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Literature Brown Bag: From Libertas to Licentia: Horace on Lucilius and Old Comedy
Matt Cohn, Department of Classical Studies, will be speaking.
Horace begins his discussion of the history and appropriate form of satire in Serm. 1.4 with an astonishing and hyperbolic claim about his predecessor, Lucilius: Lucilius depended entirely on the Old Comic poets, who used abundant libertas to attack wrongdoers—he differed only in meter! Interpreters have construed this in two contrary ways, supposing either that (a) Horace, following an Aristotelian model of Old Comic humor, connects Lucilian libertas to Old Comedy in order to reject them both or that (b) Horace approves of such libertas, and his criticisms of Lucilian satire are unrelated. I argue that Horace's understanding of Old Comedy's free and frank speech is not simple but complex: rather than being merely salutary or detrimental, it degenerated from one to the other. Horace charts a similar history of decline in Lucilian satire. The imitators of Lucilius in Horace's day were his literary opponents and his patron's political opponents, and what once had been libertas in the hands of Lucilius became licentia in theirs.