This ode is addressed to Mercury and the lyre for the benefit of Lyde, a hetaera, or Roman geisha. Horace wants her to hear about how Mercury can calm even those in the underworld suffering excruciating pain. In particular he wants her to hear about evil girls who did wicked things. He tells her about Hypermestra, one of the daughters of Danaus. She and her sisters were forced by their father to marry the sons of their father’s brother. On the wedding night they were to murder their husbands. All carried out their father’s wishes except Hypermnestra, who allowed her husband to escape. Of course, the evil sisters must spend eternity sub Orco, under the watch of Orcus, ogre god of the underworld. Their punishment: to fill a dolium, whose bottom is perforated with holes. As for Hypermnestra, she’s in Elysium.
According to Daniel Garrison in his Horace: Epodes and Odes, A New Annotated Latin Edition , Horace spends so much time talking about Hypermnestra (without mentioning her name, I might add) that we forget forget all about Lyde and Mercury and the lyre. Why is this? Says Garrison [page 312]: “this is because the ode as a whole is a characteristically oblique tribute to Augustus’ spectacular new temple of Apollo, who portico was lined with statues of the Danaïds . . . .”
Given this historical background, perhaps Horace is once again railing against immorality in this ode. What if Lyde represents all the girls of Rome? What if she is Rome herself? This is not such a far-fetched idea, especially after reading ode III:6 “Delicta Maiorum Immeritus.”
In that last posting, I talked about Horace’s style, and how he seemed to like tacking on—no, piling on—more information until each of his sentences was a carefully constructed house of cards, each card being one more thing he wanted to say. And like a house of cards, some of his sentences are so huge that they seem to totter and sway under their own weight. The sentences in today’s ode are no different. Some sentences are so complex that editors have been forced over the centuries to enclose parts of them within parentheses.
I do not know whether Horace had some graphic sign to indicate a parenthetical remark or not (the Romans did have punctuation such as points and lines). Nevertheless, it is generally believed that lines 1-2 are parenthetical as well as line 30.
Mercure, (nam te docilis magistro
movit Amphion lapides canendo)
Mercury, for by you teacher, the teachable
Amphion moved rocks by singing,
Impiae (nam quid potuere maius?)
The impious girls, for what more could they do?
I’ve been feeling pretty smug about my analysis of Horace, how I think he uses singular verbs with plural subjects. All you have to do is look at the lack of subject-verb agreement in today’s ode (which I have marked in red) to see further examples. Maybe Horace or the Romans, in general, thought that putting singular verbs with plural subjects was cool. If so, Horace’s style has nothing to do with adding on information. Rather it is a reflection of how he bent the rules of grammar. It could be that Horace was being colloquial. I suppose we’ll ever know. The last native speaker of Latin morphed into a speaker of Italian long, long ago.
And one more thing: the lack of subject-verb agreement is not altogether unknown in Indo-European languages. Persian is a good example. Subject-verb agreement is mandatory when the subject is animate or better still, a human being, but in all other cases subject-verb agreement is optional. Indeed, it is considered good style by some (I suspect pretty old codgers by now, since the language is evolving) to say: The books was stolen. کتابها دزدیده شد We even have our share of discord in English. Today, one hears more and more ‘there is’ when ‘there are’ should be used.
translation :: 6|5 6|5 6|5 3|2
O Mercury, for because of you teacher,
docile Amphion moved rocks with his singing,
and you, ‘turtle shell,’ skillful in giving sound
to your seven strings,
once having aught to say, unwelcome, but now—
at the tables of the rich and friend of the
temples—play now a song for Lyde to bend
a stubborn ear to,
who, like a three-year-old filly in wide fields,
plays and leaps and is afraid of being touched,
unmarried, until now unprepared—for a
You have the power to command tigers and
the willing woods and waylay the fleeting streams;
that monstrous guard at the entrance yielded
to your soothing ways—
that Cerberus—a multitude of serpents
have guard over his head like a Fury’s, and
there lingers putrid breath and a bloody ooze
in his three-tongued mouth;
indeed Ixion and Tityos, their faces
unwilling, looked cheerful, the urn stood a bit
dry, while you caress the Danaus girls with
a welcome song.
Lyde hears the crime and the known punishment
of the young girls and the empty vessel with
water leaking from the bottom and the
that too await the crimes before Orcus.
The wicked girls–for what more could they have done?–
the wicked girls were able kill their husbands
with hardened iron.
Out of the many, one worthy of the
wedding torch was splendidly deceitful to
her disreputable father and for all
time a noble girl,
“Get up!” she said to her youthful husband.
“Get up. Don’t let long sleep be given you
from one you do not fear; cheat your father-in-law
and evil sisters,
who like lionesses lying in wait for
young bulls, rip them apart, oh God, one by one;
I, gentler than they, will not strike you dead
nor keep you locked up.
Me Father will weigh down with brutal chains, because
merciful me spared her poor man, me he will
send off in a ship to the furthermost fields
Go where feet take you and the winds, while the night
is kind—and Venus too, go with all luck, and
scratch on my tomb a sad song, a memory of
what happened to us.
translation © 2011 by James Rumford
in prose ::
[O] Mercuri, nam Amphion docilis, te magistro, lapides canendo movit, tuque, [o] testudo septem nervis resonare callida, nec olim loquax neque grata, et nunc [in] mensis divitum et [in] templis amica, tu dic modos quibus Lyde ‹aures [suas] obstinatas› applicet.
