Sermonum liber primus

Sermonum liber primus

Sermonum Liber primus (also known as "Satires I"), is a collection of ten satirical poems written by the Roman poet Horace. Composed in dactylic hexameters, Horace's "Satires" explore the secrets of human happiness and literary perfection. Published probably in 35 BCE and at the latest by 33 BCE, the first book of "Satires" represents Horace's first published work, and it established him as one of the great poetic talents of the Augustan Age.

In his "Sermones" (Latin for "conversations") or "Satires" (Latin for "miscellaneous poems"), Horace combines Epicurean, that is, originally Greek philosophy with Roman good sense to convince his readers of the futility and silliness of their ambitions and desires. As an alternative, he proposes a life that is based on the Greek philosophical ideals of "autarkeia" (Greek for "inner self-sufficiency") and "metriotes" (Greek for "moderation" or sticking to the Just Mean). [Horace himself later coins the phrase "aurea mediocritas" (Latin for the "Golden Mean" in "Carm." 2.10.5.)] In "Serm." 1.6.110-131, Horace illustrates what he means by describing a typical day in his own simple, but contented life.

Poetic Models

Horace's direct predecessor as writer of satires was Lucilius. Horace inherits from Lucilius the hexameter, the conversational and sometimes even "prosaic" tone of his poetry, and the tradition of personal attack. In contrast to Lucilius, though, the victims of Horace's mockery are not members of the nobility, but overly ambitious freedmen, anonymous misers, courtesans, street philosophers, hired buffoons, and bad poets. In accordance with the Epicurean principle "Lathe biosas" (Greek for "Live unnoticed"), Horace consciously does not get involved in the complicated politics of his times, but advocates instead a life that focuses on individual happiness and virtue. [Scholars often point out that Horace, himself only the son of a freedman, could not afford to make powerful enemies, and that is why he, in contrast to Lucilius, who was a Roman knight, did not dare to attack Roman aristocrats by name. Yet at the time he published the "Satires", Horace was already affiliated with the powerful Maecenas (cf. "Serm." 1.4 and 6), and if he had wanted to, he could easily have ingratiated himself with the young ruler, Octavian, by attacking Octavian's enemies, such as Sextus Pompeius and later Mark Antony.]

Probably equally important is the influence of Greek diatribe in the tradition of the philosopher Bion of Borysthenes (ca. 335-245 BCE). Horace's "Satires" share with this genre some of their themes, typical imagery and similes, and the fiction of an anonymous interlocutor whose objections the speaker easily refutes.

In addition, Horace alludes to another inspiration, the poet Lucretius whose didactic epic "De rerum natura" ("On the Nature of Things"), also written in hexameters, popularized Epicurean physics in Rome. For example, Horace's comparison of his satires with cookies that a teacher uses to encourage his students to learn their letters ["Serm." 1.14-25; "elementa" can refer both to the letters of the ABC and to the beginnings of philosophy.] reminds of Lucretius' more traditional comparison of his poetry with the sugar that sweetens the bitter medicine of philosophy. Moreover, Lucretian stock phrases like "nunc ad rem redeo" ("now I return to the matter at hand") give Horace's philosophical "conversations" ("Sermones") a subtly Lucretian flavor.


Satire 1.1, "Qui fit, Maecenas" ("How come, Maecenas"), targets avarice and greed.

Most people, the satirist argues, complain about their lot yet do not really want to change it. Our insatiable greed for material wealth is just as silly. Man's true basic needs, food and water, are easily satisfied. A person who recognizes the natural limit ("modus") set for our desires, the Just Mean between the extremes, will in the end leave the Banquet of Life like a satisfied guest, full and content.

Satire 1.2, "Ambubaiarum collegia" ("The trade unions of fluteplaying geishas"), deals with adultery and other unreasonable behaviour in sexual matters.

The satirist claims that there is also a natural mean with regard to sex. Our basic sexual urges are easily satisfied (any partner will do), so it seems silly to run after married noblewomen instead.

Satire 1.3, "Omnibus hoc vitium est" ("Everyone has this flaw"), demands fairness when we criticize other people’s flaws. In the case of friends, we should be especially lenient.

Satire 1.4, "Eupolis atque Cratinus" ("Eupolis and Cratinus"), in a programmatic declaration of Horace's poetic views, applies these same critical principles to poetry and shows that Horace's own satires follow them.

Satire 1.5, "Egressum magna ... Roma" ("Having left great Rome"), describes a journey from Rome to Brundisium.

Alluding to a famous satire in which Horace’s poetic model, Lucilius, described a trip to his knightly estates near Tarentum, this satire offers a comic self-portrait of Horace as an insignificant member in the retinue of his powerful friend Maecenas when the latter negotiated one last truce between Antony and Octavian, the Peace of Brundisium (36 BCE). A highpoint of the satire is the central verbal contest that again, just like in ‘’Sat.’’ 1.4, distinguishes scurrility from satire. Here, Horace pitches a ‘’scurra’’ (buffoon) from the capital, the freedman Sarmentus, against his ultimately victorious local challenger, Messius Cicirrus (“the Fighting Cock”).

Satire 1.6, "Non quia, Maecenas" ("Not because, Maecenas"), rejects false ambition.

