Sunday, September 19, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Suzanne Sharland, Horace in Dialogue: Bakhtinian Readings in the Satires. Bern/Oxford/New York: Peter Lang, 2010. Pp. xii, 347. ISBN 9783039119462. $70.95.
Reviewed by Ian Goh, Trinity College, Cambridge


One might scoff when the blurb of a purportedly serious book suggests that it provides answers to such pressing questions as 'who is the modern Hollywood star whom Horace most closely resembled?'. However, readers can be reassured not only that the finding of modern-day parallels for ancient phenomena is common in recent writing on Roman satire, but also that this engaging, perhaps surprisingly theory-light volume will appeal to the seasoned scholar as well as the tiro undergraduate.1 A book-length guide to aid Bakhtinian interpretations of Horace's Satires was needed indeed, and with this work, based on a 2001 Cape Town doctorate, Sharland has ably filled the gap. The book will find a ready home in course bibliographies, with one major caveat: Sharland has chosen to discuss only six poems, three from each book of Satires (1-3 of Book 1; 2.2, 2.3 and 2.7), 'mainly due to space constraints' (7). I shall return below to the prospect that this narrow focus lessens the book's appeal; however, the concentration on six poems has the decided virtue of allowing a leisurely argument and in-depth explanation, even if the discussion can be somewhat repetitive. The work's structure is likewise admirably clear, if perhaps bitty: for both books of Horace, three chapters – one for each chosen poem – are devoted to Bakhtin-inflected close readings and preceded by a methodological introduction, while ten pages of conclusions round off the whole.

Following a useful discussion of how "diatribe" has variously been defined in relation to "dialogism" (9ff.), Sharland presents first Mukarovsky (28ff.) then Bakhtin (37ff.) in order to show that the so-called "diatribe satires" of the first book are really dialogues in disguise, encoding multiple viewpoints (hence their "polyphony") despite their aggressive "addressivity", and employing as backdrop a "heteroglossia" of philosophical and literary topoi. But really, where Satires 1 is concerned, Sharland is using such Bakhtinian ideas under the rubric of "dialogism" as a foil to offset her take on "persona theory". Thus for Sharland the first book's "diatribe satires" are a set of dramatic scenes whose humour lies in the self-satire practised by the speaker, who in the manner of a sitcom star (64-5) is construed as an alter ego of the actual Horace, and indeed this same Horace-character will remain the protagonist of both books of Satires, in the first for the most part a talker, and in the second a listener. In Satires 1.1, the speaker who condemns stinginess petitions his patron for a "raise" by putting the famously wealthy Maecenas in the shoes of the satirist's miserly interlocutor, a controversial though possible reading. Then, as Sharland depicts it, in the book's second poem it gradually becomes clear that the doom-mongering of the speaker's warning against adultery is influenced by his own first-hand experience in his prior brushes with avenging cuckolds: again, the Bakhtinian "splitting of the subject" holds when the ethicist ends up being a lecher (129). As for 1.3, Sharland identifies Maecenas, mostly (it seems) by virtue of his being named at 1.3.64 as the amicus who is the poem's most likely addressee. In this scenario the sermo with which the apologetic speaker has bothered the friend encompasses both actual conversation and the book's previous two poems. I was persuaded by the elucidation of the penis that talks to its owner, an exclusus amator, in Satires 1.2 as a parody of conventional personifications of abstract concepts like Poverty that in the diatribe tradition are introduced as moral messengers (110ff.), and am partial to the suggestion that the line-ending quaeramus seria ludo (Satires 1.1.27) could, far from implying a move to serious matters 'with games set aside', hold the secondary meaning 'let us seek to spoudaiogeloion' (60 n.16). On the other hand, making the first satire Horace's rehearsal of his future address to Maecenas, with the patron in absentia (97), might be a little too clever.

The book's second section then adds the more familiar idea of "carnival" to the Bakhtinian mix, on the reasonable thesis that the comic reversals of the Saturnalian settings for two of the chosen poems of Satires 2 indirectly foreshadow those of Rabelaisian festivities. Sharland is exemplary in teasing out the different strands of authoritative speech that invoke Ofellus, "Mr Titbit", in Satires 2.2, although the argument that a tactless Horace has hijacked a dinner party, perhaps hosted by his patron, and is keeping guests waiting (213ff.) might seem an imaginative leap too far. Similarly inventive are the suggestions that Sharland makes in the chapter on the monster satire, 2.3: Horace has gone to sleep for the duration of the sermon, derived so entirely from Stertinius that it seems not to apply to its new addressee, that Damasippus, whose name suggests 'a poor man's Chrysippus' (239), gives; the literary criticism of Horace at the poem's beginning is an attempt to force a Stoic conversion by dismantling the poet's self-esteem (242); the exempla of 2.3.106-7 involve mercantilism and being a cobbler, the former with biographical and the latter with Stoic significance (254-6); Damasippus' homily is for his own reassurance, a repeated catechism rather than a sermon (257-8). Finally, the chapter on Satires 2.7 starts with an attractive reading of its first word iamdudum as an indication that the slave Davus has been overhearing all of the sixteen previous satires. Sharland proceeds by documenting the ways Maecenas is complimented indirectly, with a "sidelong glance", to use Bakhtinian terminology (278ff); other felicitous interpretations include the personal reference that Sharland sees in Davus' exemplum of a sustenance-stealing slave (304), and Sharland winds up positing that Davus is making a foolish pitch for manumission (309-11). Yet Davus' identification of his target's hypocrisy is weakened in a number of ways, for instance by his relative powerlessness when the Horace-character he is berating reasserts himself aggressively at the end of the poem, and also because his voice ends up merely chiming with one strand of the "double voice" characterising the moralist's self-presentation in earlier satires, that which ironically undercuts the satirical persona's own arguments.

