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of 'Horace' (Quintus Horatius Flaccus)
The original, squashed down to read in about 25 minutes
Horace reads before Maecenas, 1863 Painting by Fyodor Bronnikov
Quintus Horatius Flaccus, known in the English-speaking world as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus. Horace is thought to have been a slave, or the son of a slave.
Abridged: JH/GH from the translation by Philip Francis, the curate of St. Peter's parish, Dublin
Whence is it, sir, that none contented lives
With the fair lot which prudent reason gives,
Or chance presents, yet all with envy view
The schemes that others variously pursue?
Broken with toils, with ponderous arms oppressed,
The soldier thinks the merchant solely blest.
In opposite extreme, when tempests rise,
"War is a better choice," the merchant cries.
When early clients thunder at his gate,
The barrister applauds the rustic's fate;
While, by sub-poenas dragged from home, the clown
Thinks the supremely happy dwell in town!
Not to be tedious, mark the moral aim
Of these examples. Should some god proclaim,
"Your prayers are heard: you, soldier, to your seas;
You, lawyer, take that envied rustic's ease, -
Each to his several part - What! Ha! not move
Even to the bliss you wished!" And shall not Jove,
With cheeks inflamed and angry brow, forswear
A weak indulgence to their future prayer?
Some, self-deceived, who think their lust of gold
Is but a love of fame, this maxim hold,
"No fortune is enough, since others rate
Our worth proportioned to a large estate."
Say, for their cure what arts would you employ?
Let them be wretched, and their choice enjoy.
Would you the real use of riches know?
Bread, herbs, and wine are all they can bestow.
Or add, what nature's deepest wants supplies;
These and no more thy mass of money buys.
But with continual watching almost dead,
Housebreaking thieves, and midnight fires to dread,
Or the suspected slave's untimely flight
With the dear pelf - if this be thy delight,
Be it my fate, so heaven in bounty please,
Still to be poor of blessings such as these!
A PARAGON OF INCONSISTENCY
Nothing was of a piece in the whole man:
Sometimes he like a frightened coward ran,
Whose foes are at his heels; now soft and slow
He moved, like folks who in procession go.
Now with two hundred slaves he crowds his train;
Now walks with ten. In high and haughty strain,
At morn, of kings and governors he prates;
At night, "A frugal table, O ye Fates,
A little shell the sacred salt to hold,
And clothes, though coarse, to keep from me the cold."
Yet give this wight, so frugally content,
A thousand pounds, 'tis every penny spent
Within the week! He drank the night away
Till rising dawn, then snored out all the day.
Sure, such a various creature ne'er was known.
But have you, sir, no vices of your own?
ON JUDGING FRIENDS
A kindly friend, who balances my good
And bad together, as in truth he should,
If haply my good qualities prevail,
Inclines indulgent to the sinking scale:
For like indulgence let his friendship plead,
His merits be with equal measure weighed;
For he who hopes his pen shall not offend
Should overlook the pimples of his friend.
ON LOYALTY TO ABSENT FRIENDS
He who, malignant, tears an absent friend,
Or fails, when others blame him, to defend,
Who trivial bursts of laughter strives to raise
And courts for witty cynicism praise,
Who can, what he has never seen, reveal,
And friendship's secrets knows not to conceal -
Romans beware - that man is black of soul.
HORACE'S DEBT TO HIS FATHER
If some few trivial faults deform my soul
(Like a fair face, when spotted with a mole),
If none with avarice justly brand my fame,
With sordidness, or deeds too vile to name;
If pure and innocent; if dear (forgive
These little praises) to my friends I live,
My father was the cause, who, though maintained
By a lean farm but poorly, yet disdained
The country schoolmaster, to whose low care
The mighty captain sent his high-born heir,
With satchel, copy-book, and pelf to pay
The wretched teacher on the appointed day.
To Rome by this bold father was I brought,
To learn those arts which well-born youths are taught,
So dressed, and so attended, you would swear
I was some wealthy lord's expensive heir.
