For some time I’ve had to contend with Horace using singular verbs for plural subjects. Sometimes, a scholar will note this oddity, but say nothing more. In today’s ode, there are two instances of subject-verb discord; so I ask myself: is Horace being poetic? Is he playing around with a rather tightly screwed together grammatical system. Or, is something else happening—something which goes to the heart of Horace’s style?
In lines 9–16, clearly there are multiple subjects but only singular verbs are used.
Iam bis Monaeses et Pacori manus
non auspicats contudit impetus
nostros et adiecisse praedam
torquibus exiguis renidet.
Paene occupatam seditionibus
delevit urbem Dacus et Aethiops,
hic classe formidatus, ille
missilibus melior sagittis.
Now twice Monaeses and Pacorus’ troops
crushed our inauspicious thrusts and
beams at having added booty to
thin arm bands.
Dacus and the Egyptian nearly destroyed
the City occupied with civil war, the one
formidable with a navy, the other better
at shooting arrows.
Most translators say that the Persian general Monaeses (?منیوش) and the troops of King Pacorus (d. 38 BC—پاکور) are the subjects of contudit, ‘crushed’ and renidet, ‘beams.’ They believe that Dacus (the Dacian, or someone from the area of modern Hungary and Romania) and Aethiops (the Ethiopian, or here, scholars say, the Egyptian) are the subjects of delevit ‘destroyed.’ I get the feeling, however, that the conjunction et means more than ‘and’ here. Perhaps it means ‘and Pacorus’ troops by the way’ or perhaps it indicates a parenthetical remark: Monaeses (and Pacorus’ troops). If so, then Horace is not playing around with subject-verb agreement. Rather, he is doing what he always does in his poetry: tacking on afterthoughts, adding a bit of parenthetical precision. Just as Horace is fond of appositives, so I think he is enamored with this almost conversational style, a style that gives his work such immediacy. It is as though he had not thought things out fully, as one speaking would do, gathering one’s thoughts, adding to what has already been said to make sure the meaning comes across. Of course, Horace did think things out fully. His elaborate verbal crisscrossing of nouns and adjectives, the leap-frogging of verbs with subjects and objects couldn’t have been done otherwise. But I think, this jerky, bumpy feeling Horace gives to his words is part of his style. Scholars and school teachers may try to explain away his lack of subject-verb agreement, but I say, let him be.
Let him be when he decides to omit verbs. Take lines 33 to 44. Here Horace casts further shame on the parents of his day for not producing offspring as brave as their forebears. See how he constructs this idea in one long sentence.
(The following between brackets was revised August 9, 2013)
[The subject is iuventus, ‘youth,’ which I have colored red. The youth not of these parents did brave things but the offspring of he-man farmers and no-nonsense mothers. Horace, of course, is not as straightforward as this; there is a lot of information in these lines that makes the reader yearn a bit more of the connecting tissue of language: relative pronouns, copulas—that kind of thing.
Non his iuventus orta parentibus
infecit aequor sanguine punico
Pyrrhumque et ingentem cecidit
Antiochum Hannibalemque dirum;
sed rusticorum mascula militum
proles, Sabelli docta ligonibus
versare glebas et severae
matris ad abitrium recisos
portare fuscis, sol ubi montium
mutaret umbras et iuga demeret
bobus fatigatis, amicum
tempus agens abeunte curru.
It has taken me two years to realize fully Horace’s use of parenthetical remarks, which I will call these lines with seemingly double subjects, these lines containing no verbs. Horace keeps saying: “Oh, wait, I’ve got one more thing to say.”]
Undeserving citizen, you’ll be paying
for your fathers’ sins until you have redone
the temples of the gods and shrines in
ruins and idols filthy with black smoke.
Since you take yourself less than the gods, you rule.
From here: all beginnings. Back here: bring results.
The gods neglected have given much
evil to sorrowing Italia.
Monaeses has already twice beaten back—
the forces of Pacorus as well—our ill-
omened thrusts and has beamed at having
added plunder to his puny neck torques.
The Dacian, with his better arrow shooting,
just about destroyed—the Egyptian as well,
terrifying with his fleet of ships—
the City occupied with civil war.
Days fecund with sin have defiled first marriage
then our children and family; from this fountain
the destruction drawn off has flowed on,
over the fatherland and the people.
The maturing girl delights in learning the
Ionian moves and is taught its ways and
before you know it, contemplates
impure love with her tender fingertips.
Soon she is looking for younger adult men while
her husband is drunk, and she isn’t choosey
who she offers her unpermitted
delights to, with the lights in the distance,
but, when openly ordered, not without her
husband knowing, gets up, be he door-to-door
salesman or a ship’s captain from Spain,
some big-spending buyer of disgust.
The youth arisen not from such parents
stained the sea with Punic blood and brought down
Phyrrhus and the powerful
Antiochus, the hated Hannibal. [revised Aug 2013]
This youth! The manly offspring of rustic soldiers,
taught to turn over the clods of earth with
the Sabelian hoe and at the
bidding of a strict mother to bring cut
firewood, where Sol might transform the mountain
shadows and remove the yoke from the tired
cattle, driving on the beloved
hours in his departing chariot.
Destructive day! What doesn’t it hang over?
A worse-omened bird, our parents’ age, brought us,
even more worthless, soon to produce
children even more defective.
translation © 2011 by James Rumford
in prose ::
[O] Romane, immeritus delicta maiorum lues, donec templa aedesque labentes deorum et simulacra fumo nigro foeda refeceris. Imperas, quod te minorem dis geris. Hinc omne principium, huc exitum refer.
