[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 , 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]
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-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.