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Horace's Ars Poetica (also known as "The Art of Poetry," which is a Letter to the Pisones, or in its Latin name, Epistula ad Pisones), published c. 18 BC, was a treatise on poetics. The name "Ars Poetica" goes back to Quintilian in his "Institutio Oratoria"  and it was used onward in the Western Tradition to refer to some of Horace's principles regarding aesthetic in poetry (which also included drama in Ancient times). It was first translated into English by Thomas Drant. Four quotations in particular are associated with the work:
- "in medias res (v. 148)," or "into the middle of things." This describes a narrative technique of starting the story from the its middle point. According to Horace, that feature entices the audience into the plot, by making everyone curious about the characters' previous paths and their future destinies. The technique appeared frequently in ancient epics, and remains popular in modern narratives.
- "ab ovo (v. 147)," or "from the beginning." As Homer did not initiate his epics about the Trojan War from the conception (thus, the egg - "ovo" in Latin) of Helen, poets and other story tellers should do something likewise: in other words, start a story from its commence will bore and fatigue listeners and readers, who may not be interested in the whole plot bit by bit so accurately ordered. Thus, being too meticulous might also mean extremely fastidious for the audience.
- "bonus dormitat Homerus (v. 359)" or "good Homer nods." An indication that 1. even the most skilled poet can make continuity errors and 2. even huge works, usually epics (such as the Iliad or the Odyssey), may have their faults (which do not ruin or compromise the whole).
- "ut pictura poesis (v. 361)," or "as is painting so is poetry," by which Horace meant that poetry, in its widest sense meaning "imaginative texts," merits the same careful interpretation that was in his day reserved for painting.
The latter two phrases occur one after the other near the end of the treatise.
In verse 191, Horace warns against deus ex machina, the practice of resolving a convoluted plot by having an Olympian god appear and set things right. Horace writes "Nec deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus": "That a god not intervene, unless a knot show up that be worthy of such an untangler".
The best known poem by Archibald MacLeish (1892–1982), published in 1926, took its title and subject from Horace's work. His poem "Ars Poetica" contains the line "A poem should not mean/but be", which was a classic statement of the modernist aesthetic.
The term "ars poetica" can refer to devices of metalanguage. The definition of "ars poetica" in the past decade[when?] extends to defining techniques of rhetoric, including but not limited to: writing about writing, singing about singing, thinking about thinking, etc. Originating in poetry about poetry, "ars poetica" is now widely used as a literary device to enhance imagery, understanding, or profundity.
Moreover, the technique of "ars poetica" was previously an attempt to capture the essence of poetry through poetry. The poet would write his poem, then step back, and his poem would become a way of knowing, of seeing, albeit through the senses, the emotions, and the imagination. In the modern century, a passage of writing or composition employing an "ars poetica" style is one that tries to capture the essence, the intrinsic value, of what it is expressing through. A song about a song, for example, would be an attempt to manifest the fleeting beauty of lyrics, notes, and dynamics.
- Inst. Orat. 8.60
- Ars Poetica, line 191
|Latin Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- Latin text of poem at The Latin Library
- English translation
- Text at Perseus.
- "Ars Poetica" at Poets.org
- "Ars Poetica" – Archibald MacLeish
- "Ars Poetica" – Archibald MacLeish at Poemhunter.com
- Image of original manuscript
- Analysis of poem