Monday, August 31, 2009

Nullam Vare Sacra (I:18)

Yesterday I went to the University of Hawai'i library to learn a little more about Horace. I came home with a pile of books—a couple of translations, a concordance, two volumes of commentaries, and a charming book written in 1930 about taking a walk to Horace's villa.

The most interesting book to me came in a bright yellow cover. The brightness belied the fact that inside was a rather densely worded treatise on Latin word order by Devine and Stevens called Latin Word Order: Structured Meaning and Information.  Although the authors were not concerned with poetry, they did give me a few insights on why and how a phrase by Cicero such as:

legiones conscripsit novas, excepit veteres

is good Latin but unintelligible in English:

legions he enlisted new, took over old ones.

First of all, as I had suspected, the peculiarities of Latin grammar made it easy for Romans to move words around in sentences. Second, as the authors humorously point out, the words were not tossed about like salad. No, there were definite rules.  

Magna cum laude is a well known phrase.  One could say cum magna laude or cum laude magna but never magna laude cum.

Knowing that there is a method to the Roman madness of extremely varied word order is going to be a big help as I go through Horace.  I can see, as I had expected at the start, reading Horace is going to force my mind to think in totally different ways.

This does not mean that normalizing the word order of Horace's poems is a bad thing to do—because it doesn't force me to think in Latin—on the contrary, I think that figuring out the normal order does help. I have to understand first what the poem is saying.  I have to do so—not through translation—but through the original words. Seems to me, the more you keep to Latin, the more you will begin to think in Latin and ultimately understand sentences that sound at first reading like gibberish.

Poetry and well-well written Latin prose is one thing, but what was everyday speech like? I checked out a play by Plautus. He was supposed to have captured the street-talk of everyday Romans. It didn't take me long to find, in the play Poenulus, this sentence uttered by Agorastocles on his way to see some "courtesans"—

Oculos volo meos delectare . . . 

Eyes I want my to gladden . . .

If a Roman audience could understand this, I hope to one day, too.

But I have one nagging thought:  changing the word order of Horace's poems is effectively changing the focus of his message.  Maybe he had a reason for ordering the words the way he did, not just because of the meter, but perhaps because he wanted to show relationships between ideas that were important to his message. I suspect that this is so. Because this is so, I have to admit that putting Horace into prose is changing his message, is interpreting is words. After all, there is a subtle but important difference (if you are a poet!) between "pretty she is," "she is pretty," and "pretty is she."

Today's poem is about wine and its after effects.  Horace uses a lot of cultural references we don't have today.  He gives three other names for Bacchus (Liberus, Euhius, Bassareus), he mentions the region of Tivoli and the walls of Catillus, which I understand are still there not far from Rome. Horace also talks about centaurs and Lapithi and Sathoni and a hill in Phrygia called Berecyntus, where wild rites of Cybele took place. Horace addresses this poem to Varus, perhaps a friend or perhaps a critic of poetry.  If the latter, there are some interesting comments on the web about what this seemingly innocuous poem might mean. See 

Here is my prose rendition followed by some vocabulary and the original poem:

[O] Vare, nullam arborem prius vite sacra ‹circa solum mite Tiburis› et ‹moenia Catili› severis, nam deus omnia dura siccis proposuit; neque sollicitudines mordaces aliter diffugiunt. 
Post vina, quis militiam gravem aut pauperiem crepat? Quis potius non te, [o] Bacche pater, teque [o] Venus decens [loquitur]? 
Ac ne quis munera Liberi modici transiliat. Rixa Centaurea cum Lapithis super mero debellata, Euhius Sithoniis non levis [nos] monet, cum avidi [nos de hoc] fas atque nefas libidinum fine exiguo discernunt. Non ego te invitum, [o] candide Bassareu, quatiam nec frondibus variis obsita sub divum rapiam. 

