This week I went to a new second-hand bookshop in my hometown: every book for 2 euros. I bought some books about gnostic religion and early Christianity and a commentary on Horace’s third book of odes by Gordon Williams. I already have a copy of this book, but my fear is that books which are left unsold – and who reads Greek and Latin anymore? – will simply be sold as old paper. It is a remarkable commentary as it has a text, translation and a running commentary, unlike the old commentaries by Page and Kiessling-Heinze and the more recent by Nisbit-Hubbart (on book 1 and 2). Especially the Kiessling-Heinze and the Nisbit-Hubbart are so full of details that one loses track of a poem as whole. Of course such commentaries are extremely useful, but not for a quick understanding. Williams is like a teacher who explains in clear language not only a poem, but the book as a whole. This kind of commentary is more focussed on literary aspects than on philological details (`well dear reader, dabat in line 3 means circumdabat’. Duh! What else could it mean? Giving his arms to strangle her white neck in some kinky sex game?). To my knowledge such a commentary has found but little following: the only example I know is on Ovid Amores 1 by John Barsby.
It has been a long time since I read book 3 and some poems struck me as new. May be I was at that time too much focussed on grammar and too much concerned with the oral exam or is it that in due course one reads the same poem with different eyes?
The following poem is a dialogue: male - female, male - female, male – female. A man (Horace?) and a woman – Lydia - once had a relationship, but now each has a new lover. Still, there is an underlying passion. The final strophe seems to point to a happy ending and they will find each other again; `you don’t deserve it, but ok.’ May be… I wonder about the age of the lovers: Lydia describes her new friend as a puer and unless we have to envisage her as a cougar with a toy boy, she is more likely to be a teenager or someone in her early twenties than a woman of a certain age.
This poem has been written more than 2000 years ago, but it could have been written tomorrow as well.
Horace, Odes 3.9
Meter: - - - uu – x
- - - uu – uu – u x
'Donec gratus eram tibi
nec quisquam potior bracchia candidae
ceruici iuuenis dabat,
Persarum uigui rege beatior.'
'Donec non alia magis 5
arsisti neque erat Lydia post Chloen,
multi Lydia nominis,
Romana uigui clarior Ilia.'
'Me nunc Thressa Chloe regit,
dulcis docta modos et citharae sciens, 10
pro qua non metuam mori,
si parcent animae fata superstiti.'
'Me torret face mutua
Thurini Calais filius Ornyti,
pro quo bis patiar mori, 15
si parcent puero fata superstiti.'
'Quid si prisca redit Venus
diductosque iugo cogit aeneo,
si flaua excutitur Chloe
reiectaeque patet ianua Lydiae?' 20
'Quamquam sidere pulchrior
ille est, tu leuior cortice et inprobo
tecum uiuere amem, tecum obeam lubens.'
donec: as long as
cervix cervicis (f.): neck
quisquam potior iuvenis: some more favourite youth
vigesco vigui: to thrive
alia: abl. with arsisti `you didn’t burn through another (woman)’. In English lovers normally burn for another.
post Chloem: second after Chloe
multi nominis: of much fame
clarior Ilia: more famous than Ilia (= Rhea Silvia, the mother of Romulus and Remus)
si parcent animae fata superstiti : if the fates will save (parco + dat.) my darling as surviving.
torreo torrui tostum: to burn
face mutua: with a mutual flame
Thurini: from Thurii (South Italy)
prisca Venus: old love
diduco diduxi diductum: to split up, separate
iugo aeneo: with iron yoke
flavus: blond (Gentlemen prefer blond is certainly true for Roman men!)
excutio excussi excussum: to drive away
reiectae Lydiae: dative
sidus sideris (n.): star
cortex corticis (m. and f.): rind, cork
inprobo Hadria: then the violent Adriatic Sea
obeo: to pass away, die
Translation by A.S. Kline (2003)
While I was the man, dear to you,
while no young man, you loved more dearly, was clasping
his arms around your snow-white neck,
I lived in greater blessedness than Persia’s king.’
‘While you were on fire for no one
else, and Lydia was not placed after Chloë,
I, Lydia, of great renown,
lived more gloriously than Roman Ilia.’
‘Thracian Chloe commands me now,
she’s skilled in sweet verses, she’s the queen of the lyre,
for her I’m not afraid to die,
if the Fates spare her, and her spirit survives me.’
‘I’m burnt with a mutual flame
by Calais, Thurian Ornytus’s son,
for whom I would die twice over
if the Fates spare him, and his spirit survives me.’
‘What if that former love returned,
and forced two who are estranged under her bronze yoke:
if golden Chloë was banished,
and the door opened to rejected Lydia?’
‘Though he’s lovelier than the stars,
and you’re lighter than cork, and more irascible
than the cruel Adriatic,
I’d love to live with you, with you I’d gladly die!’