Horace: Ode i.3

……….May Venus guide you as you go,
with help and light from Helen’s starry brothers;
……….may Aeolus send one wind to blow
up from Calabria, and still the others,

……….so that, good ship, you can repay
the debt you owe us all. Release him whole
……….and hale in Attica, I pray,
and safeguard Virgil, who is half my soul.

……….He had a heart encased in oak
and triple bronze, whoever first set sail ………………..……….10
……….on the fierce sea in a frail bark
with no fear of the hurtling southern gale

……….locked with the northern, wrestling,
or rainy stars, or how the Southwind raves,
……….the Adriatic’s fitful king,
mighty to calm, mighty to whip the waves.

……….What death could a man fear, who looks
on the churned sea with monsters swimming under
……….unfazed, or on your shipwreck rocks,
Acroceraunia, o Cliff of Thunder? ……….……….……….……….20

……….To no avail the wise god split
the continents with the estranging sea,
……….since our keels still race over it,
unholy, sailing where they shouldn’t be.

……….Reckless to flout the ban of gods,
humankind plunges further, deeper, higher.
……….Reckless Prometheus’s frauds
won for the world of men ill-gotten fire.

……….When fire out of heaven’s hearth
was stolen, famine and a new cabal ……….……….……………30
……….of fevers infiltrated earth;
once slow and distant, inescapable

……….Death suddenly sped up the pace.
Daedalus soared the void empyrean
……….on wings denied the human race,
and toiling Hercules sacked Acheron.

……….For mortals, nothing is too great;
though our absurdity would climb the sky,
……….our constant crime will never let
Jove lay his anger, or his lightning, by. ……….……………….40

……….Sic te diva potens Cypri,
sic fratres Helenae, lucida sidera,
……….ventorumque regat pater
obstrictis aliis praeter Iapyga,

……….navis, quae tibi creditum         ……….……….…………..      5
debes Vergilium; finibus Atticis
……….reddas incolumem precor
et serves animae dimidium meae.

……….Illi robur et aes triplex
circa pectus erat, qui fragilem truci        ……….………….       10
……….commisit pelago ratem
primus, nec timuit praecipitem Africum

……….decertantem Aquilonibus
nec tristis Hyadas nec rabiem Noti,
……….quo non arbiter Hadriae          ……….……….………….     15
maior, tollere seu ponere volt freta.

……….Quem mortis timuit gradum
qui siccis oculis monstra natantia,
……….qui vidit mare turbidum et
infamis scopulos Acroceraunia?       ……….……….……..        20

……….Nequicquam deus abscidit
prudens Oceano dissociabili
……….terras, si tamen impiae
non tangenda rates transiliunt vada.

……….Audax omnia perpeti          ……….……….……….……..     25
gens humana ruit per vetitum nefas;
……….audax Iapeti genus
ignem fraude mala gentibus intulit;

……….post ignem aetheria domo
subductum macies et nova febrium        ……….………..       30
……….terris incubuit cohors
semotique prius tarda necessitas

……….leti corripuit gradum.
Expertus vacuum Daedalus aera
……….pennis non homini datis;           ……….……….………    35
perrupit Acheronta Herculeus labor.

……….Nil mortalibus ardui est;
caelum ipsum petimus stultitia neque
……….per nostrum patimur scelus
iracunda Iovem ponere fulmina.         ……….……….……      40

 

Translator’s Note: Dizzie Gillespie had Charlie Parker (“the other half of my heartbeat”) and Horace had Virgil (animae dimidium meae); in this propempticon (bon voyage poem), Horace wishes his best friend καλό ταξίδι. Or does he? The poem’s tone is hard to pin down, and your own read should depend on how seriously you take l.8, and whether you consider what follows an associative divagation or a pointed criticism. Horace’s striking phrase is borrowed from Callimachus, ἥμισύ μευ ψυχῆς, who uses it to refer to his boy-crush of the hour: “Half my soul lives, but half of it, I fear, / Love has kidnapped, or Death—he isn’t here” (AP 12.73). Meleager echoes Callimachus in a sailing context: “O hapless lovers, a fine fair wind has blown / half of my soul away, Andragathon” (AP 12.52). Classics professor and Bob Dylan aficionado Richard Thomas thinks there’s a point to the reference: Virgil may or may not be embarking for Greece, but he is embarking on an epic poem, The Aeneid, and Horace wants to warn him of the dangers of abandoning the kind of small, shapely poem Callimachus preferred. Were Virgil and Horace friends? Only Horace cares to say so, and mostly only before 35 BC; for his part, Virgil never mentions Horace by name, though he does name several other poet-friends (Galla, Varius and Varus) whom Horace is always name-dropping in Virgil’s company. That Horace admires the older poet seems clear from his Satires; that he is genuinely grateful to him (as well as Varius, in Sat. 1.6) for the introduction to Maecenas would be churlish to doubt. Meanwhile, the only other ode definitely addressed to Virgil, I.24, seems to criticize his lachrymosity; or maybe it is a delicate, fine-grained consolation from one good friend to another. Either way, it is a good poem, as this one is, no doubt the better for the elusive tone.

Chris Childers

Chris Childers

Christopher Childers has poems, essays, and translations published or forthcoming at Kenyon Review, Yale Review, Parnassus, and elsewhere. He is at work on a translation of Latin and Greek Lyric Poetry from Archilochus to Martial for Penguin Classics.
Chris Childers

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Author: Chris Childers

Christopher Childers has poems, essays, and translations published or forthcoming at Kenyon Review, Yale Review, Parnassus, and elsewhere. He is at work on a translation of Latin and Greek Lyric Poetry from Archilochus to Martial for Penguin Classics.