from an interview with William Matthews, by Peter Davison, two weeks before his death in November 1997
PD. What have you specifically learned from Horace, from Martial?
WM. Horace and Martial are interested in how humans interact. What matters to these poets is what is most vivid to us and what energizes us most on a daily basis -- a life defined by the ways in which humans are social animals, the ways in which we suffer from being social animals. From Martial, I learned foremost how important it is to find ways to be angry with human folly and failure and to be forgiving of it at the same time, because you know when your turn to be riddled with folly comes around that you'll do a great job.
From Horace, I learned that pleasure in itself and friendship in itself are valuable subjects, period. They don't need to be compared to anything. You don't need to go through the masquerade of the Renaissance, for example, in which romantic love is important because it imitates divine love. Love is important on its own terms and because of its own experience, and that's an end to it. Horace's bemusement with the elaborate construction and parody (at the same time) of his own persona is a spectacle. Horace's way of understanding what it means to be Horace is so much more complicated and richer than most of what our culture makes available to us that it's tonic.
29 October, 1997