Friday, August 27, 2010

No, I Really Couldn’t :: Scriberis Vario :: I:6

[Today marks a year since I began this blog. I suppose I should take stock of what I have learned. Instead, I’ll thank my readers for their kind attention and get on with the next poem.]

This poem is another polite refusal: recusatio as in ode II:12 (April 17th blog). Horace doesn’t really want to write a poem about General Agrippa, newly returned from the front belaureled with victory.  So Horace recommends the talents of Varius, who, it turns out, will edit Virgil’s work when he dies. 

Horace considers Varius better than he in composing Maeonian, that is, Homeric, song. Of course, wink-wink, Horace cleverly tells us how much he knows about heroic verse and such literary references as Peleus’s spleen [his anger after eating the apple of discord, which led to the Trojan War], clever Ulysses sailing about the Mediterranian, and  King Pelops progenitor of a line of doomed descendants, among whom were Agamemnon, Menelaus, and Orestes. 

He then compares, I suppose, Agrippa to Mars and to Meriones, who was a Greek hero in the Trojan War and descendant of the gods, and to Tydeus, a hero a generation before the Trojan War, who was helped by the Titan Pallas. 

Tydeus, I might add, was scheduled for immortality but Athena shelved that idea after she discovered that he had eaten the brains of the defeated Melanippus. Why is Horace bringing this up? I have no idea. Perhaps, this line is the small twist of the pen as it enters some old wound, some unsaid doubt no one but Horace would dare cast upon the likes of Agrippa. Yet, here it is: immortality denied to Tydeus—and by extension to Agrippa? Am I carrying this too far?  What if there is more to this recusatio business than a polite refusal? What if hidden within are back-handed comments? 

In her book, Horace’s Narrative Odes [1987], Michèle Lowne seems to make the case that Horace’s purpose here was a refusal to write the kind of narrative poetry—the Homer- Virgil-type stuff—that must have filled the libraries of the times. Horace was ready to sever the ties to the campfire poetry of the past. Books, and by this, I mean prose, could be used to tell histories and relate stirring deeds. The chronicles of a nation no longer needed to be learned by heart. Poets, especially Roman poets, were now free to talk about other things. 

In my translation I have decided that alite (line 2) ‘winged’ is an adjective linked to Vario. Ales can mean a bird, and perhaps in the Roman mind there lurked ales canorus, literally ‘singing wingèd one.’ This usually meant a swan and by extension a poet.  In line 18, I have linked acrium to virginum. The French translate this as vièrges ménaçant, meaning ‘maidens who threaten.’ I decided that acer might mean ‘sharp and hot,’ and, since Homer is talking about girls, settled on ‘hot.’  Finally leves in the last line, which agrees with nos—but in this case is a poetic ego—means many things, but generally refers to something light in weight. This could be a feather, a happy heart, or, as I’d like to think: a lack of seriousness.


You’ll be written of, mighty victor of the foe,
by Varius on wings of Maeonian song 
about what soldiers under your leadership
will have done either aboard ship or on horseback.
I won’t try to speak about these things, Agrippa.
Peleus yielding to anger—impossible.
The circuit of slick Ulysses upon the sea,
the savage house of Pelops—I will not attempt.
I’m too delicate for such great things as long as
modesty and my muse, mistress of the warless 
lyre stop me wiping away with my artlessness 
praises for glorious caesar and for you. 
Who will have written anything worthwhile about Mars 
shielded by a breastplate of hardened metal or
of Meriones black from the dust of Troy or
of Tydeus by Pallas’s help equal to 
the gods on high? I sing of parties and hot-girl 
spats with their nails cut to dig into young boys, 
me either free or on fire, a flake as usual. 
translation © 2010 by James Rumford

in plain Latin:

