In this essay I wish first briefly to review William H. Race's description of the priamel as a rhetorical device in Greek and Latin poetry and his assessment of Horace's usage in this regard, particularly Carm.
1.31; then to add a good deal to his necessarily brief assessment of the poem's priamelic structure; finally to offer a new view of that priamel and hazard a guess as to how its unique structure may have come about.
According to Race, "Next to Pindar's choral lyrics, Horace's Odes
exhibit the most sophisticated use of priamels [in Greek and Latin literature]." n1
In his preface he describes the priamel as follows:
“a poetic/rhetorical form which consists, basically, of two parts: "foil" and "climax." The function of the foil is to introduce and highlight the climactic term by enumerating or summarizing a number of "other" examples, subjects, times, places, or instances, which then yield (with varying degrees of contrast or analogy) to the particular point of interest or importance. n2
Then, more briefly, he describes the function of the priamel: "to single out one point of interest by contrast and comparison". n3
Later, in his review and critique of the work of his predecessors, he shows in particular how he has drawn on Dornseiff, Kröhling, Schmid, and especially Bundy in formulating his description. n4
Using a sort of bare bones priamel, Antigone
332, the first line of the "Ode to Man": πολλὰ τὰ δεινὰ κοὐδὲν ἀνθρώπου δεινότερον πέλει
, Race indicates five features he considers characteristic of a true priamel, though each "can be subject to considerable variation":
1) a general context or category (τὰ δεινὰ）2) an indication of quantity (elsewhere quality) (πολλὰ）3) a capping particle (καὶ）4) an indication of relative merit (οὐδὲν . . . δεινότερον）5) the subject of ultimate interest (ἀνθρώπου）
. . . [No. 1] may be inferred from examples or context. . . . Quantity or diversity can be indicated in summary form . . . or through a list (i.e. two or more) of particular examples. . . . [No. 3] manifests considerable variety; . . . Greek particle (or adversative asyndeton). . . . In Latin . . . . sed, at, and tamen frequently appear; adversative asyndeton is very common. In both languages there is a marked tendency to place key words at the head of (or in prominent position in) the statement which forms the climax. . . . other important signals of a climax: 1) change of person, 2) . . . of syntax, 3) . . . of subject, 4) . . . of mood, 5) vocatives, 6) deictic words. [No. 4] is the only one of the five elements which is not indispensable, but it occurs so frequently that it is worth noting. [regarding 5] There must be some "point" to the priamel. . . . For that reason, in opposition to . . . Bergmann, Dornseiff, and Kröhling, I am excluding from consideration those lists of examples which simply follow a general statement to justify it and do not lead up to anything. Such lists are remotely related to the priamel. n5
For Race, Horace is at his most innovative in manipulating the many possible permutations of the priamel in his geographical lists, and pride of place in this regard goes to Carm.
“[it] begins as a "recusatio
," in which he delegates to others the praise of various cities . . . . The me
(10) introduces the poet's own choice, and as a neat variation, he includes two additional cities, Lacedaemon and Larisa, before stating his προαίρεσις
In the foil, Horace pursues several possible rhetorical strategies, passing from laudabunt alii
(1), a variation on the permissive subjunctive seen in other priamels, to sunt quibus
(5) and finally plurimus
(8), a variation on alii
in line 10 suggests we have arrived at the climax (which Race identifies as 10-14). But we have, and yet we haven't. The addition of two cities (two more foils): me nec tam . . . Lacedaemon . . . nec tam Larisae . . . campus opimae
(10-11) is indeed a "neat variation." But the poet exercises the priamel form even further than Race suggests. For the climax, signaled by the me
, a climax which is really an anticlimax, introduces two more rhetorical strategies. He leads off with yet another priamelic variation: a foil of the type non . . . non . . .
or nec . . . nec . . .
(with the climax usually in sed
), but within the structure of a tam . . . quam . . .
correlative, with quam
substituting for the otherwise expected sed
Horace disguises what he is up to here as long as he can: for the tam
of me nec tam patiens Lacedaemon
may modify patiens
. In the case of the second tam
: nec tam Larisae percussit campus opimae
: two possibilities exist: tam . . . percussit
, which may look to a possible quam
or a consecutive clause and, somewhat less likely perhaps, tam . . . opimae
. The resolution of this syntactical slight of hand adds emphasis to the Horatian term of the figure, a preference with, so to speak, triple underlining, by: 1. the entire figure itself (1-14), the whole point of which is to highlight the Horatian choice; 2. the tam . . . quam . . .
gambit; 3. the quadruple representation of Tibur: echoing oracle, plunging Anio, grove of Tiburnus, and irrigated orchards. In sum, Race's climax (10-14) to the preceeding foil (1-9) assumes the form of a second priamel in its own right, with its own foil and climax:
me nec tam patiens Lacedaemon
nec tam Larisae percussit campus opimae
quam domus Albuneae resonantis
et praeceps Anio ac Tiburni lucus et uda
mobilibus pomaria rivis.
[As for me, neither tough Sparta nor the fertile plain of Larisa have
impressed me as have the seat of the the echoing Albunean sibyl
and the headlong Anio and the grove of Tiburnus and the orchards
moistened by running rivulets.] n9
This second priamel leads off with a me
, which we ordinarily expect in a climax that highlights the writer's preference or situation rather than in the foil of such a priamel, but this instance is not unique in Horace. See, for instance, Carm.
2.18.1-10: Non ebur neque aureum / mea renidet in domo lacunar, / non . . . neque . . . nec . . . at fides et ingeni / benigna vena est.
2.9, Non semper imbres
, contains two separate priamels in quite a different sense from what I have suggested above for 1.7. Lines 1-12: the weather's variability is contrasted with the invariable erotic laments of Valgius, with foil 1-8 and climax 9-12; and 13-18, where exempla of ceaseless mourning are contrasted with a climax which also forms the opening to the poem's paraenesis: desine mollium / tandem querellarum,
etc., with foil, 13-17 and climax/paraenesis 17-24. n10
We come, then, priamel-fashion, to Carm.
1.31. Although 1.7 contains a priamel about place preference, in this ode geography provides a unifying theme to the six rejected foils and stands for various kinds of assets, n11
while the poet contrasts wealth and, to a certain extent, βίοι
in one form or another, with his own simple needs and the object of his prayer: enjoyment of what lies at hand, health of body and mind, a dignified old age, and continued poetic ability. The climax contains no geographical references, although the "things at hand" contrast with the distant places mentioned earlier. n12
While Race views 3-15, non . . . impune
, as the foil of the priamel and the remainder, 15-20, me . . . carentem
, the climax, Nisbet and Hubbard appear to see me . . . malvae
(15-16) as a transition to or preparation for a climax consisting of the last strophe alone. n13
In either case the strophe answers the questions quid poscit?
and quid orat?
, and for that reason is climactic quite apart from the priamelic structure.