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Selections from Horace's Odes
Translated by Steven Willett

Translation & notes copyright 1996-1998 by Steven Willett. All rights reserved.

Note: there are three accompanying documents about Horace and his works:

Odes:

Compare Horace's Latin originals: Enter a reference here, and press return or click the "Look it up" button. References should be in the form hor. carm. 1.5, which should take you to line 1 of Ode 5.)

      


1.5
----

Lapped in masses of rose, Pyrrha, what slender boy
slick with fluent perfume presses you now beneath
   some agreeable grotto?
      Whose your honey-gold hair drawn back,

unpretentiously smart? Oh often enough her faith
he'll lament and the gods' changeable word and watch
   waters roughen with dark winds
      all amazed in his innocence,

who delights in you now golden to credulous eyes,
who expects you unowned always, and always fair,
   ignorant of insidious
      breezes. Lost are those you, untried,

dazzle glaringly bright. I, as the temple wall
indicates by its plaque, have in thanksgiving hung
   up my garments still dripping
      to that powerful god of seas.
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1.8
----
Lydia, tell me: why by
   all the gods, you're eager to wreck Sybaris' life with loving;
why does he shun the sunny
   Campus, he who once persevered under the dust and swelter;

why does he never ride in
   military drills with his friends, wielding a jagged bit to
govern his Gallic stallion?
   Why is he so fearful to touch Tiber's pale waves? Why flee from

rubdowns in oil more swiftly
   than from viper's blood, nor show arms livid with weapon bruises,
he who was celebrated
   often hurling discus and swift javelin past the target?

Why does he hide, like seaborn
   Thetis' son, they say, before Troy's tearful destruction, fearing
clothing of men might tear him
   forth to bloody slaughter and all Lycia's savage forces.
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1.11
----
Stop these efforts to learn-knowing is banned-what will be my, and your,
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.

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1.13
----
When you rave over Telephus'
   rosy neck or extol Telephus' lustrous white
arms--that, Lydia, causes my
   fiery liver to swell boiling in blackest bile.

Then both mind and complexion lose
   their firm seat, and a tear trickles along my cheek
secretively, acknowledging
   what implacable fires ravage me inwardly.

It inflames me when quarrels have,
   through immoderate wine, bruised your immaculate
gleaming shoulders or boyish rage
   has impressed on your lips lingering, tell-tale bites.

Don't, if you'll take advice, expect
   lasting faith in a boor barbarously quick to wound
that delicious mouth Venus has
   richly tinged in her own nectar's essential joy.

Triply happy and still more blessed,
   those whom permanent bonds closely unite and love,
lacerated by sharp disputes,
   won't unloosen before reaching the final day.
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1.16
----
O daughter fairer far than your mother fair,
appoint whatever end you desire to all
   my scurrilous verses, whether flames may
      please you or waves of the Adriatic.

Not Cybele on Dindymus' heights, not that
indwelling god of Delphi so shakes the priests,
   not Bacchus, not the Corybantes
      suddenly clashing their strident cymbals,

as grim-faced anger, which neither Noric sword
deters nor ship-annihilating ocean storms,
   nor savage fire nor Jove himself with
      terrifying din as he plunges earthward.

Prometheus, it's said, was constrained to fill
our primal clay with particles cut from all
   the animals and put inside our
      stomach the violence of raging lions.

Wrath brought Thyestes low to a heavy doom
and is decreed the ultimate cause why all
   proud cities finally fall to utter
      ruin and arrogant armies furrow

exultantly through walls with their hostile plow.
Restrain your moods: a furious passion once
   attacked me also during youth's sweet
      springtime, and drove me in white-hot madness

to reckless verses; now I desire to change
those bitter words for gentle, if you will be
   a friend again and offer back (my
      slander recanted in song) your heart's love.
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1.17
----
In frequent flight swift Faunus exchanges his
Lycaeus for my lovely Lucretilis,
   and always guards my herds of goats from
      fiery summer and rain-filled windstorms.

Securely through the safeguarded groves they go
in search of thyme or hidden arbutus fruit,
   those roaming wives of stinking consorts,
      nor can the sinister green of vipers

or Mars' own wolf packs frighten the tender kids,
when once the Panpipes, Tyndaris, sweetly fill
   the vales and smooth-worn stones of sloping
      Ustica full of resounding echoes.

The gods watch over me, both my piety
and Muse delight them. Here will abundance flow
   profusely from a bounteous horn that's
      lavish with glories of rural harvest.

Secluded here in valley retreat you will
escape the Dog Star's heat, and with Teian lyre
   tell all Penelope and darkly
      glimmering Circe endured for one man.

You'll drink the easy vintage of Lesbos here
beneath the shade, and neither will Semele's
   son Bacchus join with Mars to stir up
   violent disputes, nor will you---now under

suspicion---fear the hot-headed Cyrus, fear
his unchecked hands on you, so mismatched with him,
   to rend the garland bound about your
      hair and your all unoffending garments.
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1.19
----
Savage mother of Cupid and
    Theban Semele's child bid me, together with
wild Abandon, return my heart
    once again to those loves long, long ago extinct.

I'm inflamed by Glycera's glow,
    far outshining the blaze Parian marble casts;
I'm inflamed by provocative
    impudence and a face hazardous just to see.

Venus all on me rushing has
    left her Cyprus, and bans talk of the Scythians,
talk of Parthians fiercely bold
    flying backward on horse-anything outside love.

Here put turf for an altar, here
    wreaths for sacrifice, boys, incense and offering bowl
filled with two-year-old unmixed wine:
    softer comes her assault after a victim's blood

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1.23
----
You shun me like a fawn, Chloe, that's seeking its
frightened mother among distant, unfrequented
    mountains, skittish with baseless
       fear of forests and sudden winds.

For if advent of spring bristles up fluttering
leaves or lizards appear darting viridian
    streaks from tangles of bramble,
       trembling seizes its heart and legs.

