Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Neither This Nor That: Non Semper Imbres II:9

A poet friend Valgius has lost his favorite slave, Mystes. Horace consoles him with this poem. Grief does not last forever, says Horace. Then, oddly, he encourages Valgius to write poems about Caesar Augustus' newest triumphs.

In many of the books I read about Horace's poetry, I found a warning: you will not like every poem. Either a particular subjet will be of no interest to you or you may find the meter and the choice of words less than what you have come to expect.

Ode II:9 begins interesting enough. The usual comparison of weeping and rain is turned on its head: it doesn't rain forever. And so it is with raging seas, the windswept oak forests on the heel of the Italian peninsular, the ice-locked winters in Armenia. Then Horace turns to the Greek tragic figures who fell on the plains of Troy. Their loved ones did not grieve forever. So far so good. But then comes the call to praise Caesar. Am I missing something about Roman culture or is the last stanza weird? Was it normal for Romans to say, "Butch up, buddy and, btw, hail Caesar?" I don't know.  What makes this last stanza even stranger is the fact that according to some, the stuff he mentions is just made up.  Place names and tribe names were used because they fit the meter, not because these events actually happened.

There has been a movement in Horatian scholarship in the last century to discredit much of what Horace says as fact. He simply made stuff up because he was more interested in poetry than in reality.  This, of course, is a direct attack on the twentieth-century biographies of Horace which pick apart every poem to find out what Horace's life was like, what he did on such and such a date, and who his friends were. I don't think we'll ever know the truth about Horace.  Literature is filled with authors who spin their own legends, pen their own genealogies, touch up their own portraits. And why not? Probably better to write one's own obituary, if you've got the talent, than to leave it up to...well...nincompoops.

But there is something else that bothers me about this poem. I have read over a quarter of Horace's odes so far and, I have noticed that he certainly loves the non-nec [not neither] construction. So far, this style du jour of his has amused me, but now I am a bit tired of it. The last poem was Non usitata nec tenui.  The poem before that had its non's and nec's as well.    

Okay . . . non-nec is a handy construction. One can run on with it for lines. It negative aspect makes the poem sound grander, all inclusive, and final, as in the first two stanzas of today's poem:

Clouds raining on fields of stubble
do not always stay, nor rough storms
angering the Caspian nor on the
Armenian borders, 

friend Valgius, stands ice unmoved 
for months nor is Gargan oak beset 
by north winds nor mountain ash 
stripped of its leaves.

Am I criticizing Horace? Probably, to Horace—if he were alive to read what I have just written. Any comment is a horn-blast to a sensitive artist....and aren't they all?  Sensitive, I mean. On the other hand, I'd like to think that I am neither criticizing nor accusing him of an unnatural predilection for the negative. I'd rather like to think I'm being observant. 

Here is the rest of his poem:

You go on, crying over Mystes lost
for you the love words will not die 
at the evening star's rising or fleeing 
before the swift sun.

Nestor, three generations old, did not spend 
years mourning kind Antilochus, nor 
did the Phrygian parents of young Troilus 
and his sisters

Always cry. Come, let's stop this 
weepiness and sing instead 
of August Caesar's new trophies: 
of Mt. Niphates frozen,

of the Euphrates swirling in lesser eddies,
its people now added to the vanquished,
of the Geloni nomads ordered to ride so
narrow a range.

[translation © 2009 by James Rumford]

My prose rendition:

Non semper imbres [ex] nubibus in agros hispidos manant aut procellae inaequales mare Caspium vexant, usque nec in oris Armeniis, [o] amice Valgi, glacies per menses omnes iners stat, aut querqueta Gargani Aquilonibus laborant et orni foliis viduantur.
Tu semper modis flebilibus Mysten ademptum urges, nec amores tibi decedunt, Vespero surgente, nec solem rapidum fugiente. 
At senex ‹ter aevo functus› Antilochum amabilem omnes annos non ploravit, nec parentes Troilon impubem aut sorores Phrygiae semper flever[unt].
Desine tandem querellarum mollium et potius tropaea nova Augusti Caesaris cantemus et Niphaten rigidum, flumenque Medum additum gentibus victis, vertices minores volvere, praescriptumque Gelonos intra campis exiguis equitare.

