Saturday, July 3, 2010

Lost Tears :: Motum ex Metello :: II:1

[ . . . . ]

Ballad of the Army Carts
Carts  rumble  rumble
Horses    neigh   neigh
The    ones   going   by,    each   a  bow   at   the  waist
Fathers,  mothers,  wives,   along   to   say   goodbye.
With   the   dust,   they   can’t   see  Xianyang   Bridge.
They   pull    at   their   clothes  and  stamp  their   feet. 
They  are  blocking  the  way  and  they  are weeping,
Weeping. The sound goes straight up to assail the sky
[ . . . . ]
[my translation]

I remember hearing a girl from Hong Kong read these lines of the Tang Dynasty poet Du Fu [杜甫] and weeping over them. To her, the wars of centuries past were still real—real because she had learned this poem in school as part of her cultural heritage. Rome is gone. No one will cry over the fields drenched in Latin blood, the Daunian [Roman] corpses in the streams. This kind of emotion is culturally learned. Just think what past events can bring tears to American eyes and how those same events are but dry history to others. 

Rome fell. Latin died, and the emotional culture of the people along the Tiber disappeared. 

Lost as well were countless books. Even the works of Pollio [75 BC—AD 4], the man to whom this ode is dedicated, did not survive. And what irony! Pollio, who was soldier, statesman, poet and playwright, was also the first in history, I am told, to have opened a public library.  He who offered the city of Rome books, is now but a footnote to a very complicated poem—so I write: 

You,   Pollio, 
You read and wrote and delighted  all with your wit.
Your  sense of  justice, your courage  they applauded.
There  was  nothing  you  couldn’t  do;   surely  in this
The gods must have looked on you with lavish favor.
But   I  see  now how  cruel   they  were to  deprive  us
of   the   books   you   wrote,  that  only  by  a  shadow 
cast   from   a  another’s  pen  do  we  see   you   move 
across   Rome’s   stage.


The civil unrest from the consul Metellus,
The causes of war, its misdeeds and means, 
Fortune’s painful game and the friendships of princes,
The weapons smeared with gore never appeased,
these you discuss, a dangerous throw of the dice
as you tread on fire buried in treacherous ash.

May the muse of serious drama be not long 
from the stage; when you’ve arranged the affairs
of state, your great career on Cecropian boots 
you will soon resume, as high defender 
of wretched cases, of the Curia in its 
debates, Pollio, for whom the laurel brings forth 
eternal honors from your Dalmatian triumph.

Just now you deafen our ears with horns threatening, 
roaring, now war trumpets blare, now the flash 
of arms scaring fleeing horses, knights by their looks. 
I now seem to hear great leaders, dirty 
but not disgraced by vile dust, feel the entire earth 
subjugated but for Cato’s defiant soul.

Juno and whichever of the gods more beloved 
by the Africans had withdrawn powerless
from the unavenged land, has brought back the grandsons
of their conquerors as an offering 
to the dead Jugurtha.What field, more fertile with
Latin blood, bears no witness with its graves to wars 
unholy and the sound of the collapse of the
West heard by the Medes? What flood, what rivers do not 
know mournful war? What sea did the fallen Daunians 
not discolor? What shores are not free of our gore?

But do not abandon, insolent muse, the fun.
Retract the public displays of Cean songs. Search 
with me in Dione’s caves airs of a lighter touch.

translation © 2010 by James Rumford

notes: There is so much to comment on in this ode that, instead of notes, I’ll make an explanatory summary:

Pollio, you take great risks in writing a history about the civil wars still fresh in people’s minds. You mention the consul Q. Metellus Scipio, who with Caesar, Pompey and Crassus formed the First Triumvirate in 60 B.C. Later in 46 B.C. Metellus Scipio fought against Julius Caesar and was defeated along with the Numidian King Juba in a battle near the North African town of Thapsus.

When you’re done writing, Pollio, perhaps you’ll return to writing Cecropian (Attic Greek) dramas, where the actors wear heeled shoes called cathurni to make them look taller. You’ll also practice law and counsel the senate, especially after your victory in the Balkans in 39 B.C.

You write vividly and mention M. Porcius Cato Uticensis, great-grandson of Cato the Censor, who ruled the North African city of Utica [no longer extant], and who, after the Battle of Thapsus, committed suicide in 46 B.C. rather than live under the dictatorship of Julius Caesar.

The goddess Juno and any of the other gods had abandoned the North Africans after Carthage was sacked in 146 B.C. and the Numidian, King Jugurtha, was executed in 104 B.C. Now, after the Battle of Thapsus, Juno brings, as an offering to Jugurtha, the very grandsons of those who had defeated him. In fact, Q. Metellus Scipio was the grandson of Metellus Numidicus, who had defeated and executed Jugurtha.

