This ode is neither short nor sweet. In 66 complicated lines, Horace foretells doom for Rome, and, like some senator, makes a case for abandoning the City à la Phocaean (an Ionian people who fled their city, leaving it to the Persians). He then offers a greener-hill-lies-yonder solution and like some pastoral poet extols the beauty of sheep in the meadow, grapes on the arbor, and cows a-lowing homeward bound. Horace even goes so far as to say that this will all be possible if Rome follows him and heeds the words of a poet.
I am not sure what to think. Is this Horace making fun of pastoral poems, which seem to say that the shepherd with his lute and a good song can conjure up peace and beauty, refuge and truth? Is he making fun of Virgil, who sometime before this epode wrote his so-called Buccolics or Ecloga? Many a scholar has pointed out that Horace used many of Virgil’s phrases in this poem. In fact, while I was working on this epode, I happened, just by chance, to read Virgil’s Ecloga. The similarities were quite apparent, especially those found in Eclogue IV.
Why is it that a society craves the comfort food of pastoral poems, of art in general extolling the virtues of a simpler life? America, even in days more rural than ours, needed its Currier and Ives, its James Whitcomb Riley and more recently its Grandma Moses.
But I think that neither Horace’s nor Virgil’s take on “pastoral” is as sentimental as I make it out to be. Both poets are dealing with huge social issues, which, as Horace warns, may cause Rome to collapse under its own might.
Two notes are necesssary here.
The first refers to the long a and the short a in Latin (See also my blog posting for January 20, 2013: Ahhhh, Latin). Notice how a solid grasp of the meter is necessary to understanding which a’s are long and which are short in the following three lines:
nec fera caeruleā domuit Germānia pube
novāque monstra iunxerit libīdine
mella cavā mānant ex ilice, montibus altīs
The second is that there seems to be some confusion about where to put these two lines:
nulla nocent pecori contagia, nullius astri
gregem aestuosa torret impotentia.
Different editors have proposed slipping them in after temperante caelitum, others after viperis humus, still others after cohors Vlixei. I have chosen to follow the arrangement offered in the 2004 edition done by Niall Rudd. Interestingly, Mr. Rudd translated the lines twice and placed them, each worded differently in two different places! Obviously an error—but not the first, unfortunately (See my blog posting for January 31, 2012: Shocked :: Descende Caelo).
Now another age is wasted by civil wars
And under its own might Rome itself collapses,
which even its Marsi neighbors could not destroy—
nor menacing Porsena’s Etruscan forces,
nor Capua’s rivaling strength, nor fierce Spartacus
nor the faithless Allobrox in the Great Events*,
nor did wild Germany with its blue youth* subdue
nor Hannibal, a curse to mothers and fathers.
We, an impious age, blood-cursed*, shall lose out
and again our land will be seized by savages*.
Hell! On ash a barbarian victor, will stand!
And Rome—a horseman will jolt with the sound of hooves,
and those Quirinian* bones kept from wind and sun—
a crime to see—he will scatter in arrogance.
What by chance might resolve this for all? The best of
you at least seek to be free from evil hardship.
Let there be no better resolution than this:
to go Phocaean-State-like* (under solemn oath
it fled fields, ancestral gods; it left its temples
to be inhabited by boars, ravenous wolves)
wherever our feet take us, wherever over
waves the Notus or Africus wind calls up storms*.
So resolved? Or can* anyone give better advice?
Why delay taking the boat under lucky wings*?
Rather let us swear on these things: once stones have swum
up from deep shoals*—let be it no crime to return;
nor should it be shameful to turn the sail homeward,
once the Po’s washed the heights of Mattinata*
or into the sea have run the high Appenines,
and a strange love has joined monsters with a new lust,
so that the tiger delights in squatting* for deer,
and the dove is defiled by the kite, and, full of
trust, the cattle does not fear the growling* lions,
and a goat without a beard* loves the salty* seas.’
These things and whatever might cut our sweet return
let us go all, a city that has made an oath,
or the part above the unteachable herd. Let them,
soft, hopeless, press themselves into ill-omened beds.
