Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Don’t Worry :: Cur Me Querellis :: II:17

This is a poem written to a friend worried about dying. Horace reminds him of their solid friendship, their lucky stars that led to his friend’s triumph at the theater and Horace’s own escape from being crushed by a tree, and ultimately of the thanks owed the many gods.

The friend is Maecenas, who has appeared in many of Horace’s poems. Gaius Cilnius Maecenas was Horace’s rich patron and friend of the emperor. He even wrote poetry himself, of which a few odes still exist today. Such a patron of the arts was he [he also took Virgil under his wing] that a word fashioned from his name once existed to describe just such a benefactor: a maecenate.

Ode II:17 is pretty straightforward, except for the last few lines, where Horace is reminding Maecenas of his promises to the gods:

  .        .        .       .       reddere    victimas
aedemque         votivam         memento
nos     humilem      feriemeus     agnam

.           .          .          .          remember    to 
offer   victims   and    a   votive   shrine 
we shall slaughter a humble ewe-lamb

Commentators take the ‘we’ in the last line to be non-inclusive, i.e, it doesn’t include Maecenas, and translators usually translate nos  as I. But I am not so sure. What if Horace wants to include Maecenas? What if the ‘we’ refers to just the two of them, sacrificing a lamb together? To me, this seems more in tune with the rest of the poem, but then, perhaps Horace wants to end with an acknowledgement of their vast differences in station and wealth.

We’ll never know for sure. Latin is not like Polynesian languages which distinguish not only between a dual and plural ‘we’ but between a ‘we’ that includes you and me and a ‘we’ that excludes ‘you’ from ‘our’ group. Had Horace spoken Hawaiian, for example, he would have been forced to make the last line crystal clear by choosing one of the following:

na mākou e pepehi [i] ka hipa ha‘a.
we, not you, will slaughter a humble lamb
na kāua e pepehi
the two of us together will slaughter
na kākou e pepehi
we and you will slaughter
Differences among languages like these always amaze me. They show what  speakers of a particular language consider to be important. Hawaiians always want to know who is and isn’t part of the group. The language demands it, much to the consternation of the missionaries who first wondered how to translate ‘our Father.’ Is God one of us or not. They settled on ‘not.’ God is in heaven. We are not.

As for the Romans, they didn’t care about such fine distinctions. Sure, they qualified nos as in nos Romani, but for the most part, they liked the ambiguity of their nos. Think how many times they could leave the person they’re speaking to wondering: Am I part of the group or not? Think how Horace has left me wondering.


Chimera [χίμαιρα], a monstrous fire-breathing monster composed of several animals.
Gyas/Gyes [Γύης]: a monstrous giant of enormous strength, one of the children of the earth Gaia and the sky Uranus, and known along with his brothers Briareus [Βριάρεως] and Cottus [Κόττος] as the hundred-handed ones, the hecatonchires [κατόγχειρες]. The hecatonchires tried to overthrow Olympus but failed and are buried under Mt. Aetna, a suitably fearful spot.
Capricorn’s western wave: During the time when Capricorn rules the skies, the winter storms push great waves from the west
rapid wings: I translate volucris as rapid, but the word also means ‘flying’ and should grammically modify Fate. I just couldn’t write ‘flying Fate.’
mercurial men: those born under the sign of Mercury, thus able to write poetry, to be eloquent. The god Mercury was eloquent, but he was also shrewd, swift, and thievish. Maybe Horace is having a bit of fun here.


Why are you driving me out of my mind
with your grumbling? Neither would it please me 
nor the gods that you die first, Maecenas,
great in honor and pillar of my life.

Ah, if the Force rips away a part of 
my soul by taking you first, how do I 
stay on incomplete with the other part 
not worth as much to me. That day will lead 

one of us to ruin. I have sworn no 
false oath “we shall go, we shall go.” Should you 
precede me somehow, ready we will be
as comrades to continue the last journey.

The fire spirit Chimera won’t ever
tear me apart, nor will the hundred-armed 
Gyas, should he rise again— if it so please 
the Fates and the mighty goddess Justice. 

