Horace: Odes: Book IV and the "Carmen Saeculare" | Sabidius.com
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Horace: Odes: Book IV and the “Carmen Saeculare”


The fourth and last book of Horace’s “Odes”, was published in 13 A.D., some ten years after the publication of the other three, and they constitute the last of his published works. It is clear that he resumed the writing of lyric poetry only at the instance of Augustus and in order to celebrate the victories of the emperor’s step-sons, Tiberius and Drusus Nero. He probably did so with some reluctance, as the beginning of the first ode in the book strongly suggests, and the second ode provides an eloquent disclaimer that he wishes to perform the role of ‘poet laureate’ which Augustus may have had in mind for him. Indeed, in its final four stanzas he indicates that the writing of a victory hymn to celebrate Augustus’ return should be composed and recited by Iullus Antonius, to whom this ode is addressed, and that he will add his support only as a private citizen. Most notably, at the beginning of the fifteenth and final ode, he makes clear that lyric poetry was an inadequate vehicle through which to celebrate Augustus’ achievements in war. Despite this apparent reluctance, however, Horace does manage, albeit with some irony perhaps, to discharge such laureate functions well enough in the fourth, fifth, fourteenth and fifteenth odes, praising the military successes of the Nerones brothers, while reserving the balance of panegyric for the benefit of their step-father Augustus. The other eleven poems in the book address themes more attuned to lyric poetry, and written therefore to justify the belated publication of this final book of odes. A few of these are perhaps little more than make-weights, but others demonstrate the genius of Horace’s poetry at its best. Indeed Ode number seven, the Spring Ode, composed in an unusual Archilochean metre, was considered by the twentieth century English poet and classics don, A.E. Housman, to be the most beautiful poem in the Latin language; and the thirteenth ode addressed to a former of the poet’s mistresses, whose beauty has faded spectacularly, is a fine dramatic monologue worthy of the poet’s best works. While most of the odes in this book will have been written around the time of publication others were probably written well before, for instance, number six in 19 B.C., and number twelve as early as 30 B.C.

At the end of his translation of this Fourth Book of the “Odes”, Sabidius has added a translation of the “Carmen Saeculare”, or ‘Centennial Hymn’, composed in the Sapphic metre, which Horace was no doubt commissioned by Augustus to write to be sung publicly by a chorus of boys and girls at the great “Ludi Saeculares” (‘Secular Games’) put on by Augustus for the edification of the people of Rome in 17 B.C. This was a solemn festival, which was part of Augustus’ programme to recover the old Roman spirit and restore the ancient morals and customs, and the Games were designed to celebrate the preservation of the state. These games were called ‘Secular’, because they were to be held only once in a ‘saeculum’ , i.e. a period of a hundred and ten years, and the herald summoned the people to attend games “quos nec spectasset quisquam nec spectaturus esset” (i.e. ‘which no one will have seen before and no one will be able to see again’). Although this poem has been subjected to sustained criticism, its purpose was a rhetorical rather than a poetic one, and Horace would scarcely have considered it a lyric poem at all. With his reluctance to be used as a poet laureate, one can imagine that he would not have greatly relished the composition of this work, particularly the blessing given in stanza five to Augustus’ marital legislation, which his own personal circumstances and inclinations would have probably led him to dislike. Indeed, it is likely that the task would have fallen to Virgil, if he had not died two years earlier. The occasion of the ‘Centennial Hymn’ and its recitation is celebrated in Horace’s “Odes” Book IV, number six (also see below), in which the aid of the god Apollo is invoked in the composition of the hymn and the training of the chorus.

The text for both these pieces of translation is taken from “The Odes of Horace,” Penguin Classics, edited by James Michie, 1964. Sabidius has also consulted the following works: the notes contained in the edition of Horace’s “Carminum Libri IV,” edited by T.E. Page, M.A., Macmillan, 1886; “Horace: The Odes,” edited by Kenneth Quinn, Bristol Classical Press, 1996, and Paul Shorey’s “Commentary on Horace, Odes, Epodes and Carmen Saeculare,” Sanborn and Co, 1910, as available on the “Perseus” website.

At the end of each translation, Sabidius has appended a compendium of the best known quotations contained therein.


Carmen 1. To Venus (Second Asclepiad metre).

