QUINTUS HORATIUS FLACCUS
A Selection for Poets
William Harris, Prof. Em. Middlebury College
I don't need to introduce Horace with usual short biography since he is so familiar to us and one of the half handful of important Latin poets, but there are a few things I should say beforehand. Horace is not easy to access, his language is compressed and so highly polished that it doesn't read without effort, and his style of elegance which was so popular in England in the 17th and 18th centuries, is not to the taste of most modern readers of verse. After all, who relishes delectable cappable quotations these days? And who has time to memorize poems which must be turned over like pebbles in the river before they reach their final smoothness and shape?
Housman in The Shropshire Lad seems to me to come closes to the fine finish of Horace, he took worked and reworked with the file until perfected, and if he has much of Horace's polish, he also has a good bit of Catullus fire. For an introduction to what might come out of reading Horace, I suggest Housman first, since his deceptively simple and short lyric lines are not unlike Horace's, while both have a good deal lying somewhere beneath the surface.
I am inserting here a few Odes of Horace with full Commentary, just to get Horace started off on a good pace, after which I have a dozen or more poems which can survive with less discussion, and a few long ones, an Epode and a Satire, just to have them accessible here for reading when there is time.
I have avoided the Political Odes of the later books which were pretty much political command performances, and not likely to raise the Housmanic hair on your neck while reading. The ones here are my old favorites, but we all have personal inclinations, and there is a lot more for your reading in future years. Reading and really getting to know Horace does take a great deal of time.
Horace ODES I, 5
Quis multa gracilis te puer in rosa
simplex munditiis? Heu quotiens fidem
qui semper vacuam, semper amabilem
sperat, nescius aurae
fallacis. Miseri, quibusintempata nites. Me tabula sacer
votiva paries indicat uvida
vestimenta maris deo.If in question about the meter, just be sure you know the rules for longs (by nature or by position before two consonants...) and read by the longs out loud, until it all sounds right.(Then you can forget that these stanzas are Fourth Aesclepiadeian, composed of two asclepiadeans, a pherecratean and a glyconic clausula !) Latin verse tempers the Greek long/short syllable system sub rosa with its own prose accentual rule (accent third from end unless second is long, then accent that), so hammering out the longs and short mechanically creates a rocking-horse effect which is ridiculous.
Read the syllables as you would read music notes, some are actually longer and get a trifle more accent, but it is basically duration we are dealing with. I would refrain from thinking about the traditional methods of "scanning" a line with little clutches of -u-'s and -_-"s, which imply that the verse is written to the spec.'s on the blackboards, where it is exactly the other way around.
Horace says that he was the first to bring the Aeolic lyric meters into Latin use (Odes III, 30,13 f.), which is not exactly true. But he was the master of this adaptation of 7th BC Greek lyrics to Roman poetry, and he does this very well indeed with flawless craftsmanship. I mention this not as a point in literary history, but to insist that we read these poems aloud again and again, the only way to appreciate their finish and patina. Never translate Latin, especially these complex poems where the free word-order of the Latin is entirely different in spirit from the fixed (Subj.-- Verb -- Object) word-order of English.
If it doesn't seem too outlandish, spend fifteen minutes with Schenker's "Five Graphic Studies", a remarkable music analysis system which links discrete and separate parts of several sample music scores, to show with what complex inner associations Bach, Handel and Chopin linked tones meaningfully in their compositions. This is exactly what Horace is doing here, not with tones but with words. Much of the art of this poem depends on the linking of non-adjacent words with each other, a device impossible in English. Schenker is possibly the best preparation for Horace!
In the first line the central word "te" is the girl Pyrrha, literally and verbally embraced by some gracilis....puer, the both of them flounced in a bed of roses: multa.....................in rosa, and the question-sentence is itself bracketed between the Latin quis and our typographical ? at the end. I find urget very difficult to translate, it is something like "he is making out with her", sexual in intent and aggressive, but that is slang and Horace is never slangy. The usual word for perfume is unguentum, specifically perfume in a grease base, since the Romans did not have the distilled alcohol vehicle which we use for perfumery.
But here our slick young fellow is literally drenched (perfusus) with "flowing perfumeries", as overdone as the odoriferously unpleasant fragrances which barbers used to slap on my head as a boy, final touch to a haircut. And the whole mise-en-scene is in a mock-cave, the sort of garden decoration which the Romans loved and the l8th c. Europeans imitated as "classical".
She ties back her hair in a neat pony-tail, which goes well with that curious phrase simplex munditiis, which Milton three centuries ago translated so aptly as "plain in they neatness", no doubt thinking of the Puritan girls of his early years. And the Romans had a strong vein of puritanism in their souls, but it probably looked different and we are still not sure what these two words really connoted to a Roman. The point is clear, however: She looks plain but she sure isn't, like the WW II posters warning soldiers against VD with a image of a picture-pretty girl-next-door.
