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.

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