Discussion Questions: Horace, Epistle II.3
1) This letter is called the Ars Poetica (Art of Poetry), the Roman counterpart to Aristotle's Poetics. Between them they represent much of classical culture's theory of how art works. Aristotle based his analysis of tragedy's effects on a physiological and social theory involved in drama's effects upon citizens' souls. What is Horace's signal that a piece of poetry "works"? See the lines beginning "Mine and the public judgment are the same." He twice advises poets to follow "Nature." See the passages starting with "Painters and poets our indulgence claim" and "Keep nature's great original." How is the poet to do this?
2) Aristotle's ethical theory taught that the good was achieved by avoiding extremes. In what ways might Horace be following that example? See, for instance, the passages beginning "But oft our greatest errors..."
3) Where does Horace suggest Roman authors should look for new vocabulary? See the three passages beginning with "Would you to fame a promised work produce."
4) How does Horace suggest authors form their characters? See the two passages beginning with "Your style should an important difference make." and the six passages starting with "Mine and the public judgment are the same."
5) How does Horace see the relationship of Roman poetry to the songs of Troy? See the three passages beginning with "'Tis hard a new-formed fable to express."
6) What things does Horace advise his poet not to present on stage and why do you think he forbids them? See the passage starting with "The business of drama must appear."
7) The passage beginning with "If you would have your play deserve success" was taken, by French Renaissance neoclassicists like Scaliger, to be a law forbidding plays with anything other than five acts. Can you explain why five acts might seem logical rather than some other number?
8) What does Horace expect the chorus to do? See the passage beginning with "The chorus must support." Can you remember plays or films in which characters or groups of characters play such a "chorus" part?
9) What does Horace say led to the degradation of Roman poetry? See the passage beginning "But when victorious Rome." What do you think was really happening, and does it have any relationship with the same kinds of literary changes and challenges that accompanied world events surrounding Britain in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, or America in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries?
10) In the passage beginning "Make the Greek authors," how does Horace suggest his poets should relate to the works of the Greeks? Think about how this relates to the previous passages' disgust and fear regarding the new trends in Roman poetry after the empire grew large.
11) The lines beginning "Poets would profit or delight" are among Horace's most famous instructions. Have you encountered this standard of judgment of good poetry in other works? (Chaucer and Sidney both articulate it in famous works.)
12) How has literacy, especially the growth of bookshops, affected the kinds of advice Horace offers? See, for instance, ""The Man who knows not how with art to wield." Especially, how has it affected his attitude toward errors?