Horace rails again. Same ‘ole theme: the rich can’t buy death off and they are never satisfied with what they have. They are never as happy as the nomads of the plains who lead a more virtuous life. But what do we Romans know of virtue? We despise the virtuous man. We only like him dead. We try to cover up this envy of ours by erecting statues in the dead man’s honor and calling him pater urbium, ‘father of the civilized world.’ Our greed knows no bounds. We’ll go to the ends of the earth to acquire more and more, while at home, for those less fortunate, we do nothing. We let poverty grind them into the dirt and despise them when they stray from the path of virtue.
All I can say, after reading this ode, is: Rome was such a mess!
But I bet you’re thinking what I’m thinking. Not much has changed in two thousand years . . . except the details: the untouched treasures of the Arabs, intacti thesauri Arabum, have been broken into. Capitoline Hill (where the earliest of Romans found a caput, a buried head) is in ruins, but Capitol Hill is not. We no longer have slaves and free-born men—just minimum wage earners and CEO’s. And while we may no longer call fate Necessitas, we fear it all the same.
There is not much to say about the grammar or the words. They both remain a challenge. What was difficult, however, was Horace’s logic. In some sixty or so lines, he managed to pit wealthy Romans against fate, contrast their morals with those of the nomads and compare them with traders and merchants. He plugged capital punishment and took a poke or two at little rich kids. An amazing feat, but did he carry it off? I’ll let you be the judge.
I am going to try something new in this posting: footnotes. The small bracketed numerals in the translation refer to notes immediately following.
translation :: 8:12
Richer than the untouched treasures
of the Arabs, the wealthy of India,
you feel free with your quarried stones
to occupy all the land and the public sea.
Being in the loftiest of
places, you won’t free your soul from from fear, your head
from the snare of death, if dreaded
Necessitas pins you down with diamond-hard spikes.
The Scyths on the plains, carrying
their nomad houses on their carts, as is their way,
live better, the hard Getae, too,
whose unmeasured acres bring them free fruit and grain.
Farming more than a year does not
please them; a replacement, by a fair lottery
relieves the one who’s done his work.
There a kind woman will put up with motherless
stepchildren. No richly doweried
wife rules her man or trusts some glittering lover.
The dowry from her parents is
huge: virtue and, by sure consent, the chastity
that instills fear of another
man and committing sins for which the price is death.
Oh, the one who would take away
unholy bloodshed and civil rage—were he to want
Pater Urbium written on
his statues—that one would be bold enough to put
a stop to uncontrollable
license. He would be famous for generations,
since—God!—we hate virtue alive;
envious, we desire it removed from our sight.
What do grievous legal complaints,
if crime is not checked by capital punishment,
laws emptied of morality
accomplish, if the part of the world imprisoned
by hot summer heat and the side
bordering the north wind and hard snow on the ground
do not drive away the trader?
Experienced sailors do overcome savage seas
and being a pauper, a great
disgrace, does force you to do and suffer anything
and leave the road of hard virtue.
Be it to Capitoline Hill, where cheering calls
and a crowd of people clapping,
be it to the closest sea, let us send our pearls
and gems and useless gold, the stuff
of the highest evil, if we really repent.
The elements of perverse greed
must be scraped away; and the minds tender beyond
measure must be formed by harsher
studies. The ignorant free-born boy doesn’t know
how to stay on a horse; more schooled
in games, he’s afraid of the hunt; you might coax him
with a Greek hoop or—if you like—
a dice game forbidden by law, while his father’s
trustless trust cheats partners and friends
and hastens the money to his unworthy heir.
Of course, dishonest wealth grows, but
short—there’s always something—I don’t know what—missing.
translation © 2011 by James Rumford
Notes to the translation ::
 Translators say that summis verticibus means ‘in the rooftops.’ They reason that Necessitas [death] was often represented as a builder and that the nails meant that one could go no higher. The earliest commentators didn’t say anything about rooftops. The problem is vertex, which means anything from whirlpool to forehead to peak to the highest part of anything. Why can’t we make this simple? In the very highest of places Necessitas will nail you. In other words, no matter how high you climb or how rich you are, you will die.
 As I see it, there are two ways to understand sublatam ex oculis quaerimus invidi.
We, envious, seek [virtue] taken away from the eyes.
