Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Like as the Waves :: Eheu Fugaces II:14

Like as the waves make toward the pebbled shore
So do our minutes hasten to their end
—Wm. Shakespeare, Sonnet LX

Eheu Fugaces is addressed to a man named Postumus or one called that because he had been born after his father had died. The name sets the tone, for this ode is about inevitable death and fleeting time and ends with a glimpse into the future, past our death to what is to come of all our efforts, of what we thought so important when we were alive.

Horace makes no earth-shattering revelation about death. There is none to be made. It happens—period. What he does do is tell us what he thought about it. Death, symbolized by Pluto, is illacrimabilis, incapable of tears, and powerful enough to hold back the three-bodied giant, King Geryon [Γερυών]. 

Death is a time of punishment for those like Sisyphus Aeolides [Σίσυφος Αἰολίδες], cursed to roll a huge boulder up a hill, or like Tityos [Τιτυός], whose liver was constantly fed on by a vulture, or like the ninety-nine Danaid daughters who, having slain their husbands, were forced for all eternity to fetch water in leaky pots. It is a time to cross the black Cocytos [Κωκυτός], literally 'the stream of wailing,' and leave everything behind. You'll be covered with cypress branches, sacred only to Pluto, and that will be that. 

The only mercy in death is that you will never know what happens to your 'stuff,' once you're gone—how it was squandered and scattered. Pretty grim words. No Omar Khayyam with his constant می نوش [mei nush], 'drink wine.' Horace's first word, eheu, 'oh shit!' says it all—that and his use of a curious Latin construction: the gerundive.

The gerundive is an adjective-like, verb-like rarity that has made the lives of students of Latin miserable for centuries. From today's ode, we have:

undā enavigandā: with the wave that must be sailed upon
visendus Cocytos: the Cocytos that must be gazed upon
linquenda tellus: the earth that must be left behind

We don't have any construction in English that carries the full force of the gerundive. I suppose we might say 'a wave to be sailed' as we might say 'a chocolate mousse to die for,' but somehow the facet of inevitablity is missing from any English translation of this Latin grammatical jewel—a jewel because so much can be said with so little.


Oh hell, they are flying by, Postumus. 
Postumus, the years are slipping away.
Doing right by the gods will not put off
the wrinkles, the old age, or even death 
standing steadfast by. 
No, friend, even if you with every 
passing day appease tearless Pluto with 
three hundred bulls, he will still keep at bay
three-bodied Geryon and Tityos
with a wave of grief
which we, yes, all of us who eat earth's gifts
must ride—be we kings or farmers dirt poor.
It's useless our avoiding bloody Mars, 
the crashing tides of the rough Adriatic; 
useless being scared 
every autumn that the southern wind will 
harm our bodies: we will be forced to look 
at the black Cocytos winding like a 
river languid, or at the infamous 
Danaid clan, or 
Sisyphus damned to labor unending. 
We'll have to leave earth, home and pleasing wife. 
Not any of the trees that you plant will 
follow you, brief master, beyond the scorned 
cypress tree—not one.
An heir more worthy than you will drink up 
the Caecubum you locked away under 
a hundred keys and with this superb wine, 
better than at a high priest's table he'll 
stain your lovely floor.

translation © 2010 by James Rumford

in prose:

Eheu, [o] Postume, Postume, anni fugaces labuntur, nec pietas moram rugis et senectae instanti mortique indomitae afferet. 
[O] amice, si quotquot dies eunt, [tu] Plutona illacrimabilem trecenis tauris non places, [Plutona] qui ter amplum Geryonen Tityonque unda tristi compescit, [unda] scilicet [nobis] omnibus, quicumque munere terrae vescimur, enaviganda, sive reges sive coloni inopes erimus. 
Frustra, [a] Marte cruento fluctibusque fractis Hadriae rauci carebimus. Frustra, per autumnos Austrum nocentem corporibus metuemus. Cocytos ater, flumine languido errans, [nobis] visendus [est] et genus infame Danai Sisyphusque, Aeolides laboris longi damnatus. 
Tellus linquenda [est] et domus et uxor placens. Neque ulla harum arborum quas [tu] colis, praeter cupressos invisas, te, dominum brevem, sequetur. ‹Heres [tui]› Caecuba, centum clavibus, servata dignior absumet et mero superbo, cenis pontificum potiore, pavimentum tinguet. [revised March 27, 2015]


