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Horace, 'Odes' 1.

8: The Love of Lydia and Thetis

Author(s): M. Dyson
Source: Greece & Rome, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Oct., 1988), pp. 164-171
Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Classical Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/643000
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Greece & Rome, Vol. xxxv, No. 2, October 1988


LYDIA, dic, per omnis
te deos oro, Sybarin cur properes amando
perdere, cur apricum
oderit campum, patiens pulveris atque solis,
cur neque militaris 5
inter aequalis equitet, Gallica
temperet ora frenis?
cur timet flavum Tiberim ta
sanguine viperino
cautius vitat neque iam livida gestat armis 10
bracchia, saepe disco,
saepe trans finem iaculo nobilis expedito?
quid latet, ut marinae
filium dicunt Thetidis sub lacrimosa Troiae
funera, ne virilis 15
cultus in caedem et Lycias

Odes 1.8 takes the form of

to Lydia on the subject of her lover Sybaris.2 Why is she bent on
destroying him through love? Why has he abandoned the manly
athletic activities at which he was once pre-eminent, but of which he
is apparently now frightened? Why is he hiding, as Achilles, disguised
as a girl, hid before the Trojan war?
My interpretation of the poem rests on the conviction that readers
are meant to give full weight to three prominent features. These are,
first, the military and perhaps Augustan context provided for the
erotic idleness to which Sybaris is subject; second, the grim atmo-
sphere of the allusion to the Trojan war; and third, the uninterrupted
interrogation which forms the frame of the poem. While none of these
has been overlooked by recent commentators, I do not believe that
attention has been drawn to the way in which all three may be seen as
working in conjunction.
On the first point, the sports abandoned by Sybaris are given a
Roman connection by means of references to the Campus (4) and the
Tiber (8), and above all militaris (5) suggests a context of training for
war. This has been taken, in my view rightly, as an indication that
Sybaris has given up not simply athletics, but the exercises which at
Rome formed part of the military training in which young Romans of
the upper classes prepared themselves for the army service which was
expected of anybody who had a political career in mind. Less certain,
but still likely, is the further point that, since Augustus actively
fostered such a scheme, Horace's attitude towards the backsliding of

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Sybaris should be consistent with his role in general of

Augustan ideals.3
Suspicions that this is an implausibly heavy approach
hearted poem should be quietened by reflection on the
feature, the unmistakable hint of a disastrous future for Achilles in
the concluding myth. This aspect is well brought out by Kenneth
Quinn,4 who remarks that even in the earlier lines the description of
the athletics is loaded to make them sound unattractive. In Horace's
words, he suggests, with their mention of dust and heat, cruel bi
and bruises, 'we hear the echo of Sybaris' expression of distaste'.
Further, and more distinctly, the myth with its mention of the mother
Thetis, of slaughter and deaths at Troy, modulates from the banter to
a more solemn key, with evocation of Achilles' fate and of Thetis
'prostrate with grief because her son must die so young'. On this
basis Quinn suggests that the poem has a more serious point: Horace
starts with the irreproachably conventional judgement that Sybaris is
letting the side down scandalously, but subsequently he implies that
there may be something in his attitude after all. If training is so brutal
and leads to war which leads to death, then is Sybaris so wrong in
rejecting it? Thus, apart from the badinage, there is a discreetly hinted
conflict 'between the attitude overtly adopted and that covertly sug-
This view has been criticized on the ground that Romans were not
squeamish about jagged bits in horses' mouths, and that the brutality
'is intended, not to appal readers, but to amuse them'." Further, since
on this reading the poem implies the fundamental rightness of the
injunction to make love rather than war, Horace would have to be
taken implausibly to be undermining to some extent the Augustan
programme, if, as is probable, this is a factor in the situation. A pal-
liative is of course on offer: Achilles turned out alright in the end,
went to war, and became a hero, so we do not need to worry about
Sybaris, whose insight and revulsion are real but partial and tempor-
ary, because in the end he may be expected to adjust his feelings to a
larger perspective.6
It seems to me that Quinn is correct in maintaining that the em-
phasis in the myth on death and slaughter cannot be accommodated
within an entirely comic scheme. It is hard to see how the features
which Horace has selected contribute to the jollity of teasing Sybaris
for being a cry-baby. If one could contrast what Sybaris is doing with
the behaviour of Achilles, there would be a point: Achilles was
avoiding death in battle whereas Sybaris is only escaping a few
bruises. But in fact such a ludicrously exaggerated comparison is not
available, for the activities which Sybaris avoids include military

