Today, I will tackle one of the seventeen epodes that Horace wrote, this one about a “horrid tempest” that reminds the poet not only to seize the day but to accept it. Like the marvelous Hebrew word רפה in the Psalm 46:10, Horace’s ode tells us to relax, to cease striving, for, in Horace’s case, whatever cloth fate has woven us cannot be changed. To make his point, he recounts what Chiron, the Centaur, said to young Achilles, who must stay in Troy. Such a Greek ending to this Greek form of poetry!
The epode was first created by the Greek poet Archilochus in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C. It was originally the third part of a long song sung by a Greek chorus. First there was the strophe followed by the antistrophe and finally the “epi-ode”, the after-song (The word suffix epi- functions the same way in the word “epilogue” or “afterword.”) The epode usually was iambic in nature: the — Ø Ø beat of one long syllable followed by two short syllables. In fact, Horace called his epodes iambi.
Unfortunately, that tells us little about the meters he used in the individual odes. They seem to differ widely. If the choice of meter doesn’t tie this collection together what does? The only thing I can see is that each epode is a series of couplets. To reinforce this, some typographical genius in the Renaissance? decided to indent every other line and thus give some semblance of unity to these seventeen poems.
As for Epode 13, its meter is the Second Archilochean, which, I believe, Horace used only once. Did this make Epode 13 stand out as odd to Roman ears? Did this meter echo the howling storm or did it play softly on the wine-soothed heart? I don’t know—mainly because I have absolutely no feeling for poetic meter so different from English meter. Latin meter is based on long and short syllables. English meter is based on stressed and unstressed syllables.
The problem with understanding a meter like the Second Archilochean is that there is a lot of variation within the meter. Sometimes two short syllables can become one long syllable and, oddly enough, a long syllable can change into a short one. This variation allows for flexibility. What the variation does not allow is flexibility in the time it takes to say any one line. Think of music. In a waltz I can write down any notes I want as long as they fit within a 3/4 framework. So, too, with Latin poetry. The words Horace wrote down for Epode 13 had to fit within the framework of the Second Archilochean.
In the Second Archilochean, the first line of each couplet is based on six iambs. For variation all but the last Ø Ø can be changed into —. (The X, by the way, tells us that the last syllable can either be — or Ø.) Thus the six iambs
[A1] — Ø Ø — Ø Ø — Ø Ø — Ø Ø — Ø Ø — X
can conceivably be transformed into
[A2] — — — — — — — — — Ø Ø — X
Even though [A1] has 17 syllables while [A2] has only 13, they both require the same amount of time to say. Both have 23~24 short beats. Thus, it looks as if time not the number of syllables is the key to understanding variation in Latin meter. For the most part, this is true. However, the variations given for the next line, which forms a couplet with the first, seem to violate what I’ve just said.
[B1] Ø — Ø — Ø — Ø — — Ø Ø — Ø Ø X
can theoretically be changed into:
[B2] — — Ø — — — Ø Ø — Ø Ø — Ø Ø X
[B1] has 21~22 short beats, but [B2] has 22~23 beats. What gives? Maybe the poet can’t take advantage of all of the possibilities. Maybe the second line has to have 21~22 beats no matter what.
Here is the epode. The red indicates a long syllable. The || indicates a brief pause or caesura. At the end of the line, I have written the number of syllables followed by the number of short beats. Let’s see what pattern emerges.
1 Horrida tempestās || caelum contraxit et imbrēs 14/24
2 nivēsque dēdūcunt Iovem; || nunc mare, nunc silvae 15/22
3 Threiciō Aquilōne || sonant. rapiāmus, amīcī, 17/24
4 Occāsiōnem dē die || dumque virent genua 15/22
5 et decet, obductā || solvātur fronte senectūs. 14/24
6 tū vīna Torquātō movē || consule pressa meō. 15/24
7 cētera mitte loquī: || deus hae fortasse benigna 16/24
8 reducet in sēdem vice. || nunc et Achaemeniō 15/22
9 perfundī nardō || iuvat et fide Cylleneā 15/24
10 lēvāre dīrīs pectora || sollicitūdinibus, 15/22
11 nōbilis ut grandī || cecinit Centaurus alumnō: 15/24
12 ‘invicte, mortālis dea || nāte puer Thetide, 15/22
13 tē manet Assaracī || tellus, quam frīgida parvī 15/24
14 findunt Scamandri flūmina || lūbricus et Simoīs, 15/22
15 unde tibī reditum || certō Subtēmine Parcae 15/23
16 rūpere, nec māter domum || caerula tē revehet. 15/22
17 illic omne malum || vīnō cantūque levātō, 14/24
18 dēformis aegrimōniae || dulcibus adloquiīs.’ 15/22~23
If you have the patience to take a good look at the above, you’ll notice that there is a pattern. The couplet has 24 short beats for the first line and 22 for the second. There are exceptions, however. At least, with my imperfect scansion abilities, there are:
Line 6 has 24 beats, unless the last long ō in meō can be counted short. If so, this would make the line 23 beats.
