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Travelers and Traveler's Accounts in World History, Part 1


The Road to Peace: Horace's Fifth Satire as Travel Literature

Erik Jensen


     Travelers' tales were a well-established element in the literature of the Classical Greek and Roman world. Wandering heroes like Odysseus and Aeneas were long-time staples of popular legend and literary epic alike. Writers with an interest in geography and history used travelers' accounts to help them paint a picture of foreign lands for their readers. Histories of political and military events often followed the movements of their protagonists over landscapes both familiar and exotic. When the Roman satirist Horace recounted his journey from Rome to Brundisium1 in his Satire 1.5 (the fifth poem in his first book of satires), he was writing to an audience who knew what to expect-- and he then set about overturning those expectations. By turning the conventions of travel literature upside-down, Horace opened the way to a more serious message about philosophy and the hope for peace in troubled times.

     The context for Horace's travel is important and it places us near the end of an almost century-long struggle for control of the Roman world. From the 120s BCE on, the Roman republic suffered a series of violent upheavals as the government of the republic failed to effectively cope with the consequences of its own success. These consequences included numerous individuals and factions who had gathered enough wealth and power around themselves to manipulate or outright challenge the Roman state. Sporadic civil wars and numerous attempted or successful coups spread chaos and violence throughout the Mediterranean. Julius Caesar's assumption of sole power in 48 BCE seemed to promise a respite, but his assassination a few years later led to resumption of violence, halted in 43 BCE by the official institution of three men closely tied to Ceasar as supreme heads of state charged with restoring peace and good order to the Roman world. These three were Caesar's grand-nephew and heir, Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus (known to the English-speaking world as Octavian, or by the name he would later use as emperor, Augustus), Caesar's friend and long-time aide, Marcus Antonius (known in English variously as Antonius, Mark Anthony, or Mark Antony), and one of Caesar's strong supporters, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. Together, these men are conventionally referred to as the Second Triumvirate.

     As part of their arrangement, the three divided responsibilities geographically. Octavian assumed power in the west, based in Rome. Antonius operated in the east, largely out of Alexandria where he had a close relationship with the Egyptian queen Cleopatra. Lepidus controlled north Africa and the Iberian peninsula. Over the next few years, Lepidus was marginalized while Octavian and Antonius became the major political actors in the Mediterranean. Although nominally colleagues and connected by marriage, the two quickly became rivals and their relationship deteriorated. Several efforts were made, either by the two principals in person or by their delegates, to smooth over the conflicts and reach a settlement satisfactory to both, but diplomacy ultimately failed and in 32 BCE war broke out again. Octavian emerged victorious and was able to consolidate his hold on power and establish a new form of autocratic government in Rome which we term the empire.

     Horace's poem is set during one of the diplomatic efforts at resolving affairs between Octavian and Antonius, most likely the negotiations at Tarentum2 in 37 BCE.3 Horace was a hanger-on to the party of statesmen and friends of Octavian and Antonius who made the journey and though Horace minimizes the political ramifications of the trip in his telling, it was a moment of great significance. On the outcome of these diplomatic efforts hung the Roman people's hopes for a return to lasting peace and stability after generations of turmoil. Horace leaves all that aside, though, for reasons we will explore, as he focuses on the mundane troubles of an unlucky traveler.

     Published in 36 or 35 BCE, Horace's Satires arrived at a critical moment in Roman history, as a fragile peace was edging towards a resumption of civil war and the teetering republican political system was about to give way to an enduring monarchy. In his own oblique way, Horace gives us an insight into a moment of history when the dice were still up in the air.

     Horace's Satire 1.5 is a text rich in possibilities for teaching because it has so many layers to it. Though short, the poem rewards close reading and rereading. On the surface, it is an account of a journey gone hilariously wrong, a familiar kind of comedy of disaster and ignominy in which Horace himself plays the patsy. At this level, the poem is full of detail about life in the world of late republican Rome and particularly about travel. By reading through Horace's descriptions of bad lodgings, boorish fellow travelers, and the petty annoyances along the way we can learn much about the texture of life in the Roman world. At a deeper level, Horace toys with the conventions of travel writing in its many forms. Reading through these more playful layers we reach a deeper stratum in which Horace speaks to the unsettled politics of the time and invites the audience to join him in longing for the simple pleasures of a world at peace. In the end, he suggests to us that the troubles of the Roman world in his day stem not from the complexities of politics or the inscrutable movements of fate but rather from the failure of the simplest relationship of all: friendship.

