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?)
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-Poetized, for $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.