Yet I'm not, like a fierce tiger or Libyan
lion, hot in pursuit hoping to crush your bones.
    Cease at last all this trailing
       after mother: it's time for men.
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1.25
----
More infrequent come the repeated vollies
Riotous young men rattle off bolted shutters,
they no longer rob you of sleep, and that door
    keeps to its threshold,

which delighted once in the swing of ready
hinges. Less and less are you hearing lately:
"While I languish long through the darkness, are you,
    Lydia, sleeping?"

Your turn's coming soon as a withered hag who'll
weep at lovers' sneers in some barren alley,
Thracian northwinds grown to bacchantic fury
    under dim moonlight,

when the searing flame of your love and longing,
which incites the mares with tormenting madness,
rages ceaselessly round an ulcered liver,
    not without anguish,

that the swaggering youths find their verdant ivy
more enticing pleasure than dusky myrtle,
but consign all shrivelled up leaves to winter's
    crony the eastwind.
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1.27
----
To fight with goblets made for enjoyment is
a Thracian custom: banish all barbarous
    behavior such as this, defend our
       temperate Bacchus from brawl and bloodshed.

A Persian dagger's horribly out of place
with wine and candlelight: put an end to this
  unholy racket, friends, and leave your
    elbows impressed on their peaceful couches.

What's that? You want me downing my share of dry
Falernian? Let the brother of Locris-born
  Megylla name the wound he favors,
    name the invisible dart that wastes him.

Enthusiasm fades? On no other terms
will I partake. The passion enslaving you,
  whatever it may be, inflames your
    cheeks with no blushes of shame: you always

err into worthy love. So whatever it
may be, entrust it now to my cautious ear.
  O lost, quite lost! Swept to Charybdis'
     torrents, a youth who should burn more nobly.

What witch, what sage with potions of Thessaly
can ever set you free, or indeed, what god?
  So rapt in triple-formed Chimaera,
    Pegasus scarcely could extricate you.

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I. 30
----
Venus, queen of Cnidus and Paphos, Venus
quit your chosen Cyprus and heed Glycera's
call, with teeming incense, to take her pleasant
    shrine for your dwelling.

Swiftly come with you the impetuous boy and
Graces streaming open their robes, the Nympths and
Youth, so little gracious without you here, and
    Mercury also.
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1.33
----
Let's not grieve overmuch, Albius, thinking of
harsh Glycera, and please, stop all the elegies
whining endlessly "Why" someone your junior out-
   shines you, now that she's broken faith.

Love of Cyrus inflames striking Lycoris so
finely slender of brow, Cyrus retreats to cold
heartless Pholoe;--but delicate roe-deer will
   sooner mate with Apulian wolves

than his Pholoe stray into foul Cyrus' love.
Such is Venus' decree, she who delights to cast
mismatched bodies and hearts under the brazen yoke,
   exercising her savage sport.

I myself, when a far worthier mistress called,
tarried under sweet chains, slave to the former slave
Myrtale, who was all fierce Adriatic waves
   curving into Calabria's bay.
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1.37
----
To drinking now, now all to the nimble foot
that beats the earth, now friends, now at last it's time
to heap the festive couches deep with
   Salian feasts for the gods' enjoyment.

Before this day, to break out the Caecuban
from our ancestral cellars had been a crime,
while that demented queen was working
   havoc to Capitol, death to Empire

with her polluted mob of retainers whom
disease alone made men-unrestrained in all
her impotence of fancied power and
   drunk on sweet fortune. But seeing scarcely

a single ship come out of the flames intact
subdued her rage, and Caesar impelled a mind
distraught on Mareotic wine to
   tangible terrors, pursuing closely

by oar her flight from Italy, even as
the hawk a gentle dove or the hunter, swift
in chase, a hare across the plains of
   snow-mantled Thessaly, keen to put chains

around a monster laden with doom: one who,
intent to die more nobly, had nothing of
a woman's fear before the sword nor
   fled by swift fleet to a secret border,

audacious still to gaze on her humbled court
with tranquil face, and valiant enough to take
the scaly asps in hand, that she might
   drink with her body their deadly venom,

ferocious all the more in her studied death;
she was indeed-disdaining to let the fierce
Liburnian ships lead her dethroned to
   arrogant triumph--no humble woman.


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2.4 (see notes below)
----
There's no guilt, believe me, in loving such a
handmaid, Phocian Xanthias: long before you
proud Achilles fell to his slave Briseis'
    snowdrift complexion.

Fair Tecmessa once with a captive's beauty
shook her mighty lord Telemonian Ajax;
Agamemnon burned for a captured maiden
    during his triumph,

after savage hosts had collapsed beneath that
fierce Thessalian's rout, and the loss of Hector
handed Pergamos to exhausted Greeks for
    easier destruction.

Fair-haired Phyllis could be the child of wealthy
parents who'll adorn you, their son, in splendor;
surely ancient kings and unjust Penates
    call her to mourning.

Rest assured, the girl of your steadfast worship
never did belong to the filthy rabble;
none so loyal, none so averse to greed could
    spring from base mother.

Arms and countenance and those lissome ankles
cooly uninvolved I commend; suspect not
one whose rushing life has already drawn its
    fortieth year shut.

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2.5 (see notes below)
----
She doesn't yet have strength to endure a yoke
on her submissive neck, not yet match the pace
  in harness work, nor bear the violent
   weight of a bull in the rites of Venus.

Among the verdant fields is the heart of your
young heifer, now in streams to assuage the heat
  of scorching noontime, now in river
   willows to frolic with calf-companions

Her all-consuming joy. Put away desire
for unripe grapes: soon Autumn in mottled hue
  for you alone will brush the dusky
    clusters to sweetness with glowing violet.