  Horace, Satires 1.54  
  Having left great Rome, I was received in Aricia5  
  at a middling inn; my companion was Heliodorus,6  
  the most learned of Greeks by a long way; from there on to Forum Appi,7  
  bursting with boatmen and conniving innkeepers.  
  We slowpokes split this stretch up, though more active travelers 5
  do it in one go: the Via Appia is easier going if you take it slow.  
  Here the water was so awful that I declared war  
  on my stomach and had to wait in a bad humor for my companions  
  to finish their dinner.8 And so the night began to march  
  its shadows over the land and muster its emblems in the sky. 10
  Next the slaves started going at the boatmen and boatmen at the slaves:  
  "Bring 'er over here!" "Three hundred aboard!9 Hoy!  
  That's enough already!" An hour went by in taking fares  
  and hitching up the mule. The vile marsh midges and frogs  
  kept sleep at bay; all the while a boatman, sloshed on cheap wine, 15
  competed with a passenger in crooning to absent  
  girlfriends. At last, worn out, the passenger went to sleep  
  and the lazy boatman hitched the mule to a rock  
  to graze, then flopped down and snored.  
  When morning dawned we realized the old tub 20
  wasn't moving, not until some hothead jumped up and gave  
  the mule and boatman both a good thrashing about the head and hindquarters  
  with a willow switch. We barely made it to the next stop by ten in the morning  
  to wash our faces and hands in your clear waters, O Feronia.10  
  After breakfast we crawled on three miles until we came upon 25
  Anxur, perched on its gleaming white cliffs.11  
  Here we were to meet up with Maecenas and noble  
  Cocceius as they traveled on important business,  
  both old hands at patching things up between quarreling friends.12  
  Here I smeared some black salve on my bleary 30
  eyes. Soon enough Maecenas and noble Cocceius  
  arrived, and at the same time Fonteius Capito, the very  
  model of a man and best of friends to Antonius.13  
  We were glad to get away from Fundi14 and Aufidius Luscus the Lord High  
  Something-or-Other,15 laughing at this foolish functionary's prizes, 35
  his uppity formal attire and ceremonial coal-shovel.  
  Worn out, we next stopped in the old stomping grounds of the Mamurra clan,16  
  staying with Murena, but dining at Capito's place.17  
  The next dawning was the most welcome of all, for  
  at Sinuessa18 we ran into Plotius, Varius, and 40
  Vergil.19 Never has the earth brought forth more pristine  
  souls, nor any to whom I am more devoted.  
  Oh, what embracing and what joy there was!  
  While my wits are with me, I say there's nothing to compare with a companionable friend.  
  Onwards to the Campanian bridge, where the little way station provided 45
  a roof and the keepers, duty bound, furnished firewood and salt.20  
  Next to Capua, where we got the mules unsaddled with time to spare.  
  Maecenas went off to play ball while Vergil and I took a nap;  
  ballgames are bad for the sore-eyed and queasy.21  
  Next Cocceius hosted us at his well-stocked country house 50
  in the hills above the Caudine taverns.22 Now, O Muse,  
  sing to me (in brief) the contest between Sarmentus the gentleman's jester  
  and Messius the country cockscomb, and the ancestry  
  of these two combatants. Messius is a good old Oscan hick,23  
  Sarmentus an ex-slave, his owner still living; now these well-born heroes 55
  entered the fray. Sarmentus shot first: "I say,  
  you look like a horse!" We all laughed, and even  
  Messius said: "Touché!" and tossed his head. "What would you do  
  if you hadn't been de-horned?" Sarmentus went on. "You're  
  offensive enough without it!" for Messius had an ugly scar 60
  marring the left side of his shaggy forehead.  
  Sarmentus kept at him, about his face and warts  
  and begged him to do the cyclops shepherd dance--  
  he wouldn't need a mask or boots at all!24  
  Messius had plenty of comebacks: "Have you made the offering to the family gods 65
  of your slave-chain, yet?" he asked. "You may be moving up in the world,  
  but your mistress has still got rights over you.25  
  Why did you even run away when a pound of flour  
  would be enough to feed you, you're so thin and dainty?"  
  With that kind of joshing we drew out our dinner. 70
  From there we made straight for Beneventum,26 where our industrious host  
  nearly set himself on fire while roasting some scrawny thrushes,  
  for when Vulcan27 abandoned his post the flame went wandering through  
  the old kitchen, then rushed to lick at the roof.  
  You should have seen all the hungry guests and frightened slaves 75
  trying to grab the food and put out the fire.  
  There I began to see the familiar mountains  
  of Apulia, roasted by the sirocco.  
  We never would have made it through had we not been taken in  
  at a place near Trivicum,28 although the fireplace was burning green wood, 80
  leaves and all, and putting out smoke that stung our eyes.  
  Here I stupidly lay awake til midnight  
  waiting for a girl who never turned up;29 even my sleep was  
  driven on by Venus,30 for my dreams, full of unclean visions,  
  soiled my nightgown and stomach as I lay asleep. 85
  From here we were carried on twenty-four miles by carriage  
  to stay in a little town whose name just doesn't work in a poem31  
  but whose distinguishing features are easily recognized: here you have to pay for  
  ordinary water, but the bread is by far the best,  
  so experienced travelers buy an armload to take with them 90
  for at Canusium,32 founded long ago by bold Diomedes,33  
  the bread is full of grit and there's not a jug more of water.  
  Here Varius sorrowfully departed from his lamenting friends.  
  From there we made it to Rubi,34 worn down by a long  
  road rutted out by rainstorms. 95
  After that the weather was better but the road worse,  
  up to the walls of fish-filled Barium.35 Next we came to Gnatia,36  
  built when the local water spirits were feeling peevish,37 where we had a good laugh  
  when the locals tried to convince us that, without any flame, frankincense melts  
  on the temple threshold. Apella the Jew may believe that one, 100
  I won't!38 For I have been taught that the gods live a life free from care,  
  that if nature presents a marvel it is not the gods  
  who send it down from the heights of heaven in their anger.39  
  At Brundisium both our journey and my paper came to an end.40  

     This poem can be understood at several different levels. To begin our examination at the surface level, Horace's account of his journey furnishes us with many details about travel and life in the late Roman republic, particularly about the routes and modes of travel and the amenities that travelers could expect along the way. From Rome to Forum Appi, as Horace himself remarks, he followed the Appian Way. (6) This was one of the major roads connecting Rome with the rest of Italy and would be a natural first stage for a southward journey. Romans are justly famous for their road-building skills, one of the many feats of practical engineering which helped the city-state grow into an empire and helped the empire to function. Most Roman roads, including the great viae in Italy, were originally constructed as military roads, built broad, stable, and high enough off the terrain to keep marching soldiers and their supply trains from getting bogged down by inclement weather and rough terrain. These same qualities, however, made the roads excellent routes for other kinds of travelers such as merchants, seasonal laborers, and individuals like Horace journeying on public or private business.

