Graduate Interdisciplinary Seminar

GIS 03/11 – “Horses for Courses” and two acrostics in Horace

Thomas Nelson opened last week’s GIS with his talk “Horses for Courses: The Metapoetics of Horse- and Chariot-Riding in Roman Poetry”. Thomas presented how widely extended and prolific is the use of images of horses and horse riding as a metapoetic metaphor with numerous examples taken from Roman poetry. These were very varied and showed a wide range of nuances and contexts in which this image is used by latin poets.


First, Thomas showed a variety of images associated with horses and chariot races that are used for this metapoetic purpose. Some of the examples presented were the chariot of the Muses, the patron of the author as a chariot driver, the audience of the author as a horse, the autor/horse out of control, the author as victor in the triumphs or the equestrian games, to name a few. In addition, he also presented examples in different authors were chariots are used to embody literary genres, especially epic and elegiac poetry, and to represent the different parts of the literary composition with the different stages of the chariot race, thus identifying the beginning of a poem with the starting gate, the middle with the turning point and the end with the finish line.


Talitha Kearey presented in her talk entitled ‘Two acrostics in Horace’s Satires’, two acrostics spotted by her in this work and other instances of this practice both in Greek and Roman literature. She took us through a wide range of acrostics, some very elaborate –like the famous acrostic ΛΕΠΤΗ in Aratus’ Phainomena-, others very probably accidental. Many classical authors tried to use this technique, seen by some as a sign of wit. However, Aulus Gellius claims that acrostics are “neither entertaining nor useful” (N.A. 14.6). In this first part of her talk, she explored how both ancient and modern scholars have discovered, disdained, delighted in, and deplored this form of wordplay.

In the second half, Talitha showed that Horace’s Satires, not generally known for its acrostics, may actually conceal at least two of these word games. These acrostics add several layers of complexity to the texts: they endorse the topic of the text, we can find clues in the verses that warn the reader about the hidden messages and they also work as signs of intertextuality between Horace and contemporary poetry such as Vergil’s Georgics.


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