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training which, as preparation for war, entails the po

in battle. However, I believe that the essential right
serious interpretation can be better demonstrated th
an eventual change of mind by Sybaris, which does not
use of the poem's structure as a series of questions ad
and is not fully in accord with the slant given to the
is this last point which I wish to consider next.
The main lines of the story of Achilles in hiding on Skyros are
apparent from the version of Apollodorus.7 Thetis hides her son in
fear of his death at Troy, and while disguised as a girl at the court of
Lycomedes he has a love-affair with one of the king's daughters,
Deidamia. His disguise is penetrated 'by the blast of a trumpet', for
when Odysseus displays jewelry and weapons to the girls at the court,
only one shows interest in the weapons, at which point Odysseus has
the alarm sounded on a trumpet and while all the girls panic and
scatter, Achilles betrays himself by seizing sword and shield to meet
the supposed invaders.
There are three main elements, namely the hiding of Achilles by
Thetis in fear, the love intrigue, and the discovery of Achilles'
identity by the ruse of Odysseus. All three are used by Statius8 in the
most extended treatment of the story extant, but it is noticeable that
the primary motivation is the anxiety of Thetis for her son's safety.
Even as the shadow of Paris' boat sweeps over her in the depths, the
mother's prophetic heart leaps with dismay. The feelings of Achilles
only come into play when he has already been brought to Skyros and
is refusing to put on the embarrassing disguise, for after a glimpse of
Deidamia he allows himself to be cajoled. Ovid makes no mention of
the love element in his treatment of the tale in the Metamorphoses,9
where the motivation belongs entirely to Thetis: foreseeing her son's
death she hid him, and the ruse deceived everyone except Ulysses.
This emphasis suits Ovid's rhetorical purpose and there is no room
for initiative on the part of Achilles, or for Deidamia. In other versions
too, where the purpose of the concealment is mentioned, the moti-
vation is the mother's anxiety to save her son, who, she fears, is
doomed.'x The one exception occurs at Bion 2.11-26: all the youth
of Greece are mobilized for the expedition to Troy, but Achilles alone
lies hidden, dressed as a girl yet with the spirit and desires of a man.
It turns out that he is doing it all in order to share the bed of one of
his host's daughters. Now this pastoral fragment is expressly a love
poem, and accordingly it emphasizes that aspect and makes no
mention of Thetis. Thus, while it is clear that no one element of the
story necessarily carries the major interest, nevertheless the fear of
Thetis is a feature so prominent that its presence in Horace's poem

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should, to say the least, cause no surprise. Horace, howev

festly leaves out the strategem of Ulysses; does he also le
fear of Thetis?
It is true that from line 4 onwards the series of questions has con-
cerned the feelings of Sybaris or his motives, and by implication it
might be taken that in the parallel myth the motivation of Achilles i
in mind. Nevertheless it is noteworthy that Achilles is introduced no
in his own name but as 'the son of Thetis of the sea'. The phrase has
been explained as a grandiose periphrasis which builds up an heroic
atmosphere to serve the purpose of poking fun at a real-world un-
heroic Sybaris." There may, however, be a more precise point, for
the description of the war as tearful, and the express purpose of
avoiding involvement in slaughter, accord perfectly with the anxieties
attributed to Thetis in other authors and fit ill with any feelings reason-
ably ascribable to Achilles. Surely the fear should be that of Thetis;
surely the descriptive detail of the war reflects her viewpoint. The
verb latet (13) need not mean 'skulk' but only 'be out of sight'. And
one of the tearful deaths at Troy must surely be that of Achilles
This seems to be the natural reading, and it follows that, while the
actions are those of Achilles, the purposes are those of Thetis. The
son is in hiding, but the reason is that his mother is afraid to let him
go to war. Likewise, I suggest, in the main situation the decisive
feelings belong to Lydia, and only the actions belong to Sybaris.
Here we come to the third of the points which criticism should
register, the structure of the poem as a series of questions addressed
to Lydia. It has been said that, though the poem is addressed to
Lydia, it is really directed at Sybaris.12 This, I think, should be
disputed. Certainly the first question challenges her: Lydia, dic cur
properes amando perdere ... Urgency rather than speed is implied by
properare here, as at Epistle 1.8.8-9: Horace loses his temper with his
trusty doctors and his friends, asking why they are so eager to save
him from his sloth (cur me properent arcere veterno). Since they do not
in fact succeed, it can only be their effort which is in question here,
not the speed with which their aim is accomplished. Lydia likewise
may be thought to have some personal concern in what is happening
to Sybaris, and there is no reason to suppose that her concern could
not have the interests of Sybaris at heart, as would be true of the
friends and doctors of Horace in his case. She is described, paradoxic-
ally indeed, as concerned to achieve his destruction - his moral ruin,
of course, from a traditional viewpoint to which she is not herself
committed.'3 The initial question is then ambiguous: it is primarily
a remonstration, a version of the assertion that what she is doing is

