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The Complete Odes – Horace

 
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Posted September 3, 2016 by

The Complete Odes – Horace – 23 B.C.

Reviewed by: Michael Sympson         Date: 26 December 2001

He missed Stockholm by two millennia.

“Poetry is but the metaphor of a mood” said a poet, who was one of the greatest of his own nation, but removed from Horace by 1,800 years. Horace himself, instead of creating such metaphors, preferred to give us the prosaic interpretation of his moods – with exceptions of course, testimonies to a rare and complex talent:

Odes, I:9

Vides ut alta stet niue candidum

Soracte nec iam sustineant onus

siluae laborantes geluque

flumina constiterint acuto?

Dissolue frigus ligna super foco

large reponens atque benignius

deprome quadrimum Sabina,

o Thaliarche, merum diota.

Permitte diuis cetera, qui simul

strauere uentos aequore feruido

deproeliantis, nec cupressi

nec ueteres agitantur orni.

Quid si futurum cras, fuge quaerere, et

quem fors dierum cumque dabit, lucro

adpone nec dulcis amores

sperne, puer, neque tu choreas,

donec uirenti canities abest

morosa. Nunc et Campus et areae

lenesque sub noctem susurri

composita repetantur hora,

nunc et latentis proditor intumo

gratus puellae risus ab angulo

pignusque dereptum lacertis

aut digito male pertinaci.

~

You see how, white with snows to the north of us,

Soracte looms; how snow’s over everything;

the burdened pines no longer buoyant,

streams at a stand in the winter weather.

So, rout the cold! Load logs on the andirons

as good hosts should do. Logs! And no rationing

your wine, young fellow there! Your sabine,

hustle it out from the crusty wine jars.

Then let the heavens see the rest of it.

When once they’ve lulled the winds at their weltering

ion whitened surf, no cypress quivers,

never a breath in the ancient alder.

What comes tomorrow, never you mind about.

Each day on waking reckon, Another!” and

chalk up your one more gain. Don’t spurn the

pleasure of love in your time for dancing,

while youth’s in bloom, while moody decrepitude’s

remote. Now haunt the malls and the stadium.

When little whispers stir in starlight,

make very sure you arrange to be there,

where — who’s in hiding? — giveaway laughter from

the dark, a girl’s laugh, muffled… lovely…

her bracelet tussled for in fun, or

ring from a teasingly tightened finger.

tr. John Frederick Nims

Odes, I:5

Quis multa gracilis te puer in rosa

perfusus liquidis urget odoribus

grato, Pyrrha, sub antro?

cui flauam religas comam,

simplex munditiis? Heu quotiens fidem

mutatosque deos flebit et aspera

nigra aequora uentis

emirabitur insolens,

qui nunc te fruitur credulus aurea,

qui semper uacuam, semper amabilem

sperat, nescius aurae

fallacis. Miseri, quibus

intemptata nites. Me tabula sacer

uotiua paries indicat uuida

suspendisse potenti

uestimenta maris deo.

~

What slender Youth bedew’d with liquid odours

Courts thee on Roses in some pleasant Cave,

“Pyrrha” for whom bind’st thou

In wreaths thy golden Hair,

Plain in thy neatness; O how oft shall he

On Faith and changed Gods complain: and Seas

Rough with black winds and storms

Unwonted shall admire:

Who now enjoys thee credulous, all Gold,

Who always vacant, always 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.

tr. John Milton[!!] (*1608 1674)

Ode IV:7

Diffugere niues, redeunt iam gramina campis

arboribus comae;

mutat terra uices et decrescentia ripas

flumina praetereunt;

Gratia cum Nymphis geminisque sororibus audet

ducere nuda chorus.

Inmortalia ne speres, monet annus et almum

quae rapit hora diem.

Frigora mitescunt Zephyris, uer proterit aestas,

interitura simul

pomifer autumnus fruges effuderit, et mox

bruma recurrit iners.

Damna tamen celeres reparant caelestia lunae:

non ubi decidimus

quo pater Aeneas, quo diues Tullus et Ancus,

puluis et umbra sumus.