Sharland's key theory therefore involves the links between the two books of satires, with its climax the way in which Satires 2.7's "crowning" then "dethroning" of the temporary Saturnalian ruler Davus mirrors the structure of the two books taken together, which start with a poet finding his feet in Maecenas' coterie, then show him growing in stature to the point where he can "uncrown" his predecessor Lucilius (Satires 1.10.48-9), and then display him being undermined by a series of replacement satirists. It is important that Sharland acknowledges that "carnival" is only a temporary levelling in the face of social realities, but is the foreshadowing of Book 2 that she identifies in the sermones of Book 1 properly dialogic if the second book was only planned later and the first seems, in Sharland's reading, to exhibit much less of the carnival atmosphere? In any case, little mention is made of the "grotesque body" in Book 2, either in the literary context of the bloated and thus un-Callimachean Stoic sermons, or the social context of the "popular grotesque";2 is the identification of the Horace-character with a scurra figure helped by seeing him as an out-of-place "Townie"?3 Additionally, Sharland's willingness to read the influence of comedy into Horace's satiric situations, such as the identification of Davus as a servus callidus in the tradition of Roman Comedy (270), could have been linked with recent scholarship that uses Bakhtinian ideas to interpret ancient drama, especially Athenian Old Comedy given Horace's famous insistence at the beginning of Satires 1.4 that Lucilius depended entirely on Eupolis, Cratinus and Aristophanes.4 The occasional and of course valid remarks that Sharland makes, on the irony of Horace's denial, in the same satire, that he writes poetry when Bakhtin would later describe the ancient satiric mode as a precursor of novelistic technique could have been sharpened by a consideration of the philosophical basis for Horace's remarks, the ironically adduced principle of metathesis, and its applicability to the way the targets shift in either book.5 And despite the judgment that the moraliser assumes the 'stance of a school-teacher' (83, on Satires 1.1), there is nothing on how the voices of the addressees could be heard answering back if they are coerced by Horace into attentive silence; I would have liked further fleshing out in Bakhtinian terms of the relationship between the diatribe and didactic modes.6 In summary, the compartmentalisation of the book's readings and its somewhat limited purview seem to preclude a synthesis of ideas that could explain Horace's satiric practice as a whole.

Still, Sharland writes with verve, interesting insights abound, and she presents a cogent and individual take on the Satires whose judicious and understated application of Bakhtinian theory is a model of its kind. Production values are good,7 and the index reasonably comprehensive if idiosyncratic, although the bibliography required better proof-reading.8 And the answer to the celeb-spotting conundrum? Probably Danny DeVito (220 n.74).9 Roll on the biopic.


1.   The pun I enjoyed most occurred in Ch. 7 on Satires 2.7, where a section-heading characterises Davus' speech as a 'Short Talk to Freedom', riffing on Nelson Mandela's autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.
2.   I could not find the term in the index, and it only serves as part of a title (301). Against P. A. Miller's view that the open, incontinent body is condemned in Roman satire, see F. d'A. Behr, 'Open Bodies and Closed Minds? Persius' Saturae in the Light of Bakhtin and Voloshinov', in R. B. Branham, The Bakhtin Circle and Ancient Narrative, Groningen 2005, 260-96. For sub-literary traditions of anti-authoritarianism, see I. A. Ruffell, 'Beyond Satire: Horace, Popular Invective and the Segregation of Literature', JRS 93 (2003), 35-65.
3.   See e.g. P. Corbett, The Scurra, Edinburgh 1986; T. Habinek, 'Satire as Aristocratic Play', in K. Freudenburg (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Roman Satire, Cambridge 2005, 177-91, at 183.
4.   See e.g. S. Goldhill, The Poet's Voice, Cambridge 1991; A. T. Edwards, 'Historicizing the Popular Grotesque: Bakhtin's Rabelais and his World and Attic Old Comedy', in R. B. Branham (ed.), Bakhtin and the Classics, Evanston 2002, 27-55; C. Platter, Aristophanes and the Carnival of Genres, Baltimore 2007; A. Cucchiarelli, La satira e il poeta, Pisa 2001 details Horace's satiric debt to Old Comedy (none of these in the bibliography).
5.   The seminal article is S. Oberhelman & D. Armstrong, 'Satire as Poetry and the Impossibility of Metathesis in Horace's Satires', in D. Obbink (ed.), Philodemus and Poetry, Oxford 1995, 233-54.
6.   K. Volk, The Poetics of Latin Didactic, Oxford 2002, not in the bibliography, would have been useful in this regard. Sharland holds that Satires 2.4 'contains more of a pseudo-didactic rather than a strictly ethical lecture' (197 n.1), but the parody of philosophy that results from strictures about the right way to prepare a meal still counts as moralising.
7.   Typos I picked up: "they" missing before "are engaged" (7); a misplaced apostrophe after "listeners" (108); an unnecessary "and" (151 n.31); "affects" instead of "effects" (202 n.20, 222).
8.   Zetzel acquires an incorrect first initial; works mentioned in the text, by Grisé, Orelli, van Hooff and Wili, are left out.
9.   Although this identification occurs in the discussion of Satires 2.3, 299 n.82 visualises Davus as 'relatively short': is this another way he is similar to Horace?

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