In The Bissula Analysis

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In his pioneering work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon writes that “the poetical fame of Ausonius condemns the taste of his age.” Indeed, Ausonius’s work may seem uncomplicated on the surface: he borrows heavily from previous literature and uses straightforward syntax. However, his work contains depth beyond its ostensible simplicity: it blends genres and uses consistent themes as narrative foci to guide the reader. In two of his most prominent poems, liquid (as water and drink) is the key interpretive control: In the Bissula, alcohol provides wisdom that counters the confining seriousness of sobriety, while in the Moselle the river provides calm comfort that contrasts with the hectic unnatural world. Throughout both poems, Ausonius consistently uses liquid to contrast the serenity and clarity provided by water and drink with the chaos of the dry world. In the Bissula, alcohol plays a key role as the interpretive control. Ausonius addresses the reader directly, proclaiming that his poems are unserious. He writes that “I follow Thymele” (4), classifying his work as relaxing entertainment more than serious literature. Indeed, he requests that the reader “drink before you read” (6) in order to best understand the poem. While alcohol is typically associated with confusion and dulled wit, Ausonius claims that the drunk reader “will get wise to me” (8). With this subversion of expectations, Ausonius proclaims drink as a tool to achieve

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