Di neglecti multa mala Hesperiae luctuosae dederunt. Iam bis Monaeses et manus Pacori impetus non auspicatos nostros contud[erun]t et renide[n]t praedam torquibus exiguis adiecisse. Dacus et Aethiops urbem seditionibus occupatam paene delev[erun]t, hic classe formidatus, ille missilibus sagittis melior.
Saecula culpae fecunda primum nuptias et genus et domos inquinaver[unt]. ‹Clades [ex] hoc fonte derivata› in patriam populumque fluxit. Virgo matura gaudet motus Ionicos doceri et artibus fingitur et iam nunc amores incestos de ungui tenero mediatur. Iuniores mox adulteros inter vina mariti quaerit neque eligit cui gaudia impermissa raptim donet, luminibus remotis, sed coram iussa, non sine conscio marito, surgit, seu institor vocat, seu magister navis Hispanae, emptor pretiosus dedecorum.
Iuventus, his parentibus non orta, aequor sanguine Punico infecit, ‹Pyrrhumque› et ‹Antiochum ingentem› ‹Hannibalemque dirum› cecidit, sed [illa iuventus erat] proles mascula militum rusticorum, ligonibus Sabellis glaebas versare docta et ad arbitrium matris severae fustes recisos portare, ubi sol umbras montium mutaret et iuga bobus fatigatis demeret, agens tempus amicum, curru abeunte.Dies damnosa quid non imminuit? Aetas parentum, avis peior, nos nequiores tulit, mox progeniem vitiosiorem daturos. [revised March 27, 2015]
Delphin ordo ::
O Romane, solves pœnas quas non es meritus, ob peccata patrum, donec resarcieris fana et delubra Numinum decidentia, atque imagines atro squalore deformatas. Regnas, quia te præstas inferiorem Numinibus. Inde omne primordium; illuc finem reduc. Spreta Numina plures calamitates intulerunt afflictæ Italiæ. Jam semel atque iterum Monæses et Pacori exercitus repulit nostros conatus inauspicatos: gaudetque nostra polia addidisse torquibus suis minoribus. Civitatem dessensionibus detentam propemodum extinxit Dacus et Æthiops, hic navibus potens, ille telis jaciendis peritus. Ævum delictis fertile primò fœdavit conjugia, et stirpem, et familias. Ex istâ origine manans calamitas in patriam et populum grassata est. Nubilis puella studet ediscere saltationes Ionum, et jam formatur artibus: atque flagitiosos amores cogitat ab ætate molliori. Deinde mœchos adolescentiores sectatur inter viri sui convivia: nullumque delectum adhibet, cuí voluptates haud licitas furtim indulgeat, extinctis lucernis. Sed præsente et consentiente viro pergit vocata, sive petit negotiator, sive dominus navis Hispanicæ, flagitia remunerans ingenti mercede. Non ejusmodi parentibus nati juvenes mare tinxerunt cruore Carthaginiensium; et profligavere Pyrrhum, magnumque Antiochum, et sævum Hannibalem: sed strenui filii militum agrestium, assueti terram colere bipalo Sabino, et ad austeræ matris voluntatem amputata referre ligna, cùm montium vertit umbras et juga fessis bobus detrahit Sol, horam adducens jucundam recedente curru. Quid tempus edax non corrumpit? Ævum patrum nostrorum avis deterius produxit nos pejores, deinde prolem edituros etiam improbiorem.
original ode ::
Dēlicta māiōrum immeritus luēs,
Rōmāne, dōnec templa refēceris
aedēsque labentıs deōrum et
foeda nigrō simulacra fūmō.
dīs tē minōrem quod geris, imperās:
hinc omne princīpium, hūc refer exitum.
dī multa neglectī dedērunt
Hesperiae mala luctuōsae.
iam bis Monaesēs et Pacorī manūs
nōn auspicātōs contudit impetūs
nostrōs et adiēcisse praedam
torquibus exiguīs renīdet.
paene occupātam sēditiōnibus
dēlēvit urbem Dācus et Aethiops,
hīc clāsse formīdātus, ille
missilibus melior sagittīs.
fēcunda culpae saecula nuptiās
prīmum inquināvēre et genus et domōs:
hōc fonte dērīvāta clādēs
in patriam populumque fluxit
mōtūs docērī gaudet Iōnicōs
mātūra virgō et fingitur artibus,
iam nunc et incestōs amōrēs
dē tenerō meditātur unguī.
mox iuniorēs quaerit adulterōs
inter marītī vīna, neque ēligit
cui dōnet impermissa raptim
gaudia luminibus remōtīs,
sed iussa cōram nōn sine consciō
surgit marītō, seu vocat institor
seu nāvis Hispānae magister,
dēdecōrum pretiōsus emptor.
nōn hīs iuventus orta parentibus
infēcit aequor sanguine Pūnicō
Pyrrhumque et ingentem cecīdit
Antiochum Hannibalemque dīrum;
sed rusticōrum mascula mīlitum
prōles, Sabellīs docta ligōnibus
versāre glaebās et sevērae
mātris ad arbitrium recīsōs
portāre fustıs, sōl ubi montium
mūtāret umbrās et iuga dēmeret
bōbus fatīgātīs, amīcum
tempus agēns abeunte currū.
damnōsa quid nōn imminuit diēs?
aetās parentum, pēior āvīs, tulit
nōs nēquiōrēs, mox datūrōs
:: 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.