Ēheu fugācēs, Postume, Postume,
lābuntur annī nec pietās moram
   rugīs et instantī senectae
        afferet indomitaeque mortī,
nōn, sī trecēnīs quotquot eunt diēs,
amīce, plācēs illacrimābilem
   Plūtōna taurīs, quī ter amplum
        Geryonen Tityonque tristī
compescit undā, scīlicet omnibus
quīcumque terrae mūnere vescimur
   ēnāvigandā, sīve rēgēs
        sīve inopēs erimus colōnī.
frustrā cruentō Marte carēbimus
fractīsque raucī fluctibus Hādriae,
   frustrā per autumnōs nocentem
        corpōribus metuēmus Austrum:
vīsendus āter flūmine languidō
Cōcȳtǒs errāns et Danaī genus
   infāme damnātusque longī
        Sisyphus Aeolides labōris.
linquenda tellūs et domus et placēns
uxor, neque hārum quās colis arborum
   tē praeter invīsās cǔpressōs
        ūlla brevem dominum sequētur;
absūmet hērēs Caecuba dignior
servāta centum clāvibus et merō
   tinguet pavīmentum superbō,
        pontificum potiōre cēnīs.

:: 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.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Common Greatness :: Iam Pauca Aratro :: II:15

These three expressions from Ode II:15 say it all—

census privatus — private property
commune magnum — the common greatness
sumptus publicus — public expense

—and show the relevance of this poem for America today. We are engaged in a great debate over what constitutes the common good, the commonwealth, the common greatness. I like this last translation of commune magnum because to paraphrase an ancient Chinese king, how we take care of the least among us determines how great a people we are.

According to scholars, conspicuous consumption at the expense of the common good was a familiar theme of stoics in Rome during Horace's time. We've all seen movies of the excesses of the Romans, and some of us have looked around at our own way of life and seen similarities.

Having grown up in California, I saw the salty Lucrine-like lakes south of Los Angeles give way to housing developments, then giant houses, then, as someone said, looking over once beautiful, sleepy La Jolla, starter castles. I also saw the orange groves disappear one by one much as Horace saw the destruction of olive groves, and I saw the giant eucalyptus trees used as windbreaks systematically cut down so that their pungent, almost cat-pee smell, disappeared from the air. Horace, too, bemoaned the loss of the fragrance of olives and the elm trees that farmers used as trellises for their grape vines, wedding, as they described it, the climbing plant to the trunks of such trees–something impossible to do with celibate plane trees whose shade was so thick that no vine could survive. 

So our problem in America is not unique. It is one of any great empire that fosters the excesses of the rich in order that they will think nothing of opening up their coffers to maintain and feed not the unwashed masses but vast armies to protect their wealth. 

A few notes:  Romulus founded Rome. Cato Intonsus was Cato the Censor (234—149 BC) or the Untonsured One because he didn't keep his hair trimmed. A grassy piece of sod was used for simple altars and for repairing roofs. The north in the poem is referred to as arktos (ἄρκτος), the bear constellation.  

my translation:

Soon starter castles'll leave little room for the plow.
All over you'll see koi ponds bigger than Lucrine.
Unmarried plane trees will take over the elms;
violet beds and myrtle—their smell will overwhelm
the abundant olive groves of owners past and thick
laurel branches will shut out the hammering sun.
Not this way the laws of Romulus or Unkempt 
Cato or under the norms of the people of old.
To them private property was small, the common
land great; there were no porches for the private man
measured in rods that pointed to the shady north,
no laws that despised a bit of sod heaven sent, 
but orders that the towns and temples of the gods
be faced at public expense with new-quarried stone.
translation © 2010 by James Rumford

in prose :

Iam moles regiae iugera pauca aratro relinquent. Undique stagna extenta ‹Lucrino lacu Latius› visentur, platanusque caelebs ulmos evincet. Tum violaria et myrtus et omnis copia narium odorem olivetis ‹domino priori fertilibus› spargent. Tum laurea spissa ictus fervidos ramis excludet. 
Non ita praescriptum Romuli et [sub] auspiciis Catonis intonsi normaque veterum. Illis census privatus erat brevis, commune magnum. 
Nulla porticus ‹decempedis privatis metata› Arcton opacam excipiebat, nec leges sinebant caespitem fortuitum spernere, [sed erant leges] iubentes oppida et templa deorum saxo novo sumptu publico decorare. [revised March 27, 2015]


