In this ode, Horace lays bare his jealous thoughts. Lydia, probably some lady of the evening, is more taken with young and passionate Telephus than she is with middle-aged Horace. The poet seems to be telling her that this infatuation with Telephus is just a momentary fling. Then he hints about a more lasting relationship, a coupling unbroken by evil quarreling—copula inrupta malis querimoniis.
Perhaps Horace means marriage, and Daniel Garrison in Horace: Epodes and Odes , mentions S. U. Q., an abbreviation often found on the tombs of couples to describe their married life: sine ulla querella: without any quarrels. Perhaps this talk of marriage is just Horace’s way of promising much so that he can move on to the fifth stage of love: the parte quinta in line 16.
According to Porphyrio, Horace’s commentator, love has five stages, which are a bit more explicit than the jump-rope song of ‘first comes love, then comes marriage’—
visu, adloquio, tactu, osculo, concubitu
see, chat, touch, kiss, sex
It is almost as if Horace has used these five stages as a framework to talk about Lydia and Telephus. Lydia sees Telephus’s rosy neck. They drink and fight. There is physical abuse, then wild kissing and Venus, the goddess of love, moistens their lips with her own special ‘nectar.’
There are two interesting words in this ode—interesting because they are ‘lone-survivors.’ By this I mean, scholars have found no other examples of these two words used in a similar way in any other Latin text. There is a Greek term for the lone-surviving word: hapax legomenon, which means ‘once said.’ Lone-survivors occur in poetry in other languages as well. There are many in Beowulf, and, I suppose, lone-survivors are being created today, as poets strive to use words in new and shocking ways that once used will never be used in that same way again.
The two Latin lone-survivors in this ode are irrupta [line 18] and citius [line 20].
Irrupta comes from irrumpo, meaning ‘break, burst, rush into, violate, invade, interrupt.’ Even so, scholars and commentators from antiquity give it an opposite meaning: ‘unbroken.’ Their only example: line 18 from Horace.
The other lone-survivor is citius, which is usually defined as ‘faster,’ ‘sooner.’ Citius is the comparative of citus, which comes form cieo, meaning ‘move, stir, excite, shake.’ Somehow, scholars and commentators have come to define citius in connection with suprema die in line 20 as ‘before the last day.’ To me, ‘faster’ makes sense in this line. Perhaps, I am wrong. Citius, as used by Horace, might not be a lone-survivor at all. Rather, it might just be the non-poet scholar trying to drive some sense into what Horace has said.
Come to think of it, perhaps, this is what happened with irrupta. Did Horace intend a more explicit meaning for the last two lines?
quos irrupta tenet copula nec malis
suprema citius amor solvet die
whom an invading coupling holds and, not by evil
quarreling torn asunder,
does love more quickly loosen on the last day
When you praise Telephus’s rosy neck,
Lydia, Telephus’s waxen arms,
God! my liver swells and seethes
with excruciating bile.
Neither is my reason nor my color
surely set, and tears secretly slip down
my cheeks, a sign I am being consumed
slowly by fires within.
I burn, either when drunken brawls make your
shoulders black and blue, or when some kid,
out of his head, stamps a souvenir mark
with his teeth into your lips.
No, if you do hear me, you won’t wait for
the one who barbarously keeps hurting
your sweet lips, which Venus in ecstacy
moistens with her own nectar.
Those blessed three times or more whom unbroken
bonds hold and whom love, not torn asunder
by nasty squabbling, won’t more quickly free
upon the very last day.
translation © 2010 by James Rumford
Cum tu, Lydia, cervicem roseam Telephi, bracchia cerea Telephi laudas, vae! Iecur meum, bile difficili fervens, tumet!
Tunc, nec mens nec color mihi sede certa manet, et umor in genas furtim labitur, arguens quam penitus ignibus lentis macerer.
Uror, seu rixae inmodicae tibi umeros candidos mero turpar[aver]unt, sive puer furens memorem notam dente labris impressit.
Si me satis audias, non speres laedentem barbare oscula dulcia, quae Venus parte quinta nectaris sui imbuit, perpetuum [futurum esse].
Ter felices et amplius [sunt ii] quos copula irrupta tenet nec amor ‹querimoniis malis divulsus› [eos] die suprema solvet.
[revised March 27, 2015]
Cum tū, Lȳdia, Tēlephī
cervīcem roseam, cērea Tēlephī
laudās bracchia, vae, meum
fervēns dīfficilī bīle tumet iecur.
tunc nec mens mihi nec color
certā sēde manet[manent], ūmor et in genās
furtim lābitur, arguēns
quam lentīs penitus mācerer ignibus.
ūror, seu tibi candidōs
turpārunt umerōs inmodicae merō
rixae, sīve puer furēns
impressit memorem dente labrīs notam.
nōn, sī mē satis audiās,
spērēs perpetuum dulcia barbarē
laedentem oscula, quae Venus
quīntā parte suī nectaris imbuit.
fēlīcēs ter et amplius
quōs irrupta tenet cōpula nec malīs
suprēmā citius solvet amor diē.
:: Latin books by James Rumford ::
For all 102 odes purchase Carpe Diem, Horace De-Poetized, for $11.50 at
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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.