Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Derelict O Navis I:14

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?

Schoolbook Latin:

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]

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
        possint imperiōsius
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,
   interfūsa nitentıs
        vītēs aequora Cȳcladās.

:: 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, November 6, 2009

Dead End Diffugere Nives IV:7

Horace writes this poem to Torquatus. He speaks to him of seasons and renewal—constant renewal. Against this he places death. No resurrection, no reincarnation, not one Semitic thought. He turns to no Osiris. Jesus and his promise of rebirth are years away. Muhammad and his message from heaven won't happen for another seven centuries. 

Daniel Garrison (Horace: Epodes and Odes, A New Annotated Latin Edition, 1991), relates this Horace's poem to T. S. Eliot's line "April is the cruelest month

April is the cruelest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

( . . . . )

That corpse you planted last year in your garden,

Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?

Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?

Oh keep the Dog far hence, that's friend to men,

Or with his nails he'll dig it up again!

You! hypocrite lecteur!--mon semblable!--mon frère!"

To me, Horace and Eliot are not talking about the same thing. Horace is talking about the end of the self and the unfairness of the cycle of birth and death. All things are renewed but me, Horace seems to say; for I am to be dismantled at death and scattered like dust.  

More like Horace is Omar Khayyam, who along with many Persian poets, writes of our turning to dust. Omar warns us to seize the day, not wait for heaven's rewards. Here are two quatrains from Khayyam:

گویند بهشت و حور و کوثر باشد
جوی می و شیر و شهد و شکر باشد
پر کن قدح باده و بر دستم نه
نقدی ز هزار نسیه خوشتر باشد

They say there is heaven and houris and the Kauthar,
A stream of wine and milk and honey and sugar
Fill the wine cup and put it in my hand
Ready cash is sweeter than a thousand i.o.u's.
[my translation]

چون عمر بسر رسد چه شیرین و جه تلخ
پیمانه چو پر شود چه بغداد و چه بلخ
می نوش که بعد از من و تو ماه بسی
از سلخ به غره آید از غره به سلخ

When life comes to the end, what's sweet, what's bitter?
When the cup is full, what matters Baghdad or Balkh?
Drink wine. After you and me there'll be many moons
From old moons to new moons, and new moons to old.
[my translation]

Garrison also mentioned that "A. E. Housman considered [Horace's poem] the most beautiful poem in the Latin language." As far as the beauty of the poem is concerned, I am in no position to judge. I will say that I was surprised at how much like a Persian ghazal it seemed. In a ghazal, there is no evident logic between the lines, rather the reader must consider the poem as a whole.  Each line becomes a facet, as on a diamond, each one reflecting something different, but each one belonging to the whole. Diffugere Nives seems to me a bit like a ghazal: winter, then spring, then nymphs, then moons, then references to the mythological past and to the gods. 

to chase away the snows the grass returns to the fields, 
the leaves to bald trees
the earth keeps changing; rivers subside to flow
within their banks.
nude grace with her twin sisters and the nymphs
dares lead the chorus.
no hope for immortality warns the year and the hour
that grabs the giving day.
Zephyrs soften the cold. summer shoves spring aside
likewise to perish. 
apple autumn scatters fruit, and soon inert winter 
comes round again.  
the moons quickly repair their skyhome injuries,
but whither we descend,
whither right Aeneas, rich Tullus and Ancus, there
we are—dust and shadow
who knows if the gods above will add tomorrows 
to this day's sums?
all you give your life will flee the greedy hands
of your heir.
once you die and Minos decides your end 
loud and clear,
Torquatus, no clan can restore your eloquence,
your devotion.
no Diana can free modest Hippolytus from
hell's darkening. 
no Theseus can break the Lethaean chains
for dear Pirithous.

[translation © 2009 by James Rumford]


Nives diffugere. ‹Gramina campis› ‹comae arboribusque› iam redeunt. Terra vices mutat et flumina decrescentia ripas praetereunt. Gratia nuda cum Nymphis sororibusque geminis audet choros ducere. 
Annus [te] monet—et hora quae diem almum rapit: ne immortalia speres! Frigora Zephyris mitescunt. Aestas ver proterit. [Aestas] interitura [est] simul Autumnus pomifer fruges effuderit, et mox bruma iners recurrit. 
Lunae tamen celeres damna caelestia reparant. Ubi nos decidimus [est] quo Aeneas pius, quo Tullus dives et Ancus [deciderunt]. Pulvis et umbra sumus. Quis scit an di superi tempora crastina summae hodiernae adiciant? 
Cuncta quae animo amico [tuo] dederis, manus avidas heredis fugient. Cum semel occideris et de te Minos arbitria splendida fecerit, non genus, [o] Torquate, non te facundia, non te pietas restitue[n]t. 
Neque enim Diana Hippolytum pudicum [ex] tenebris infernis liberat, nec Theseus valet vincula Lethaea Pirǐthoo caro abrumpere. 