She'll soon pursue you (Time in its ruthless course
runs on, and all those taken away from you
  it adds to her years), soon with reckless
   glances Lalage will seek her husband,

a girl adored as never shy Pholoë,
or Chloris, shoulder gleaming with ivory,
  as cloudless moon on midnight sea sheds
   glimmering light, or as Cnidian Gyges,

who, if you circle him with a band of girls,
could strangely trick the sharpest of visitors
  by shadowing discernment under
   free-flowing hair and a face like either.
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2.8 (see notes below)
----

If some punishment for your perjured oaths had
ever, Barina, done the slightest damage,
had you ever grown by a blackened tooth or
      single nail uglier,

I'd believe. But you, in the very act of
binding vows about your perfidious head, blaze
forth more beautiful and emerge the young men's
      public enchantment.

How expedient, to deceive a mother's
buried ashes, stars in their silent nighttime
course with heaven's vault and the gods whom chilly
      Death cannot trouble.

Venus laughs, I say, in delight at this; her
guileless Nymphs laugh too and that savage Cupid
always honing sharp on his bloody whetstone
      fiery arrows.

Every boy, moreoever, is ripening just for
you, new-growing slaves, nor will prior lovers
ever quit the house of their impious mistress,
      much as they threaten.

Mothers dread you, dread for their callow bullocks,
you the skinflint sires and despondent, freshly
married virgins, you, lest your radiance draw their
      husbands to linger.
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2.12 (see notes below)
----

You'd not want the prolonged wars of Numantia's
savage nation or harsh Hannibal's rage or seas
washing Sicily dyed purple in Punic blood
    set to cithara's gentle strains,

neither barbarously rude Lapiths nor drunken, wine-
mad Hylaeus nor huge Sons of the Earth subdued
once by Hercules' hand, danger from whose assault
    shook the radiant dwelling of

ancient Saturn. And you, surely, can better tell
us, Maecenas, in foot-slogging historical
prose the battles of great Caesar and dangerous
    kings paraded by neck down streets.

Me however the Muse orders to tell the songs
sweetly sung by my own Mistress Licymnia,
tell her radiantly bright eyes and unswerving heart
    firmly faithful in mutual love,

tell her never ashamed dancing the choral round,
parrying jest with returned jest or extending her
arms to maidens in sleek dress on the sacred day
    festive crowds fill Diana's shrine.

Would you really accept all that Achaemenes
owned in riches, or lush Phrygia's Mygdonian
wealth, or Arabic homes flowing with bounty for
    even one of Licymnia's curls,

when she bares to inflamed kisses her barely turned
neck, or scorns them with quite easy severity,
never one to request, only to exult when snatched--
    sometimes plundering them first herself?
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3.7 (see notes below)
----

Why, Asteria, sob tearfully after him
whom, in earliest spring, brightening Zephyrs will
   bring back rich with Bithynian
       revenues, the all-faithful young

Gyges? Driven by storms southward to Oricum
after autumn's insane Goatstar arose, he now
   lingers long through the frigid
       nights unsleeping with many tears.

Yet the maid his aroused hostess dispatches now,
telling over the sighs Chloe suspires and her
   burning love for your lover,
       tempts him shrewdly by countless arts:

How a treacherous wife drove overcredulous
Proetus, trusting in false charges, to bring on too
   chaste Bellerophon sudden
       brutal death
she relates to him,

mentions Peleus almost destined to Tartarus
while, unsullied, he shunned Magnes Hippolyta;

   and, deceitfully, slides in
       stories teaching the way to sin.

Useless: deafer than all Icarus' crags he hears
pleading voices with heart wholly intact. But you,
   take care neighbor Enipeus
       doesn't charm you excessively--

though, admittedly, we've never seen anyone
match him reining a horse over the Fields of Mars,
   never any to match him
       swimming swiftly down Tiber's course.

Lock up house as the night falls, don't crane out to peer
down the streets at his flute's quavering music, and,
   though he often complain you're
       cruel, coldheartedly stay unmoved.

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Notes on C.2.4

Meter: Sapphic

In slave-owning societies like Rome, casual affairs between the owners and the owned were not uncommon. Roman society saw nothing unethical in this so long as the affair remained casual and the owner did not develop an infatuation for the girl or boy who was the object of his desire. Augustus' attempts at moral reform were aimed at stable marriages and the production of legal children--children so badly needed at a time of declining birthrate among the aristocracy--not at meaningless liaisons with slaves.

Rome's expansion through southern Italy and across the Mediterranean basin in the 150 years preceding Horace had led to an enormous influx of slaves captured in war. Many of these were of course originally freeborn and some few were of aristocratic family in their own countries. Roman writers associated the growth of large estates or latifundia with slave labor and the social degeneration of Italy as the free peasantry disappeared under pressure from the ancient equivalent of agribusiness. The use of gang slavery on the large estates was so brutalizing that it led to the slave revolts in Sicily during the later second century BCE and the crisis of Spartacus' slave revolt on the Italian peninsula during the generation before Horace's birth.

The literary tradition did not breathe the air of gang slavery. It was full of stories about royal slaves and kidnapped princesses. In Greek tragedy the women taken captive at Troy come from princely families, while in New Comedy captives sometimes have the cachet of foreign and aristocratic origins. Both Greek and Latin poetry justify slave-loves, and the paradox of a free man enslaved by a slave was a common motif in erotic poetry. It is this motif that Horace is exploiting in the ode. One might make the case that the highly selective treatment of slavery in the literary tradition, by singling out and trapping certain minor aspects of slavery within a rhetoric of trivialized romance, was a way to deflect consciousness from the sheer scale and horror of the trade.

