The Classical Quarterly (New Series)

Research Article

Philosophical Imagery in Horace, Odes 3.5

S. J. Harrisona1

a1 St John's College, Oxford

The high moral tone of Horace's Reguhls ode (3.5) makes it unsurprising that the poet should employ the traditional imagery of philosophers, both in the speech of Regulus and in the final simile. I should like here to point out some instances which seem to have escaped the notice of commentators.


This passage is intended to illustrate the lost ‘virtus’ of the prisoners in Carthage, who, Regulus claims, will be of no greater use to the Romans if ransomed since they were cowardly enough to surrender in the first place. For the first image of dyeing wool Kiessling–Heinze refer the reader to Lucretius 6.1074–7:

purpureusque colos conchyli iungitur una

corpore cum lanae, dirimi qui non queat usquam,

non si Neptuni fluctu renovare operam des,

non mare si totum velit eluere omnibus undis.

This gives the first hint that the image belongs to the philosophical tradition, though it does not seem to occur in the extant remains of Epicurus. This is confirmed by a passage of Plato, who at Rep. 429d ff. has an elaborate image taken from the dyer's art. The Guardians of the ideal city are to be carefully selected and prepared like wool for the dyeing process of education; then, as good wool keeps its colour after dyeing, so the Guardians will keep right opinions when they are taught them. The image is summarized by Socrates at 430a ff.: