Horace is a
conservative, traditional literary critic. His Ars Poetica,
which takes the form of advice given to a young man named Piso
on the writing of poetry, breaks no new ground in relation to
the ideas of Plato and Aristotle. His advice centers on sticking
to traditional forms (Greek forms of the 5th/4th centuries BCE):
1) It is better to follow a
traditional story than to invent a new one.
2) The attention of the
audience is best kept by character traits fitted to the age
(a youth should not be given the traits appropriate to age, and
a mature man should not be given the traits appropriate to
youth). This is straight out of Aristotle.
3) Lurid scenes--such
as Medea slaying her boys, or Atreus cooking human flesh--should
not be performed but rather saved for narration.
4) A play should be no
longer or shorter than five acts.
5) The chorus--a device
of the Greek drama--should side with that which is good and
6) Gods and heroes should
not be presented in satyr plays as fallen to the common talk of
"some dingy tavern." A modified Plato anyone?
7) Good writing reflects
good thinking. This is currently considered heresy by the
Comp-Rhet powers-that-be in academia. He's right. They're wrong.
8) A poet's aim may be
amusement, instruction, or both; however, the best work will
combine both aims in an advantageous proportion.
9) Instruction should be
brief: "Every word that is unnecessary only pours over
the side of the brimming mind."
10) Fictions need to keep
as near as possible to real life. This reflects the
Aristotelian emphasis on the necessity of probability in the
incidents of plot. Science Fiction is out for Horace.
11) The best poet "has
mingled profit with pleasure by delighting the reader at once
and instructing him." This idea is still with us, and
likely always will be.
12) The poet (in this
case Piso) should submit his new verses to a trusted critic,
not a flatterer, and never publish verses hastily. Once they
are out there, there is no taking them back. Essentially this
boils down to a sensible admonition to not leave your poetic ass
hanging out in the breeze of the town square. Good idea.
13) The hasty, unskilled,
"rapt" poet is the "terror of all sensible
people: they fly at his approach." This section is
hilarious: a bad poet will be left in the hole into which he has
fallen, and people run from him in fear lest he read them some
of his doggerel. "Run for your lives! It's POETBOY!!!!!!!"