I suspect that this was once a famous poem, one learned by every school boy and girl. In the ancient days of a hundred years ago, when militarism was on the rise and a world war was just ahead, such a poem was a beacon directing young minds to unselfish service to King and country.
This bushido-like poem is about Regulus, a Roman general who was defeated by the Carthaginians and taken prisoner. The Carthaginians sent him to Rome to negotiate a prisoner exchange, but when he got there, he called on the Senate to make no terms with the enemy. Then, honoring his parole, like some samurai, he returned to enemy Carthage, where he was executed.
The stuff of monuments, no? Of lengthy odes . . . of scripts for Russel Crowe!
Rudyard Kipling even used Horace’s poem in a short story he titled “Regulus,” written in 1908[http://www.telelib.com/words/authors/K/KiplingRudyard/prose/DiversityOfCreatures/regulus.html]. Kipling describes a classroom of young men and their Latin teacher, Mr. King, as he prepares them for their army examinations in Latin. What?! Could this be possible? Only a hundred years ago, soldiers studied Latin, as if their life depended on it?
Kipling’s story is amusing and tinged with that bit of reality for which I think makes him one of the greatest of English writers. As I read “Regulus,” I felt that I, too, were in that classroom being interrogated by the teacher, tripping up on Latin conjugations, heading for, as Kipling writes: “a reef of uncharted genitives.” I recalled how I had suffered at the hands of merciless language teachers, who by the very nature of the subject, could outsmart and outmanoeuvre at every turn. And, if they were native speakers, they could do so with such ease. It is easy to make a fool of a language learner. That is why, I suspect, there are so few successful language learners. Anyone can learn a language—we have all done it once—but few can stand being made a fool of time and time again.
A few notes: Marcus Licinius Crassus [ca115 BC—53 BC] was killed in the Roman defeat at Carrhae against the Persians. The shield was the ancile, which fell from heaven one day and became a symbol of Rome. A Roman citizen had caput, head. Losing citizenship was minor capitis a lessening of the head, probably because, losing the rights of citizenship might mean losing one’s head.
When Jove thundered, we thought he ruled the skies,
but now Augustus will be thought a god,
by adding the British to the Empire
and the burdensome Persians.
Didn’t the soldier under Crassus live
dishonored, married to a savage
and—oh Senate! oh morals upside down!—
grow old under the Mede king
with the enemy weapons of in-laws?
This Marsus-Apulus forgot the shield,
the name, the toga, eternal Vesta,
even with Jove and Rome intact.
This the far-seeing mind of Regulus
dreaded when he rejected the loathsome
stipulations and a precedent that
would bring disaster in time,
if our young men did not perish unpitied,
captive. “Our standards in Punic temples
nailed up, our weapons too, without a fight,”
he said, “I’ve seen this plunder.
I’ve seen the arms of Citizens twisted
behind their free-born backs, the city gates
unlocked and fields once ruined by our warring
now waiting to be tilled.
The soldier ransomed by gold will, I’m sure,
come back braver. Why not add injury
to disgrace! And wool steeped in dye will not
bring back the color lost, and
true manliness, once it is gone, will not
be restored to the degraded. The doe
will fight her way out of the net; if so,
will that one be courageous
who’s trusted untrusted enemies? Will
he crush the Carthaginians again
in war; the idle one who’s felt the straps bound
round his arms and dreaded death?
That one, clueless about how to live life
has mixed up war with peace. The shame of it!
The great city of Carthage, higher than
Italy’s shameful ruins!
It’s said he pushed away his chaste wife’s kiss
and his little ones as one would bereft
of citizenship and sternly laid his
manly face upon the ground,
until he had convinced the wavering
elders with counsel never before heard
and, surrounded by grieving friends, he rushed
away, glorious, exiled.
He knew all along what the barbarous
executioner had in store for him;
even so, he brushed aside those close to him,
turned away the bystanders,
as if, having concluded some drawn-out
business dispute with a client, he was
leaving for the fields of Vanafro
or Spartan-built Taranto.
translation © 2010 by James Rumford
Accents & Symbols Used
(Standard accents for Latin have been modified to
accommodate the internet)
italics = short vowels—flava
ˆ long vowels—tacitâ
ı poetic long e—habentıs for habentês
[ ] words added for clarity—[ego] princeps
‹ › sense groups—‹ex humili potens›
Credidimus Iovem tonantem [in] caelo regnare. Praesens Augustus divus habebitur, Britannis Persisque gravibus imperio adiectis.
