The problem that languages learners face is simple: they may know all the words but they don't know the meaning.
The problem that poetry readers faces is similar: they may know the meaning of the words but they don't know the meaning behind them.
Today's ode is a good example. I pretty much figured out the meaning, but I didn't know what Horace was talking about.
Here's my translation:
A stingy, sometime temple-goer,
an adept of insane wisdom,
erring but now sailing
back over the path I'd left,
for does not Jupiter often
split the clouds with gleaming fire
and did he not across
a clear sky drive his horses
thundering and his chariot flying,
shaking the brutish earth
and the wandering streams,
the Styx, the hated seat of hell,
and the Atlas end of the earth?
God can change those at the bottom
with those on top, raze the famous
and bring into prominence
the obscure; there greedy fate's
snatched up the crown with a sharp cry,
here she's happily laid it down.
translation ©2010 by James Rumford
Now here's a bit of the meaning behind the words:
Horace sometimes went to the temple, but didn't bring a generous offering because he was into Epicureanism, which emphasized the neutrality of the gods in the affairs of men. Now, after some time, he sees the error of his ways. He no longer believes the well-known Epicurean argument against the gods, which states that they cannot do the impossible. They cannot send a lightning bolt down out of a clear blue sky. Middle-aged Horace sees a different world: one ruled by the gods who can bring down the high and raise up the low. Then he refers to the extraordinary event some five hundred years earlier when Tarquinius Priscus, fifth king of Rome, entered the city and an eagle took his pilleus (a conical felt cap), flew away and then returned it to his head as if commissioned by heaven for this service, as related by Livy in book I.34:
Ad Ianiculum forte ventum erat; ibi ei carpento sedenti cum uxore aquila suspensis demissa leviter alis pilleum aufert, superque carpentum cum magno clangore volitans rursus velut ministerio divinitus missa capiti apte reponit; inde sublimis abiit.
Now comes the interpretation. How much of an Epicurean was Horace? Did he really have a mid-life crisis and return to the old ways? Did he really think that man was ruled by fate? Or was he hedging his bets? No answers yet, but stay tuned.
[Ego] cultor parcus et deorum infrequens, dum consultus sapientiae insanientis erro, nunc cogor retrorsum vela dare atque cursus relictos iterare.
Namque Diespiter igni corusco nubila plerumque dividens, per purum equos tonantes currumque volucrem egit, quo tellus bruta et flumina vaga, quo Styx horrida et sedes Taenari invisi finesque Atlanteus concutitur. Deus valet ima summis mutare et insignem attenuat, obscura promens.
Fortuna rapax apicem cum stridore acuto hinc sustulit. Gaudet hic posuisse.
[revised March 27, 2015]
Parcus deōrum cultor et infrequēns,
insānientis dum sapientiae
consultus errō, nunc retrorsum
vēla dare atque iterāre cursūs
cōgor relictōs: namque Diespiter
ignī coruscō nūbila dīvidēns
plērumque, per purum tonantıs
ēgit equōs volǔcremque currum,
quō brūta tellūs et vaga flūmina,
quō Styx et invīsī horrida Taenarī
sēdēs Atlantēusque fīnıs
concutitur. valet īma sūmmīs
mūtāre et insignem attenuat deus,
obscūra prōmēns; hinc apicem rapax
fortūna cum strīdōre acūtō
sustulit, hīc posuisse gaudet.
:: 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.