Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Persicos Odi Puer I:38

Horace today gives us a snapshot. He's in a tavern, I suppose, saying to all who will listen that he prefers a wreath of myrtle to any Persian finery.  "Good enough for you, servant boy," he seems to be saying, "and good enough for me drinking here under the grape arbor."

The poem is simple, and I suppose this simplicity hides some deep truth. Many have sought it, but it lies hidden—perhaps because this is the talk of a fifty-year-old man annoyed at ostentatious living and yearning for simple pleasures. How drunk Horace was, we'll never know.  All we hear, after two thousand years, is the voice of a curmudgeon and the curmudgeon's favorite word: odi, "I hate." 

Now listen to Hafiz—not a curmudgeon but a drunken beggar—who says:

بگذر ز کبر و ناز که دیده است روزگار
چــین قــبای قــیصـر و طرف کلاه کی

Let go of pride and airs. The days have seen
The Chinese robe of Caesar, the jaunty cap of shahs

While both poets are extolling the virtues of a simple life—Hafiz picking on the Romans, Horace disgusted with the Persians—Hafiz goes one step farther. He points out the futility of seeking power and finery.  A waste of time, for time will lay waste to all. 

I cannot help but take a leap and see a similar strain in Horace's voice: "Come, drink simply with me, for now is now and all else is vanity."

But then, even though Horace seeks the simple, there is nothing simple about the structure of his poem and the words he uses. Mozart-like, he has fashioned something that is so complex that it has taken me several days to understand what he has done.

For instance:

mitte sectari rosa quo locorum sera moretur
simplici myrto nihil adlabores sedulus curo


Let go of eagerly seeking the rose where places late might linger
From simple myrtle nothing you labor over diligent I care for

"The only way to deal with this," I said to myself after several frustrating hours, "is to try to think like a Roman and let the words come into my head as they would have heard them."
I loosened my English mind and let it accept the convoluted sentences. Miracuously, or so it seemed, I heard:

Let go of madly seeking the rose where in places late it lingers.
Apart from myrtle, nothing you labor over, diligent one, do I care for.

This is not great English, but I can see how the order of Horace's words is not as strange as I had thought. Sure, I'm fooling myself.  In Horace's poem, 'rose' is not the object of 'seeking' but the subject of the verb 'lingers.' But, hey, if this sleight of grammar gets me closer to understanding Horace, I'm all for it.

Slowly, I feel, I am making progress.

Today's prose rendition ::

[O] Puer, apparatus persicos odi. Coronae philyra nexae displicent. Mitte sectari [in] quo locorum rosa sera moretur. [Ego] sedulus curo nihil myrto simplici allabores. Myrtus neque ‹te ministrum› neque ‹me bibentem sub vite arta› dedecet.

[revised March 27, 2015]

adparatus / apparatus:  splendores
philyra: linden
sera: tardiora
sedulus: studiosus
ministrum: servum, puerum
vite arta: cancellis plantarum 

Original ode :: 

Persicōs ōdī, puer, apparātūs,
displicent nexae philyrā corōnae,
mitte sectārī, rosa quō locōrum
   sera morētur.
simplicī myrtō nihil allabōrēs
sēdulus cūrō: neque tē ministrum
dēdecet myrtus neque mē sub artā

   vīte bibentem.

English translation & discussion: 

Traduction en français:

:: 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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