Sumus omnes morituri. We are all about to die. Morituri is a phrase often heard in the coliseum from gladiators addressing the emperor: morituri te salutant: those who are about to die salute you. And in today's ode, Horace ironically salutes this intimate friend of Emperor Augustus named Dellius as 'O Dellus, about to die."
As an aside, translated word for word into Chinese, moriture would become a very pejorative term: 要死的, meaning 'damn.' Different cultures. Different ideas about death.
As for Horace's ideas about death, they are pretty clear by now. Death is inevitable. Its hour unpredictable. Its manner surprising. But above all, death is something we shouldn't worry about.
Some scholars find this ode a good excuse to talk about les grandes idées, but I see it as a good opportunity to see Horace at his best: unpretentious and straight forward.
This ode is also a good opportunity to explain a little more about the strategy I use to understand Horace. In the first stanza of this ode, Horace writes:
Aequam memento rebus in arduis
servare mentem non secus ac bonis
ab insolenti temperatam
laetitia, moriture Delli,
My strategy is to consider each word complete in itself.
- Aequam memento — remember the equal one
- rebus in arduis — things in hard ones
- servare mentem — to keep the mind
At this point, I begin reordering the phrase, putting words of the same gender and number and case together and come up with:
Remember to keep the mind equal in hard matters/things
- non secus ac bonis – just as good ones
- ab insolenti – from an unaccustomed one
- temperatam — a tempered one
- laetitia – joy
- moriture – O one who is about to die,
- Delli – O Dellus
When I put this together, I get:
just as good ones from unaccustomed joy a tempered one,
O Dellus, who is about to die.
The question now is: what do the 'one's' refer to? Gender and number and case help me make connections to the first part of the stanza. 'Good ones' must refer to 'matters.' 'Tempered one' must refer 'mind.' Thus the stanza must read:
Remember to keep the mind equal in hard matters just as [you keep] a tempered one
in good matters due to unaccustomed joy, O Dellus, who is about to die.
I have no name for this take-each-word-as-it-comes strategy. Shall I call it "the Horace Strategy"? Perhaps.
Psycholinguistically there is nothing new here. As we receive linguistic information our minds are constantly formulating hypotheses about what is being said. We revise and double check all along the way until we've decided we understand. If not, we simply say, "Huh? Could you repeat that?" Being proficient in a language means being able to formulate these hypotheses with lightning speed. Although I am still in first gear on a uphill climb, clarifying in my mind what I must do to understand Horace has made things a whole lot easier.
And as an experiment, my translation below contains no capitalization or punctuation. Native speakers, have at it. Hypothesize away!
an even mind remember keep that
in steep times and when things are
good because of unaccustomed joy
my mortal dellius
or you can live out your days in sadness
or you can treat yourself to some quiet
lawn come the holidays with falerno
from the cellar's depths
he the giant pine and she the white poplar
why do they love joining branches of welcoming
shade why does the water fly struggle rush
down the winding bank
over here wine and oil and sweet roses
all too short-lived order them brought
while things life the black thread of the
three sisters let us.
you'll give up lands houses the villa
washed by the yellow tiber you'll give
them up and the riches piled high
your heir will take
are you a rich man of the ancient inachus line,
who cares if you die a pauper and come
from the lowest class under heaven o victim
of the uncaring monster
we're all being herded to the same place
everyone's urn will be turned over and
sooner or later out will come our number
to put us on eternal exile's boat.
copyright © 2010 by James Rumford
Falernus: a famous wine of the Campania region
Inachus [Ἴναχος]: the first king of Argos
Orcus: Pluto; some say the origin of our word 'ogre'
Sororum trium: of the three fates, the third of whom cuts the black thread of life that the other two have spun and woven.
In rebus arduis memento mentem aequam servare non secus ac [in rebus] bonis ab laetitia insolenti [mentem] temperatam [servare], moriture Delli, seu maestus omni tempore vixeris, seu ‹te reclinatum [cum] nota interiore Falerni in gramine remoto per dies festos› bea[ve]ris.
Quo pinus ingens populusque alba amant umbram hospitalem [cum] ramis consociare?
Quid lympha fugax laborat [in] rivo obliquo trepidare?
Huc iube vina et unguena et flores nimium breves rosae amoenae ferre, dum res et aetas et fila atra sororum trium patiuntur.
Saltibus coemptis et domo villaque ‹quam Tibiris flavus lavit› cedes. Cedes et heres [tuus] divitiis ‹[a te] in altum exstructis› potietur.
Nil interest ‹divesne ab Inacho prisco natus› ‹an pauper et de gente infima›, sub divo moreris—victima Orci nil miserantis.
[Nos] omnes eodem cogimur. Sors omnium [ex] urna versatur. [Sors] serius ocius exitura est, et in exsilium aeternum cumbae nos impositura.
[revised March 27, 2015]
Aequam mementō rēbus in arduīs
servāre mentem, nōn secus ac[in] bonīs
ab insolentī temperātam
laetitiā, moritūre Dellī,
seu maestus omnī tempore vixeris
seu tē in remōtō grāmine per diēs
festōs reclīnātum beāris
interiōre notā Falernī.
quō pīnus ingēns albaque pōpulus
umbram hospitālem consociāre amant
rāmīs? quid oblīquō labōrat
lympha fugax trepidāre rīvō?
hūc vīna et unguena et nimium brevıs
flōrēs amoenae ferre iubē rosae,
dum rēs et aetās et Sorōrum
fīla trium patiuntur ātra.
cēdēs coemptīs saltibus et domō
villāque, flāvus quam Tiberis lavit,
cēdēs, et exstructīs in altum
dīvitiīs potiētur hērēs.
dīvesne priscō nātus ab īnachō
nīl interest an pauper et infimā
dē gente sub dīvō morēris,
victima nīl miserantis Orcī;
omnēs eōdem cōgimur, omnium
versātur urnā sērius ōcius
sors exitūra et nōs in aeternum
exsilium impositūra cumbae.
:: 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.