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This article is taken from PN Review 89, Volume 19 Number 3, January - February 1993.

Good Humour and the Agelasts Felicity Rosslyn

How CAN ONE praise Horace without employing terms that could as easily be used to bury him? It is a peculiar fatality of his qualities that they so easily convert to defects, and his urbanity can strike the reader as mere worldliness, his humour as frivolity, and his restraint as a basic lack of feeling. The ups and downs of his reputation would imply much the same - that the key to unlocking the wisdom that lies in his qualities and, more subtly, in their respective proportions, is easily lost, and once it is gone we are left with something degraded: the 'clubbable' Horace, or the courtier, or the satirist who does not bite, like Dryden's:

I must confess that the delight which Horace gives me is but languishing … I speak of my own taste only: he may ravish other men; but I am too stupid and insensible to be tickled. Where he barely grins himself, and, as Scaliger says, only shews his white teeth, he cannot provoke me to any laughter. His urbanity, that is, his good manners, are to be commended, but his wit is faint; and his salt, if I may dare to say so, almost insipid. Juvenal is of a more vigorous and masculine wit; he gives me as much pleasure as I can bear …1

The fact that Dryden, author of some of the most sympathetic and successful translations of Horace, had moods in which he could not say ...

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