Tel-Aviv University, Department of Classics - Greece and Rome
“Roman Law and Latin Poetry: A Study of Horace’s Satires”
Poetry and Law in Horace. Between the Author and the Public(s)
A new book by Rachele Hassan
The book is devoted to the surprisingly recurrent use of legal terms and imagery in Horace’s poetry. It is not a mere listing of sources, but an investigation of the interaction between law and literary production in Rome in the first century BC.
In Horace’s poetry, the recurrent use of legal terms and imagery is surprising, with many references to law, including various norms of the Twelve Tables, sacrilege and lex Aquilia (sat. 1.3.115-117), treasure trove (sat. 2.6.1-13), latent defects (sat. 1.2.83-92, 2.3.281-286, epist. 2.2.1-20).
Often amusing, sophisticated and technically precise, they are aimed at readers with different levels of education: from the most elementary to that of jurists in the strict sense of the term. Horace’s literary texts can therefore be understood variously, according to readers’ cultural background, amicitiae and interests.
The use of legal references is particularly evident – in its extent and quality – in the Satires: in this context they have an ironic and/or parodic function, that is, they are designed to make readers laugh. The meaning and function of specific citations therefore had to be understood by the audience(s), in a play of mirrors between writer and reader. Consequently, the knowledge of law in the Rome of the first century BC seems not to have been the exclusive preserve of specialists, but to have necessarily extended to include educated intellectual circles. The juridical tradition, and in some cases, the law in force, appear to have been a characteristic part of the Romans’ heritage, a literary – but also cultural in a broad, social sense – whole, and acquired a role as a tool for poetic ends: law served poetry and, at the same time, was an essential part of a narrative of the Roman society of that time, with all its vices.
Adopting the perspective of the relation between text, context and reader, the study examines the various kinds of legal imagery and terminology in Horace’s work. It is not intended to be a mere listing of sources, but an investigation of the interaction between law and literary production in Rome in the first century BC.