a1 Corpus Christi College, Oxford
Epode 10: the Mystery of Mevius' Crime
Horace's tenth Epode, an inverse propempticon, calls down dire curses on the head of a man named Mevius as he leaves on a sea-voyage.1 Scholars have naturally been interested in what Mevius had done to merit such treatment, but answers have been difficult to find, for nothing explicit is said on this topic in the poem; as Leo noted, ‘[Horatius] ne verbo quidem tarn gravis odii causam indicat’. This is in direct contrast with the Strasbourg epode usually attributed to Hipponax (fr. 115 West), which served as Horace's model in this poem; there it is clear that the similar curses on a departing sailor are caused by his breaking of oaths to the poet and betrayal of their previous friendship (15–16 ς μ' ἢδίκησε, λξ δ' π' ρκίοις βη, τò πρίν ταρος μ ). One might expect Horace to give some kind of indirect suggestion of the nature of Mevius’ offence, but even this is despaired of by Fraenkel: ‘There is no hint at the sort of crime which Mevius is said to have committed, nor is anything said about the man himself; he remains an entirely shadowy figure’. The best that scholars have been able to do is to follow the ancient commentary of Porphyrio in suggesting that Horace's Mevius is to be identified with the poetaster attacked by Vergil in Ecl. 3.90 ‘qui Bavium non odit, amet tua carmina, Mevi’. Though it is pleasant to think of Vergil and Horace, perhaps by now friends in the circle of Maecenas, ganging up on a luckless hack, there is, as Fraenkel points out, no mention in the tenth Epode that Mevius is a poet, and his literary incompetence, assuming he is Vergil's poet, does not seem to underlie or indeed warrant the bitter imprecations of the poem: Catullus might wish a dire fate on the works of a bad poet (e.g. Volusius – 36.18–20, 95.7–8), but to long for their author's shipwreck and consumption by gulls might indeed seem excessive.