Are you (really) stirring up war again, Venus, after such a long interruption? Spare (me), I beg (you), I beg (you). I am not the man I was, (when I was) under Cinara’s kindly sway. Cease, cruel mother of sweet loves, to direct (one who being) close to his fifties (lit. ten five year periods) is by now too hardened for your gentle commands; go back to where the flattering prayers of young men are beckoning you. You will be borne on the wings of your lustrous swans and, if you are seeking to set on fire a congenial heart (lit. liver), you will make merry more appropriately at the house of Paulus Maximus; for, he, (being) both nobly-born and handsome, and very eloquent (lit. not silent) on behalf of his anxious clients, and a young man of many accomplishments (lit. of a hundred arts), will bear the standards of your military service far afield, and, as often as he shall smile in triumph over (lit. being more powerful than) the gifts of a generous rival, he shall place a marble statue of you (lit. he shall place you in marble) beneath a cedar roof. There you will inhale (lit. receive in your nostrils) fragrant spices and you will be delighted by the mingled strains of the lyre and the Berecynthian flute, not forgetting (lit. not without) the pipe. There, twice a day, boys, together with tender maidens, (while) praising your divinity with their gleaming feet, will beat the ground three times after the fashion of the Salians. As for me, neither woman, nor boy, nor the fond hope of mutual love (lit. of an interchanged heart), nor taking part in a drinking bout (lit. nor to contend with wine), nor wreathing my temples with fresh flowers, is pleasing any longer. But why, alas, my Ligurinus, why does a rare tear flow down my cheeks? Why does my fluent tongue stumble between words in unseemly silence? In my dreams at night, at one moment, I am holding (you) captive (in my arms), and, at another, I am pursuing you across the grass of the Field of Mars, (or chasing) you, (you) cruel (boy) through the swirling waters (of the Tiber).

Carmen 2. To Iullus Antonius (Sapphic metre.)

Whoever seeks to emulate Pindar, Iullus, supports himself, through the skill of Daedalus, on waxen wings, being doomed to give his name to the glassy sea. Like a river rushing down a mountain, which (heavy continuous) rains have swollen over its accustomed banks, Pindar boils and rushes with deep utterance, being deserving of Apollo’s laurel (wreath), whether he rolls out unusual words through bold dithyrambs and is borne along in numbers exempt from rules, or sings hymns to gods and kings, the offspring of gods, by whom the Centaurs were killed in a just death, (and) the flame of the fearful Chimaera was quenched, or celebrates (those) whom an Olympic (lit. Elean) prize escorts home, (feeling) godlike, whether a boxer or a horse(man), and (so) presents with a gift better than a hundred statues, or laments the young man snatched away from his weeping bride and exalts to the high (heavens) his strength, his courage and his exemplary (lit. golden) character, and begrudges the gloomy grave (lit. dark Orcus) (its prey). A strong breeze, Antonius, raises the swan of Dirce, whenever an expanse of clouds extends across the sky; I, little man (that I am), work at my painstaking poems after the manner and method of a bee from (Mount) Matinus, feeding laboriously on the welcome thyme around many a grove and the banks of the moist Tiber. You, a poet with a nobler quill, shall celebrate Caesar, whenever, adorned with the well-earned wreath (of laurel leaves), he will drag the savage Sygambri (in triumph) down the Sacred Hill, (Caesar) in whom the Fates have not given, and neither shall the good gods give, anything greater or better to the earth, (even) though the ages may return to their ancient gold. You will celebrate our festive days and the City’s public games in honour of the return of brave Caesar, vouchsafed (to us in answer to our prayers), and the forum (now) devoid of lawsuits. Then, if I say anything worthy of attention (lit. being listened to), the hearty cry of my voice (lit. the best portion of my utterance) will be added (to your hymn of praise), and I, (so) blessed at Caesar’s return (lit. with Caesar having returned), shall sing “O happy day (lit. beautiful Sun)! O (you who are) worthy of such great honour!” And, while you take the lead, we shall cry (together) “Ho Triumph!” not (only) once, (and) the whole community (will shout) “Ho Triumph!,” and we shall offer incense to the bounteous gods. Ten bulls and as many cows shall absolve you (from your vow), and a young calf (shall absolve) me, (a young calf) which, having left its mother (lit. its mother having been left), grows up on plentiful grass to (pay) my vow, (and,) imitating, with its forehead, the moon’s crescent fire, as she brings around her third rising, it appears snowy-white where it has got a mark, (but) otherwise tawny.