     Along this stretch, Horace gives us one of his hints about speeds and distances, suggesting that he traveled from Aricia to Forum Appi in two days, what he considers a somewhat lethargic pace, for determined travelers can make it in one.41 (5-6) The distance from Aricia to Forum Appi along the Via Appia is about 40 km, meaning Horace traveled roughly 20 km per day on that stretch. Aricia is also just a little over 20 km from Rome on the Via Appia, so if we suppose that Horace's opening line also records one day's journey, he seems so far to be traveling at a consistent rate of about 20 km a day. (1) Modern hiking experience shows that 20 km in a day is a sustainable walking speed, particularly on the kind of good ground and easy slope provided by the Via Appia, so it seems that Horace was either walking or perhaps mounted but going at a leisurely walking pace. The 40 km between Aricia and Forum Appi would have been hard for a man on foot to cover in a day, though not impossible; it was certainly within the scope of a man on horseback, and Horace's reference to "more active travelers" might mean either.42

     At Forum Appi, Horace changed his mode of transportation and took a boat. A canal ran through the Pomptine marshes alongside the Via Appia from Forum Appi to Lucus Feroniae, Horace's next stop, and the boat Horace boarded was clearly a canal barge, pulled by a mule led along the side of the canal by a boatman. (13-22) This boat is an interesting example of overnight travel, something familiar from the modern world of sleeper trains and red-eye flights but which comes as a surprise in the ancient world. The existence of this boat service implies enough routine traffic along the Via Appia to support such a business venture. The impression that, at least this close to Rome, the Via Appia was heavily traveled is further bolstered by Horace's description of the town as "bursting with boatmen and conniving innkeepers."43 (4) The sense we get is that long-distance travel was nothing exotic in the Roman world and that local industries were founded on it.

     These industries included taverns serving food, which Horace declines on account of the local water quality; these same establishments certainly offered lodgings as well. Horace's jab at malicious innkeepers rehearses a customary prejudice in Roman popular culture that the owners of such public establishments were not to be trusted and that inns were dangerous places to stay. (4) The bad reputation of inns was strong enough that special mention was made of innkeepers and their liability for injury done to their guests in Roman law.44 As we will see later, Horace and his traveling companions preferred to rely on the hospitality of friends when they could, but this was a privilege of the wealthy and well-connected. Travelers without such advantages would have had to make do with the accommodations offered by inns along the way.

     Exactly how Horace traveled on from Lucus Feroniae is not made clear, but his language implies that it was slow going, continuing the plodding pace of the first lines.45 The next few stages of the journey tell us nothing about the mode of transport, but the route is clear enough, despite a few poetic flourishes, and continues to follow the Via Appia south. The next stop is Tarracina on the coast (Horace uses the more poetically adapted name of the nearby old hill town of Anxur) where Horace rendezvoused with Maecenas, Cocceius, and Fonteius Capito. (26-31) With Tarracina as the meeting point, it is likely that these eminent men took the more expensive but more convenient sea route down the coast by ship from Ostia, Rome's main port at the mouth of the Tiber river. Here for the first time the serious purpose of the journey is glanced at: a peace summit between Octavian and Antonius, the dominant powers in the Roman world at this time. Horace, for reasons we will return to, minimizes an enterprise of such importance with an offhand remark reducing the political tensions of the Roman world to a spat between friends. (29)

     The journey goes on, told in an impressionistic way. The next major town along the Via Appia is Fundi, where Horace and company were evidently entertained (in both senses of the word) by a local councilman, one Aufidius Luscus. (34-6) Horace's portrait of this man is a caricature of the small-town big shot who fancies that he moves in the same circles as men like Maecenas and Cocceius, but it seems likely that Aufidius provided hospitality to the travelers so that they would not have to stay at an inn. For poetic reasons again Horace omits the name of the next town along the Via Appia, Formiae, but it is readily identifiable as the home town of the Mamurrae, a local family which had become involved with the high politics of the republic in the previous generation. (37) Here the hospitality of friends was called on, with a local notable providing lodgings and one of the travelers himself offering food. (38) The next stop is Sinuessa where the final batch of travelers joined the company: Vergil, Plotius, and Varius. (40-1)

     The traveling party continued to follow the Via Appia as it turned away from the coast and up the plain of the river Volturnus towards Capua. The next stop was at Pons Campanus where a bridge carried the road across the Savo river. Here a different kind of accommodation is mentioned, a way station maintained by the state for the use of travelers on official business, obligated to provide food, fodder, and shelter to such a delegation. (45-6) Horace's language does not imply the same distaste as he held for public inns, but does register the meagerness of the accommodations.46

     At the next stopping point, Capua, Horace references pack mules, giving us another glimpse at modes of travel. (47) All along the way so far, the pace has been the same walking speed Horace called "slow" early on, with about 15-25 km distance between stopping points. (5-6) Since it seems unlikely that men as rich and important as Maecenas or Capito would undertake such a long journey by walking, we should probably imagine the main characters in this traveling party riding at a leisurely pace attended by slaves on foot to manage the mules with baggage.