Either Libra or fearful Scorpio, 
the more violent one, looked down on me
at the hour of my birth, or Capricorn,
ruler absolute of the western waves;  

for both of us, by some incredible 
means, the stars aligned. You Jove’s resplendent
protection snatched from the underhanded
Saturn and slowed the rapid wings of Fate,

when the people going to the theater clapped
with joy three times. And me that tree about to
fall on my head would have carried me off 
if Faunus, keeper of mercurial 

men, had not lightened the blow with his right 
hand. Remember to make offerings of
victims and to build the shrines you promised. 
we shall slaughter an ordinary lamb. 

in prose:

Cur me querelis tuis exanimas? Nec dis nec mihi amicum est te prius obire, [o] Maecenas, grande decus columenque rerum mearum! A! Si vis te, partem animae meae, maturior rapit, quid alteram [partem] moror—[ego] nec carus aeque nec integer superstes? Illeque dies ruinam utram ducet. 
Non ego sacramentum perfidum dixi. Ibimus. Ibimus utcumque praecedes, [nos] comites parati iter supremum carpere. 
Nec spiritus Chimaerae igneae nec, si Gyas centimanus resurgat, umquam me [a te] divellet. 
Sic placitum [est] potenti Iustitiae Parcisque. 
Seu Libra seu Scorpios formidolosus, pars violentior [meae] horae natalis, seu Capricornus, tyrannus undae Hesperiae, me aspicit, astrum nostrum utrumque modo incredibili consentit—
Tutela Iovis, Saturno impio refulgens, te eripuit, alasque Fati volucrisque tardavit, cum populus, [in] theatris frequens, sonum laetum ter crepuit. 

Truncus me cerebro illapsus sustulerat, nisi Faunus ‹custos Mercurialium virorum› ictum dextra [manu sua] levasset. Memento victimas aedemque votivam reddere. Nos agnam humilem feriemus.
[revised  March 27, 2015]

original ode:

Cūr mē querēlīs exanimās tuīs?
Nec dīs amīcum est nec mihi tē prius
   obīre, Maecēnās, meārum
        grande decus columenque rērum.
ā! tē meae sī partem animae rapit
mātūriōr vīs, quid moror alteram[altera],
   nec cārus aequē nec superstes
        integer? ille diēs utramque
dūcet ruīnam. nōn ego perfidum
dixī sǎcrāmentum: ībimus, ībimus,
   utcumque praecēdēs, suprēmum
        carpere iter comitēs parātī.
mē nec Chimaerae spīritus igneae
nec, sī resurgat centimanus Gyas,
   dīvellet umquam: sīc potentī
        Iustitiae placitumque Parcis.
seu Lībra seu mē Scorpios aspicīt
formīdolōsus, pars violentior
   nātālis hōrae, seu tyrannus
        Hesperiae Capricornus undae,
utrumque nostrum incrēdibilī modō
consentit astrum; tē Iovis impiō
   tūtēla Sāturnō refulgēns
        ēripuit volucrisque Fātī
tardāvit ālās, cum populus frequēns
laetum theātrīs ter crepuit sonum;
   mē truncus illāpsus cerebrō
        sustulerat, nisi Faunus ictum
dextrā levasset, Mercuriālium
custos virōrum. Reddere victimās
   aedemque vōtivam mementō;

        nōn humilem feriēmus agnam.

:: 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.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Crowded Mind :: Otium Divos Rogat :: II:16

There are some intriguing metaphors in this ode, which deals with the meaning of peace and tranquility and its opposite, strife and worry. In lines 9 to 12, we see the mind compared, I suppose, to a noisy crowd, care to a bird caught inside a beautifully ceilinged house:

non enim  gazae neque  consularis
summovet lictor miseros tumultus
mentis  et   cura   laqueata   circum
tecta  volantis
A very literal translation would be:

In    fact,   the     government     official 
of  the   treasure   and   of   the   consul 
does not move aside the  poor  tumult 
of  the mind and worry  flying around 
the paneled ceiling.

A very simple interpretation would be:

Wealth and  position cannot quiet the mind 
crowded with thoughts; plus, your worries 
are out of control.

A very difficult interpretation would be beyond what I could write here. It would involve showing not only how these lines are related to the rest of the poem but how they are part of the fabric of Horace’s entire work. 