Iam pauca arātrō iugera rēgiae
molēs relinquent, undique Lātius
   extenta vīsentur Lucrīnō
        stagna lacū platanusque caelebs
ēvincet ulmōs; tum violāria et
myrtus et omnis cōpia nārium
   spargent olīvētīs odōrem
        fertilibus dominō priōrī;
tum spissa rāmīs laurea fervidōs
exclūdet ictūs. nōn ita Rōmulī
   praescrīptum et intonsī Catōnis
        auspiciīs veterumque norma.
prīvātus illīs census erat brevis,
commūne magnum; nūlla decempedīs
   mētāta prīvātīs opācam
        porticus excipiēbat Arcton,
nec fortuitum spernere caespitem
lēgēs sinēbant, oppida publicō
   sumptū iubentēs et deōrum
        templa novō decorāre saxō.

:: 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.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Venus, If You Will :: Albi, Ne Doleas :: 1:33

Like the Frankie Avalon song, written by Ed Mitchell, Horace's ode is about Venus and love. But Horace's rejoinder to Mitchell's lines:— 

Venus, if you will,
Please send a little girl for me to thrill
A girl who wants my kisses and my arms
A girl with all the charms of you

( . . . . )

Venus, goddess of love that you are
Surely the things I ask
Can't be too great a task

would be: don't count on it.

People like Albius Tibullus (born 54 BC), the supposed addressee in Horace's ode, can write all the love songs and pretty elegies that they want, but, according to Horace, the goddess of love has a bit of a mean streak and loves a good joke, mismatching lovers in temperament and social status and delighting in those who are liars and cheats.

Here's a late nineteenth-century painting by Alma-Tadema of Albius Tibullus.

A lot of Tibullus' poetry still exists, which some scholars say is pleasant but monotonous. I haven't read it. Perhaps Horace was poking fun at Tibullus in this ode. It is hard to say.  Maybe the two poets had a good laugh over this poem, especially when Horace recounts his own exploits with a freedwoman name Myrtale. "Ipsum me," Horace writes, beginning his tale, as if to say "brother, you don't know the half of it!" 

There are a lot of names in this ode. They are probably all fictitious, but who knows whether they were code names for well-placed figures in high society? Glycera, Lycoris, and Myrtale were often the names of concubines, courtesans, freedwomen, and just plain women of the street. 

There are two expressions in this ode worth noting. The first is tenui fronte, which means a small forehead, that is, one made small with the hair combed forward, as painted by Alma-Tadema in the picture above. The ancients considered tenuis frons a mark of beauty.  All I can think of is Ruth Buzzi on the sixties show, Laugh-In. Not pretty.

Another interesting expression uses the word caprea, which can either mean 'she-goat' or 'doe.'  I think of deers and goats separately, but apparently, our Indo-European ancestors, linguistically speaking, did not.  For example, in English, a 'buck' doesn't just refer to male deer. It is also the male of several species, including our own. A thousand years ago 'buck' was bucca, a 'male goat.' ('Buck,' by the way, is related to the Persian word بُــز boz 'goat.') At any rate, for Horace, mating goats/deers with wolves is a metaphor for the impossible.


Albius, don't suffer much too much over your
sour sweetie, singing miserable love songs on why,
the trust now violated, a guy your junior 
outdazzles you.

Take the remarkable Licoris small of forehead—
her love for Cyrus is burning her up. Cyrus 
though has put her off for Pholoe, who would no more 
sully herself

with such a fowl lover than Apulian wolves
would with goats. Thus the will of Venus, who loves to 
pair mismatched bodies and souls under her bronze yoke, 
for a cruel laugh.