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disgraceful; but it may also be construed as a question

factual answer such as 'Because I love him'.
As far as the first question in the series is concerned, the rela-
tionship of Lydia to Sybaris could correspond well to that of Thetis
to Achilles. As Thetis vainly tried to hide her son through fear of his
receiving harm at Troy, so Lydia is doing her best to protect Sybaris
from the military service towards which his training leads him.14 She
is of course his mistress and not his mother, but it does not follow
that her love must be egotistic and cannot be protective. Mothers are
the typical representatives of all who hate war, but other non-com-
batants may have just as much to lose. Roman comedy envisages
genuine affection felt by courtesans, and Horace too allows for real
love in an informal relationship, so that there is nothing implausible
in supposing him to represent Lydia as fearing war as a threat to the
life of her beloved.'"
In this way the first three lines balance the last four nicely. Further,
the ode offers another sign that Lydia feels fearful, and here too th
interrogative structure of the whole has a contribution to make. Th
facts about Sybaris are plain enough: he has dropped out of his usu
pursuits. His feelings, however, are not available for inspection, sinc
he is not around as he used to be, and Horace must apply to Lydia fo
information. Hence the series of questions addressed to her. But as
with mock solemnity he charges her with responsibility for her lover's
downfall, he teasingly and with entire implausibility attributes to
him a fear of the exercises in which he used to excel. Then, when the
final question as to Sybaris' absence prompts an allusion to the
mythological parallel of another youth who seemed to shirk his
military duty, suddenly all becomes clear. It was Thetis who hid
Achilles, and it must be Lydia who has seduced Sybaris from the
Campus, and in both cases the motive is the woman's fear for her
beloved's safety. The series of questions, therefore, imparts a dynamic
movement to an apparently static situation. Starting as a rhetorically
phrased reproof it concludes with an unspoken substantive answer
implied in the analogy with Thetis. The horrors of the Trojan war,
syntactically part of the final question, reveal the dawning realization
in Horace's mind of the true answer to the original question asked in
such a different spirit, and in retrospect allows us to see that the
revulsion and fear attributed to Sybaris belong rather to the anxiety of
Lydia, and may indeed register the speaker's sensitivity to her reaction
to his questions. In this way we may explain the 'loaded description'
of the athletics so well noted by Quinn.16
Understood in this way the poem is more at home in the context of
the Augustan promotion of military virtues, for it accommodates in-

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sight into the more sombre aspects of the programme withou

the stance which Horace, as spokesman for the regime, might
be supposed to have taken. The reservations arise from t
sensitivity of a woman in love, and are not those of the so
observer, and of course recognition of attendant anxieties
imply doubts about value. Again, the structure of the poe
significance beyond mere repetition, for the interrogation
and marks a movement which is complete only in the last line
unexpected insight which throws the earlier lines into fr
Finally, only in this way is there perfect consonance between
ing tone with which Sybaris is teased and the darker mood of
allusion, for Lydia's success, like that of Thetis, will no do
temporary."7 By the end of the interrogation the silent Ly
transformed from a corrupter into a worried, loving wom
change of mood opens a window onto the complexity of a
situation. There is a pun at the end of the poem, for virilis cu
to Achilles means male clothing, whereas in the applicatio
implied by the mythological parallel it means manly pursu
we may see that there is a balancing ambiguity at the start in
Lydia, in her urgency to ruin Sybaris, is not trying to destroy
to save it.


