Put yourself on this beach on the Adriatic coast of Italy near modern Mattinata.
Now, as hard as it is, facing such beauty, say to yourself, “I am going to die one day, and it will be up to others to care for my bones.”
Here on this beach, according to Horace, Archytas, a Greek philosopher of the Pythagorean school and friend of Plato, met his end. Perhaps here his corpse rotted. Perhaps some sailor passing by threw three handfuls of sand over the body in a symbolic gesture of burial. Perhaps none of this happened.
The ode becomes confusing, the story line difficult to follow. So I wonder: is Horace talking to himself? Maybe. Is not the death of another like a mirror? In such a mirror, one sees one’s own end: as that one died so shall I. Then I think, carrying out this metaphor of the mirror a bit farther: Who hasn’t had a conversation with one’s self standing in front of a mirror? Horace, it seems, stands before this mirror of death and says sometimes in his voice, sometimes in the voice of Archytas, sometimes using the words of a sailor:
A small reward, it confines you, Archytas, who measured sea
and land and the numberless grains of sand,
the bit of dust near the Matinus shore. And it does no good
at all that mortal you had attempted
the mansions in the air and in your mind scanned the vaulting sky.
Pelops’ father, guest of the gods, died.
So did Tithonus, carried off to heaven, and Minos too,
admitted to Jove’s secrets. Pluto holds
Panthoides, sent down again to Orcus; in your judgment,
no mean observer of nature and truth,
he proved he was from Trojan times by taking down the shield;
nothing beyond sinew and skin did he
give over to black death. Yet the One Night remains for all and
it has to be traveled on, death’s road once.
With some the Furies make spectacles for fierce-eyed Mars. For sailors
the way out is the insatiable sea.
Funerals are densely packed, young and old mixed up. And cruel
Proserpina turns not one head away.
Me, too, with Orion about to set, his friend, the Notus
wind overwhelmed with Illyrian waves.
Now damn it, sailor, don’t begrudge these bones and head unburied
one grain of loose sand. It won’t matter what
threats Eurus makes to Hesperian waves—let the Venosa
Woods be pounded—you’ll be safe, and may much
reward flow to you from whom it is possible: fair Jove and
Neptune, keeper of holy Tarento.
Don’t you care about committing a crime that will hurt those born
innocent after you? Perhaps the law
of fate, a rude turn of events, awaits you. I won’t be left
here with useless prayers. No sin-offerings
will release you. Ah, you are in a rush, it will not take long.
Three hand throws of dust then you can run on.
Translation © 2011 by James Rumford
This poem bears reading more than once. There are odd bits that almost defy interpretation. Horace mentions the Venosa Woods. Venosa is the modern Venusia, the small town where Horace was born. Why did the poet choose these woods? Was he doing what all writers do, write about what is familiar? Or did he have some other reason in mind? Is he saying: I too will be assailed by the same winds? One day, I will need someone to bury my bones? I don’t know the answer, and it doesn’t matter. Ambiguity, uncertainty, even paradox are the stuff of poetry. From here the creative mind of the reader takes over and, if the poet has done his job right, soars.
Before leaving this ode, I must mention two pitfalls: Merces is the plural of merx (goods, merchandise) but it also happens to be a feminine noun meaning ‘reward.’ Both words come from mereo: ‘what is deserved, earned.’ Devexī is the past tense of deveho meaning ‘I have carried down,’ but it also is the genitive of the adjective devexus, ‘setting, inclining downwards.’ It took me days to figure this out. I can hear the thwack of the schoolmaster’s ruler upon my knuckles now and see the gleam in his eye at having snared another witless student in his trap.
Notes: The constellation Orion sets in November, when storms arise off the coast of Illyria, today’s Albania, and the south wind called the Notus blows. There is also the southeast wind, the Eurus, and reference to Hesperian waves, which might mean waves anywhere off the coast of Italy. Horace also mentions several figures in history and mythology: Pelopis genitor refers to Tantalus; Tithonus was given immortality but not youth and thus shriveled away until he was but the sound of a cicada; Jove helped King Minos of Crete write the laws for his kingdom; Orcus, the god of the underworld was also known as Pluto; and Panthoides refers to Pythagoras, who believed in metempsychosis, the transmigration of souls, and who claimed to be the Trojan Euphorbus in a past life. To prove this, he entered the temple where Euphorbus’ shield was kept and reclaimed it.
[Nauta mortuus Archyta alloquens:] “Prope litus Matinum, [o] Archyta, ‹munera parva pulveris exigui› te, mensorem maris et terrae ‹harenaeque ‹numero carentis››, cohibent.
“Nec quicquam tibi prodest [te] domos aerias [cum] animo morituro temptasse, polumque rotundum percurisse.
“Et genitor Pelopis, conviva deorum, occidit. Tithonusque in auras remotus [sublatus] et Minos [in] arcanis Iovis admissus.
“Tartaraque Panthoiden, Orco demissum, iterum habent, quamvis tempora Troiana clipeo refixo testatus [est]. Te iudice: auctor non sordidus naturae verique, nihil ultra nervos atque cutem morti atrae concesserat. Sed omnis una nox manet et via leti semel calcanda.