Tene tympana saeva cum cornu Berecyntio, quae Amor-sui caecus subsequitur et Gloria, verticem [suum] vacuum plus nimio tollens, Fidesque arcani prodiga, [ac] vitro perlucidior.
[revised March 27, 2015]

mite: fecundo
severis: in terram posueris
siccis: sobriis, vinum non bibentibus
sollicitudines mordaces: curae, anxietates quae mentem mordeant
crepat: loquitur, accusat, garrit
modici: moderati
rixa: proelium
debellata: ad finem proelii
mero: vino
fine exiguo: muro non forti
invitum: contra voluntatem tuam
obsita: res celata, occultata, velata
sub divum: sub caelo
saeva: feroci
plus nimio: immoderate
gloria: vanitas
verticem: caput

 Original Ode:

Nūllam, Vāre, sacrā vīte prius sēveris arborem
circā mīte sōlum Tīburis et moenia Cātilī;
sīccīs omnia nam dūra deus prōposuit neque
mordācēs aliter dīffūgiunt sollicitūdinēs.
quis post vīna gravem mīlitiam aut pauperiem crepat?
quis nōn tē potius, Bacche pater, tēque decēns Venus?
ac nē quis modicī transiliat mūnera Līberī,
Centaurēa monet cum Lapithīs rixa super merō
dēbellāta, monet Sithoniīs nōn levis Euhius,
cum fās atque nefas exiguō fīne libīdinum
discernunt avidī. nōn ego tē, candide Bassareu,
invītum quatiam nec variīs obsita frondibus
sub dīvum rapiam. saeva tenē cum Berecyntiō
cornū tympana , quae subsequitur caecus Amor suī
et tollēns vacuum plūs nimiō Glōria verticem
arcānīque Fidēs prōdiga, perlūcidior vitrō.

English translation:
Deux traductions en français, fidèles et révélatrices. La première est celle d’Henri Patin (1793-1876): 

:: Latin books by James Rumford ::

For all 102 odes purchase Carpe Diem, Horace De-Poetizedfor $11.50 at 

For a Latin translation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer at $12, click here: 

To find out more about Carpe Diem go to the blog of March 26, 2015; 
for more about Pericla Thomae Sawyer, go to the blog of November 22, 2016.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

O crudelis adhuc

O Crudelis Adhuc  IV—x

I've gone through all of Horace's poems and made my own "syllabus." The shortest poems are first. The longest poems last. I figure that when I get to the longer ones, I'll know more and they'll be easier to read and understand.

Of course, I'm kidding myself. A friend of mine and I have been reading Persian poetry in Persian for the last several years. We've read Hafiz, several "book"-poems written by Nizami, Sa'adi's Bustan, and the first book of Rumi's Masnavi. Sure, the more we read the more we understand, but it doesn't seem to get easier.

The reason for this goes back to the notion I mentioned earlier: linguistic gymnastics. The poets skillfully throw their words into the air. The words leap, somersault, and twirl. These daring feats amazed the first listeners. But for us, for the foreigner many centuries later, they simply confound.

In today's poem, the word order is not as confusing as in earlier poems. What was confusing was figuring out the thought boundaries—that is, how to group the words. Thus, in my prose rendition, I have inserted a lot of commas, hoping that this will make the poem more understandable. 

I have also appended a word list, with definitions in simple Latin. I hope that this helps. It is amazing, as an English and French speaker, how many of the words I already know. Equally amazing, I have to admit, is how many words, once I look them up, I should have known. A good example is sapias "be wise" in yesterday's poem. Everyone knows the word. It is in Homo sapiens. Or there is the example below. The definition of deciderint is securint, which comes from seco "I cut," as in our word "vivisection."

O crudelis "o cruel" is fifty-year old Horace looking at a young boy and saying simply:  you'll be surprised at how quickly your youth will pass. This poem is, for some, a bit homoerotic.  They see the pedant Horace oogling a young boy. I don't know if this is true or not, but in trying to find an English translation of this poem, I came across several books whose authors had deleted this poem!

