I have been late in posting this. I have been busy with putting up two websites: one about the children’s books I write (jamesrumford.com) and one about the fine press/letterpress business I began in 1986 (manoapress.com). I also hope to start up another blog soon about these two websites. I’ll still continue my journey with Horace, though.
In today’s ode, Horace tells of the god Nereus, the ‘old man of the sea,’ who with fata fera, wild words, foretells what will happen after the pastor perfidus (Paris) drags Helenen hospitam (Helen the Hostess) across the sea to Troy.
Basically, the ode runs like this: Nereus speaks to Paris and tells him what will happen after he abducts Helen and carries her off to Troy. Nereus mentions many of the key events and heros of the Trojan war, to wit:
· Paris, the son of King Priam and shepherd on Mt. Ida, takes Helen to Troy and marries her.
· The Greeks war on the Trojans and besiege their city.
· Paris cowardly uses the marriage bed as an excuse not to fight.
· The Greek hero Ajax comes to fight the Trojans.
· Paris will die in the dust of Troy.
· Laertides (Odysseus) will fight the Trojans and be their ruin by tricking them with the ‘Trojan Horse.’
· The old man, Nestor of Pylos, will lead the Pylian troops.
· Ajax’s brother Teucer, famed archer who used arrows from Knossos and who will later found the city of Salamis, will urge Paris to come out to fight.
· Sthenelus, the charioteer, will also urge Paris to fight.
· The warrior Meriones will also come to fight the Trojans.
· The warrior Tydides (also known as Diomedes), who was a better than his father Tydeus, will fight as well. He is instrumental in getting Philoctetes to slay Paris.
· Achilles of the Achaeans (Greeks) will postpone fighting for a time but will eventually come in his ships and, although he will die, his men together with the Greek coalition will burn Troy to the ground.
What was it about that story of Greece and Troy that seemed to define not only the Greek civilization but the Roman one as well? What was it about anger and perfidy, grief and utter destruction that symbolized to them what life was all about? I wonder: what is our story today? What defines us? People used to read Homer. They used to read the Bible. Should we translate and transmogrify today’s ode by infusing it with the characters from Star Trek or Star Wars or from Middle Earth? Are these the stories that define us today? I do not know.
Horace further underscores the emotion of anger with a set of interrelated words: ferox, furo, and ferus: ‘fierce,’ ‘I leap, I rage,’ and ‘wild, feral.’ I have colored these words in red in the ode, and you can see how Horace has stitched his poem together with them.
Ferox, furo, ferus are all related to the Indo-European root *ghwer, which meant ‘wild.’ The *ghw became f in Latin and th in Greek. Thus, oddly, we get the word ‘treacle,’ which was once a concoction used as an antidote for wild, i.e., poisonous, animals. ‘Treacle’ came down to us via Vulgar Latin triacula from the Latin theriaca, a borrowing from the Greek: theriake antidotos. Unfortunately, the *ghw should have produced a w in English, but no word has come down to us. There is no English were, meaning ‘wild,’ even if, for a fleeting moment one might like to connect *ghwer with such a word as ‘werewolf.’ ‘Werewolf,’ etymologists suggest, but cannot claim, came from the same Indo-European root that gave us ‘virile.’ Thus, ‘werewolf’ is supposed to mean ‘wolf-man.’ Still, I wonder: could there possibly be a connection between ‘werewolf’ and *ghwer? Isn’t a werewolf a really fierce, ferocious, hideous, terrifying being?
This small excursion into word roots raises an interesting question, a psycholinguistic one, for which I have no real answer—just conjecture. What if, on some deep psychological level, the mind perceives the interrelationship between certain words? What if, in Horace’s mind, there is a connection between ferox, furo, and ferus? What if a poet unconsciously taps into this connection and, I suppose, brings these words into play? What if the reader, equally at a very deep level, is pleased by what the poet has done? As I said, I have no answers, but the possibility of a subliminal web exists that, like the interplay of dark and light in a painting, is not readily apparent but pleases the viewer.
There are two lines worth noting for their complexity. The first is the twisted-up line:
quem tu cervus uti vallis in altera
visum parte lupum graminis immemor
A real tossed salad of words, which, if translated word for word would be incomprehensible:
whom you deer-like of-the-valley in the other
a-seen part wolf of-the-grass forgetful
I’ll leave it to you to figure out the sense; otherwise, see the translation below.
The second difficult line seems simple, but it is not:
non hoc pollicitus tuae
Literally it means:
not this promised of-yours
When you finally realize that hoc is neuter, pollicitus is masculine, and tuae is feminine, you are ready to throw in the towel.
The ancient commentators make a point of mentioning that tuae refers to Helen. Ah yes! This ode is basically Nereus talking to Paris. So, this line has to mean something like ‘not this is what you promised.’ If so, how does the line work grammarwise?
The key is that pollicitus is a deponent verb. Thus, all you need is a subject and a complete verb:
Tu non hoc pollicitus es.
You did not promise this.
