Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Works of Horace: The Satires

I may read a lot, but I still make reading mistakes.  Yes, that’s right, it is possible to make mistakes while reading.  Reading, contrary to popular belief, should not be a passive activity—“passive activity” being an oxymoron in itself, but a mental exercise, sometimes even an exertion.  And, as with other activities like sports or playing a musical instrument, there are ways to do it wrong. 

While reading Horace’s Satires I committed one such mistake.  I read it expecting it to be something it wasn’t. 

Of the three types of Horace’s works I read, his satires are the type I understood the least.  I think this is because I was trying to understand them using a modern definition of satire, expecting them to be works of humor—“funny ha-ha”—rather than their more philosophical, biting reality.  I started to scan, a horrid thing to do to almost all literature, because it was searching for some merit I was trying to impose on that poor tome without deriving any of the actual merit it contained.  So out of the entire book, the only quote I gleaned was this:

This is a fault common to all singers, that among their friends they are never inclined to sing when they are asked, unasked, they never desist. ~ Satire III

Funny, sure, but in my single-minded quest to find this short quote I missed out on Horace’s true points, his philosophical views of government, the shallowness of power, the significance of friendship, and other things that I later learned from the internet as I tried to make sense of this book as a whole.

See, sometimes it is fun, adventurous, mysterious to approach a book with no idea of its genre, theme, or the direction it will take you.  They sell “Blind Date Books” like that at Barnes and Noble and other bookstores, with the…covered with blank brown paper and only a short “Good Book Seeks Interested Reader” blurb on the cover. 


So I’m not saying you should NEVER approach a book out of the blue, without knowing what you’ll find inside.  If I’d abided by that rule I would have maybe read only a dozen books in my life.  But the real rule that you definitely should abide by is:


In other words, don’t try to read Horace’s Satires as if they’re P.G. Wodehouse when they aren’t.

1 comment:

  1. Oh I do love that idea of 'Blind Date Books'. I wonder if any bookstore in the UK does that? Your 'real rule' is very true.