Now in the second stanza,everything starts to change, alas!. We have to read algebraically: "changed (faith + gods)", a neat way of avoiding repeated adjectives. As the tears flow, we move on to flowing waves and the kind of storm which suddenly appears in the Adriatic Sea, as he is left wide-eyed (e-mirabitur) and completely shocked by something so unexpected (insolens, which must never be confused with Engl. insolent, although both are from Lat. soleo)
In this third stanza (so printed in all editions on the basis of l9th c. "Meineke's Law", possibly not Horace's notion) the storm is gone and all is peace and quiet, again te...........aurea (in abl.) "the golden girl", which is doubly apt since she is "precious" and also blond = flava. The Romans were much impressed by the Germanic genes already heavily into north Italy giving the recessive characteristics of blue eyes and blond hair, and the l920's book "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" seemed to point to a general male preference until the blonde bimbo appeared in the l950's.
Could the Romans have had a notion of the tricky blonde, as here...? But that one word credulus stands alone, he is lost in her lovely ambiance, gullible, and certainly noted with a slight sneer --- this poor fool, who misses the lying breath.
Shifting to the plural miseri, we see a long succession of would-be lovers who also missed their mark, for whom she was bright and brilliant, so long as they didn't get too near. Hands off! Now we come to that last stanza which is the despair of students reading the text with dictionary in hand. All of a sudden the words seem as jumbled as the Adriatic Sea above, they don't fit together and above all they don't make sense. Read them over and over......exactly, that is the point.
Horace is playing around with your powers of comprehension, and for a good reason. He has been in line with those gullible fellows gaping at the lovely Pyrrha, he wants to tell you about it but there is a certain shamefulness to such an admission, especially being in such credulous and silly company. So he shuffles his words around a bit, adds a word here and there, and introduces a motif which the Roman would have recognized immediately, as would many a modern Catholic in he Mediterranean world. But elsewhere it is not known........
Thinking of the churning seas in the second stanza, Horace puts together bit by bit the words which describe a shipwreck (the Romans were poor sailors, often shipwrecked by clinging to the shore) from which he crawled away alive, placing a votive silver figure on the nearest temple wall. "I foundered on this hard place here too, and did escape, my thanks to God, for my salvation!" The admission is perhaps the main purpose of the poem, slyly injected with a mild, self-deprecating and almost Jewish humor.
But now look at the interwoven texturing of the words:
tabula......(sacer) ........votiva.....(paries) uvida......(potenti)...vestimenta.. ....(deo).
Draw mental music-ties between these words and you see why I mentioned Schenker at the beginning. We can understand these inner relationships fairly well in music, if with an effort; in English they just don't work.
Also note the alternating moods of the four stanzas. The first and third are calm and overly smooth, the second and fourth are sea-scenes with danger and complex word-weaving. And within each stanza are special inner relationships of meaning, yet we have not even touched upon the assonances and consonances of the sounds heard as musical tones, the underbody of the artistic iceberg, which you will have to discover for yourself by careful readings aloud, accustoming yourself to the fine detailing typical of most ancient poetry.
Horace Odes, Book I.9
Let me first give the poem just as it stands, since dissection is destruction and comment on subsequent pages following the poem is bothersome. I will then repeat it and add comments part by part.
We should remember that the "stanzas" are something quite modern, configured in the l9th c. according to Meineke's Law, and they do not appear in the manuscripts on which out editions are so carefully based. Whether Horace's reading copies had stanzas is very questionable, on the other hand we read the poems "stanza'ed" with no hesitation, so our use may well be the deciding factor
The stanza lines are printed straight left-aligned on purpose, so you will have to read them out metrically to find the differences in the maters. Indenting is the standard format, but not a Roman practice, and it gives too many clues. Acoustic reading and the sounds of the metre are what are at the heart of Latin poetry, after all. Do it for yourself!
You may be surprised at the format, but I am leaving out some of the modern indentations used to clue readers to the verse-type, on purpose. The verse-form and sound of the many metres Horace uses does not come from the scansion systems at the back of every textbook or grammar, nor does it come from the indentations which show at a glance what the "pre-set" is. What is absolutely required for understanding Latiun poetry is the ability to read comfortably with a sense of where the longs (natural or positional) stand, and let the verse emerge as you read the poem aloud. This is not a difficult matter, it is only made hard by fear of getting it "wrong", and by the piles of directions and old-fashioned academic insistence on pencil-marking Long (-) and Short (u) in the text over the words. Had Horace been requied to lay out his blueprint before writing a poem, we would have had one less poet in the Classical corpus, for sure.
Vides ut alta stet nive candidum
large reponens atque benignius
deprome quadrimum Sabina
o Thaliarche, merum diota: permitte divis cetera, qui simul
stravere ventos aequore fervido
deproeliantis, nec cupressi
nec veteres agitantur orni. quid sit futurum cras fuge quaerere et
quem Fors dierum cumque dabit lucro
appone, nec dulcis amores
sperne puer neque tu choreas, donec virenti canities abest
morosa. nunc et campus et areae
lenesque sub noctem susurri
composita repetantur hora, nunc et latentis proditor intimo
gratus puellae risus ab angulo
pignusque dereptum lacertis
aut digito male pertinaci. .
