Horace was one of the two great lyric poets of the Roman world; and though many consider him Catullus’ inferior, still he has left an enormous mark, not only in the Roman poetic tradition, but in the life of the Western mind. Roman schoolboys of later generations memorized his poems; Victorian schoolboys did the same. Himself the son of a freed slave, he saw all levels of Roman society, and eventually became the close friend (along with Vergil) of Maecenas, a wealthy patron of the arts, and Octavian (who eventually became known as Augustus). Today he is the star of the Oxford Latin series.
Horace’s surviving poetic output can easily be encompassed in a single volume, and it is fair to assume that little if anything has been lost. Horace wrote five books of lyric poetry, using a variety of meters — these being the Epodes and the four books of Odes. He also wrote a number of long poems in the dactylic hexameter (the meter of Homer, Vergil, and Lucretius — characteristically used for epic and didactic poetry), and these make up the volumes of Satires and Epistles, among which is included the long Ars Poetica (The Art of Poetry). Though these are indeed worth reading, most of them are satirical and difficult, and require a good deal more familiarity with Roman society than can be expected here. Even at their best, they are far less universal in their appeal than his lyrics. Horace here is represented here entirely by excerpts from his lyric poetry, which is arguably his best work.
As a poet, Horace had a measured, precise technique that is virtually impossible to convey fully in translation; partly to account for this, and partly as a sort of case study in translation, several of the following poems are represented in more than one translation. The bulk have been done by Mary McMenomy, a few by Linda Robinson, and one by Bruce McMenomy; but several of the alternate versions are by great English poets of the past. The works continue to challenge translators, and the twentieth century continues to see intriguing attempts, from Ezra Pound’s flinty 1964 renditions to Anthony Hecht’s very droll imitation of Odes I.1 (see below) in the form of a grant application. These latter are unfortunately still under copyright, and so do not appear here, but they may be found in a Penguin volume entitled Horace in English.
New material in this page © Copyright 1997, 2005 by the contributors as attributed.
The Epodes are youthful works, and filled with a poetic fire that Horace never recaptured in his later works. Here he expresses his incredulity and dismay at the continuation of civil war at Rome — a civil war that brought the Republic to its end, and left Roman society in ruins. The striking pivotal moment in the dramatic framework of the poem comes when he ceases to address the scelesti ("wicked men", "madmen") of the beginning, and speaks of them instead. For the sake of those who would like to try their wings on some of Horace’s more intriguing work, I have given the Latin text here as well. A few cultural notes may be in order:
Where are you rushing, madmen — where? Why seize
the swords again in your right hands?
Has not enough of Latin blood been spilt
across the seas and lands in vain?
Not that Rome at last might burn the proud
high seat of jealous Carthage down,
Nor that the Briton (still unharmed) be forced
to march the Sacred Way in chains —
But that (as if to heed the Parthians’ prayers)
our state should die by its own hand!
Not wolves — not even lions — are so mad,
so savage as to rend their kind.
Has rage undone you? Overwhelming force?
Or are you guilty? Answer me!
They’re mute — white pallor seeps across their faces,
and their battered minds are numb.
It’s so: a bitter fate pursues the Romans —
Cursed with brother-slaughter, since
Remus’ guiltless blood first wet the ground,
To draw doom down on all his line.
— tr. Bruce A. McMenomy
Horace’s original poem:
Quo, quo, scelesti, ruitis? aut cur dexteris
aptantur enses conditi?
parumne campus atque Neptuno super
fusum est Latini sanguinis?
non ut superbas invidae Carthaginis
Romanus arces ureret,
intactus aut Britannus ut descenderet
Sacra catenatus Via,
sed ut secundum vota Parthorum sua
urbs haec periret dextera.
neque hic lupis mos nec fuit leonibus,
numquam nisi in dispar feris.
furorne caecus an rapit vis acrior
an culpa? responsum date!
tacent, et ora pallor albus inficit,
mentesque perculsae stupent.
sic est: acerba fata Romanos agunt
scelusque fraternae necis,
ut immerentis fluxit in terram Remi
sacer nepotibus cruor.
This is an example of a poetic form that had already become popular, but which endures to this day. It is called a priamel, and consists of a recitation of what others like, or would choose to do, concluding with a "but for me..." In content and style it requires little explanation. Maecenas is Horace’s patron — a friend of Augustus.