[Tu, o] Agrippa, fortis et victor hostium rem ‹quamcumque miles ferox [in] navibus aut [in] equis, te duce, gesserit› ‹[a] Vario, alite carminis Maeonii›, scriberis. 
Neque nos haec dicere conamur, nec stomachum gravem Pelidae cedere nescii, nec cursus Vlixei duplicis per mare, nec domum saevam Pelopis, [nos] tenues grandia, dum pudor musaque, lyrae imbellis potens, veta[n]t laudes egregii Caesaris et tuas culpa ingeni deterere. 
Quis Martem, tunica adamantina tectum, aut Merionen, pulvere Troico nigrum, aut Tydiden, [cum] ope Palladis superis parem, digne scripserit? 
Nos convivia, nos proelia virginum acrium unguibus in iuvenes sectis, cantamus—[sive] vacui, sive quid urimur, non praeter solitum [sumus] leves.  
                                    [revised March 26, 2015]

original words:

Scrībēris Variō fortis et hostium
victor, Maeoniī carminis ālite,
quam rem cumque ferox nāvibus aut equīs
   mīlēs tē duce gesserit.
nōs, Agrīppa, neque haec dīcere nec gravem
Pēlīdae stomachum cēdere nesciī,
nec cursūs duplicis per mare Vlīxeī
   nec saevam Pelopis domum
cōnāmur, tenuēs grandia, dum pudor
imbellīsque lyrae Mūsa potēns vetat
laudēs ēgregiī Caesaris et tuās
   culpā dēterere ingenī.
quis Martem tūnicā tectum adamantinā
dignē scrīpserit aut pulvere Trōicō
nigrum Mērionēn aut ope Palladis
   Tȳdīdēn superīs parem?
nōs convīvia, nōs proelia virginum
sectīs in iuvenēs unguibus acrium
cantāmus, vacuī sīve quid ūrimur
   nōn praeter solitum levēs.

:: 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.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Holiday :: Festo Quid Potius :: III:28

I can’t help myself. I’m reading this poem and I don’t see 40 BC but 2010 AD. It’s a holiday. A guy is watching the game on tv, telling his wife to bring him some more beer. His wife sits down to watch with him. By the time the game is over, they’re both a little drunk. Now the wife’s in the kitchen playing the radio. The husband comes in to see what’s cooking, one thing leads to another and—to return to the BC times— Venus is flying around her islands holding on to her long-necked swans.

What I just wrote is probably heresy to those who only see togas when they read Horace. 

But Horace does evoke a vivid scene. It’s July 23, the day of the feast of Neptune. He and Lyde (a servant? a girlfriend?) have some wine and sing about the Nereides (nymphs) in the sea, Diana’s (Cynthia’s) mother Latona and about Venus, who holds sway over Knidos on Cyprus and the Cyclades Islands in the Aegean Sea and whose chariot is driven by swans. They end the night with a nenia.
What is a nenia?  It is a song, a dirge, a ditty, a lullaby, but these definitions don’t seem to fit, although most dictionaries quote this ode and say that what Horace means is a song, not a dirge. Porphyrio writes:

Nenia carmen est, quod in mortuos cantatur. Sed bene hoc carmen etiam nocti adcommodat propter tenebras et somnum, quae morti sunt proxima.

A nenia is a song which is sung for the dead. But well does this ‘song’ also fit the night on account of the darkness and on account of sleep, which are close to death.

I really don’t know what to make of this word. Is Horace talking about singing a dirge or a nighty-night ditty? Is he contrasting the death-like darkness of night with the bright noon of day? I have no answer. All I know is that Horace seems to use the last line as one would use the knurled adjustment on a pair of binoculars: to bring into focus what has already been seen. 

To return to our modern drama, the husband and wife are lying awake at night. It’s dark and quiet and that nagging thought of death, like some tune impossible to stop playing, has taken over their thoughts.


What would I like to do on Neptune Day?
Lyde, run and get the Caecubum wine
hidden away and storm wisdom’s ramparts.
You see the noon sun heading down and, as
if the flying day was standing still, you’re 
slow in getting from the wine cellar that 
idle jar put up in Bibulus’s time.

