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Adventurer 058 [No. 58: Presumption of modern criticism censured…]
by [?]

Stronger than thunder’s winged force,
All-powerful gold can spread its course,
Thro’ watchful guards its passage make,
And loves thro’ solid walls to break:
From gold the overwhelming woes
That crush’d the Grecian augur rose:
Philip with gold thro’ cities broke,
And rival monarchs felt his yoke;
Captains of ships to gold are slaves,
Tho’ fierce as their own winds and waves.


The close of this passage, by which every reader is now disappointed and offended, was probably the delight of the Roman Court: it cannot be imagined, that Horace, after having given to gold the force of thunder, and told of its power to storm cities and to conquer kings, would have concluded his account of its efficacy with its influence over naval commanders, had he not alluded to some fact then current in the mouths of men, and therefore more interesting for a time than the conquests of Philip. Of the like kind may be reckoned another stanza in the same book:

Jussa coram non sine conscio
Surgit marito, seu vocat
Seu navis Hispanae magister,
Dedecorum pretiosus emptor.
HOR. Lib. iii. Ode. vi. 29.

The conscious husband bids her rise,
When some rich factor courts her charms,
Who calls the wanton to his arms,
And, prodigal of wealth and fame,
Profusely buys the costly shame.

He has little knowledge of Horace who imagines that the factor, or the Spanish merchant, are mentioned by chance: there was undoubtedly some popular story of an intrigue, which those names recalled to the memory of his reader.

The flame of his genius in other parts, though somewhat dimmed by time, is not totally eclipsed; his address and judgment yet appear, though much of the spirit and vigour of his sentiment is lost: this has happened in the twentieth Ode of the first book:

Vile potabis modicis Sabinum
Cantharis, Graeca quod ego ipse testa
Conditum levi, datus in theatro
Cum tibi plausus,
Care Maecenas eques: ut paterni
Fluminis ripae, simul et jocosa
Redderet laudes tibi Vaticani
Montis imago.

A poet’s beverage humbly cheap,
(Should great Maecenas be my guest,)
The vintage of the Sabine grape,
But yet in sober cups shall crown the feast:
‘Twas rack’d into a Grecian cask,
Its rougher juice to melt away;
I seal’d it too–a pleasing task!
With annual joy to mark the glorious day,
When in applausive shouts thy name
Spread from the theatre around,
Floating on thy own Tiber’s stream,
And Echo, playful nymph, return’d the sound.

We here easily remark the intertexture of a happy compliment with an humble invitation; but certainly are less delighted than those, to whom the mention of the applause bestowed upon Maecenas, gave occasion to recount the actions or words that produced it.

Two lines which have exercised the ingenuity of modern criticks, may, I think, be reconciled to the judgment, by an easy supposition: Horace thus addresses Agrippa:

Scriberis Vario fortis, et hostium
, Maeonii carminis alite.
HOR. Lib. i. Ode vi. 1.

Varius, a swan of Homer’s wing,
Shall brave Agrippa’s conquests sing.

That Varius should be called “A bird of Homeric song,” appears so harsh to modern ears, that an emendation of the text has been proposed: but surely the learning of the ancients had been long ago obliterated, had every man thought himself at liberty to corrupt the lines which he did not understand. If we imagine that Varius had been by any of his contemporaries celebrated under the appellation of Musarum ales, “the swan of the Muses,” the language of Horace becomes graceful and familiar; and that such a compliment was at least possible, we know from the transformation feigned by Horace of himself.