O Maecenas, sprung of a race of kings,
who are my protection and my sweet honor:
there are those who rejoice that they have gathered
on their chariots Olympic dust, have scraped the posts
with burning wheels; the palm of victory uplifts
these lords of earth even to the gods.
This one it pleases, if the fickle Roman mob
elects him for the triple honors of public office;
that one, if he has collected in a storehouse
as much grain as is swept from the threshing-floors
of Libya. You will never dislodge the man
who, in primitive conditions, works his ancestral plot
with his hoe, rejoicing; nor yet the sailor who passes through
the Sea of Crete, petrified, in his Cyprian craft.
While he is afraid of Africus lashing the Icarian waves,
teh merchant praises rest, and the towns of his homeland;
soon, however, untaught to face poverty,
he is busy repairing his battered ship.
There is one who never refuses a cup of Massic wine,
nor does he hesitate to waste parts of a day,
stretching out his limbs now under a green arbutus,
now calmly at the head of a sacred spring.
Military camps please many, and the sound of the pipe
mixed with the trumpet; and war, hateful to mothers.
The hunter, unmindful of his tender wife,
remains out under a freezing sky,
if his loyal dog has spotted a deer
or a fierce boar burst through his clever traps.
As for me, the prize of the learned, an ivy crown,
lifts me among the gods; the icy grove
and the light chorus of nymphs and satyrs
set me apart from the people, as long as Euterpe
does not refuse me pips nor Polyhymnia
deny me the lyre of Lesbos.
Only count me among the lyric bards
and in my stature I will strike the stars.
— Mary L. J. McMenomy
This is an example of another special topical class of poems — one called the propempticon. It is a bon-voyage poem — that is, typically addressed to someone on his or her departure on a trip. This one is addressed to Vergil himself. What is odd about it is that, though Vergil did make at least one trip to Greece in his life, that was just prior to his death; whether he made any others is unknown, and nobody can provide any documentation for a journey at the period in which this poem is set. Was it therefore written on the occasion of a trip planned but later canceled? Or is it a metaphor for something else, as some have suggested — such as Vergil’s turning to a Hellenic style of poetry, perhaps in his choice to write the Aeneid? If so, why should Horace choose Attica specifically?
May the powerful goddess of Cyprus,
the brothers of Helen — bright stars —
and the winds’ father direct you,
holding back all except Iapyx,
o ship. You owe us back Vergil,
who was entrusted to you; from the end of Attica
return safe, I pray you,
and preserve one who is half my soul.
There must have been oak, and bronze triple-banded,
around the heart of him who first committed
his fragile craft to the wild sea,
who did not fear headlong Africus
battling with Aquilo, or the rainy Hyades
or fierce Notus, than whom there is
no greater arbiter over the Adriatic,
whether he wishes to raise the waves or still them.
What kind of death did that man fear
who looked with dry eyes on the monsters swimming,
who saw the turbid ocean
and Acroceraunia, infamous for rocky coasts?
It was in vain that the cautious god
divided the lands with an unkind ocean
if in spite of it ships cross, impious,
waters not meant to be touched.
At all times daring, all humanity
rushes to do what is forbidden to do.
The daring son of Iapetus greatly sinned
in bringing fire down to men.
After fire was brought down from the home
of the gods, a new host of diseases
and privation fell on the earth,
and necessity hastened the footfall of death,
which until then had been slow.
Daedalus explored the empty air
with wings not given to men;
Hercules’ labor shifted the Acheron.
No aspiration is too high for mortals;
we in our folly seek heaven itself,
nor through our sin do we let Jove
lay aside his wrathful thunderbolts.
— Mary L. J. McMenomy
So may the queen of Cyprus’ isle
And Helen’s brethren in sweet star-light smile,
And Aeolus the winds arrest,
All but the fav’ring gales of fresh north-west,
O ship, that ow’st so great a debt,
No less than Virgil, to our fond regret!
By thee on yon Athenian shore
Let him be safely landed, I implore:
And o’er the billows, as they roll,
Preserve the larger portion of my soul!
A heart of oak, and breast of brass
Were his, who first presum’d on seas to pass
And ever ventur’d to engage,
In a slight skiff, with ocean’s desperate rage;
Nor fear’d to hear the cracking masts,
When Africus contends with northern blasts;
Nor Hyads, still foreboding storms,
Nor wrathful south, that all the depth deforms;
Than whom no greater tyrant reigns
Whether the waves her ruffles or restrains.