Some years ago I published a semi-translation of this ode in a local Vermont newspaper in the dead of winter, and was surprised how easily it went into our 20th c. circle of consciousness. For Soracte I substituted "Ripton", a hillside town further up in snow country, and since Thaliarchus is described as "puer", I substituted my young son James for him, and asked him to bring me a glass for my bourbon. The rest was natural enough, the logs crackling on the fire, and thoughts of springtime at the highschool where my son would be eyeing the girls and they him in a preview of warmth of the spring evenings. The poem went off well and several people called and told me they were surprised that the author wrote some two thousand years ago. There are differences however. The similarities between ancient and modern are always interesting, but the difference are what makes reading ancient documents worthwhile.
On a cold winter's night in January 2003, I "reconstructed" the lost nespaper version for a gentleman in North Dakota, which I can give here as a version with less than half a dozen words changed, with most of the feel of the original retained:
You see how the snow stands deep in Ripton's woods
I find it interesting that this gem of a little poem has been subjected so strenuously to the Procrustean bed of the scholar-critics. The first word (vides) has been taken by some to mean that Horace is writing from a vantage point within sight of Soracte, but surely the verb is used in a broader sense. The "you" does not mean that this is actual viewing, or dramatic poetry, but just a touch of a poetic distancing which includes us as readers in what is going to be a very personal poem. There may be more of a problem with the river icing over in line 3-4, since in Italy's milder climate main rivers did not freeze, but these are the tributaries, I suppose. But is that a problem, is that worth mentioning? To dispose of that last scholarly ineptitude, sure enough someone has objected that in the fifth stanza, the youthful courting is done in deep snow since it clearly says "nunc", i.e. right now in winter. Enough of this....... perhaps far too much..
The first stanza sweeps over the hillside, the view of a town in the distance, then the evergreens bowed with wet snow and arched over, the stream frozen solid, all outdoor setting for what follows:.
Vides ut alta stet nive candidum
Now we are indoors, in a warm country lodge, where there is plenty of logs to heap on the fire. Note that Italy was early virtually deforested, probably as the result of universal cremation of the dead as well as the use of wood for firing kilns in the cement-works. There was no firewood available in Rome then, any more than in New York now, you have to go to the countryside for a good old-fashioned blaze.
The "boy" (garc,on?) is told to bring out wine --- aplenty, don't be stingy with it. Yet it is only four year old vintage, the common local Sabine variety but strangely bottled in a two handled jog (diota) of such rarity that the word occurs only here in all Latin literature. And it is to be drunk straight (merum), which means a serious drinking party, since the Roman normally used a 3 : 1 mixture for general purposes! And now that we have established "vin ordinaraire", in a jug extra-ordinaire, and not with the usual dilution, we come up with the name of the fellow "Thaliarchus", an extraordinary imported Greek name, actually meaning "Master of the Party".
It seems we were just going indoors after viewing a snow-scene, but with typical Horatian complexity, we have juxtaposed a surprising series of comfortable words and notions in only four short lines. Fire, fireplace, wine, a Valet:
dissolve frigus ligna super foco
Now we can moralize for a moment, leaving it all to the turns of fate and deity. But a storm comes from heaven (another landscape scene but different from the snow scene above). The gods throw down wind to battle it out over the roiling sea, but the ancient ash and cypress (branches used for funerals, a sobering moment!) stand firm and weather it out.
Why the ancient trees with their deep roots standing firm? Is there another turn to this? Yes, but it is left unsaid, that Horace now middle-aged can weather out bad times, but the Boy is bendable, flexible, less strength but far more promise of life and more latitude, which brings up the next set of thoughts:
permitte divis cetera, qui simul
Now the language becomes stiffer, the words come hard after each other, as the poet advises (the Boy or possibly all of us too...?):
"Don't even think of trying to find out what tomorrow brings
And now we switch completely from stern advice of Old Oak talking to Young Sprout, with a caution to attend to love affairs, singing and dancing, lively living..........and don't ignore your youthful days:
quid sit futurum cras fuge quaerere et
But back again with sobriety for one line to this:
"While you are young, and sour grayhaired old age is far away"
.........and back again to a wonderful change of climate, season, springtime air and the eternal joyfulness of young people when winter is finally gone and life can resume with pleasure. Now we have the whole panoply of springtime living, with even a college-like Campus and open spaces to wander, gentle whispering voices in the night meeting at an anticipated date.........
donec virenti canities abest
But as if this were all too open, too simple and apparent, Horace knots up the last stanza with complex word-separations, and ideas which do not release their meaning immediately, as a single picture becomes clear to you, revealing very slowly:
The girl hiding in the alleyway, whose (intentional) giggle reveals her hide-and-seek game to boyfriend who now catching her, playfully wriggles her ring, as keepsake of this warm and lovely evening, from her only half-resisting finger. And with this virtual "montage" the poem abruptly ends.
nunc et latentis proditor intimo
But this is all couched in terms of advice to the Boy Thaliarchus:
"Don't lose a moment that fate give you to spend,
But that brings up another problem:
Is Thaliarchus in fact Horace's Ganymede? In this last generation of scholarship, it has been argued that Horace was homosexually involved with his "puer", and the indices of this are the wine poured out more liberally, drunk straight-up, and even the advice to the fifteen year old "slave boy" to go straight as he gets older, bearded, and less interesting to typical Roman masters. The Romans were used to same-sex affaires with slaves, they felt none of the Puritanic shock which our world felt when the Kinsey Report on male sexuality came out in l950 with its 1 : 4 homosexuality index for the American scene.For the Roman world homosexuality was not a locked-in situation, there was no closet you had to come out of, because the door was open both ways.