Himself my guardian, of unblemished truth,
Among my tutors would attend my youth,
And thus preserved my chastity of mind -
That prime of virtue in its highest kind.
HORACE'S HABITS IN THE CITY
Alone I saunter, as by fancy led,
I cheapen herbs, or ask the price of bread,
I watch while fortune-tellers fate reveal,
Then homeward hasten to my frugal meal,
Herbs, pulse, and pancakes (each a separate plate),
While three domestics at my supper wait.
A bowl on a white marble table stands,
Two goblets, and a ewer to wash my hands,
And hallowed cup of true Campanian clay
My pure libation to the gods to pay.
I then retire to rest, nor anxious fear
Before dread Marsyas early to appear.
I lie till ten; then take a walk, or choose
A book, perhaps, or trifle with the muse.
For cheerful exercise and manly toil
Anoint my body with the pliant oil -
Yet not with such as Natta's, when he vamps
His filthy limbs and robs the public lamps.
But when the sun pours down his fiercer fire,
And bids me from the toilsome sport retire,
I haste to bathe, and in a temperate mood
Regale my craving appetite with food
(Enough to nourish nature for a day);
Then trifle my domestic hours away.
Such is the life from bad ambition free;
Such comfort has one humble born like me:
With which I feel myself more truly blest,
Than if my sires the quæstor's power possessed.
Horace and the Bore
I happened to be walking along the Via Sacra, meditating on some trifle or other, as is my custom, and totally intent upon it. A certain person, known to me by name only, runs up; and, having seized my hand, "How do you do, my dearest fellow?"
"Tolerably well," say I, "as times go; and I wish you every thing you can desire."
When he still followed me; "Would you any thing?" said I to him.
But, "You know me," says he: "I am a man of learning."
"Upon that account," says I: "you will have more of my esteem." Wanting sadly to get away from him, sometimes I walked on apace, now and then I stopped, and I whispered something to my boy. When the sweat ran down to the bottom of my ankles. O, said I to myself, Bolanus, how happy were you in a headpiece!
Meanwhile he kept prating on any thing that came uppermost, praised the streets, the city; and, when I made him no answer; "You want terribly," said he "to get away; I perceived it long ago; but you effect nothing. I shall still stick close to you; I shall follow you hence: where are you at present bound for?"
"There is no need for your being carried so much about: I want to see a person, who is unknown to you: he lives a great way off across the Tiber, just by Caesar's gardens."
"I have nothing to do, and I am not lazy; I will attend you thither." I hang down my ears like an ass of surly disposition, when a heavier load than ordinary is put upon his back.
He begins again: "If I am tolerably acquainted with myself, you will not esteem Viscus or Varius as a friend, more than me; for who can write more verses, or in a shorter time than I? Who can move his limbs with softer grace [in the dance]? And then I sing, so that even Hermogenes may envy."
Here there was an opportunity of interrupting him. "Have you a mother, [or any] relations that are interested in your welfare?"
"Not one have I; I have buried them all."
"Happy they! now I remain. Dispatch me: for the fatal moment is at hand, which an old Sabine sorceress, having shaken her divining urn, foretold when I was a boy; This child, neither shall cruel poison, nor the hostile sword, nor pleurisy, nor cough, nor the crippling gout destroy: a babbler shall one day demolish him; if he be wise, let him avoid talkative people, as soon as he comes to man's estate.
One fourth of the day being now passed, we came to Vesta's temple; and, as good luck would have it, he was obliged to appear to his recognizance; which unless he did, he must have lost his cause.
"If you love me," said he, "step in here a little."
"May I die! if I be either able to stand it out, or have any knowledge of the civil laws: and besides, I am in a hurry, you know whither."
"I am in doubt what I shall do," said he; "whether desert you or my cause."
"Me, I beg of you."
"I will not do it," said he; and began to take the lead of me. I (as it is difficult to contend with one's master) follow him.