[revised March 27, 2015]

Horace's original text:

Nōn semper imbrēs nūbibus hispidōs
mānant in agrōs aut mare Caspium
   vexant inaequālēs procellae
        usque nec Armeniīs in ōrīs,
amīce Valgī, stat glaciēs iners
mensıs per omnıs aut Aquilōnibus
querquēta Gargānī labōrant
        et foliīs viduantur ornī:
tū semper urgēs flēbilibus mōdīs
Mystēn ademptum, nec tibi Vesperō
   surgente dēcēdunt amōrēs
        nec rapidum fugiente sōlem.
At nōn ter aevō functus amābilem
plōrāvit omnıs Antilochum senex
   annōs nec impubem parentēs
        Trōilon aut Phrygiae sorōrēs
flēvēre semper. dēsine mollium
tandem querellārum et potius nova
   cantēmus Augustī tropaea
        Caesaris et rigidum Niphāten
Mēdumque flūmen gentibus additum
victīs minōrēs volvere verticēs
   intrāque praescrīptum Gelōnōs
        exiguīs equitāre campīs.

:: 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.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Soaring — Non Usitata II:20

Here Horace boasts of his lasting fame. Again he tells us that he shall be read far and wide. His tomb will be empty. There will be no body to burn. Instead, he will turn into a swan, as the Greeks believed, and soar far above us.
Some nineteenth-century editors didn't much care for this poem. It seemed too boastful. They could not accept Horace's lack of Christian humility. Bad form, they thought. Perhaps today we would think the same. Humility is so important, but two thousand years ago, this was not boasting at all. This was declaring one's immortality. "Let my name live a thousand years!"  This was the cry of Hector, of Achilles, of Beowulf, of all of the ancient heros. This was the ultimate measure of one's worth.
And the poets, because of their ability with words could easily turn themselves into heros. This "boasting" was self-advertising, self-valuing, self-preserving. But today, poets, lonely Emily Dickinsons, have no need of auto-panegyric words. Bad form, bad taste, not New Yorker at all. Today, no poet would ever say what Horace said or like Hafiz write lines like these two:

کلک حافظ شکرین میوه نباتیست بچین
که درین باغ نـبـینی ثمری بهتر از این

Hafiz' pen is the sweet fruit of a tree; pick it,
For in this garden you won't see one better.

آب حـیـوانـش ز مــنـقــار بـلاغــت میـچـکــد
زاغ کلک من بنامیزد چه عالی مشرب است

The water of life from its eloquent beak falls in drops,
My raven pen, by God, what an excellent reservoir! [31] 

Here then is what has fallen from my pen for ode II:20:

By no common feathers, no frail ones will I, poet
and bird, be carried through the liquid ether, 
no longer to stay on earth but to leave the envy, 

the cities far behind. Not I, of poor parents' blood, 
not I, whom you, dear Maecenas, invite in,
shall die or be stopped by the surging River Styx

Now, now, rough skin settles on my legs, 
I am changed into a white swan, on my hands,
my shoulders, soft feathers are being born. 

Now I, more noted than Icarus of Daedalus, 
a singing wing, shall visit the moaning Bosphorus 
shores, the dunes of Africa, the northern lands.

Me the Colchus shall come to know, the Dacus, who
pretend to fear the Marsan troops, me, the skillful one,
the Spaniard, the Rhône-drinking Gaul, will learn.

Let there be no dirges, no obscene show of grief,
no weeping friends and family for my empty death.
Hold the cries, and forgo the needless honors of my tomb.