Horace adopts the bantering tone common in Hellenistic poetry when interrogating, prodding, teasing or encouraging a companion about his love life. He addresses the young foreigner with the pompous title "Xanthias of Phocis," which signals a parodistic treatment. We have no way of knowing whether Xanthias was historical or fictional, and it does not matter, since the poem is strictly an exercise in manipulating literary traditions within a Roman social framework. Horace purports to take Xanthias' infatuation with a serving girl seriously and tries to encourage him with a series of hyperbolic comparisons involving the three great heroes of the Trojan War: Achilles, Ajax and Agamemnon. Their erotic subjection to slaves is underscored in Latin with a deft use of anaphora, alliteration and word placement. These great Homeric warriors have been homogenized into mundane lovers in the course of a mock heroic treatment that depreciates even the Greek achievement in capturing Troy, which falls rather easily into their hands after the death--literally the 'removal' in Latin--of Hector. The deflation of both the Homeric heroes and the climactic event of the Trojan War is a byproduct of Horace's strategic decision to employ hyperbolic comparisons. Only deflation permits him to play lightly with these figures in a rhetoric of erotic assurance.

Further Reading

Names


Notes on C.2.5

Meter: Alcaic

Over the years certain factors in this ode have occasionally deflected readers from its true emotional purpose: (1) the treatment of sexuality in animalistic terms that clearly makes men robustly active and women dependently passive, (2) the metaphorical transformation of Lalage to heifer and unripe grapes respectively, (3) the emotional patronization of a restrained older man toward an immature girl--almost, dare one say, a Nabokovian nymphet--and (4) the imagined transformation of a mature Lalage into a sexual huntress whose activity, as the first stanza shows, is strictly in the chase, not the capture. Nisbet and Hubbard judge the ode to be subtle and ingenious, but lacking "the supreme Horatian virtues of humanity and sense" (N&H 2.80). This seems to me seriously wrong. The ode is in fact a poignant meditation on the ravaging power of time, instinct with as much pathos as the more famous Postumus ode (C.2.14), but it is easy to miss this if we fail to understand the structural function of the three lovers mentioned in the last two stanzas. To understand them, we need to understand who is speaking in the poem.

Horace is talking to himself. Since ancient times, the single greatest problem with the ode is supposed to be the difficulty of determining the poet's addressee: is he talking to himself or some other person. The failure to name the girl at the start of the ode (suitable to private reflection), the ease with which the poet could have devised a persona had he needed one, the addressee's interest in boys and girls (like Horace's persona) and the ironical treatment of age (tactless in direct address to a friend) all point to an interior monologue.

The monologue falls into three clearly defined movements: the first, in stanzas one through three, presents Lalage as too immature for love; the second, in stanza four, points the ambiguous power of time, which will grace Lalage with the years it takes from the aging poet; and the third, in stanzas five and six, evokes with subtle verbal music the beauty that time can so quickly destroy and that only those who feel the power of time--as the poet feels it--can appreciate. As so often in Horatian lyric, the thematic heart of the ode lies in the middle, here in stanza four. Time doesn't just pass, it is headstrong and impetuous (ferox) like a mettlesome, uncontrollable animal. As it rushes onward, the same years are a gain to the young girl because they mature her and a loss to the middle-aged poet because they bring him inevitably to death. The final two stanzas only make structural sense when viewed from the prospect of the poet's perception of transience. Like Shakespeare, he knows that

Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney sweepers, come to dust.

The emotional climax of the poem, then, lies in the seemingly extraneous catalogue of Pholoe, Chloris and Gyges. Pholoe is described with an epithet, Chloris with a couple of lines and Gyges with a whole stanza. At first this looks like a tricolon designed to show how much more a wiser, aging Horace will love Lalage in her riper future than he once loved these three shadowy figures. But as Nisbet and Hubbard note (N&H 2.90n20), the colometry presents problems, and it is more likely that the description of Gyges is the end of the second colon and not the beginning of a third, new colon. (The colometry suggested by N&H has been adopted in the translation.) This means that Chloris is compared not just to the moon but to Gyges' ambiguous, almost hermaphroditic features shadowed by his flowing hair. The ambiguity of feature fits perfectly with the haunting, hazy and imprecise beauty of moonlight shining on the night seas. Chloris' white shoulders and arms gleam with the dull whiteness of the moon and with the vague sheen of Gyges' face half lost and virtually unidentifiable in a ring of girls. This dual simile not only creates a feeling of transience, as of light on the edge of an engulfing shadow, its strange fusion of feminine and masculine beauty fits the poet's own bisexual tastes.

Further Reading

See Ronnie Ancona, Time and the Erotic in Horace's Odes (Duke University Press, 1994), for a general discussion of the literary strategies Horace uses to portray--and master--the beloved's beauty in the grip of time.

Names


Notes on C.2.8

Meter: Sapphic

At first glance, this seems to be little more than a lighthearted attack on a serial perjuress. Horace deploys a rhetoric of comic exaggeration and mock vehemence against his victim, driving it home with some of the most complex puns and verbal effects in all the Carmina. The portrait of the woman who emerges from the exaggeration evolves from a simple betrayer of the poet's faith, to a cynical exploiter of false oaths for her own amatory hunt, to a public menace threatening all the nation's adolescent boys and finally to a veritable force of nature whose malevolent aura draws brand-new husbands into her clutches. She is completely depersonalized in the process, reduced to an exemplum for public comment. There is obviously a humorous intention here, but there is also something more. The ode is not simply a concentrated statement of the cliché "La donna è mobile."

In Barina (the 'girl from Barium' on the southeast coast of Italy), Horace gives us one of those hetaerae who populate Roman comedy, epigram and erotic elegy. She is obviously a near neighbor to the Pyrrha of C.1.5, swearing undying loyalty to her lover while he interests her and breaking it when he doesn't. It's clear from the dramatic situation of the first two stanzas that she has, at some time, pledged her "true" faith to the poet and then broken it, perhaps broken it repeatedly. The ode is his response. Like Don Alfonso in Mozart's opera "Cosi fan' tutte," Horace maintains a pose of amused cynicism throughout the poem, but behind his reproaches one senses a grudging admiration for a woman with such limitless power over men.

