I suppose that words will never hurt, but Horace mentions two instances in Epode 6 where they do.
The first is Lycambes, a Greek man, who betrothed his daughter to the poet Archilochus. When Lycambes refused to let his daughter go through with the marriage, Archilochus mocked him so viciously in his iambic poems that both Lycambes and his daughter hanged themselves.
The second is Hipponax. He was so ugly that the sculptors Bupalus and Athenis made statues of him to mock and ridicule him publicly. Hipponax retaliated with a shower of invectives. The two sculptors hanged themselves, too.
Is Horace that serious? Is he that angry? Does he want his enemy to commit suicide? Does he want that on his conscience? In Epode 19, as we’ll see, he is against the kind of poetry that led to Lycambes’ suicide. So what does Horace want? What’s his beef? Who has wronged him?
Surely something has happened, for Horace turns himself into a raging dog of the Molossus or Spartan (Lacon) kind.
[The Molossus, an extinct breed but very much like Mastiff-type dogs, sometimes called Molossers. This Roman statue, on display at the British Museum and known as the Jennings Dog, is believed to be a molossus.]
And if that is not enough, Horace sprouts a set of horns. He is ready for the black teeth of an enemy full of lies and malicious gossip. If the poem is directed against a particular person, we do not know who that is. If the poem is directed at Rome or the political situation, we cannot be sure. And if the poem is directed at the misfortunes of his own life, we can only make guesses.
I suppose, after two thousand years, we’ll just have to enjoy this epode for what it is, a bit of iambic steam Horace just had to let off.
What! You coward dog against he-wolves
do rile undeserving guests! Why not,
if you can, turn your empty threats here
and come after me-who-bites-back? For I,
Molossus-like or golden Spartan,
a friendly force to shepherds, through high snows,
ears up, will pursue any wild animal ahead:
that’s you, filling the woods with your scaaaary
voice, and sniffing at food thrown your way.
Watch out, watch out, for I, roughest of all,
horns ready for low lifes, will attack—
like the son-in-law despised by faithless
Lycambes or Bupalus’ bitter enemy.
If someone, black-toothed, chooses me out,
do I unavenged cry like a boy?
translation © 2012 by James Rumford
in prose ::
Quid! [Tu] canis ignavis adversum lupos
hospitēs immerentēs vexas?!
Quin huc, si potes,
minas inan[ē]s vertis
et me-remorsurum petis?
Nam qualis aut Molossus aut Lacon fulvus,
vis amica pastoribus,
per nivēs altās,
fera quaecumque praecedet
et cum tu nemus voce timendā complesti,
cibum proiectum odaris.
namque [ego] asperrimus
cornua in malōs parata tollo,
qualis gener spretus Lycambae infidō
aut hostis acer Bupalō.
Quid immerentis hospites vexas canis
ignavus adversum lupos?
quin huc inanis, si potes, vertis minas,
et me remorsurum petis?
nam qualis aut Molossus aut fulvus Lacon,
amica vis pastoribus,
agam per altas aure sublata nives,
quaecumque praecedet fera:
tu cum timenda voce complesti nemus,
proiectum odoraris cibum.
cave, cave: namque in malos asperrimus
parata tollo cornua,
qualis Lycambae spretus infido gener
aut acer hostis Bupalo.
an si quis atro dente me petiverit,
inultus ut flebo puer?
:: 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.