How dauntless of all death was he,
Whose tearless eyes could such strange monsters see;
Cou’d see the swelling ocean low’r
Or those huge rocks, which in Epirus tow’r!
Dread Providence the land in vain
Has cut from him that dissociable main,
If impious mortals not the less
On this forbidden element transgress:
Determin’d each extreme to bear,
All desp’rate deeds the race of martals dare.
Prometheus, with presumptuous fraud,
Stole fire from heav’n, and spread the flame abroad,
Of which dire sacrilege the fruit,
The lank consumption, and a new recruit
Of fevers came upon mankind,
And for a long delay at first design’d
The last extremity advanc’d,
And urg’d the march of death, and all his pangs inhanc’d.
With wings, not giv’n a man below,
Did Daedalus attempt in air to go.
Th’ Herculean toil, exceeding bound,
Broke through the gulf of Acheron profound.
Nothing too difficult for man,
He’ll scale the skies in folly, if he can;
Nor by his vices every day
Will give Jove leave his wrathful bolts to stay.
— Christopher Smart, 1767
This is surely one of the most famous of Horace’s Odes, and it is ultimately impossible to translate it into English. Its reliance on extraordinary precision of word-position — possible because of Latin’s inflected structure — is impossible to copy in an uninflected language. By way of illustration is this opening sentence (which takes up most of the opening stanza):
The urgent first word is quis — "who", and its effect is left hanging over the rest of the sentence. The remainder of the first line is so designed as to place te — "you" — squarely in the center, surrounded or enclosed by the rest of the words: gracilis ("slender" or "slight") on the left matching puer ("boy") on the right; multa ("much" or "many") on the left matching rosa ("rose") on the right. The sense of multa rosa — singular as it is — cannot itself be translated without sounding overly artificial: "much rose". The second and third lines are similarly "ring-structured"; the fourth line (not shown) begins again with another interrogative pronoun, cui — "for whom".
It is just this kind of artistry that characterizes most of Horace’s lyric, and has made him for two thousand years one of the most widely read poets in the Western tradition.
Following Mary McMenomy’s modern translation below is perhaps the most famous translation of this poem — or any other poem of Horace — into English. It was written by the great English (and Latin) poet John Milton (1608-1674), probably in his youth. It attempts, quite successfully, to reproduce the metrical quality of the original.
What graceful youth is courting you,
Pyrrha, drenched in liquid perfume,
among the roses in a pleasant cave?
For whom have you tied your blonde hair
in artful simplicity? Alas — he will weep often
for faith and his altered fortunes,
and he will stare surprised at waters
made savage by dark storms,
he who now enjoys your golden company,
and hopes that you will be always available,
always amicable. He is trusting, unwary of the shifting
of the winds. Unhappy are those
for whom you shine undimmed! As for me,
a votive tablet on the temple wall
shows that I have hung up my wet clothes
to the powerful god of the sea.
— Mary L. J. McMenomy
What slender Youth bedew’d with liquid odours
Courts thee on Roses in some pleasant Cave?
Pyrrha, for whom bindst thou
In wreaths thy golden Hair,
Plain in thy neatness; O how oft shall he
On Faith and changèd Gods complain; and Seas
Rough with black winds and storms
Unwonted shall admire:
Who now enjoyes thee credulous, all Gold,
Who alwayes vacant alwayes amiable
Hopes thee; of flattering gales
Unmindfull. Hapless they
To whom thou untry’d seem’st fair. Me in my vow’d
Picture the sacred wall declares t’have hung
My dank and dropping weeds
To the stern God of Sea.
— John Milton
Others praise famous Rhodes or Mytilene
or Ephesus, or the walls of Corinth
between two seas; the Thebes of Bacchus, or Apollo’s Delphi,
or distinguished Tempe in Thessaly;
there are those whose sole act is to celebrate
in perpetual song the city of Pallas untouched,
and to put on their heads the cut olive;
very many in honor of Juno
name Argos excellent for horses and Mycenae for wealth;
but for me, neither patient Laceaemon
nor rich Larisa’s fields more inspire me
than the home of the sounding Albunea,
the rapid Anio and the groves of Tibur,
the orchards wet with flowing streams.