You who have virtue, kill the womanish lament
and fly beyond the shores of Etrusca. Around
us remains an uncertain ocean: let us head for
the blessèd fields, for the rich fields and the islands,
where the earth yields grain untilled every year
and unpruned blooms the grapevine continually,
and the olive branch, never failing, is fruitful,
and the dark-colored fig adorns the tree; honey
trickles from a hollowed oak, from the high mountains
fast-flowing water dances* down on splashing feet*.
And there unbidden come the she-goats to be milked,
and the kind herd brings back its udders distended
and no evening bear growls around the flock of sheep
nor does the ground begin to swell up with vipers;
happy we marvel at much: how the wet Eurus
does not with widespread rains lay the sown fields bare,
the fat seeds do not burn up in dry clods of earth,
each heaven’s blessing under a temperate god*.
No contagion does harm to the herd, the summer*
fury of no star at all leaves the flock baking
not this place did pine ship seek with Argoan* oars,
nor did an impudent Colchian* set feet upon,
not to this place did Sidon’s* sailors turn their sails
nor Ulysses’ comrades beset with hardship.
Juppiter sectioned off that shore for a pious
race, as he defiled the golden age with bronze,
with bronze then with iron he hardened our race whose
propitious flight I poet* give to the pious.
translation © 2014 by James Rumford
in the Great Events: Porphyronis Comm.: Hoc ad tempus illud refertur, quo Catilinae factio coniuravit, et paene legati Allobrugum illis consenserant [This refers to the time when Catiline’s faction made a pact, and the envoys of the Allobruges nearly agreed to it.] Acronis Comm.: novisque rebus. magnis…
In 63 BC, Catiline planned a coup d’état. He sought the help of a Gaullish tribe, the Allobruges, and formed a pact with them. They, however, betraying Catiline and going back on their word, informed Cicero of the coup d’état and the res magnae, which I shall call ‘The Great Events of 63’ came to an end.
blue youth: The ancient commentators say that ‘blue’ refers to the color of the Germans’ eyes. I wonder, too, if blue didn’t refer to the fact that various tribes dyed their skin blue. Was Horace confusing Germans with Picts? Often scholars point out that Horace cared more about the meter than he did with facts.
blood-cursed: Devoti has many meanings ranging from the usual meaning in English to ‘cursed’ with the idea that one makes a vow or devotes oneself to the infernal gods.
savages: Feris usually refers to wild animals like lions, but it can also describe human beings. Although I chose to translate feris as ‘by savages’, given what follows in the next line, I wonder whether Horace didn’t mean both man and beast.
Quirinian bones: Apparently this refers to the bones of Romulus.
Phocaean-State-like: Phocaeorum velut looks as if it will introduce a complex sentence. Instead, the sentence that follows seems truncated. So, I made up an adverb: Phocaean-State-like. Is that what Horace was doing in Latin? Most editors see this bit about the Phocaeans as a parenthetical remark.
storms: Some editors read the text as protervos because the winds Notus and Africus will call up violent ones, i.e., storms. Other editors view protervus as an adjective for Africus. I wonder what Horace was thinking. To him the Notus was violent. Maybe the Africus was not as violent and needed protervus to give it some oomph. Personally, I like protervos; it makes more sense to give vocabit an object: [ventos] protervos.
can: Habet + infinitive sometimes has the meaning ‘to be able to.’
under lucky wings: Secunda alite was part of the whole auspicious (avis-spicere) bird-watching thing that helped the Romans foretell the future. Alite ‘winged’ is poetic for ‘bird.’ Horace will use secundus again at the end of the epode.
if ever stones swim up from deep shoals: The words simul, renarint, and vadis are each given special meanings in the Lewis and Short dictionary so that the line makes sense. Instead of following the dictionary and the commentators, I have chosen to give the most common meanings, even if imis vadis produces a quasi oxymoron. (Vadis, by the way, is distantly related to our word ‘wade.’) What follows is a very Greek way of formulating an oath called adynata, impossibilities. In other words, since stones can’t ever rise meaning that any return is out of the question.
