To someone used to reading Chinese poetry with its fluid, almost cinematographic descriptions of rural life, I find this poem a bit boring. But then, why make such a comparison? Horace was Roman not Chinese. Besides, who am I to say such a thing? Scholars over the centuries have praised these few lines for their beauty. One scholar compared them to a painting by Breughel.
Another [Eduard Fraenkel 1880-1970] thought them “a little masterpiece of refined simplicity.”
But like all that is “simple” in art, this poem is extremely complex. Horace addresses this ode to Faunus, a kind of Roman Pan.
He talks about sex (Nymphs and Venus), getting drunk, and just vegging out during this country holiday held on the nonae of December, i.e., December fifth. Also implied in this ode is how the Romans viewed their relationship with the gods. It was one of do ut des (I give so that you give), as pointed out by Daniel Garrison in his Horace: Epodes and Odes. Horace will have plenty of wine and incense ready for the Faunus so that, when he comes barreling? flitting? rolling? through his fields (I really don’t know how Faunus got about), he’ll leave as nicely as he came.
All of this is complex enough, but the real complexity lies in the last four lines: Faunus’ presence will make it so that the lambs aren’t afraid [audacis] of the wolves. The forest (even though it is fall, I might add) will drop [spargit] its leaves for him, and the field hand will do a jig—actually the tripudium (the three step, a dance related to the measured stamping done in religious ceremonies)—upon the land he hates so much. This god Faunus obviously has real power, transformative power.
It is a foolish thing on my part to pivot an entire poem on one word, but I will. The word? Invisam.
gaudet invisam pepulisse fossor
ter pede terram.
glad is the field hand having pounded the
hated ground thrice with his feet.
What an honest look at the life of the farm laborer who grudgingly gets up at dawn and toils until sunset, day after day! This is no bucolic nonsense. My emotions, too, are aroused by these lines. I feel compassion for the laborer. I transfer that compassion to the towns people lying in the fields. They now become alive. The cattle seem to move, too, and the old, tumble-down shrine begins to fill the air with an indescribable fragrance.
I will end with another painting—not by Breughel but done by Jules Bastien-Lepage in 1878 entitled “Les Foins.” Here is the honesty and emotion that I believe Horace captured in his “little masterpiece of refined simplicity.”
Faunus, you lover of fleeing nymphs,
through my confines and sun-lit lands,
soft you will enter and kind you will leave
with the little lambs, as long
as a tender goat, a yearling is offered,
and ample wine is not lacking in that
friend of Venus, the krater, and the old shrine
smokes with much incense.
The cattle all play in the grassy field,
when the nonae of December come round;
Country folk on holiday rest in the fields
with lazing cows,
a wolf roams amongst bold lambs,
for you the country woods scatters leaves,
glad is the field hand having pounded
the hated ground thrice with his feet.
[translation © 2011 by James Rumford]
a Greek krater, a wine mixing bowl
In Prose ::
[O] faune, amator Nympharum fugientum, lenis per fines meos et rura aprica incedas aequusque alumnis parvis abeas, si haedus tener anno pleno cadit, nec vina larga craterae (sodali Veneris) desunt, ara vetus multo odore fumat.
Pecus omne campos herboso ludit, cum nonae Decembres tibi redeunt, pagus festus in pratis cum bove otioso vacat. Lupus inter agnos audaces errat. Silva frondes agrestes tibi spargit. Fossor gaudet terram invisam ter pede pepulisse. [revised March 28, 2015]
Delphin Ordo ::
Faune amnas Nymphas fugients,
transi benignus per meos limites
agrosque soli expositos, ac discede
propitius tenellis fœtibus;siquidem tibi maetatur capreolus
anno completo, additurque vinum
copiosum in paterâ Veneri amicâ,
atque ara antiqua plurimo thure inceditur.Quoties nonæ Decembres tibi sacræ
recurrunt, pecudes cunctæ lasciviunt
in pratis; vicus festum celebrans herboso
campo requiescit cum bobus non laborantibus.
Lupus vagatur inter agnos nihil timentes:
nemus sternit folia in tuum honorem:
agricola humum molestam ter plantâ
Original Ode ::
Faune, Nymphārum fugientum amātor,
per meōs fīnıs et aprīca rūra
lēnis incēdās abeāsque parvīs
sī tener plēnō cadit haedus annō
larga nec dēsunt Veneris sodālī
vīna crātērae, vetus āra multō
lūdit herbōsō pecus omne campō,
cum tibī nōnae redeunt Decembrēs,
festus in prātīs vacat ōtiōsō
cum bove pāgus,
inter audācıs lupus errat agnōs,
spargit agrestıs tibi silva frondıs,
gaudet invīsam pepulisse fossor
ter pede terram.
:: 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.