Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Savage Mother Mater Saeva Cupidinum I:19

The savage mother is Love—Venus in all her might rushing (ruens) down on middle-aged Horace, who cannot resist the charms of Glycera, her arms as white as Parios marble, her inviting boldness, her face full of desire. 

Horace is overwhelmed. He can think of nothing else but to offer the goddess a sacrifice. Perhaps then she might come more sweetly, plus doucement. I can almost imagine a modern scene: Horace agreeing to go clubbing with Glycera (Sweetie, in English?) but, once attacked by all the noise of youth, he offers to take her some place quieter.

I might imagine other scenes, but, I am told, this poem is far more complicated than Venus attacking a fifty-year-old man. This poem, like Dic Lydia, recalls the lyric and erotic themes of Greek poetry that go back to poets like Sappho.  Venus is η μητερ ερωτων. She leaves Cyprus, her home, to stir up trouble. She can be wild (saeva) but she can be softened, tamed, made more lenient (lenior) if only you know how to treat her.

This poem, scholars say, is not about a girl. It is about literature and Horace. He is poking fun at these old Greek themes. I suppose, were I able to see Horace's face as he sang his song, I might agree.  He might smile in the right spots to highlight the humor. He might wink at the end. He might delight in his audience's amusement, his listeners being well-versed in Greek poetry and having gone to the Venus temple down the street to offer a sacrifice more times than they would care to admit.

However, since Horace's voice is long gone, I am left with disembodied words. Scholars working in their scholarly forensic labs try to put flesh on old bones, but I wonder: what kind of Horace has CIS Harvard or CIS Oxford come up with? A clever poet with the wit to poke fun at Greek poetry? Or was he un rué? Or an average guy with an average libido? I don't think anyone knows.

But we have his words. We can enjoy them for what they bring to our ears: the two dolorous lines that begin with urit "it burns."  The urgent repetition of  hic "here." The intriguing, difficult-to-grasp first words about a savage mother of desires.

Here is my prose rendition:

Mater saeva Cupidum—puer Thebanae Semelae et Licentia lasciva—iubet me animum amoribus finitis reddere. 
Nitor Glycerae splendentis me marmore [ex] Pario purius urit; protervitas grata urit, et vultus nimium lubricus aspici. 
Tota in me ruens, Venus Cyprum deseruit. Nec [me] patitur Scythas et Parthum, animosum equis versis, dicere, nec quae nihil attinent. 

Pueri, hic caespitem vivum, hic verbenas turaque cum patera meri bimi mihi ponite. Hostia mactata, [Venus] lenior veniet.
[revised March 27, 2015]

puer Thebanae Semelae: Bacchus
animum: pectus, cor
Pario: insulae nomen in Aegeo
nitor: plendor
urit: ardit
protervitas: audacia
grata: dulcis
ruens: descendens 
lubricus: suavis, periculosus, ad libidinem proclivus
hili attinent: nullius momenti sint
caespitem vivum: herbam viridem
verbenas: herbas odoras

  Māter saeva Cupīdinum
Thēbānaeque iubet mē Semelae puer
   et lascīva Licentia
fīnītīs animum reddere amōribus.
   ūrit mē Glycerae nitor
splendentis Pariō marmore pūrius;
   ūrit grāta protervitās
et vultus nimium lubricus aspicī.
   in mē tōta ruēns Venus
Cȳprum dēseruit, nec patitur Scythās
   aut versīs animōsum equīs
Parthum dīcere nec quae nihil attinent.
   hīc vīvum mihi caespitem, hīc
verbēnās, puerī, pōnite tūraque
   bīmī cum paterā merī:
mactātā veniet lēnior hostiā. 

:: 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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