Iccius’ Socratic Domus: Horace, C. 1.29.14

    The last stanza of Horace’s Ode to Iccius (1.29.13-16) follows some adynata – ‘Who will deny that anything is possible . . .’(1)

cum tu coemptos undique nobilis
libros Panaeti Socraticam et domum
    mutare loricis Hiberís,
        pollicitus meliora, tendis?

Commentators all note that domus can mean ‘school’ of philosophers.(2) This is true, and important, but I think there is more to the word-choice than that.(3) Iccius’ erotic daydreams suggest an unsatisfactory personal life. This might naturally stem from poverty, caused or exacerbated by out-of-control spending on philosophical books: such an interpretation is compatible with the other poem Horace addresses to Iccius, Epistle 1.12, in which he seems to have taken a job managing Agrippa’s estates in Sicily, still philosophizing, and still discontented with his lot.

    I prefer a different solution. What if we take Socraticam et domum literally as referring (secondarily, or even primarily) to his actual home? That would raise some interesting questions. Does he live alone, or is there a Mrs. Iccius? a nest of little Iccii? Is his obsessive book-collecting, or his avoidance of paying work to make time for philosophy, making a whole family miserable by lowering their standard of living? Does he ignore them all in favor of reading, writing, or long dialogues in the marketplace with his philosophical friends? A truly ‘Socratic’ home would include a nagging Xanthippe and three whining children, and such a home-life would explain Iccius’ eagerness to get as far away from Rome as he can, not returning without plenty of money – and some charming, submissive, and conveniently gender-varied captives.

    Or perhaps Iccius is single and lives with his mother – all the nagging, with none of the sex. (By the way, the closest parallel I know in Horace for a collector of philosophical books is the wealthy vetula of Epode 8, with her Stoic booklets lurking among silken pillows (15-16):

quid quod libelli Stoici inter Sericos
    iacere pulvillos amant?

However, I would not go so far as to suggest that she, or anyone like her, is Iccius’ mother, wife, or lover: that would be going too far, even for me.)

    I suspect a reinforcing pun on the name of Panaetius, who is ‘entirely to blame’ for Iccius’ discontent – or so at least his Xanthippe thinks. There is a similar pun in the one epigram in the Greek Anthology attributed to Apollonius of Rhodes (A.P. 11.275):

Καλλίμαχος τὸ κάθαρμα, τὸ παίγνιον, ὁ ξύλινος νοῦς·
    αἴτιος ὁ γράψας Αἴτια Καλλίμαχος.

Despite numerous difficulties of attribution and interpretation (for which see D. L. Page, Further Greek Epigrams, 17-18), αἴτιος here does seem to mean ‘to blame’ (the adjectival phrase, I mean, not the infinitive).


(1) I quote Shackleton Bailey’s Teubner text (1985). The only variant (nobilis – more likely genitive singular than accusative plural – vs. nobiles) has no bearing on my argument.

(2) In this case, R. Mayer (Cambridge, 2012) says, “the term is used loosely of the followers of Socrates, e.g., Plato and Xenophon.”

(3) He might as easily have called them a grex, as in the Epistle to Albius (1.4.16) – gregem and domum are metrically interchangeable.

This entry was posted in Critical Texts, Curculio: Latin, General and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.