I read this poem first years ago as an undergrad, even a few years ago when I did the newpaper translation, I hadn't thought of a homosexual theme in it at all. But as I reconsider, I think it is perfectly possible, it would not have been un-Roman at all, and it doesn't really make a great deal of difference in the interpretation of the poem. Where the great difference appears is in the comparison of Roman lifestyle with modern Western lifestyles, which are undergoing accelerated unveilings, like peeling the layers off an onion again and again...... Perhaps the best approach with this poem is to read it as it stands, let the text speak, and then leave it alone. Ifit says something to you personally, that is probably all you need to know. But don't quibble on a cultural discrepancy, especially in a poem which reads so well as a finely crafted poem, even to a modern reader some two millennia later.
Horace ODES III 12
We turn to a short poem which has received more critical attention for its rare ionic a minore metre than for its artistic value. Look at the commentaries and you will find hardly a word of interpretation or insight, which makes this an interesting study for an entirely different approach. I am going to deal with this poem as if I were working with a film scenario, supplying an audio-track which comes directly from suggestions in the text, a set of visual shots from various angles (again text-based), and accompany this with a detailed plot and word-commentary. This interpretation will certainly be seen as a very unusual piece of Classical Commentary, I hope not a voice crying out in the wilderness.
With the first words one hears the background beat (short-short-long-long),which persists throughout the poem. This is the "audio track", a separate sound sequence which accompanies (through the mind's ear) what the mind's eye is observing. We see a girl sitting spinning wool, a scene familiar enough to Romans but one which in our world of man-made fabrics has been relegated to the museum..
But any one who has observed a weaver at the preparatory task of spinning wool into thread, will recognize the rhythmic pattern of the foot driving the wheel. (Catching the treadle at 2:00 o'clock, the foot gives a second push at about 4:00, after which the wheel picks up inertia at 6:00 and coasts on its own, spinning up to and over the top.) These very different pushing and coasting motions, evoked in the metre as two shorts followed by two longs, divide each turn into two rotatory segments. Sappho knew this motion well, it was who she made it famous as the metre which known in every Greek hamlet as women spun out the thread of livelihood. The "Sapphic Ionic a minore" metre was no bit of formal Classical experimenting, but a rhythm taken from daily life.
The first stanza is drenched in the sadnesses of young girls, specifically in terms of the things girls cannot do, making love and drinking at a symposium, while on the other hand they shudder at an evil uncle's lashing tongue urging them to work. The uncle in antiquity is the surrogate controlling the family when the father dies or is absent, he has as bad a name as the malicious stepfather often has in our society. (The first word in the poem emphasizes their feelings: miserarum..) Sadness under duress runs through this first stanza, while the pump of the wheel inexorably drones on.
Visualize this scene in an archaeologically correct work-room, perhaps like one of the rooms on the first floor in the Greek collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The walls are plastered, painted in a mild rufous hue, the window is large, shutters are folded back during daylight, there are of course no panes and no glazing, so the view is unobstructed. Through this window we are led to the outside scene, which is the business of the next stanza.
We have been looking at Neobule, overcome by the onerous burden of loom and shuttle and everything that a typically Roman Minerva-oriented production world symbolizes. But she suddenly looks through the window and sees the "brightness" of a boy, resplendent in athlete's olive-oil and youth, who bears the shiningly exotic name of "Hebrus". He comes from the bright South, from the island of Lipare just north of Sicily. (How suitable that the town-island of Lipara or Lipare is identical in form with the Greek adjective liparos "oily, oiled".) Indeed he is no dull, run-of-the-mill Roman athlete, but a smooth Magna-Grecian, and Neobule's spirit rises (the wheel spins on automatically),while she watches him with all her heart and soul.
Now we shift our gaze through the window with a medium-speed zoom, to see the boy close at hand, moving quickly, engaged in one kind of athletic exercise after another, swift, beautiful and above all "free". (This is all still through the eyes of the girl in the foreground, sitting framed in the window, watching.)
Four short shots are set up in fast sequence. There he is, now swimming, now riding a horse, now boxing, now running swiftly - - - the images flash one after another. In the foreground, through the eye of the camera, we still see Neobule as she watches, her wheel spinning endlessly, while outside at a distance, as in vignette, this handsome lad Hebrus exercises.
