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Odes: Book 1, Verse 11 -- Horace

Guest poem submitted by Divya Sampath:
(Poem #633) Odes: Book 1, Verse 11
 Stop these efforts to learn - knowing is banned - what will be my, and
 final god-given end, Leuconoe, cease Babylonian
 divination by stars. Better by far: all that will come, endure!
 Whether Jupiter grants many a long winter, or this our last,
 which now tires, against pumice-strewn shores lying below us, that
 vast Tyrrhenian Sea. Learn to be wise, strain out the wine, and prune
 lavish hopes to the quick. While we converse, envious time will have
 vanished: harvest today, placing the least credence on what's to come.
-- Horace
Or, in the original:

 "Carmina, Liber Primus, XI"

 Tu ne quaesieris (scire nefas) quem mihi, quem tibi
 finem di dederint, Leuconoe, nec Babylonios
 temptaris numeros. Vt melius quicquid erit pati!
 Seu pluris hiemes seu tribuit Iuppiter ultimam,
 quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare
 Tyrrhenum, sapias, uina liques et spatio breui
 spem longam reseces. Dum loquimur, fugerit inuida
 aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.

        -- Q. Horatius Flacci


I quote the Latin, because there is a definite music in Horace, especially
when read aloud. It's amazing, the vivid imagery he conjures, in the
sparest, most economical phrases.

The translation above is by Steven J. Willett. He is Professor of English
and Cultural Studies at the University of Shizuoka. This is excerpted from
his published translation of excerpts from Horace's Odes at Diotima:

My attachment to this particular verse stems, I confess, from the oft-quoted
last line :-)

[On the Odes]

Horace portrayed himself as a poetic craftsman working in the tradition of
Greek lyric poetry as it was practiced about 600BC on the island of Lesbos
by the Greek poets Alcaeus and Sappho. However, rather than any similarity
of emotion, tone, or content, what the Odes reflect are the meter of the
Greek poets. Of the 103 odes, 37 are Alcaic and 25 Sapphic. (The rhythms of
both Greek and Latin poetry are based on the absolute quantitative length of


1. Babylonians were held to be diviners and mystics of repute. Their skills
in Astrology were well known in Rome, though Horace deprecates them here.
2. Jupiter - the supreme god in the Roman pantheon, often equated with the
Greek Zeus, but more probably finding his roots in the Etruscan
Patriarch-God, Tin/Tinia. The Romans worshipped him as Jupiter Optimus
Maximus - Jupiter, Best and Greatest. Most often associated with Juno and
3. Tyrhennian=Etruscan.


 b. December 65 BC, Venusia, Italy
 d. Nov. 27, 8 BC, Rome

QUINTUS HORATIUS FLACCUS (Horace): outstanding Latin lyric poet and satirist
under the emperor Augustus. The most frequent themes of his Odes and verse
Epistles are love, friendship, philosophy, and the art of poetry. Horace was
probably of the Sabellian hillman stock of Italy's central highlands. His
father had once been a slave but gained freedom before Horace's birth and
became an auctioneer's assistant. In about 46 BC Horace went to Athens,
attending lectures at the Academy. After Julius Caesar's murder in March 44
BC, the eastern empire, including Athens, came temporarily into the
possession of his assassins Brutus and Cassius, who could scarcely avoid
clashing with Caesar's partisans, Mark Antony and Octavian (later Augustus),
the young great-nephew whom Caesar, in his will, had appointed as his
personal heir. Horace joined Brutus' army and was made tribunus militum, an
exceptional honour for a freedman's son.

In November 42, at the two battles of Philippi against Antony and Octavian,
Horace and his fellow tribunes (in the unusual absence of a more senior
officer) commanded one of Brutus' and Cassius' legions. After their total
defeat and death, he fled back to Italy--controlled by Octavian--but his
father's farm at Venusia had been confiscated to provide land for veterans.
Horace, however, proceeded to Rome, obtaining, either before or after a
general amnesty of 39 BC, the minor but quite important post of one of the
36 clerks of the treasury (scribae quaestorii). Early in 38 BC he was
introduced to Gaius Maecenas, a man of letters from Etruria in central Italy
who was one of Octavian's principal political advisers. He now enrolled
Horace in the circle of writers with whom he was friendly. Before long,
through Maecenas, Horace also came to Octavian's notice.

After Octavian had defeated Antony and Cleopatra at Actium, off northwestern
Greece (31 BC), Horace published his Epodes and a second book of eight
Satires in 30-29 BC. Then, while the victor, styled Augustus in 27 BC,
settled down, Horace turned, in the most active period of his poetical life,
to the Odes, of which he published three books, comprising 88 short poems,
in 23 BC. Horace, in the Odes, represented himself as heir to earlier Greek
lyric poets but displayed a sensitive, economical mastery of words all his
own. He sings of love, wine, nature (almost romantically), of friends, of
moderation; in short, his favourite topics. Some of the Odes are about
Maecenas or Augustus: although he praises the ancient Roman virtues the
latter was trying to reintroduce, he remains his own master and never
confines an ode to a single subject or mood. At some stage Augustus offered
Horace the post of his private secretary, but the poet declined on the plea
of ill health. Notwithstanding, Augustus did not resent his refusal, and
indeed their relationship became closer.

The best poems, Horace thought, edify as well as delight; the secret of good
writing is wisdom (implying goodness); the poet needs teaching and training
to give of his best. In 8 BC  Horace died, after naming Augustus as his
heir. He was buried on the Esquiline Hill near Maecenas' grave.

        -- EB


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