“Poetic vision is an intense mental experience induced by words and images cast in an extraordinary order.”
How to Read Chinese Poetry
(Columbia University Press, 2008, pg. 380.)
I couldn’t agree with Mr. Cai more. Certainly this is what I have learned these past two years slogging my way through Carmina Horatii. Although Mr. Cai is discussing Chinese poetry, what he has to say relates to reading Latin poetry as well.
This is an odd thing for me to say. Chinese and Latin couldn’t be more different. Chinese does not have case endings for its nouns. It does not force its verbs to go through contortions to mark out tense, aspect and mood. In fact, there is no way to know in Chinese whether any one word is a noun, a verb, or an adjective. English is very much like Chinese in this respect. Take any noun in English and you can usually turn it into a verb:
I will light the light, even though it is getting light.
This, of course, doesn’t happen in Latin:
Allucabo lucem, quamvis illucescit.
It would seem, at first glance, that Chinese and English were just made for the kind of intense mental experience Mr. Cai is talking about. In fact, I have seen references to Ezra Pound’s ecstasy upon discovering Chinese to be the perfect medium of poets! But this is hogwash. Maybe Latin can’t do what Chinese and English can do with their words, but it can do this: it can use its declensions and conjugations to shake up the mental experience. Take this Latin word:
Is it an adjective as in libri graves ‘heavy books’ or is it a verb as in nescio cur me graves ‘I don’t know why you oppress me’?
Latin can also shake up the word order to such an extent that it is particularly difficult to pin down the exact meaning the poet had in mind. Neither Chinese nor English has this gymnastic ability. In fact, recent studies, and some dating back a hundred years, have shown that Chinese is quite rigid in its structure, especially when it comes to how one, two, and three syllable words or word phrases are placed in a particular line of poetry. Chinese might look monosyllabic because of the characters, but it is not and never has been. Chinese word order might look free, but it is not and never has been.
So every language has the ability to create an intense mental experience in its own way.
Today’s ode is definitely such an experience. The thoughts supporting the words may not be complicated, but the structure, stopping and starting, twisting and turning, is almost impenetrable. Right from the start, you find yourself in a briar patch:
Dive, quem proles Niobea magnae
vindicem linguae Tityosque raptor
sensit et Troae prope victor altae
There are five possible subjects (proles, Tityos, raptor, victor, Pthius Achilles) and one verb, in the singular: sensit. The ode is addressed to some god, dive, followed by a relative clause beginning with quem ‘whom.’ This is a real mess until commentators come to the rescue and say that Horace decided to eschew subject-verb agreement. Sensit is what proles, Tityos, and the rest of the subjects are doing. Turns out, of course, that these ‘other’ subjects are appositives, Horace’s favorite device for piling on information without verbs, perhaps because, with appositives, he can fit what he wants to say within the framework of the Greek meter he has chosen.
The first stanza is only the beginning of a reader’s problems. I will simply direct your attention to lines 13-16. Go ahead and figure out how these rather terse lines work. Translators have to add lots of information to make them understandable.
ille, non inclusus equo Minervae
sacra mentitoque male feriatos
Troas et laetam Priami choreis
Literally, these lines read:
he [Achilles], not included in the horse of Minerva
by a sacred offering and in the fake one badly celebrating
Trojans and happy Priam’s chorus
would have deceived the hall.
Turns out that ‘not’ goes with ‘included’ and with ‘would have deceived.’ So, Achilles wasn’t in the Trojan horse and he wouldn’t have deceived the Trojans. The horse was an offering to Minerva and it was a fake. I guess the Trojans were happy to get it and there was merriment. Very difficult. It took me days to figure this all out, even after I had read translations.
O god, the avenger under whom the
offspring of grand-talking Niobea
suffered, the rapist Tityos, too, and
the almost victor of towering Troy,
greater than the rest, a soldier to thee
unequal, the son of sea-born Thetis,
fighter, to shake with dire lance the towers
he, like a pine tree struck with sharp iron
or a cypress thrust down by the east wind,
collapsed sprawling and laid his severed head
in the Trojan dust;
not inclosed in a fake horse, a gift to
Minerva, he’d not have tricked the Trojans
into ill-timed leisure and Priam’s happy
court into dancing,
but, harsh to the captives—oh, the evil—
he’d have openly burned with Achaean fire
boys unable to talk, even the ones hidden
in a mother’s womb,
had not Father-of-the-Gods, bent by
yours and dear Venus’ words, agreed to,
concerning Aeneas, walls built under
a luckier bird.
Flute teacher to clear-voiced Thalia, you
Phoebe, who wash your hair in the Xanthus,
defend the right of the Daunian Muse,
o beardless Pillar!
Phoebus gave me the spirit; Phoebus gave
me the technique and the name of poet.
O you, foremost of the girls and you, boys
of famous fathers,
each a ward of the goddess Delia,
lynx fleeing-fleeting and deer bow-slain, do
attend to the Lesbian meter and
the tap of my thumb,
singing of Latona’s son in holy
rite, of the crescent moon by torch light, of
prosperous crops and of the swift turning
of the fleeting months.
