Horace addresses this poem to a friend named Pompeius. Nothing is really known about this man, but the apparent affection the two have for each other seems real and touching. They have shared much together, and now on his friend's return to civilian life, there is cause for much celebration.
This poem is interesting to Horace scholars because it recalls a time of civil war when Horace was fighting with Brutus at the disastrous battle of Philippi of October, 42 BC. During that battle, Brutus and his pro-Republic forces were soundly defeated by the pro-Empire army of Antony and Octavian. When peace returned, all was forgiven. Horace became a staunch supporter of Octavian. Perhaps this fact is behind Horace's use of the diminuative parmula for parma, 'shield' [line 10]. Maybe Horace was saying that his opposition to Antony and Octavian was ineffectual and, now that Octavian is the emperor Augustus, even inconsequential.
As far as the structure of the poem is concerned, I must admit that I was once again fooled by my slippery grasp of case endings. Here are two examples. In line 2, deducte is the vocative of deductus and means together with the first word of the ode: 'Oh one carried off.' Prime in line 5 is also vocative: 'Oh first one.' Even with these difficulties, I was able, for the very first time since I started last August, to understand almost the entire poem after the first reading.
Malabathrum: A fragrant oil. Although Horace calls this oil Assyrian, it actually came from the Malabar Coast of India, where the leaves of the Cinnamomum tamala were used to make a fragrant oil that was much prized in Greek and Roman times. Today, the leaves, sometimes known as 'Indian bay leaves,' are used for cooking and for making tisanes.
Ciborium [κιβώριον]: a large cup in the shape of colocasia [κολοκασία, κολοκἀσιον] leaves, a kind of Egyptian water lily. Pliny mentions this and so does Porphyrio in his commentary on Horace. Ciborium is a word still used today, if you are familiar with ecclesiastical terms. It means the cup containing the sacrament during the mass and it is also a free-standing canopy over the altar. As for the history of this word, I might give it an Egyptian origin. There are plenty of candidates: khbb 'pot,' khba 'lotus,' qbh 'vase,' qabw 'pot.' What is more, if you add the Egyptian adjective wr 'big' to any of these words you might come up with something close to the cibor in ciborium. Perhaps, too, Porphyrio, a native of Africa, who lived sometime during the second or third century after Christ, spoke Coptic or even knew how to read hieroglyphs and wrote about the word ciborium with some authority.
Edonis: Edoni [Ἠδωνοἰ] a people of Thrace, worshippers of Bacchus.
Venus: In this context, a venus was name of a particular throw of the dice, something like our 'snake eyes' or 'boxcars.'
Ah, Pompeius, often dragged with me through
the worst times when Brutus led the army—
who returned you, a civilian, to your
father's gods and the skies of Italy?
First of my friends, we'd drink wine to break up
the time, my hair gleaming with Syrian
With you, I went through Philippi and a
hasty retreat, not a good thing leaving
my little shield behind, when our broken
manhood and threatening warriors struck
chins on shameful ground.
But frightened me Mercury quickly raised
up past the enemy in a thick cloud,
while you waves from a seething sea swallowed
and carried back to war.
So give Jove his due a feast, and lay down
your long military service and your
tired self under my laurel tree and
don't hold back from the jars marked for you,
fill to overflowing the thin lotus cup
with Massicum to forget, pour oil from
the large conch shell.
Who's to rush around making up garlands
of wet parsley or myrtle? Who's to be
the drinking master by the Venus dice?
Am I not the sanest to celebrate
Bacchus? It's sweet to go crazy over
a friend returned.
translation © 2010 by James Rumford
Accents & Symbols Used
(Standard accents for Latin have been modified to
accommodate the internet)
italics = short vowels—flava
ˆ long vowels—tacitâ
ı poetic long e—habentıs for habentês
[ ] words added for clarity—[ego] princeps
‹ › sense groups—‹ex humili potens›
O Pompei, saepe mecum in tempus ultimum, Bruto duce militiae deducte! Quis te, Quiritem, dis patriis caeloque Italo redonavit? [O] prime sodalium meorum, cum quo diem morantem saepe mero fregi, [ego] coronatus, capillos malobathro Syrio nitentıs!
Tecum Philippos et fugam celerem sensi, parmulâ [meâ] non bene relictâ, cum virtus fracta. Et [milites] minaces mento turpe solum tetigere. Sed Mercurius me paventem celer [in] aere denso per hostıs sustulit. Te unda, fretîs aestuosîs, rursus in bellum resorbens, tulit.
Ergo dapem obligatam Iovi redde, [ab] militiâque longâ [tuum] latus fessum sub lauru meâ depone nec cadis destinatis tibi parce. Ciboria levia Massico oblivioso exple. Ungenta de conchis capacibus funde. Quis curat apio udo myrtove coronas deproperare? Quem Venus arbritrum bibendi dicet? Non ego sanius Edonis bacchabor; dulce mihi est amico recepto furere. [revised August 2013]
O saepe mecum tempus in ultimum
deducte Bruto militiae duce,
quis te redonavit Quiritem
dis patriis Italoque caelo,
Pompei, meorum prime sodalium?
cum quo morantem saepe diem mero
fregi, coronatus nitentıs
malobathro Syrio capillos?
tecum Philippos et celerem fugam
sens relictâ non bene parmulâ,
cum fracta uirtus et minaces
turpe solum tetigere mento;
sed me per hostıs Mercurius celer
denso paventem sustulit aere,
te rursus in bellum resorbens
unda fretîs tulit aestuosîs.
ergo obligatam redde Ioui dapem
longâque fessum militiâ latus
depone sub lauru meâ, nec
parce cadis tibi destinatis.
oblivioso levia Massico
ciboria exple, funde capacibus
unguenta de conchis. quis udo
deproperare apio coronas
curatve myrto? quem Venus arbitrum
dicet bibendi? non ego sanius
bacchabor Edonis: recepto
dulce mihi furere est amico.
For the other 102 odes, annotated and rendered into prose, get a copy of Carpe Diem, Horace De-Poetized.
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