Carmen 3. To Melpomene (Second Asclepiad metre).

That man, upon whose birth, Melpomene, you once looked with a favourable eye, no contest at the Isthmian games will make famous (as) a pugilist, no fleet horse will lead to victory in a Greek race, nor achievement in war will show to the Capitol (as) a leader adorned with Delian (laurel) leaves, because he has crushed the proud threats of kings; but the waters which flow past fertile Tibur and the thick foliage (that encloses) the glades will make (him) famous for his Aeolian (i.e. lyric) poetry. The people (lit. children) of Rome, the first of cities, deigns to put me among the ranks of the poets whom they love, and now I am gnawed less by the tooth of envy. You O Muse (lit. Pierian [lady]), who modulates the sweet noise of the golden lyre (lit. tortoise-shell), O (you,) who would, if it were pleasing (to you), impart the sound of a swan to the mute fishes, it is wholly of your doing (lit. bounty) that I am pointed out by the finger of passers-by (as) the poet of Roman lyrics; it is your (doing) that I compose (lit. am inspired) and please, if please (I do).

Carmen 4. Praise of Drusus (Alcaic metre).

Like the winged servant of the lightning, to whom Jupiter, the king of the gods, having found (him) faithful in the case of golden-haired Ganymede, has entrusted dominion over the wandering birds, once youth and native vigour has launched (him), unaware of the hardships (to come), out of the nest, and the winds of spring, now that the storm-clouds (of winter) have been banished, have taught (him), although fearful (at first), (to make) unwonted efforts (with his wings), his eager swoop sends (him) down to make an attack (lit. [as] an enemy) upon the sheep-fold, (but) now love of feast and fighting drives (him) on against the writhing snakes, or like the lion, now weaned from his tawny mother’s udder, which a roebuck, intent upon rich pastures, sees just as it is about to perish beneath his new teeth, (so) the Vindelici saw Drusus, as he was waging war beneath the Raetian Alps – in respect of whom I have deferred enquiring from what source (is) derived the immemorial custom (lit. the custom through all time) (which) arms their right hand with an Amazonian axe – but, to resume, those squadrons, long conquering far and wide, (but now) conquered in their turn by the plans of a young man, have realised what a mind, duly (nurtured), (and) what a disposition (duly) nurtured, under such an auspicious roof, could do, (and indeed) what the paternal influence of Augustus (could do) for the Nero boys. Brave men spring from the brave and the good; there is in bullocks, there is in horses, their sires’ worth, and fierce eagles do not beget the unwarlike dove; but training promotes an inborn force, and right habits produce strength of character (lit. invigorate the breast): when once moral discipline fails, faults mar what is good by nature. What you, O Rome, owe to the Nero clan the Metaurus river (is) a witness, and Hasdrubal defeated, and that glorious day for Latium, which, with the darkness having been chased away, smiled at cheering victories for the first time, since the dread African (i.e. Hannibal) rode his horse through the cities of Italy, like a flame through the pine forest or (like) the South-East Wind across the Sicilian waves. After that (day), the youth of Rome waxed strong with ever prosperous endeavours, and the shrines laid waste by the impious outrage of the Carthaginians had the (statues of their) gods set up (again), and, at last, the perfidious Hannibal said, “(Like) deer, the prey of ravening wolves, we actually keep pursuing (those) whom it is the rarest triumph to elude and to escape. This race, which bravely bore from the ashes of Troy (lit. from the burned Troy) its sacred (treasures) (i.e the Penates) storm-tossed on the Tuscan seas, as well as its children and old fathers, to the cities of Italy, (is) like the holm-oak, lopped by cruel axes on (Mount) Algidus, prolific in dark-green foliage, (yet,) through this damage (and) through this carnage, it derives its strength and courage from the axe itself. Not more strongly did the Hydra grow upon Hercules, angry at being defeated, nor did the Colchians, nor Thebes, (the city) of Echion, produce (lit. send up from below) a greater prodigy. Should you sink (it) in the deep: it will emerge more beautiful; should you wrestle (with it): amid loud acclaim, it will overthrow the (previously) unscathed conqueror, and fight battles worthy to be talked of by wives. No longer can I send boastful messengers to Carthage; all the hope and good fortune associated with my (lit. our) name is fallen, is fallen, with Hasdrubal having been killed.” Claudian hands will perform everything, which Jupiter will defend with his beneficent divinity, and wise concern will lead (us) safely through the trials of war.

