Informal in tone and seemingly effortless in movement, Horace's Epistles have haunted and delighted readers for two millennia. W. R. Johnson offers an extraordinarily suggestive new interpretation of Book 1 of the Epistles, an interpretation not only of the poems but of the poet they reveal
Johnson regards the Epistles as the fruit of the poet's search for freedom, clarity of perception, and inner harmony in a complex society. He portrays Horace as a paradoxical combination of sophist and gardener, working both nature and culture within a terrain bounded on the one side by chaos and on the other by technocracy. Resisting any linear, progressive reading, he traces the key themes in the poems, such as Horace's relationships with his father and with Rome, his adoptive city, and the conflicts between urban vitality and rustic serenity and between inner freedom and outer freedom.
While in the end Johnson maintains that the Epistles uphold the possibility that the individual can achieve a dynamic balance of heart and soul, he demonstrates that what nourishes the poems are the suffering and fear, resentment and anger that underlie their carefully controlled surface. Horace and the Dialectic of Freedom will engage and challenge classicists, students of Latin literature, and others interested in satire and in the history of poetry.