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.

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