Time and the Erotic in Horace′s Odes

Time and the Erotic in Horace′s Odes

Book Pages: 200 Illustrations: Published: October 1994

Author: Ronnie Ancona

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Pre-Modern Studies > Classical Studies

In Horace’s Odes love cannot last. Is the poet unromantic, as some critics claim? Is he merely realistic? Or is he, as Ronnie Ancona contends, relating the erotic to time in a more complex and interesting way than either of these positions allows? Rejecting both the notion that Horace fails as a love poet because he undermines the romantic ideal that love conquers time and the notion that he succeeds becauses he eschews illusions about love’s ability to endure, this book challenges the assumption that temporality must inevitably pose a threat to the erotic. The author argues that temporality, understood as the contingency the male poet/lover wants to but cannot control, explains why love "fails" in Horace’s Odes.
Drawing on contemporary theory, including recent work in feminist criticism, Ancona provides close readings of fourteen odes, which are presented in English translation as well as in Latin. Through a discussion of the poet’s use of various temporal devices—the temporal adverb, seasonal imagery, and the lover or beloved’s own temporality—she shows how Horace makes time dominate the erotic context and, further, how the version of love that appears in his poems is characterized by the lover’s desire to control the beloved. The romantic ideal of a timeless love, apparently rejected by the poet, emerges here instead as an underlying element of the poet’s portrayal of the erotic. In a critique of the predominant modes of recent Horatian scholarship on the love odes, Ancona offers an alternative view that takes into account the male gender of the lover and its effect on the structure of desire in the poems. By doing so, she advances a broader project in recent classical studies that aims to include discussion of features of classical literature, such as sexuality and gender, which have previously escaped critical attention.
Addressing aspects of Horace as a love poet—especially the dynamics of gender relations—that critics have tended to ignore, this book articulates his version of love as something not to be championed or condemned but rather to be seen as challengingly problematic. Of primary interest to classicists, it will also engage the attention of scholars and teachers in the humanities with specializations in gender, sexuality, lyric poetry, or feminist theory.


"Professor Ancona offers an enlightening, provocative re-evaluation of the complex intertwining of eroticism and temporality, desire’s intense moments and the passage of time, in the Odes of Horace. Her readings will be of importance to all students of Horace and of Latin in general." — Michael C. J. Putnam, Brown University

"This book contributes to a new understanding of familiar material (fourteen of Horace’s love odes). Horace is probably the last poet one might think would yield his secrets to the dissection of a feminist critic, but the author has been very successful in reading Horace’s erotic poetry in a new way. Her study provides a breath of fresh air in the sometimes claustrophobic atmosphere of even recent scholarship on Horace." — Sheila K. Dickison, University of Florida

"This study has much to offer specialists in the field of Horatian poetry in particular and of Augustan literature generally: its nuanced, insightful and provocative close readings of various poems; its successful efforts at problematizing both the poet/lover’s perspective and the tendency of Horace’s leading modern interpreters to adopt this perspective uncritically; its recognition that certain innovative, feminist perspectives pioneered in theoretically grounded studies of modern literature can prove helpful both in dealing with Horace’s texts and in comprehending the limitations of traditional Horatian criticism." — Judith P. Hallett, University of Maryland


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Ronnie Ancona is Assistant Professor of Classics and Director, Master of Arts in the Teaching of Latin, at Hunter College.

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Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1476-9
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