This ode, some say, is another recusatio: Horace refusing to write a poem of praise for Caesar Augustus and his triumphal return from the wars in Germania. Others say this ode is a satire on writing poems of praise.
Horace begins by telling a certain Julius Antonius, writer, politician, and son of Mark Anthony, that it wouldn’t be a good idea to write in the style of the Ancient Greek poet Pindar, who lived in the sixth century BC and who wrote in a vigorous style. Julius Anthony would only crash and burn.
Pindar, Horace tells us, could make men immortal, fashion for them in words a monument more lasting then a statue in stone. No one could expect to do the same. Yet . . . . Horace cleverly and gradually turns the ode, scholars say, into a Pindar-like poem, doing what he warned Julius Antonius not to do. I will have to accept the opinion of scholars; I have not read Pindar. And from what I see, there is not much of Pindar’s work left. Still, I suppose there is enough for scholars to make this bold statement.
It is at this point in the poem that Horace calls Julius Antonius by his second name. I don’t know what the significance of this is. Is this like suddenly switching from Bill to Billy in an attempt to be on more intimate terms? Does this signal a definite change in status? Is Horace now treating him as his inferior, an inexperienced boy, or a dear friend? I simply don’t know the sociolinguistic rules used in Rome to ‘feel’ what’s going on in this poem.
Horace ends with a remark about the opulent sacrifices that Julius Antonius (should I call him ‘Tony’ à la mafia here?) will make and how simple Horace’s will be. “Mine will be just a calf,” Horace says, “my cute, brown calf with one little white spot on his head.” I leave it to you to decide what the symbolism is here. Just a calf or Horace’s entire poetic offering? Horace being modest or ceuille-t-il du persil, as they say in French, picking simple parsley to garnish his own dish?
As for the grammar and structure of this poem, from a language learner’s viewpoint, right off there is trouble. The first few lines are horribly tangled (the colors show which words go together grammatically):
Pindarum quisquis studet aemulari
Iule, ceratis ope Daedalea
nititur pennis vitreo daturus
Of Pindar’s works whoever studies to emulate,
Jullus, on waxen by means Daedalean
is carried on feathers to a glassy to give
names to a sea.
turns out to mean, unless you’ve already figured it out:
Whoever studies to emulate Pindar’s work,
Jullus, on waxen feathers like Daedalus
is carried [only] to give
[his] names to a glassy sea
The next few lines are the straw that is about to break this camel’s back. How can quem ‘whom/which’ be separated from the noun it is connected to and still make sense? Not to my ears, but then I am not Roman.
monte decurrens velut amnis, imbres
quem super notas aluere ripas
from a mountain running down like a stream,
rains which over the observed have fed the banks
If you knew the gender of amnis, which is masculine, and you remembered that aluere is a poetic form of aluerant ‘they have overfed,’ then it would have been easy to come up with:
Like a stream running down the mountain side,
whose well-known banks the rains have overfed
Then I realize: even in English, the relative pronoun can be separated from the noun to which it refers. Look how far ‘whose’ is from ‘stream.’ As English speakers, as human beings, we know that mountains don’t feed streams, rains do. So how about this general rule about language: knowledge about the world trumps grammar? Grammar says: relative pronouns should follow the noun they refer to. Reality says: Yes, but use your brain, stutule.
But using one’s brain is not always so easy. As a language learner, I expect the grammar to help me. I rely on it like a crutch. Most of the time in reading Latin poetry, knowledge of the grammar is key to understanding. Not so, I might add, in classical Persian poetry. Persian grammar rules were repeatedly broken to accommodate the meter. Thus, in order to understand what is happening in an epic poem like the Shahnamah, you have to keep your mental television constantly tuned to reality and keep your mind on the story’s thread. Not such an easy task.
I suppose the only remedy to the difficulties of reading poetry in the original language is a daily dose of confidence. The more I think I can understand, the more I will. This is more than holding a feather à la Dumbo to get one to jump off of the circus tent pole. It means the more I think I’ll understand, the more I’ll read. It is this daily practice that provides the real remedy.
The Sigambri were a powerful German tribe.
A dithyramb was a song in honor of Dionysus, god of wine, and considered to be a wild and enthusiastic piece of writing.
Elea refers to the ancient Olympics.
The boxer and the rider refer to the twins Castor and Pollux, according to the Porphyrionis Commentarium.
Dircean is from Dirce, a fountain in Boeotia northwest of Thebes, where Pindar was born.
Orcus was the god of the underworld and by extension death.
Matinus is a mountain or promontory in Apulia (Horace’s home region), now called Matinata.
Sacrus Clivus [ Holy Hill] was part of the Sacra Via [Holy Road] leading up to the capitol building in Rome.
tertium ortum, literally ‘third rising’ refers to the third night of the new moon, at which time it appears as a thin crescent.
Whoever’s eager to emulate Pindar,
Jules, on waxen wings à la Dedalus,
will soar then give his name to a glass-like sea.
Rushing down down the mountain like a stream,
whose noted banks the rains have overfed, the
great Pindar seethes and basso profundo roars,
worthy of Apollo’s laurels or by
bold dithyrambs he unrolls new words and
is carried away by lines free of rules, or
sings of gods and kings, the blood kin of gods,
by whom the Centaurs fell in righteous death,
fell the flame of the fearful Chimera, or
he talks of those the Elea palm led
back home divine, boxer or horseman, and
gives a prize better than a hundred statues;
he weeps over the young husband ripped from
a tearful wife and lifts to the stars his
strengths, heart and golden morals, spurning black death.