[revised August 11, 2013]

Horace's poem:

Diffūgēre nivēs, redeunt iam grāmina campīs
   arboribusque comae;
mūtat terra vicēs et dēcrescentia rīpās
   flūmina praetereunt;
Grātia cum Nymphīs geminīsque sorōribus audet        
   dūcere nūda chorus.
immortālia nē spērēs, monet annus et almum
   quae rapit hōra diem.
frīgora mītescunt Zephyrīs, vēr prōterit aestās,
   interitūra simul
pōmifer Autumnus frūgēs effūderit, et mox
   brūma recurrit iners.
damna tamen celerēs reparant caelestia lūnae:
   nōn ubi dēcidimus
quō pater Aenēas, quō dīves Tūllus et Ancus,
   pulvis et umbra sumus.
quis scit an adiciant hodiernae crastina sūmmae
   tempora dī superī?
cuncta manūs avidās fugient hērēdis, amīcō
   quae dederīs animō.
cum semel occiderīs et dē tē splendida Mīnōs
   fēcerit arbitria,
nōn, Torquāte, genus, nōn tē fācundia, nōn tē
   restituet pietās;
infernīs neque enim teněbrīs Dīāna pudīcum
   līberat Hippolytum,
nec Lēthaea valet Thēseus abrumpere cārō
   vincula Pīrǐthoō.

:: 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.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Inspiration and Art Bacchum in Remotis II:19

In this ode, Horace is speaking to us, the posteri, the generations who have come after him. He asks us to believe what he saw among the rocky cliffs, how Bacchus and the nymphs and satyrs sang and drank and carried on. At first he is frightened, then he is filled with joy; and it is this joy that brings him to write this ode about Bacchus.

I know very little about Bacchus; so this poem has been difficult for me. I have had to find out who the Thyades are (women who celebrated in the orgies of Dyonisos: Bacchus), remember what a thyrsus is (a staff of giant fennel covered with ivy), and learn such trivia about and related to Bacchus as:

Ariadne was his wife. She was turned into a goddess (beatae). Bacchus honored her with a crown, which he placed among the stars and is today the constellation Corona

Pentheus was a king of Thebes who banned the worship of Bacchus. Bacchus, in revenge, lured Pentheus out to spy on his mother and daughters who were taking part in Bacchic rites. I wonder: is this like Horace spying on Bacchus? Perhaps this is the cause of Horace's terror, for in the story of Pentheus, Bacchus convinces the women that Pentheus is a wild animal. They drag him into the open and tear him apart! Later they destroy his house. Sparagmos (tearing) and omophagia (raw eating) were ritualistic methods of sacrificing to Bacchus.

Lycurgus was king of the Edoni in Thrace. He, too, banned the worship of Bacchus, but Bacchus turned him insane and his exitium from this life was not pretty.  In some accounts his own people had him ripped apart by horses. In other accounts, panthers (symbols of Bacchus) devoured him.

Apparently Bacchus was able to change the course of rivers and calm even the wild ocean. This he did in the Punjab with the River Hydaspes (modern Jehlum) and with the Indian Ocean.

The Bistones were a Thracian tribe who worshiped Bacchus and could put ribbon-like snakes in their hair.

The Giants tried to attack the Bacchus' parent (that is, Jupiter), but Bacchus turned himself into a lion and repulsed their leader? Rhoetus. According to Clement Lawrence Smith, this story of Bacchus appears no where else in Graeco-Roman literature.

Finally, I learned how Bacchus went down into the underworld to find his mother Semele and take her up to heaven. On the way out, the three-headed dog Cerberus guarding the gates of hell wagged his tail and licked Bacchus' legs and feet in submission.

Now that I have the necessary background knowledge to read the poem, I am still left wondering what the poem means. Érico Nogueira, in a 2006 dissertation at the Universidade de São Paulo suggests that this poem may show Horace examining the role of technique and inspiration in poetry. Is poetry all bacchic, that is, inspired? If not, what role does technique (art) play in its creation? 

I, a newcomer to Horace, am concerned only with technique—his difficult constructions, his cramming Latin into Greek meter, as though he were an ugly stepsister trying to make the glass slipper fit. I see only the effort because I have to make so much effort to understand. I have little time to appreciate the inspiration. 

But every now and then, I step back. I realize I am in awe of what Horace has done. Can I carry the metaphor of the ugly stepsister a bit farther? Once Horace gets the slipper to fit, we don't see the stepsister any longer. Only Cinderella. Okay, a bit over the top, but this transformation of effort into beauty is the process we are talking about and the role inspiration plays in this process. Inspiration allows this transformation to happen in the first place. It is the catalyst. How? I don't know.  