With the same modesty, with which he just depicted himself in "Satire" 1.5, Horace explains why he is not interested in a career in politics even though he once, during the Civil War, served as the tribune of a Roman legion (48). People would jeer at him because of his freedman father, and his father taught him to be content with his status in life (85-87) even though he made sure that his son could enjoy the same education as an aristocrat (76-80).

Satire 1.7, "Proscripti Regis Rupili pus atque venenum" ("The pus and poison of the proscribed Rupilius Rex"), deals with a trial that Persius, a Greek merchant of dubious birth (hybrida, 2), won against the Roman Rupilius Rex.

Following the account of Horace's youth in "Sat." 1.6, this satire tells a story from his service under Brutus during the Civil War. Just like "Sat." 1.5, it features a verbal contest in which two different kinds of invective are fighting against each other. Initially, Greek verbosity seems to succumb to Italian acidity, but in the end, the Greek wins with a clever turn of phrase, calling on the presiding judge, Brutus the Liberator, to do his duty and dispose of the "king" (Latin: 'rex') Rupilius Rex (33-35).

Satire 1.8, "Olim truncus eram" ("Once I was a tree trunk"), describes a funny victory over witchcraft and superstition.

Another "hybrida" like Persius in "Sat." 1.7, Priapus, half garden god, half still a barely shaped piece of wood, narrates the visit of two terrible witches to Maecenas' garden that he is supposed to protect against trespassers and thieves. Maecenas' garden on the Esquiline Hill used to be a cemetery for executed criminals and the poor, and so it attracts witches that dig for magic bones and harmful herbs. The god is powerless until the summer heat makes the figwood that he is made of explode, and this divine "fart" chases the terrified witches away.

Satire 1.9, "Ibam forte Via Sacra" ("I happened to be walking on the Sacred Way"), the famous encounter between Horace and the Pest, relates another funny story of a last-minute delivery from an overpowering enemy.

Horace is accosted by an ambitious flatterer and would-be poet who hopes that Horace will help him to worm his way into the circle of Maecenas' friends. Horace tries in vain to get rid of the Pest. He assures him that this is not how Maecenas and his friends operate. Yet he only manages to get rid of him, when finally a creditor of the Pest appears and drags him off to court, with Horace offering to serve as a witness (74-78).

Satire 1.10, "Nempe incomposito" ("I did indeed say that Lucilius' verses hobble along"), functions as an epilogue to the book. Here Horace clarifies his criticism of his predecessor Lucilius, jokingly explains his choice of the genre ("nothing else was available") in a way that groups him and his "Satires" among the foremost poets of Rome, and lists Maecenas and his circle as his desired audience.

Literary Success

Both in antiquity and in the Middle Ages, Horace was much better known for his "Satires" and the thematically related "Epistles" than for his lyric poetry. In the century after his death, he finds immediate successors in Persius and Juvenal, and even Dante still refers to him simply as "Orazio satiro" ("Inferno" 4.89). CONTE 318 writes, "Over 1,000 medieval quotations from his "Satires" and "Epistles" have been traced, only about 250 from his "Carmina"."

elected Bibliography

critical editions of the Latin text

* Borzsák, Stephan. "Q. Horati Flacci Opera." Leipzig: Teubner, 1984.
* Shackleton Bailey, D. R. "Q. Horati Flacci Opera." Stuttgart: Teubner, 1995. ISBN 3519214369. Makes more use of conjectural emendation than Borzsák.

On-line editions of the Horace's Satires

* Latin Wikisource (Latin) []
* The Latin Library (Latin) []
* IntraText (Latin) []
* Perseus Project (Latin) []
* Project Gutenberg (English) []

English translations

* Alexander, Sidney. "The complete Odes and Satires of Horace." Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 1999. ISBN 0691004285.
* Rudd, Niall. "Horace, Satires and Epistles; Persius, Satires." London : Penguin, 2005. ISBN 0140455086 (verse translation with introduction and notes).


* Brown, P. Michael. "Horace, Satires I." Warminster, England: Aris & Phillips, 1993. ISBN 0856685305 (introduction, text, translation and commentary)

hort surveys

* Conte, Gian Biagio. "Latin Literature. A History." Translated by Joseph Solodow. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994. ISBN 0-8018-4638-2.
* Braund, Susan H. "Roman Verse Satire". Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992. ISBN 019-922072-7.
* Freudenburg, Kirk. "Satires of Rome : Threatening Poses from Lucilius to Juvenal." Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. ISBN 052100621X.
* Hooley, Daniel M. "Roman Satire." Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2007. ISBN 1405106891.

more specialized literature

* Cucchiarelli, Andrea. "La satira e il poeta : Orazio tra Epodi e Sermones." Pisa : Giardini, 2001. ISBN 8842703001.
* Freudenburg, Kirk. "The Walking Muse : Horace on the Theory of Satire." Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 1993. ISBN 0691031665.
* Knorr, Ortwin. "Verborgene Kunst : Argumentationsstruktur und Buchaufbau in den Satiren des Horaz." Hildesheim : Olms-Weidmann, 2004. ISBN 3487125390.
* Niall Rudd. "The Satires of Horace." Berkeley : University of California Press, 1966 (2nd. ed., 1982). ISBN 0520047184.
* Schlegel, Catherine. "Satire and the Threat of Speech : Horace's Satires, Book 1." Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005. ISBN 0299209504.


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