Carmen 5. To Augustus (Third Asclepiad metre).

Best guardian of the race of Romulus, born under propitious gods, you are already absent for too long; having promised the sacred council of senators an early return, do come back, (please)! Restore, (O) excellent leader, the light (of day) to your country! For, like the spring, whenever your face has shone on the people, the day passes more agreeably and the sun shines (each day) with more brilliance. As a mother, by vows, by (consulting) omens, and by prayers, calls for her lad, whom, being delayed for longer than the annual space (of time available for navigation), the South Wind detains from his sweet home with an unwelcome blast across the surface of the Carpathian sea (i.e. the sea east of the island of Crete), so his country, smitten with loyal yearnings, looks out for Caesar. For (under your auspices) the ox safely traverses the fields, the fields (which) Ceres and plentiful Fertility nourish, travellers by sea skim across the calm ocean, Good Faith shrinks from being censured, the pure household is not polluted by any adulteries, custom and law have overcome tainted sin, child-bearing women are commended for offspring resembling (their father), (and) punishment follows closely upon its companion, guilt. While Caesar is safe, who can fear the Parthian, who the frozen Scythian, who the progeny which shaggy Germany brings forth? Who cares about the war in savage Spain? Each man passes the day amid his own hills, and weds (lit. leads [in matrimony]) the vine to the unmarried trees; from this labour (lit. hence) he returns (home) joyfully to his wine, and invites you (as) a deity to the second course; you (he honours) with many a prayer, you he honours with wine poured out from the cups (as a libation), and joins your divinity to that of his Lares (i.e. his household gods), as Greece (was) mindful of Castor and great Hercules.”Would that you, O excellent leader, could bestow upon Italy a lasting festival!” (Thus) we speak, (when) dry-lipped early in the morning, when the day is (still) before us (lit. with the day intact); (thus) we speak, (when) flushed with wine, when the sun is beneath the ocean.

Carmen 6. Hymn to Apollo (Sapphic metre).

(O) god, whom the children of Niobe experienced (as) the avenger of a boastful tongue, as did the ravisher Tityos, and Phthian Achilles, nearly the conqueror of lofty Troy, superior (as) a soldier to (all) others (but) unequal to you, although (he was) the son of the sea-nymph Thetis (and) shook the towers of Dardanus with his terrible spear. He, like a pine-tree smitten by a biting axe, or a cypress toppled by the East Wind, fell forward (stretching) far and wide and laid his neck in the dust of Troy. He, if he had been shut up in the (wooden) horse that belied the sacred rites of Minerva, would not have deceived the Trojans revelling in an evil hour and the court of Priam joyful in the dance, but, remorseless to those captured in fair fight (lit. openly), oh crime! alas! would have burned in Greek flames babies unable to speak, and even (one) concealed in his mother’s womb, if the father of the gods, having been prevailed upon by your entreaties and (those) of the lovely Venus, had not granted by his nod to the fortunes of Aeneas walls founded with more favourable auguries. (O) Phoebus, lute-playing teacher of the melodious Thalia, (O) beardless Agyieus (i.e. guardian of the streets), who washes your hair in the river Xanthus, uphold the pride of the Italian Muse. Phoebus gave me inspiration, Phoebus (gave me) the art of composing (verse) and the name of poet. (You) first of virgins, and sons sprung from illustrious fathers, you wards of the Delian goddess (i.e. Diana), who arrests the swift-footed lynxes and stags, keep to the Lesbian measures and the beat of my thumb, duly singing hymns to the son of Latona (i.e. Apollo), duly (singing hymns to) the Goddess who shines by night (i.e. Diana, the Moon goddess) with her growing light (lit. growing with her torch), prolific in crops and swift to revolve the quickly-moving months. Soon to be married, you will say, “I, trained in the measures of the poet Horace, recited an ode (which was) pleasing to the gods, when the century brought back the festal days.”

Carmen 7. To Torquatus (Third Archilochean metre).

The snows have gone away, now the grass returns to the meadows (and) the foliage to the trees; the earth changes (her seasons) in succession, and the subsiding rivers run between their banks; a Grace, together with the Nymphs and her two sisters, ventures to lead the dances naked. Lest you should hope for permanence, the year and the hour hurries away the congenial day: winter’s coldness is softened by the West Winds, the (heat of) summer tramples down spring and will perish (in its turn), and soon lifeless winter comes back again. Yet the moons speedily (lit. swift moons) repair their wanings (lit. losses) in the sky: (but) when we descend (to those regions) where father Aeneas, (and) where rich Tullus and Ancus (have gone before us), we become dust and shades. Who knows whether the gods above will add tomorrow’s reckoning to today’s space? Everything which you have bestowed upon your beloved soul will escape the greedy hands of your heir. When once you are dead, Torquatus, and Minos will have made his august decisions about you, your family (will) not (restore you), your eloquence (will) not (restore) you, your piety will not restore you; for neither can Diana free chaste Hippolytus from the infernal darkness, nor is Theseus able to shatter the fetters of the tomb (lit. of Unmindfulness) from his dear Pirithous.

Carmen 8. To Marcius Censorinus (First Asclepiad metre).

I would willingly present goblets and lovely bronze (vases) to my companions, Censorinus. I would present (them with) tripods, the prizes of brave Greeks, nor would you carry off the meanest of my donations, that is, if I were rich (lit. with me being rich) (in those works) of art, which either Parrhasius or Scopas have produced, the latter in stone, the former in flowing colours, skilled, at one time, to portray a man, (and) at another, a god. But I do not have the power (lit. [there is] not the power to me) (to give them) these, nor do you have (lit. nor are there to you) the circumstances or the inclination to require these curiosities. You rejoice in verse; I (lit. we) can give (you) verse and assign a value to the gift. Neither marbles engraved with public inscriptions, by means of which breath and life return to illustrious generals after their death, nor the precipitate flight of Hannibal and the threats hurled back upon his own head, nor the burning of impious Carthage set forth more clearly the praises of him who returned from conquered Africa having won a name (i.e. Scipio Africanus) than the Calabrian Muses (i.e. Ennius): nor, if writings were silent about what you had done well, would you reap a reward. What would the son of Ilia and Mavors (i.e. Mars) be (now), if grudging silence had stifled the merits of Romulus? His courage, his popularity and the eloquence of mighty poets place Aeacus, snatched from the waters of the Styx, as a hallowed dweller of the islands of the blessed. For this reason (only), is the energetic Hercules present at the longed-for banquets of Jupiter, (for this reason only) the sons of Tyndarus, that bright constellation, snatch shattered vessels from the depths of the seas, (and for this reason only) Liber (i.e. Bacchus), adorned with verdant vine-leaf, brings the vows of his votaries) to successful outcomes.

Carmen 9. To Marcus Lollius (Alcaic metre).

Do not for a moment suppose that these words will be lost, which I, born by the far-off sounding Aufidus, utter to be accompanied by (lyre) strings through arts not previously divulged; if Maeonian Homer holds the front rank, the Pindaric and the Cean Muses, and the menacing (strains) of Alcaeus and the stately (ones) of Stesichorus are not unknown; nor, if Anacreon once composed something in a sportive spirit, has time destroyed (it); even now breathes the love and (still) live the passions entrusted to the strings of the Aeolian maiden (i.e. Sappho). Not alone has Laconian Helen been set on fire with love for the ordered locks of an adulterer (i.e. Paris), and in admiration of the gold covering his garments, his regal bearing and his retinue, nor was Teucer the first to direct darts from the Cydonian (i.e. Cretan) bow; not (only) once has such a city as Ilium (i.e. Troy) been harassed (by war); great Idomeneus and Sthenelus did not alone fight battles worthy to be celebrated by the Muses; neither were the fierce Hector nor the eager Deiphobus the first to sustain heavy blows in defence of their bashful wives and children. Many brave (men) lived before Agamemnon; but all (of them), unlamented and unknown lie buried in (lit. hemmed in by) endless night, because they lack (the services of) a sacred bard. (Indeed) in the grave unrecorded bravery is little different from cowardice. (So) in my works I shall not keep silent about you, (if you are) uncelebrated, nor will I allow envious oblivion to gnaw unchecked at your very great deeds, Lollius. You have (lit. There is to you) a mind both wise in the affairs (of life) and upright in successful times and uncertain (ones), an avenger of the fraud of avarice, and one that keeps clear of the wealth that gathers everything to itself, a consul not of one year (only), but whenever as a good and faithful judge it has preferred the honourable to the expedient (course), (whenever) it has rejected with a disdainful countenance the bribes of wicked (men), (and whenever) it has deployed arms victoriously through opposing bands. You will not rightly call happy (the man) who possesses much; he more justly claims the title of a happy (man) who is well able to use the gifts of the gods wisely and to endure pinching poverty and dreads a disgraceful act (as something) worse than death; such a man (is) not afraid to die in defence of his dear friends and his country.

Carmen 10. To Ligurinus (Fifth Asclepiad metre).

O cruel still and potent in the endowments of Venus (i.e. Love), when an unexpected down shall come upon your vanity, and those locks, which now float over your shoulders, will have been cut off (lit. will have fallen off), and that colour, which is now superior to the petal of a purple rose, having been changed, will have turned Ligurinus’ appearance into a hirsute (one) (lit. will have altered Ligurinus into a hirsute appearance), (then) you will say “Alas!” whenever you see yourself (as) a different (person) in the looking-glass, “Why was my attitude as a boy not the same as it is today, or why do my cheeks not return (to their) unimpaired (state) in line with these inclinations?”

Carmen 11. To Phyllis (Sapphic metre).

I have (lit. There is to me) a cask of Alban (wine) exceeding nine years (in age); I have (lit. there is [to me]) parsley in my garden for weaving garlands (lit. for the purpose of garlands being woven); there is a considerable abundance of ivy, with which, with your hair tied back (in knots) (lit. having been tied back [in knots] in respect of your hair), you are shining; the house gleams with silver (plate); the altar, bound with pure vervain longs to be besprinkled with (the blood of a) sacrificed lamb. Every hand is busy, girls mingled with boys run around hither and thither; the flames flicker, whirling their sooty smoke in eddies. However, so that you may know to what joys you are invited, the Ides, the day which divides April, the month of sea-born Venus, are due to be kept by you, (a day) rightly to be celebrated and almost more sacred to me than my own birthday, because from this day my (dear) Maecenas reckons his increasing years. A rich and lustful girl has taken possession of Telephus, whom you seek, (but who is) a youth not of your rank, and she holds (him) fast by an agreeable fetter. Phaethon, consumed by fire, strikes terror into ambitious hopes, and the winged Pegasus, having found the earth-born horseman Bellerophon burdensome, provides a stern warning that you should always pursue (things) suitable to you, and that you should avoid an unequal (match) by considering that (it is) a crime to entertain expectations beyond what is permitted. Come then, (you) last of my loves, for, after this, I shall not burn for any other woman – learn well these measures, which you may recite with your delightful voice; our gloomy cares will be mitigated by your song.

Carmen 12. To Virgil (N.B. Whether the addressee is the poet, now dead, or someone else is a matter of scholarly debate) (Third Asclepiad metre).

The Thracian winds, the companions of spring, which moderate the sea, now swell the sails; now neither are the meadows stiff (with frost), nor are the rivers roaring, swollen with winter’s snow. That luckless bird, who is tearfully bemoaning Itys and (is) the eternal disgrace of the house of Cecrops, because she wickedly avenged the barbarous lusts of kings, (now) builds her nest. The keepers of the fattening sheep play tunes upon the pipe amid the soft grass, and delight the god, to whom flocks and the dark(-wooded) hills of Arcadia bring pleasure. The time (of year), (O) Virgil, has brought on a drought; but, if you are very eager to quaff wine (lit. Liber), pressed at Cales, you, (being) a client of young noblemen, must earn your wine with spikenard. A small box of spikenard will elicit a cask, which now lies in the Sulpician store-rooms, (and which is) liberal in giving fresh hopes and in washing away the bitterness of our anxieties. To these joys, if you hasten, come quickly with your merchandise; I am not contemplating soaking you in my cups scot-free, like a rich (man) in a house of plenty. But lay aside delays and desire of gain, and, mindful of the black flames (of the funeral pyre), intermingle, while it is permitted, a little silliness with your plans (for money-making): it is delightful to play the fool at the right time.

Carmen 13. To Lyce (Fourth Asclepiad metre).