© 2009 by James Rumford 

Here is my prose rendition in Latin:

[Ego] vates biformis, penna non usitata nec tenui per aethera liquidum ferar, neque in terris longius morabor, invidiaque maior, urbes relinquam. 
Non ego, sanguis parentum pauperum, non ego quem vocas, [o] dilecte Maecenas, obibo, nec unda Stygia cohibebor. Iam iam cruribus pelles asperae residunt et in alitem album mutor, superneque per digitos umerosque plumae leves nascuntur. 
Iam Daedaleo Icaro notior, [ego] ales canorus, litora Bosphori gementis, Syrtesque Gaetulas, campos Hyperboreosque visam. 
Colchus et Dacus ‹qui metum cohortis Marsae dissimulat› et Geloni ultimi me noscent. Potor Hiber Rhodanique peritus me discet.        Absint ‹neniae luctusque turpes et querimoniae› [in] funere inani.   Clamorem compesce ac mitte honores sepulcri supervacuos. 
[revised March 27, 2015]

Horace's original poem:

Nōn usitātā nec tenuī ferar
pennā biformis per liquidum aethera
   vātēs neque in terrīs morābor
        longius invidiāque māior
urbıs relinquam. nōn ego pauperum
sanguis parentum, nōn ego quem vocās,
   dīlecte Maecēnās, obībō
        nec Stygiā cohibēbor undā.
iam iam resīdunt crūribus asperae
pellēs et album mūtor in ālitem
   superne nascunturque lēvēs
        per digitōs umerōsque plūmae.
iam Daedalēō nōtior īcarō
vīsam gementis lītora Bosphorī
   Syrtısque Gaetūlās canōrus
        āles Hyperboreōsque campōs.
mē Colchus et quī dissimulat metum
Marsae cohortis Dācus et ultimī
   noscent Gelōnī, mē perītus
        discet Hiber Rhodanīque pōtor.
absint inānī fūnere nēniae
luctūsque turpēs et querimōniae;
   compesce clāmōrem ac sepulcrī

        mitte supervacuōs honōrēs.

:: 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.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Have a salt-leaping day! Caelo Supinas III:23

Sacrifices made to the gods, lavish ones, special sheep (aged until they have two front teeth and raised on the Algido hillside) sacrificed by one bloody blow from the priest's ax—this is how you thank the gods and ward off evil. Or is it? A country lass named Thrift (Phidyle) offers sea-dew (rosemary < ros marinus) and myrtle instead. But the important thing, Horace wants us to know, is that she offers these things with the hand of an immunis, a guiltless one.

This poem turns scholars brains into knots. [See what the first scholars thought here: http://www.horatius.ru/index.xps?2.1.323 ) There are several ways to read some of the lines. No one is in agreement. Most scholars say that "crowned" in the fourth stanza means that Phidyle is crowning the little statues of the household gods. I took it to mean that Phidyle herself was wreathed in rosemary and myrtle. My translation, when I find out more, is probably not justified, but I offer it because of the real problems with the last stanza.

Either Phidyle didn't bring any gifts at all, that is immunis in the sense of un-munificent, or she was immunis in the sense of guiltless or immune.  Both meanings seem to fit the context, both meanings get tangled up with two ideas: gift giving and charging a tax.   Nothing  really contradictory here.  Giving a gift often obligates one to give something in return. Immunis then might mean breaking free of the "gift cycle" either by not giving one in the first place or by no longer feeling obligated to do so.

Putting words under a microscope even disentangling their DNA is part of appreciating poetry. It doesn't matter whether the poems are ancient or modern. All poetry demands absolute attention to detail. Did I think otherwise?

So, one more detail: the Romans threw meal (probably spelt) and salt on their altar fires to appease the gods. As for the salt, if it leapt out of the fire, it meant that the gods were favorable that day. Would that every day were a salt-leaping day! (There has to be a connection in the Latin mind between sal "salt" and salio "leap," no?)
my translation:

If you lift your hands up to the sky on
new moon nights, my provincial Phidylé,
if with incense you appease with this year's
fruits and a greedy pig, the house gods,

no grape-laden vine will feel pestilence
from Africa, no planted fields sterile blight
nor sweet lambs a season of sickness when
the apple-bearing days of autumn come.