Metaphor, of course, it what poetry is best at. With just a few words the poet can create a very complex image, like the one above that is fresh and captivating. In today’s poetry, where freshness, aptness, and just plain surprise are everything, Horace’s lines seem curiously modern. Perhaps I think this because before the twentieth century, poetry seemed riddled, from our perspective, with hackneyed images, overused metaphors. Take for example Homer’s wine-colored sea, his rosy-fingered dawn. It occurs over and over until one is sick of it. But that’s us. We don’t live in his times, when poetry was oral, when poetry was story-telling and repeating a metaphor was one way to hold the audience’s attention, to keep the rhythm of the poem going. 

If we don't like hackneyed images and overused metaphors, all we have to do is turn to Persian poetry, where metaphors seem to be like heirlooms. They are handed down from one generation of poets to the next to be used and cherished. The Persian writes of his beloved having a tiny ruby mouth, pomegranate tears, and jasmine breasts. Read this in one poet’s work and you are sure to find the same in another’s.  But in Persian poetry, especially mystical poetry, these hand-me-downs are no longer metaphors. They become symbols for ideas so complex and abstract that it may take the reader an entire lifetime to fully understand and appreciate them. 

Returning to Horace: I don’t want to give the impression that every one of his images is new. Scholars are quick to point out that such and such a metaphor was used by such and such Greek poet or that a particular image was ‘borrowed’ from some Roman. But I look at this borrowing as respect for what came before and acknowledgement of the consummate skill and erudition on the part of others.

And I don’t want to give the impression either that Persian poets are tied to the same metaphors and imagery of their predecessors. In Jami’s [1414-1492] long poem about the handsome Joseph [the same one who appears both in the Old Testament and in the Qur’an] and the beautiful Zulaikha, I happened upon this line the other day:

در این نوبتگه صورت پرستی   زند هر کــس به نوبت کــوس هـستی

In this watchtower of worshipping the outer form, 
everyone  beats  the  drum  of  [his  own]  existence
For want of a better word in English, I chose watchtower to mean the place where the drums are beaten to mark the hour. Here the watchtower is a metaphor for the world. The word in Persian also means ‘a place where tents are set up’ and ‘a jail.’ Both these meanings are apt, for to the Persian the world was a nomad’s camp as well as a prison for the soul. A few lines after this, Jami entertains us with another interesting metaphor about the heavens and how one must lose the self to see the stars:

گر از گـردون نگــردد نـور خــود گـم نگـیـرد رونـقی بـازار انـجـم

If  from  the  turning  heavens, 
the light of the self does not become lost, 
the bazaar of  the stars will have no glory.

Before going on to the translation of Horace’s ode, I’d like to point out one of the more difficult passages, the rather telegraphic fifth and sixth lines:

ōtium  bellō  furiosa  Thrācē
ōtium Mēdī pharetrā decorī

What made this passage difficult was when I compared my understanding of it with the translation done by Jeffrey Henderson [Loeb].  He wrote:

A quiet life is the prayer of Thrace 
when madness leads to war.
A quiet life is the prayer of the Medes 
when fighting with painted quivers.

It took me a while to figure out that his translation is more an explanation than it is an attempt to mirror what Horace says.  That aside, there was, to my mind, a big problem with the last line quoted above. Decorī [decorated], as far as I know, can’t modify pharetrā [quiver]. Decorī is not feminine; it’s masculine plural and has to modify Medes. I checked the meter—Sapphic Strophe—and saw that pharetrā has to end in a long ā, putting it in one of the oblique cases such as the ablative or the dative.

I read and reread the notes done by Clement Lawrence Smith [1903] and Daniel H. Garrison [1991]. They seemed to make these lines even more confusing. Then I looked at the commentarii done centuries ago and the recent French translation posted online and found what I think to be the correct way to interpret these lines—if only because it agreed with my interpretation. First the comment made by Helenius Acron [probably the fifth century]:

. . . . splendore    decori     sunt    Persae
. . . . Persians are splendidly decorated
Now the French translation:

La Thrace  furieuse au combat 
et les Mèdes ornés du carquois 
demandent  .  .  .  le repos .  . . .
Thrace    furious    in    combat
and   the  Medes  ornamented 
with a quiver ask for ... rest....


lictor: a court official who cried, “Make way for the judge!” 
consul: one of the two highest magistrates of Rome.
eurus: southeast wind
Tithonus [Τιθωνός]: He was given immortality but not eternal youth; so after becoming very, very old, he was changed into a cicada!
Parca: one of the goddesses of Fate; the others are Nona, Decuma, and Morta.
camena: a muse, related to the Latin word for song, carmen.


