Friday, March 25, 2011

Count to Ten :: O Matre Pulchra :: I:16

I had no idea that there was a special type of poetry for writing nasty comments about someone in Ancient Greece. This slam-poetry of the ancients was called iambic poetry, or poetry of the goddess Iambe, who apparently liked off-color humor and hurling insults. Over time, the preferred meter for this type of poetry was the da-dum variety and the da-dum came to be called the iamb. Of the ancient poets, Archilochus, who lived between 680 and 645 BC, was a master at iambic poetry. His nasty (mean) verses were either loved or hated or banned. He was, scholars say, a brilliant poet nonetheless, but his poetry, alas, has only come down to us in fragments. It seems that Horace, who had lived in Greece and who must have read much of the works of Archilochus, developed a liking for the ancient poet’s style. 

So we have today’s ode, which talks about iambic poetry and anger. 

We don’t readily admit to anger these days. Anger is not something we want to talk about, especially on such a scale as Homer did in the Iliad. Anger is something we want to leave behind us with the cave man. The God of Dies Irae can be angry; we cannot. Anger is childish. We hide anger behind words like ‘day of infamy’ or behind the rhetoric used in the war with Iraq. I wonder: if anger were part of the discussion of Meet the Press, for example, would the world’s stage be no better than a pre-school playground or would we descend even further into a world of overheated, vulpine news commentary? 

Horace believes that the anger that wells up inside of us is the greatest among all the animals, for we have the heart of a lion gone insane and can do what Atreus did, who killed his nephews and served them for dinner to their own father Thyestes. But unlike animals, our anger fuels revenge and we won’t quit even after the fight is over. We level the walls of our enemies’ cities and with our plows plant crops where once stood mighty towers. We create Versailles treaties, erect Dachaus, utterly destroy the Dresdens of the world, and push on until we have unconditional surrender. 

But come on, now. I think I have been taken in by Horace’s rhetoric. Maybe he is joking. All this talk of anger turns out to be a spat between lovers: amorous anger—something altogether different, isn’t it? Surely, somewhere in the netherworld Horace has a twinkling in his eye, perhaps a wink, as if to say, “Gotcha!”

* * * *

Lines 1–12 all go together in one giant, complicated sentence, that I might simplify by taking out all of the examples. (It’s Horace’s use of one example after the other that usually complicates things: I get lost in them and forget what he is trying to say!)

Liber mentem non quatit—
ut irae quas ensis ne deterret.
Bacchus doesn’t rattle the mind—
like anger which a sword may not deter.

Now these lines seem simple bacause the structure is clear. What if I simplified the entire poem? The word ‘evisceration’ comes to mind; so I had better not. Instead, here is my translation:

Lovely daughter, lovelier than the mother, 
get rid, however you want, of the nasty 
iambic lines, either by flame or, 
if you wish, by the Adriatic Sea.

No Dindymene, no dweller of Pytho’s
inner shrine, not even Liber, can rattle the 
minds of priests, Corybante priests 
don’t so clash their violent copper cymbals

as does sad anger, which a Noricus sword 
can not deter, not the shipwrecking sea,
not wild fire, not even Jupiter’s 
rain rushing down with tremendous lightning.

Prometheus, forced to add parts cut out from 
everywhere to the primal mud, is said 
to have placed within our stomach-heart  
the violence of a raging lion. 

Anger flung Thyestes down in terrible 
ruin and remains the ultimate cause of 
why lofty cities wholly perish 
and an enraged army drives the hostile 

plow over its walls. Rein in the mind. Me as well
boiling passion in tender youth put to the 
test, and sent furious me hurried 
iambic lines. Now I seek to exchange

my ill-humored words for more palatable 
ones, if only you will be my girl once the 
nasty words are taken back and you 
restore a sense of rationality. 
translation © 2011 by James Rumford


Corybantes [Corybas]: priests of Cybele, known for their wild religious services.