But one lamb pastured in Algido snow 
in amongst the green oaks, the great sea oaks
will grow up on Alban grass, and become
a consecrated sacrifice and dye

the priest's neck-stained ax—not your concern, 
tempting little gods with the sacrifice
of too many two-toothed sheep, you 
crowned with sea-dew and frail myrtle

if a blameless hand touches the altar—
not the lavish, alluring sacrifice—
it will appease the house gods turned away
by pious meal and leaping grains of salt.

©2009 by James Rumford

my rendition in school-book Latin:

Si manus supinas caelo, Luna nascente, tuleris, [o] rustica Phidyle, si ture et fruge horna, porcaque avida Lares placaris, nec vitis fecunda pestilentem Africum sentiet, nec seges robiginem sterilum—aut dulces alumni tempus grave, anno pomifero.
Nam victima devota quae [in] Algido nivali pascitur, inter quercus et ilices aut in herbis Albanis crescit, securis pontificum cervice tinguet. 
Te, marino rore fragilique myrto coronantem, nihil attinet, deos parvos multa caede bidentium temptare. Si manus immunis ‹hostia sumptuosa non blandior› aram tetigit, penates aversos farre pio et mica saliente mollivit.      [revised March 28, 2015]

the original poem:

Caelō supīnās sī tuleris manūs
nascente Lūnā, rustica Phīdylē,
   sī tūre plācāris et hornā
        frūge Larēs avidāque porcā
nec pestilentem sentiet Āfricum
fēcunda vītis nec sterilem seges
   rōbīginem aut dulcēs alumnī
        pōmiferō grave tempus annō.
nam quae nivālī pascitur Algidō
dēvōta quercūs inter et īlicēs
   aut crescit Albānīs in herbīs
        victima, pontificum secūris
cervīce tinguet; tē nihil attinet
temptāre multā caede bidentium
   parvōs corōnantem marīnō
        rōre deōs fragilīque myrtō.
immūnis āram sī tetigit manus,
nōn sumptuōsā blandior hostiā
   mollīvit aversōs Penātıs
        farre piō et saliente mīcā.

:: 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.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Martiis Caelebs III:8

In March, 29 BC, Horace was almost killed by a falling tree. A year later, he decides to celebrate with a party and make a sacrifice to the god Liber. He has invited a few friends, in particular, the learned Maecenas, who with the absence of Octavius in the summer of 29, is in charge of Rome's affairs.

This must be a poem that scholars love. There are clues to the year it was written. There are fascinating cultural tidbits like the Kalendis Martiis, the first of March, which was the day of the Matronalia, when the married women of Rome made their offerings to Juno Lucina.  And there is something about bottling wine with pitch-sealed corks and keeping the bottles in the smokey part of the house, where Romans thought the wine aged better than anywhere else.

The last part of the poem, the call to carpe diem, reminds me much of Persian poetry, especially the quatrains of Omar Khayyam. However, I suspect, Horace is not making a grand statement, just saying, "Relax, my friend and let your troubles go."

I have translated the poem. Translation is not what I set out to do in August. My feeling was that there are just too many translations of Horace in just about any language to make it worth my while dragging his Latin words into English. 

Besides, everyone knows that poetry can't be translated. All of the sounds and cadences are altered. All the word associations unlinked. All the cultural ties broken.

Even so, a "new" poem can be made. "New" because when a translation is done right, sounds right, it strikes the reader as believable. It has lost its foreignness and becomes part of the reader's language. This is certainly the case with Edward Fitzgerald's translation of Omar Khayyam done in  1859. His 'jug of wine and loaf of bread' is famous, and the more I read Khayyam in the original, the more I marvel at Fitzgerald's genius.