1. This article is based on a paper read to the Australasian Universities Language and
Literature Association congress at Christchurch in February 1987.
2. The name appears in an inscription: T. Marcius Subaris, a freedman (C.I.L. 6.33273).
Greek personal names at Rome are in real life commonly derived from place names, and also
from words denoting moral characteristics: cf. H. Solin, Die griechischen Personennamen in Rom
(Berlin, 1982), 1.566-647, 2.782-7. Horace combines both ideas in choosing the traditionally
luxurious city of Sybaris as his young Roman's name, characterizing the recent behaviour of
one hitherto noted for toughness. Horace is perhaps developing a hint of Terence, who at Ad.
915 has an indulgent guardian castigated as ille Babylo. The name Lydia also suggests luxury,
but may be chosen more precisely to suit an ambiguity in virilus cultus (15-16): Lydia changes
Sybaris' manly ways as Thetis changed Achilles' male garments - and that is what the Lydian
Omphale did to Heracles. For Omphale as Lydia, cf. Prop. 3.11.17-18; for the ambiguity see n.
18 below.

3. For the Augustan background see L. R. Taylor, JRS 14 (1924), 158-61, and H. Last,
CAH, 10.462-4. Horace elsewhere gives athletics a Roman colour, e.g. c.3.7.26; c.3.12.7;
c.4.1.39. But in our poem militaris is precise; Horace laments the lack of equestrian skills among
young nobles at c.3.24.54-55.
4. Latin Explorations (London, 1963), pp. 137-41, somewhat modified in his edition Horace,
The Odes (London, 1985), p. 139. Also responsive to the tone of the description of training and
of the Trojan allusion is H. Dietz, Latomus 34 (1975), 746-53; cf. especially 750-1.
5. D. West, Reading Horace (Edinburgh, 1967), p. 122.
6. Several commentators remark that Sybaris' retirement will be short-lived: cf. Kiessling-
Heinze, Horaz, Oden und Epoden ed. 8 (Berlin, 1955) on v. 14; H. P. Syndikus, Die Lyrik des
Horaz (Darmstadt, 1972), 1. p. 109; F. Cairns, QUCC 24 (1977), 134-8; Cl. Echinger and G.
Maurach, Acta Classica 27 (1984), 71-82.

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7. Bib. 3.13.8.
8. Ach. 1. The story starts with the intuitive foreboding of Thetis as Paris' ship
her in the sea (20ff.). At vv.271ff. Achilles refuses to don girl's clothes, but the sight
makes him less uncomfortable at the idea of dressing to make her acquaintance bett
9. 13.162-71.

10. Philostratus Jun., Imag. 1; Hyginus, Fab. 96 (the motive is the fear of T
the device of the disguise is due to Lycomedes); the Scholiast on II. 19.326 ha
Peleus foresee his son's death and send him for safety to Skyros - the variant
mother only reinforces the essential element of parental anxiety. There are, o
references to the episodes where the motivation is left unmentioned.
11. R. G. M. Nisbet and M. Hubbard, A Commentary on Horace Odes 1 (Oxfo
115. In the occurrence of the same phrase filius ... Thetidis marinae at c.4.6.6 t
heroic dignity is very much to the point: Achilles was no match for Apollo despi
similar is invicte, mortalis dea nate puer Thetide (ep. 13.12), with a clear contrast
divine origin and his mortality. The correct view on our passage is taken by F