"How stands it with Maecenas and you?" Thus he begins his prate again. "He is one of few intimates, and of a very wise way of thinking. No man ever made use of opportunity with more cleverness. You should have a powerful assistant, who could play an underpart, if you were disposed to recommend this man; may I perish, if you should not supplant all the rest!"
"We do not live there in the manner you imagine; there is not a house that is freer or more remote from evils of this nature. It is never of any disservice to me, that any particular person is wealthier or a better scholar than I am: every individual has his proper place."
"You tell me a marvelous thing, scarcely credible."
"But it is even so."
"You the more inflame my desires to be near his person."
"You need only be inclined to it: such is your merit, you will accomplish it: and he is capable of being won; and on that account the first access to him he makes difficult."
"I will not be wanting to myself; I will corrupt his servants with presents; if I am excluded today, I will not desist; I will seek opportunities; I will meet him in the public streets; I will wait upon him home. Life allows nothing to mortals without great labour."
While he was running on at this rate, lo! Fuscus Aristius comes up, a dear friend of mine, and one who knows the fellow well. We make a stop.
"Whence come you? whither are you going?" he asks and answers. I began to twitch him [by the elbow], and to take hold of his arms [that were affectedly] passive, nodding and distorting my eyes, that he might rescue me. Cruelly arch he laughs, and pretends not to take the hint: anger galled my liver.
"Certainly," [said I, "Fuscus,] you said that you wanted to communicate something to me in private."
"I remember it very well; but will tell it you at a better opportunity: today is the thirtieth sabbath. Would you affront the circumcised Jews?"
I reply, "I have no scruple [on that account]."
"But I have: I am something weaker, one of the multitude. You must forgive me: I will speak with you on another occasion." And has this sun arisen so disastrous upon me! The wicked rogue runs away, and leaves me under the knife.
But by luck his adversary met him: and, "Whither are you going, you infamous fellow?" roars he with a loud voice: and, "Do you witness the arrest?"
I assent. He hurries him into court: there is a great clamour on both sides, a mob from all parts. Thus did Apollo rescue me.
The Art of Poetry
UNITY AND SIMPLICITY ARE REQUISITE
Suppose a painter to a human head
Should join a horse's neck, and wildly spread
The various plumage of the feather'd kind
O'er limbs of different beasts, absurdly joined.
Or if he gave to view of beauteous maid
Above the waist with every charm arrayed,
But ending, fish-like, in a mermaid tail,
Could you to laugh at such a picture fail?
Such is the book that, like a sick man's dreams,
Varies all shapes, and mixes all extremes.
"Painters and poets our indulgence claim,
Their daring equal, and their art the same."
I own the indulgence, such I give and take;
But not through nature's sacred rules to break.
Your opening promises some grand design,
And purple patches with broad lustre shine
Sewed on the poem; here in laboured strain
A sacred grove, or fair Diana's fane
Rises to view; there through delightful meads
A murmuring stream its winding water leads.
Why will you thus a mighty vase intend,
If in a worthless bowl your labours end?
Then learn this wandering humour to control,
And keep one equal tenor through the whole.
THE FALSEHOOD OF EXTREMES IN STYLE
But oft our greatest errors take their rise
From our best views. I strive to be concise,
And prove obscure. My strength, or passion, flees,
When I would write with elegance and ease.
Aiming at greatness, some to fustian soar:
Some, bent on safety, creep along the shore.
Thus injudicious, while one fault we shun,
Into its opposite extreme we run.
CHOICE OF THEME
Examine well, ye writers, weigh with care,
What suits your genius, what your strength can bear;
For when a well-proportioned theme you choose,
Nor words, nor method shall their aid refuse.
WORDS OLD AND NEW
The author of a promised work must be
Subtle and careful in word-harmony.
To choose and to reject. You merit praise
If by deft linking of known words a phrase
Strikes one as new. Should unfamiliar theme
Need fresh-invented terms, proper will seem
Diction unknown of old. This licence used
With fair discretion never is refused.