The exacerbated physicalness of the athletic youth, demonstrating four hyper-activities in three compact lines, is a almost visual montage. Behind the alternating scenes we still hear the insistent beat of the spinning-wheel rhythm, reminding us that this is all seen through the eyes of the tired girl at the window, drearily spinning wool, in the spirit of a Roman "good girl", who was commemorated for Romans in the traditional epitaph: DOMI SEDIT LANAM FECIT
The last stanza introduces two scenes of hunting. In the first scene the boy is "sharp, watchful" (catus) watching while the deer flee whirling in a frenzied herd. In hunting in the ancient world, the deer were driven toward the hunter, who stands waiting for the kill, an effective if not quite a sporting proposition. The deer herd whirls as unseen beaters move them forward, while Hebrus stands motionless in a freeze shot, as the scene fades. The wild boar, that most dangerous of Mediterranean animals, is hidden invisible in a dense thicket, hiding and waiting. Hebrus is standing poised before the thicket, also waiting.
With one brilliant visual stroke Horace conducts us swiftly from a woman's static world, in which the only movement is the motion of the spinning wheel, by way of a young man's hyper-athletic arena of frenzied activity, a to the total immobility of a hunter watching a boar invisible in the bushes.
The scene is frozen, but in the audio track the metre drums out its beat. Here in intense outline are woman's world vis a vis man's world, both are weft and warp in the Roman social fabric, but in spirit and fact entirely different. All this is shown through the web of interlocking words, sounds and scenes in this finely executed and compressed little vignette.
In closing I must note that the ancient Greek and Latin poets used their art as a way of conveying visual imagery, something we often miss from our print-culture base. Reading has become for many of us a fast scanning process, weeding the meaning out from the chaff of words. And we have such a wealth of available visual materials from the Eastman camera and cinematic film to four-color high quality printing, that our visual needs are well satisfied, perhaps even sated. But in the Greco-Roman world, where the colors were those of nature, a few bright dyes, the metals and some earth-based colorants, the best visual imagery rested in the eye of a man or woman reading vital poetry carefully, with relish. Poetry was not mere verse, but an eye into the world's visual treasure house.
Odes I, 4Now for some more poems with less detailed commentary.
This remarkable little poem has that curious Horatian twist again. It starts with the feeling of spring, down to the sequak of boats at the shipyard going down to the sea again, thefield and plowing and at long last the frost gone for good. But in this scene of lively Springtime and Life blooming everywhere, he turns to thoughts of death, and that dark underworld, the damp place whre Achilles said he would rather be ill paid servant of a poor master, than Lord of all down here. And at the end of the poem, a suggestion of warning, ashes to ashes and all to the god Hades. Could it be part of the Roman Puritanical streak that joy in life automatically bring up the shades of Death, a Manichaean bipolar view of the works which took root at Rome early?
Solvitur acris hiems grata vice veris et Favoni
iam Cytherea choros ducit Venus imminente luna
nunc decet aut viridi nitidum caput impedire myrto
pallida Mors aequo pulsat pede pauperum tabernas
et domus exilis Plutonia; quo simul mearis,
Odes I, 15
This famous poem on The Ship of State is a good example of Horace's perfect polish, as he interfuses the wording and metaphors of a Ship and the Country racked by civil turmoil. Yet this is all indirect and poetic, Horace is not a reformer, there is no political platform for change, not even a tone of anger. It is all couched in terms of Regret, which may after all be the way it is always going to be.
The Romans never attained the Phoenician/.Carthaginians' skills at navigation, and clung in fear to the shoreline often wrecking on the rocks. So this "political" poem has a stronger sea-dread than might at first appear, perhapsmore like our fear of atomic catastrope leaving us helplessly adrift.
O navis, referent in mare te novi
et malus celeri saucius Africo
aequor? non tibi sunt integra lintea,
iactes et genus et nomen inutile:
nil pictis timidus navita puppibus
nuper sollicitum quae mihi taedium,
Odes I 20
Horace, son of a freedman who made his way to the Court of Augustus hobnobbing with nobility and gentlemen of means, retained enough sense of his humble origins to avoid the Trimalchionism of the liberti of the Empire. Here he gently twits Lord Maecenas, plaudited by the crowd, and offers vin ordinaire of local pressing with good spirits when he comes to visit. He even puts the cheap wine in import bottles, just as I do regularly, and I always smile when they ask what year it is.
Vile potabis modicis Sabinum
clare Maecenas eques, ut paterni
Caecubum et prelo domitam Caleno
Odes I 22
Nobody does it any more, but past generations loved to "cap quotations" from Horace as the perfect word for other people and other situations. The first line of the poem is a great one to cap, it has the right ring and the right show of righteousness, all compacted into four words.
But there is tongue in cheek of course, as he does down to the imaginary confrontation with the Wolf who fled such a Good Man. And that insane wish to be placed somewhere in the Sahara, but acceptable to him, so long as Miss Laughing Lady is there with him babbling endlessly in his ear. Even her name is pointed, from Gr. lalein "babble". It makes me smile just to read this one again fifty years later, still a good poem....... Yes, Dear, I'm coming for cocktails.
Integer vitae scelerisque purus
sive per Syrtis iter aestuosas
namque me silva lupus in Sabina,
quale portentum neque militaris
pone me pigris ubi nulla campis
pone sub curru nimium propinqui
Odes I, 23
We can read this next ppoem in two ways, as the charming little bundle of verse Horace intended it to be, as he twits a young girl he want to know better, about clinging to her mother's skirts. The fright in her eyes is that of a fawn, and she is just as pretty and delightful in her nervous ways.