Just as bright Notus scrubs the clouds
from a darkened sky, and does not produce
rain without ceasing, so wisely must you set aside
the sadness and labor of life, putting it out of mind,
Plancus, with a pleasant wine, whether a camp
bright with banners contains you, or the dense shades
of your own Tibur. When Teucer was fleeing
from Salamis and his own father, they say that,
awash in wine, he bound his temples
with a poplar wreath, and sad addressed his friends:
"Wherever fortune bears us, however it appears,
there we will go, my friends and companions;
nothing is hopeless with me as augur and chief.
For Apollo certainly promised
an unknown future in a new Salamine land.
O brave men, who have often suffered worse
at my side, now dispel your cares with wine.
Tomrorrow we attempt again the mighty sea."
— Mary L. J. McMenomy
This is one of the first instances of the carpe diem poem — and probably the one that gives the whole class that name to this day. It is a topic that was much reworked in the English Renaissance by a variety of poets from a number of different angles, including John Milton and Andrew Marvell "To His Coy Mistress".
Do not ask, for it is forbidden to know, Leuconoe,
what end the gods have given to me, or to you. Do not try
the Babylonian numbers. It is better to suffer whatever comes.
Perhaps Jupiter has allotted you many winters, or perhaps
this is the last, which now wears the sea against the rocks
of Etruria. Be wise, strain the wine, and for a brief hour
cut short long hopes. Even as we speak time flies unbidden
Seize the day, not trusting in tomorrow.
— Mary L. J. McMenomy
Strive not (Leuconoe) to know what end
The Gods above to thee or me will send:
Nor with Astrologers consult at all,
That thou may’st better know what can befall.
Whether, thou liv’st more winters, or thy last
Be this, which Tyrrhen waves ’gainst rocks do case;
Be wise; drink free, and in so short a space
Do not protracted hopes of life embrace.
Whilest we are tallking, envious time doth slide:
This day’s thine own, the next may be deny’d.
— Sir Thomas Hawkins (1625, 1666)
In this jealous-lover poem, we find a number of odd figures, but the most memorable is perhaps the mention of the liver in the first stanza. The modern reader might well view this more as something like the heart than the liver; the liver was at the time viewed particularly as the bodily seat of jealousy and sour disposition.
When you, Lydia, give praise
to the rosy neck of Telephus,
or the white arms, my liver, alas,
burns me with a vicious bile.
Then neither my mind nor my complexion
can keep steady, and furtively the blood
deserts my face, revealing how utterly
I am consumed by lingering flames.
I burn, whether fights made unruly by wine
have caused the marks on your white shoulders,
or whether the boy madly impressed them
with the edge of his teeth.
Do not hope, if you heed me,
for perpetual happiness from sweet
savage kisses, though Venus herself
imbued your lips with a fifth of her own nectar.
Three times blessed and more are they
whom unshattered bonds hold together,
whose love is not dissolved by mean quarrels
before the final day.
— Mary L. J. McMenomy
This is not the first occasion on which we have encountered the figure of the ship. Here, however, the ship is a direct metaphor for the ship of state — that is, it is a figure for the Roman state as a whole, recently suffering from the storms of civil war. Horace sees it heading back out to sea — a return to civil strife — and warns it away. William Gladstone was Prime Minister of England three times under Queen Victoria. His obvious feel for the perils of his own state is clear in his vigorous translation here.
O ship! New waves bear you back
into the sea. What are you doing?
Strive for port! Do you not see
that your flank is bare of oars?
That your damaged mast and yard arms
groan in a brisk southwest wind?
And that your keel will hardly be able
to endure without ruin the tyrannical
sea? Your sails are not whole;
in peril, you have no gods left to invoke.
Whatever Pontic pine you may boast,
sprung from a noble wood,
neither name nor lineage will save you;
the timid sailor has no faith
in your painted boards. Unless you would be
the plaything of the winds, beware.
Recently I had set aside sollicitude;
now there is longing and a strong concern
that you avoid the ocean caught
between the brilliant Cyclades.
— Mary L. J. McMenomy
Oh Ship! new billows sweep thee out
Seaward. What wilt thou? Hold the port, be stout:
See’st not thy mast
How rent by stiff Southwestern blast?