Milesne Crassi maritus coniuge barbarâ turpis vixit et—pro curia moresque inversi!— in armis hostium socerorum sub rege Medo consenuit. Marsus et Apulus, ‹et anciliorum nominis, et togae, Vestaeque aeternae oblitus›, incolumi Iove et urbe Româ?
Hoc mens provida Reguli caverat, condicionibus foedîs dissentientis et exemplo in aevum perniciem veniens trahenti, [ni]si pûbês captiva immiserabilis periret.
“Ego [in] delubris Punicis signa adfixa et arma [â] militibus [nostris] derepta sine caede vidi,” dixit. “Ego vidi: bracchia [in] tergo libero civium retorta, portasque non clausas et arva, [â]Marte nostro populata, [iterum] colî.
“Miles auro repensus scilicet acrior redibit? Damnum flagitio additis! Neque ‹lana fucô medicata› colores amissos refert? Nec virtus vera, cum semel excidit, curat deterioribus reponi? Si cerva, plagîs densîs extricata, pugnat, [idem] ille erit fortis qui hostibus perfidis se credidit et Poenos Marte altero proteret, qui iners lora lacertis restrictis sensit mortemque timuit? Hic, unde inscius vitam sumeret pacem duello miscuit. O pudor! O Carthago magna, altior ruinis probrosis Italiae!”
Fertur [Regulum] osculum coniugis pudicae natosque parvos, ut capitis minor, ab se removisse et vultum virilem humi torvus posuisse, donec [Regulus] auctor patres labantıs ‹consilio numquam alias dato› firmaret interque amicos maerentıs properaret, exul egregius.
Atqui sciebat, quae tortor barbarus sibi pararet. Non aliter tamen propinquos obstantıs et populum morantem dimovit, [sed] reditus [est] quam si clientum, negotia longa lite diiudicatâ, relinqueret, in agros Venafranos aut Tarentum Lacedaemonium tendens. [revised August 13, 2013]
for an excellent translation done by Andrew Lang [1844–1912], see: http://www.kipling.org.uk/rg_ode.htm
Caelo tonantem credidimus Iovem
regnare: praesens divus habebitur
Augustus adiectis Britannis
imperio gravibusque Persis.
milesne Crassi coniuge barbarâ
turpis maritus vixit et hostium,
pro[proh] curia inversique mores!
consenuit socerorum in armis
sub rege Medo Marsus et Apulus
anciliorum et nominis et togae
oblitus aeternaeque Vestae,
incolumi Iove et urbe Româ?
hoc caverat mens provida Reguli
foedîs et exemplo trahenti[trahentis]
perniciem veniens in aevum,
si non periret immiserabilis
captiva pûbês: ‘Signa ego Punicis
adfixa delubris et arma
militibus sine caede’ dixit
‘derepta vidi; vidi ego civium
retorta tergo bracchia libero
portasque non clausas et arva
Marte colî populata nostro.
auro repensus scilicet acrior
miles redibit. flagitio additis
damnum. neque amissos colores
lana refert medicata fucô,
nec vera virtus, cum semel excidit,
curat reponi deterioribus.
si pugnat extricata densîs
cerva plagîs, erit ille fortis,
qui perfidis se credidit hostibus,
et Marte Poenos proteret altero,
qui lora restrictis lacertis
sensit iners timuitque mortem.
hic, unde vitam sumeret inscius,
pacem duello miscuit. o pudor!
o magna Carthago, probrosis
altior Italiae ruinis!’
fertur pudicae coniugis osculum
parvosque natos ut capitis minor
ab se removisse et virilem
torvus humi posuisse vultum,
donec labantıs consilio patres
firmaret auctor nunquam alias dato
interque maerentıs amicos
egregius properaret exul.
atqui sciebat quae sibi barbarus
tortor pararet; non aliter tamen
dimovit obstantıs propinquos
et populum reditus morantem
quam si clientum longa negotia
diiudicatâ lite relinqueret,
tendens Venafranos in agros
aut Lacedaemonium Tarentum.
For the other 102 odes, annotated and rendered into prose, get a copy of Carpe Diem, Horace De-Poetized.
To find out more, click on the blog archive for October 2013.
To purchase a copy for just under $12, click here: