This ode, the first in Horace’s third book, begins as though the poet were some priest, not a priest of the gods but a prophet of his own muse. He then exposes the human condition: how do we find happiness in the face of death?
What I’ve just written is a twenty-first century assessment, however. Death is not the problem—not to the Roman mind. Rather it is Necessitas: the Great Force, Inevitable Destiny. It is Atra Cura, Black Care, the constant worry and anxiety we feel. It is the stress we cause ourselves, the reminder that over us there is always someone more powerful, and over that one another more powerful. On and on it goes until one reaches God Himself.
Instead of some Confucian model of the universe as a circle of responsibility: Heaven - Emperor - Man, Horace presents us with a flow chart of power to show us how weak we really are. No matter how high born we may be, no matter how rich or famous or virtuous, we are not in control. There is only one solution, and for this, you may choose any of the sayings from the sixties: from ‘drop out’ to ‘let it be.’ Or as Horace says: why be bothered by the divitias operosiores?—or as one French translation puts it ‘des richesses tourmentées.’
There are many lines in this ode that are difficult to interpret. Two of them are lines 5 and 6:
regum timendorum in proprios greges
of dreaded kings over own herds,
reges in ipsos imperium est Iovis
over the same kings the rule is Jove’s,
One translation might be:
over the particular herds of those dreaded kings
the rule over those same kings belongs to Jove
A French translation runs like this:
Les Rois redoutés de leurs troupeaux d’hommes,
les Rois eux-mêmes sont soumis à Jupiter.
Niall Rudd (Loeb) has:
Dreaded monachs have power over their own flocks,
monarchs themselves are under the power of Jove,
But the clearest rephrasing belongs to Porphyrio, who writes:
Regum timendorum in proprios greges imperium est et in illos est Iovis.
Dominion belongs to the dreaded kings over their own flocks and over those [kings] it belongs to Jove.
While I agree with all of these interpretations, I do wonder whether there is yet an other, one that hinges on the word timendorum. What if this is not an adjective describing the kings, but a noun meaning ‘the ones who are frightened’? What if these two lines run like this? —
Over the flocks of the frightened ones of the kings
Over those same kings the power belongs to Jove
I don’t know the answer. I have not the intuition of a native speaker.
Before I continue on to the translation of the entire ode, I have to mention an interesting use of Horace’s lines 5 and 6. George Buchanan (1506-1582), a Scotsman who apparently wrote Latin as though it were his mother tongue, used them to translate the first verse of the eighty-second psalm:
regum timendorum in proprios greges
reges in ipsos imperium est Jovae.
אלהימ נצב בעדת אל בקרב אלחימ ישפט
God standeth in the congregation of the mighty;
He judgeth among the gods.
Surprisingly, Buchanan made but one small change. He turned Jove into Jehovah by writing Jovae instead of Jovis!
I loathe the unclean and keep my distance.
Speak no ill. I, priest of the Muses, sing
songs never heard before to girls and boys.
Over the very flocks of those frightened
by their kings is Jupiter’s dominion,
even over those same kings, he bright with
victory over the Titans, he who
moves the whole universe with his eyebrow.
The thing is: one man might arrange the trees
in furrows more widely than another.
A candidate might descend a noble
to Campus Martius; another might stand
on his character and reputation,
still another might be more important
with a circle of his supporters; yet
by some law of fairness, Necessitas
draws both the high and the low, for there is
room in the great urn for every name.
Over some godless neck hangs a drawn sword.
Sicilian feasts aren’t sweet for that one,
and bird song and lute don’t lead to sleep.
A farmer’s calm slumber does not despise
the humble home, the shady river bank,
the valley stirred up by a gentle wind.
The tumultuous sea does not bother
the one satisfied with what he wants
nor the fury of Arcturus setting,
nor of Capella rising, nor the vinyard
hail-pommeled, nor the farmland full of lies
with this tree complaining of water, those
fields burned by the stars, and winters unfair.
The fish feel the seas contracting as piers
are thrown up high. Here the contractor (and
the lord bored with the land) has his servants
frequently unload quarry stone. But fear
and anxiety climb to where the lord is
and do not forsake the coppered trireme
and Black Care sits behind the horse rider.
