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.

1 comment:

  1. Jim, I am just starting out to join you on this journey and it looks like it will take me some time to catch up with where you are now, but I happy to come along for the ride.