Horace writes about a ship. What kind of ship? A real imperial ship? A ship of state? A ship of love? A derelict of a woman who has seen better days? No one knows. So, you may read this and attach whatever symbolism you would like, but take care. The earliest commentators believed that this poem was allegorical address to Marcus Brutus (of "et tu, Brute" fame) and that it was about the civil war.
I suppose that writers never mean what they say but always say what they mean—at least in their mind. And if you are lucky enough to know what's on their mind, so much the better. Scholars make their mark on triangulating and plotting out the author's mind as if it were some land to be surveyed. Their tools? Old letters, interviews, pertinent historical events, and so on until they pretty much have the author in their sights, or so they think.
But two thousand years ago is a long time, and much has been lost. Unlike Julius Caesar's face now reconstructed from his death mask by computers, there is no modern laser technology that can show us what Horace really thought.
So, here's my translation, such as it is, annoyingly cadenced in parts:
My ship! Waves will again sweep you out to
sea. Take care! Stay close to port. Don't you see
how bare your sides without oars, how wounded
your masts, how yardarms moan in the African
gale, that without ropes your keels can hardly
withstand seas more imperious than these?
You haven't good sails, no gods to call upon
when pressed by evil, though of Pontic pine,
noble daughter of the forest, though you
bandy about your clan and useless name,
no scared sailor trusts your painted stern.
Watch out or you'll be the plaything of winds.
A while back some excitement than a bore.
Now desire and a trouble nowise slight.
You should avoid the seas flowing between
the glistening islands of the Cyclades.
[© 2009 by James Rumford]
These last four lines are a bit puzzling. They seem to suggest love. One might think that the poet is addressing not a ship but a person. Perhaps a woman. Why the Cyclades, a group of islands in the Aegean? Perhaps it is because they circle (cycle<κυκλοσ) the sacred island of Delos, and this fact has some symbolic significance. More likely, it is because the seas surrounding them are treacherous, maria tamen angustiora periculosiora sunt, as Porphyrio said of them centuries ago, commenting on this poem.
Were this Persian poetry, the last two lines would be the traditional place reserved for the poet to address himself, or talk about himself as if he were someone else. Often the Persian poet chides or warns or exposes himself to ridicule. Sometimes, this is where the poet asks money from his rich patron.
Horace is probably not doing any of this, or is he?
O navis, ‹fluctus novi› te in mare referent. O quid agis! Fortiter portum occupa.
Nonne vides ut latus [tuum] remigio nudum [est] et [ut] malus Africo celeri saucius [est] antemnaeque gemant, ac carinae sine funibus possint aequor imperiosius vix durare?
Non tibi sunt lintea integra. Non [tibi sunt] di quos voces, malo iterum pressa. Quamvis pinus Pontica, filia silvae nobilis [es], et genus et nomen iactes, inutile [est]. Nil navita timidus puppibus pictis fidit.Cave, nisi tu ludibrium ventis debes. Nuper [tu] quae mihi [eras] taedium sollicitum, [es] nunc [mihi] desiderium ‹curaque non levis›. Aequora Cycladas nitentes interfusa vites! [revised March 27, 2015]
Traduction en langue française [v. la page 53]: http://www.ac-grenoble.fr/lycee/diois/Latin/langue/juxtalineaires/latin/horodi.pdf
The original ode:
Ō nāvīs, referent in mare tē novī
fluctūs. ō quid agis? fortiter occupā
portūm. nonne vidēs ut
nūdum rēmigiō latus,
et mālus celerī saucius Āfricō
antemnāque gemant ac sine fūnibus
vix dūrāre carīnae
aequor? nōn tibi sunt integra lintea,
nōn dī, quōs iterum pressa vocēs malō.
quamvis Pontica pīnus,
silvae fīlia nōbilis,
iactēs et genus et nōmen inūtile:
nīl pictīs timidus nāvita puppibus
fīdit. tū, nisi ventīs
dēbēs lūdibrium, cavē.
nūper sollicitum quae mihi taedium,
nunc dēsīderium cūraque nōn levīs,
:: 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.