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
Credidimus Iovem tonantem [in] caelo regnare. Praesens Augustus divus habebitur, Britannis Persisque gravibus imperio adiectis.
Milesne Crassi maritus coniuge barbara 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 Roma?
Hoc mens provida Reguli caverat, condicionibus foedis dissentientis et exemplo in aevum perniciem veniens trahenti, [ni] si pubes captiva immiserabilis periret.
“Ego [in] delubris Punicis signa adfixa et arma [a] militibus [nostris] derepta sine caede vidi,” dixit. “Ego vidi: bracchia [in] tergo libero civium retorta, portasque non clausas et arva, [a]Marte nostro populata, [iterum] coli.
“Miles auro repensus scilicet acrior redibit? [Tu] amnum flagitio additis! Neque ‹lana fuco medicata› colores amissos refert? Nec virtus vera, cum semel excidit, curat deterioribus reponi? Si cerva, plagis densis 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 Ītaliae!”
Fertur [Regulum] osculum coniugis pudicae natosque parvos, ut capitis minor, ab se removisse et vultum virilem humi torvus posuisse, donec [Regulus] auctor patres labantes ‹consilio numquam alias dato› firmaret interque amicos maerentes properaret, exul egregius.Atqui sciebat, quae tortor barbarus sibi pararet. Non aliter tamen propinquos obstantes et populum morantem dimovit, [sed] reditus [est] quam si clientum, negotia longa lite diiudicata, relinqueret, in agros Venafranos aut Tarentum Lacedaemonium tendens.
[revised March 37, 2015]
for an excellent translation done by Andrew Lang [1844–1912], see: http://www.kipling.org.uk/rg_ode.htm
Caelō tonantem crēdidimus Iovem
regnāre: praesēns dīvus habēbitur
Augustus adiectīs Britannīs
imperiō gravibusque Persīs.
mīlesne Crassī coniuge barbarā
turpis marītus vixit et hostium,
prō[proh] cūriā inversīque mōrēs!
consenǔit socerōrum in armīs
sub rēge Mēdō Marsus et āpulus
ancīliōrum et nōminis et togae
oblītus aeternaeque Vestae,
incolumī Iove et urbe Rōmā?
hōc cāverat mens prōvida Rēgulī
foedīs et exemplō trahentī[trahentis]
perniciem veniēns in aevum,
sī nōn perīret immiserābilis
captīva pūbes: ‘Signa ego Pūnicīs
adfixa dēlūbrīs et arma
mīlitibus sine caede’ dīxit
‘dērepta vīdī; vīdī ego cīvium
retorta tergō bracchia līberō
portāsque nōn clausās et arva
Marte colī populāta nostrō.
aurō repensus scīlicet acrior
mīlēs redībit. flāgitiō additis
damnum. neque amissōs colōrēs
lāna refert medicāta fūcō,
nec vēra virtus, cum semel excidit,
cūrat repōnī dēteriōribus.
sī pugnat extricāta densīs
cerva plagīs, erit ille fortis,
quī perfidīs sē crēdidit hostibus,
et Marte Poenōs prōteret alterō,
quī lōra restrictīs lacertīs
sensit iners timuitque mortem.
hīc, unde vītam sūmeret inscius,
pācem duellō miscuit. ō pudor!
ō magna Carthāgō, probrōsīs
altior ītaliae ruīnīs!’
fertur pudīcae coniugis osculum
parvōsque nātōs ut capitis minor
ab sē remōvisse et virilem
torvus humī posuisse vultum,
dōnec labantıs consiliō patrēs
firmāret auctor numquam aliās datō
interque maerentıs amīcōs
ēgregius properāret exul.
atquī sciēbat quae sibi barbarus
tortor parāret; nōn aliter tamen
dīmōvit obstantıs propinquōs
et populum reditus morantem
quam sī clientum longa negōtia
dīiūdicātā līte relinqueret,
tendēns Venāfrānōs in agrōs
aut Lacedaemonium Tārentum.
:: 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.