The god Mercury often seemed to be on Horace’s mind. Mercury led the souls off after death, holding high the virga aurea, the golden twig or caduceus as in this ode and in ode I:23 [Sept 27 09 blog]. Mercury, the merchant god (his name is very closely related to 'merchant,' 'mercantile') was also important to poets. He was, as in ode II:17 (June 23 10 blog), the mercurial side of their nature: the creative, hard-to-define side that spawns eloquence. He was the jokester, the trickster, the sly one. In the case of poets, Mercury led them to double entendres, to irony, sarcasm, and satire. In this ode, we see all of Mercury’s skills as well as those of Horace, who, with amazingly few words, manages to say so much. By the way, Mercury was also the creator of wrestling. Apt. What other sport is there that is more like writing? There is feint, muscle, sweat, and brutality. In both, there is never any show of mercy—only exultation in victory, tears in defeat.
There are two stories about Mercury embedded in this ode. One is when he stole Apollo’s cows the very day he [Mercury] was born. When Apollo confronted him the next day, Mercury pleaded innocent. “How could I born yesterday steal your cows?” Then when Apollo was distracted, he stole his quiver. At this, Apollo burst out laughing. The second story is from the Iliad . Mercury [i.e. Hermes] leads Priam safely to the tent of Achilles to ask for the return of his son Hector’s body from the haughty descendants of Atreus, that is, Agamemnon and Menelaus.
Mercury, eloquent grandson of Atlas,
clever one, by speech you shaped the savagery
of the first men, and by rules the decorous
sport of wrestling.
Of you I sing, herald of great Jupiter
and the gods, father of the curved lyre,
crafty enough to hide anything he pleases
with a fun prank.
You, baby you, scared by Apollo’s threatening
voice, unless you returned the cows you’d stolen
out of trickery, Apollo, sans quiver,
breaks out laughing.
Then, too, rich Priam, having left Ilium,
with you as the leader deceived the proud sons
of Atreus, the Thessalian fires, the
camps hostile to Troy.
You, beloved by the high and the low of gods,
restore the faithful souls to the blessed seats
and, by a golden rod, you marshal the crowds
translation © 2010 by James Rumford
Mercuri, nepos facunde Atlantis, qui catus voce cultus feros hominum recentum et more palaestrae decorae formasti, te canam, nuntium Iovis magni et deorum, parentemque lyrae curvae, callidum quidquid placuit iocoso furto condere.
Olim, nisi boves ‹per dolum amotas› reddidisses, dum voce minaci puerum terret, Apollo te risit, pharetra viduus.
Quin et, duce te, Priamus dives, Ilio relicto, Atridas superbos ignesque Thessalos et castra iniqua Troiae fefellit.
Tu, superis et imis deorum gratus, animas pias [in] sedibus laetis reponis virgaque aurea turbam levem coerces.
[revised March 26, 2015]
Mercurī, fācunde nepōs Atlantis,
quī ferōs cultūs hominum recentum
vōce formastī catus et decōrae
tē canam, magnī Iovis et deōrum
nuntium curvaeque lyrae parentem,
callidum quicquid placuit iocōsō
tē, bovēs ōlim nisi reddidissēs
per dolum āmōtās, puerum minācī
vōce dum terret, viduus pharētrā
quīn et ātrīdas duce tē superbōs
Īliō dīves Priamus relictō
Thessalōsque ignıs et inīqua Trōiae
tū piās laetīs animās repōnis
sēdibus virgāque levem coercēs
aureā turbam, superīs deōrum
grātus et īmīs.
:: 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.