     The next stop cannot be pinpointed, but it is somewhere in the vicinity of Caudium, meaning the company followed the Via Appia up into the hills. (50-1) Horace references public taverns again, but the party was hosted this time by Cocceius at his villa in the hills. The next stop was at Beneventum, only about 15 km on from Caudium but through rougher terrain. (71) Apart from a mishap in the kitchen, Horace supplies little information about the accommodations, but the "scrawny thrushes"47 whose cooking led to the kitchen fire suggest a modest establishment. (71-2)

     Here we lose track of the travelers as it becomes difficult to identify their route and stops. The Trivicum mentioned by Horace cannot be identified with certainty.48 After Beneventum the road forks with the Via Appia veering south and another major route angling north and connecting to the Via Minucia on the western coastal plain. A number of smaller roads and tracks also cross the mountains in this region. When we next have a secure location, the company has left the Via Appia behind and is in Rubi on the Via Minucia, but where they diverged we cannot tell. (94) Horace does provide the information that they traveled 24 (Roman) miles (36 km) between two stops, but not being able to identify either the starting or the stopping point the information is of little use in identifying a route. (86)

     What information we do have about the intervening stops is thin. Horace calls the house where they stayed near Trivicum a villa, the term he used for Cocceius' country estate (50), but the poor state of the accommodations offered seems more in line with the way station at Pons Campanus (45). The green wood smoking in the fireplace certainly suggests a place not properly prepared to receive important guests. (80-1) Horace's hope of finding a female companion for the night in a place of public accommodation was not an unreasonable one, but her failure to appear as arranged is another black mark against the quality of the establishment. (82-3) The next town goes unnamed, again for poetic reasons, and Horace does not even attempt a substitute but instead describes the town's modest amenities (expensive water but excellent bread). (87-9) Scholarship on the poem has suggested various possibilities, but with so little information to go on we cannot be certain.49 Between Trivicum and the unnamed town, Horace notes that they traveled by carriage, covering a distance equal to 36 km, nearly twice the distance covered by the leisurely pace set early in the journey. (86) The carriage must have been locally hired and the availability of such a service in the mountains, like the canal boat at Forum Appi, attests to the strength of the market for travel services, at least along the major routes.

     With the arrival in Rubi we are once again securely on the map. (94) From there, the travelers followed the Via Minucia down the Adriatic coast of Italy through Barium and Gnatia to Brundisium. (97-104) For these last few towns, Horace provides little detail about travel arrangements or accommodations. The narration seems to speed up and press ahead, as if the poem itself is worn out from its long journey and is eager to reach the end, but there are still a few details worth noting. The remark that savvy travelers load up on bread in the unnamed town because of the poor quality of the fare in Canusium illustrates another of the practical concerns of travelers in the Roman world. (90-3) Horace twice mentions the poor condition of the road, a not unexpected danger far from the center of administration and in times of political unrest. (94-96) At Gnatia, as before at Fundi, the company was amused by the pretensions of the locals, although this time the claim is a religious rather than political one. (97-100) The parallel might suggest that here again the company received local official hospitality, but we cannot be certain of it. The endpoint of the journey was Brundisium, an important travel node as one of the usual ports for sea travel to Greece and the east. (104)

Having retraced the practical elements of Horace's journey, we can begin to address the poem as a work of travel literature. Travelers' tales did not form a discrete genre of their own in the Classical world but were integral to several different varieties of literature. There were many different categories of literature which made use of travel narratives, but among those that seem particularly relevant to Horace's work we may identify a "heroic" variety, following the travels of wandering heroes, a "picturesque" variety, giving anecdotes on contemporary travel and describing exotic marvels, and a "political/historical" variety, tracking the movements mostly of armies and statesmen. All of these varieties are well represented in the Classical corpus. The Odyssey and the Aeneid are prime examples of the "heroic" variety, with their protagonists tossed upon distant shores. Pausanias' Description of Greece is one of the best known of the "picturesque" variety, but many other examples are known, including Lucilius' Iter Siculum, now known only in fragments but evidently a model for Horace's own work.50 For the "political/historical" type we can find excellent examples in Polybios' Histories, in many parts of the work but especially in the account of Hannibal's march on Italy, as well as in Caesar's descriptions of his campaigns, De Bello Gallico and De Bello Civile, close to Horace's own day and another clear inspiration.51

     Horace's satire does not fit neatly into any of these modes of travel writing but interacts with all of them in inventive and often subversive ways. To begin with, although Horace consistently humbles himself in his first-person account, hardly a heroic figure, he nevertheless makes a joke of importing some of the elements of heroic travel. Mythic literature abounds in contests between martial heroes, whether in feats of arms or of wits. Wandering heroes like Odysseus and Aeneas had to lead the fight against hostile locals, be they monsters like the cyclops outwitted by Odysseus or indigenous heroes like Turnus, battled by Aeneas for the right to settle his Trojan refugees in Italy. Horace scatters his poem with the shadows of such heroic contests between newcomer and local, brought down to the comic level. First there are the slave attendants of the travelers at Forum Appi arguing with the local boatmen over luggage and fares. (11-13) Next comes the passenger who has a drunken singing match with a boatman (15-17), followed the next morning by the irate passenger who gives the lazy boatman and his mule a sound beating. (21-3) The greatest contest comes between Sarmentus and Messius, set up with full mock-heroic framing including the invocation of the muse and recounting of the "heroes'" ancestry. (51-69) Sarmentus in this case is the newcomer not just as a part of the traveling party but as a freed slave, a newcomer into respectable Roman society. Messius is the quintessential local: not just an Oscan on his native turf but the model of the Roman stereotype of Oscans, a comically grotesque bumpkin.

