Thursday, 11 July 2013

Horace, Odes II.10: hold the middle way.

It is a pity that Horace gets so little attention at schools, at least here in the Netherlands. Of course Catullus is more emotional and his Lesbia cycle can easily be put into pop music, but I like the contemplative mood Horace expresses in some of his poems, in which he describes the pleasures of a simple life. I know that it isn’t that appealing for youngsters – having a daughter of 14 - but some reflection can do no harm. Well, let’s make no illusions: Horace is not easy and pupils are glad when they have managed to retrieve some meaning from each stanza, not thinking about the poem as a whole. Now I come to think it, I wasn’t that contemplative either.
In this poem Horace is warning Licinius Murena against too ruthless ambitions. Licinius was the brother of Terentia, the wife of Maecenas, Horace’s financial supporter. Apparently Licinius did not take heed to this poem: conspiring against Augustus, he was caught and put to death in 22 BC.
This poem is quite simple and effective.

Metre: Sapphic stanza
Using "-" for a long syllable, "u" for a short and "x" for an "anceps" (or free syllable):

– u – x – | u u – u – x

– u – x – | u u – u – x

– u – x – | u u – u – x

– u u – x

Horace, Odes, II.10

Rectius uiues, Licini, neque altum
semper urgendo neque, dum procellas
cautus horrescis, nimium premendo
     litus iniquom.

rectius: better, but it as this stanza has a nautical metaphor, it also implies a strait course (rectum as noun is a stoic concept of a morally right act.)
altum urgendo; by urging the high-sea (i.e. by showing to much ambition.)
procella: storm
premendo litus iniquom: by pressing the unequal (=  with different depths and full of rocks) shore.
iniquom is the old spelling for iniquum

Auream quisquis mediocritatem               5
diligit, tutus caret obsoleti
sordibus tecti, caret inuidenda
     sobrius aula.

Auream  mediocritatem: the golden mean/ moderation
tutus and sobrius (save and sober) qualify the way how to live,
careo carui (+ abl.): to be free from, avoid
obsoleti sordibus tecti: the squalor of a decayed house
invidendus: enviable
aula: an aula implies a large house or estate and as the Roman upper-class was fond of feasting and banqueting, this does not go well with being sober!

Saepius uentis agitatur ingens
pinus et celsae grauiore casu                     10
decidunt turres feriuntque summos
     fulgura montis.

decido decidi: to fall down (from de-cado; decido can also come from de-caedo, `to cut off’  which got in old French the meaning `to decide’ i.e. resolving difficulties `at a stroke’.)
ferio: to stike, beat
montis = montes

Sperat infestis, metuit secundis
alteram sortem bene praeparatum
pectus. Informis hiemes reducit               15
     Iuppiter, idem

summouet. Non, si male nunc, et olim
sic erit: quondam cithara tacentem
suscitat Musam neque semper arcum
     tendit Apollo.                                            20

infestis: for unsafe circumstances (dative, so too secundis)
alteram sortem bene praeparatum pectus: a heart well prepared for another fate (a Stoic idea)
informis: that has no form, horrid (informis = informes)
reducit -  summovit: brings forth - takes away
idem: adversative: but yet he too
quondam: sometimes
suscito: to lift up, encourage   (subject: Apollo)
arcum tendit: stretches his bow (as the god who brings pestilence. For a vivid description read Iliad book 1!)

Rebus angustis animosus atque
fortis appare; sapienter idem
contrahes uento nimium secundo
     turgida uela.

Rebus angustis: the nautical metaphor is taken up again: `in dire straits’
animosus: spirited
appare: appear, show yourself
uento nimium secundo: a too prosperous wind is dangerous for a ship!
contrahes turgida vela: make smaller the swollen sails

The only translation I could find is 150 years old:

     Licinius, trust a seaman's lore:
       Steer not too boldly to the deep,
     Nor, fearing storms, by treacherous shore
         Too closely creep.
     Who makes the golden mean his guide,
       Shuns miser's cabin, foul and dark,
     Shuns gilded roofs, where pomp and pride
           Are envy's mark.
     With fiercer blasts the pine's dim height
       Is rock'd; proud towers with heavier fall
     Crash to the ground; and thunders smite
           The mountains tall.
     In sadness hope, in gladness fear
       'Gainst coming change will fortify
     Your breast. The storms that Jupiter
           Sweeps o'er the sky
     He chases. Why should rain to-day
       Bring rain to-morrow? Python's foe
     Is pleased sometimes his lyre to play,
           Nor bends his bow.
     Be brave in trouble; meet distress
       With dauntless front; but when the gale
     Too prosperous blows, be wise no less,
           And shorten sail.


UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD. (third edition, 1882)

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