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.

No comments:

Post a Comment