When a high-class venus asked for me, the ex-slave
Myrtle detained me with a pleasing leg iron, 
more biting than the sea, curve-carving the bays of 

translation ©2010 by James Rumford

in prose:

[O] Albi, plus nimio memor Glycerae immitis ne doleas neu elegos miserabiles decantes cur, fide laesa, [vir] iunior tibi praeniteat. Amor Cyri ‹Lycorida tenui fronte insignem› torret. Cyrus in Pholoen asperam declinat, sed capreae lupis Apulis iungentur prius quam Pholoe adultero turpi peccet. Sic visum [est] Veneri, cui placet formas atque animos impares sub iuga aenea cum ioco saevo mittere. Cum Venus melior me ipsum peteret, Myrtale libertina compede grata [me ipsum] detinuit, acrior fretis Hadriae, sinus Calabros curvantis.  
[revised March 27, 2015]


Albī, nē doleās plūs nimiō memor
immītis Glycerae nēu miserābilıs
dēcantēs elegōs, cūr tibi iūnior
   laesā praeniteat fide.
insignem tenuī fronte Lycōrida
Cȳrī torret amor, Cȳrus in asperam
dēclīnat Pholoen: sed prius āpulīs
   iūngentur capreae lupīs
quam turpī Pholoē peccet adulterō.
Sīc vīsum Venerī, cui placet imparıs        
formās atque animōs sub iuga aēnea
   saevō mittere cum iocō.
ipsum mē melior cum peteret Venus,
grātā dētinuit compede Myrtalē
lībertīna, fretīs acrior Hādriae
   curvantis Calabrōs sinūs

:: 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, March 15, 2010

Don't Go! :: Icci, Beatis Nunc :: I:29

The year is 26 BC. There is to be a military expedition led by Aelius Gallus to Arabia. Horace's friend, Iccius, has decided to do what Horace never thought he would: abandon his books and his studies and seek his fortune as a soldier in Happy Arabia, the Arabia Felix of untold wealth.

But this is a don't-count-your-chickens-before-they're-hatched poem: war doesn't always lead to wealth. It's a now-I've-seen-everything poem: bibliophiles don't always make good soldiers. 

Thus, there is a warning implied in this poem: Iccius, be careful.

There is also irony:  Iccius, you may have read the works of Panaetius, a Stoic philosopher, who wrote the book On Duties (Περ το Καθήκοντος), but is it your duty to enrich yourself on the spoils of war?

Early commentators remarked on the irony of this poem. Centuries later, editors wielding commas, periods, and question marks emphasized irony, for, to those who know Horace's poetry well, this poem comes as a surprise. Usually this Roman Rudyard Kipling is quick to rattle the saber and hoist the banner for the sake of the Empire, but not, for some reason, in the case of Iccius.

Who was this friend of his? A Mr. Milktoast, who although caught up in the fever of war, might perish in the sands of Arabia? Or was this a Lawrence of Arabia, destined for greatness? Or was he Horace's alter ego—a scholar who would abandon libri for loricae? Did Horace want to go,too, but, since he was unable, decided to ridicule his friend's efforts instead? All we know for sure is that Aelius Gallus' expedition ended in disaster. Most of the soldiers perished in the sands of Araby. Did Horace's friend die there, too?

Horace uses a few exotic words to add to the allure of the East. Gaza, treasure, comes from the Persian word ganj, گنج, which came to Latin via the Greek γάζα. (Ganj is found in the Bible, predictably in the Book of Esther, chapter iii:9 as גנזי המלכ.) The Sabaeae are the Sabeans or Shebans from Yeman, famous for their perfumes and one of the reasons that Arabia was so 'happy,' as traders came from all over the world to get the fragrances their customers desired. The word Sericas, 'Chinese' is also exotic. It means 'silk peoples' and comes ultimately from the Chinese word si , silk.


Iccius—you greedy now for the rich treasures 
of the Arabs? Prepared for a tough army life? 
Even before Sheba's kings are conquered? Before 
you've put the horrible Mede in chains? Which of the 

barbarous maidens, her husband dead, will serve you? 
What prince, his hair oiled, taught to shoot Chinese arrows 
with his father's bow, will stand by ready with the 
wine ladle? Who'd ever deny streams could flow up

steep hills or the Tiber flow backwards now that you, 
destined for better things, wish to trade for Spanish
breastplates the books on famous Panaetius and 
the Socratic school you purchased here and there?

translation © 2010 by James Rumford

in prose:

Icci, nunc gazis beatis Arabum invides et militiam acrem paras non ante regibus Sabaeae devictis, Medoque horribili catenas nectis? 
Quae barbara virginum, sponso necato, tibi serviet? 
Quis puer ex aula, capillis unctis, sagittas Sericas arcu paterno tendere doctus, ad cyathum statuetur? 
Quis neget rivos pronos posse montibus arduis relabi et Tiberim reverti, cum tu tendis libros ‹Panaeti nobilis undique coemptos› et domum Socraticam loricis Hiberis mutare? 
Meliora pollicitus [es]! 