     Another convention of mythic wandering was the heroes' encounters with gods and demi-gods.52 Horace has no face-to-face encounters with gods, but a few divine personages still pop up in his tale. First is the local goddess Feronia, whom he directly addresses in imitation of heroic style. (24) She fulfills her duty by providing clean water after the passage through the marshes, but any reverential notions are immediately undercut as Horace turns to the practicalities of breakfast and plodding along to the next stop. (25) The next two divine interventions are less happy. The fire god Vulcan is pictured fleeing the scene of the kitchen fire at Beneventum, (73) while the love goddess Venus hangs around unwanted after Horace's female companionship fails to turn up and instead leaves him soiled by a wet dream. (84) In both cases we can see a failure of divine responsibility. Vulcan is derelict in his duty by letting the fire run free, while Venus both fails to deliver the expected lover and then won't leave Horace alone.53 A further divine presence is dismissed, although the god in question goes unmentioned, as the travelers scoff at the miracle described by the people Gnatia. (97-100)

     While Horace toys with and subverts the conventions of heroic travel literature, he does much the same to the picturesque variety. In this genre practical observations on travel are mixed with descriptions of noteworthy local wonders. Horace's tale includes some such observations on travel, but mostly in the negative vein. The water at Forum Appi is terrible, (7) the night boat experience is miserable, (13-23) and the city councilman at Fundi is a boor. (34-6) At Beneventum the kitchen nearly burns down (71-4) while at Trivicum the service is terrible. (80-3) At the unnamed town you get gouged for water, (88-9) then at Canusium the bread is inedible, (91-2) and the road beyond just gets worse and worse. (95-6) So far from painting an appealing picture of travel, this account makes a persuasive case for just staying home!

     As for describing the marvelous sights of the journey, Horace's poem is even worse. The sites of religious significance, natural wonder, human accomplishment, or historical import of the sort that other travel writers were eager to illuminate for their readers are fleetingly glimpsed or outright dismissed. The grove of Feronia is barely mentioned between disembarkation and breakfast. (24) The soaring limestone cliffs of Tarracina serve only as a signpost for a rendezvous with friends. (26) The major city of Capua disappears in an afternoon nap. (47-8) The Caudine Forks, which loomed large in Roman memory, are hinted at only as part of the set-up for a battle of wits between two buffoons. (51) The city of Beneventum, an ancient rival to Rome, is glimpsed only from inside a burning kitchen. (71-3) Canusium's claim to have been founded by a famous hero is offered only as an afterthought to the quality of the local food. (91-2) At Gnatia the miraculous flameless melting of incense is ridiculed as naive provincial superstition. (97-100) The satire reads almost like an antithesis to conventional picturesque travel literature: the journey is dreadful and there's nothing worth seeing.

     Just as Horace mocks the elements of heroic wanderers' tales and turns picturesque travel writing upside-down, he plays the same game with the conventions of political/historical travel accounts. Horace peppers his account with the jargon of histories and military campaign journals, while in fact speaking of the mundane annoyances of travel. Thus, he describes skipping dinner as "declaring war on his stomach," as if he were cutting off supplies to a besieged town. (7-8) The onset of night is described as a marching column of shadows with the stars as battle standards; the concurrent argument between slaves and boatmen is set up with the phrasing typical of clashing armies.54 (9-11) The boat journey, and other incidents in the poem, are recounted by Horace in the present tense, following a rhetorical device known as the "historical present" in which the present tense is used to narrate moments of high action like battle scenes as a way of heightening the excitement.55 (I have rendered all of my translation in the past tense for clarity's sake.) Horace adopts the phrasing of historical chronicle to mock Aufidius Luscus, the conceited local official in Fundi,56 (34-5) then reminds his readers of Caesar's campaign narratives by using a reference to the Mamurra family to identify Formiae. (37) The kitchen fire in Beneventum is described as if it were the looting of a burned city.57 (71-6) The last stages of the journey echo the language of campaign diaries as Horace concerns himself with distances (86), food and water sources (88-9, 92, 98), and weather and road conditions. (94-6) The serious language Horace borrows from political and military history is comically incongruous in his account of slow boats and missed dinners.

     By invoking and then thumbing his nose at all of these various genres of travel literature, Horace achieves more than just a comedy of dashed expectations. He makes us wonder just what he is up to. With so many familiar genres of travel writing tossed out the window, what exactly is Horace playing at? What kind of a journey is this that he is on? If he is no hero, no tourist, no general on campaign, then what is he, where is he going, and why are we along for the ride? By breaking down the conventions of travel writing, Horace prepares us for a serious argument hidden amongst the jokes.


     Seen from the point of view of traditional travel writing, the poem mirrors the journey it describes: everything seems to be going wrong. On one level, the boat that is supposed to travel all night doesn't go anywhere, the girl who is supposed to turn up in Horace's bed is nowhere to be found, and the fire that is supposed to cook dinner instead burns the kitchen down. On another level, the heroic combatants are just a pair of clowns, the tourist misses all the attractions, and a traveling party of diplomats and poets is spoken of as if it were an army on campaign. On yet another level, Horace makes a joke of his own failings as a writer: here is a poet who cannot work the names of towns into his poem, an observer of human life whose eyes keep failing him,58 a writer with a wealthy patron who still runs out of paper. The comedy of failure bursts the confines of the poem to infect the poet himself. A heap of small jokes adds up to a big joke: Horace the unlucky traveler merges with Horace the satirical poet whose business it is to set everything askew.

     In another sense, however, this cluster bomb of comic failure serves a far more serious purpose which comes to the fore when we place this journey in its political context. Horace buries the point in an oblique reference to quarreling friends, but contemporary readers would have grasped the significance of this particular traveling party: a diplomatic effort at reaching a stable arrangement between Octavian and Antonius and pulling the Roman world back from the brink of yet another civil war. (29) The continual disappointments of the journey create a tone of imminent disaster presaging the ultimate failure of diplomacy and the resumption of hostilities between these two men. Why bother making such a journey, Horace seems to ask, when the outcome cannot be any better?