Peace! asks he seized upon the open sea
of the gods when a black cloud hides the moon 
and sure stars for the sailors do not shine.
Peace! asks angry Thrace at war. Peace! asks the 
Persian beautiful with his quiver. Peace! 
Grosphus, not for gems or purple or gold.
Treasure, the consul’s lictor, these do not
move aside the sad tumult of the mind  
and care, flying round the paneled ceiling.
He knows how to live small whose thin table 
shines but with his father’s salt cellar;
no fear, foul greed, steels away his soft sleep.
Why with little time do we,  so strong, aim so 
high? Why do we move to lands warmed by other 
suns? Who exiled can also flee himself?
Vicious care climbs aboard the coppered ships;
it does not leave the columns of horsemen,
more fleet than deer, than Eurus driving the clouds.
The mind happy in the now hates to fret
over what’s next and tempers bitterness 
with quiet laughter. Nothing is all blessed.
Quick death carried off famous Achilles.
Unending old age consumed Tithonus. 
An hour denied you might be given me.
For you, low a hundred herds of cows from
Sicily. You carries a neighing mare 
just right for the chariot. You they dress
in wool dyed twice with African purple. 
True Parca gave me this small farm and Greek 
Camena’s thin breath to scorn the vile throng
copyright © 2010 by James Rumford

in prose:

Prensus in [mari] Aegaeo patenti, simul nubes atra lunam condidit neque sidera certa [super] nautis fulgent, otium divos rogat. Thrace furiosa otium [in] bello [rogat]. Medi pharetra decori otium [rogant], Grosphe. Non gemmis [rogant] neque venale purpura nec auro. 
Non enim gazae neque lictor consularis tumultus miseros mentis et curas circum tecta laqueata volantes summovet. 
[Is] ‹cui in mensa tenui salinum paternum splendet› parvo bene vivitur. Nec timor aut cupido sordidus ‹somnos leves [suos]› aufert. 
Quid [nos] fortes [in] aevo brevi multa iaculamur? Quid terras sole alio calentes mutamus? Quis exsul patriae se fugit quoque? 
Cura vitiosa, ocior cervis et ocior Euro nimbos agente, naves aeratas scandit nec turmas equitum relinquit. 
Animus laetus in [tempus] praesens oderit quod ultra est curare et amara risu lento temperet. Nihil ab parte omni beatum est. Mors cita Achillem clarum abstulit. Senectus longa Tithonum minuit.
Et hora quod tibi, [o Grosphe], negarit mihi forsan porriget. Gregesque centum vaccae Siculae circum te mugiunt. Equa apta quadrigis tibi hinnitum tollit. Lanae murice Afro bis tinctae te vestiunt. Mihi? Parca non mendax ‹rura parva› et ‹spiritum tenuem Cameneae Graiae› et ‹vulgus malignum spernere› dedit.  [revised  March 27, 2015]

original ode:

Ōtium dīvōs rogat in patentī
prensus Aegaeō, simul ātra nūbes
condidit lūnam neque certa fulgent
   sīdera nautīs;
ōtium bellō furiōsa Thrācē,
ōtium Mēdī pharētrā decōrī,
Grosphe, nōn gemmīs neque purpurā vē-           
   nāle neque aurō.
nōn enim gāzae neque consulāris
sūmmovet lictor miserōs tumultūs
mentis et cūrās laqueāta circum
   tecta volantıs.
vīvitur parvō bene, cui paternum
splendet in mensā tenuī salīnum
nec levıs somnōs timor aut cupīdo
   sordidus aufert.
quid brevī fortēs iaculāmur aevō
multa? quid terrās aliō calentıs
sōle mūtāmus? patriae quis exul
   sē quoque fūgit?
scandit aerātās vitiōsa nāvıs
cūra nec turmās equitum relinquit,
ōcior cervīs et agente nimbōs
   ōcior Eurō.
laetus in praesēns animus quod ultrā est
ōderit curāre et amāra lentō
temperet rīsū: nihil est ab omni
   parte beātum.
abstulit clārum cita mors Achillem,
longa Tīthōnum minuit senectus,
et mihī forsan, tibi quod negārit,
   porriget hōra.
tē gregēs centum Sīculaeque circum
mūgiunt vaccae, tibi tollit hinnitum
apta quādrīgīs equa, tē bis Āfrō
   mūrice tinctae
vestiunt lānae; mihi parva rūra et
spīritum Grāiae tenuem Camēnae
Parca nōn mendax dedit et malignum
   spernere vulgus.