Many winds lift the Dircean swan, when he,
Anthony, is held aloft in the high
clouds; I, like a Matinus bee happy to
work away feeding on the thyme in the
woods and by the banks of the dank Tibur,
small me, I do my elaborate verses.
A poet, you sing of Caesar with a
greater plectrum, who, adorned with laurels
deserved, drags the wild Sygambri along the
Sacred Hill; he, no greater or better a
gift on earth from kind gods and fate
even if the golden days returned of yore.
You’ll sing of happy days and public games
over the wished for return of the great
Augustus and a forum without law suits.
Then, if what I say’s worth hearing, my voice
will join in and happy me shall sing “O
handsome Sun! O lauded One,” now Caesar’s home.
And you in the lead, “Io! Triumphe!”
Not once all Rome’ll say, “Io! Triumphe!”
and incense we shall give to the yielding gods.
For you it’s ten bulls and as many cows,
For me a young calf, just left its mother,
growing on thick grass, will be my offering,
its forehead soon to be the moon’s curved fires
on the third night, where now there’s a spot, snow
white it seems, the rest of him a yellow brown.
translation © 2010 by James Rumford
[O] Iule, quisquis studet Pindarum aemulari, nomina [sua] ponto vitreo daturus, ope Daedalea pennis ceratis nititur. Velut amnis monte decurrens, quem imbres super ripas notas aluer[unt], Pindarus immensus, ore profundo, fervet ruitque, laurea Apollinari donandus, seu per dithyrambos audaces verba nova devolvit, fertur, numerisque lege solutis, seu canit (1) deos regesque, (2) sanguinem deorum, per quos morte iusta Centauri cecider[runt] [et] flamma Chimaerae tremendae cecidit, sive (3) pugilemve equumve ‹quos caelestes palma Elea domum reducit› et munere ‹potiore centum signis donat› dicit, (4) iuvenemve sponsae flebili raptum plorat et vires animumque moresque aureos [eius] in astra educit, Orcoque nigro invidet.
Multa aura cycnum Dircaeum levat, [o] Antoni, quotiens in tractos altos nubium tendit: ego parvus, more modoque apis Matinae grata thyma per laborem plurimum circa nemusque ‹ripas Tiburis uvidi› carpentis, carmina operosa fingo.
[Tu] poeta Caesarem plectro maiore [quam ego] concines, quandoque [ille] decorus [et] fronde merita, Sygambros feroces per clivum sacrum trahet; quo fata divique boni nihil maius meliusve terris donaver[unt] nec dabunt, quamvis tempora in aurum priscum redeant. Diesque laetos et ludum publicum Urbis super reditu impetrato Augusti fortis forumque litibus orbum concines. Tum, si quid audiendum loquar, pars bona vocis meae accedet et ‘o sol pulcher, o laudande!’ felix canam, Caesare recepto.
Teque, dum procedis, ‘Io Triumphe’ non semel dicemus, ‘Io Triumphe!’ civitas omnis tura divis benignis dabimus. Decem tauri totidemque vaccae te [solvent], vitulus tener me in vota mea solvet, ‹[vitulus] qui, matre relicta, herbis largis iuvenescit, fronte ignes curvatos ortum tertium lunae referentes imitatus, qua notam duxit, niveus videri, fulvos cetera›. [revised March 28, 2015]
Pindarum quisquis studet aemulārī,
Iūle, cērātīs ope Daedalēā
nītitur pinnīs, vǐtreō datūrus
Monte dēcurrēns velut amnis, imbrēs
quem super nōtās aluēre rīpās,
fervet immensusque ruit profundō
laureā dōnandus Apollinārī,
seu per audācıs nova dīthyrambōs
verba dēvolvit numerīsque fertur
seu deōs rēgēsque canit, deōrum
sanguinem, per quōs cecidēre iustā
morte Centaurī, cecidit tremendae
sīve quōs ēlēa domum redūcit
palma caelestıs pugilemve equumve
dīcit et centum potiōre signīs
flēbilī sponsae iuvenemve raptum
plōrat et vīrıs animumque mōrēsque~
aureōs ēdūcit in astra nigrōque~
Multa Dircaeum levat aura cycnum,
tendit, Antōnī, quotiēns in altōs
nūbium tractūs; ego apis Matīnae
grāta carpentis thyma per labōrem
plūrimum circā nemus ūvidīque
Tīburis rīpās operōsa parvus
concinēs maiōre poēta plectrō
Caesarem, quandōque trahet ferōcıs
per sǎcrum clīvum meritā decōrus
quō nihil māius meliusve terrīs
fāta dōnāvēre bonīque dīvī
nec dǎbunt, quamvis redeant in aurum
concinēs laetōsque diēs et Urbis
publicum lūdum super impetrātō
fortis Augustī reditū forumque
tum meae, sī quid loquar audiendum,
vōcis accēdet bona pars, et: ‘ō sōl
pulcher, ō laudande!’ canam receptō
tēque, dum prōcēdis, iō Triumphe!
nōn semel dīcēmus, iō Triumphe!
cīvitās omnis, dǎbimusque dīvīs
tē decem taurī totidemque vaccae,
mē tener solvet vitulus, relictā
mātre quī largīs iuvēnescit herbīs
in mea vōta,
fronte curvātōs imitātus ignıs
tertium lūnae referentis ortum,
quā notam duxit niveus vidērī,
:: 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.