Line 10 is also an anomaly. The only way I can give the line 22 beats is to make levare long: lēvare, which means ‘smooth, soften,’ not ‘lift’ as all of the scholars read it. Maybe I have it wrong, but iuvat et fide Cyllenea levare diris pectora sollicitudinibus might just mean: ‘and it’s a joy to soften with the lyre of Cyllenea the hearts with ill-omened care.’
Line 15 only works, if I turn tibi into tibī, which is not correct. If I don’t do this, the line doesn’t fit the iambic pattern of — Ø Ø — Ø Ø .
Line 17 only works, if I cheat a bit and make both syllables of illic long, which, of course, it incorrect.
Finally Line 18 works, if we discount the final long syllable in adloquiīs.
So, what have I learned? (1) Syllables don’t matter as much as I thought. (2) Vowel length is supremely important. (3) There is a pattern, and the poet makes definite choices. (4) Most of all, the poet gets to decide when he is going to break the rules.
* * *
Lots of people love Epode XIII. It is lyrical, easy to understand, and something quotable, if anyone quotes Latin anymore. For me, I found the phrase dumque virent genua, ‘while knees are green’ pretty amusing. Not only did I like the un-English-sounding metaphor of knees being like saplings or shoots, but I also liked how it related to my own life, for on the day I began this poem I had twisted my knee, causing me to limp around for several weeks. It was while waiting for the sap to fully return to my old knee that I wrote this blog.
A bristling tempest has drawn in the sky; and rain and
snow are pulling Jove down; now sea, now woods
noise with the north wind from Thrace. Let us, friends,
seize what comes this day, while knees are green,
and it seems right to loosen old age from clouded brows.
Bring the wine pressed when my Torquatus reigned.
No more talk: maybe God’ll put to rest the harmless
ups and downs. Now’s the joy: to be perfumed
with Achaemenes nard and with the lyre of Cyllenea
to smooth our hearts of ill-omened care,
as the noble Centaur did sing to his grown student:
“Boy invictus! Of the Goddess Thetis mortal born!
Left for you the Land of Assarcus, which the cold
streams split, the little Scamander and slippery Simois.
From there the fixed Threads of Fate cut off your return,
nor will your sky-blue mother carry you back home.
There, all the bad you’ll have to lift away with wine and song,
with sweet consoling words for shapeless sorrow.”
Threïco : Thracian
Aquilone : north wind
Occasionem : Opportunity, as a goddess
Torquato : Manlius Torquatus, consul 65 BC, when Horace was born.
Achaemenio : Achaemenes, ancestor of Persian kings
Cyllenea : Mercury, a mountain in Arcadia
Sollicitudinibus : uneasiness of mind, care, anxiety
Centaurus : half horse half man
Thetide : sea nymph Thetis, mother of Achilles
Assaraco : son of Tros, g. grandfather of Aeneas
Scamandri : Scamander, one of the rivers in Troy
Simois [m] : a river near Troy
Subtemine [Subtemen] Parcae : thread of the Fates
the epode in prose ::
Tempestas horrida caelum contraxit et imbres
nivesque Iovem deducunt; nunc mare, nunc silvae
Aquilone Threïco sonant. rapiamus, amici,
Occasionem de die dumque genua virent
et decet, senectus fronte obducta solvatur.
tu vina consule Torquato meo move.
mitte cetera loqui: deus fortasse vice in sedem
hae benigna reducet. et nunc iuvat nardo
Achaemenio perfundi et pectora fide Cyllenea
Sollicitudinibus diris levare,
ut Centaurus nobilis alumno grandi cecinit:
‘invicte, puer mortalis nate dea Thetide,
tellus Assaraci te manet, quam flumina frigida
Scamandri parvi et Simois lubricus findunt,
unde tibi certo Subtemine Parcae reditum
rupere, nec mater caerula domum te revehet.
illic omne malum vino cantuque levato,
deformis aegrimoniae adloquiis dulcibus.’
:: 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.