We, envious, seek [virtue] when it is taken away from the eyes.
The question for those who insist upon the second translation is: Why are we invidi? The only answer I can come up with is that we are jealous or envious because we hate virtue in others and want them dead.
 I frankly don’t understand Horace’s logic here, since lines 33 to 44 are, according to tradition, one giant question. If so, how does this work? What is the connection between the futility of laws without punishment and traders going off to inhospitable climes? To complicate matters, Horace brings in adept sailors and grinding poverty. The idea has to be, as the earliest commentators suggest, that greed knows no obstacles, either on land or on sea. As for poverty, perhaps Horace means that greed brings on poverty which, in turn, forces one to leave viam virtutis, the path of virtue.
What kind of path? An arduous one even though arduae goes with virtutis. Many commentators have made it clear what they think Horace meant here, but I have this feeling that Horace meant what he said: poverty makes ones abandon the road of arduous virtue. Why can’t virtue be arduous or lofty or difficult to reach or troublesome or any of the many meanings of arduus?
 Curtae means ‘mutilated, broken, shortened’ even ‘circumcised, castrated.’ The Lewis and Short Latin Dictionary seems to say that curtae describes rei so that these lines mean:
. . . Of course, unclean
riches grow, but
some little thing, I don’t know what, is always missing.
What if these lines were punctuated differently?
. . . scilicet improbae
divitiae crescunt, tamen
curtae. nescio quid semper abest rei.
. . . Of course, unclean
wealth grows, but
stunted. Something—I don’t know what—is always missing.
In this way curtae would go with divitiae, yielding an oxymoron: ‘skimpy riches.’ I like this better. There is a bit of sarcasm and wit in this and, to me, fits the tenor of the entire ode as Horace asks: can’t you see that you’ll never have enough?
in prose ::
Opulentior thesauris intactis Arabum et divitis Indiae, licet caementis tuis terrenum omne et mare publicum occupes.
Si Necessitas dira clavos adamantinos verticibus summis figit, non animum metu, non caput laqueis mortis expedes.
Scythae campestres, quorum plaustra rite domos vagas trahunt, melius vivunt et Getae rigidi, quibus iugera immetata fruges liberas et Cererem ferunt.
Nec cultura annua longior placet, vicariusque sorte aequali defunctum laboribus recreat.
Illic mulier innocens pervignis matre carentibus temperat.
Nec coniu[n]x dotata virum regit nec adultero nitido fidit.
Dos magna parentium virtus est, et castitas certō foedere et peccare nefas aut pretium mori est.
O quiquis volet caedes impias et rabiem civicam tollere, si ‘pater urbium’ quaeret statuis subscribi, audeat licentiam indomitam refrenare, clarus progenitis: quatenus—heu nefas!—virtutem inolumem odimus, quaerimus ex oculis sublatam invidi.
Quid querimoniae tristes, si culpa supplico non reciditur, quid leges vanae sine moribus proficunt, si neque pars mundi caloribus fervidis inclusa nec latus finitimum Boreae nivesque duratae solo mercatorem abigunt, navitae callidi aequora horrida vincunt, pauperies opprobrium magnum iubet et quidvis facere et pati, viamque virtutis arduae deserit?
Vel nos in Capitolium, quo clamor et turba faventium vocat, vel nos in mare proximum gemmas et lapides et aurum inutile, materiem mali summi, mittamus, si scelerum bene paenitet.
Elementa cupidinis pravi eradenda sunt et mentes nimis tenerae studiis asperioribus formandae.
Puer rudis ingenuus nescit equo haerere timetque venari, doctior ludere, seu trocho Graeco iubeas, seu alea legibus vetita malis, cum fides periura patris socium consortem et hospites fallat pecuniamque heredi properet.