There is nothing overtly sexual about this poem—or, to be frank—nasty about what Horace says. Certainly, in Roman culture, people had different attitudes about sexuality. So, too, in the Persian culture, which gave rise to Hafiz and poets like him. Hafiz often mentions the boy with rose-colored cheeks with a pre-pubescent smudge of violet down above the lip. Hafiz does so, most agree, because he is talking not so much about the boy as he is about the mystery of beauty and youth, spring and renewal, love and the promise of union with God the Beloved.

Horace, unschooled and unburdened by Eastern monotheism, is not so high-minded. No, Horace is burdened with his fifty years. That is all. There is no mystery behind his words. O crudelis is one more poem à la carpe diem

My prose rendition of 4.10:

O Ligurine, [o] crudelis adhuc et ‹muneribus Veneris› potens, cum bruma insperata superbiae tuae veniet, et comae, quae [in] umeris nunc involitant, deciderint, et color, qui nunc puniceae—prior flore rosae, mutatus est [et] in faciem hispidam verterit, dices, “Heu!” quotiens ‹te alterum› [in] speculo videris, “Quae mens est hodie? Cur eadem ‹[mihi] puero› non fuit? Vel cur, [cum] his animis, genae incolumes non redeunt?”          [revised March 31, 2015]

Veneris: pulchritudinis
muneribus: donis 
pluma: barba incipiens
insperata veniet: inexspectata, non sperata veniet
superbiae: adrogantiae; superbiae tuae: tibi superbo
umeris: humeris
involitant: pendent, volitant
deciderint: ciderint
priori: melior
punicieae: rubrae sanguineae, ?coccinae
color mutatus est: color pallescit
hispidam: hirsutam

Horace's poem:

Ō crūdēlis adhuc et Veneris mūneribus potēns,
inspērāta tuae cum veniet brūma[plūma] superbiae
et, quae nunc umerīs involitant, dēciderint comae,
nunc et quī color est pūnicēae flōre prior rosae
mūtātus, Ligurīne, in faciem verterit hispidam,
dīcēs, “hēu,” quotiēns tē speculō vīderis alterum:
“quae mens est hodiē, cūr eadem nōn puerō fuit,
vel cūr hīs animīs incolumēs nōn redeunt genae?”

An valuable commentary on Horace is by Steele Commager: 

:: Latin books by James Rumford ::

For all 102 odes purchase Carpe Diem, Horace De-Poetizedfor $11.50 at 

For a Latin translation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer at $12, click here: 

To find out more about Carpe Diem go to the blog of March 26, 2015; 
for more about Pericla Thomae Sawyer, go to the blog of November 22, 2016.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ode 11, Book 1: Cueille le Jour

Carpe diem—seize the day! This is the subject of today's poem by Horace, as he tells some girl named Leuconoë that, since we don't know the future, we'd better make the most of the present. The English phrase "seize the day" is more aggressive than the original Latin. Carpe is what you do with ripe grapes not days. According to Daniel Garrison, carpe may even be erotic. The French say cueille le jour, pick the day.

"Pick," of course, doesn't work in English because "pick" also means "choose." But why not? I suppose we can choose to make the most out of the present. We can say, "This is going to be a good day." Or: "This is going to be a terrible day." We soothsay ourselves into happiness or sadness all the time.

But Horace isn't talking about choice.  "Seize the day" not "pick the day" will have to do in English. The phrase is part of our culture.

Culture is an important part of understanding any poem. I might like to think that Horace was like me culturally, but he wasn't. He was rooted in a very different society with a pantheon of gods that weighed him down with superstitions and fears I know nothing about. 

Take Hafiz' poems. The message of carpe diem or— گلیبچین امروز pick the flower today— rings loud and clear through his work, but carries a different meaning. His carpe diem  is the time to get right with God. The five days we are alloted on this earth are flying by(هر کس پنج روز نوبت اوست), and Judgment Day is at hand! No matter how much modern translators of his work try to make Hafiz fit into out cultural parameters, try to make him and fellow Persian poet Rumi as ecumenical as possible,  the fact remains,  for these poets, being a mystic was getting right with God. Being a Muslim was believing in a final judgement.

I suppose that this is why reading a poem in the original is so important. Each step you take into this foreign world, be it the world of Hafiz or of Horace, brings you closer to understanding what the poet meant. It forces you to cast aside bits and pieces of your culture, the assumptions you make because of the language you speak. It invites you to pick up new thoughts and form new associations.

This is what I hope I will do, as I make my way through Horace: new thoughts, new associations.

Here is my prose rendition of Ode 11 from Book One, followed by the original.

Tu ne quaesieris scire—nefas!—quem finem di mihi quem tibi dederint, [o] Leuconoe, nec numeros Babylonios temptaris. Ut melius pati quicquid erit, seu Iuppiter hiemes pluris tribuit, seu [hiemem] ultimam quae nunc mare Tyrrhenum pumicibus oppositis debilitat. Sapias. Vina liques et spem longam spatio brevi resces. Dum loquimur, aetas invida fugerit—carpe diem, quam minimum postero credula.

[Revised March 27, 2015]

Original Ode:

Tū nē quaesieris (scīre nefas) quem mihi, quem tibi
fīnem dī dederint, Leuconoē, nec Babylōniōs
temptāris numerōs. ut melius quicquid erit patī,
seu plūris hiemēs seu tribuit Iuppiter ultimam,
quae nunc oppositīs dēbilitat pūmicibus mare
Tyrrhēnum, sapiās, vīna liquēs et spatiō brevī
spēm longam resecēs. dum loquimur, fūgerit invida
aetās: carpe diem, quam minimum crēdula posterō.

Here is a link to two English translations.

En voilà un à une traduction en français. 

One of the surprising things about this poem is that the word order is fairly reasonable. Only one phrase confuses me: quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare.  I am not sure what's going on!  Something is happening to the ocean, the rocks opposing it, the last winter.

:: Latin books by James Rumford ::

For all 102 odes purchase Carpe Diem, Horace De-Poetizedfor $11.50 at 

For a Latin translation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer at $12, click here: 

To find out more about Carpe Diem go to the blog of March 26, 2015; 
for more about Pericla Thomae Sawyer, go to the blog of November 22, 2016.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Non omnis moriar

I suppose this line from Horace is as good a place as any to begin these notes to be cast into the blogosea. They'll eventually wash up on shore, be read and . . . .who knows? . . . be commented on.

Non omnis moriar (I shall not wholly die). Many years ago in Rwanda, a student of mine quoted this line. Everyone but me knew what it meant and and where it had come from. A discussion followed as the students sought to enlighten me, as I became taken with the idea of one day reading Horace in Latin.

It has taken thirty years for that day to come, but it is now: I am resolved, after many half-hearted attempts, to read Horace, to understand it, to share my thoughts about it, to imagine myself, as I do so, sitting in a villa forty miles outside of Rome in full view of Mount Soratte. 

It will be tough going. Latin poetry is not easy. Every language turns poetry into verbal gymnastics and Latin is no exception. The Romans found that they could stretch their grammar almost to the breaking point and still get meaning across, as in:

viridi nitidum caput impedire myrto

green shining head to surround myrtle

or in intelligible English:

to surround the shining head with green myrtle

This is an easy example. Other lines are a labyrinth of words, a maze that can only be navigated with a rigorous knowledge of Latin grammar. I don't know how the Romans managed to understand their own poetry, except to say that none of these phrases is more than seven words long—seven being the magic number of things the human brain can handle at any one time (the telephone company discovered this a long time ago when they came up with seven—not eight or nine—digit numbers.)

The Romans enjoyed their poetry, praised men like Horace for their skill, and made sure that Roma non omnis moriatur by passing their literature down to us—along with, I might add, a few commentaries on their poetry so that future generations wouldn't fail to see the ironical turn of phrase, disentangle the cleverest of lines, and understand the subtlest of references.

