same actor, as M. Dacier observes, who had been an Orestes or Ulysses in the tragic part, played the same chraracter in the comic or Atellanae. Thus Plautus in the prologue to his Menechmes, “"this town, during this play, shall be Epidamnum, and when it has been acted, it may be any other city. As in a company of players, the same person shall, at different times, be a pander, a youth, an old man, a beggar, a king, a parasite, a soothsayer."(72-76) St. Jerome hath finely imitated this passage: “"our vices oblige us to play many characters, for every vice wears a different mask. Thus in a theater, the same person plays a robust and nervous Hercules, a dissolute Venus, and a furious Cyclops."

4Indigna tragoedia versus.Hor. Ars 231 Horace means the Atellanae, which were in so much esteem, that the persons, who acted in them, were not ranked with the comedians, nor were obliged to unmask on the stage when they played ill, as others were; and, as a peculiar honor, they were allowed to enlist in the army. Therefore low and trivial verses were beneath the dignity of the Atellanae.

5 Young women were usually chosen to dance in honor of the gods, but in some festivals, as in that of the great goddess, the pontiffs obliged married women to dance. Hence the poet says iussa.

6Dominantia verba.Hor. Ars 234 What the Greeks call κύρια, as if they were masters of the thing they would express; as we say in English, "calling things by their proper names."

7 This precept (from v. 240 to 244) is analogous to that before given (v. 129) concerning tragedy. It directs to form the Satyrs out of a known subject. The reasons are, in general, the same for both. Only one seems peculiar to the Satyrs. For, the cast of them being necessarily romantic, and the persons those fantastic beings called satyrs, the τὸ ὅμοιον, or probable, will require the subject to have gained a popular belief, without which the representation must appear unnatural. Now, these subjects which have gained a popular belief, in consequence of old tradition, and their frequent celebration in the poets, are what Horace calls nota; just as newly invented subjects, or, which comes to the same thing, such as had not been employed by other writers, indicta, he, on a like occasion, terms ignota. The connection lies thus. Having mentioned Silenus in v. 239, one of the commonest characters in this drama, an objection immediately offers itself; "But what good poet will engage in subjects and characters so trite and hackneyed?" The answer is, “ex note fictum carmen sequarHor. Ars 240, i. e. however trite and well known this and some other characters, essential to the Satyr, are and must be; yet will there be still room for fiction and genius to show itself. The conduct and disposition of the play may be wholly new, and above the ability of common writers, “tantum series iuncturaque pollet.Hor. Ars 242

8Quibus est equusHor. Ars 248, etc., the knights who have a horse, kept at public expense; “quibus est pater,Hor. Ars 248 people of birth, patricians; “quibus est resHor. Ars 248, they who have wealth, and are therefore distinguished from knights and patricians.

9 The iambic yields only the odd places to the spondee, the first, third, and fifth, but preserves the second, fourth, and sixth for itself. This mixture renders the verse more noble, and it may be still trimeter, the second foot being iambic. The comic poets, better to disguise their verse, and make it appear more like common conversation, inverted the tragic order, and put spondees in the even places.

10 Ironically spoken.

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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (11):
    • Horace, Ars Poetica, 240
    • Horace, Ars Poetica, 242
    • Horace, Ars Poetica, 248
    • Horace, Ars Poetica, 129
    • Horace, Ars Poetica, 212
    • Horace, Ars Poetica, 223
    • Horace, Ars Poetica, 224
    • Horace, Ars Poetica, 231
    • Horace, Ars Poetica, 234
    • Horace, Ars Poetica, 239
    • Plautus, Menaechmi, prologue.0
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