Although Horace consistently addresses Barina in the second person, using various forms of the pronoun 'you' six times (tibi, tu, tibi, te, te, tua) and maintaining the form of a personal address all the way through the poem, he avoids any cues of the sort we find in C.1.5 or C.4.13 to alert us that she isn't present and he is only soliloquizing. This makes for a convenient ambiguity to magnify the force of his hyperbole. The ode is really a dramatic monologue under the guise of a direct address, and we should not image Barina to be physically present. But her fictive presence heightens the cascade of hyperbole by implying a complete indifference to the truth.

The poet bases his attack on two topics: one is a commonplace of Greek poetry and the other a paradox. (1) The commonplace is the Greek notion, ancient already in Horace's time, that lovers' oaths may be broken with impunity. It was first applied by Hesiod (fr. 124) to Zeus, who deceived Hera about his romance with Io. By Plato's time in the fourth century BCE, the juridical emptiness of a lover's oath--aphrodisios horkos ('aphrodisian oath') in Greek--had become an accepted literarytopos, which was eventually applied to women as well as men. Horace inherited the topos from Hellenistic poetry as he did so much other raw material for his verse. A good collection of literary sources and analogues for the perjuries of both men and women can be found in N&H 2.122-23 and Syndikus 1.388-89. (2) The paradox is the fact that Barina's treacheries, which grow blacker by the stanza, never have the slightest consequences for her. No deceit, no violated oath, no betrayal recoils on her with human or divine punishment. In the very act of delivering a false promise, she shines out with more fatal attraction. Despite all the evidence ready to hand of her perjuries, there isn't the slightest reduction in the stream of men who are captivated by her beauty, mobbing a house already jammed with the living wreckage of all those previous lovers who refuse to vacate the premises. Horace doesn't even try the gambit of threatening her with the same withered old age he predicts for Lydia in C.1.25. Her beauty almost looks preternatural, not mortal.

There are a number of ways to extract a misogynist reading from the Barina ode, though it should be remembered that the aphrodisios horkos was first applied to a male god and to males generally well before it was to women. But I don't think the poem is really misogynist at all. The real focus of the poem, paradoxically, is on the irredeemable self-deception of men. None of those floating mistresses who drift through Hellenistic and Roman poetry, whether married, unmarried or professional, could rightly be expected to honor fidelity. Such fidelity, if it came at all, came from within the stern confines of a traditional Roman marriage. A belief in the faithfulness of one's domina is possible only through blind self-deception or cynical adoption of a literary pose. Catullus may be a good example of the first, Horace of the second in an ode like C.2.12, though we can never be entirely certain how much either poet is expressing lived experience, projecting a fictitious persona or combining the two in some amalgam. At no point in his poetry does Horace evince anything like genuine sorrow at betrayal; in his poetry Catullus suffers betrayal at the hands of Lesbia with an intensity of love and hate, adoration and loathing that are quite unparalleled in the western tradition. His final agony is commensurate with his early happiness in the imagined permanence of their relationship. Horace gives us his view of fidelity in stanza four, where Venus and her Nymphs laugh at Barina's perjuries while Cupid goes on filing his flaming arrows on a blood-soaked whetstone. Barina is in fact following amatory nature, as men who want truth and fidelity from her are not. The more they expect it, the more they fall into hopeless folly. Horace knows that mistresses aren't faithful, though the briefly unhappy thought that one or another of the more attractive ones wasn't can provide a useful literary theme.

The strain of romantic poetry that runs from Catullus down to Propertius, Tibullus and beyond, with its emphasis on the central human importance of passionate sexual love for a single domineering woman who either seals holy friendship with the poet (as Catullus wrongly thought in 109.6) or imposes erotic slavery ( servitium amoris) on him (as the latter two believed), has exercised a powerful sway over the western imagination. Horace occasionally plays with the motif, but his Lucretian leanings never seriously tempt him to accept it. He rejected the basic assumptions of love elegy in C.1.33 and C.2.9. The first implicitly criticizes Tibullus' poetry as longwinded, narrow, sentimentally plaintive and divorced from the concerns of real life. The second works more indirectly, using the form of a consolatio to suggest that the poet C. Valgius Rufus stop writing his endless, weak laments for Mystes (either dead or attached to another lover, we don't know which) and, indeed, stop writing that kind of poetry altogether. In the present poem Horace avoids any overt criticism of the genre, but reduces the whole motif of erotic servitude to its logical, one might even say surreal, absurdity: the young boys are growing into legions of new slaves while the old slaves dwindle away at her house and a few new husbands linger nearby with great expectations of a Barina who is most true to nature when least true to anyone.

Notes and Comments

3-4: The nonexistent blemish on Barina's finger nail, a blemish Horace doesn't actually describe, would consist of white flaws or flecks. They were thought to be evidence of lying. No evidence, of course, ever taints Barina.

8: Barina literally becomes a "publica cura," a political phrase that means something like "public matter, case or concern," with some hint of promiscuity in the "public." When Barina binds new oaths metaphorically about her head, she shines forth with far greater beauty and emerges--the Latin word Horace uses here can also describe a bride's appearance--to everyone's infatuation. Her progress along the street is really the antitype of the bride's. Syndikus notes (1.388n4) that the word "cura" as used of the beloved is a feature of "elegische Liebessprache," or elegaic amatory speech, and cites a wealth of examples.

9-12: Barina swears the most sacred oaths just to get what she wants or to extricate herself from unpleasant situations. She is so fearless of any consequences to her oath-taking that she seems as free from "chilly Death" as the gods themselves. She "deceives" the powers evoked by her oaths because she escapes the notice of mother's ashes, stars, sky and gods.