     And yet there are two bright spots in the poem where Horace makes serious positive declarations about the world. The first comes just before the mid-point of the satire where Horace celebrates the arrival of his poetic friends with what seems to be a sincere joy in their company. (39-44) The second arrives just before the end where Horace asserts that the gods are not responsible for natural marvels.59 (101-3) Both of these passages restate key principles of Epicurean philosophy, and that philosophy provides a lens through which to understand Horace's most important point of all.60

     The fundamentals of Epicurean thinking can be summarized as follows: the world is purely material; our lives have no spiritual element and nothing of our consciousness or identity persists after death. The gods, if they exist at all, are completely unconcerned with humans and take no part in our world or lives. The best way to live, therefore, is to stop troubling ourselves with either the desire for worldly accomplishment or the fear of divine censure. Instead we should withdraw from the world to enjoy, in moderation, the simple pleasures of food and drink, rest and leisure, sexual exercise, and above all the companionship of good friends. Although in modern parlance Epicureanism has come to be associated with hedonism and gormandizing, the historical philosophical school sought freedom from suffering as its highest goal and held that any excess, even of good things, led to pain.61

     Horace's references to Epicureanism are not incidental but in fact point us to a response to the diplomatic failure and ensuing war countenanced in the rest of the poem. Seen from this point of view, when Horace reduces the political tensions of the Roman world to a tiff between friends, he is not in fact making light of a grave political situation but rather asking to be taken literally: the problem between Octavian and Antonius is a failure not of policy but of friendship. If the two men could find a way to get along, the Roman world could be spared from the sufferings of another round of civil war. The hoped-for outcome may be unattained, but the hope is real nonetheless. Similarly, at the end of the poem, Horace reminds us that the gods do not bring us either good fortune or calamity. Our lives are in our own hands. Octavian and Antonius cannot blame the collapse of their arrangement on fate or divine intervention. They are themselves responsible for their relationship and they hold the power to mend it, if they are willing.

     By upending the conventions of travel writing, Horace invites us to overturn our expectations of Roman politics. For generations, the usual tools of political power had failed to create peace and stability in Rome. If there was to be hope for peace, it lay in rejecting those conventional approaches, just as Horace rejects the conventions of literary genre. By stripping away the tropes of heroic narrative, picturesque travelogue, and political history, Horace lays bare a world of ordinary things. It is in this world of the ordinary that human lives are lived, where we find the things that actually matter: the comforts of good food and restful sleep, friendly bedmates and pleasant company. Next to these things, affairs of politics and war are mere trifles. Likewise, behind all the political confusion are two men, Octavian and Antonius. All it would take to secure peace for Rome would be for the two of them to get along as friends.

     This diplomatic journey will fail, Horace tells us, not because of some calamity beyond human control but because it is the wrong kind of journey and the wrong people are making it. The journeys that matter are not the wanderings of heroes, not the exotic sight-seeing tours of wonder-seekers, not the marches of armies and generals, but the slow, quiet walks that take us to the home of a good friend in time for dinner. If Octavian and Antonius could be persuaded to walk that road together, Horace gives us to hope, then maybe at the end of it they would find peace.

Erik Jensen received his Ph.D. Columbia University. He is an Assistant Professor at Salem State University where he teaches World History, Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. He can be reached at


1 Brundisium is the modern city of Brindisi, on the Adriatic coast of the "heel" of the Italian peninsula.

2 Modern Taranto, in the bay formed by the "heel" at the end of the Italian peninsula.

3 Gowers' introduction to the text neatly summarizes the reasoning for placing the events of the poem in 37, although Horace himself gives us no definitive date. E. Gowers, ed., Satires, Book 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2012) 182-3.

4 My own translation based on the Cambridge edition of the text by Gowers. I am also indebted to the translations by Fairclough and Bovie for inspiration and guidance. H. R. Fairclough, ed. and transl., Satires, Epistles and Ars Poetica, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1929); S. P. Bovie, transl., Satires and Epistles (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1959); Gowers (2012).

5 Modern Ariccia, at the base of the Alban Hills. In Horace's day, it was a wealthy suburb of Rome and one of the first stops on the Via Appia south of the city.

6 We have no positive identification for Heliodorus. It is possible the name "Heliodorus" is standing in for "Apollodorus" (in Greek helios = the sun, Apollo = the sun god), but the identity of this traveling companion by either name remains uncertain.

7 Modern Foro Appio, a village east of Latina. In Horace's day, evidently a bustling town doing a good business off of travelers on the Via Appia.

8 Forum Appi was near the edge of the Pomptine marshes, a stretch of coastal wetlands, which accounts for the bad water quality as well as the switch to canal boat at this point in the journey and the annoying insects and frogs at night (14).

9 The number three hundred is probably not to be taken literally. It is hard to imagine such a boat being towed by a single mule. In Latin "three hundred" was used as a generic stand-in for any very large number, as we might say in English "a bazillion". What is meant by this line is something like: "The boat's full up with passengers already!" Cf. Horace, Odes 2.14.5.

10 Horace identifies the site of the boat's arrival as Lucus Feroniae, the grove of Feronia, by addressing the local goddess directly. The modern location is in the vicinity of Pontalto, a village northwest of Terracina. Feronia was an old Italian goddess connected with fertility (other places sacred to Feronia are found elsewhere in Italy) who by Horace's time had come to be associated with the Roman goddess Juno. Varro, On the Latin Language 5.74; Vergil, Aeneid 7.800. G. Farney, Ethnic Identity and Aristocratic Competition in Republican Rome (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007) 286.

11 Anxur is the ancient name of a hilltop settlement, no longer in use in Horace's day except as a religious site. The town of Tarracina (modern Terracina) was later built on the seashore at the base of the hills. Horace has followed the Via Appia into Tarracina but uses the old name because "Tarracina" cannot be made to fit the meter of the poem (see the unnamed town at 87). Pliny, Natural History 3.59.

