Sunday, October 09, 2011

Nietzsche on Horace

In his last year of literary production, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote several books, including Twilight of the Idols. By the time this book hit the booksellers, Nietzsche was no longer sane - he didn't recognize his own works. This is one of the last passages from that last work, in which he begins to reflect on his literary relationship to the ancients. The whole passage can be found here by scrolling nearly to the end.


1 In conclusion, a word about that world to which I sought interpretations, for which I have perhaps found a new interpretation — the ancient world. My taste, which may be the opposite of a tolerant taste, is in this case very far from saying Yes indiscriminately: it does not like to say Yes; better to say No, but best of all to say nothing. That applies to whole cultures, it applies to books — also to places and landscapes. In the end there are very few ancient books that count in my life: the most famous are not among them. My sense of style, of the epigram as a style, was awakened almost instantly when I came into contact with Sallust. Compact, severe, with as much substance as possible, a cold sarcasm toward "beautiful words" and "beautiful sentiments" — here I found myself. And even in my Zarathustra one will recognize my very serious effort to achieve a Roman style, for the aere perennius [more enduring than bronze] in style.

Nor was my experience any different in my first contact with Horace. To this day, no other poet has given me the same artistic delight that a Horatian ode gave me from the first. In certain languages that which Horace has achieved could not even be attempted. This mosaic of words, in which every word — as sound, as place, as concept — pours out its strength right and left and over the whole, this minimum in the extent and number of the signs, and the maximum thereby attained in the energy of the signs — all that is Roman and, if you will believe me, noble par excellence. All the rest of poetry becomes, in contrast, something too popular — mere sentimental blather.

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