Quis scit an adiciant hodiernae crastina summae

tempora di superi?

Cuncta manus auidas fugient heredis, amico

quae dederis animo.

Cum semel occideris et de te splendida Minos

fecerit arbitria,

non, Torquate, genus, non te facundia, non te

restituet pietas;

infernis neque enim tenebris Diana pudicum

liberat Hippolytum,

nec Lethaea ualet Theseus abrumpere caro

uincula Pirithoo.

~

The snows are fled away, leaves on the shaws

And grasses in the mead renew their birth

The river to the river-bed withdraws,

And altered is the fashion of the earth.

The Nymphs and Graces three put off their fear

And unapparelled in the woodland play

The swift hour and the brief prime of the year

Say to the soul, “Thou wast not born for aye.”

Thaw follows frost; hard on the heel of spring

Treads summer sure to die, for hard on hers

Comes autumn, with his apples scattering;

Then back to wintertide, when nothing stirs.

But oh, whate’er the sky-led seasons mar,

Moon upon moon rebuilds it with her beams;

Come “we” where Tullus and where Ancus are,

And good Aeneas, we are dust and dreams.

Torquatus, if the gods in heaven shall add

The morrow to the day, what tongue has told?

Feast then thy heart, for what thy heart has had

The fingers of no heir will ever hold.

When thou descendest once the shades among,

The stern assize and equal judgement o’er,

Not thy long lineage nor thy golden tongue,

No, nor thy righteousness, shall friend thee more.

Night holds Hippolytus the pure of stain,

Diana steads him nothing, he must stay;

And Theseus leaves Pirithšus in the chain

The love of comrades cannot take away.

tr. A.E.Housman (1859-1936) 

Well, maybe I am a bit harsh on the old master. After all, it is said, that even the greatest genius rarely produces more than only six poems of outstanding quality in an entire lifetime – and these examples make already 50% of the required quota. However it can be quite a chore to slog through the pieces in between, in his “Carmina.” Horace definitely was a poet for the mature reader – which is perfectly fine, I wouldn’t have it any other way – but he also was sort of a schoolmaster for all his life. A very gifted and linguistically cultured schoolmaster; Friedrich Nietzsche – himself no mean latinist – praised Horace’s poetry for “the power radiating from every word into every direction.”

I came rather late to Latin; neither born nor bred to become a latinist, I picked up on the language initially only as a necessary tool for Roman history and law. It took me a while to appreciate the good stuff that came my way after the initial pains. Virgil is magical and often simply perfect – but I shall never know why Petronius extended his praise on Horace for his “felicitous care.” But please, don’t miscue my intentions here: I am encouraging to read Horace! By all means, discover for yourselves his poise and gentle wit, enjoy the urban conversationalist. Horace was a born essayist, but as a poet he doesn’t match expectations – at least not mine.

Over the ages Horace has become one of the most read, most imitated, most estimated, most translated, most venerated poets of all times. Is it possible, that all these discerning minds and the admiration by two millennia could have gotten it so wrong and only I know better? It can’t be. I must be missing something here. Even an air-head like Casanova is on record for having learned by rote Virgil’s “Aeneid,” Ariost’s “Orlando Furioso,” and the complete poetry of Horace. Casanova never ran out of pickup lines. So it seems, before I find the time and inclination to examine the situation more carefully, I will have to suspend judgement.

For the meantime I shall keep him in an airtight preservation jar for overrated icons. Why? Well for starters, Horace is a typical case for a politically almost risque poet under an oppressive regime, who in our time might have earned headlines as a somewhat veiled dissident. The Roman opposition in the 4th century had thought so too, and thanks to their efforts to preserve and pass on the best traditions of a disintegrating culture under siege, Horace came down to us almost intact. The ancient scholars and their senatorial patrons had been on a mission. It made Horace the emissary of Latin culture and the educator for cultured people in all ages.

The clouts of his reputation have stuck to his name for good, but it says little about his qualities as writer and poet. In our time he would have made the grades for Stockholm – and probably, like so many, for all the wrong reasons. If you ask me: a praised and praiseworthy author, but not really a great poet.

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