But these days, what with a new stance for Women in the world, and a terrible market for your girls prostituted for rich middle aged "gentlemen", there is something else to consider. Can you apply our standard to Horace's time, in which case you have to do a lot of rearrangements, as for slavery, homosexuality...... Do we really want to discuss all this here?
Remember who Horace is. Augustus said of him that he was as wide as he was tall, Mr. Four By Four as it were. But this didn't deprive him of a sex life, witness his bedroom which had mirrors on the ceiling over the bed. Is he a lascivious old man, or just kidding around with a local girl and meaning no harm at all?
Vitas hinnuleo me similis, Chloe,
nam seu mobilibus vepris inhorruit
atqui non ego te tigris ut aspera
Odes I 29
With ill concealed tongue in cheek, Horace quizzes the former student now about to set forth in the adventure of War and Foreign Expeditions, on his intentions. Will it be dangerous, will it be glorious? But at quis neget: he points out the impossibility of reversing natural phenomena. And while on that topic, how about swapping the English Lit. reading list for a suit of camouflage green, "You --- meant for something better".
Decades ago I capped this two word bit for a R.O.T.C. senior at his last class reading Latin with me. His smile vanished, walked out and I never saw him again. I heard later that went for a military career, probably same with Iccius.
Icci, beatis nunc Arabum invides
nectis catenas? quae tibi virginum
doctus sagittas tendere Sericas
cum tu coemptos undique nobilis
Odes I, 33
There is little one can add to this polished gem, which invokes all the spirits and deities of Pleasure to come to a little party at Horace's rural villa. In the form of a Prayer, it is nothing less than an invitation,with a few key words setting the tone of the occasions: Hot and fervid, with slips unzipped (zonis solutis) , gaawky youth backed up by Love, and to carry the invitation Mercury the Messenger. No RSVP is required.
O Venus regina Cnidi Paphique,
fervidus tecum puer et solutis
Odes I 33
Read this first, then we can talk about it afterwards:
Parcus deorum cultor et infrequens,
cogor relectos: namque Diespiter,
quo bruta tellus et vaga flumina,
mutare et insignem attenuat deus
Parcus deorum cultor et infrequens --- the perfect cappable quote for a self styled agnostic who is thinking about religion again. A stroke of Zeus' Lightening, the thundering hooves, and down below HELL. It does give you pause!
But the last five lines change somehow, as some un-named "god" (deus) does a strange sleight of hand, exchanging the High with the Low,as had happened again and again at Rome throughout that dire century. He winds it up with a spinning whirl, as Lady Luck (less Fortuna than Greek tychˇ) with an awful SCREAM pulls a Crown off one head and jams it on another ---- with a crazy SMILE.
This is a very slim religious experience withal, but a very fine poem. I don't think it could jolt Horace or anyone else back to the ole-time religion, but it can make the hair stand up on the back of your n
Odes I 37
This is the famous poem on the death of Queen Cleopatra, last elegant and internationally partying member of the Ptolemaic family which inherited Egypt after Alexander's death and the split of his Empire. The first line is itself capped from Alcaeus' song "Drink now for Myrsalos, the Hittite King, is dead.......", as Horace lunges into Roman fury over her role in the War.
But halfway through, he picks up thread of her nobility, her style and stance, no fear of dying, and certainly in her mind, no chained woman marching in a Roman Triumph at Rome. She may have been an enemy, but she dies like a Queen.
Nunc est bibendum, nunc pede libero
antheac nefas depromere Caecubum
contaminato cum grege turpium
vix una sospes navis ab ignibus
remis adurgens, accipiter velut
fatale monstrum. quae generosius
ausa et iacentem visere regiam
deliberata morte ferocior;
But I have to go back to take another look at that first line:
Nunc est bibendum, nunc pede libero
The name of the roly-poly tyre-man from the French company Michelin S.A. is BIBENDUM, which I find very strange. Drinking while driving is not good practice, some feel it is fun and enhances the sport, until they kill someone. So I search again in vain it seems, for an explanation of M. Bibendum, what his lineage and whence his most peculiar and inappropriate name. Very odd!
Odes I, 38
Simple as this next two stanza song seems, it is tightly compacted out of several levels of personal revelation. Horace is talking to his Valet, giving orders for a party and especially insistent on Jeeves not doing it up too fancy. The first paragraph has the master speaking with a strong note of "distaste". "I HATE those imported PEAR whatever you call them, Greek flower arrangement----phew!"
Then it is all to be simplicity in the garden arrangement, just Myrtus Communis with its evergreen leaves, white flowers and aromatic berries, a local shrubs from the area. And the Valet as often wants to upgrade, while the aristocratic Master insists on the ordinary.
But there is always more: Horace the son of a librettos is not the aristocrat who dismisses fancification out of his class background. And the Myrtle is sacred to Venus, so the party need not turn out to be stiff at all..