:: 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.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Femme Fatale :: Ulla Si Iuris :: II:8

There is a lot of energy in this poem addressed to some femme fatale  named Bariné. The words Horace uses are a bit like the quick, juicy brush strokes of a master like Frans Hals: they sweep you up and carry you along. 

Just look at the five-syllables at the end of each stanza: 

turpior ungui  — more vile by a fingernail
publica cura — a public darling
morte carentis — from death free
cote cruenta  —  with a bloody whetstone
saepe minati —  often warned
aura maritos —  a wind the married ones

Each one of these carries so much vitality. Each one placed to emphasize exactly what Horace wants to say.

I'd believe you, my Barine, 
if any punishment for lying 
harmed you, if you started
looking disgusting because 
of some black tooth 
or fingernail.
But you, at the same time you lay 
your lying head on the line, 
you shine even more beautifully 
than anyone; you become every
boy's sweetheart. 
It serves you, doesn't it, to be false 
to the buried ashes of your mother
to everything: the silent signs 
of night, of Heaven,  of the gods 
exempt from icy death?
They say, Venus herself laughs at this,
the simple nymphs, wild Cupid, too, 
always sharpening his hot arrows 
on a bloody whetstone.
Add to that all the young men
growing up, the new slaves growing up
and all the ones before, 
who were often threatened into quiting 
the house of the "impious lady."
You mothers fear for their young bulls,
You the miserly old men 
and the sad virgin brides fear, 
lest one breeze from you 
waylay their men.
translation © 2010 by James Rumford
In Prose:

[O] Barine, [tibi] crederem, si ulla poena iuris peierati tibi nocuisset, si dente nigro vel uno ungui turpior fieres, sed tu simul caput perfidum votis obliga[vi]sti, pulchrior multo enitescis, ‹[tu] curaque publica iuvenum› prodis. 
Expedit ‹cineres opertos matris› et ‹signa taciturna noctis›, cum caelo toto, ‹divosque morte gelida carentes› fallere. 
Inquam, Venus ipsa hoc ridet. ‹Nymphae simplices› ‹Cupidoque ferus›, ‹semper sagittas ardentes cote cruenta acuens›, rident. 

Adde quod, pubes omnis tibi [Barini] crescit. Servitus nova crescit. Nec priores—saepe minati sunt—tectum impiae dominae [Barines] reliquunt. Matres te suis iuvencis metuunt, senes te parci [metuunt] virginesque nuptae miserae nuper [metuunt] ne aura tua maritos retardet.

[revised March 27, 2015]

Original Ode:

Ūlla sī iuris tibi pēierātī
poena, Bārīnē, nocuisset umquam,
dente sī nigrō fierēs vel ūnō
   turpior unguī,
crēderem; sed tū simul obligāstī
perfidum vōtīs caput, ēnitescis
pulchrior multō iuvenumque prōdis
   publica cūra.
expedit mātris cinerēs opertōs
fallere et totō taciturna noctis
signa cum caelō gelidāque dīvōs
   morte carentıs.
rīdet hōc, inquam, Venus ipsa, rīdent
simplicēs Nymphae, ferus et Cupīdo
semper ardentıs acuēns sagittās
   cōte cruentā.
adde quod pūbes tibi crescit omnis,
servǐtūs crescit nova nec priōrēs
impiae tectum dominae relinquunt
   saepe minātī.
tē sǔīs mātrēs metuunt iuvencīs,
tē senēs parcī miseraeque nūper
virginēs nuptae, tua nē retardet
   aura marītōs.

:: 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.