But then if neither Phrygian stone soothes
the one in pain nor the use of purple
more dazzling than a star nor Falernan
grapevines nor Achaemenian spikenard,
why would I build door posts to show off
and grand entry halls that are all the rage?
Why would I exchange Sabina Valley
for riches that are too hard to come by?
translation © 2010 by James Rumford
Vulgus profanum odi et arceo. Favete linguis. [Ego], sacerdos musarum, carmina, non prius audita, virginibus puerisque canto. Imperium regum timendorum est in proprios greges, [imperium] in ipsos reges [est] Iovis—triumpho Giganteo clari—cuncta [cum suo] supercilio moventis.
Est ut vir arbusta sulcis Latius viro ordinet. Hic petitor generosior in Campum descendat. Hic moribus famaque melior contendat. Turba clientium illi maior sit.
Necessitas, lege aequa, insignes et imos sortitur. Urna capax omne nomen movet.
Dapes Siculae saporem dulcem [viro], cui ensis destrictus super cervice impia pendet, non elaborabunt, non cantus avium citharaeque somnum reducent.
Somnus lenis virorum agrestium domos humiles, ripamque umbrosam, ‹Tempe Zephyris non agitata› non fastidit. Neque mare tumultuosum desiderantem ‹quod satis est› sollicitat nec impetus saevus Arcturi cadentis aut Haedi orientis, non vineae grandine verberatae, fundusque mendax—nunc, arbore aquas culpante, nunc agros sidera torrentia, nunc hiemes iniquas.
Pisces aequora contracta sentiunt, molibus in altum iactis. Huc ‹redemptor cum famulis› ‹dominusque terrae fastidiosus› caementa frequens demittit. Sed Timor et Minae scandunt eodem quo dominus [scandit]. Neque Cura Atra triremi aerata decedit, et post equitem sedet.Quodsi nec lapis Phrygius dolentem delenit nec usus purpurarum sidere clarior nec vitis Falerna costumque Achaemeniumque, cur postibus invidendis et atrium sublime ritu novo moliar? Cur divitias operosiores [cum] valle Sabina permutem? [revised March 27, 2015]
Ōdī profānum vulgus et arceo.
Fāvēte linguīs: carmina nōn prius
audīta Mūsārum sacerdos
virginibus puerīsque cantō.
rēgum timendōrum in propriōs grēgēs,
rēgēs in ipsōs imperium est Iovis,
clārī Gigantēō triūmphō,
cuncta superciliō moventis.
est ut virō vir Lātius ordinet
arbusta sulcīs, hīc generōsior
descendat in Campum petitor,
mōribus hīc meliorque fāmā
contendat, illī turba clientium
sit māior: aequā lēge Necessitās
sortītur insignıs et īmōs,
omne capax movet urna nōmen.
dēstrictus ensis cuī super impiā
cervīce pendet, nōn Sīculae dapēs
dulcem ēlabōrābunt sapōrem,
nōn avium citharaeque cantūs
Somnum redūcent: somnus agrestium
lēnis virōrum nōn humilıs domōs
fastidit umbrōsamque rīpam,
nōn Zephyrıs agitāta Tempē.
dēsīderantem quod satis est neque
tumultuōsum sollicitat mare,
nec saevus Arctūrī cadentis
impetus aut orientis Haedī,
nōn verberātae grandine vīneae
fundusque mendax, arbore nunc aquās
culpante, nunc torrentia agrōs
sīdera, nunc hiemēs inīquās.
Contracta piscēs aequora sentiunt
iactīs in altum molibus: hūc frequēns
caementa dēmittit redemptor
cum famulīs dominusque terrae
fastidiōsus: sed Timor et Minae
scandunt eōdem quō dominus, neque
dēcēdit aerātā trirēmī et
post equitem sedet ātra Cūra.
quodsī dolentem nec Phrygius lapis
nec purpurārum sīdere [Sīdone] clārior
dēlēnit ūsus nec Falerna
vītis Achaemeniumque costum,
cūr invidendīs postibus et novō
sublime rītū mōliar ātrium?
Cūr valle permūtem Sabīnā
:: 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.