This is an ode to Latin poetry and to the lyre, or as Horace calls it, the barbiton.
The barbiton or barbitos (βαρβιτον, βαρβιτος) is a stringed instrument with deep, rich tones. The Greeks apparently borrowed the word (barbud بربود) from the Persians, who are known to have used this instrument for at least 2800 years.
Incidentally, the author of the Wikipedic article on barbiton, quoting the notoriously error-filled 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, wrongly attributes the origin of the name to Barbud, a musician in the Sassanian court of Chosroes II(خسرو). Chosroes, unfortunately, ruled some six hundred after Horace! This is unfortunate for me as well, as I was about to quote a famous passage from Nezami's twelfth-century poem about Chosroes and Shirin(شیرین), in which there is a face-off between Barbud and another musician named Nakisa(نکیسا).
Today's ode is also about Alcaeus (Αλκαιος), an Ancient Greek lyric poet, who lived in the seventh century BC in Mytilene, the capital city of the island of Lesbos. He was a member of the aristocracy and part of the warrior class. While not fighting, he apparently found time to compose poetry and is supposed to have invented Alcaic verse. He was also, they say, Sappho's lover, and, fittingly enough, Horace wrote today's ode in a meter called Sapphic strophe.
There are several grammatical "tricks" in this ode.
The quod . . . vivat clause in the second and third lines is, according to grammar books, a relative clause of characteristic. Consider these two sentences:
Est vir qui te amet.
He's a man who would love you.
Est vir qui te amat.
He's the man who loves you
The first is a relative clause of characteristic. The second is just a plain 'ole relative clause. Why make such a distinction in Latin grammar? The answer lies in the noun. Latin nouns are not marked for definiteness. Vir is either 'a man' or 'the man.' We use articles; the Romans had other ways to make a distinction between indefinite and definite nouns. One way was to use the subjunctive. Amet tells us that vir more than likely means 'a man' or 'the sort of man.' On the other hand, the indicative amat makes vir definite: 'the man.'
Primum in line 5 looks like a noun with its -um ending, but it is an adverb meaning 'first.'
Lesbio primum modulate civi in line 5 and rite vocanti in the last line are both appositives. The first further defines the barbiton. The second tells us more about mihi. Here are two literal translations:
Age, dic Latinum, Barbite, carmen Lesbo primum modulate civi
Come, sing a Latin, Barbiton, song, by a Lesbian first tuned citizen
[Come, sing a Latin song, barbiton, first tuned by a citizen of Lesbos]
mihi cumque salve, rite vocanti
to me whenever greet duly calling
[greet me, duly calling you whenever]
What makes these appositives particularly difficult is the fact that they are separated from the noun they modify. Isn't this a contradiction in terms? Doesn't "appositive" mean "set next to"? If grammarians have a special name for relative clauses of characteristic, they should also have a special name for these kinds of appositives. May I suggest "fractured appositives" or "orphaned appositives" or "appositivum interruptum"?
Finally there is the poetic, shortened formed of the past perfect. Religarat in line 7 would normally be religaverat. I suppose that this shortening occurred because v was once pronounced w, producing a mouthful, just waiting for some poet to make more palatable:
religawerat — religarat.
Humbly now we pray— if ever idle we
play on you in the shade what may live into
this year and many beyond, come, sing a Latin
song, barbiton, first
played upon by a citizen from Lesbos,
who, though fierce in battle, even between wars,
even if he had tied up his storm-tossed ship
to the sea-washed shore,
would sing of Liber Bacchus and the Muses,
of Venus and of the lad always clinging
to her, and of beautiful Lycus with his
black eyes and black hair.
Ah, glory of the sun Phoebus, and honored
tortoise shell at the feasts of the supreme Jove.
Ah, sweet balm to labor: welcome, favor me,
Poscimus, si [nos] vacui sub umbra ‹[ali]quid quod et in hunc annum et plurıs vivat› tecum lusimus, age, dic carmen Latinum, [o] barbite, [o] primum [a] civi Lesbio modulate. Qui, bello ferox, tamen inter arma, sive navim iactatam [in] litore udo religarat, ‹Liberum et musas Veneremque et puerum illi haerentem et Lycum oculis nigris crineque nigro decorum› semper canebat.
O decus Phoebi et testudo grata dapibus Iovis supremi, o lenimen dulce medicumque laborum, salve rite vocanti.
[revised April 2, 2015]
Poscimus[poscimur], sī quid vacuī sub umbrā
lūsimus tēcum, quod et hunc in annum
vīvat et plūrıs, age, dīc Latīnum,
Lesbiō prīmum modulāte cīvī,
quī, ferox bellō, tamen inter arma,
sīve iactātam religārat ūdō
Līberum et Mūsās Veneremque et illī
semper haerentem puerum canēbat
et Lycum nigrīs oculīs nigrōque
ō decus Phoebi et dapibus suprēmī
grāta testūdō Iovis, ō labōrum
dulce lēnīmen, medicumque [mihi cumque], salvē
:: 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.