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Aurea Mediocritas and Horace Odes 2.10.1-8

Horace Odes 2.10 is appropriately given the English title ‘The Golden Mean’ in Garrison’s edition of the Epodes and Odes. The famous Latin phrase aurea mediocritas occurs in line 5, with the phrase’s two words perfectly balanced around quisquis and with mediocritatem filling all six syllables of the second half of the Sapphic line after the diaeresis, or pause.

In addition, the phrase itself is bracketed and reinforced by nicely balanced syntax and anaphora in the first two stanzas:

Rectius vives, Licini, neque altum
semper urgendo neque, dum procellas
cautus horrescis, nimium premendo
litus iniquum.

Auream quisquis mediocritatem
diligit, tutus caret obsoleti
sordibus tecti, caret invidenda
sobrius aula.

In the first stanza, neque is repeated in a ‘neither…nor’ construction, followed each time by a gerund. Garrison points out that the gerunds are nearly synonymous in meaning, but one warns against going too far out to sea while the other warns against staying too close to the shore.

In the second stanza, anaphora is used again with caret, this time with two nominative adjectives similar in sense (tutus and sobrius) referring to the man who wisely avoids two dissimilar extremes: poverty and excessive wealth. In this instance, moreover, the word order is also chiastic: tutus caret…caret…sobrius.

The phrases using the anaphora are balanced in construction, but refer to opposite extremes in sense; Licinius is to live in between both, and hence keep to the ‘golden mean’.