Epode VII: Billy Drowns His Sorrows After the ’51 General Election
(Quo, quo, scelesti ruitis?) [Why this Mad Rush to Join the War?]
‘The dramatic date of this poem may be after the piracy in 42-39 BC of Sextus Pompeius, who had taken Neptune (line 4) as his patron. In 39 BC Pompeius, Anthony, and Octavian had signed the treaty of Puteoli, but early in 38 Pompeius and Octavian were preparing to resume fighting (lines 1-2). In 40 BC the Parthians had taken advantage of these civil wars to overrun Syria and Cilicia (line 10)’ (1)
It seems to me that here Horace is taking an ironic and satirical anti-war stance. There is absolute despair at the continuing civil war in Rome. I have recontextualised the historical references by attempting to put anti-war feelings of despair and fatalism into the mouth of the trade union leader, Billy. These versions, set in the early 1950’s, (the Second World War having ended in 1945) attempt to capture a similar kind of ‘tiredness’ with war. Although ‘The Horatian original is careful to avoid blaming any particular party for Rome’s sufferings…’ (2) my anti-Churchill material fits in with the context and the character of Billy and captures some of the overheard snippets of conversation heard in my childhood before rationing disappeared and at a time when despite political promises, people were beginning to realise that there would be no such thing as a job for life. It is therefore a twist on the original, but I feel is a legitimate twist given the overall context of the book.
For additional irony see the non-Epode based poem, ‘Now’ which comments on the changes in the geographical area in which ‘The Works’ and surrounding communities is set and observes that there is a commercial block called Churchill House and nearby, the Stockton campus of the University of Durham where we have indeed left our students not only with our political mess but with heavy burdens of debt. (3)
(1) West, D. (1997) Horace: The Complete Odes and Epodes. Oxford University Press,:Oxford (p.135)
(2) Harrison, Professor Stephen, in personal correspondence.
(3) Almond, Maureen (2004), Biscuit Publishing, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, (p.65)