On combining instruction with pleasure

Poets wish to benefit or to please, or to speak
What is both enjoyable and helpful to living.
When you give instruction, be brief, what’s quickly
Said the spirit grasps easily, faithfully retains:
Everything superfluous flows out of a full mind.
Fictions meant to amuse should be close to reality,
So your play shouldn’t ask for belief in whatever
It chooses: no living child from the Lamia’s(1) full belly!
The ranks of our elders drive out what lacks virtue,
The Ramnes(2), the young knights, reject dry poetry:
Who can blend usefulness and sweetness wins every
Vote, at once delighting and teaching the reader.
That’s the book that earns the Sosii(3) money, crosses
The seas, and wins its author fame throughout the ages.


Aut prodesse uolunt aut delectare poetae
aut simul et iucunda et idonea dicere uitae.
Quicquid praecipies, esto breuis, ut cito dicta
percipiant animi dociles teneantque fideles.
Omne superuacuum pleno de pectore manat.
Ficta uoluptatis causa sint proxima ueris,
ne quodcumque uolet poscat sibi fabula credi,
neu pransae Lamiae uiuum puerum extrahat aluo.
Centuriae seniorum agitant expertia frugis,
celsi praetereunt austera poemata Ramnes.
Omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulci,
lectorem delectando pariterque monendo;
hic meret aera liber Sosiis, hic et mare transit
et longum noto scriptori prorogat aeuum.

—Horace, Ars Poetica (333-345)

Lawrence Alma-Tadema, "Favourite Poet" (1888)


(1) A Greek witch that preyed on children, a vampire.
(2) One of the three centuries of knights created by Romulus. The others were the Tities and Luceres.
(3) Two brothers who ran a publishing firm.

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