The remains of the Daunian (Roman) dead are everywhere.

But enough of these thoughts of dirges done in the style of Simonides of Ceos [556-467 B.C], who wrote elegies for those who fell at Marathon and Thermopylae; let us think of love and Dione, the mother of Venus.

in prose:

[O Pollio, tu] tractas: 
motum civicum ex consule Metello 
causasque et vitia et modos belli, 
ludumque Fortunae 
amicitiasque graves principum 
et arma uncta cruoribus nondum expiatis. 
[Hoc est tuum] opus: plenum aleae periculosae, et, per ignes cineri doloso suppositos incedis. 
Paulum musa tragoediae severae theatris desit. Mox ubi [tu] res-publicas ordina[ver]ris, munus grande [in] cothurno Cecropio repetes, praesidium insigne reis maestis et consulenti curiae, Pollio, cui laurus honores aeternos [ex] triumpho Delmatico peperit. 
Iam nunc [tu] aures ‹murmure minaci cornuum› perstringis. Iam litui strepunt. Iam fulgor armorum equos fugaces vultusque equitum terret. Iam videor duces magnos, pulvere indecoro non sordidos videre, et cuncta terrarum subacta…praeter animum atrocem Catonis. 
Iuno, impotens, et quisquis deorum amicior Afris, [ex] tellure inulta cesserat. [Iuno] nepotes victorum inferias Iugurthae rettulit. 
Quis campus, ‹sanguine Latino pinguior›, ‹proelia impia [a] sepulcris› ‹sonitumque ruinae Hesperiae [a] Medis auditum› non testatur? 
Qui gurges aut quae flumina belli lugubris ignara, quod mare caedes Dauniae non decoloraver[unt]? Quae ora cruore nostro caret? 

Sed, iocis relictis, [o] musa procax, mecum sub antro Dionaeo modos plectro leviore quaere, ne munera neniae Ceae retractes.

[revised March 27, 2015]

original wording:

Mōtum ex Metellō consule cīvicum
bellīque causās et vitia et modōs
   lūdumque Fortūnae gravısque
        principum amīcitiās et arma
nondum expiātīs uncta cruōribus,
perīculōsae plēnum opus āleae,
   tractās et incēdis per ignıs
        suppositōs cinerī dolōsō.
paulum sevērae Mūsa tragōediae
dēsit theātrīs; mox, ubi pūblicās
   rēs ordināris, grande mūnus
        Cēcropiō repetēs cothurnō,
insigne maestīs praesidium reīs
et consulentī, Polliō, cūriae,
   cui laurus aeternōs honōrēs
        Delmaticō peperit triūmphō.
iam nunc minācī murmure cornuum
perstringis aurıs, iam lituī strepunt,
   iam fulgor armōrum fugācıs
        terret equōs equitumque vultus.
vidēre[audire] magnōs iam videor ducēs
nōn indecōrō pulvere sordidōs
   et cuncta terrārum subacta
        praeter atrōcem animum Catōnis.
Iūnō et deōrum quisquis amīcior
Āfrīs inultā cesserat impotēns
   tellūre, victōrum nepōtēs
        rettulit inferiās Iugurthae.
quis nōn Latīnō sanguine pinguior
campus sepulcrīs impia proelia
   testātur audītumque Mēdīs
        Hesperiae sonitum ruīnae?
quī gurges aut quae flūmina lūgubris
ignāra bellī? quod mare Dauniae
   nōn dēcolōrāvēre caedēs?
        quae cāret ōra cruōre nostrō?
sed nē relictīs, Mūsa procax, iocīs
Cēae retractēs mūnera nēniae,
   mēcum Diōnaeō sub antrō

        quaere modōs leviōre plectrō.

:: 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.


  1. Hello,

    the translation of "Medis" (line 30-31) is to me misleading.

    testatur auditumque Medis
    Hesperiae sonitum ruinae?

    Medis is ablative or dative? So I would translate: the sound of the collapse of the "western world" heard by the Medes (or in Persia??).

    To me "the sound heard of the collapse of
    the Medes to the west? " makes not much sense.

  2. Aloha, e Hermann, Thank you so much for your very useful comment. I had indeed misunderstood the function of 'Medis.' Today I have revised the translation and the prose rendition. One of the problems with this part of the poem is the meaning of 'Hesperiae.' Does it refer to Italy or to all of the lands to the West? If so, to the west of what? Garrison in his 1991 HORACE: EPODES AND ODES, says that Hesperiae would be Italy to the easterners. If so, what did Horace mean? Was he referring to the civil strife or the moral collapse? I doubt that it was moral collapse. Maybe 'Hesperiae' refers to all of the lands around Italy which have come under the 'imperium' of Rome? Thanks again and sorry for this late reply. Aloha, Jim