Thursday, September 3, 2009

Musis Amicus I:26—Are you my friend?

Musis amicus—to the Muses a friend.  Who wouldn't want to be a friend of the muses? American Idol and Britain's Got Talent would be a cinch. NY Times best seller list? A snap.  Selling more records than Michael Jackson, having one's paintings in the Louvre.....all of this if only you were beloved by the muses.

In this short poem, Horace realizes that he can throw all cares to the winds. The muses are on his side. Without them he is nothing. Without them he wouldn't have been able to take the complicated meters of Greek poetry and make them work for Roman ears. Without them he could not have built a monumentum aere perennius—a monument [of poetry] more lasting than bronze.

Horace's accomplishment—successfully introducing Greek meter into Latin—is not easy for me to understand. I cannot say that I really appreciate what he was able to do. This is because Latin and Greek poetry don't work like English poetry. Our poetry is based on stress. Latin and Greek poetry were based on syllable length—like Persian and Arabic poetry, I might add. The Romans and the Greeks alternated long and short syllables in complicated ways to give a sense of rhythm. This alternation was like a Morse code of dots and dashes to their ears. 

What this rhythm did was to help the listener understand complicated lines. Well known rhythms or meters helped divide the poem into sense groups.

In today's poem, the first line is: 

musis amicus tristitiam et metus

When you write it to show the pattern of short syllables and long syllables you get:

muuusiiis amiiicuuus | triiistitiaaam et metuuus

There is a break between amicus and tristitiam, just where we need it. This helps to understand the line as "[since I am] to the muses a friend, sadness and fear. . . ."

The meter Horace uses in this poem is called alcaic strophe. You can find out more about this in Wikipedia. The important thing is not swallowing this complicated stuff all at once, I tell myself. No, the important thing is to begin thinking about Horace's poetry in a new way: how it strikes my ear.

Poetry is different from anything else I know. It has a different energy. People liken poetry to song, but it is not song. Song follows a definite beat. It is a slave to tempo. It demands that one stay on key. Finally, it is over when the conductor says it is over. Poetry is none of that. Anyone can read it. Anyone can "perform" it. It is talking but using words so well chosen that they sound like music. 

I see one big problem with all of this:  Latin is dead. No one, as far as I can tell, really knows what the poetry sounded like.  Certainly not the English-speaking professors I hear on the internet, who turn Horace's long vowels into diphthongs.  There is a big difference between the Latin sound no and the English "know." The Latin no is crisp and clear. The English "know" is stretched out like chewing gum.  These stretched out English vowels don't belong in Latin.

It is sad to realize how dead Latin is. Persian, on the other hand, is alive and well. It is a pleasure to hear a Persian/Farsi speaker read a poem by Hafiz. The poem comes to life as the speaker goes into poetry mode.  His pitch changes. His face changes. His breathing changes. What constituted "poetry mode" for the Romans, I guess, died centuries and centuries ago. Horace's monumentum aere perennius has despite, his boasting, suffered the ravages of time.

My prose rendition of 1:26:

[Ego], amicus musis, tristitiam et metus ventis protervis tradam in mare Creticum portare. Unice securus [sum] quis rex orae gelidae sub Arcto metuatur, quid Teridaten terreat. 
O dulcis Piplei,quae fontibus integris gaudes, flores apricos [in] coronam Lamiae meo necte. Honores mei nil sine te prosunt. Teque tuasque sorores decet hunc fidibus novis, hunc plectro Lesbio sacrare.

[revised March 27, 2015]

unice securus: maxime neglegens
protervis: violentis
integris: puris
apricos: solem amantes
prosunt: boni sunt

Mūsīs amīcus tristitiam et metūs
trādam protervīs in mare Crēticum
   portāre ventīs, quis sub Arctō
        rex gelidae metuātur ōrae,
quid Tīridāten terreat, ūnicē
sēcūrus. ō quae fontibus integrīs
   gaudēs, aprīcōs necte flōrēs,
        necte meō Lamiae corōnam,
Piplēi dulcis. nīl sine tē meī
prōsunt honōrēs; hunc fidibus novīs,       
   hunc Lesbiō sācrāre plectrō

        tēque tuāsque decet sorōrēs.

Latin commentaries:

:: 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.

No comments:

Post a Comment