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.

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