But now twenty centuries later, how do we understand Horace? Usually through translation, disappointing translation that cannot invite us to enjoy the labyrinth of words or the music they create.  And if we decide to learn Latin, to work our way up, rung by rung, to where we can begin to read Horace, we are faced with an unintelligible web of words. 

This is where I am.  Sleeping Beauty is in there somewhere, but first the thorns, the brambles.

It is incredible to me, as I search the internet, that no where can I find Horace's poetry de-poetized. By this I mean Horace's poems turned into Latin prose. 

No where could I find 

viridi nitidum caput impedire myrto

turned into a typical schoolbook Latin phrase that I can understand, such as

nitidum caput myrto viridi impedire.

There are a few rephrasings of Horace to be found in the commentaries written by Latin speakers long after he died. These rare gems usually begin with the phrase: ordo est (the order is).

But, by in large, there is nothing. 

As a former teacher of English as a foreign language, where we were taught how to use the target language almost exclusively, this seems incredible to me.  Why not use Latin to explain Horace?  Why not simply reorder the words in Horace's poem so that one can appreciate the meaning before learning to appreciate the intricacy and beauty of his work?

This seems a better approach than translation. Many of the translators only get part of the meaning. Some even obscure the meaning. Others unintentionally mislead the reader.

So, in this blog, over the next several months, I hope to turn all of Horace's poetry into Latin prose.  This won't be's a bit like translating because I have to make choices as to the exact meaning of each line. 

There is only one simple rule:

I can use only Horace's words.

This means:

I cannot add or take away words. I cannot use synonyms. I cannot explain.
I already see difficulties ahead. Modern scholars are not always in agreement as to the exact meaning of some of the lines. Some point out ambiguities, especially ones that arise because Horace used a poetic word order (For example, in the poem below, some say that ex humili potens refers to King Daunus and to Horace). Others argue over the grammar. 

Be that as it may, here goes, ode 30, book 3, my prose rendition followed by Horace's original words:

in prose ::

Exegi monumentum aere perrenius, pyramidum ‹situ regalique altius›, quod non imber edax, non Aquilo impotens aut series innumerabilis annorum et fuga temporum diruere possit.
Non omnis moriar, parsque multa mei Libitinam vitabit. Ego usque postera, laude recens, crescam, dum pontifex cum virgine tacita Capitolium scandet. 
Dicar, qua Aufidus violens obstrepit et qua Daunus ‹aquae pauper› populorum agrestium regnavit, [ego] princeps ‹ex humili potens› carmen Aeolium ad modos Ītalos deduxisse. 

Superbiam meritis quaesitam sume, et, volens, [o] Melpomene, mihi lauro Delphica comam cinge.

original ode ::

ēxēgī monumentum aere perennius
rēgālīque sitū pȳramidum altius,
quod nōn imber edax, nōn Aquilō impotēns
possit dīruere aut innumerābilis
annōrum seriēs et fuga temporum.
nōn omnis moriar multaque pars meī
vītābit Libitīnam; usque ego postera
crescam laude recēns, dum Capitōlium
scandet cum tacitā virgine pontifex.
dīcar, quā violēns obstrepit Aufidus
et quā pauper aquae Daunus agrestium
regnāvit populōrum, ex humilī potēns
princeps Aeolium carmen ad ītalōs
dēduxisse modōs. sūme superbiam
quaesitam meritīs et mihi Delphicā

laurō cinge volēns, Melpomenē, comam.

[Revised March 27, 2015]

Here is a link to an English translation by John Conington: 

Et pour ceux qui lisent le français, une traduction qui est assez fidèle:

An excellent book to have is Daniel H. Garrison's Horace, Epodes and Odes, a new annotated Latin edition 

This is all for today. 

What does this poem mean? What of the "et al." and of Hafiz?  


:: Latin books by James Rumford ::

To find out more about Carpe Diem go to the blog of March 26, 2015; 
for more about Pericla Thomae Sawyer, go to the blog of November 22, 2016.