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Horace Odes Book 3 Notes

Classics Notes > Latin Literature of the 1st Century AD Notes

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Discuss Death and Fear of Death in Horace Odes 3 Death is what separates man from the gods and the fact that he knows he will die and the subsequent fear that this brings is what separates man from the animals; Horace wants us to accept the ultmate and inevitable nature of death and live in a way as to not constantly fear it. Four poems in partcular in the third book of his Odes deal with how to conquer the fear of death or at least how to live in such a way as to not to not be ruled by this fear of dying; they are odes one, two, twenty four and thirty. The frst ode of book three is a bleak opening in many ways as it deals with the inevitability and immediacy of death. "One man, no doubt, has planted his wines in rows more widely spaced apart than another's; one will come down to the Field of Mars, a candidate, nobler by birth, another of greater fame and character, and a third with larger mobs of followers, and yet Fate treats high and low impartally." He is saying that death will strike impartally and ignore all social or economic distnctons between men, a fact which would probably be reassuring to the lower orders of society but is clearly aimed at his richer, more educated audience. It is the fear of death, which is always so close to man, that prevents the rich and the powerful from enjoying their advantages in life. Furthermore on the contrary, he says, the man who does not desire such things is forever untroubled by fear because he does not have these great things in life that he will lose by dying and so can enjoy what few pleasures he does have in life. Horace compares the fear of death for a rich man to a sword of Damocles always hanging just above their head preventng them from enjoying the delights of the feast or of song-birds or even that most basic of pleasures, sleep. Instead the poet advocates the delights of the humble famer's life which allows him to enjoy true pleasure such as an undisturbed night's sleep and never having to worry whether his meagre property is going to be destroyed by, "tumultuous seas or the savage batering of setng Arcturus of Haedus rising." He goes on to give a long list of all the fne things which a rich man possesses and should enjoy but is in constant fear of losing through death and emphasises the point that having too much to lose is far worse than having nothing to lose at all. "Fears and Menaces climb up there around an owner; black Worry will not quit his bronze covered yacht, and always, when he goes riding, sits right behind him." Furthermore, since death is inevitable and life is so short, there is litle point accumulatng such extensive riches and since you're going to lose them anyway there is even less point wastng one's life worrying about it. He seems to think that by riding oneself of extensive worldly possessions one can achieve such a degree of contentment in life that means fear of the ever approaching death does not dominate and ruin what simple pleasures there are to be found in life; this is why he ends with the queston why should he exchange his Sabine vale for a heavier load of riches, the answer is that his life will be far worse since it would be clouded with fear if he were to do so. These ideas of the evils of riches and the anxietes of wealth contrasted with the blessings of simplicity and private happiness are very Epicurean ideas and are found elsewhere, especially in the proem to the second book of Lucretus' De Rerum Natura. He says that those people who want to be rich or successful in politcs spend all their

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