Dindymene: Cybele, the goddess of Mount Dindymon [either Murat Dağı or Kaz Dağı] in modern Turkey.

Pythius: Pytho, that is: Delphi.

Liber: Bacchus

Noricus: Noric from Noreia in Styria [Steiermark in southern Austria]. After the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire following WWI, Norische Republik was a name proposed for what was to become Austria.

Iuppiter: symbol for rainy skies

Thyestes: Greek king who slept with his brother’s wife and angered him so much that in revenge his brother killed Thyestes’ sons and cooked them and fed them unknowingly  to Thyestes.  Clement Lawrence Smith (The Odes and Epodes of Horace, 1903) says that Horace in his line irae Thyesten exitio gravi stravere is referring to a part of the myth that has not come down to us. Thus, I suppose, what Horace wrote is open to interpretation. Either anger threw Thyestes down because of grave mischief (referring to the fact the Thyestes had slept with his brother’s wife) or anger threw Thyestes down into serious destruction. Everyone, however, prefers the latter possibility. Niall Rudd translates the line as ‘It was anger that laid Thyestes low in dire destruction.’ The French translation is ‘La colère poussa Thyestès à une ruine terrible.’ The Dephin Ordo rephrases this line as: ‘Iracundia Thyestem perdidit execrandâ strage.’ Strage comes from the same root as does stravere and can mean ‘defeat.’ I suppose that execrandâ  is exsecrandā. The meaning is ‘Anger destroyed Thyestes through a cursed defeat.’
insolens: according to early commentators: iratus commotus.

in prose:

O filia ‹matre pulchra pulchrior›, quemcumque modum voles, iambis criminosis pones, sive flamma, sive libet mari Hadriano. 
Non Dindymene, non incola [in] adytis Pythiis, non Liber aeque, mentem sacerdotum quatit, non Corybantes aera acuta sic geminant—ut irae tristes quas neque ensis Noricus deterret, nec mare naufragum, nec ignis saevus, nec Iuppiter ipse tumultu tremendo ruens. 
Prometheus, coactus ‹particulam undique desectam› ‹limo principi› addere, fertur [se] et vim leonis insani stomacho nostro apposuisse. 
Irae Thyesten exitio gravi straver[runt].
Et [irae] urbibus altis causae ultimae steter[unt] cur funditus perirent exercitusque insolens aratrum hostile [in] muris imprimeret. 
Mentem compesce. Fervor pectoris me quoque in iuventa dulci temptavit et iambos celeres [me] furentem misit; nunc ego quaero mitibus tristia mutare, opprobriis recantatis, dum mihi amica fias animumque reddas. [revised March 27, 2015]

original ode:

Ō mātre pulchrā fīlia pulchrior,
quem crīminōsīs cumque volēs modum
   pōnēs iambīs, sīve flammā
        sīve marī libet Hādriānō.
nōn Dindymēnē, nōn adytīs quatit
mentem sacerdōtum incola Pȳthiīs[Pȳthius],
   nōn Līber aequē, nōn acūtā
        sīc geminant Corybantěs aerā,
tristēs ut īrae, quās neque Nōricus
dēterret ensis nec mare naufragum
   nec saevus ignis nec tremendō
        Iuppiter ipse ruēns tumultū.
fertur Promētheus addere principī
līmō coactus particulam undique
   dēsectam et insānī leōnis
        vim stomac apposuisse nostrō.
īrae Thyesten exitiō gravī
strāvēre et altīs urbibus ultimae
   stetēre causae, cūr perīrent
        funditus imprimeretque mūrīs
hostile arātrum exercitus insolēns.
compesce mentem: mē quoque pectoris
   temptāvit in dulcī iuventā
        fervor et in celerıs iambōs
mīsit furentem. nunc ego mītibus
mūtāre quaerō tristia, dum mihi
   fīās recantātīs amīca
        opprobriīs animumque reddās.