13: The Venus who laughs here is the same one who laughs with Mirth and Cupid in C.1.2:33-34 and "laughs treacherously" in C.3.27:67. Her smile was characteristic. The Nymphs in l. 14 are regular members of Venus' retinue, but their laughter is slightly out of character for them as "simplices" ('guileless,' 'ingenuous') just as Cupid's is for him as "ferus" ('wild,' 'cruel'). This is perhaps Horace's way to saying that the servitium amoris is so absurd it even stimulates laughter where unexpected.

16: Oil or water is normally used on a whetstone, but we are to imagine it fresh with blood because Cupid is very busy extracting arrows from his victims and filing them sharp again for new, and prompt, reuse. The blood indicates his busyness: no time to wipe them clean first.

21-23: The anaphora of pronouns "te...te...tua," the first two at the start of their lines, has suggested a parody of Catullus' hymn to Hymen (61.51ff), but unlike Hymen, Barina brings disunity and discord.

24: There is a complex series of overlapping metaphors on the Latin word "aura," which I've translated 'radiance.' (1) An 'aura' is, first of all, a 'breath of air" or 'breeze.' But Barina's breeze, unlike a nautical one, draws husbands toward her rather than sending them on their way to home port. (2) The word also has a connotation of 'emanation,' 'influence,' 'magnetism' or 'splendor.' Barina's beauty is of course spectacular and, like a sinister emanation, exercises its power on anyone within range. (3) An 'aura' in Latin is also an 'odor' or 'exhalation,' and here it suggests the attractive odor of a receptive female. All these metaphoric connotations govern a single verb: "retardet" (from retardo=to 'slow down,' 'retard,' 'impede'). Horace is using all the metaphors simultaneously with a startlingly unexpected verb.


Notes on C.2.12

Meter: Second Asclepiad (three Asclepiads + 1 Glyconic)

This is a recusatio, a rhetorical device in which the poet politely declines to write a certain type of poem or treat a particular theme in his poetry. The most important model for the technique was provided by the Hellenistic poet Callimachus, who warned poets away from long, pompous, overworked and hackneyed themes or genres (especially epic) in favor of short, witty, well-wrought and original poems (Aetia fr. 1:17ff). He summarized the contrast memorably as one between the donkey's bray and the cicada's chirp. Roman poets found the recusatio an elegant way "to brush off importunate patrons, avid for commemoration in the grander genres. A diffident reluctance to praise might prove the least exhausting form of flattery, and was recommended by the preceptors of panegyric..." (N&H 1.82). Horace employed it to justify his preference for writing about love rather than war and the military triumphs of the Augustan regime. The following poems utilize the recusatio: Epode 14 and Odes 1.6, 1.19, 2.12 and 4.2.

In the present ode, Horace is addressing his patron Maecenas, who has asked—perhaps repeatedly—for some suitably triumphal poetry to enhance the government. The poem begins with Horace's answer, as if the request had just been posed and were still hanging in the air between them. He deflects it with the not entirely ingenuous assertion that his style is suitable only for gentle lyric poetry and then, after a string of unsuitable historical and mythological topics, suddenly shifts into praise for his mistress-of-the-day, Licymnia. Horace is more than slightly disingenuous in this refusal, because his six Roman Odes (C.3.1- 6) are something far better than potted battles set to verse: they are masterpieces of oblique, but powerfully suggestive, political and moral meditation on the fate of Rome. There he speaks without his usual self-deprecating humor, frequently adopting the voice of impersonal authority as he critiques his country's moral lapses and offers corrective—often ambiguously corrective—advice.

Further reading

See Lyne 31-39 for a detailed analysis of the recusatio. He demonstrates that Horace regarded it as a feature of elegy and parodied it in Ode 2.12.

Notes and Comments

1. Numantia: a Celtiberian town near the upper Douro in northwest Spain. It fought numerous was against Roman encroachment in the second century BCE (195-133). The greatest of these lasted ten years and ended in 133BCE with the complete destruction of the city by Scipio Aemilianus. The Numantine warriors fought with a ferocity and disregard for life that shocked even the Romans, which is why Horace calls their wars "ferae," or 'fierce.' Anyone visiting the ancient site of Numantia, in a starkly beautiful landscape rich with legends of the Reconquest and Antonio Machado, can still see remains of the Roman siege.

2. Hannibal: the great Carthaginian general who invaded Italy in the Second Punic War (218-201BCE), but failed to defeat Rome after 15 years of occupation.

2-3. seas/washing Sicily dyed purple in Punic blood: a reference to the naval battles of Mylae (260BCE) and the Aegatian Islands (242BCE) during the First Punic War (264-241BCE), which was the longest continuous war ever fought in Greco-Roman history and of decisive importance for the West. Horace is working his way backward in time from the Bellum Numantinum, which already lies a century before the poet's own time.

4. cithara: a Greek box lyre with a much larger wooden sound box than the smaller bowl lyres, which generally used a tortoise shell for the sound box. They were far more elaborate in construction and certainly more expensive than the bowl lyres commonly used at symposia or schools, and with their more powerful sound were the instruments of choice for professional musicians or epic singers. From vase paintings and other representations, they appear to be quite large, extending from the waist to the top of the head with elaborate, composite arms. For a full account of lyres with illustrations see M. L. West, Ancient Greek Music (Oxford, 1992) 48-70. Unlike the Greeks, Horace views the cithara as the exclusive instrument of lyric as opposed to epic poetry.

5. Lapiths: a people from Thessaly famous in myth and art for their battle with the Centaurs invited to the marriage of King Pirithous and Hippodamia. The Centaurs became drunk and tried to rape Hippodamia along with the other women. Theseus of Athens, an old friend, helped Pirithous defeat them. When Lapiths are mentioned together with Centaurs, they normally stand for civilization against barbarism (as in the Parthenon metopes). But here Horace draws on a tradition that makes the Lapiths a savage race no better than the Centaurs, and in the fourth of the Roman Odes (C.3.4:79f) he even lists King Pirithous as a defeated sinner, an "amorous" sinner at that, wrapped eternally by thrice a hundred chains in Orcus.