We’ll take turns singing about Neptune and
the green-haired Nereides. With curved lyre you’ll 
recall Latona and swift Cynthia’s 
arrows. The last song? She who holds Knidos 
and the shining isles of the Cyclades, 
who visits Paphos on her harnassed swans. 
Night too’ll be feted with a fitting air.
translation© 2010 by James Rumford

in prose:

Quid potius die festo Neptuni faciam?
[O] Lyde, strenua, Caecubum reconditum prome, vimque munitae sapientiae adhibe!
Meridiem inclinare sentis ac, veluti dies volucris stet, parcis amphoram cessantem consulis Bibuli horreo deripere?
Nos invicem Neptunum et comas virides Nereidum cantabimus. Tu lyra curva Latonam et spicula Cynthiae celeris recines, summo carmine, quae Cnidon Cycladasque fulgentes tenet et oloribus iunctis Paphon visit. Nox quoque nenia merita dicetur.
[revised March 28, 2015]

original words:

Festō quid potius diē
Neptūnī faciam? prōme reconditum,
   Lȳdē, strēnua Caecubum
mūnītaeque adhibē vim sapientiae.
   inclīnāre merīdiem
sentis ac, velutī stet volucris diēs,
   parcis dēripere horreō
cessantem Bibulī consulis amphoram?
   nōs cantābimus invicem
Neptunum et viridıs Nēreidum comās,
   tū curvā recinēs lyrā
Lātōnam et celeris spīcula Cynthiae;
   sūmmō carmine, quae Cnidon
fulgentısque tenet Cȳcladās et Paphon
   iunctīs vīsit olōribus;
dīcētur meritā Nox quoque nēniā.  

:: 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.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

L'Ombre de la Rue :: Parcius Iunctas Quatiunt :: I:25

Je vous connais, Milord,
Vous n’m’avez jamais vue
Je ne suis qu’une fille du port
Qu’une ombre de la rue . . .

Édithe Piaf was a little more understanding than Horace ever was when she sang of l’ombre de la rue—the shadow in the street—in  “Milord.” Perhaps this was because she had lived on the streets herself and saw what happened to streetwalkers as they aged and and their clientele diminished. No, Horace was of a different class. He was educated. He moved in the highest circles. He could look down on the prostitutes whether they were geisha-like high-class call girls or the poorest of the poor hookers. Still, I get the feeling that, as high as he was, he still couldn’t have everything he wanted. This Lydia in the ode about must have done him some wrong. Why else heap upon her such abuse? Didn’t we see a wee bit of his anger in I:13 (July 18th blog)? And the winds—we’ve seen those before, too. Eurus, the southeast wind in II:16 (June 15); and the north winds, which were believed to live in Thrace (II:9, Oct 27 & III:30, Aug 27).

And one small comment about lines 3 and 4. Horace writes:

amatque ianua limen—and the door loves the threshold

What a surprising way to tell us that the door is closed! 


Less often do the bold young men rattle
the shuttered windows with constant stones and
deprive you of sleep, for lintel and door
are lovers now, when before the hinges
were easy to move. You already hear 
less and less the “I am dying for you
this endless night, Lydia. You asleep?” 
Before long, trivial-old-woman-you 
will weep in some lonely back alleyway
over some arrogant fornicator,
when the winds from Thrace rage under the 
new moon, when burning love and libido,
the kind mares are used to in heat, turns your
ulcerated liver wild, all the while
complaining that a young man enjoys
green ivy more than he does drab myrtle;
the shriveled up leaves?—these he’ll dedicate  
to winter’s companion, the Euro wind. 
translation © 2010 by James Rumford  

in prose:

Iuvenes protervi fenestras iunctas iactibus crebris parcius quatiunt, nec somnos tibi adimunt, ianuaque, quae prius multum faciles cardines movebat, limen amat. 
Minus et minus iam audis, “Lydia, me tuo pereunte, noctes longas dormis?” 
Invicem [tu] anus levis moechos arrogantes in angiportu solo flebis, vento Thracio sub interlunia magis bacchante, cum amor flagrans et libido, quae matres equorum furiare solet, circa iecur ulcerosum tibi saeviet, non sine questu quod ‹pubes laeta› hedera virenti gaudeat magis atque myrto pulla. Frondes aridas? [Pubes eas] Euro, sodali hiemis, dedicet.    [Revised March 27, 2015]

original words:

Parcius iunctās quatiunt fenestrās
iactibus crebrīs iuvenēs protervi
nec tibi somnōs adimunt amatque
   iānua līmen,
quae prius multum facilıs movēbat
cardinēs. audis minus et minus iam:
‘mē tuō longās pereunte noctēs,
   Lȳdia, dormis?’
invicem moechōs anus arrogantıs
flēbis in sōlō levis angiportū,
Thrāciō bacchante magis sub inter-                   
   lūnia ventō,
cum tibi flāgrāns amor et libīdo,
quae solet mātrēs furiāre equōrum,
saeviet circā iecur ulcerōsum
   nōn sine questū,
laeta quod pūbes hederā virentī
gaudeat pūllā magis atque myrtō,
āridās frondıs hiemis sodālī
   dēdicet Eurō[Hebrō]

:: 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.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

White Hair :: Herculis Ritu Modo :: III:14

In this poem, Horace praises Caesar Augustus’ heroic return from Spain in 24 B.C.  He mentions Augustus’ wife Livia, the univira woman, the woman for whom a man like August was enough, and he mentions Augustus’ sister, Octavia. Then, briefly,  perhaps ironically, Horace brings up three pivotal events—all of them about opposing Rome’s authority: the Social War led in 90 BC by the Marsian socii, who demanded equality with Rome; the slave revolt led by Sparticus in 73 BC; and finally the consulship of Plancus in 42 BC, when Horace was a student revolutionary at the Battle of Philippi. The whole poem seems to be one of praise for Rome, but I fear it is not. There is resentment in Horace’s voice, and now that he has grown mellow with age, there is resignation as well. To help turn his mind from these thoughts he calls for flowers and wine and the woman down the street named Neaera. 

I can’t put my finger on it, but this poem feels Chinese to me. Is it the ultimate unimportance of world events? The absurdity of life? The white hair? The search for wine? I don’t know, but here, by way of introduction to today’s ode, is a poem by Su Dongpo, written in 1092, when he was 55. 

我梦入小学   自谓总角时   不谓有百发   犹诵论语辞
人间本儿戏  颠倒略似兹   惟有醉时真  空洞了无疑
坠车终无伤  庄叟不吾欺   呼儿具纸笔  醉语辄录之

I dreamed I was in elementary school—
I call it my ‘hair-in-two-knots’ time.
Never mind my white hair now!
I was chanting the Analects of Confucius.
All the world’s a stage . . . for children.
Pretty crazy—a little bit like now.
Nothing’s real except when I’m drunk
And fathom the vastness of it all.
No doubt about it—if I fall out of my cart, 
I won’t end up hurt. Zhuangzi didn’t trick us.*
I call to my son, “Get paper and brush!”
Drunk, I hurriedly jot down these words.

translation © 2010 by James Rumford

*In Chapter 19 [达生] of his work, the philosopher Zhuangzi writes, 复醉者之坠车虽疾不死。”So a drunk falls out of his cart. Although hurt, he won’t die.”


O Citizens! 
Caesar has returned from the Spanish shores, 
like Hercules, victor, he, who ‘twas said, 
sought victory through death.

Let the woman, having prayed to the just gods 
come forth in joy for her one true husband, 
and our dear leader’s sister and, adorned 
with wreaths of supplication,

the mothers of maiden daughters and sons 
now safe and sound. You young men and you girls,
not experienced with men, refrain from 
any words of ill omen. 

This holiday is truly one for me
that drives off black care; I shall fear neither 
civil unrest nor death through violence, 
now that Caesar holds the land. 