:: 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.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

When Caesar Rules :: Iam Satis Terris :: I:2

Horace is describing dire times in this ode. Julius Caesar’s assassination [line 22] is still in the public’s mind, as well as the civil war [line 21]. The poet sees the long winter as a sign of the displeasure of the gods. There is only one man who can solve Rome’s problems: Caesar Augustus. Clearly, for Horace, less government is not the answer. What he seems to want is a strong, dictatorial government to bring peace and prosperity to the empire.

In my last blog, I talked a bit about Naylor’s book, Horace: Odes and Epodes; a Study in Poetic Word-order. I just want to say again how helpful his approach has been. By defining the sentence patterns that Horace uses, Naylor’s book makes it easier to navigate through a particular ode. My mind is better able than it was before to retain a few lines of twisted syntax. This is because I can see the pattern. Lines like 11 and 12 of this ode now seem simple to me:

et superiecto et pavidae natarunt
aequore dammae.

and [in] the surging and the frightened swam
[in] the sea the deer.

and the frightened deer swim in the surging sea 

Although armed with Naylor’s sentence structures, I was still unable to correctly interpret lines 17–20:

Iliæ, dum se nimium querenti
iactat se ultorem, vagus et sinistra
labitur ripa Iove non probante u-
xorius amnis.

The Delphin Ordo tells me that the river (amnis) is the subject of the dum-clause, that he (the river) is the one doing the expostulating (iactat) that he is the avenger (ultorem) of his complaining (querenti) wife Ilia and he, without Jove’s approval, has overflowed the left bank (sinistra ripa). This is a pretty twisted up sentence, which I have tried to untangle in the section below titled ‘in prose.’ (You might also take a look at lines 21–24, which are similar in structure because the verb comes first and the subject last.)

There is, as you might have also noticed, something else unusual about lines 17-20: the hyphen.  

Hyphenation, seems to me like cheating: the poet uses the word he wants even if he has to chop it up to make it fit. But there are reasons, I am told, for hyphenating a word. The word uxorius in line 19 is divided up so that 1) it fits the meter (Sapphic strophe: dum-da-dum-dum-dum/da-da-dum-da-dum-da or -dum) and 2) it helps the lines flow. This flow is called ‘synapheia,’ which means ‘flowing together’ and was used by the Greeks as well as the Romans. I even found it in Arabic the other day, as I was reading The Thousand and One Nights. How odd synapheia looks in a non Greco-Roman alphabet:

یُشرِقُ المَرجُ بِما فِیـ    ه مِنَ البِیضِ العَوالِی

Shines the meadow with what is in-   
side it from the blameless ones of the household 
[poem quoted in the Forty-Sixth Night]

So, following in the tradition of Horace and the Greeks, and the unknown authors of the 1001 Nights, I have put some hyphens in my translation.


The Father has sent enough awful snow and hail
to earth and, from his rubescent right hand, has
thrown javelins at the sacred Capitol,
frightened the city,

frightened the people that Pyrrha’s dire age,
of bewailing strange omens, might return with
Proteus driving all of his seals up in- 
to the high mountains,

with the fish tribe stuck to the tops of elm trees 
which had been, as everyone knows, the seat of doves, 
and with deer wildly terrified swimming around
in the surging sea.

We saw the yellow Tiber, its waves rebounding off
the Etruscan shoreline, go violently 
knocking down the monuments of a king, the 
temples of Vesta;

while the husband-like river throws it out there
that he’s the avenger of Ilia, who 
complains a lot, and, without Jove’s say-so, slips 
over the left bank.

Because of their parents’ crimes, what’s left of the 
youth will hear that citizens sharpened iron—
by which the awful Persians should have perished—
will hear of the fights.

Which god might the people invoke, with the em-
pire crumbling? What prayers will the sacred
virgins plague Vesta with, she who gives little 
heed to their song-chants.

To whom will Jove give the work of expiating 
the crime? Our last resort—we pray that you come, 
Prophet Apollo, who envelops his white 
shoulders in a cloud.