Finally there is tuae. This must mean ‘to your.’ But ‘to your what’? To your Helen:
Tu non hoc tuae Helenae pollicitus es.
You did not promise this to your Helen.
When the shepherd, deceitful guest, dragged his hostess
Helen across the sea in an Idaean boat,
Nereus overpowered the speeding winds with
an unwelcome calm that he might
sing in wild talk: “by some evil bird you take home
the one whom Greece shall reclaim, united by oath
to break up your wedding and the ancient kingdom
of Priam, with many soldiers.
Alas! how much sweat there will be from horses and
men. How many funerals you’ll set in motion
for the Dardanaeans! Pallas now yields to
helmet, shield, chariots—outrage!
In vain, you, arrogant under the protection
of Venus, comb your long hair and accompany
on the unwarlike lute songs pleasing to women;
In vain, on the marriage bed,
you avoid the heavy spears and the reed arrows
from Knossus, the din of battle, swift Ajax
in pursuit: but, alas, too late; you’ll cover your
long adulterous hair with dust.
Do you not see Laertiades, the death of your
people, and Nestor of Pylos? Fearless ones will
urge you on: the Salaminian Teucer and
Sthenelus, skilled in fighting, or,
when needed, in commanding horses, no sluggish
charioteer he! You will also meet Merion.
Look! Fierce Tydides, better than his father, runs
off like a madman to find you.
You are soft; you flee him like a deer that has seen
a wolf and forgets about the grass in the other
part of the valley, breathing hard from its nostrils—
This you did not pledge to Helen.
The anger of Achilles’ fleet postpones the day
for Illium and the Phrygian wives. After
winters fixed in number, an Achaean fire
will burn the Illian houses.
translation © 2011 by James Rumford
in prose ::
Cum pastor perfidus Helenen hospitam navibus Idaeis per freta traheret, Nereus otio ingrato celeres ventos obruit ut fata fera caneret:
“[Tu] mala avi [ad] domum [eam] ducis quam Graecia [cum] milite multo repetet, coniurata nuptias tuas et regnum vetus Priami rumpere.
“Heu, heu! Quantus sudor equis, quantus [sudor] viris adest! Quanta funera genti Dardanae moves!
“Pallas iam galeam et aegida currusque et rabiem parat. Nequiquam [tu] ferox [sub] praesidio Veneris caesariem pectes, citharaque imbelli carmina feminis grata divides.
Nequiquam [in] thalamo hastas graves et spicula calami Cnosii strepitumque et ‹Aiacem celerem sequi› vitabis. Tamen, heu, [tu] serus, crines adulteros pulvere collines. Non Laertiaden, exitium gentis tuae, non Nestora Pylium respicis?
Impavidi te urgent. [Te] Teucer Salaminius [urget]. Te Sthenelus [urget], pugnae sciens, non auriga piger, sive opus est equis imperitare. Merionen quoque nosces.Ecce, Tydides atrox, patre [suo] melior, furit te reperire—[Merionem], quem tu mollis, uti cervus in parte altera vallis lupum visum, graminis immemor, sublimi anhelitu fugies. Non hoc tuae pollicitus [es]. Classis iracunda Achillei diem Ilio matronisque Phrygum proferet. Post hiemes certas, ignis Achaicus domos Iliacas uret.” [revised March 27, 2015]
original ode ::
Pastor cum traheret per freta nāvibus
īdaeīs Helenen perfidus hospitam,
ingrātō celerıs obruit ōtiō
ventōs ut caneret fera
Nēreus fāta: “malā dūcis avī domum
quam multō repetet Graecia mīlite,
cōniūrāta tuās rumpere nuptiās
et regnum Priamī vetus.
hēu, hēu, quantus equīs, quantus adest virīs
sūdor! quanta movēs fūnera Dardanae
gentī! iam galeam Pallas et aegida
currūsque et rabiem parat.
nequiquam Veneris praesidiō ferox
pectēs caesariem grātaque fēminīs
imbellī citharā carmina dīvidēs;
nequicquam thalamō gravıs
hastās et calamī spīcula Cnōsiī
vītābis strepitumque et celerem sequī
āiācem: tamen, hēu sērus, adulterōs
crīnēs pulvere collinēs.
nōn Lāertiadēn, exitium tuae
gentis, nōn Pylium Nestora respicis?
urgent impāvīdi tē Salamīnius
Teucer, tē Sthenelus sciēns
pugnae, sīve opus est imperitāre equīs,
nōn aurīga piger; Mērionēn quoque
noscēs. ecce furit tē reperīre atrox
Tȳdīdes melior patre,
quem tū, cervus utī vallis in alterā
vīsum parte lupum grāminis immemor,
sublīmī fugiēs mollis anhēlitū,
nōn hōc pollicitus tuae.
īrācunda diem prōferet Īliō
mātrōnīsque Phrygum classis Achilleī;
post certās hiemēs ūret Achāicus
ignis Īliacās domōs.”
:: 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.