Mattinata: In the Parco Nazionale del Gargano is a promonitory 260 ft above the Adriatic known to the Romans as Matīnus.
squatting: Although, in citing this poem, Lewis and Short define subsido as a female animal submitting to a male, I prefer the basic meaning of the verb, which is to sit down, crouch down, and squat. These better describe the act.
growling: Rāvus has two meanings: the usual ‘yellow-grey’ and a very rare one ‘hoarse.’ I would think that Horace would rather talk about what makes the lion frightening than what color coat it has.
beard: Lēvis means ‘smooth, beardless.’ Since Horace is talking about impossible things, to him a beardless goat is an impossibility. Interestingly, levis with a short e means ‘light, weightless.’ Although he could not use levis due to the constraints of the meter, his listeners or readers must have liked this play on words.
leaping: Salsus means ‘salty’ and comes from salio, meaning ‘to salt.’ There is another salio, which means ‘to leap.’ I can’t help thinking that this is another play on words like lēvis/levis.
dances: Desilit means ‘leaps down.’ Even so, my mind conjured up salto, ‘to dance,’ which surely must be related etymologically.
feet: In Latin water has feet. Would we say ‘fingers of water’ making their way down the mountain or across a field?
Argoan: I made up this adjective in English to refer to the Argonauts.
Colchian: This refers to Colchis, a province east of the Black Sea and by extension to Medea. Lewis and Short say this about Medea:
Μήδεια, a celebrated sorceress, daughter of Æetes, king of Colchis. She assisted her lover, Jason the Argonaut, in obtaining the golden fleece, accompanied him to Greece, and prevented her father, who was in pursuit, from overtaking them, by strewing the sea with her brother's limbs. When Jason afterwards repudiated her, in order to marry Creusa, she killed the children she had had by him, and burned the bride to death in her palace
Sidon’s: Sidon refers to the city in Phoenicia and by extension Sidon is poetic for Phoenicia.
god: King is meant here but the reference is to Juppiter which is further indicated by caelitum, ‘something from heaven.’
summer: Aestuosus, ‘fiery, hot’ comes from aestus, ‘fire, heat.’ The word is so close to aestas, ‘summer,’ and aestivus, ‘summery,’ that I couldn’t help fudging a bit here.
poet: Vates means ‘prophet,’ ‘seer,’ and by extension ‘poet.’ My guess is that Horace wants to be all three. What is more, editors sometimes set off vate me with commas so that it is clear that these two words should be treated as an ablative absolute, producing a cumbersome ‘since I am a prophet’ or ‘with me as seer.’ I simply chose to ignore all of that, including the fact that the sentence is passive with no clear actor. I think making the verb active with I as the subject is more forceful in English and translates the spirit of what Horace has said: he alone is the mouth-piece of the state, the poet-propagandist who will lead Rome to safer more blessed shores.
In Prose ::
Aetas altera iam bellis civilibus teritur et Roma ipsa viribus suis ruit, quam  neque finitimi Marsi aut  manus Etrusca Porsenae minacis perdere valuerunt, nec  virtus aemula Capuae nec  Spartacus acer  Allobroxque infidelis rebus novis nec  Germania fera pube caeruleā domuit  Hannibalque parentibus abominatus.
[Nos], aetas impia sanguinis devoti, perdemus, solumque feris rursus occupabitur.
Victor barbarus heu cineres insistet, et eques ‹ungulā sonante› Urbem verberabit, quaeque ossa Quirini ventis et solibus (nefas videre) insolens dissipabit.
aut quid pars melior forte communiter expediat, quaeritis laboribus malis carere; nulla sententia hac potior sit: velut civitas exsecrata Phocaeorum agros profugit atque lares patrios fanaque apris et lupis rapacibus habitanda reliquit, ire quocumque pedes ferent, quocumque Notus aut Africus protervos vocabit.
Sic placet? An melius quis habet suadere? Quid [nos], alite secundā, ratem occupare?