The gods have heard my prayers, Lyce, the gods have heard (my prayers): you are become an old woman, and yet you want to be seen (as) a beauty and frolic and drink in a shameless manner, and,(when) drunk, you solicit tardy Cupid with a shaky voice; he keeps his eyes fixed on the fair cheeks of young Chia, (who is) proficient in playing the lyre. In his insolent way, he flies over dried-out oak-trees and shrinks from you because your teeth (are) yellow, (shrinks from you) because your wrinkles and the snow on your head make (you) unsightly. Now, neither the purple (robes) of Cos nor gleaming jewels restore to you those years which winged time has once (and for all) shut in, stored up in the public annals. Alas! whither has your beauty fled, and whither your bloom? Whither your graceful deportment? What have you (left) of her, who (once) breathed passion, who had (once) stolen me from myself, happy (in possession of me) after Cinara, and a beauty of repute and of winning wiles? But the Fates granted Cinara (only) a few years, intending to preserve Lyce for a long time as equal in years to an old crow, so that hot-blooded young men could see, not without much laughter, that (former bright) torch reduced to ashes.

Carmen 14. To Augustus (Alcaic metre).

What care of the senators, what (care) of the people (lit. Quirites) through the ample endowments of honours can immortalise your virtues for ever by means of inscriptions and recording annals, Augustus, O greatest of princes, wherever the sun illuminates habitable shores? (About) you (lit. whom), the Vindelici, (who are) without a share in Latin law, have recently learned what you can achieve in war. For, the Genauni, an implacable race, and the fast-moving Breuni and their citadels situated in the daunting Alps, Drusus has bravely overthrown, with interest for every reverse suffered (lit. with requital more than on one occasion); the elder Nero (i.e. Tiberius) soon (after) engaged in a terrible battle and under your favourable auspices routed the monstrous Rhaeti; worthy to be seen amid the strife of war, with what destruction he wore down hearts devoted to voluntary death, just like the South Wind whips up the unsubdued waves, when the dance of the Pleiades cleaves the clouds, (being) keen to harass the squadrons of the enemy and to send his eager steeds through the midst of the fire. Thus the bull-shaped Aufidus, who flows through the dominions of Apulian Daunus, rolls along, as he rages and plans a horrible deluge for the cultivated lands, when Claudius tore asunder, by an enormous assault, the armoured columns of the barbarians, and, by mowing down their front and rear (ranks), he strewed the ground (with their bodies), (being) victorious without any loss (of his own), while you supplied the troops, you (supplied) advice and your divine (guardians). For, from the day when the suppliant Alexandria opened her harbours and her empty palace to you, fortune, propitious (to you) fifteen years later (lit. in the third lustrum), returned favourable outcomes to the war, and has associated coveted glory and honour with your past (lit. completed) commands. You the Cantabrian, not previously conquered, the Mede and the Indian, you the fugitive Scythian, admires, O propitious guardian of Italy and her mistress, Rome. You both the Nile and the Danube, who conceal the sources of their fountain-heads, you the rapid-(flowing) Tigris, you the Ocean full of monsters, which roars at distant Britain, you the land of Gaul, unafraid of death, and (the land) of hardy Spain, obeys (lit. hearkens to), you the Sygambri, who delight in slaughter, their weapons having been laid aside, revere.

Carmen 15. To Augustus, on the restoration of peace (Alcaic metre).

Phoebus (i.e. Apollo) rebuked me for wishing to sing of battles and conquered cities on the lyre, so that I might not set (lit. give [to the wind]) my little sails along the Tyrrhenian sea. Your age, Caesar, has restored plentiful crops to the fields, and has returned to our Jupiter the standards torn from the proud pillars of the Parthians and has closed up (the temple of) Janus, (founded) by Quirinus (i.e. Romulus), now free from war, has imposed curbs upon a lawlessness straying beyond the path of rectitude, has outlawed (lit. driven away) crimes, and has recalled the ancient arts (e.g. thrift, temperance, simplicity), by which the Latin name and the strength of Italy have been promoted, and the dignity of the empire has been extended from the sun’s western bed to the East. With Caesar as guardian of our affairs, neither civil strife (lit. madness), nor violence, nor the rage, which forges swords and sets hapless cities at variance, will drive out tranquillity. Neither (those) who drink of the deep Danube, nor the Getae, nor the Seres, nor the perfidious Persians, nor those born beside the river Tanais (i.e. Don), will break the Julian edicts. And we (for our part), both on working days and on festive (ones), amid the gifts of generous Liber (i.e. Bacchus), together with our wives and children, (and) having duly invoked the gods beforehand, shall, in the manner of our fathers, celebrate in song, accompanied by (lit. intermingled with) Lydian pipes, the courage of our leaders (lit. our leaders who fulfilled a man’s part), Troy, Anchises, and the offspring of kindly Venus (i.e. Augustus).


