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.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hello there:
    I have followed your blog for a while and I've decided to take part. I'm going to start with your poems from 2009. Your project is very intriguing and hopefully my contributions will be helpful.

    I've got three points to make concerning carmen 4, 10:

    1. The word in line 5 Ligurinum should be Ligurne.
    2. I think deciderint (line 3) ought to be translated as "will have fallen down", since comae is its subject. The passive ought to be avoided in a translation fairly close to the original text - though the other meaning "to cut" makes sense in this context, since it was a Roman rite of initiation to cut the boys' hair between the age of 14 and 16.
    3. Eduard Fraenkel agrees with your interpretation that the poem mainly is about "regret for the bygone days of youth." I think the poem is more concerned with the fact that a young man who is now at the height of his beauty - which he is going to loose soon - misses out on his chance of making love by rejecting someone older. So the poem is openly homoerotic (O crudelis) and is yet another twist to the idea of "carpe diem". (Syndikus, volume 2)

  3. Aloha, Thank you for your comment. I am sorry this reply is over two years late! I have revised the prose rendition and corrected the original ode. In going over all of these blogs, I realize now that I put too much faith in copying the ode as it appeared on line in the so-called 'Latin Library.' The texts in that 'library' are corrupt and out-of-date. Too bad because it is wonderful to have so much Latin at one's fingertips. As for 'to cut,' I tend to think at Horace meant 'to fall out' here, although your observation about boys having their hair cut is intriguing. Aloha, Jim