Saturday, December 4, 2010

Housecleaning :: Laudabunt Alii :: I:7

Now some housecleaning—an attempt to get rid of some of the cobwebs in my own mind about Latin. Horace strings the ideas in this ode together with all of the “or” conjunctions he had at his disposal: vel, ve, seu, sive, and aut.  It turns out that, from reading Madvig and Thacher’s Latin grammar that Vel, ve, seu, and sive all have essentially the same meaning. They denote a distinction that is unimportant, as in vel potius ‘or rather,’   Aut, on the other hand, denotes an important difference: aut verum aut falsum ‘either true or false.’ I wonder if a Roman would ever say vel verum vel falsum, meaning, I suppose, something like ‘partly true and partly false.’ I wonder if Horace meant to differentiate these disjunctive conjunctions in his ode. If so, no translation could ever get these fine distinctions across. Here are the first four lines:

Laudabunt alii claram Rhodon aut Mytilen
aut Ephesum bimarisve Corinthii
moenia vel Baccho Thebas vel Apollone Delphos
insignis aut Thessala Tempe;

Instead of translating all of these different conjunctions with ‘or,’ perhaps one might say:

The others will praise famous Rhodos or Mytelene
or Ephesus, why not even the city walls of ‘two-seas’ Corinth,
Thebes famous for Bacchus or Delphi for Apollo,
or—totally in a class by herself—Thessaly’s Tempe;

Another housecleaning chore is: figure out what all the punctuation is about. Of course, Horace never had to deal with punctuation marks, doing what they say author’s do these days: spend all morning putting a comma in something they have written then spend all afternoon taking it out. That job went to future editors of Horace, who must have spent a great deal of time before they came up with just the right combination of commas, semicolons, colons, and periods. 

Thus, it was that some editor in some century decided how Horace should be punctuated and whatever he decided has stuck, in particular, the annoying use of the colon. In the Latin of the middle ages and the Renaissance, it was decided that the colon would be used for clauses that are grammatically complete (they have a subject and a verb) but are not logically complete. Thus, the editors could use the colon to keep one giant thought hooked together. Since Horace is so hard to read, I’m guessing it took them a long time to decide what these thought-groups were. And I bet not all of the editors agreed. 

Look at the first fourteen lines. (I’ve colored the different punctuation marks.) This is the big idea that Horace wants to get across:

Others will praise cities; 
they will honor Athene; 
they will honor Juno: 
I like home best.

How simple! A colon alerts the reader and says, “Here comes the ‘punch line.’”
Another similar use of the colon in the ode is in lines 27 to 29. But in these lines, the punch line comes first:

Don’t despair with me here:
Apollo promised another home.

But now I notice that in other editions of Ode I:9, there is no colon in line 27.  There is instead a semicolon. Aha! Just as I thought! One editor’s colon is another semi.

I am reminded of the movie “Wit,” in which Emma Thompson, the student, is brought up short by her professor, played by Eileen Atkins, for having used the wrong edition of John Donne’s poem, which begins ‘Death be not proud’; for in that edition, some editor had inserted a semicolon where the professor insisted there be a comma. Here is a video clip on Youtube: 

I wonder then, what would happen if we were to take all of the punctuation out of Horace. Would he collapse in a rubble of words like some Roman ruin or would he become more intelligible, more alive, more visible to our mind’s eye? 

Mytilene is the capital of Lesbos, where Sappho was born.
Ephesus was an ancient Greek city in Anatolia, modern Turkey. In Roman times it was second only to Rome in number of inhabitants.
Thebes is a city in Greece and the site of stories of Cadmus, Oedipus, and Bacchus (Dionysus).
Tempe was the favorite place of Apollo and the muses; it is located in northern Greece.
Pallas was the surname of Athene; intactae Palladis urbem: the city of the virgin Athene.
Argos was the capital of Argolis, in the Peloponnesus, sacred to Juno.
Mycenae was a city in Argolis of which Agamemnon was king.
Lacedæmon was Sparta.
Larissa is a city in Thessaly, where Achilles was born and where Hippocrates died.
Præceps Anio is a cataract or falls on the Anio [now Aniene], a tributary stream of the Tiber. The Anio was famous for its pure water.
Albun[e]a is a fountain at Tibur [now Tivoli], which is on the Anio and near Horace’s villa.
Tiburnian Woods was a sacred grove of trees along the Tibur. 
Notus was the south wind.
Teucer was the son of Telamon, king of Salamis Island, and the brother of Ajax.
Salamis was 1) an island in the Saronic Gulf and 2) a city in Cyprus founded by Teucer.
Lyaeus is Bacchus and uda Lyaeō tempora means ‘temples wet with Lyaeus’ or ‘with wine.’


Others will praise bright Rhodes or Mytilene, 
or Ephesus or the ramparts on both 
sides of the Corinthian Sea 
or Thebes known for Bacchus or Delphi for 
Apollo, even Thessaly’s Tempe.
For them it’s all about celebrating
in perpetual song the city of 
Pallas Intact and putting olive leaves 
picked from all over on the brow; many 
in Juno’s honor will talk of Argos
right for horses and wealthy Mycene.
But to me, Lacedaemon [is] not so 
lasting nor does the field of rich 
Larissa strike as does home, echoing 
the Albunea, the Anio Falls, 
the Tiburian woods, the wet apple 
orchards by the moving streams.