[revised March 27, 2015]

links:  an interesting site with links to Latin dictionaries of all kinds:


Iccī, beātīs nunc Arabum invidēs
gāzīs et acrem mīlitiam parās
   nōn ante dēvictīs Sabaeae
        rēgibus horribilīque Mēdō
nectis catēnās? quae tibi virginum
sponsō necātō barbara serviet?
   puer quis ex aulā capillīs
        ad cyathum statuētur unctīs,
doctus sagittās tendere Sēricās
arcū paternō? quis neget arduīs
   prōnōs relābī posse rīvōs
        montibus et Tiberim revertī,
cum tū coēmptōs undique nōbilis
librōs Panāetī Sōcraticam et domum
   mūtāre lōrīcīs Hibērīs,

        pollicitus meliōra, tendis?

:: 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, March 12, 2010

Hyperbaton Revisited

In my blog of September 15 of last year, I talked about hyperbaton, that trick that Latin poets love to play on the unsuspecting: jumbling up the sentence so that adjectives get separated from the nouns they modify and nouns from the nouns they go to.  Here is a well-known example of an adjective divorced from its noun:

magnā cum laude 
If we added puerī [of the boy],  school-book Latin would yield:

cum laude magnā puerī

But if we "hyperbated" the phrase, we might get:

puerī magnā cum laude.
Latin can do this fancy stuff because it is a highly inflected language. The gender of nouns and the different case endings tell the reader how to put the sentence back together after the poet has "destroyed" it for his own purposes. If you saw a phrase like:

magnī cum laude
you had better be looking for a noun to stick magnī  to, because it couldnʻt, per Hercule, go with laude, a feminine noun in the ablative case. 

There is, of course, another possibility. Maybe magnī doesnʻt go with any noun, but is a noun itself meaning "of the great one."

This "other" possibility has led me to realize something about hyperbaton. What if every noun and every adjective in Latin at some level in the Roman mind was a unit of meaning complete in itself? What if magnā didnʻt just mean 'great' but 'from the great feminine one'?  

It is hard to make sense of this in English because we no longer make adjectives agree in gender. Try French: de la grande

To a Frenchman, there is no need to look for a noun to stick grande to. In his mind 'grande' can either be an adjective or a noun. In other words, it is complete in itself, and for the Frenchman as well as for speakers of thousands of other languages, the distinction between adjectives and nouns is not so clear. Adjectives can be nouns. Unfortunately, this is not a feature of English.  We cannot say 'the big' and leave it at that. We have to add 'one,' making a clumsy ʻthe big one.' 

In lines 3 and 4 of yesterday's ode O DIVA GRATUM we find the adjective/noun superbōs [proud] being separated from its noun triumphōs [triumphal parade]:

superbos vertere funeribus triumphos

What if the Roman mind interpreted Horace in this way?

the proud-ones   to-turn   into-funerals   the-triumphal-parades

In other words, what if the Latin speaker wasnʻt as bothered by superbōs being suspended in midair as I am? To him superbōs could either stand alone or be attached to a noun. Then when he came to triumphōs, which agrees in gender, number, and case with superbōs, his mind automatically connected the two.

The endings in Latin make it possible to think of each word as a little bundle of meaning. These bundles can either stand alone or attach themselves to larger bundles, depending on the context. 

In lines 5 —6, we find pauper [poor] separated from colonus [tenant farmer] by four words:

te pauper ambit sollicita prece ruris colonus

This is an extreme case of hyperbaton and it offers a good example for English speakers of what must have gone through the Roman mind as he decoded Horaceʻs words:
you     the-pauper circles    with-the-solicited-one
So far so good. Everything makes sense. Now comes
Since with-the-prayer matches in case and gender with-the-solicited-one, they are merged yielding:

with-the-solicited prayer. 
Next comes: 
of-the-countryside   tenant-farmer 
The Roman interprets this easily as: 

the tenant farmer of the countryside.
Now the Roman does something extraordinary—to us English speakers. He realizes that he must decide whether pauper is a noun or an adjective. Since the sentence cannot have two subjects, he merges pauper with colonus and comes up with 'the poor tenant farmer.'

The dual nature of Latin adjectives—that they can be both adjectives and nouns—has been a revelation for me and lets me understand a bit more how and why hyperbaton works in Latin.

:: 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.