Sunday, September 5, 2010

At Your Peril :: Quo Me Bacche :: III:25

It has taken me some time to understand this poem. Here’s the scene: 

Horace is overcome emotionally and spiritually by Bacchus. Perhaps he is drunk or, like some holy-roller, in a state of ecstacy. He envisions that his poetry will be new and exciting. He compares himself to an euhias ιάς] a female follower of Bacchus, as she wakes up and contemplates the streams and hills of Thrace. Spiritually Horace also walks in these hills and marvels at the power of the Naiades and the female bacchantes and exclaims how exhilarating it is to follow Lenaeus [yet another name for Bacchus].  

I know next to nothing about Bacchus and bacchanalia. I do a google search. Soon I am wading into a lake of information that stretches for gigabytes in front of me. Around me: nothing but controversy—about the origins of the god, about what went on during the orgies, even the god’s effect on Horace and his writing.

Was Horace drunk when he wrote? Was drunkenness a metaphor for poetic inspiration? Did Horace consider his poetry to be the stuff of gods? I have no answers to these questions. Just his words like distant stars and my telescope of understanding, its lenses so poorly polished.

But what I do sense in this poem is the rush of inspiration, the exhilaration of standing on a mountain top and seeing the world in a special way, thinking—no—knowing that one is capable of uprooting giant trees and treading in the footsteps of gods.

I write and illustrate books. I understand the impulse to create, the endorphin high of being inspired. It doesn’t happen all the time. Perhaps this is what Horace means by dulce periculum (line 18). Periculum, whence comes our word periculum, means both ‘danger’ and ‘risk.’ Sometimes the Romans used it for ‘attempt.’ It is this last definition that comes closest to describing the creative drive of artists: the desire to try.


Where are you rushing me, Bacchus, 
me overflowing with you? 
Into what woods or cave am I, rapid I, 
being driven by new thoughts? 
From what caves will I be heard as I 
practice how to sow among the stars, 
how to put before Jupiter’s council, 
peerless Caesar’s ageless virtue?
The new me will make his mark
and say what no one’s said before.
Not unlike some stunned Euhias 
from some mountain top, awake,
looking down upon the Hebrus 
and Thrace white with snow,
and Mount Rhodope 
crossed but by the feet of savages,
as I gladly wander along the banks
and through the empty woods in wonder.
Oh! The power of the Naiades, 
the strength of the Bacchae
to uproot with their hands the spreading ash!
I won’t be trivial or mean 
or mortal when I speak.
Sweet the risk, Lēnaeus, 
following a god, temples ringed with green.
translation ©copyright 2010 by James Rumford

in prose:

[O] Bacche, quo me plenum tui rapis? In quae nemora aut quos specus [ego] mente nova velox agor? [In] quibus antris audiar, meditans ‹decus aeternum egregii Caesaris› [in] stellis et consilio Iovis inserere? 
[Ego] recens, insigne ‹ore alio adhuc indictum› dicam. 
Non secus in iugis ‹Euhias exsomnis› stupet, Hebrum prospiciens et nive Thracen candidam ac Rhodopen pede barbaro lustratam ut ‹mihi devio libet› ripas et nemus vacuum mirari. 
O potens Naiadum ‹Baccharumque fraxinos proceras manibus vertere valentium›, nil parvum aut modo humili, nil mortale loquar. Periculum dulce est [te] sequi, o Lenæe, deum tempora pampino viridi cingentem!
 [revised March 28, 2015]

original words:

Quō mē, Bacche, rapis tuī
plēnum? quae nemora aut quōs agor in specūs
   vēlox mente novā? quibus
antrīs ēgregiī Caesaris audiar
   aeternum meditāns decus
stellīs inserere et consiliō Iovis?
   dīcam insigne, recēns, adhuc
indictum ōre aliō. nōn secus in iugīs
   exsomnis stupet Euhiās,
Hēbrum prōspiciēns et nive candidam
   Thrācen ac pede barbarō
lustrātam Rhodopēn, ut mihi dēviō
   rīpās et vacuum nemus
mīrārī libet. ō Nāiadum potēns
   Bacchārumque valentium
prōcērās manibus vertere fraxinōs,
   nīl parvum aut humilī modō,
nīl mortāle loquar. Dulce perīculum est,
   ō Lēnæe, sequī deum
cingentem viridī tempora pampinō.

:: 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.

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