I suppose that too many translations are done by too many scholars who haven't a spark of poetry in them. After spending years and years learning to read the poetry in the original, they become its slave. They transfer into English foreign cadences and make word associations that often sound awkward. Too bad they can't be like translators of song lyrics. These people are often geniuses because they find a way to let the spirit of the song soar and glide and pirouette in both languages.

Poetry then is an oddity among the various forms of art. It cannot, but on the auditory level of sound without meaning, be appreciated without years of study, without the aid of a translator. A painting—anyone can look at. A sonata—anyone can listen to it. A sculpture, anyone can touch it. But poetry demands much more from us. The closest art form is the novel, but novels are often written to be easily understood because plot and climax and page-turner-iness are so important. Not so poetry. Poetry seems to say: understand me if you dare, if you have the time to spend, as much time as my maker spent writing these few selected words.

Here is my translation of III:8—

You, Greek and Latin learned, 
wonder what unmarried me 
will do this 'Wedding March?'
What flowers mean, 
filled incense bowls,
and embers on the altar?

I, almost dead and buried
by the stroke of a tree,
had promised a feast 
and a white goat
to Liber-Faunus.

A year has come round. 
This feast day will pull
the cork—well-set with pitch—
on a bottle—well-aged with smoke 
from the Tullus years.

Maecenas, down a hundred cyathi—
away all shouts and anger—
carry the vigil lights
of your rescued friend 
till first light.

Put politics aside
Coliso's Dacian army—gone.
The horrid Medes—
lamentable armies
fighting each other.

The Cantabers, old enemies 
of the Spanish coast—
slaves in chains at last.
The Scyths, bows unstrung—
thinking of ceding ground.

Relax, don't think about the people 
toiling. Guard your time alone
Be happy. Take now-hour's gifts.
Leave your troubles 

[translation © 2009 by James Rumford]

Here is my prose rendition in Latin:

[O] docte sermones utriusque linguae, [tu] miraris quid ‹[ego] caelebs› Kalendis Martiis agam, et quid flores, acerra plena turis, ‹carboque in caespite vivo positus› velint? 
Epulas dulces et caprum album Libero, ictu arboris prope funeratus, voveram. Anno redeunte, hic dies festus ‹corticem pice adstrictum› amphorae ‹fumum bibere consule Tullo institutae› dimovebit. 
[O] Maecenas, centum cyathos amici sospitis sume et lucernas vigiles in lucem perfer—omnis clamor et ira procul esto! Mitte curas civiles super urbe. Agmen Daci Cotisonis occidit. Medus infestus sibi armis luctuosis dissidet. Cantaber, hostis vetus orae Hispanae, catena sera domitus, servit. Scythae iam mediantur, arcu laxo, campis cedere. 

[Esto] neglegens, ne qua populus laboret! [Tu es] privatus. Parce nimium cavere! [Esto] laetus! Dona horae praesentis cape et severa linque!

[revised March 27, 2015]

acerra: arca
velint: significent
carbo: cinis
caespite: herba viride arae
epulas: convivium
sume: consume
linque: relinque
agmen: exercitus
cyathos [κυαθοσ]: 1/12 sextarii
sospitis: salutis, fugae
procul: remotus
occidit: periit
luctuosis: lamentabilibus
dissidet: discordat
servit: servit urbem Romanorum

Martiīs caelebs quid agam Kalendīs,
quid velint flōrēs et acerra tūris
plēna mīrāris positusque carbō in
   caespite vīvo,
docte sermōnēs ǔtriusque linguae?
vōveram dulcıs epulās et album
Līberō caprum prope fūnerātus
  arboris ictū.
hīc diēs annō redeunte festus
corticem adstrictum pice dīmovēbit        
amphorae fūmum bibere institūtae
   consule Tūllō.
sūme, Maecēnās, cyathōs amīcī
sospitis centum et vigilıs lucernās
perfer in lūcem; procul omnis estō
   clāmor et īra.
mitte cīvīlıs super urbe cūrās;
occidit Dācī Cotisōnis agmen,
Mēdus infestus sibi lūctuōsīs
   dissidet armīs,
servit Hispānae vetus hostis ōrae
Cantaber sērā domitus catēnā,
iam Scythae laxō meditantur arcū
   cēdere campīs.
neglegēns nē quā populus labōret,
parce prīvātus nimium cavēre[et]
dōna praesentis cape laetus hōrae et,

   linque sevēra.

