There are a lot of ways to interpret this ode.
Here’s the gist: Asteria is crying over her man Gyges, who is away on a business trip. Horace tells her that he’s being tempted by a ‘hostess’ named Chloe. Even so, he remains unmoved and super pure. As for Asteria, Horace feels compelled to remind her to remain faithful, even if the guy next door is irresistible and insistent.
I suppose the usual take on this ode would be to say it’s a cozy poem describing true love. Another might be to say its a study in virtue and patience. A third: one more love poem written by a male chauvinist pig touting the unshakable virtues of the male of the species while the female must be constantly guarded and watched lest she fall into ill repute. My gosh, according to Horace, she can’t even look out the window!
This last interpretation is post 1970 and the feminist movement, but how else am I to understand what Horace is saying? He hammers home his point by having Chloe’s nuntio-pimp bring up two similar stories from Ancient Greece. Each one is about a perfidious woman who falls for a man, but when he doesn’t return her love, she falsely accuses him of rape! The pimp’s message is surely: you’d better do what Chloe wants or you’ll have the devil to pay.
But if I take off my 1970s glasses, I might see something else. Maybe I have Horace all wrong. Maybe he is trying to comfort Asteria with, “By the way, if you hear rumors about Gyges’ conduct, don’t believe them. He’s as virtuous as Bellerophon, as unsullied as Peleus.” Maybe Horace is doing the usual male thing: shoring up his bud’s reputation.
Thynia is Bithynia and refers to the region just east of modern Istanbul.
Favonii are the pleasant spring winds.
Capra rises in September and heralds the stormy season.
Tartarus are the infernal regions.
Orikum is a town in modern Albania named for the ancient Oricum.
Icarus Cliffs refers to the island of Icarus in the Aegean.
Enipeus was simply a Roman youth with a name that recalled entre autres a river in Thessaly, a river god and lover of Tyro, daughter of Salmoneus.
Tuscus usually refers to the Etruscans, but here to the Tiber River, which flows through Etruria.
What are you crying for, Asteria?
That one—the cloudless west winds will bring back
to you in springtime, rich from his dealings
in Thynia, that youth of constant faith,
your Gyges, driven by the south wind to
Orikum after mad Capra’s rising;
frigid nights, sleepless, with many tears, he
manages even if that ‘messenger’
for the solicitous hostess Chloe
says the poor woman sighs and burns with your
fire.That cheat tempts Gyges a thousand ways.
He mentions how a lying woman forced
the gullible Proetus by false charges
to hasten the demise of super pure
Bellerophon. He talks of Peleus,
almost handed over to Tartarus,
spurning the Magnesian Hippolyta
as he flees. That liar pushes stories
to teach wrong doing, but it doesn’t work;
for, deafer than the Icarus Cliffs, he
hears talk but is not moved. Now, your neighbor
Enipeus—mind you don’t find him more
pleasing than you should, even if no one else
is as admired for knowing how to turn
his horse on the Field of Mars, even if
no one else swims as fast down the Tiber.
Night fall, close up the house and at the sound
of his plaintive pipes don’t look down into
the streets, and with the one who often calls
you hard, you keep on being difficult.
translation © 2010 by James Rumford
[O] Asterie, quid fles Gygen, iuvenem ‹fidei constantis›, merce Thyna beatum, quem Favonii candidi tibi [in] primo vere restituent?
Ille, [a] Notis ad Oricum post sidera insana Caprae actus, noctes frigidas non sine multis lacrimis insomnis agit. Atqui, nuntius hospitae sollicitae, dicens Chloen miseram suspirare et tuis ignibus uri, vafer mille modis [Gygen] temptat. [Nuntius] refert ut mulier perfida Proetum credulum [a] criminibus falsis impulerit, necem ‹Bellerophontae nimis casto› maturare. Narrat Pelea paene Tartaro datum [esse], dum Magnessam Hippolyten abstinens fugit. Et [nuntius] fallax historias peccare docentes monet—frustra!—nam, scopulis Icari surdior, [Gyges], adhuc integer, voces audit.
At cave ne vicinus Enipeus tibi plus iusto placeat, quamvis non alius equum flectere sciens, aeque [in] gramine Martio conspicitur, nec quisquam aeque citus [in] alveo Tusco denatat.
Prima nocte, domum claude neque in vias sub cantu tibiae querulae despice et saepe ‹te duram vocanti› difficilis mane.
[revised March 27, 2015]
Quid flēs, Asteriē, quem tibi candidī
prīmō restituent vēre Favōniī
Thȳnā merce beātum,
constantis iuvenem fīdeī
Gȳgēn? ille Notīs actus ad ōricum
post insāna Caprae sīdera frīgidās
noctēs nōn sine multīs
insomnis lacrimīs agit.
atquī sollicitae nuntius hospitae,
suspīrārě Chloēn et miseram tuīs
dīcēns ignibus ūrī,
temptat mille vafer modīs.
ut Prōetum mulier perfida crēdulum
falsīs impulerit crīminibus nimis
mātūrāre necem, refert;
narrat paene datum Pēlea Tartarō,
Magnessam Hippolyten dum fūgit abstinēns,
et peccāre docentıs
fallax historiās monet[movet].
frustrā: nam scopulīs surdior īcarī
vōcēs audit adhūc integer. at tibi
nē vīcīnus ēnipēus
plūs iustō placeat cavē;
quamvis nōn alius flectere equum sciēns
aequē conspicītur grāmine Martiō,
nec quisquam citus aequē
Tuscō dēnatat alveō,
prīmā nocte domum claude neque in viās
sub cantū querulae dēspice tībiae
et tē saepe vocantī
dūram difficilis māne.
:: 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.