Or, if you want to, Smiling Erycina,
around whom flies Iocus and Cupid too,
Or, Founder, if you’d look on your descendants 
and neglected race . . .

Alas! sated from too long a game, you whom 
the clamor pleases, the gleaming helmet, the 
Marsian foot soldier glowering at the  
bloodied enemy;

or, with a face changed into a youth, you might 
imitate here on earth the winged son of 
sweet Maia, allowing yourself to be called
‘Caesar’s avenger,’

Be long in going back to heaven, and be 
long happy with the people of Quirinus; 
let not the breeze swiftly take you off, angered,
because of our crimes;

rather be here for great victory marches; here 
you might like being called ‘father’ and ‘chief’; and
you will not let the Medes ride, unavenged, O
Caesar, as leader.

translation © 2011 by James Rumford


Phyrrha: the wife of Deucalion, both of whom were the only ones saved when all of mankind was destroyed by a flood. 
Proteus: the herdsman of Poseidon’s seals, whom Homer called ‘the old man of the sea.’
Vesta: goddess of the home, the hearth, and the family.
Ila: the mother of Romulus and Remus. She is complaining because of Caesar’s murder at the hands of Brutus et al.
Erycina: from a Sicilian mountain called Eryx. Venus is, by the way, the progenetrix of Julius Caesar.
Iocus: the god of jests.
Auctor: Mars, the father of Romulus and thus the founder of Roman; the god of war whose game lūdus is war—in this case, civil war.
Marsi: a people living in the mountains fifty miles east of Rome, whose men made excellent foot soldiers.
Quirini: of Quirinus, Romulus deified.
Medes: mostly likely the Persians, in general, although they are only one of the many Iranian peoples that once inhabited areas of present-day Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. 

in prose:

Pater iam terris satis nivis atque grandinis dirae misit et, dextera rubente arces sacras iaculatus, urbem terruit, gentes terruit ne rediret saeculum grave Pyrrhae, monstra nova questae, cum Proteus pecus omne egit montes altos visere, et genus piscium summa ulmo haesit, quae ‹sedes nota› columbis fuerat, et dammae pavidae [in] aequore superiecto nata[va]runt.
Tiberim flavum vidimus litore Etrusco violenter undis retortis ire monumenta regis templaque Vestae deiectum, dum [Tiberis] se nimium Iliae querenti iactat [se] ultorem [futurum], amnis uxorius [super] ripa sinistra vagus, Iove non probante, labitur.
Iuventus vitio parentum rara audiet cives ferrum acuisse, quo Persae graves melius perirent, [et] audiet pugnas.
Quem divum populus rebus imperi ruentis vocet? Qua prece virgines sanctae Vestam carmina minus audientem fatigent?
Cui Iuppiter partes scelus expiandi dabit?
Tandem precamur—[tu] venias, [o] augur Apollo, nube umeros candentes amictus;
sive tu mavis [venire], Erycina ridens, circum quam Iocus et Cupido vola[n]t;
sive, [o Mars] auctor, genus neglectum et nepotes respicis, heu! ludo nimis longo satiate, [te] quem clamor acer iuvat galeaeque leves et vultus peditis Marsi in hostem cruentum;
sive [tu venias] filius ales Maiae almae, figura mutata, iuvenem in terris imitaris, patiens ultor Caesaris vocari.
[O Auguste], serus in caelum redeas diuque laetus populo Quirini intersis neve aura te, vitiis nostris iniquum, ocior tollat. Hic triumphos potius magnos ames, hic [ames] pater atque princeps dici, neu, [o] Caesar, te duce, sinas Medos inultos equitare.  

delpho ordo:

Jupiter jam in terras immisit sat nivis et horrendæ grandinis; vibransque fulmina in sacras arces manu flammatâ Romæ terrorem incussit. Alias etiam nationes fecit timere, ne rediret triste tempus Pyrrhæ conquerentis ob prodigia inaudita; quando Proteus totum armentum duxit in excelsos montes; atque piscium genus adhæsit ulmi fastigio, qui locus fuerat columbis cognitus, necnon damæ timidi nataverunt in  mari superfuso. Aspeximus flavum Tiberim ire prostratum monumenta Regis Numæ et ædem Vestæ, aquis magno impetu reflexis à ripâ Tusciam spectante; dum hic  fluvius, Jove indignante, nimiùm indulgens uxiori Iliæ dolenti præter modum, se vindicem ostentat, atque in lævum littus errat exundans. Juvenes pauci culpâ parentum audient aliquando Romanos strinxisse gladios, quibus justè magis confoderentur Persæ graves: discentque bella civilia. Quem Deorum populus invocet labente Repubicâ? quibus votis instabunt Virgines sacratæ apud Vestam obsecrationes minimè suscipientem? Cui Jupiter dabit munus eluendi crimen? ô Phoebe fatidice, obsecramus ut sucurras, albos humeros nube velatos habens. Seu vis potiùs adesse, ô blanda Venus, circa quam Joci et Amores volitant: seu abjectam prolem atque posteros respicis, O Mars Romane gentis parens, eheu bello nimis diuturno satiate: qui gaudes vociferationibus, et galeis politis, atque aspectu Marsi peditis erga sævum adversarium feroci. Sive immutatâ specie adolescentem exhibes in terrâ, tu alatus filius benignæ Maiæ, sinens, te dici vindicem Julii Cæsaris: tardè remigres in cœlum; diuque maneas cum populo Romano, neque celerior ventus rapiat te nostris criminibus infensum. Ama potiùs hic ingentes triumphos, et appelationem parentis auctorisque: neque patiareis, O Cæsar, te imperante, Medos impunè in equis vagari. 

original ode:

Iam satis terrīs nivis atque dīrae
grandinis mīsit Pater et rubente
dexterā sācrās iaculātus arcēs
   terruit Vrbem,
terruit gentıs, grave nē redīret
saeculum Pyrrhae nova monstra questae,
omne cum Prōteus pecus ēgit altōs
   vīsere montıs,
piscium et sūmmā genus haesit ulmō,
nōta quae sēdēs fuerat columbīs,
et supēriectō pavidae natārunt
   aequore dammae.
vīdimus flāvum Tiberim retortīs
lītore Ētruscō violenter undīs
īre dēiectum monumenta rēgis
   templaque Vestae,
Īliae dum sē nimium querentī
iactat ultōrem, vagus et sinistrā
lābitur rīpā Iove nōn probante u-
   xōrius amnis.
audiet cīvıs acuisse ferrum,
quō gravēs Persae melius perīrent,
audiet pugnās vitiō parentum
   rāra iuventus.
quem vocet dīvum populus ruentis
imperī rēbus? prece quā fatīgent
virginēs sanctae minus audientem
   carmina Vestam?
cui dabit partıs scelus expiandī
Iuppiter? tandem veniās precāmur,        
nūbe candentıs umerōs amictus,
   augur Apollō,
sīve tū māvīs, Erycīna rīdēns,
quam Iocus circumvolat et Cupīdo,
sīve neglectum genus et nepōtēs
   respicis, auctor,
hēu nimis longō satiāte lūdō,
quem iuvat clāmor galeaeque lēvēs,
ācer et Marsī peditis cruentum
   vultus in hostem,
sīve mūtātā iuvenem figūrā
āles in terrīs imitāris, almae
fīlius Māiae, patiēns vocārī
   Caesaris ultor.
sērus in caelum redeās diūque
laetus intersīs populō Quirīnī,
nēve tē nostrīs vitiīs inīquum
   ōcior aura
tollat; hīc magnōs potius triumphōs,
hīc amēs dīcī pater atque princeps,
nēu sinās Mēdōs equitāre inultōs
   tē duce, Caesar.
(revised March 26, 2015)

:: 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.