“Furiae alios Marti torvo [propter] spectacula dant. Mare avidum exitio nautis est. Funera senum ac iuvenum mixta densentur. Proserpina saeva nullum caput fugit.
[Nauta mortuus nautam viventem alloquens:]
Notus rapidus, comes ‹Orionis devexi›, me quoque undis Illyricis obruit.”
“At tu, nauta malignus, ne parce particulam harenae vagae ossibus et capiti inhumato dare. Sic quodcumque Eurus fluctibus Hesperiis minabitur, silvae Venusinae plectantur, te sospite. Mercesque multa tibi—unde potest—defluat, ab Iove aequo Neptunoque, custode Tarenti sacri.
“Neglegis te postmodo fraudem natis immeritis nocituram committere? Et fors, iura debita vicesque superbae te ipsum maneant. [Meis] precibus inultis non linquar, nullaque piacula te resolvent. Quamquam festinas, non est mora longa. Pulvere ter iniecto, licebit curras.” [revised march 27, 2015]
Latin Rewrite: [I have discovered the Delphin Ordo. The Delphin Ordo was a series of books on classical literature created in the 1670s by a group of scholars for le Grand Dauphin, who was the son of Louis XIV but who died before he could ascend the throne. Among other things The Delphin Ordo contained an ordo verborum for each piece of classical literature. Below is the ordo verborum from the Delphin Ordo for today’s ode, taken from a book written in 1832 titled Opera by the Rev. Henry Pemble.]
O Archyta, te qui mare terramque et sabulum innumerabile dimensus es, modici pulveris donum tenue coercet juxta oram Matinam. Nil ergo proficit tibi mortali, quòd cœlestes regiones lustrâsti, ambitumque orbis mente circuisti. Sic et Pelopis obiit pater, Numinum conviva, Tithonus etiam in cœlum sublatus, nec non Minos seretorum Jovis particeps: Panthoi filius quoque rursum ad inferos trusus ibidem tenetur; quanquam detracto scuto res Trojanas testificatus, praeter nervos et pellem nigro letho nihil tradiderat, te arbitro, non ignobilis testis naturae et veritatis. Verùm nox eadem cunctos expectat; semelque mortis iter peragendum est. Quosdam Furiæ præbent ludum atroci Marti; perniciosum mare est nautis cupidis. Confusæ vetulorum ac juvenum mortes conglobantur: caput nullum eripitur crudeli Proserpinæ. Sic etiam me Illyricis fluctibus submersit Auster declivis Orionis assecla præceps. Tu verò nauta, ne improbus mihi sis, neve te pigeat errantis sabuli portionem injicere ossibus et capiti insepulto. Ita quicquid Eurus minitabitur Italico mari, luant silvæ Venusinæ, te incolumi: præmium quoque muliplex, undecunque fas erit, tibi conferatur à Jove justo et à Neptuno sacrati Tarenti defensore. Quòd si fortè spernis admittere dilictum posteris innocentibus exitio futurum: ipsi tibi jus acquisitum ac vices arrogantes reddantur. Haud ego destituar votis inutilibus: te verà nullæ purgabunt expiationes. Itaque licèt properes, non diu tardabis; ter injecto pulvere, transgredi fas erit.
Tē maris et terrae numerōque carentis harēnae
mensōrem cohibent, Archȳtā,
pulveris exiguī prope lītus parva Matīnum
mūnera nec quicquam tibi prōdest
āeriās temptāsse domōs animōque rotundum
percurrisse polum moritūrō.
occidit et Pelopis genitor, convīva deōrum,
Tīthōnusque remōtus in aurās
et Iovis arcānīs Mīnōs admissus habentque
Tartara Panthoiden iterum Orcō
dēmissum, quamvis clipeō Trōiāna refixō
tempora testātus nihil ultrā
nervōs atque cutem mortī concesserat ātrae,
iūdice tē nōn sordidus auctor
nātūrae vērīque. sed omnis ūna manet nox
et calcanda semel via lētī.
dant aliōs Furiae torvō spectācula Martī,
exitiō est avidum mare nautīs;
mixta senum ac iuvenum densentur fūnera, nūllum
saeva caput Prōserpina fūgit.
mē quoque dēvexī rapidus comes Ōrīōnis
īllyricīs Nōtus obruit undīs.
at tū, nauta, vagae nē parce malignus harēnae
ossibus et capitī inhumātō
particulam dare: sīc, quodcumque minābitur Eurus
fluctibus Hesperiīs, Venusīnae
plectantur silvae tē sospite multaque mercēs,
unde potest, tibi dēfluat aequō
ab Iove Neptūnōque sacrī custōde Tārenti.
neglegis immeritīs nocitūram
postmodō tē nātīs fraudem committere? fors et
dēbita iūra vicēsque superbae
tē maneant ipsum: precibus nōn linquar inultīs
tēque piācula nūlla resolvent.
quamquam festīnās, nōn est mora longa; licēbit
iniēctō ter pulvere currās.
:: 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.