Scilicet divitia improbae crescunt; tamen rei curtae nescio quid semper abest.
delphin ordo ::
Quamvis totum mare Tyrrhenum atque Apulicum tuis ædificiis teneas, ditior nondum tentatis gazis Arabum ac Indiæ opulentæ; si fatum sævum clavos adamantinos excelsis culminibus infigit, neque mentem formidine, neque caput mortis retibus liberabis. Feliciùs in campis degunt Scythae; quorum incertas habitationes carpenta circumferunt, nec non asperi Getæ, quibus arva minimè circumscripta producunt communes segetes ac messes; neque exercetur cultura diuturnior uno anno; atque alter vices assumens pari fortunâ quietem tribuit alteri laboribus exsoluto. Ibi femina innoxia parcit privignis matrem non habentibus, neque uxor dote potens marito imperitat, nec splendido ausculta mœcho. Illic maxima dos æstimatur virtutus parentum, et pudicitia insolubili pacto alterum virum abhorrens. Illic non licet delinquere, vel merces est mors. O quicunque voluerit sceleratas strages furoremque civilem abolere, si inpiet imagini subscribi parens civitatum, is infrænatam coërcere cupiditatem suscipiat à posteris celebrandus: quandoquidem (proh scelus!) viventi virtuti adversamur invidentes, ereptam verò aspectui desideramus. Quorsum mœstæ [mæstæ] querelæ, si pœnâ crimen non amputatur? Quid leges prosunt absque moribus inutiles; si negotiatorem haud deterrent vel orbis regio æstu ferventi præclusa, nec pars Aquiloni proxima, nivesque humo constrictæ? et solertes [sollertes] nautæ maria formidabilia exsuperant? Inopia dedecus ingens impellit quidlibet et moliri et perferre, atque iter asperæ virtutis relinquit. Ergo nos aut deferamus in Capitolium, ad quod invitat applausus et concursus populi acclamantis, aut in mare vicinum projiciamus gemmas et lapillos, atque aurum exitiale, omnis mali causum, si verè crimina detestamur. Extirpanda sunt improbæ cupiditatis principia; animique molliores quàm oportet durioribus instituendi sunt exercitationibus. Nobilis adolescens ignorat equo insistere haud assuetus, ac venari fugit, peritior ludere, seu jubeas trocho Græco, sive magis placuerit aleâ prohibitâ: dum parens fide perjurio fractâ defraudat consortem socium et hospitem; atque divitias accumulat hæredi immerito. Nimirum iniquæ augescunt opes: verumtamen aliquod semper deest angustis bonis.
original ode ::
thesauris Arabum et divitis Indiae,
caementis licet occupes
terrenum [Tyrrhenum] omne tuis et mare publicum [Punicum, Apulicum].
si figit adamantinos 5
summis verticibus dira Necessitas
clavos, non animum metu,
non mortis laques expedies caput.
campestres melius Scythae,
quorum plaustra vagas rite trahunt domos, 10
vivunt et rigidi Getae,
immetata quibus iugera liberas
fruges et Cererem ferunt.
nec cultura placet longior annua.
defunctumque laboribus 15
aequali recreat sorte vicarius.
illic matre carentibus
privignis mulier temperat innocens.
nec dotata regit virum
coniu[n]x nec nitido fidit adultero. 20
dos est magna parentium
virtus et metuens alterius viri
certo foedere castitas.
Et peccare nefas: aut pretium est mori.
o quisquis volet impias 25
caedis et rabiem tollere civicam,
si quaeret pater urbium
subscribi statuis, indomitam audeat
clarus postgenitis, quatenus, heu nefas, 30
virtutem incolumem odimus.
Sublatam ex oculis quaerimus invidi.
quid tristes querimoniae,
si non supplicio culpa reciditur,
quid leges sine moribus 35
vanae proficiunt, si neque fervidis
pars inclusa caloribus
mundi nec Boreae finitimum latus
durataeque solo nives
mercatorem abigunt, horrida callidi 40
vincunt aequora navitae,
magnum pauperies opprobrium iubet
quidvis et facere et pati
virtutisque viam deserit arduae?
vel nos in Capitolium, 45
quo clamor vocat et turba faventium,
vel nos in mare proximum
gemmmas et lapides aurum et inutile,
summi materiem mali,
mittamus, scelerum si bene paenitet. 50
pravi sunt elementa et tenerae nimis
formandae studiis. nescit equo rudis
haerere ingenuus puer 55
venarique timet, ludere doctior,
seu Graeco iubeas trocho
seu malis vetitā legibus aleā,
cum periura patris fides
consortem socium fallat et hospites 60
heredi properet. scilicet improbae
crescunt divitiae, tamen
curtae nescio quid semper abest rei.