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.

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