Sunday, January 17, 2010

Love Interrupted :: Intermissa :: IV : 1

Here is a poem which, to me, is beautifully constructed, ending with a remarkable lyricism:

Noctvrnis ego somniis :: At night in my dreams
iam captvm teneo, :: I  hold you, now captive,
iam volvcrem seqvor :: I follow you, now a bird,
te per gramina Martii :: through the grass of the Martian
Campi, te per :: Fields, you through
aqvas, dvre, volvbilis :: rolling waters, unbendible

These lines are from an ode in Book IV, which was published around 13 BC, some ten years after the appearance of Book III. During this two-lvstra period (a lvstrvm being five years), Venus left Horace alone. Now, at fifty, Horace finds himself in love with a young man and beseeches the 'wild mother' (see blog Sep 20 09) to busy herself not with him but with the rich, the handsome Paullus Fabius Maximus, a lawyer and soon to be consul of Rome. He'll give her just tribute, while Horace can do nothing but pine for the boy from Liguria (the province surrounding Genoa in the northwest).

This Ligurinus we've met before, in Ode 10 of Book IV (see Blog Aug 29 09). Then I conjectured that Ode 10 was not overtly homosexual. Now in this ode Horace e cubiculo emerget, emerges from the small room, as it were. Even so, at the advanced age of fifty, he just wishes that Venus would leave him alone. He wants to be done with a woman like Cinara (see Blog Dec 23 09) and boys like Ligurinus. Doesn't she have more interesting prey? Doesn't she have more interesting livers to burn?

By the way, Horace's line

Si torrere iecur quaeris . . . 
if you seek to burn a  liver

would translate very nicely into Persian. Persian poets also talk of jegar sukhtan  جگر سوختن, 'burning the liver,' to express love-sickness and melancholy.

I suppose it is not surprising that the two cultures so widely separated should have the same metaphors. Both the Romans and Persians belong to the Indo-European language family. Just three thousand years before Horace both peoples lived together as one tribe on the vast plains of what is today southwestern Russia. They shared stories, mythologies and, I suppose, poetic turns of phrase like liver burning.

Were we to compare the Persian spoken in Iran two thousand years ago with Horace's Latin we would come up with many similarities. Even comparing modern Persian with Latin yields surprises. Each of the words in the line quoted above exists in Persian today.

 Si    torrere    iecur    quaeris

کار                جگر          تشنه         خواه
khwah    teshne     jegar                  kar

*swa      *ters         *yekwr            *kwer

The asterisked words are scholarly reconstructions of proto Indo-European, which, by the way, left no written records. These reconstructions make it possible to look at the sound changes that occurred over the centuries. They also make it possible to see how meaning changed:

*swa became if in Latin, or in Persian and so in English
*ters became to burn in Latin, and thirsty in Persian and English.
*yekwr became liver in Latin and Persian but gizzard in English.
*kwer became seek in Latin, work in Persian but disappeared in English

Of course, being scholarly conjecture, these  reconstructions are not all universally accepted. The American Heritage Dictionary says that quaeris (as seen in our borrowed word inquiry) is of unknown origin, while Manoochehr Aryanpur Kashani in his The Indo-European Roots of the Persian Language فرهنگ ریشه های هندواروپیی زبان فارسی (Isfahan, 1384 AH) claims quaeris comes from *kwer as does the Persian word kar and the Sanskrit word karma.

And speaking of language, the Salii mentioned in the poem were a college of priests at Rome dedicated by Numa to the service of Mars, who, with songs and dances, paraded through the streets in the first half of March. Their songs, it turns out, were unintelligible to most people, as they were sung in an obsolete language. What that language was I do not know.

And one more thing: in the following poem purpureus means 'purple, royal purple,' and by extension 'dazzling,' which, I suppose, is only natural since all royalty would like to be so viewed. Purpureus is used to describe the wings of the swans that carry Venus through the air.

My translation of IV:1:

Long-dormant Venus, are you stirring up more wars?
Mercy, I beg you, I beg. I'm not as I was,  
when good Cinara ruled. Wild Mother of Desires,
stop bending hard me—now going on ten lustra—
with your soft commands. Go off where the flirting prayers 
of youth call to you. A more timely raid you'll make, 
winged on purple swans, at Paullus Maximus', 
should you seek to burn a more becoming liver.
For he is noble and decent, never silent 
in defense of his clients, this youth of a hundred 
arts will carry far the emblems  of your warring
and when stronger than the gifts of a generous 
rival, he'll laugh and put you, a marble statue,
beside the Alban Lakes  beneath citrus wood beams.
There you will smell much incense and delight in lyre 
and Berecynthian flute—pipes, too—mixed with song.
There twice daily boys with tender virgins, praising 
your devine majesty, with dazzling feet shall beat
the ground three times in the manner of Salii priests.
No more women and boys for me. No more counting 
on any hope of returned love. No more delighting 
in drinking games. No more dignifying the brow 
with new flowers. But why oh, Ligurine, why 
stays the odd tear on my cheek? Why trips my nimble 
tongue over words in awkward silence? At night
in my dreams I hold you, now caught, I follow you, 
now a bird, through the grass of the Martian Fields,
through the rolling waters, you the unbending one.