As when the forest, with the bending year,
First sheds the leaves, which earliest appear,
So an old race of words maturely dies,
And some, new born, in youth and vigour rise.
Many shall rise which now forgotten lie;
Others, in present credit, soon shall die,
If custom will, whose arbitrary sway
Words and the forms of language must obey.
WORDS MUST SUIT CHARACTER
'Tis not enough, ye writers, that ye charm
With pretty elegance; a play should warm
With soft concernment - should possess the soul,
And, as it wills, the listeners control.
With those who laugh, our social joy appears;
With those who mourn, we sympathise in tears;
If you would have me weep, begin the strain,
Then I shall feel your sorrow, feel your pain;
But if your heroes act not what they say,
I sleep or laugh the lifeless scene away.
ON LITERARY BORROWING
If you would make a common theme your own,
Dwell not on incidents already known;
Nor word for word translate with painful care,
Nor be confined in such a narrow sphere.
ON BEGINNING A HEROIC POEM
Begin your work with modest grace and plain,
Not in the cyclic bard's bombastic strain:
"I chant the glorious war and Priam's fate - - "
How will the boaster keep this ranting rate?
The mountains laboured with prodigious throes,
And lo! a mouse ridiculous arose.
Far better Homer, who tries naught in vain,
Opens his poem in a humbler strain:
"Muse, tell the many who after Troy subdued,
Manners and towns of various nations viewed."
Right to the great event he speeds his course,
And bears his readers, with impetuous force,
Into the midst of things, while every line
Opens by just degrees his whole design.
ACTION AND NARRATION IN PLAYS
The business of the drama must appear
In action or description. What we hear,
With slower passion to the heart proceeds
Than when an audience views the very deeds.
But let not such upon the stage be brought
Which better should behind the scenes be wrought;
Nor force the unwilling audience to behold
What may with vivid elegance be told.
Let not Medea with unnatural rage
Murder her little children on the stage.
GOOD SENSE A WELL-SPRING OF POETRY
Good sense, the fountain of the muse's art,
Let the strong page of Socrates impart;
For if the mind with clear conceptions glow,
The willing words in just expressions flow.
The poet who with nice discernment knows
What to his country and his friends he owes;
How various nature warms the human breast,
To love the parent, brother, friend, or guest;
What the high duties of our judges are,
Of senator or general sent to war;
He surely knows, with nice self-judging art,
The strokes peculiar to each different part.
Keep nature's great original in view,
And thence the living images pursue.
For when the sentiments and manners please,
And all the characters are wrought with ease,
Your play, though weak in beauty, force, and art,
More strongly shall delight, and warm the heart,
Than where a lifeless pomp of verse appears,
And with sonorous trifles charms our ears.
PERFECTION CANNOT BE EXPECTED
Where beauties in a poem faults outshine,
I am not angry if a casual line
(That with some trivial blot unequal flows)
A careless hand or human frailty shows.
Then shall I angrily see no excuse
If honest Homer slumber o'er his muse?
Yet surely sometimes an indulgent sleep
O'er works of length allowably may creep!
A HIGH STANDARD MUST BE EXACTED
In certain subjects, Piso, be assured,
Tame mediocrity may be endured.
But god, and man, and booksellers deny
A poet's right to mediocrity!
ARE POETS BORN OR MADE?
'Tis long disputed whether poems claim
From art or nature their best right to fame;
But art, if un-enriched by nature's vein,
And a rude genius of uncultured strain,
Are useless both: they must be fast combined
And mutual succour in each other find.
Mæcenas, sprung from regal line,
Bulwark and dearest glory mine!
Some love to stir Olympic dust
With glowing chariot-wheels which just
Avoid the goal, and win a prize
Fit for the rulers of the skies.
