Horace, Epistles, Book II, number 1

1)  Addressing his epistle to the emperor, Caesar Augustus, might seem rather cheeky, but what signs do you see that Horace has a reasonable understanding of the emperor's interests?

2)  Horace begins the debate over inclusion and exclusion of works in what later came to be called "the Canon of literature," the works deemed great enough to be read for all time, and necessary to any competent readers' experience now.  How does he navigate the competition between ancient and modern poets?  For another famous work on this subject, see Jonathan Swift's The Battle of the Books, a mock-heroic combat between ancient and modern (C18) authors.  Every liberal arts curriculum must ask and answer these questions for itself.  How would you advise the English Department?

3)  Note that popularity of a work has built-in defects as a standard of judgment because popular taste is so easily swayed toward or away from this or that fad.  What does that suggest about the current importance of Internet popularity as a measure of value/quality?

4)  Horace attributes Greece's loss of cultural quality to its prior loss of warlike habits of mind.  Failing to be warlike led the Greeks, he says, into mere dilettantism and connoisseurship instead of high artistic productivity.  Does preparation for war produce some sensible improvement in aesthetic taste, or does this assertion tell us more about Horace and Rome than about aesthetics?

5)  Horace famously noted that in his era, it seemed as if everyone wanted to be a poet.  Has this happened again in our own era with the advent of the blog and vlog?  Note his catalog of benefits that poets bring society.  It's a fairly humble list, but are those things important?

6)  According to this epistle, how did the Fescennine verses come to enter Roman literature, and what caused them to be legally banned?  The persistence of personal attack in Juvenal's satires suggests that perhaps the "Fescennines" also might have outlasted Rome's attempt to censor them out of existence.  Does scurriluous verse fulfill some important social function, especially considered anthropologically?

7)  In perhaps the epistle's most famous passage, Horace describes conquered Greek culture's conquest of Roman arts and letters.  The metaphor and gendered pronouns suggest a sexual conquest.  Can you use this to make sense of Roman attitudes toward sexuality and toward artistic borrowing?

8)  Why does it matter that the emperor of Rome should know these things?