Thy side, of rowers how forlorn?
Thine hull, with groaning yards, with rigging torn,
Can ill sustain
The fierce, and ever fiercer main;
Thy gods, no more than sails entire,
From whom yet once thy need might aid require,
Oh Pontic Pine,
The first of woodland stocks is thine,
Yet race and name are but as dust.
Not painted sterns give storm-tost seamen trust;
Unless thou dare
To be the sport of storms, beware.
O fold at best a weary weight,
A yearning care and constant strain of late,
O shun the seas
That gird those glittering Cyclades.
— William Gladstone
Patrick Branwell Brontë, who wrote the second of these translations, was the brother of the three more famous Brontë sisters. Linda Robinson, of course, is better known to SOLA/RCA students as Magistra.
Tell of Diana, O tender virgins,
Tell of Apollo, O unshaven boys,
And tell of Latona, deeply loved by supreme Jove.
You, having rejoiced in streams
and in the foilage of the groves
which either stand out on cool Algidus
or in the black woods of Erymanthus
or the green forests of Cragus,
Bear ye with praises, Tempe, the sea and Delos
the birthplace of Apollo
and his shoulder distinguished by the quiver
and lyre received from his brother.
Moved by your prayer, he shall drive away this
tearful war, this wretched plague and famine
from the people and from sovereign Caesar
and against the Persians and the Britons.
— Linda Robinson
Virgins, sing the Virgin Huntress;
Youths, the youthful Phoebus, sing;
Sing Latona, she who bore them
Dearest to the eternal King:
Sing the heavenly maid who roves
Joyous, thorugh the mountin groves;
She who winding waters loves;
Let her haunts her praises ring!
Sing the vale of Peneus’ river
Sing the Delian deity;
The shoulder glorious with its quiver;
And the lyre of Mercury.
From our country, at our prayer —
Famine, plague, and tearful war
These, benign, shall drive afar
To Persias plains or Britains sea.
— Patrick Branwell Brontë, 1840
This is one of the most-imitated of Horace’s poems, and part of its interest is the light way in which it seems to address its topic. It is hard to tell whether Horace means us to take it seriously at any level or not. Many translators and adaptors of later ages have turned it into a preachy moralizing piece, which is probably not what Horace had in mind.
He who is clean of life and pure of wickedness
is in no need of a martial javelin, or a bow,
or a quiver, Fuscus, heavy
with poison arrows,
whether he must journey through burning Syrtis
or the inhospitable Caucasus
or whatever fantastic places
the Hydaspes waters.
For while I sang of my Lalage
and wandered beyond my land, cares
set aside, a wolf ran from me,
though I was unarmed.
Such a portent soldierly Apulia
did not nourish in its broad forests,
nor the land of Iuba generate,
that arid birthplace of lions.
Put me in an empty field
where no tree is revived by warm air,
oppressed by too many clouds
and a malignant sky;
place me under the too-close path
of the sun, in lands where no one lives:
I will still love Lalage sweetly laughing,
— Mary L. J. McMenomy
This poem specifically dwells on a singular, specific incident — the poet’s experiencing a clap of thunder from a clear sky. This is the only event the poem offers; the rest is an elaboration of ideas spun out from that event.
A poor, infrequent worshipper of the gods
while I erred in my mad "wisdom,"
now I think I must set my sails back again,
and take the course I had relinquished.
For Jupiter, splitting the clouds
with a lightning fire, drove thundering horses
and his winged chariot
through a clear and empty sky,
so that the brute earth and the wandering sea,
the Styx and the horrible seat of Hades
and the shores of the Atlantic ocean
shook together. The god is able
to exchange the high and the deep, to humble pride,
to show what has been hidden; from this man
rapacious Fortune snatches the crown
with a violent noise, and delights to put it on another.
— Mary L. J. McMenomy
This is one of the few Odes with a very specific historical reference in the matters of public life — it commemorates the defeat of Cleopatra by Octavian. It is fiercely martial, and also a triumphant vindication of things western over the eastern mentality (further elaborated in the next poem).
Now is the time for drinking,
striking the ground with a dancing foot;
now the occasion to furnish
the couches of the gods with a feast.
Until now it has been wrong to fetch the Caecuban
from the ancestral cellars; the crazed Queen
was still preparing for the Capitol
death and ruin, with a tainted herd
of base men; she used to be
headstrong enough to hope for anything
and drunk on good fortune.