12 Gaius Clinius Maecenas was part of Octavian's inner circle and, among other roles, managed Octavian's patronage of artists, including Horace. Several members of the Cocceius family were politically active as supporters of Antonius; whichever of them is meant here, the mention of these individuals gives us our first, and almost only, indication of the political purpose of this journey. To Horace's audience, though, such a brief mention would have been enough to locate the context and importance of this particular journey.

13 Gaius Fonteius Capito was a former consul who had served Antonius as a diplomat before.

14 Modern Fondi, at the inland end of a small coastal plain between hilly Terracina and Sperlonga.

15 This Aufidius Luscus styled himself "praetor", adopting the title of one of the highest offices of the Roman republic for what was actually a small town council. Roman sophisticates like Horace and Maecenas may well have laughed at such pretension, but it is hard to convey in translation. I have opted to make the joke explicit with a hint of Gilbert and Sullivan.

16 Horace here means the town of Formiae, modern Formi, which again is metrically impossible. Marcus Vitrubio Mamurra served Julius Caesar as a military engineer and became extremely rich. He later acquired a reputation for profligacy and sexual adventurism for which he was lampooned in contemporary literature as an example of the boorishness of the provincial nouveau riche. Caesar, De Bello Gallico 4.17-19, 5.1, 7.68-74; Catullus, Carmina 29, 41, 43; Cicero, Letters to Atticus 7.7.

17 Lucius Licinius Varro Murena, a former consul. Capito is Fonteius Capito, one of the traveling party, who evidently provided dinner at a house of his.

18 Sinuessa, modern Mondragone, a small town on the coast west of Capua.

19 Marcus Plotius Tucca, Marcus Varius Rufus, and Publius Vergilius Maro, a trio of poets who were also part of Maecenas' artistic patronage network. Vergil is today the most famous of the three, particularly for his Aeneid, which was unfinished at his death and was edited and published by Plotius and Varius.

20 The Campanian bridge, Pons Campanus, was where the Via Appia crossed the Savo river on the approach to the city of Capua and the region around it called Campania. There is no modern town to name here, but the location is somewhere in the farmland between Mondragone on the coast and Capua inland. Stations of this kind were maintained at public expense for the use of travelers on official business. "Firewood and salt" stands metaphorically for the food, fodder, and shelter that these way stations offered. See: I. M. LeM. DuQuesnay, "Horace and Maecenas; the propaganda value of Sermones 1" in T. Woodman and D. West, eds., Poetry and Politics in the Age of Augustus (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984) 41-2.

21 Ball games were a popular leisure activity in the Roman world. Games of many different kinds were played, including games that resemble modern volleyball, soccer, or rugby. It is not clear what kind of game Maecenas was playing, but many references to Roman ball games emphasize their strenuous physical demands. Sidonius Apollinaris, Letters 5.17.7; Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 1.14-15; Martial, Epigrams 7.32.

22 Caudium, modern Montesarchio, was a town in an upland dale on the western side of the Apennine Mountains. Horace's reference to "the Caudine taverns" would have reminded his audience of the Caudine Forks, a narrow valley west of the city where a Roman army was trapped by the Samnites in 321 BCE and forced to negotiate a humiliating retreat. The incident had a place in Roman memory out of proportion to its historical importance. Livy, History of Rome 9.2-6.

23 The Oscans were one of the ancient ethnic groups of Italy who traditionally occupied the southern hill regions of the peninsula. In Roman popular culture, Oscans were caricatured as crude country yokels and they were credited with the invention of the Atellan Farce, a kind of lewd slapstick comedy that was popular entertainment in Rome. E. Dench, Romulus' Asylum (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005) 181.

24 The "cyclops shepherd dance" is evidently some kind of theatrical performance, perhaps related to the Atellan Farce. Masks (to disguise the actor and depict characters) and boots (to give actors more height) were standard accoutrements of the theater. Sarmentus is suggesting that Messius already looks like a grotesque stage character.

25 Messius' jabs at Sarmentus imply that Sarmentus was not in fact a freedman but a runaway slave pretending to have been freed. Freedmen were low on the Roman social ladder, but slaves, of course, were even lower.

26 Modern Benevento, in the Apennine Mountains.

27 God of fire, but also a god of useful crafts who might have been expected to contain a fire rather than let it spread.

28 Here we lose track of the traveling party for a while. Trivicum cannot be located on the map with certainty (see the discussion below).

29 The girl was most likely a prostitute, known to have been associated with inns in Roman culture. A slave of the household is also possible, since the bodies of slaves were at their masters' disposal, including for sexual purposes, but the distinction between a prostitute and an innkeeper's slave may not be a meaningful one. For Horace to have propositioned a free woman in such a manner would have been indecent and potentially illegal. Ulpian, D., 20-2. T. A. J. McGinn, The Economy of Prostitution in the Roman World (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004) 15-22.

30 Goddess of love and fertility.

31 Literally, the town "cannot be said in verse" ... versu dicere non est. Horace lifts the poetic curtain here to inform us that the town's name doesn't fit his meter, and he will not even try to substitute another name but goes straight to description. The identity of this town is debated. See the discussion below.

32 Here we are back on the map, although it is not clear whether the party actually visited Canusium or Horace is merely inserting it as an interesting local detail. Canusium, modern Canosa di Puglia, was a town on the Aufidus river in the low hills between the mountains and the eastern coast.

33 Diomedes is one of the legendary Greek heroes of the Trojan War. Many cities in the ancient world claimed such heroes as founding figures.