6. Hylaeus: one of the Centaurs. His name means "man of the woods," with the connotation of a wild, uncivilized nature.

6. Sons of the Earth: Giants born of the earth who revolted against Jove and the Olympian gods. The repulse of the Giants was a long-established poetical theme that easily lent itself to a wide range of political allegory.

7. Hercules' hand: Hercules was summoned to fight the Giants because of a prophesy stating that they could only be destroyed if a mortal came to help the gods.

9. ancient Saturn: it was the Titans (children of Sky and Earth) who unsuccessfully helped Cronos (=Saturn) against Jove, but in the later Gigantomachy Jove is imagined as inhabiting the house of Saturn when it was threatened by the Giants. Roman poets regularly conflate the Titanomachy with the Gigantomachy.

12. kings paraded by neck down streets: once-threatening kings were dragged in chains down the streets of Rome, principally the Via Sacra, in a triumph that ended on the Capitoline Hill.

14. Licymnia: a Greek feminine name for Horace's perhaps fictitious domina or mistress. The name may derive from a combination of the Greek adjective ligus (='clear' or 'shrill') with the Greek verb humnein (='to sing'). It would then mean 'clear singing,' which is appropriate to a talented lady who may be somewhat older than the other young girls, yet can still sing and dance with them in the choral round. But the prefix ligus is not persuasive, and Greek glukus (='sweet') has also been suggested (N&H 2.194) on the assumption that Romans would have dropped the hard 'g' in pronouncing the word. The name would then mean 'sweet singing,' which goes nicely with the Muse's order to celebrate the sweet singing ("dulcis...cantus") of Licymnia. Whatever its origin, the name is almost certainly servile on the evidence of the phrase "serva Licymnia" in Aeneid 9.546.

Some ancient commentators recorded by Pseudo-Acro took Licymnia as a pseudonym for Maecenas' wife Terentia. Their marriage was certainly stormy enough to generate scandalous gossip, and she is even said to have been a mistress of Augustus. But the notion that Licymnia is Maecenas' wife can be rejected out of hand, since a poet of Horace's tact would never have developed a sustained parallel between an hetaera and his patron's wife, no matter how talented, beautiful and uncharacteristically faithful the hetaera may have been. "Legions of commentators and writers have however believed Ps.- Acro, e.g. La Penna Orazio e L'ideologia del principato 126, Fraenkel Horace 219" (Lyne, 104n4). One can also add, more recently, Mulroy, who otherwise offers no rationale for equating the two and concludes that "the poem's ambiguities are intentional and insoluble" (113).

It is probably the emphatic "num tu" ("Would you really accept...") directed to Maecenas at the start of stanza six that has misled commentators since ancient times into believing the fantasy that Licymnia equals Terentia. We know that the Muse has already commanded Horace to celebrate the sweet singing of his domina. Now he says, "Would you—if you were I—accept any amount of wealth for a lock of Licymnia's hair when she bends her neck to receive warm kisses?" The emphasis is on the very moment when she turns aside to bare her neck, or possibly the very moment when she decides to plunder kisses herself. Were anyone in my place as the erotic play begins to unfold, Horace claims, he too would be oblivious to material wealth. The pure sexual magnetism of Licymnia disables the profit motive. Thus "num tu" heightens the intensity of an imagined moment for Horace, who has the ability to attract and (at least for a time) hold such an alluring mistress.

19f. on the sacred day/festive crowds fill Diana's shrine: a festival to Diana in her temple on the Aventine hill. Her sacred day was August 13.

21. Achaemenes: the legendary founder of the Persian Achaemenid dynasty, which in 490BCE under Darius sent an expeditionary force against Athens and in 480-79BCE under Xerxes attempted the wholescale conquest of mainland Greece.

22. Mygdonian wealth: Mygdon (here used as an adjective modifying 'wealth'), a legendary prince of Phrygia in northeast Asia Minor. Horace calls Phrygia "fertile," but he probably wants us to think of the wealth of kings such as Mygdon and his fellow Phrygian Midas rather than agricultural productivity.

23. Arabic homes: a reference to the reputed wealth of the Arabs who lived in Arabia Felix. There may be an implied contrast with the poor nomadic Arabs of Arabia Deserta.


Notes on C.3.7

Meter: Third Asclepiad (two Asclepiads + Pherecratean + Glyconic)

Book III opens with six odes, all in the alcaic meter, that explore the values and contradictions of Augustan Rome. They are commonly called the Roman Odes to indicate their general thematic unity, and form the only closed grouping in the Odes. Horace marks the end of this sequence with a distinct shift in tone, meter and genre. To appreciate the interpoem rupture of mood, one needs to move from the final stanza of 3.6, with its deeply pessimistic picture of increasing Roman decline over the generations, to the light, apparently weightless exercise in erotic elegy that follows. The romantic motif is struck immediately in the first few words: Asteria is weeping over her beloved Gyges, who has been trapped in Oricum on the coast of Epirus by stormy south winds while sailing home from Bithynia around late September, and won't be able to return until the cloudless west winds start early in spring. He's lonely at his separation from Asteria, spending the long winter nights with with nothing but tears for company. More seriously, however, Gyges is staying with a host whose custom or business is to provide lodging for travellers, and he has a wandering wife. Stricken with passion for their guest, she has been using every trick in the amatory book to seduce Gyges. All in vain. He's deaf to temptation. The poet reassures Asteria of his constancy, but in a sudden turn warns her not to fall under the spell of the handsome young neighbor Enipeus, who displays unmatched equestrian and aquatic prowess by day and some little skill serenading Asteria with his flute by night. Two parallel attempts are seduction are thus unfolding simultaneously in Oricum and Rome.

Further Reading

Michèle Lowrie applies postmodern theories of narratology to the Odes in (Clarendon Press, 1997). She is particularly good at explaining the way lyrical apostrophe frustrates, or signficantly complicates, a coherent narrative. The inverse is also true in her analysis: any ode that strives for coherence partakes of narrative. See the chapter "Narrative Seduction" for a discussion of C.3.7, 11 and 27.

