Friday, May 7, 2010

A Friend Returned :: O Saepe Mecum :: II:7

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, κολοκσιον] 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 [δωνο] 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

in prose:

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 nitentes! 
Tecum Philippos et fugam celerem sensi, parmula [mea] non bene relicta, cum virtus fracta [est] et [milites] minaces turpe solum mento tetigere. Sed Mercurius me paventem celer [in] aere denso per hostes sustulit. Te unda, fretis aestuosis, rursus in bellum resorbens, tulit. 
Ergo dapem obligatam Iovi redde, [ab] militiaque longa [tuum] latus fessum sub lauru mea depone nec cadis tibi destinatis 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 March 27, 2015]

original poem:

Ō saepe mēcum tempus in ultimum
dēducte Brūtō mīlitiae duce,
   quis tē redōnāvit Quirītem
        dīs patriīs Ītalōque caelō,
Pompeī, meōrum prīme sodālium?
cum quō morantem saepe diem merō
   frēgī, corōnātus nitentıs
        mālobǎthrō Syriō capillōs?
tēcum Philippōs et celerem fugam
sensī relictā nōn bene parmulā,
   cum fracta virtus et minācēs
        turpe solum tetigēre mentō;
sed mē per hostıs Mercurius celer
densō paventem sustulit āěre,
   tē rursus in bellum resorbēns
       unda fretīs tulit aestuōsīs.
ergo obligātam redde Iovī dapem
longāque fessum mīlitiā latus
  dēpōne sub laurū meā, nec
        parce cadīs tibi destinātīs.
oblīviōsō lēvia Massicō
cibōria explē, funde capācibus
   unguenta dē conchīs. quis ūdō
        dēproperāre apiō corōnās
cūratve myrtō? quem Venus arbitrum        
dīcet bibendī? nōn ego sānius
   bacchābor ēdōnis: receptō

        dulce mihī furere est amīcō.

:: 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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