Soon to be married, you’ll say, “I rehearsed
a song pleasing to the gods made for the
Century Days, and I learned the tune from
the poet Horace.
translation © 2011 by James Rumford
Commentarii :: http://www.horatius.ru/index.xps?2.1.406
Delphin Order ::
O Deus, quem superbi sermonis ultorem experti sunt filii Niobes, ac Tityus raptor, atque Phthius Achilles famosæ Trojae propemodum expugnator : aliis quidem fortio, te verò inferior miles ; quanquam Thetidis marinæ filius Tojanas arces impugnaret hastâ tremendâ certans. Is, sicuti pinus edace securi percussa, vel cupressus Euro dejecta, latè procubuit, cervicemque demisit in pulvere Trojano. Ille non clausus equo sacra Palladis simulante decepisset Trojanos perperam otiantes, et aulam Priami saltationibus gaudentem; sed apertè in expugantos immitis, heu nefas, heu ! Infantes cremâsset ignibus Græcis, nec non ventre materno inclusos : nisi Deorum pater tuis ac Verneris jucundæ precibus exoratus concessit Æneæ laboribus mœnia felicioribus auspiciis extructa. O Apollo citharista, Thaliæ Argivæ eruditor, qui Xantho flumine lavas capillos ; imberbis Agyieu, tuere gloriam Musæ Appulæ. Apollo mihi ingenium, Apollo facultatem poëseos et vatis appellationem tribuit. O puellæ primariæ, et pueri illustribus parentibus nati, clientes Deæ Deliæ, quæ timidos lyncas et cervos arcu prosternit, custodite mensuram Sapphicam, et pollicis mei sonum : ritè celebrantes filium Latonæ, ritè Dianam lumine augescentem, frugibus propitiam, fluxis mensibus evolvendis promptam. Aliquando connubio juncta dices : Ego poëtæ Horatii versibus erudita cecini carmen gratum Numinibus, quando seculum reduxit dies solemnes.
In Prose ::
[O] Dive [Apollo], quem ‹vindicem linguae magnae› proles Niobea sensit—Tityosque raptor [sensit] et Phthius Achilles, prope victor Troiae altae, [sensit]. [Achilles] ceteris maior, miles tibi impar, quamvis filius ‹pugnax Thetidis marinae› turres Dardanas cuspide tremenda quateret, ille, velut pinus ‹ferro mordaci icta› aut cupressus ‹Euro impulsa›, late procidit, collumque in pulvere Teucro posuit. Ille, [in] equo sacra Minervae mentito non inclusus, Troas male feriatos et ‹aulam Priami [de] choreis laetam› [non] falleret, sed, palam captis gravis—heu! nefas! heu!—pueros fari nescios, etiam latentem in alvo matris, flammis Achivis ureret, ni pater divum, vocibus tuis grataeque Veneris flexus, rebus Aeneae ‹muros potiore alite ductos› adnuisset.
[O] Phoebe, doctor-fidicen Thaliae argutae, [tu] qui crines [in] amne Xantho lavis, decus Camenae Dauniae defende, [o] levis Agyieu.
Phoebus spiritum, Phoebus artem carminis, nomen poetae mihi dedit.
[Vos, o] primae virginum, [o] puerique patribus claris orti, [o iuventus] tutela deae Deliae, lyncas fugaces et cervos arcu cohibentis, pedem Lesbium ictumque pollicis mei servate, puerum Latonae rite canentes, Noctilucam, face crescentem, prosperam frugum celeremque menses pronos volvere, rite [canentes].[Tu], iam nupta, dices, “Saeculo luces festas referente, ego, docilis modorum vatis Horati, carmen dis amicum reddidi .” [revised March 28, 2015]
Dīve, quem prōles Niobēa magnae
vindicem linguae Tityōsque raptor
sensit et Trōiae prope victor altae
cēterīs māior, tibi mīles impar,
fīlius quamvis Thetidis marīnae
Dardanās turrıs quateret tremendā
Ille mordācī velut icta ferrō
pīnus aut impulsa cǔpressus Eurō
prōcidit lātē posuitque collum in
ille nōn inclūsus equō Minervae
sācra mentītō male fēriātōs
Trōas et laetam Priamī chorēīs
sed palam captīs gravis, hēu nefas, hēu!
nesciōs fārī puerōs Achīvīs
ūreret flammīs, etiam latentem
mātris in alvō,
nī tuīs flexus[victus] Venerisque grātae
vōcibus dīvum pater adnuisset
rēbus Aenēae potiōre ductōs
doctor argūtae fīdicen Thalīae,
Phoebe, quī Xanthō lavis amne crīnēs,
Dauniae dēfende decus Camēnae,
Spīritum Phoebus mihi, Phoebus artem
carminis nōmenque dedit poētae.
Virginum prīmae puerīque clārīs
Dēliae tūtēla deae, fugācēs
lyncās et cervōs cohibentis arcū,
Lesbium servāte pedem meīque
rīte Lātōnae puerum canentēs,
rīte crescentem face Noctilūcam,
prosperam frūgum celeremque prōnōs
Nupta iam dīcēs: ‘Ego dīs amīcum,
saeculō festās referente lūcēs,
reddidī carmen docilis modōrum
:: 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.