Notes and Comments

1: Asteria (or Asterie in Latin) is a Greek feminine name that means "starry," presumably in reference to her striking beauty. That beauty then makes her attractive to others besides Gyges.

2: Zephyrs are the prevailing westerly winds that begin in early spring and mark the resumption of the sailing season. They are bright because cloudless and free of storms.

3: In Augustan times, the province of Bithynia et Pontus was a large region along the southwestern side of the Black Sea extending from Propontus near Prusa in the west to Armenia in the east. Two Thracian tribes, the Thyni and the Bithyni, originally occupied the region. Horace actually refers to Bithynia generally by the old tribal name Thyni in line 3. See Richard J. A. Talbert's Atlas of Classical History (Routlege, 1985) p. 158 for a detailed map of Bithynia and Asia about 100CE.

4: Gyges is coming home rich with "Thyna merce," which are either "Bithynian/goods" or "Bithynian/revenues." Most commentators assume he is a trader (mercator) returning with Bithynian merchandise to sell in Rome or, less likely, to give Asteria. This is possible, but it is equally possible he has gone east in the staff of a Roman proconsul sent to govern the province. The Senatorial proconsuls were notorious for their propensity to use the assignment for vast personal enrichment, not good government. Catullus had gone on such a mission, as he tells us in C.10 , but came back poor. In this translation the second, proconsular, alternative has been adopted, so "merce" is rendered by "revenues."

5: Gyges is a Greek masculine name, but here is almost certainly intended to remind the reader of the seventh century BCE king of Lydia, who was of course fabulously wealthy.

5: Oricum (or Oricus) is a seaport in Epirus on the northwest coast of Greece at the entrance of the Adriatic. It is situated just north of latitude 40 about 130 kilometers due east of Brundisium on the heel of Italy. Brundisium was the likely port of Gyges' out bound voyage. He has been stopped at Oricum on his homeward trip by stormy southern winds, which begin at the autumnal equinox in late September with the rising of the constellation Capra (the Goat). Ancient ships found it difficult but not impossible to sail against headwinds. Prudence, however, dictated that one not tempt nature, especially if one were a trader with a heavy load of merchandise.

7: Capra is named after the goat that suckled Jupiter. Its rise signalled the start of storm-laden south winds and thus the end of navigation. For this reason Horace calls it "insana" (="insane, mad, raving, raging").

9: Chloe actually sends a "nuntius" or "messenger" to Gyges. The Latin word is a masculine noun, which might suggest a male servant, but a maidservent normally served as the go- between.

13-16: Proetus was the king of ancient Tiryns near Argos. His wife Stheneboea (or Anteia) attempts to seduce Bellerophon and, when rebuffed, accuses him secretly to Proetus of attempting to rape her. The story can be found in the Iliad 6.156-70, but was much better known in the form Euripides gave it in his tragedy "Stheneboea." There Proetus devises two plots to kill Bellerophon. In the first, he sends the hero to Iobates, King of Lycia, with a sealed letter. In obedience to the letter, Iobates dispatches him on what is supposed to be a fatal mission to kill the monster Chimaera, but he slays it with the help of Pegasus. In the second, he contrives a followup murder that is somehow leaked to Bellerophon while returning home to Tiryns. Bellerophon deceitfully persuades Stheneboea to elope with him on Pegasus, but then throws her off to drown in the sea and is ultimately reconciled with Proetus. Of Euripides' tragedy we possess only the hypothesis, some 30 lines of a prologue speech by Bellerophon and a number of fragments. The Greek text, with translation and commentary, is conveniently available in The Plays of Euripides. Selected Fragmentary Plays: I, edd. C. Collard, M. J. Cropp and K.H. Lee (Aris & Phillips, 1995; reprinted with corrections 1997).

17-20: Peleus, the father of Achilles, was propositioned by Hippolyta wife of King Acastus of Magnesia. Once again a rejected wife attempts to have her husband kill his guest. The story can be found in Pindar, Nemean 4.54-61 (which briefly describes his rescue from an ambush by the centaur Cheiron) and 5.25-35 (which tells the full story of Hippolyta's attempted seduction and Peleus' refusal from fear of Zeus' anger, but says nothing about the rescue).

17: Tartarus according to Greek legend was a dark abyss far below the surface of the earth. It was heavily fortified by Poseidon and served as the prison for the dethroned Cronus and the defeated Titans. Horace uses the term as a general reference to the land of the dead.

18: Horace calls Acastus' wife "Magnessam Hippolyten" or "Magnesian Hippolyta" to distinguish her from Theseus' wife, Amazonian Hippolyta. Magnesia is the eastern coastal region of Thessaly in Greece. It stretches from the eastern arm of the Gulf of Pagasae almost to Macedonia. In this translation, the variant Latin adjective "Magnes" has been used to translate the feminine noun "Magnessa."

21: Icarus here refers to the modern Icaria, a rocky island in the Aegean east of Samos.

23: Enipeus is a Greek masculine name after a river in Thessaly. The etymology of the name may, as Garrison notes in his edition of the Odes (308n23), suggest (a) his horsemanship, (b) his swimming and (c) perhaps his reproach. All three Greek names in 3.7 are used to portray essentially Roman characters.

24: The Field of Mars (or Campus Martius) was in Horace's time a large, open, sunny area for military, athletic and equestrian exercises. It was also a meeting place for lovers or women scouting them. Horace's ideal young knight practises there and swims in the Tiber for good measure. See C. 1.8.3-8 (which couples exercise with swimming, though the Campus is dusty rather than grassy with turf--"gramine Martio"--as here), 1.9.18-20 (which identifies the Campus as a trysting place) and 3.12.7-9 (which lists riding and swimming as highly attractive to women).

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