12. Kiessling-Heinze (n. 6) in the introduction to the poem describe it as 'a poem of repri-
mand and admonishment of a young man ... disguised as questions addressed to the beloved'.
So S. Commager, The Odes of Horace (New Haven, 1962), p. 143; H. Dietz (n. 4), 748.
13. In vv. 3-4 amando could refer to the love felt by either Lydia or Sybaris for the other,
and although initially one might take it to be the latter, the ambiguity allows the former meaning
to emerge at the end of the poem. Perdere cannot here mean 'to make die of love' (cf. Nisbet and
Hubbard (n. 11), ad loc.) as this meaning would be intolerably feeble in view of the ensuing
catalogue of Sybaris' failures. The prime meaning must be 'ruin' in a moral sense, which is
unobjectionable even in an erotic context: 'cur perdis adulescentem nobis? cur amat? cur potat?
cur tu his rebus sumptum suggeris?' (Terence, Ad. 61-63).
14. Critics have been here before, of course, notably Dietz (n. 4), 747 and Cairns (n. 6), 137,
but have not, in my view, applied the parallel between Thetis and Lydia to the whole situation
properly. Dietz takes Sybaris' fear of training to be a fact, explicable by a psychological mec-
hanism whereby Lydia's worries infect her lover (749-51): but this, I think, leaves the absence
of Sybaris from the poem unexploited, and this factor strongly suggests, as I argue, that the fear
must belong to Lydia alone. Cairns thinks the purpose of making Lydia responsible, like Thetis,
is to focus censure on her, so as to avoid directly imputing disreputable feelings to Sybaris: this
view, I think, treats the love of both women too lightly by ignoring the tragic tone of the myth,
for if Horace hopes, as Cairns supposes, that Sybaris will leave Lydia to 'enter the army of
Augustus', then the analogue would be Achilles going 'to fight at Troy'. But this last phrase is
hopelessly inadequate to express the object of Thetis' fear.
15. Wars are mqtribus detestata (c.1.1.24), but, if we need examples, an endangered prince is
watched in terror by his fiancee as well as by his mother at c.3.2.6-12. Lydia is not presumably
a prospective wife, but the respectable do not have a complete monopoly of fine feelings. It is
too dismissive to ask, with Syndikus (n. 6), p. 107, how an hetaira could feel her conscience
pricked by complaints that she is making her lover soft. For firstly, it is far from clear that
women such as Lydia, in Horace and in other writers, need to be seen as prostitutes working for
profit. Chrysis in Menander's Samia has a permanent relationship with Demea who cannot
marry her because she is not an Athenian citizen. It has recently been pointed out by A. Cameron
(H. P. Foley (ed.), Reflections of Women in Antiquity (New York, 1981), pp. 274-302) that 'very
few of the women described by Asclepiades fit the stereotype of the hetaira'. Simaetha in
Theocritus Idyll 2 has a status hard to define but certainly not that of an hetaira. Horace's own
Asterie is urged to stay faithful to Gyges, and not be seduced by Enipeus, who, like Sybaris,
excells at swimming in the Tiber and at riding on the Campus (c.3.7): cf. c.3.9, c.3.15. And even
if she should be seen as in some sense a meretrix, which I do not wish to dispute seriously, it
does not follow that Lydia is incapable of generous motives. Menander was famous in later
antiquity for presenting at least some hetairas who were 'decent and responded to love with
love' (at Xporala KaL avTEpUaaL): Plutarch, Mor. 712c. Habrotonon in Epitrepontes
might be an example: cf. v. 985. The love between Philematium and her lover in Plautus'
Mostellaria is mutual and survives the end of the play, yet she is a meretrix; Terence's Thais in
Eunuchus, and still more so Bacchis in Hecyra, behave well in such a way that they feel entitled

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to contrast their behaviour with that typical of their class. Though Horac
for Lydia in our poem, he may in several odes at least be said to requir
seriously the feelings of women presented sympathetically: e.g. 1.16; 1
3.12; 4.11; and perhaps 4.13, apart from the odes referred to above.
16. The structure of the ode allows pauses after questions at lines 7, 8
6 as well, if we read equitat and temperat, for which see Nisbet and Hu
The series would mark the growing eloquence of Lydia's silence.
17. The sombre mood of the myth seems to me incompatible with th
of Echinger and Maurach (n. 6), 78: the ode is partly a reminder to Sybari
warning to Lydia that she will lose her lover shortly when he returns, as
course, and partly a hint to Lydia that Horace will still be available whe
However, it seems to me that Sybaris is not merely a 'sporting hero' bu
this, together with the colouring of the Trojan reference, makes it im
comparison of Sybaris with Achilles as 'a cheerful note on which to clo
strophes 1-3'.
18. Kiessling-Heinze (n. 6), ad loc, see both meanings applying to Ac
The Odes, p. 139 suggests that the second sense, that of 'behaving like
parallel for Sybaris.

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