:: 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.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Oh Yeah?! Donec Gratus Tibi Eram III:9

There's to be a party to honor Aelius (Lucius Lamia), of noble descent. But Eurus, a wind from the southeast, or so the old crow predicts, will bring cold rain tomorrow. So make a fire, roast the pig, and drink wine.

What Horace writes about is ancient stuff. He takes us to the past, to the edge of recorded civilization, and creates a world of divining crows, winds with names, a goddess who lives at the mouth of the River Liris and a people who can recite their genealogy back to heros.

Scholars look at this poem in two ways: a satire on Romans who want to polish their pedigree (sorta like some Americans hoping to find a connection to the Mayflower) or a serious poem about Horace's friend Aelius, who was once consul of Rome. 

I see the poem in a different way, especially here, writing from Honolulu.  I feel as though I am reading an ancient Hawaiian chant where ku‘auhau, genealogy, inoa makani, wind names, inoa akua, god names, and wanana, divination, play an important role. These things were important to Romans, too, who worshipped their ancestors and believed that a virtuous goal was to make one's name live a thousand years.  How different we are today in our fifteen-minutes-of-fame society! 

This poem has turned out to be a grammar lesson for me. There are a surprising number of neuter nouns in these few lines, most of which are in the guise of masculine nouns like genus, litus, nemus, opus, and genius. Neuter nouns are an oddity in Indo-European languages. More bi-sexual than neuter, they use both masculine and feminine endings, like the feminine -a in the plural, like the masculine -o in the dative singular. Neuter nouns have no special form for nominative and accusative. This sentence, out of context, would be ambiguous:

Animal videt.
The animal sees—or—He sees the animal

The peculiarities of neuter nouns occur in Greek, Sanskrit, Russian and once in English. We have only a few vestiges of this ancient tripartite system such as the word it and the word which. Ironically, all of the daughter languages of Latin, such as French, Spanish, and Italian, have lost even that: everything in the world is either masculine or feminine!

My prose rendition:

[O] Aeli, nobilis ab Lamo vetusto, 

quando ferunt—per memores fastus-—‹et priores hinc› ‹et omne genus nepotum› Lamias denominatos [esse], [tu] originem ab illo auctore ducis qui tyrannus, dicitur, princeps moenia Formiarum et Lirim ‹litoribus Maricae innantem› late tenuisse, 

cras tempestas ab Euro demissa nemus foliis multis et litus alga inutili sternet—nisi cornix annosa ‹augur aquae› fallit. Dum potes, lignum aridum compone. Cras Genium mero et porco bimenstri cum famulis ‹operum solutis› curabis. 
[revised March 27, 2015]  

nemus: humus sub arboribus
memores fastos: chronological lists of consuls 
princeps: primo 
innantem: inundantem
sternit: spargit
cornix: corvus
annosa: vetus
fallit: errat
genium: guardian spirit, cf. Hawaiian ‘aumakua
famulis: servus familiae

Āelī vetustō nōbilis ab Lamō,—
quandō et priōrēs hinc Lamiās ferunt
   dēnōminātōs et nepōtum
        per memorēs genus omne fastus,
auctōre ab illō dūcis ‹dūcit] orīginem,
quī Formiārum moenia dīcitur
   princeps et innantem Marīcae
        lītoribus tenuisse Līrim
lātē tyrannus:—crās foliīs nemus
multīs et algā lītus inūtilī
   dēmissa tempestās ab Eurō
        sternet, aquae nisi fallit augur
annōsa cornix. dum potes, āridum
compōne lignum; crās Genium merō
   cūrābis et porcō bimenstrī

        cum famulīs operum solūtīs.

:: 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.