Go, boy, ask for oil and flower crowns and 
wine put up during the Marsian war, 
if there be any such crocks left from when 
Spartacus had free range.

Tell sweet-voiced Neaera to hurry up 
and do her chestnut hair into a knot; 
but if there’s a delay because of that 
hateful doorman, forget it. 

These white hairs soften my thoughts, my will to 
argue and fight boldly—no, fiery me
wouldn’t have put up with this in my 
youth when Plancus was consul.

translation © 2010 by James Rumford

in prose:

O plebs, Caesar modo dictus [est] ‹laurum morte venalem Herculis ritu petisse›, victor penates ab ora Hispana repetit.  
Mulier, ‹marito unico gaudens›, ‹divis iustis operata›, prodeat et ‹soror ducis cari› [prodeat] et matres ‹supplice vitta decorae› virginum iuvenumque nuper sospitum [prodeant]. 
Vos, o pueri et puellae ‹non virum expertae›, verbis male ominatis parcite. 
Hic dies vere festus mihi curas atras eximet; ego nec tumultum nec mori per vim metuam, Caesare terras tenente. 
I, unguentum pete, et coronas et cadum memorem duelli Marsi, si qua testa Spartacum vagantem potuit fallere. 
Et dic Neaerae argutae properet, crinem murreum nodo cohibente, si mora per ianitorem invisum fiet, abito. 
Capillus albescans animos ‹litium et rixae protervae cupidos› lenit.
Ego, consule Planco, iuventa calidus, hoc non ferrem! 
  [revised March 28, 2015]

Horace’s words: 

Herculis rītū modō dīctus, ō plebs,
morte vēnālem petiisse laurum,
Caesar Hispānā repetit penātıs
   victor ab ōrā.
ūnicō gaudēns mulier marītō
prōdeat iustīs operāta dīvīs
et soror clārī [cārī] ducis et decōrae
   supplice vittā
virginum mātrēs iuvenumque nūper
sospitum. Vōs, ō puerī et puellae
nōn [iam] virum expertae, male ominātīs [nōminātīs]
   parcite verbīs.
hīc diēs vērē mihi festus atrās
eximet cūrās; ego nec tumultum
nec morī per vim metuam tenente
   Caesare terrās.
ī, pete unguentum, puer, et corōnās
et cadum Marsī memorem duellī,
Spartacum sī quā potuit vagantem
   fallere testa.
dīc et argūtae properet Neaerae
murreum nōdō cohibēre crīnem;
sī per invīsum mora iānitōrem
   fīet, abītō.
Lēnit albescēns animōs capillus
lītium et rixae cupidōs protervae;
nōn ego hōc ferrem calidus iuventā

   consule Plancō.

:: 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, August 3, 2010

Pecco, I Stumble :: Natis In Usum :: I:27

I stumbled a lot through this poem. I mistook the endings:  Thracum is genitive plural not accusative. Acinaces is nominative singular not plural. Dicat is not indicative but subjunctive. Erubescendis is not the second person form of the verb but a passive participle. Finally, expediet has nothing to do in this ode with expedite but everything to do with its literal meaning: ex + ped [out + foot], that is: extricate. So, I sit here, erubescens. But what else is new?

Reading poetry is hard. Poets, as I have said before, tend to push the language to its very limits. If it’s not your native language, you’re in unchartered territory.  If it is your language, you’ve got a fighting chance to figure out the nuances.

But my mistakes were not nuances. They were language learner mistakes. Even so, after two thousand years, there are things about this ode, in particular, that make it difficult to understand. 

Some scholars take severi in 

vultis severi me quoque sumere partem Falerni

as an adjective for the wine:

Do you also want me to have some of that ‘severe’ Falernian wine?

But others think severi is a noun:

Do you severe ones also want me to have some of that Falernian wine?

Similarly, some take beatus in line 11 to refer either to the brother or to his demise. Others say its the wound that makes him blessed. 