© 2010 by James Rumford

Prose rendition:

[O] Venus, diu intermissa, bella rursus moves? Parce, precor, precor.
Non sum qualis eram sub regno Cinarae bonae. Desine, mater saeva ‹Cupidinum dulcium›, ‹[me] durum circa lustra decem› imperiis mollibus flectere. Abi quo ‹preces blandae iuvenum› te revocant.
[Tu], oloribus purpureis ales, in domum Paulli Maximi tempestivius comissabere, si quaeris iecur idoneum torrere. Namque et nobilis et decens et pro reis sollicitis non tacitus et puer centum artium late signa militiae tuae feret.
Et, quandoque [ille], potentior, muneribus aemuli largi riserit, prope lacus Albanos te, marmoreum, sub trabe citrea ponet. Illic plurima tura naribus duces, lyraeque et tibiae Berecyntiae carminibus mixtis non sine fistula delectabere. Illic bis die pueri cum virginibus teneris, numen tuum laudantes, in morem Salium humum pede candido ter quatient.
Me iam iuvat nec femina, nec puer, nec spes credula animi mutui, nec mero certare, nec tempora floribus novis vincire!

Sed cur heu, Ligurine, cur lacrima rara per genas meas manat? Cur [mea] lingua facunda silentio parum decoro inter verba cadit? Ego somniis nocturnis iam [te] captum teneo, iam te volucrem per gramina campi Martii sequor—te, [o] dure, per aquas volubiles.

[revised March 28, 2015]

Horace's Original Ode:

Intermissa, Venus, diū
rursus bella movēs? parce precor, precor.
   nōn sum quālis eram bonae
sub regnō Cinarae. dēsine, dulcium
   māter saeva Cupīdinum,
circā lustra decem flectere mollibus
   iam dūrum imperiīs: abī,
quō blandae iuvenum tē revocant precēs.
   tempestīvius in domum
Paulī purpureīs āles olōribus
   cōmissābere Maximī,
sī torrēre iecur quaeris idoneum;
   namque et nōbilis et decēns
et prō sollicitīs nōn tacitus reīs
   et centum puer artium
lātē signa feret mīlitiae tuae,
   et, quandōque potentior
largī mūneribus rīserit aemulī,
   Albānōs prope tē lacūs
pōnet marmoream sub trabe cītreā.
   illic plūrima nāribus
dūcēs tūra, lyraeque et Berecyntiae
   dēlectābere tībiae
mixtīs carminibus nōn sine fistulā;
   illic bis puerī diē
nūmen cum tenerīs virginibus tuum
   laudantēs pede candidō
in mōrem Salium ter quatient humum.
   mē nec fēmina nec puer
iam nec spēs animī crēdula mutuī
   nec certāre iuvat merō
nec vincīre novīs tempora flōribus.
   sed cūr hēu, Ligurīne, cūr
mānat rāra meās lācrima per genās?
   cūr fācunda parum decōrō~
inter verba cadit lingua silentio?
   nocturnīs ego somniīs
iam captum teneō, iam volucrem sequor
   tē per grāmina Martiī
campī, tē per aquās, dūre, volūbilıs.

:: 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.

Index of Poems


5 Quis Multa Gracilis Sep 14 09
8 Dic Lydia Sep 18 09
11 Tu Ne Quaesieris  Aug 18 09
14 O Navis Nov 8 09
18 Nullam Vare Sacra Aug 31 09
19 Mater Saeva Cupidinum Sep 20 09
20 Vile Potabis Modicis Sep 1 09
23 Vitas Inuleo Me Sep 2 09
24 Quis Desiderio Sep 27 09
26 Musis Amicus Sep 3 09
31 Quid Dedicatum Sep 29 09
38 Persicos Odi Sep 9 09


9 Non Semper Imbres Oct 27 09
10 Rectius Vives Sep 15 09
19 Bacchum in Remotis Nov 2 09
20 Non Usitata Oct 23 09


2 Puer Robustus Dec 3 09
8 Martiis Caelebs Oct 11 09
9 Donec Gratus Tibi Oct 8 09
10 Extremum Tanaïn Dec 18 09
12 Miserarum Est Dec 15 09 
13 O Fons Bandusiae Sep 12 09
15 Uxor Pauperis Ibyci Sep 24 09
17 Aeli Vetusto Oct 5 09
19 Quantum Distet Dec 12 09
20 Non Vides Quanto Sep 23 09
21 O Nata Mecum Oct 3 09
22 Montium Custos Oct 1 09
23 Caelo Supinas Oct 21 09
26 Vixi Puellis Nuper Sep 10 09
30 Exegi Monumentum Aug 27 09


1 Intermissa Diu Jan 17 10
3 Quem Tu Melpomene Dec 6 09
7 Diffugere Nives Nov 6 09
8 Donarem Pateras Jan 11 10
10 O Crudelis Adhuc Aug 29 09
12 Iam Veris Comites Jan 3 10
13 Audivere Lyce Dec 23 09


  1. Very interesting this persian connection, not to mention the indoeuropean one in "liver".
    I wonder how this relates to "Away with oriental luxury!"? Since Mithra-worship arrived in Rome during Horatius lifespan, he might have been an oldschool roman, annoyed with these strange (in particular) persian wonders.

  2. Aloha, Sorry for this late reply. I hadn't seen it until just now. I really don't know what the Romans thought of the Persians. The enmity goes way back and part of these feelings might have been inherited from the Greeks. Also, in Horace's time and before that, Persia was the one nation that was strong enough to repel the Romans. (I say 'nation' because the Germans were just a collection of tribes.) I wonder, too, what we have inherited. Surely our mistrust of Persians can't have just started. Aloha, Jim

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