Today the art of writing poetry has been trumped by the inspiration. There don't seem to be any rules. Emotion is everything. Too often I hear Garrison Keillor reading poems on the radio and think: another postcard from someone's soul. I put the "postcard" away, as it were, and wait for news from someone else. I rarely think: how well done, how unique.  In other words, I am rarely in awe. So I have turned to Horace, who has sent no postcards but a gallery of paintings, no short note but  Sunday afternoon at the symphony.

So, in this poem, here are the paintings I see, the concert I hear: There is a voyeur, Horace, happening onto a startling scene, an erotic one of tireless girls in a Bacchic frenzy with flowing wine and gushing milk and dripping honey from the crevices of trees. I see Horace, so overcome by what he sees that he must by some divine law (fas est mihi) write this poem to show Bacchus' power—his cruelty, his heroism—how he doesn't only war on the human soul but brings relief and release and peace in the end.

My translation:

Believe me, future ones, I saw
Bacchus, on far off cliffs teaching
songs, nymphs learning and 
sharp-eared goat-hooved satyrs.

E-u-hoy! my mind still shakes with fear
yet my heart Bacchus-filled rejoices.
E-u-hoy! stop Liber, stop frightening
me with that heavy wand.

I must sing: the Thyiades unstoppable, 
the fountains of wine, the milk 
overflowing, the hollow trunks 
dripping honey; I must

tell of adding his goddess 
wife to the stars, of Pentheus, 
his roof cruelly cast into ruins,
of Lycurgus the Thracian's death.

You twist rivers, the barbarian sea,
You, drunk, on a mountain ridge
run a harmless ribbon of vipers 
through the Bistons' hair

You, when a godless band of giants 
scaled the cliffs to your father's realm,
turned Rhoetus back
with horrible lion claws and jaw

You, they say, are better at dance and fun 
and games, not quite made, they tell us,
for fighting, yet you are in the middle
between peace and war.

You, decorated with a golden horn,
harmless Cerberus saw coming back, 
nicely wagging his tail  
and licking your legs and feet.

My prose rendition:

In rupibus remotis Bacchum carmina docentem vidi—credite posteri—nymphasque discentes et aures acutas Satyrorum capripedum. 
Euhoe! Mens [in] metu recenti trepidat, pectoreque pleno Bacchi turbidum laetatur. Euhoe! Parce, [o] Liber. Parce, [o] metuende thyrso gravi. 
Fas mihi est Thȳiadas pervicaces fontemque vini et rivos uberes lactis cantare atque mella [a] truncis cavis lapsa iterare. Et fas [est mihi] ‹honorem [tuae] coniugis beatae stellis additum› ‹tectaque disiecta Penthei [in] ruina non leni› et ‹exitium Lycurgi Thracis› [cantare]. 
Tu amnes, tu mare barbarum flectis. Tu, uvidus in iugis separatis, crines Bistonidum nodo viperino sine fraude coerces. Tu, cum ‹cohors impia Gigantum› regna parentis ‹per arduum› scanderet, Rhoetum ‹unguibus malaque leonis horribilis› retorsisti, quamquam [tu es] choreis et iocis ludoque aptior, dictus, non sat pugnae idoneus, ferebaris; sed idem medius pacis bellique eras. 
Cereberus insons te vidit, cornu aureo decorum, leniter caudam atterens, et pedes recedentes cruraque ore trilingui tetigit.

 [revised March 27, 2015]

Traductions en langue française: 

Em português, a dissertaçao de Érico Nogueira (Dez. de 2006)—A Lírica Laudatória no Livro Quarto das Odes de Horácio

Horace's original ode:

Bacchum in remōtīs carmina rūpibus
vīdī docentem, crēdite posterī,
   Nymphāsque discentıs et aurıs
        capripedum Satyrōrum acūtās.
euhoe, recentī mens trepidat metū
plēnōque Bacchī pectore turbidum
   laetātur. euhoe, parce Līber,
        parce, gravī metuende thyrsō.
fās pervicācıs est mihi Thȳiǎdās
vīnīque fontem lactis et ūberēs
   cantāre rīvōs atque truncīs
        lapsa cavīs iterāre mella;
fās et beātae coniugis additum
stellīs honōrem tectaque Pentheī
   disiecta nōn lēnī ruīnā,
        Thrācis et exitium Lycurgī.
tū flectis amnıs, tū mare barbārum,
tū separātīs ūvidus in iugīs
   nōdō coercēs vīperīnō
        Bistonidum sine fraude crīnıs.
tū, cum parentis regna per arduum
cohors Gigantum scanderet impia,
   Rhoetum retorsistī leōnis
        unguibus horribilisque [horribilique] mālā;
quamquam, choreīs aptior et iocīs
lūdōque dīctus, nōn sat idōneus
   pugnae ferēbāris; sed idem
        pācis erās mediusque bellī.
tē vīdit insons Cerberus aureō
cornū decōrum leniter atterēns
   caudam et recēdentıs trilinguī

        ōre pedēs tetigitque crūra.

:: 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.