As white Notus often clears clouds away 
from darkened skies and spawns no constant rains,
so, Plancus, wise you—remember to put 
an end to life’s gloom and its labors by 
mellow wine, whether the encampments with
glittering standards keep hold of you now 
or later the deep shade of your Tibur. 

It is said when Teucer fled his father 
and Salamis, he bound round his temples, 
wet with Lyaeus’s wine, a crown of 
poplar and addressed saddened friends with this: 
“we shall go wherever better fortune 
carries us from my father, o comrades 
and partisans; there is nothing to be 
hopeless about with Teucer in command, 
with Teucer in luck, for it is certain 
Apollo has promised that we shall have
a second Salamis in a new land.
O you brave men, who have often suffered 
the worst with me, drive now your cares away 
with wine, for tomorrow we shall again 
journey across the boundless sea.”

translation © 2010 by James Rumford

in prose:

Alii laudabunt Rhodon claram aut Mytilenen aut Epheson moeniave Corinthi bimaris vel Thebas Baccho [insignis] vel Delphos Apolline insignis aut Tempe Thessala. Sunt quibus unum opus est urbem Palladis intactae carmine perpetuo celebrare et olivam undique decerptam fronti praeponere. In honorem Iunonis, plurimus ‹Argos equis aptum› ‹Mycenasque dites› dicet. Me, nec Lacedaemon tam patiens nec campus Larisae opimae tam percussit quam domus Albuneae resonantis et praeceps Anio ac lucus Tiburni et pomaria rivis mobilibus uda. Ut Notus albus saepe nubila caelo obscuro deterget neque imbres perpetuo parturit, sic tu sapiens memento tristitiam laboresque vitae mero molli finire, [o] Plance. Seu ‹castra signis fulgentia› te tenent seu umbra densa Tiburis tui tenebit. Cum Teucer Salamina patremque fugeret, fertur tamen tempora, Lyaeo uda, corona populea vinxisse, sic amicos tristes affatus [est]: “Quoque fortuna, parente melior, nos feret, ibimus—o socii comitesque. Nil desperandum [est], Teucro duce et auspice Teucro. Apollo enim certus promisit [in] tellure nova Salamina ambiguam futuram [esse]. O fortes, [o] ‹virique peiora mecum saepe passi›, nunc curas [cum] vino pellite; cras aequor ingens iterabimus.”[revised March 26, 2015]

original ode:

Laudābunt aliī clāram Rhodon aut Mytilēnēn
   aut Epheson bimarisve Corinthī
moenia vel Bacchō Thēbās vel Apōlline Delphōs
   insignīs aut Thessala Tempē;
sunt quibus ūnum opus est intactae Palladis urbem       
   carmine perpetuō celebrāre et
undique dēcerptam frontī praepōnere olīvam;
   plūrimus in Iūnōnis honōrem
aptum dīcet equīs Argōs dītısque Mycēnās:
   mē nec tam patiēns Lacedaemōn
nec tam Lārīsae percussit campus opīmae
   quam domus Albuneae resonantis
et praeceps Aniō ac Tīburnī lūcus et ūda
   mōbilibus pōmāria rīvīs.
albus ut obscūrō dēterget nūbila caelō
   saepe Notus neque parturit imbrıs
perpetuō, sīc tū sapiēns fīnīre mementō
   tristitiam vītaeque labōrēs
mollī, Plance, merō, seu tē fulgentia signīs
   castra tenent seu densa tenēbit
Tīburis umbra tuī. Teucer Salamīna patremque
   cum fugeret, tamen ūda Lyaeō
tempora pōpuleā fertur vinxisse corōnā,
      sīc tristıs affātus amīcōs:
‘Quō nōs cumque feret melior fortūna parente,
   ībimus, ō sociī comitēsque.
Nīl despērandum Teucrō duce et auspice Teucrō:
   certus enim prōmīsit Apollō
ambiguam tellūre novā Salamīna futūram.
   ō fortēs peiōraque passī
mēcum saepe virī, nunc vīnō pellite cūrās;

   crās ingēns iterābimus aequor.’

:: Latin books by James Rumford ::

For all 102 odes purchase Carpe Diem, Horace De-Poetizedfor $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.


  1. I found this post especially interesting as "or" is one of the logical operators. Most people don't think about the English "or" in that it can be inclusive ("either or") or exclusive ("either or but not both"). If we look at logic truth tables, we see this play out. A or B is true if either (or both) A or B is true, but the exclusive sense is A or B, but not A and B, meaning either A or B is true. You can have Pepsi or Coke as we have both. We can go to Hilo or San Diego for vacation.

    Of course, we capture this not by means (in English) of a single conjunction as you say "aut" in Latin does but instead a more complex construction.

    Very interesting thoughts here!

  2. Thanks for your comment, Indigo Velvet. One of the most fascinating things about learning other languages is seeing how each language cuts up the human logical pie in its own way. Often a foreign language will force the learner to make choices he or she had never thought about before, as in the case of 'aut.' I suppose if one learned enough languages, one might come darn close to completing a course in logic! I wrote a little about this in my blog of June 23, 2010 (Don't Worry, Cur me Querellis)