Quae, velut equa trima, [in] campis latis exsultim ludit metuitque tangi, nuptiarum expers et adhuc marito protervo cruda.
Tu potes tigres silvasque comites ducere et rivos celeres morari. Cerberus, ‹ianitor immanis› aulae, quamvis centum angues caput furiale eius muniant atque spiritus taeter saniesque ore trilingui manet, tibi blandienti cessit. Quin et Ixion Tityosque vultu invito risit, urna sicca paulum stetit, dum ‹carmine grato› puellas Danai mulces.
Lyde scelus audiat atque poenas notas virginum et dolium fundo imo lymphae pereuntis inane fataque sera, quae culpas etiam sub Orco manent. [Puellae] impiae—nam quid maius potuer[unt]?—impiae potuer[unt] ferro duro sponsos perdere.
Fuit una de multis face nuptiali digna in parentem periurum splendide mendax et virgo nobilis in aevum omne.
“Surge!” quae ‹marito iuveni› dixit, “Surge, ne somnus longius, unde non times, tibi detur. Socerum et sorores scelestas falle, quae—velut leaenae vitulos nactae—singulos eheu lacerant. Ego illis mollior nec te feriam neque intra claustra tenebo.“Pater me [cum] catenis saevis oneret, quod [ego] clemens viro misero peperci. Vel me in agros extremos Numidarum [in] classe releget. I quo pedes et aurae te rapiunt, dum nox et Venus favet. I omine secundo. Et querelam, memorem nostri, [in] sepulcro scalpe.” [revised March 27, 2015]
delphin ordo ::
O Mercuri (siquidem te præceptore Amphion saxa cantu movit) et tu, lyra, chordis septenis resonare perita: neque canora pridem neque jucunda, jam verò familiaris tum opulentorum mensis, tum fanis Deorum, numeros ede, quibus pervicaces auriculas admoveat Lyde: quæ sicut equa trium annorum exultat et ludit per apertos agros; fugitque attrectari, à nuptiis immunis, necdum petulanti viro idones. Tu vales trahere tigres silvasque simul, et rapidos tardare fluvios. Tibi demulcenti morem gessit Cerberus crudelis aulæ janitor; licèt caput illius furiale stipent serpentes multi, et ex ore tres linguas habente halitus pestilens et tabum fluat. Quinetiam Ixion et Tityus facie prætulerunt hilaritatem non sponte: stetit dolium tantisper aridum dum suavi cantu Danai filias detineres. Discat Lyde crimen et supplicia famosa puellarum, et vacuum aquâ vas evanescente ex imo profundo, perennemque sortem delictis etiam apud Inferos reservatam. Sceleratæ (quid enim pejus valuerint?) sceleratæ, inquam, illæ sævo gladio perimere sponsos valuerunt. At è pluribus una, tædis nuptialibus idones, egregiè fraudulenta erga patrem fallacem, et in cuncta secula illustris virgo extitit: quæ ait adolescenti sponso, Exurge, ne diuturnus tibi sopor, unde non metuis, comparetur: socerum et impias sorores effuge; quæ tanquam leænæ vitulos adeptæ totidem, (heu!) discerpunt. Ego illis elementior neque te percutiam, neque ditinebo intra septa. Me parens duris vinculis obruat, quoniam sponsum infelicem benigna servavi: me navi amandet ad ultimos etiam Numidarum campos. Abi auò te ferunt pedes et venti, dum nox et Venus obsecundant: abi faustis auspiciis, et tumulo inscribe querimoniam quá nostri recordatio permaneat.
original ode ::
Mercurī, (nam tē docilis magistrō
mōvit Amphion lapidēs canendō),
tūque testūdō resonāre septem
nec loquax ōlim neque grāta, nunc et
dīvitum mensīs et amīca templīs,
dīc modōs Lȳdē quibus obstinātās
quae velut lātīs equa trīma campīs
lūdit exsultim metuitque tangī
nuptiārum expers et adhuc protervō
tū potes tīgrıs comitēsque silvās
dūcere et rīvōs celerēs morārī;
cessit immānis tibi blandientī
Cerberus, quamvis furiāle centum
mūniant anguēs caput eius atque
spīritus taeter saniesque mānet
quīn et Ixīon Tityōsque vultū
rīsit invītō, stetit urna paulum
sīcca, dum grātō Danaī puellās
audiat Lȳdē scelus atque nōtās
virginum poenās et ināne lymphae
dōlium fundō pereuntis īmō
quae manent culpās etiam sub Orcō:
impiae—nam quid potuēre māius?—
impiae sponsōs potuēre dūrō
ūna dē multīs face nuptiālī
digna periūrum fuit in parentem
splendide mendax et in omne virgō
‘surge’ quae dīxit iuvenī marītō,
‘surge, nē longıus tibi somnus unde
nōn timēs dētur, socerum et scelestās
quae velut nactae vitulōs leaenae
singulōs ēheu lacerant: ego illīs
mollior nec tē feriam neque intrā
mē pater saevīs oneret catēnīs,
quod virō clēmēns miserō pepercī,
mē vel extrēmōs Numidārum in agrōs
ī pedēs quō tē rapiunt et aurae,
dum favet nox et Venus, ī secundō
omine et nostrī memorem sepulcrō
:: 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.