Magazine February 10, 2020, Issue

Living Virtuously and Writing Well

Detail of a portrait of English essayist and poet Charles Lamb, 1775–1834 (Leemage/UIG via Getty Images)

Skepticism about the cult of the loutish writer goes back at least to the first century b.c. Horace, who was no prig himself, wrote that just because great poets prize alcohol for inspiration, mediocre aspirants think sousing is all-sufficient; but, the author of the Roman Odes insists, drinking contests at night and the leftover stench of them in the daytime don’t make anyone a genius, any more than adopting Cato the Younger’s high-minded scowl, scanty toga, and bare feet would give the wearer Cato’s probity and exemplary way of life. 

Over the centuries, nobody listened to Horace, apparently. The modern era

This article appears as “Virtue’s Rewards” in the February 10, 2020, print edition of National Review.

Sarah Ruden’s most recent books are the extensively revised second edition of her Aeneid translation and her new translation of the Gospels.

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