In today's ode, Horace talks money—not how to get more but how to temper its use by being less greedy, for in so doing you temper all things and gain immeasurable benefit. The poem, if translated into Confucianese would easily sound as though it belonged in the great analects of the master:
Horace creates a famous but odd analogy in this poem between dropsy, known today as edema, and greed. The May 15, 1950 issue of Time quoted Horace, something I suppose would never happen today—
The dreadful dropsy grows apace, Nor can the sufferer banish thirst,
Unless the cause of the malady has first Departed from the veins.
— Horace, Odes II:2
Horace used dropsy (most commonly, a swelling of the feet and ankles) as a figure of speech for greed. But modern medical science has found truth as well as poetry in his lines. The cause of the malady, doctors now believe, is not water, but sodium, which prompts the body to hoard water in abnormal amounts — usually as the result of a heart or kidney ailment.
Thirty-four years earlier, a reader of the British Journal of Medicine queried the editior about Horace's dropsy and an answer was published—
My question is: was dropsy so common a thing that Horace's audience would immediately understand the analogy? The idea of the greedy pig is common enough. The idea of a person bloated from dropsy, sweating profusely with an insatiable thirst is not. Perhaps dropsy was la maladie du jour then as Alzheimer's or autism is today.
Or perhaps, this entire ode is a put-on, a satire. No scholar has ever said so, but maybe the analogy between dropsy and greed is purposely far-fetched. Maybe Proculeius, mentioned in the poem and a contemporary of Horace's, was overly proud being a paragon of generosity. Hadn't Proculeius bailed his brothers out when they lost everything in the civil war? Why did Horace mention the Punic people? Hadn't the Punic Wars been over for centuries? And why bring up King Farhad IV of Persia (فرهاد), known as Phraates to the Romans? Wasn't he a paragon of cruelty? Forgive the oxymoron, but hadn't Farhad murdered his thirty brothers and his father? Who could be crueler? No one. And there he was back on the throne of the great Cyrus (خروش), having survived an uprising of the people (with a little help from the Scythians, sworn enemies of the Romans). And finally, Horace claims, like some Roman Lao-Tsu, that one can rule justly only by irretorting the eyeballs when one passes piles of money. Of course, irretorting is not an English word, neither was it a Latin one, but Horace invented it just the same, adding a tinge of wit, I believe, to this ode.
No color has silver hidden in the earth
by misers, C. Sallustius, enemy
of money, unless it gleams with tempered use.
will live a long life, for he is famous for
the fatherly way he treated his brothers.
Lasting fame will carry him on tireless wings.
You'll rule more widely,
once you've tamed your greedy spirit, than if you
joined Libya to distant Cadiz and made
the Punic citizens of each serve but one
dropsy grows indulging itself. You can't chase
thirst away unless the cause of the disease
flees the veins and drives the aqueous languor
from the paling frame.
Virtue, even when it goes against the crowd,
removes Farhad, back on the Throne of Cyrus,
from among the Blessèd Ones, and teaches us
to avoid speaking
falsely. A secure kingdom, the diadem,
and the laurels that last will fall to the one
who looks at immense wealth without twisting up
his eyes to look back.
translation © 2010 by James Rumford
An excellent translation, which maintains the original rhythm of the poem was done in 2003 by A. S. Kline [Tony Kline, born 1947]: http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Latin/HoraceOdesBkII.htm#_Toc39742776
I might add here that in all the translations, the phrase avaris abdito terris, is translated as 'hidden in the greedy earth.' Although avaris does modify terris, I thought it might make more sense to turn avaris into a noun, 'by the greedy ones.' My point is that misers hide their wealth in the earth for safekeeping, but perhaps Horace's point is that the earth hoards its wealth.
Argento ‹terris avaris abdito› nullus color est, [o] Sallusti Crispe lamnae inimice, nisi usu temperato splendeat.
Proculeius ‹in fratres animi paterni notus› aevo extento vivet. Fama superstes illum penna solvi metuente aget.
[Tu], spiritum avidum domando, regnes Latius quam si Libyam Gadibus remotis iungas et Poenus uterque uni serviat.
Hydrops dirus sibi indulgens crescit nec sitim pellas, nisi causa morbi [ex] venis et languor aquosus corpore albo fugeri[n]t.
Virtus, plebi dissidens, Praaten ‹solio Cyri redditum› numero beatorum eximit, populumque ‹vocibus falsis uti› dedocet, regnum tutum et diadema laurum propriamque uni deferens.
Quisquis acervos ingentes spectat, oculo irretorto [praeterit].
[revised March 27, 2015]
Nūllus argentō color est avārīs
abditō terrīs, inimīce lamnae
Crispe Sallustī, nisi temperātō
vīvet extentō Proculēius aevō,
nōtus in frātrēs animī paternī;
illum aget pinnā metuente solvī
Lātius regnēs avidum domandō
spīritum quam sī Libyam remōtīs
Gādibus iungās et uterque Poenus
crescit indulgēns sibi dīrus hydrops
nec sitim pellās[pellit], nisi causa morbī
fūgerit vēnīs et aquōsus albō
Redditum Cȳrī soliō Prǎāten
dissidēns plēbī numerō beātōrum
eximit Virtus populumque falsīs
vōcibus, regnum et diadēma tūtum
dēferēns ūnī propriamque laurum,
quisquis ingentıs oculō irretortō
:: Latin books by James Rumford ::
For all 102 odes purchase Carpe Diem, Horace De-Poetized, for $11.50 at
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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.