One joys in triple civic fame
Conferred by fickle Rome's acclaim;
Another likes from Libya's plain
To store his private barns with grain;
A third who, with unceasing toil,
Hoes cheerful the paternal soil,
No promised wealth of Attalus
Shall tempt to venture timorous
Sailing in Cyprian bark to brave
The terrors of Myrtoan wave.
Others in tented fields rejoice,
Trumpets and answering clarion-voice.
Be mine the ivy, fair reward,
Which blissful crowns the immortal bard;
Be mine amid the breezy grove,
In sacred solitude to rove -
To see the nymphs and satyrs bound,
Light dancing in the mazy round,
While all the tuneful muses join
Their various harmony divine.
Count me but in the lyric choir -
My crest shall to the stars aspire.
What slender youth bedewed with liquid odours
Courts thee on roses in some pleasant cave,
Pyrrha? For whom bind'st thou
In wreaths thy golden hair,
Plain in thy neatness? Oh, how oft shall he
On faith and changed gods complain, and seas
Rough with black winds, and storms
Unwonted shall admire!
Who now enjoys thee credulous, all gold,
Who always vacant, always amiable
Hopes thee, of flattering gales
Unmindful. Hapless they
To whom thou untried seem'st fair. Me, in my vowed
Picture, the sacred wall declares to have hung
My dank and dropping weeds
To the stern god of sea.
Seest thou yon mountain laden with deep snow
The groves beneath their fleecy burthen bow,
The streams congealed, forget to flow?
Come, thaw the cold, and lay a cheerful pile
Of fuel on the hearth;
Broach the best cask and make old winter smile
With seasonable mirth.
This be our part - let Heaven dispose the rest;
If Jove commands, the winds shall sleep
That now wage war upon the foamy deep,
And gentle gales spring from the balmy west.
E'en let us shift to-morrow as we may:
When to-morrow's passed away,
We at least shall have to say,
We have lived another day;
Your auburn locks will soon be silvered o'er,
Old age is at our heels, and youth returns no more.
"GATHER YE ROSEBUDS WHILE YE MAY"
Secure those golden early joys,
That youth unsoured with sorrow bears,
Ere withering time the taste destroys
With sickness and unwieldy years.
For active sports, for pleasing rest,
This is the time to be possessed;
The best is but in season best.
The appointed tryst of promised bliss,
The pleasing whisper in the dark,
The half-unwilling willing kiss,
The laugh that guides thee to the mark,
When the kind nymph would coyness feign,
And hides but to be found again -
These, these are joys the gods for youth ordain.
GOD AND EMPEROR
Saturnian Jove, parent and guardian god
Of human kind, to thee the Fates award
The care of Cæsar's reign; to thine alone
Inferior, let his empire rise.
Whether the Parthian's formidable power
Or Indians or the Seres of the East,
With humbled pride beneath his triumph fall,
Wide o'er a willing world shall he
Contented rule, and to thy throne shall bend
Submissive. Thou in thy tremendous car
Shalt shake Olympus' head, and at our groves
Polluted hurl thy dreadful bolts.
THE STRENGTH OF INNOCENCE
The man of life, unstained and free from craft,
Ne'er needs, my Fuscus, Moorish darts to throw;
He needs no quiver filled with venomed shaft,
Nor e'er a bow.
Whether he fare thro' Afric's boiling shoals,
Or o'er the Caucasus inhospitable,
Or where the great Hydaspes river rolls,
Renowned in fable.
Once in a Sabine forest as I strayed
Beyond my boundary, by fancy charmed,
Singing my Lalage, a wolf, afraid,
Shunned me unarmed.
The broad oak-woods of hardy Daunia,
Rear no such monster mid their fiercest scions,
Nor Juba's arid Mauretania,
The nurse of lions.
Set me where, in the heart of frozen plains,
No tree is freshened by a summer wind,
A quarter of the globe enthralled by rains,
And Jove unkind;
Or set me 'neath the chariot of the Sun,
Where, overnear his fires, no homes may be;
I'll love, for her sweet smile and voice, but one -
Should fortune frown, live thou serene;
Nor let thy spirit rise too high,
Though kinder grown she change the scene;
Bethink thee, Delius, thou must die.
