Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Vile Potabis Modicis I:20

Some people do crossword puzzles. I read poetry in a foreign language—or, at least, puzzle over the words until I think I understand them. My friend Brandon Stone and I have been puzzling over Persian poetry for the last several years. We pick a poem or a passage and work at it until we have wrung out a bit of the meaning.  Once in a while, if we are lucky, we stop to consider the beauty of what we have read. 

Approaching poetry as though solving a puzzle is, I suppose, a sin—but a necessary one. Once we have understood the meaning, we can go back to enjoy the poem for its imagery, music, its intricacy. This is what has happened with the poems by Hafiz. We "burned our hearts" (as the Persian poets would say) over each line.  We turned our "livers into kebabs for roasting."  Now, we can take down a volume of Hafiz' poems and enjoy them. Hearts at ease, livers in tact, we can savor the words and drink in the music.

This is what I hope to do with these poems by Horace. Right now it is tough going. I spent hours trying to understand the poem for today.  It is a simple poem. Horace is thinking what it would be like to invite the glorious Maecenas to his house for a humble drink. He says there is only poor wine at his table, nothing like the wines Maecenas is used to.

The poem is nothing like we might encounter with Hafiz. Drinking had a different meaning.  Either Hafiz was totally wasted or totally enlightened, the reader is free to decide.  No, this poem has the lyric quality of a Tang Dynasty poem or a poem from the Sung Dynasty: please come to my house, the walk is swept, a jar of humble wine awaits, we will drink far into the night.

Horace mentions the names of two kinds of wine: Sabinum, Caecubum.  He talks of the grapes from Falernus and the hillsides of Formiae.  He mentions the wine press at Cales, modern Calvi.

Here is his poem in prose:

[O] care Maecenas eques, potabis cantharis modicis Sabinum vile quod conditum [est et quod] ego ipse testa Graeca levi, cum plausus in theatro tibi datus [esses] ut ripae fluminis paterni et simul imago iocosa montis Vaticani laudes tibi redderet. Tu Caecubum et uvam prelo Caleno domitam bibes. Nec vites Falernae neque colles Formiani pocula mea temperant. [revised March 27, 2015]

cantharis:  poculis magnis, calicibus magnis
imago:  echo
levi:  condivi
prelo:  presso
domitam:  pressam

Vīle pōtābis modicīs Sabīnum
cantharīs, Graecā quod ego ipse testā
conditum lēvī, datus in theātrō
   cum tibi plausus,
cāre Maecēnās eques, ut paternī
flūminis rīpae simul et iocōsa
redderet laudēs tibi Vāticānī
   montis imāgo.
Caecubum et prēlō domitam Calēnō
tū bibēs ūvam; mea nec Falernae
temperant vītēs neque Formiānī

   pōcula collēs.

:: 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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