But scarcely one ship survived
to diminish her fury, and Caesar
taught true fear to her mind
drunk on Egyptian wine. He came
flying from Italy, pressing his oarmen,
swift as a hawk after gentle doves,
or a hunter pursuing a leopard
in the snowy fields of Thessaly,
that he might put in fetters
the fatal monster: who nobly seeking death
neither dreaded the sword, woman-like,
nor retreated to the broad shores
in her quick fleet,
but surveyed her ruined palace
in calmness, and dared to handle
a vicious serpent, that she might drain
its black venom into her body,
more spirited than the death intended for her.
Perhaps the woman, never humble, was unwilling
to be led in a proud triumph
by cruel Liburnians like a private citizen.
— Mary L. J. McMenomy
One of several poems in which Horace praises a life of conservative moderation, with the added dimension of being an attack on Asian (i.e., Persian) ways.
I despise all Persian ostentation, boy;
crowns woven with lime bark displease me,
or with roses hard to acquire: do not
Even with diligent labor you cannot improve
the simple myrtle; nor does myrtle suit you,
a servant, badly — nor me, drinking under
a narrow vine.
— Mary L. J. McMenomy
Boy, I hate their empty shows,
Persian garlands I detest,
Bring not me the late-blown rose
Ling’ring after all the rest:
Plainer myrtle pleases me
Thus out-stretch’d beneath my vine,
Myrtle more becoming thee,
Waiting with thy master’s wine.
— William Cowper (1731-1800)
Ah child, no Persian-perfect art!
Crowns composite and braided bast
They tease me. Never know the part
Where roses linger last.
Bring natural myrtle, and have done:
Myrtle will suit your place and mine:
And set the glasses from the sun
Beneath the tackled vine.
— Gerard Manley Hopkins, (1844-1889), ca. 1868
My boy, no eastern fol-de-rol
Or coronets of woven bast;
Don’t bother seeking where of all
The rose blooms last.
Plain myrtle’s crown enough for me —
And you, if only you will pass
The wine: beneath this pleasant tree
I’ll raise my glass.
— Bruce McMenomy
Perhaps the first articulation of the idea of the "Golden Mean", this has left an indelible impression on the mind of the West. Like several of the other poems in this collection, it praises restraint and moderation — a consistent theme also throughout Horace’s Satires.
You will live rightly, Licinius,
neither trying the deep waters nor
clinging, afraid of harsh storms,
too close to the dangerous shore.
Whoever chooses the golden mean
is free both from the sordidness
of a crumbling hut and from the envy
incited by palaces.
The tall pine is more often
battered by wind; great towers
fall with the most noise; lightning strikes
only the peaks of mountains.
When unhappy let a man hope,
when fortunate let him be afraid, his heart
prepared for a changing lot.
Jupiter brings hideous winters, but it is also he
who takes them away; so, if things go ill now,
they will not do so always.
Once the now-silent Muse played,
nor did Apollo always tend his bow.
Prepare for hard times,
spirited and strong,
and wisely take in sails
that are too swollen by a favorable wind.
— Mary L. J. McMenomy
Translator’s note: This is an interesting example of Horace’s redirection of a poem from one topic to another. It starts out with branch falling on his head — rather humorously described — and ends with a wistful encomium to a couple of Greek poets. So it’s a shift not only of topic but of tone that is quite noticeable in the original if not so perfectly in translation. — MLJM
He planted you on a wicked day,
who first, and with a sacriligious hand,
cultivated you, o tree, to the detriment
of his progeny and general disapproval.
I would even believe that a man such as that
could have broken the neck of his own parent
or sprinkled his rooms at night
with the blood of his guests. Colchian venom
and whatever other wickedness anyone conceived,
that man attempted, he who put in my field
you, you wretched hunk of lumber, to fall
on the unsuspecting head of your master.
There is never enough caution in a man,
no matter what he strives to avoid. A sailor
fears the danger of the Bosphorus, nor, blind,
does he fear any other fate.
The soldier fears arrows and the swift flight
of the Parthians; the Parthian fears chains
and the strength of the Italians; but the force of death
always snatches men unwary.
