Friday, 13 June 2014

Horace ode 2.6: better an easy life at some pleasant place than the hardship of a military life.

I recently bought a collection of essays by the German Latinist Friedrich Klinger, Römische Geisteswelt, first published in 1943, second edition 1956. Given the year of its first publication I thought Klinger had gone into some inner exile, but on his German Wiki biography it is stated that in 1933 he subscribed a document by German professors endorsing Hitler. Well, the essays are excellent and one of them is devoted to Horace Ode 2.6. I don’t think I have read this ode before and I took the commentaries on Horace by Nisbet/Hubbard and Hans Syndikus out of my shelf: endless references and learned asides. Of course such commentaries are useful, but it reminds me of a commentary on Latin poets by a Dutch professor, remarking in his foreword that often a poem serves as a coat-hanger for a commentator to hang his knowledge and learnedness on. In my opinion a poem should initially be read with the least possible distraction of commentaries.  Of course some explanation is necessary, not just for the geographical references – unless one has taken the trouble to learn the Oxford Classical Dictionary by heart - but also for the now and then dense formulation.  When questions remain or when one wants to delve further into interpretations, then indeed are there the massive commentaries.
Apart from being a poet, Horace also served as an officer in the Roman army. In this poem he asks his friend Septimus not to go on campaign to Spain, where they originally planned to go together, but to go with him to some pleasant place to spend there their remaining days. In the last stanza Horace is pathetic: he imagines his friend shedding tears on his funeral pyre. Irony or a sentimental mood? And that is a question no commentary can defintively answer...

Horace, Odes, 2,6
(Sapphic meter:                - u -  x  - u u -   u - -
- u -  x  - u u -   u - -
- u -  x  - u u -   u - -
- u u - u  )

Septimi, Gadis aditure mecum et
Cantabrum indoctum iuga ferre nostra et
barbaras Syrtis, ubi Maura semper
     aestuat unda,

Tibur Argeo positum colono               5
sit meae sedes utinam senectae,
sit modus lasso maris et viarum

Unde si Parcae prohibent iniquae,
dulce pellitis ovibus Galaesi               10
flumen et regnata petam Laconi
     rura Phalantho.

Ille terrarum mihi praeter omnis
angulus ridet, ubi non Hymetto
mella decedunt viridique certat               15
     baca Venafro,

ver ubi longum tepidasque praebet
Iuppiter brumas et amicus Aulon
fertili Baccho minimum Falernis
     invidet uvis.               20

Ille te mecum locus et beatae
postulant arces; ibi tu calentem
debita sparges lacrima favillam
     vatis amici.

Gadis = Gades. Gades, ium  is modern Cadiz, proverbial for `the end of the world’.
aditure: `you who were about to go’
Cantabrum: `the Cantabrier’ , collective singular.  The Cantabri were a Celtic tribe, living in N.W. Spain, hence Cantabia. They fought a guerrilla war with the Romans. Augustus himself tried to subdue them between 27 and 25 BC.
Syrtis = Syrtes, the sandbanks before the coast of Lybia
astuo: 1) to burn, 2 to be tossed. (unda goes with the second meaning, but keeping the location in mind, the first meaning is also present.)
Tibur Tiburis (n.): modern Tivoli, said to be founded (positum) by the (legendary) Argive settler Tiburtus.
sit modus lasso maris et viarum /   militiaeque: may there be an end (modus) for one who is wearied of the sea, campaigns and the military. (In fact the genitives also go with modus, but this double dependency is impossible to translate.)
Unde si Parcae prohibent iniquae:  if the hostile Parcae (goddesses of destiny) prevent me from this
Galaesi flumen: probably the river Citrezze/ Giadrezze in Italy near Tarente, famous for the sheep on its banks. In order to protect their wool, they were covered with a kind of leather jackets (pellitus: covered in skins)
regnata petam Laconi / rura Phalantho: I will strive after the rural areas of Sparta, ruled by Phalenthus. Phalenthus was the founder of the Spartan colony Tarente
ubi non Hymetto / mella decedent: where the honey does not give way to (the honey of) the Hymettus (A mountain in Attica, famous for its honey.)
viridique certat  /  baca Venafro: And the berry (of the olive-tree) rivals with (the berries of the olive-trees of) green Venafro (A city in Samnium in Southern Italy, famous for its olive oil.)
tepidas brumas: mild winters
Aulon: a valley near Tarente where excellent wine came from due to fertile Bacchus.  The Falernum is is a famous wine from Campania.
beatae arces: the happy hills (around Tarente)
calentem favillam: the glowing ash
vatis amici: emphatically placed at the end. Horace is not a military, but a poet (vatis)!

Septimius, who with me would brave
Far Gades, and Cantabrian land
Untamed by Rome, and Moorish wave
That whirls the sand;

Fair Tibur, town of Argive kings,
There would I end my days serene,
At rest from seas and travellings,
And service seen.

Should angry Fate those wishes foil,
Then let me seek Galesus, sweet
To skin-clad sheep, and that rich soil,
The Spartan's seat.

O, what can match the green recess,
Whose honey not to Hybla yields,
Whose olives vie with those that bless
Venafrum's fields?

Long springs, mild winters glad that spot
By Jove's good grace, and Aulon, dear
To fruitful Bacchus, envies not
Falernian cheer.

That spot, those happy heights desire
Our sojourn; there, when life shall end,
Your tear shall dew my yet warm pyre,
Your bard and friend.

Horace. The Odes and Carmen Saeculare of Horace. John Conington. trans. London. George Bell and Sons. 1882.


  1. I was just reading this one last night in my copy of "Odes of Horace."
    That translation was rather different, but I like both variants, and thanks for posting the meter explanations..............awesome blog overall.

  2. Hi Nader, thanks for the compliment. As for translations: those online are moslty copy free out of date translations, They have their own beauty, but I am afraid that for many modern (young) readers they are as incomprehensable as the Latin original...