Persicos odi, puer, adparatus,
simplici myrto nihil adlabores
Odes 2, III
Horace has a way of uniting a memorable phrase, like the first line of this justly famous poem,. with nature figures as if in a painted mural, and then turning it somehow in the direction of sad thoughts about life, and of course its complement --- Death. But there is no morbidity about this, no fixation on the shortness of life. Rather a comfortable gentleman's musings on matters of importance to humanity, enjoying thoughts which elevate his sense of himself, and probably dismissing the subject with a smile and a a sip of the Caecuban in a fine blown greenish martini glass off upperclass Roman ware.Aequam memento rebus in arduis seruare mentem, non secus in bonis ab insolenti temperatam laetitia, moriture Delli,
seu maestus omni tempore uixeris
Quo pinus ingens albaque populus
Huc uina et unguenta et nimium breuis
Cedes coemptis saltibus et domo
Diuesne prisco natus ab Inacho
omnes eodem cogimur, omnium
A Moral Ode of the middle period, verging slowly into the stiffer Political or State Odes of the later books. To relieve the somber tone, I might add that Prof. Whatmough visiting at Berkeley years ago and looking for the Mens' room, remarked when he found it, pausing before the door, "omnes eodem cogimur".
Life leads Horace always to darkness and thoughts of death, again and again. This is not a habitual melancholy, but the natural turning from feeling joy to losing it, from living to not living any longer.
Septimi, Gadis aditure mecum et
Tibur Argeo positum colono
Vnde si Parcae prohibent iniquae,
Ille terrarum mihi praeter omnis
uer ubi longum tepidasque praebet
Ille te mecum locus et beatae
There is a lovely charm to the wording of the last three Sap[phic metered stanzas, stemming from the Roman's love of the Italian countryside, the calm and quiet of secluded valleys warmed by the midday sun and cool evenings with mountain bred breezes. If Horace loved the country for its charm to him personally, Vergil went further. For him the look and feel and innerness of Italy had become more of a religion than the approved deities, here was where he could do his meditation in seclusion.
Odes 2, 10
This famous poem celebrating the 'aurea mediocritas' or Golden Mean has been a favorite of conservative souls for over two centuries, offering a middle-way between povery and riches, stupidity and intelligence, atheism and faith, and any situations where the center is thought to be less dangerous, or more socially acceptable.
Rectius uiues, Licini, neque altum
Auream quisquis mediocritatem
Saepius uentis agitatur ingens
Sperat infestis, metuit secundis
summouet. Non, si male nunc, et olim
Rebus angustis animosus atque
For a while college males often preferred a "Gentleman's C" to an outstanding grade for excellence, but the job market set that right soon enough. I prefer to translate directly, and call this what it is, a case of "Gilded Mediocrity", well established in the American way of life.
Tis is quite different from the Ship of State above. That was a complaint against the tides of war, this is the personal preference of a man who had lived through half a centuiry of Civil Disturbance, and was now opting for a Middle Road ion which life could be peavefully and fully lived. Of course a natural point of view if youj were favored by Prime Minister, Emperor and a sizeable pension.
Odes 2, 13
Almost felled by the very tree he had planted, Horace somewhat whimsically considers how it is always the unforeseen disaster which brings us down. No deep thinking here, but broad enough in its scope to touch us all. Horace is not a deep thinker, but a sensitive man of feeling, and that should be enough in the case of a man who knew so intimately the twists and turns of mind which well articulated words can communicate.
Ille et nefasto te posuit die,
illum et parentis crediderim sui
et quidquid usquam concipitur nefas
Quid quisque uitet, nunquam homini satis
miles sagittas et celerem fugam
Quam paene furuae regna Proserpinae
Sappho puellis de popularibus
Vtrumque sacro digna silentio
Quid mirum, ubi illis carminibus stupens
Quin et Prometheus et Pelopis parens
Odes 2, 13
This next poem continues with the same train of death-thoughts, how king or beggar we do all go down there finally, the Underworld fashioned after the caves which weave thousands of miles under Europe with their black waters and unholy schoing voices, whistling by your ears of ghostlike bats. But then he does a surprise retreat back to life, and all the things like war and shipwreck and flu that we gladly lose.
And then with a tear, we must leave what we love and must lose, that lovely wife, your home, your orchard of trees, and who will be the Inheritor by the terms of your will?
Your wine cellar unlocked, he's drinking it off carelessly, more deserving than you!. spilling it on the mosaic flooring at parties extravangly..... Yes we all think of that, I think of my woodworking shop with nobody to value it, my friend whose ironworking forge, home to hand hammered sculpture, is now to go on the scrap heap. We think of that because we know that it is the way it has to be.
Eheu fugaces, Postume, Postume,
non, si trecenis quotquot eunt dies,
compescit unda, scilicet omnibus
Frustra cruento Marte carebimus
uisendus ater flumine languido
Linquenda tellus et domus et placens
absumet heres Caecuba dignior
This first stanza has line so well known as a capped quotation, that all you have to say, if in highly literary company, is Eheu fugaces, and they will know what you mean about life. I think I read this poem first as a Freshman at college, aet. 16, and now at several multiples of that number, I can remark "Eheu fugaces..."....tis true, tis true...!