Sed in haec iuremus: ‘simul  saxa [a] vadis imis levata renarint, ne nefas redire sit; neu pigeat domum lintea conversa dare,  quando Padus cacumina Matina laverit,  seu Appenninus celsus in mare procurrerit  amorque mirus, monstra nova libidine iunxerit, ut iuvet tigris cervis subsidere, et columba miluo adulteretur,  nec armenta credula leones ravos timeant  hircusque lēvis aequora salsa amet.’
Et haec exsecrata [sunt] quae [nostros] reditūs dulcıs abscindere poterunt, [nos] civitas omnis eamus, aut pars melior grege indocili; [aut pars] mollis et exspes cubilia inominata perpremat.
Vos, quibus est virtus, luctum muliebrem tollite, et prater litora Etrusca volate.
Oceanus vagus circum nos manet: arva beata petamus, arva divites et insulas, reddit ubi  tellus inarata cererem quotannis reddit et  vinea imputata usque floret, et  numquam termes olivae fallentıs germinat  ficusque pulla arborem suam ornat,  mella ex ilice cavā manant,  lympha levis [in] montibus altis ‹pede crepante› desilit.
Illic capellae iniussae ad mulctra veniunt grex amicus ubera tenta refert nec ursus vespertinus ovile circumgemit nec humus alta viperis intumescit; [nos]que felices plura mirabimur, ut neque Eurus aquosus arva imbribus largis radat, nec semina pinguia glaebis siccis urantur, utrumque caelitum rege temperante.
Nulla contagia pecori nocent, impotentia aestuosa nulius astri gregem torret.
Non huc pinus Argoo remige contendit neque Colchis impudica pedem intulit, non huc nautae Sidonii cornua torserunt, nec cohors laboriosa Ulixei.
Iuppiter illa litora genti piae secrevit, ut tempus aureum aere inquinavit, aere, dehinc saecula ferro duravit, quorum fuga secunda piis datur, me vate.
Delphin Ordo ::
Secunda jam ætas absumitur bellis civilibus, et Romam propria disperdit potentia. Quam labefactare nequiverunt Marsi vicini, vel Thuscus exercitus superbi Porsenæ; nec invida Capuæ vis; nec ferox Spartacus; atque Allobroges perfidi, rebus novis studentes, nec vicit trux Germania juvenibus cæruleis; et Annibal parentibus execrabilis; scilicet hanc pessumdabimus ipsi nos homines conscelerati, quorum addictus est cruor: atque terra hæc à bestiis iterum tenebitur. Eheu! victor barbarus stabit super favillas urbis, et equorum pedibus strepentibus conculeabit. Et, quod horrendum visu, ossa Romuli solis ac venti expertia disperget superbus. Forte universi vel pars major interrogabitis quid utile sit ad evitandas tales ærumnas? Nulla videatur sententia melior quàm hæc: opportet abire quocunque ferent pedes, quocunque per mare impellet Auster vel Africus vehemens: quemadmodum Phocæorum urbs post execrationes abscessit, suas domos agrosque et templa dimittens occupanda apris et lupis voracibus. Ita censeo. Habetne quispiam melius aliquid proferre? Quid tardamus navim conscendere faustis avibus? At priùs jurejurando nos obstringamus, in hæc verba: nec reverti liceat, nisi cùm emergent lapides aquis profundis elati: neve displiceat vela facere versùs patriam, quando Padus rigabit verticem Matini montis, aut altus Apenninus in mare proruet, atque amor prodigiosus insolitâ libidine copulabit geras, adeò ut tigrides cupiant jungi cervis, et columba milvio; atque greges sine metu credant se leonibus fulvis, glaberque fiat caper, et gaudeat mari salso. Posteaquam ista et quæcunque valebunt tollere spem gratam remigrandi adjuraverimus, proficiscamur omnes, aut pars melior plebe indocili. Pars autem iners et spe carens occupet semper hæc domicilia inauspicata. Vos præditi virtute, fœmineo abstinete ejalatu, et properate ultra Thuscum littus. Nos expecta Oceanus circumfluens. Eamus in terram felicem et insulas beatas, ubi solum incultum fert messem annis singulis, et vitis non recisa nihilominus florescit; atque ramus oleæ nunquam non germen et fructum producit, et ficus matura propriam arborem exornat: mel fluit è cavatâ quercu: acqua leniter obmurmurans dimanat è montium cacumine. Ibi capræ sponte veniunt ad mulctram, et grex benignus reportat plena ubera; non ursus vespere fremit circum caulas: nec terra viperarum latebris assurgit aut fit tumida. Ibi nulla gregem lues infestat, nec adurit æstus vehementior ullius sideris. Plura verò beati cum admiratione videbimus, ut quòd Eurus nimbosus agros non infestet nimiis pluviis, neque semina opima urantur, vel arescant glebæ; quippe cœlitum rex utrobique temperiem dat. Illuc non accessit navis remigibus Argois; nec obscœna Colchis gressum infixit. Eò non appulerunt Sidonii, vel ærumnosi comites Ulyssis. Scilicet Jupiter eas insulas reservavit piis hominibus, ex quo ætatem auream ære fœdavit, ac deinde ferro sæcula induravit. Istorum malorum fuga prospera bonis conceditur, me vaticinium edente.
