[ilds] Loeb Classical Library

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Sat May 10 14:30:47 PDT 2008

More comments on James's reading of "Loeb's Horace."

-----Original Message-----
>From: James Gifford <odos.fanourios at gmail.com>
>Sent: May 10, 2008 10:22 AM
>To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca
>Subject: Re: [ilds] Loeb Classical Library
>And, in no version of the poem is Horace the branch and Durrell the 
>root.  Horace is both branch, leaf, limb, trunk, and root (he is 
>bucolic, after all), and Durrell gets to be the dirt:
>   And found a suffering limb on the great Latin tree
>   Whose roots grew under the barbarian grammar we
>   Use -- though based on his -- his mason's tongue.  (McMaster)
>     vs.
>   Found a suffering limb on the great Latin tree
>   Whose roots live in the barbarian grammar we
>   Use, yet based in him, his mason's tongue;  (/Cities, Plains/)
>The trees roots live in the compost of our barbarian language, rotting 
>yet fecund.  Hence, I find it exceptionally apt to point back to the 
>similar phrase (as I did previously) in "Anniversary" in which Durrell 
>echoes Eliot's roots of lilac, which allude to Chaucer's April showers 
>that pierce the barbaric earth to the root of the flowers, bathing the 
>vines in sweet draughts, which ain't so far from Virgil's Eclogues 
>either...  Bucolic indeed.

Okay.  But a lot of poetic license is required to make this metaphor work.  I tend to be literal minded and find the figure disorientating.  Genetic descriptions of language development take the form of "trees," proceeding from root languages to their "offshoots," e.g., starting with Latin as the top "root" and descending to "branches" of the various Romance languages.  The Latin "tree" in historical linguistics is distinct from the Germanic "tree," where Durrell's "barbarian grammar" resides.  Durrell reverses this traditional description and places Latin in the branches ("limb") and English among the "roots."  English does have many Latin verbal roots courtesy of 1066 and the Norman French and later the Latin-Renaissance awakening, and this image is probably what led Durrell to come up with the tree metaphor, however confusing and inaccurate.

Why is English a "barbarian grammar?"  I guess because the speaker is assuming a little of Horace's viewpoint, and the Romans did regard the inhabitants of Britannia as barbarians.  However, the Britanni were probably Celts and not Anglo-Saxons, who came much later and fathered the English language.  So, I offer another quibble about the accuracy of the metaphor of "barbarian grammar."  For those who are rolling their eyes at this point, I say yes, this does not matter one whit.  After all, Keats confused "stout Cortez" with Balboa, and his "Chapman's Homer" remains a great poem.

>The lover's harsh comments on Horace being fat are altered and 
>transformed, but initially they are the poet's own kinder words.  They 
>are the lover's, which are rebutted elsewhere, I think in order to 
>encourage the reader to do the same, rather than leave Horace like 
>Durrell, sitting in the orchard recognizing that style cannot pierce the 
>veil of mystery.  Durrell is rebuked with Horace, for neither will get 
>the answer he desires, sitting there exhausting life.

I don't see any significant rebuttal taking place.  No transformation.  No reassessment.  Harsh comments on Horace end the poem, and as in a Latin sentence, the beginning and the end are the most important parts.  "Fat, human and unloved" -- these are the last sentiments, and they sting, wound deeply, and provide the lasting impression.  That "clear hand" tolls and echoes like a bell.  What offsets the bitterness of "Disguising a sense of failure in a hatred for the young," the hollowness of "this forgery / Of completeness," the self-delusion of "The escape from self-knowledge," or the invidious accusation of being a "liar."  All directed at Horace (and/or perhaps Durrell himself in a toga).  Twelve paltry lines on the "sad heart of Horace" wipes away none of these charges.


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