Non sum qualis eram bonae / sub regno Cinarae. Desine, dulcium / mater saeva Cupidinum: I am not the man I was, when under the kindly sway of Cinara. Cease, cruel mother of sweet loves! (I. 3-5)

Merses profundo: / pulchrior evenit: Should you sink it in the deep: it will emerge more beautiful. (IV. 65)

Diffugere nives, redeunt iam gramina campis / arboribus comae: The snows have gone away, now the grass returns to the fields and the foliage to the trees. (VII. 1)

Vixere fortes ante Agamemnona / multi; sed omnes illacrimabiles / urgentur ignotique longa / nocte, carent quia vate sacro: Many brave men lived before Agamemnon; but all of them, unlamented and unknown, lie buried in endless night, because they lack the services of a sacred bard. (IX. 25-28)

Misce stultitiam consilliis brevem: / dulce est desipere in loco: Intermingle a little silliness with your plans for making money; for it is delightful to play the fool at the right time. (XII. 27-28)


Phoebus (i.e. Apollo) and Diana, queen of the woods, bright glory of the sky, O ever worthy to be worshipped and (ever) worshipped, bestow what we pray for at this sacred season, when the Sibylline verses have told (us) that chosen virgins and chaste boys should chant a hymn to the deities, to whom the seven hills (of Rome) have been dear. (O) life-giving Sun, you who bring forth and conceal the day in your shining chariot, and (who) are born (each day) another and (yet) the same, may you be able to view nothing greater than the city of Rome. (O) Ilithyia, (you who) duly bring (the young) to a timely birth, gently protect the mothers (who are in labour), whether you choose to be called Lucina or Genitalis; (O) goddess, may you rear our offspring and bless the decrees of the senators concerning women being joined (in wedlock) and the marital law determined (to foster) new children, so that the sure cycle, (revolving) through a hundred and ten (lit. a hundred and eleven) years, brings back the hymns and crowded games on a bright day on three occasions and as many times in the welcome night. And you (O) Fates, (ever) truthful in your oracles, – and (so) may the abiding landmark of our fortunes preserve what has once been appointed – join happy destinies to (those) already accomplished. May the Earth, prolific in crops and cattle, present Ceres with a garland of wheat-ears; may both wholesome rains and the breezes of Jupiter nourish the produce. Apollo, mild and gentle, your arrows having been stored away, hearken to the suppliant boys; (O) Moon, (you) two-horned queen of the stars, hearken to the girls. If Rome is your handiwork, and if squadrons from Ilium, the part commanded (by your oracles) to change their homes and city, won their way to the Etruscan shore by a favourable course, for this (part) pious Aeneas, the survivor of his country, made a free passage unharmed (lit. without harm) through burning Troy, intending to give (them) more than the things they left behind. (O) gods, grant upright manners to tractable youth, (O) gods, (grant) quiet to peaceful old-age, and prosperity and progeny, and every kind of glory, to the race of Romulus. Whatever the renowned offspring of Anchises and Venus (i.e. Augustus) asks of you with (offerings of) milk-white oxen, may he obtain his request, (being) foremost in war, (but) merciful to a prostrate enemy. Now the Mede dreads our powerful forces and the Alban (i.e. Roman) axe by sea and land, now the Scythians and the Indians, recently (so) arrogant, beg (to know) our (oracular) responses. Now Truth and Peace and Honour and ancient Modesty and neglected Virtue venture to return, and blessed Plenty appears, with her horn full. If Phoebus, the augur and conspicuous by his shining bow and dear to the Muses, (and) who by his salutary art soothes the wearied limbs of the body, surveys the Palatine altars with a favourable eye, may he ever extend Roman prosperity and the happy (state of Latium (i.e. Italy) into another lustrum and a better age. And may Diana, who possesses the Aventine (Hill) and (Mount) Algidus, attend to the prayers of the Quindecemvirs, and lend her gracious ears to the children’s vows. We (lit. I), the choir, taught to chant the praises of both Phoebus and Diana, carry back home a good and certain hope that Jupiter and all the other gods are aware of these (supplications).


Fertilis frugum pecorisque tellus / spicea donet Cererem corona / nutriant fetus et aquae salubres / et Iovis aurae: May the Earth, prolific in crops and cattle, present Ceres with a garland of wheat-ears; may both wholesome rains and the breezes of Jupiter nourish the produce. (ll. 29-32)

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