Horace’s Recipe for Having a Well-Balanced Psyche (circa 23 BCE)

So how does Horace demonstrate to his readers the way in which Necessitas and Virtus might operate in the microcosm?  He picks two characters, one to illustrate potentially unrestrained virtus being controlled by necessitas; one to illustrate how one might accept the demands of necessitas while still preserving individual virtus.  The former in Ode 3.3 is Roma herself; the latter in Ode 3.5 is Regulus, a Roman general from the Second Punic War.


junoIn 3.3 Juno accepts Rome’s inevitable hegemony but places restrictions on Roman rule.

To understand what Juno is talking about maybe it’s best to review the Trojan War as well as both the events leading up to it and its aftermath.

There’s to be a big wedding:  the mortal Peleus is to wed the goddess Thetis.  Everyone is invited…except Strife.

Peleus and Thetis discuss the invitation list.

“What about Strife?”

“Strife?  After the last wedding?”

“Well…she was just…being herself.”

“Really?  Did we need to know all the men (and women) the bride had slept with?”

“I was surprised she knew them all!”

“I was surprised they were all there.”

“So…final verdict? Strife or no Strife?”

“No Strife!”

Strife was angry.  So she throws an apple right into the middle of the wedding reception with the words, “To The Fairest.”  Juno, Minerva, and Venus all claim the apple.  No shortage of self confidence with them.  Juno wants Jupiter to be the judge, but he gets out of it, replacing himself with a more objective arbiter:  the newly discovered son of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy, Paris the former shepherd.  Juno bribes him with power (wow!).  Minerva with ingenuity (huh?); but Venus promises him the most beautiful girl in the word (boing!) Can you really blame a youth no older than his early twenties for going with his hormones?  The problem was that this woman was already married.  So he takes Helen from her husband, Menelaus, the king of Sparta.  Menelaus is angry and gets his brother Agamemnon King of Mycene to recruit a more or less united Greek army to wage war on Troy.  After ten long years, the Greeks win with Juno doing all she can not so much to help the Greeks but to defeat the Trojans.  She can never get over that insult to her beauty.  A Trojan prince by the name of Aeneas, son of the mortal Anchises and the goddess Venus/ Aphrodite escapes.  He is fated to found a city in Italy that will eventually become Rome. Juno does all she can to delay the inevitable— harassing Aeneas every step of his way to Italy and then making him fight a war with the indigenous tribes to seal the deal.

Our Roman poet Horace creates a speech for Juno in which she grudgingly accepts Roman hegemony but puts restrictions on the power, i.e. she allows them to exercise their virtus but limits it with a form of necessitas.  Here is some of what she says (to Rome):

roman-empire-200-adAs long as the wide sea separates Troy

and Rome, let the blessed exiles

rule wherever they will

provided on Paris’ grave and Priam’s

The cattle romp, the wild beasts

hide their cubs, let the Capitol stand,

glistening, ferocious, passing laws

for the Persians pummeled

Let her fearfully stretch her name far to the

farthest shores where the middle fluids

divide Europe from Africa where

the swollen Nile waters its fields

Gold undiscovered and that way better placed

when the earth hides it, stronger to disregard it

than to force it into human uses

with a right hand taking every sacred thing

Whatever boundary lies in the world’s way

let her touch this with war, aching to see

where the fires madly dance,

the clouds, the rainy mists

I speak these fates to warring Romans

with this law— Don’t’ think to rebuild

Trojan roofs, overly devoted, too

cocky in your accomplishments

Troy reborn will once again feel

lugubrious luck, such sad slaughter

and I, Jove’s sister and wife,

will lead the victory march

If a third time brazen-walled Troy arises

a third time it dies, excised by my Greeks,

again the captive women

will mourn the men and boys.

Words of the free use of power mix with the words of restraint.  Rome is given the green light to extend her hegemony over the entire world.  But Juno offers a cautionary parable involving gold:  that it takes a stronger man not to mine it and to leave it lying in the ground than he who struggles to get it out and to become rich through its use.  And if the Romans think of resurrecting their ancestral home of Troy, perhaps convinced that they have a right and a duty to do so, then they will end up defeated.

Michel_Ghislain_Stapleaux_-_Marcus_Atilius_RegulusIn 3.5 Regulus accepts his fate to return as a prisoner of the Carthaginians but he does so of his own free will, without tears, calmly, courageously.  Regulus was a real Roman consul and general who lived during the 3rd century BCE. He was elected consul (one of two annually elected executives) in 267 and again in 256 BCE.  As consul in 256 he led an army against the Carthaginians during the First Punic War.  He defeated the Carthaginians in a naval battle at Cape Ecnomus and invaded North Africa, where he won two battles before being defeated and captured at Tunis in 255 BCE.  With his men held prisoners, he was released to return to Rome in order to urge the Roman Senate to agree to a price to buy back the Roman captives.  Regulus agrees, but once in Rome he argues for the opposite.  And to put his money where his mouth is, he will return empty handed to Carthage to be tortured and killed along with the other unransomed captives.  Here is some of what Horace imagines Regulus saying to the Roman Senate:

“I have seen Roman standards decorating

Carthaginian walls, weapons ripped

from Roman soldiers without

even one lost drop of blood.

I have seen free Romans with arms

twisted behind their backs, Carthaginian

gates wide open, and the very farms

we devastated, re-cultivated.

You really think that if we pay this ransom, that

a braver solider will return.  You add insult

to injury.  Try restoring a piece

of dyed wool to its natural hue.

True courage, once gone, can not

be reinserted into weaker men

If the doe released from a trap

is a fighter, then so will that soldier. “

They say that Regulus avoided kisses from

his wife and children, as one disgraced,

and kept a courageous gaze

fastened to the ground,

Until he could edify the wavering senate,

not ready to follow through with a such a plan.

this noble exile hastened between

wave on wave of weeping friends

He knew what torture awaited him in Carthage;

Still he moved away from those who

blocked his way, from those trying

to delay his dire return.  Regulus left

as if the courts had called the recess

and he were leaving his legal practice

and he were heading for the country

for well-earned rest and relaxation

Regulus accepts his fate.  He forces the Roman Senate to accept this fate.  But he does so with a courageous look, the look of virtus, and he doesn’t make a big deal out of it.  He has the same demeanor he would have if going on vacation.  Regulus is demonstrating how one can show virtus when accepting the inevitable necessitas.

The one word that leaps out from both odes is exul, exile. Juno calls the Trojans beati exules, blessed exiles.  Being in exile is certainly not blessed.  The paradox here lies in the fact that for the Trojans, these refugees of the Trojan War, their exile will land them in Italy where they are destined to establish a city that in years to come will grow into the Roman Empire.  Regulus is called an egregius exul, a noble exile. For the Roman citizen, it is not too far an exaggeration to say that exile was a punishment worse than death.  In Roman legalese it is called the withholding of fire and water.  Meaning one can no longer enjoy the civilization that Rome provides.  The poet Ovid was sent into exile into a god-forsaken place called Tomis.  He spent the rest of his life trying to get Augustus to allow his return; to no effect.  Exiles were the worse criminals; they were not noble in any sense of the word.  Because Regulus is putting what he thinks is the future good of Rome ahead of himself, his exile may be rightly modified by the adjective noble.

These two phrases, blessed exiles and noble exile,  are really the paradox of anyone or anything that expresses both the opposing forces of Necessitas and Virtus simultaneously.  Horace has resolved the paradox by demonstrating how one should always temper the other to create an ethically whole person.

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