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.”
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
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]
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
virginum mātrēs iuvenumque nūper
sospitum. Vōs, ō puerī et puellae
nōn [iam] virum expertae, male ominātīs [nōminātīs]
hīc diēs vērē mihi festus atrās
eximet cūrās; ego nec tumultum
nec morī per vim metuam tenente
ī, pete unguentum, puer, et corōnās
et cadum Marsī memorem duellī,
Spartacum sī quā potuit vagantem
dīc et argūtae properet Neaerae
murreum nōdō cohibēre crīnem;
sī per invīsum mora iānitōrem
Lēnit albescēns animōs capillus
lītium et rixae cupidōs protervae;
nōn ego hōc ferrem calidus iuventā
:: 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.