Then there’s erubescendis in line 14. It’s like a diamond: hard and multifaceted. Does

non erubescendis adurit ignibus


she burns by fires one must not get reddened by 
. . . by fires one must not blush over . . . 
by fires you can’t get red over
 . . .by fires when there’s nothing to blush about . . . 

The possibilities seem endless. Perhaps the closest one can get to the meaning is found in Anthony Hecht’s translation of lines 14 and 15:

There’s nothing to blush about, since you only go
For the classy and hightoned .  [ . . . .] 

Finally, there’s ingenuo in line 15.  Does it modify amore? If so, how? Ingenuus gave us our ‘ingenuous.’ It can mean ‘natural, native, noble, delicate, tender, upright, frank, candid, a free-born person,’ that is, not a slave. Anthony Hecht took it to mean ‘classy and hightoned.’ An unknown translator in French thought it meant ‘un amour honnête.’  And Niall Rudd [Loeb] thought it meant ‘you always fall for the more respectable type.’  


The usual Thracian thing’s to fight 
with wine cups that were born for merriment. 
Enough barbarity! Keep shy Bacchus 
out of this bloody brawl! 

How horribly jarring: a Persian sword 
with wine and lights! Friends, keep the ungodly 
racket down and stay where you are with your 
elbows pressed upon the couch. 

Do you want me to have some of that severe
Falerno too? Well then, make Megylla’s 
brother from Opus say what love wound, what shaft, 
happy he will die from.

No desire to? I won’t drink otherwise.  
No matter which Venus dominates you, 
burns you with fires. No need to blush, since you 
always fall in love with  

the high born. Come on now, pour your heart out 
to these safe ears. Ah, miserable thing! 
Look how much girl trouble you’ve had, my boy!
You deserved a better flame!

What witch, what Thessalian drug wizard, 
what god could free you? I doubt Pegasus, 
now that you’re tied up, can get you away
from the tri-form Chimaera.
translation© 2010 by James Rumford

  a chimaera with three bodies: snake, goat, lion

In prose:

[O] sodales, in usum Thracum est [cum] scyphis, laetitiae natis, pugnare. Morem barbarum tollite, Bacchumque verecundum rixis sanguineis prohibete. Quantum immane ‹acinaces Medus› ‹vino et lucernis› discrepat! Clamorem impium lenite, et cubito presso remanete. 
Vultis me quoque [meum] partem Falerni severi sumere? Frater Megyllae Opuntiae dicat, quo vulnere, qua sagitta beatus pereat. Voluntas [tua] cessat? Mercede alia non bibam. 
Quaecumque Venus te domat, ignibus erubescendis non adurit, amoreque ingenuo semper peccas. 
Quicquid habes, age, [in meis] auribus tutis depone. 
A! Miser! Quanta Charybdi laborabas, [o] puer flamma meliore digne. Quae saga, quis magus venenis Thessalis, quis deus poterit te solvere? Pegasus vix te ‹Chimaera triformi illigatum› expediet.     
[Revised March 27, 2015]

original words:

Nātīs in ūsum laetitiae scyphīs
pugnāre Thrācum est; tollite barbārum
   mōrem verēcundumque Bacchum
        sanguineīs prohibēte rīxīs.
vīnō et lucernīs Mēdus acīnacēs
immāne quantum discrepat; impium
   lēnīte clāmōrem, sodālēs,
        et cubitō remanēte pressō.
vultis sevērī mē quoque sūmere
partem Falernī? dīcat Opuntiae
   frāter Megyllae quō beātus
        vulnere, quā pereat sagittā.
cessat voluntās? nōn aliā bibam
mercēde. quae tē cumque domat Venus
   nōn ērubescendīs adūrit
        ignibus ingenuōque semper
amōre peccās. quicquid habēs, age,
dēpōne tūtīs auribus. ā! miser,
   quantā labōrābās Charybdī,
        digne puer meliōre flammā.
quae sāga, quis tē solvere Thessalīs
magus venēnīs, quis poterit deus?
   vix illigātum tē triformī

        Pēgasus expediet Chimaerā.

:: 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.