Then I almost saw the kingdoms of black Proserpina,
and the judge Aeacus, and the separate seats
of the blessed dead, and the complaining
of faithful Aeolius; I almost saw
Sappho, singing of her countrywomen,
and you, Alcaeus, with your golden lyre,
singing of the hardships of the sea,
of the evil hardships of flight, of the hardships of war.
On all sides the shades wonder in silence
at the things worthily spoken
but more they drink in the battles
and the tyrants described.
What wonder, that the hundred-headed beast,
dazed by these songs, lowered its dark ears,
and the twisted snakey hair
of the Eumenides lay still?
Indeed Prometheus and the parent of Pelops
are ensnared by the sweet sound
nor does Orion concern himself with lions
or wish to chase the timid lynx.
— Mary L. J. McMenomy
Here is another poem that begins by detailing what Horace hates — here, it is something more than Persian ostentation — but goes off in a very different direction.
I hate the profane crowd and I keep it at a
distance. Be silent with your tongue. I, priest
of the Muses, sing a song not heard before for
the maidens and for the young boys.
The rule of those kings to be feared is over
their own peoples, but the rule of Jove is over
the kings themselves, famous for his triumph over the giant,
all with the nod of an eyebrow.
As it is true that a man orders his vineyards with
wider rows, this candidate descends into the
Campus more noble, that one contends with
better character and reputation.
Another may be greater with his crows of clients;
with equal justice Necessity allots their portion
to the notables and the humble. The
capacious urn moves each name.
For whom the drawn sword hangs above his
impious neck, the banquets of Sicily will not
produce a sweet taste, nor will the melody
of lutes and bird bring back sleep.
The gentle slumber of peasants does not shun
the homes of humble men or the shady banks
or the beautiful valley fanned by the zephyrs.
The tumultuous sea does not disturb the person
who is desiring what is enough, nor is he
shaken by the fierce onslaughts of setting
Arcturus or the rising Haedus.
Not by the pounding of his vines with hail and
the farm bearing less than the expected crop
with the tree now blaming the waters, now the dog-star
parching the fields, now the cruel winters.
The fishes sense the surface of the sea
narrowed by masses lying in the deep.
Here the builder with his crowd of slaves and the master
disdainful of the earth set down the rubble.
But Fear and Threats climb to the same place
where the master [climbs], nor does black Care
fall from the brass trireme; indeed she
sits behind the horseman
But if neither the use of Phrygian marble nor of
purple brighter than the stars nor Falernian wine
nor of Persian aromatic plants
can soothe one in distress.
Why should I erect on high a hall with columns
for provoking envy in the new manner? Why
should I change my Sabine valley for riches
more full of trouble?
— Linda Robinson
Here is a different kind of poem: simple, addressed to an inanimate object, a spring, but still provided with the typical Horatian "twist" in the middle.
O fount of Bandusia, more glittering than glass,
Sweet with worthy wine and not without flowers,
Tomorrow you’ll be rewarded with a young goat,
Whose front, turgid with new
Horns, destines him for Venus and for battles,
In vain: for he will stain your icy streams
With his red blood,
Offspring of a playful flock.
The fierce hour of the blazing Dog star
Cannot touch you, cold and delightful,
You provide for the bulls wearied by the plow
And for the wandering livestock.
You, too, will be among the noble founts,
When I tell the holm oak you are placed over
The stone caves, whence the babbling
Of your water leaps.
— Bethely Cameron
The permanence of the poetic memorial is perhaps nowhere more famously stated than here: it is Horace’s none-too-modest (but perhaps accurate) assessment of his own work. Recall how this theme of the poet figures in Homeric and pre-Classical society: the theme is still (or perhaps again) alive here.
I have carved out a monument more lasting than bronze,
higher than the royal site of the pyramids,
which no devouring rain or violent wind
will be able to demolish; nor will the numberless
passage of years or the flight of time destroy it.
I will not entirely die and some part of my deeds
will avoid Libitina: I will grow with later praise
afterwards, for as long as the priest
climbs the Capitol with the silent maiden.
I will be named, wherever violent Aufidus rages
and wherever Daunus poor in water once ruled
over farmers, as the one who from humble beginnings
first was able to bring Aeolian song
into an Italian mode. Bestow a sought-after
pride on the deserving, Melpomene, and willingly
bind my hair with the Delphic laurel.
— Mary L. J. McMenomy