34 Rubi, modern Ruvo di Puglia, was another town in the Apulian hills. At some point between Beneventum and Rubi the party left the Via Appia and started following the Via Minucia which ran through Apulia, but we do not know where they changed routes.

35 Barium is modern Bari, a coastal city on the Adriatic Sea, which explains Horace's reference to fish.

36 Gnatia, modern Torre Egnazia, is another coastal town, further down the Adriatic.

37 Meaning that, like in many towns in dry Apulia, there were no good local water sources.

38 "Apella" is not a specific individual but a stock name used for Jewish caricatures in Roman literature, much as we might use "Jose" for a caricature Mexican or "Billy-Bob" for a stereotypical hillbilly. In Roman popular culture, Jews were portrayed as being superstitious and liable to believe strange things about the gods, a stereotype which probably came from Roman polytheists' consternation at the monotheism of the Jews. V. Pisani, "Apella" Paideia 8 (1953) 18; L. H. Feldman, Jew and Gentile in the Ancient World: Attitudes and Interactions (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993).

39 Horace reproduces here one of the fundamental tenets of Epicurean philosophy. Compare with Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 5.82-3. See further discussion below.

40 Brundisium was one of the usual ports for travel between Italy and Greece, making it a convenient place for dealings between Octavian, who held power in the west, and Antonius, who held the east. The abrupt end to the poem is deliberate and part of Horace's joke, as discussed below.

41 Like much in the poem, the number of days traveled defies any close scrutiny, but Horace's choice of words, "hoc iter... divisimus" hints at two days, implying a journey split in half.

42 Horace's words, "altius... preacinctus", meaning literally "belted higher up" may refer either to the way professional messengers and other experienced runners hitched their tunics up out of the way of their legs or, metaphorically, to men who were better prepared for serious travel, such as those who might opt to go on horseback.

43 "differtum nautis cauponibus atque malignis..."

44 See Ulpian, D.; Ulpian, D.; Ulpian, D.; Ulpian D.

45 "repimus" (25) the verb repo literally means crawling on all fours like an animal or baby, used here metaphorically for traveling slowly.

46 He calls it "villula," literally a "little farm", and while his reference to firewood and salt ("ligna salemque") stands metaphorically for the food and lodging the station provided, it also suggests a minimum of comfort. (45-6)

47 "macros... turdos" (72).

48 The Barrington Atlas suggests one possible location for Trivicum, a little off the Via Appia: Richard J. Talbert, ed., Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2000) 45. Radke suggests another, along a minor road connecting the Via Appia with the Via Minucia: G. Radke, "Topographische Betrachtungen zum Iter Brundisium des Horaz," Rheinisches Museum für Philologie 132 (1989) 66-71.

49 Possibilities which have been entertained include: Ausculum (P. Desy, "La traversée de l'Apennin par Horace" Latomus 47 (1988) 620-5), Herdoneae (Radke (1989); C. Brink, "Second thoughts on three Horatian puzzles" in S. Harrison, ed., Homage to Horace: a bimillenary celebration (Oxford: Clarendon, 1995) 267-78), and Venusia (Gowers (2012) 209). See also L. Morgan, "Metre matters: some higher-level metrical play in Latin poetry," Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society 46 (2000) 99-120.

50 Gowers (2012) 182. On Lucilius: M. Coffey, Roman Satire (London: Methuen, 1976) 39-62; F. Muecke, "Rome's first 'satirists': themes and genre in Ennius and Lucilius" in K. Freudenburg, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Roman Satire (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005) 3-47.

51 On Horace's relationship to the various genres of travel writing: L. Illuminati, La satura odeporica Latina (Milan: Società anonima editrice Dante Alighieri, 1938); H. Grupp, Studien zum antiken Reisegedicht (Tübingen: Eberhard-Karls-Universität, 1953); A. Cavarazere, "Noterelle eterodosse alle satire odeporiche," Prometheus 21 (1995) 141-60.

52 The strength of this convention is illustrated by Polybios' complaint about earlier historians who had felt compelled to insert such divine encounters into their versions of Hannibal's march across the Alps, a comparatively recent historical event. Polybios, Histories 3.47-8.

53 These divine failures may be veiled jabs at Octavian and Antonius who at the time were failing in their responsibility to restore the Roman world to peace and order.

54 Compare, for instance, the confusion of nighttime battle at Plataea in Thucydides, Histories 2.42.

55 Caesar was one of the noteworthy exponents of the historical present in his campaign narratives and Hoarce's whimsical use of it here may be a direct parody. Fredrik Oldsjö, Tense and Aspect in Caesar's Narrative. Studia Latina Upsaliensis 26 (Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2001).

56 "...Aufidio Lusco praetore..." (34), literally: "with Aufidius Luscus being praetor." This was the conventional phrasing used to give dates in Roman literature, identifying the year by the names of the sitting magistrates.

57 The heroic tradition is also invoked here. Compare with Vergil's description of the fall of Troy: Vergil, Aeneid 2.310-12.

58 He needs a salve for his eyes after traveling through the marshes (30-1), begs off from playing ball on account of sore eyes (49), and is bothered by smoke at Trivicum. (80-1)

59 Compare this structure with Vergil's Aeneid, in which both the first and second half of the epic end with sudden and unsettling reversals of expectation.

60 On Horace's engagement with philosophy: R. Mayer, "Sleeping with the Enemy: satire and philosophy" in Freudenburg (2005) 146-59; J. Moles, "Philosophy and ethics" in Harrison (2007).

61 On Epicureanism: A. A. Long and D. N. Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers, Volume 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987); H. Jones, The Epicurean Tradition (London: Routledge, 1989).


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