Original Epode ::
Altera iam teritur bellis civilibus aetas,
suis et ipsa Roma viribus ruit.
quam neque finitimi valuerunt perdere Marsi
minacis aut Etrusca Porsenae manus,
aemula nec virtus Capuae nec Spartacus acer
novisque rebus infidelis Allobrox
nec fera caeruleā domuit Germānia pube
parentibusque abominatus Hannibal:
inpia perdemus devoti sanguinis aetas
ferisque rursus occupabitur solum:
barbarus heu cineres insistet victor et Vrbem
eques sonante verberabit ungula,
quaeque carent ventis et solibus ossa Quirini,
(nefas videre) dissipabit insolens.
forte quid expediat communiter aut melior pars,
malis carere quaeritis laboribus;
nulla sit hac potior sententia: Phocaeorum
velut profugit exsecrata civitas
agros atque lares patrios habitandaque fana
apris reliquit et rapacibus lupis,
ire, pedes quocumque ferent, quocumque per undas
Notus vocabit aut protervos Africus.
sic placet? an melius quis habet suadere? Secunda
ratem occupare quid moramur alite?
sed iuremus in haec: ‘simul imis saxa renarint
vadis levata, ne redire sit nefas;
neu conversa domum pigeat dare lintea, quando
Padus Matina laverit cacumina,
in mare seu celsus procurrerit Appenninus
novāque monstra iunxerit libīdine
mīrus amor, iuvet ut tigris subsidere cervis,
adulteretur et columba miluo,
crēdula nec rāvōs timeant armenta leōnēs
ametque salsa lēvis hircus aequora.’
haec et quae poterunt reditūs abscindere dulcıs
eamus omnis exsecrata civitas
aut pars indocili melior grege; mollis et exspes
inominata perpremat cubilia.
vos, quibus est virtus, muliebrem tollite luctum,
Etrusca praeter et volate litora.
nos manet Oceanus circum vagus: arva beata
petamus, arva divites et insulas,
reddit ubi cererem tellus inarata quotannis
et inputata floret usque vinea,
germinat et numquam fallentis termes olivae
suamque pulla ficus ornat arborem,
mella cavā mānant ex ilice, montibus altis
levis crepante lympha desilit pede.
illic iniussae veniunt ad mulctra capellae
refertque tenta grex amicus ubera
nec vespertinus circumgemit ursus ovile
nec intumescit alta viperis humus;
pluraque felices mirabimur, ut neque largis
aquosus Eurus arva rādat imbribus,
pinguia nec siccis urantur semina glaebis,
utrumque rege temperante caelitum.
nulla nocent pecori contagia, nullius astri
gregem aestuosa torret impotentia.
non huc Argōō contendit remige pinus
neque impudica Colchis intulit pedem,
non huc Sidonii torserunt cornua nautae,
laboriosa nec cohors Vlixei.
Iuppiter illa piae secrevit litora genti,
ut inquinavit aere tempus aureum,
aere, dehinc ferro duravit saecula, quorum
piis secunda vate me datur fuga.
:: 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.