Whether thy slow days mournful pass,
Or swiftly joyous fleet away,
While thou reclining on the grass
Dost bless with wine the festal day.
Where poplar white and giant pine
Ward off the inhospitable beam;
Where their luxuriant branches twine,
Where bickers down its course the stream,
Here bid them perfumes bring, and wine,
And the fair rose's short-lived flower,
While youth and fortune and the twine
Spun by the Sisters, grant an hour.
We all must tread the path of Fate,
And ever shakes the fateful urn,
Whose lot embarks us, soon or late,
On Charon's boat - beyond return.
TO A FAIR DECEIVER
Did any punishment attend
Thy former perjuries,
I should believe a second time,
Thy charming flatteries:
Did but one wrinkle mark thy face
Or hadst thou lost one single grace.
No sooner hast thou, with false vows,
Provoked the powers above,
But thou art fairer than before,
And we are more in love.
Thus Heaven and Earth seem to declare
They pardon falsehood in the fair.
The nymphs, and cruel Cupid too,
Sharpening his pointed dart
On an old home besmeared with blood,
Forbear thy perjured heart.
Fresh youth grows up to wear thy chains,
And the old slave no freedom gains.
THE GOLDEN MEAN
The man who follows Wisdom's voice,
And makes the Golden Mean his choice,
Nor plunged in squalid gloomy cells
Midst hoary desolation dwells;
Nor to allure the envious eye
Rears a proud palace to the sky;
The man whose steadfast soul can bear
Fortune indulgent or severe,
Hopes when she frowns, and when she smiles
With cautious fear eludes her wiles.
TO THE FOUNTAIN OF BANDUSIA
Bandusia's Well, that crystal dost outshine,
Worthy art thou of festal wine and wreath!
An offered kid to-morrow shall be thine,
Whose swelling brows his earliest horns unsheath.
And mark him for the feats of love and strife.
In vain: for this same youngling from the fold
Of playful goats shall with his crimson life
Incarnadine thy waters fresh and cold.
The blazing Dog-star's unrelenting hour
Can touch thee not: to roaming herd or bulls
O'erwrought by plough, thou giv'st a shady bower,
Thou shalt be one of Earth's renowned pools!
For I shall sing thy grotto ilex-crowned,
Whence fall thy waters of the babbling sound.
TO THE GOD FAUNUS
O Faun-god, wooer of each nymph that flees,
Come, cross my land! Across those sunny leas,
Tread thou benign, and all my flock's increase
Bless ere thou go.
In each full year a tender kid be slain,
If Venus' mate, the bowl, be charged amain
With wine, and incense thick the altar stain
Of long ago.
The herds disport upon the grassy ground,
When in thy name December's Nones come round;
Idling on meads the thorpe, with steers unbound,
Its joys doth show.
Amid emboldened lambs the wolf roams free;
The forest sheds its leafage wild for thee;
And thrice the delver stamps his foot in glee
On earth, his foe.
Now have I reared memorial to last
More durable than brass, and to o'ertop
The pile of royal pyramids. No waste
Of rain or ravening Boreas hath power
To ruin it, nor lapse of time to come
In the innumerable round of years.
I shall not wholly die; great part of me
Shall 'scape the Funeral Goddess. Evermore
Fresh shall my honours grow, while pontiffs still
Do climb the Capitol with silent maid.
It shall be told where brawls the Aufidus
In fury, and where Daunus poor in streams
Once reigned o'er rural tribes, it shall be told
That Horace rose from lowliness to fame
And first adapted to Italian strains
The æolian lay. Assume the eminence,
My own Melpomene, which merit won,
And deign to wreath my hair in Delphic bays.
● Copyright © 2014 Glyn Hughes.
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