National Geographic : 1946 Nov
The National Geographic Magazine tells Atticus. "A formidable guest, but he left no regret behind. Until one o'clock he admitted no one: at his accounts, I believe. Then he took a walk, and after two, his bath, and then, when he had been anointed sat down to dinner. He was undergoing a course of emetics, so he ate and drank as he pleased a lordly dinner and well served." Horace, a Wit Who Moralized Horace was just turned 21 when Cicero died. He took sides with Brutus and fought with him through the campaign that resulted in the final defeat of the republican cause and the establishment of Augustus and Antony as masters of the world. He was a man of supreme good sense who saw that the Republic was gone irrevocably and the Empire had arrived to stay. Who would not like to see Horace walk in through his door any day in the year? Im mediately everything would seem more agree able, the cocktails better flavored, the arm chairs softer, even the comfort of the warm, sheltered room would take on the proportions of an active delight. And the talk would never center round himself. Every attempt to make it do so would be warded off deprecatingly with a touch of gay humor. Sitting in your armchair he would be the most stimulating of listeners-but any balloon you launched would be in danger of a puncture from a sly dart of irony, which yet, with all its cutting edge, would fail to wound. He is Benjamin Franklin turned poet, or rather, for he never borders upon the provin cial, a poetical Montaigne (page 599). He is a poet whose distinguishing characteristic is common sense.* Through thirty years he "played with words on paper," as he called his writing, and he never had any other pursuit. Yet the result is only one slender volume. Horace had by nature, as no one more, the gift of brevity. The result of his freedom to write as he pleased was poetry which belongs to that rare order of verse which is distilled; only the essence left. He gave a good deal of advice, first and last, to would-be writers, and of it all "Be brief" comes first: "So that the thought does not stand in its own way, hindered by words that weigh down the tired ears." And remember always, "More ought to be scratched out than left." Through the streets of the great city Horace strolled, cocking an amused eye at a fashion able lady's short dress, at a perfumed young elegant's latest thing in the way of togas, at the bearers of a great personage's litter-no carriages were allowed in the streets during the day-at his own slave on tiptoe to scan eagerly a poster of a gladiatorial show, at a grand funeral procession preceded by blaring brass horns and trumpets, and with especial delight at a fastidious poet's latest effusion hung outside the bookshop where it was being pawed over by the sweaty hands of the vulgar. He stopped before a famous painter's work in a portico-there were miles of these roofed colonnades-had a look at a merchant's stock of "pearls from farthest Arabia and India, giver of wealth"; at other shops where could be bought "silver and antique marble and bronze and works of art, jewels, and Tyrian purple," rare and beautiful things from every where in the world. Banquet Fare a Fearful Gorge Cooking and serving and bills of fare occupy a great deal of Horace's attention. No less than the whole of two poems, and long ones at that, and the half of another are about nothing else: Horace: "How did you fare at the grand dinner party?" Friend: "Never better in my life..' Horace: "Do tell me, if it won't bore you, what were the hors d'oeuvres?" And a hundred lines follow which make fun of the menu, indeed, but give it nevertheless in greatest detail, together with a number of recipes for cooking the especially delicious dishes (page 597). On that occasion those Roman gentlemen ate: cold wild boar with all sorts of pickled vegetables; oysters and shellfish with a mar velous sauce; two varieties of turbot; a won derful dish where a great fish seemed to be swimming among shrimp, with a relish made of fish from Spain, wine from Greece, vinegar from Lesbos, and white pepper; then wild fowl served with corn; the liver of a white goose fattened on ripe figs; shoulder of hare ("so much more succulent than the lower part"); broiled blackbirds and wood pigeons. Sweets are not mentioned and of fruit only bright red apples, but elsewhere Horace speaks of dainties for dessert as beneath the attention of a true epicure and advises a final course of black mulberries-but they must be gathered before the sun is high. "We rise from table," he remarks, "pale from overeating," and the modern reader understands why the early Christians put gluttony among the seven deadly sins. The practice of using emetics to make more and more eating possible seems to have become the fashion only at a later date. Along with the elegance and even magnifi * See "Horace-Classic Poet of the Countryside," by W. Coleman Nevils, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZINE, December, 1935.