Odes 4 7
Writing many years after the poem on the Snow at Soracte, which we read above, Horace later in life watches the winter snow vanishing, streams rushing, dancing spirits in the woods of first Spring. The year rotates on and soon comes to winter, the year's death, and so our cycles runs on and we all do finally go down there below. Aeneas and Ancus waiting, but for wealth or wit there's no escape, as the struggle for life goes on own there too, Diana trying to free Hippolytus, Theseus breaking the chain from his beloved boy.
Housman said this was the finest poem in the Latin language, after that what is there really more to say ?
Diffugere niues, redeunt iam gramina campis
Gratia cum Nymphis geminisque sororibus audet
Frigora mitescunt Zephyris, uer proterit aestas,
Damna tamen celeres reparant caelestia lunae:
Quis scit an adiciant hodiernae crastina summae
quae dederis animo.
Cum semel occideris et de te splendida Minos
infernis neque enim tenebris Diana pudicum
By A Strange stringing of the season s, Horace rejoices in springtime coming, but this reminds him of time passing, and then life passing by into loss of everything of the here and now, finally to the dim underworld where JUDGFMENT awaits, adamanmt and irrevocable (even for the heroes of ancient myth, even for Hippolyutus, even for you...
Odes 2, 20
The Poet's Farewell
Saying good-bye, the Poet Laureate of Rome conducts himself with real dignity as he acknowledges his humble origins beside present status. And that last Stanza about a bare and austere funeral ritual will stir many a purist heart bent on preserving simplicity in the interest of dignity. "Mitte supervacuos honors..." the empty honorings at the grave.
Non usitata nec tenui ferar
urbis relinquam. Non ego pauperum
Iam iam residunt cruribus asperae
Iam Daedaleo ocior Icaro
Me Colchus et qui dissimulat metum
Absint inani funere neniae
But the Stanzas between are a shock, a surprise, as the Poet sprouts claws and feathers in the manner of Hollywood werewolfery, now rising, flying high over the Seas, seen aloft by a native taking a drink of water from the Rhone as he gazes up.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? NO! IT IS SUPER - POET
SATIRE Book I, 9
This remarkable sketch of a social scene between the author and a social bore of a type still extant, is written in rather prosaic dactylic hexameters, the language of Roman Satire. As befits the subject material, the language is mildly colloquial, with bits and snatches of common parlance. When we sat Satire in English it usually means acute if not hostile comment, but Horace's Satires are mildly commenting and only lightly reproving, as compared with those of the bitter Juvenal or the obscurantist Persius.
Since we so short of information about the way Romans spoke interpersonally,.Horace's Satires give us a valuable hints at the common language, but beyond the social facade is a well written essayist style, only incidentally falling within the pale of Poetry. Social verse it is, but more than that, a fine vehicle for comment on men and manners, and beyond that, a finely honed wit.
Ibam forte via sacra, sicut meus est mos,
demitto auriculas, ut iniquae mentis asellus,
ventum erat ad Vestae, quarta iam parte diei
Fuscus Aristius occurrit, mihi carus et illum
The genre of the BORE is by no means in danger of being classified ias an endangered species as this third Millennium comes into flush. In fact he seems to be on the increase, at least in academic circles.
The one small book of the Epodes is full of lighter stuff than the Odes, more experimental and lyrical fun-making, but with that sharply crafted touch for which Horace is famous. The variety of topics is enormous, from the Garlic Eater who can't get a girlfriend onto the couch, to some samples of poisoning and even witchcraft, which were a literary and also real part of Roman life.
This following poem in iambic couplets is quite natural to read, although iambs were hard to write in a language like Latin with its antepenultic stress accentuation in prose. But this one show no signs of stress in the writing, and outlines with greatest of ease "Life in the Country", a lifestyle as much in favor with Romans as with modern Americans who flock annually to Vermont to buy a farm and hearken back to the good old days. This is always a sign of a society which has got too far from its roots. When everyone cries out for simplicity, living life with less and rejecting the more, there are usually deep reasons in the society
If you read this poem carefully, you will see all the "personal and family values" which Americans have been crying so loudly about, but in Roman terms. BUT please do NOT read the last four lines until you come to them legitimately, I will meet you there and we can have a final word then.'
Beatus ille qui procul negotiis,
haec ubi locutus faenerator Alfius,
A few words to make this clear, since you might not know that Alfius is a moneylender (faenator) or that redegit means "withdraw", and that ponere mean "invest". Soon enough the dawn arises on Mr Alfius. He is so eager for the new life (iam iam...), poor fellow, that he rushes off to buy a farmstead in Vermont, but after the well runs dry, the horse runs off, his dog kills the neighbor's chickens, and manure everywhere ------ back to Charles Schwab to reinvest in the stock market, and in the weekly paper Classified ads, you will see this:
FOR SALE: 300 acres in Vermont,
Who said the Romans didn't have a sense of humor, a touch of wit ----- something clever to balance against their ponderous Orations, theirColosseum and temple architecture, the Imperial Army and miles of aqueducts, and above all Roman LAW ? However "wit" is not a common Roman commodity. Martial is funny and often clever, but take away Horace and Catullus, and all you have left is Plautus with the Bob Hope gag-line..