In today's ode, it is hard to tell whether Horace is being sarcastic, playful, fatherly, serious, or sly. Is he talking to himself? Is he the one who is smitten by someone of the lower classes? Or is there a real person named Xantias of Phocis, who is badly in need of advice? Scholars can't agree.
One thing is for certain. This poem was written when Horace was forty years old. Now middle-aged, he takes up his stylus (I suppose he composed this poem on a wax tablet) and scratches out a few witty words to say that he is now beyond looking at a girl's pretty legs. Mirabile dictu! We have already seen what he can write when the sap returns to his aged, withered frame.
I exaggerate. I only wish, in my translation, I could have taken the time to find the right amount of exaggeration (as if exaggeration were on a continuum from less exaggerated to most exaggerated) for this poem and to capture what I think he is saying about love between the classes, between the older and the young.
I also did not find the right words to capture the humor, which goes like this:
Don't worry, Xan. Lots of guys've had trouble with their maids. Let me give you a few examples, like from Homer. You know, the girl you're interested in is so nice she must be a closet royal. And by the way, I think she's gorgeous—arms, face, and those legs! But don't think I'm . . . . no, listen. I'm way too old.
Pergama [Πέργαμα], a plural neuter noun meaning the citadel of Troy.
Tecmessa: the daughter of King Teuthras, and mistress of Ajax, son of the argonaut Telamo[n] [Τελαμών].
Hector [Ἔκτωρ]: the bravest of the Trojans, slain and dragged three times around Troy by Achiles.
Thessaly [Θεσσαλία]: the country of Thessaly in the northeastern part of Greece, but here refers to Achilles.
Atrides: Agamemnon and the 'virgo rapta' is Cassandra, Agamemnon's prize at the fall of Troy.
lustrum: a period of five years.
Do not let love for a maidservant be your shame,
Xanthias of Phocis. Before, the servant girl,
snow white Briseis, excited haughty Achilles.
The beauty of the captive Tecmessa excited
the master Ajax, who was born of Telamon.
Atrides, in triumph, was consumed by that girl,
seized after the barbarous squadrons, by Achilles'
victory, fell, after Hector, though dragged off, made
of Troy easy prey for the battle-weary Greeks.
You don't know if blond Phyllis' well-off parents
will honor you as son-in-law, for surely
she mourns her royal lineage and the unfair gods.
Believe it: one you picked is not of the unwashed,
one so true, so anti money, couldn't've come
from a mother disgraced. Her arms, face, smooth thighs
all I laud. But don't get me, whose age has just rushed
to the conclusion of its eighth lustrum, all wrong!
translation copyright © 2010 by James Rumford
Ne sit amor ancillae ‹tibi pudori›, [o] Xanthia Phoceu.
Prius serva Briseis ‹niveo colore› Achillem insolentem movit. Forma captivae Tecmessae dominum, Aiacem ‹Telamone natum›, movit. Atrides in medio triumpho virgine rapta arsit, postquam turmae barbarae victore Thessalo cecider[unt] et Hector ademptus Pergama leviora Grais fessis tolli tradidit.
Nescias an parentes beati Phyllidis flavae te, generum, decorent. Certe genus regium et penates iniquos maeret. Crede illam tibi dilectam non de plebe scelesta [esse], nec sic fidelem, sic aversam lucro matre pudenda nasci potuisse.
Bracchia et vultum surasque teretes integer laudo. Fuge [me] suspicari, cuius aetas trepidavit octavum lustrum claudere.
[revised March 27, 2015]
Nē sit ancillae tibi amor pudōrī,
Xanthia Phōcēu: prius insōlentem
serva Brīsēīs niveō colōre
mōvit āiācem Telamōne nātum
forma captīvae dominum Těcmessae;
arsit ātrīdēs mediō in triūmphō
barbarae postquam cecidēre turmae
Thessalō victōre et ademptus Hector
trādidit fessīs leviōra tollī
nesciās an tē generum beātī
Phyllidis flāvae decorent parentēs;
rēgium certe genus et penātıs
crēde nōn illam tibi dē scelestā
plēbe dīlectam, neque sīc fidēlem,
sīc lucrō aversam potǔisse nascī
bracchia et vultum teretēsque sūrās
integer laudō: fuge suspicārī
cuius octāvum trepidāvit aetās
:: Latin books by James Rumford ::
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