Horace: The Odes

Book I

Translated by A. S. Kline © 2003 All Rights Reserved

This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose. 

Translator’s Note

Horace fully exploited the metrical possibilities offered to him by Greek lyric verse. I have followed the original Latin metre in all cases, giving a reasonably close English version of Horace’s strict forms. Rhythm not rhyme is the essence. Please try reading slowly to identify the rhythm of the first verse of each poem, before reading the whole poem through. Counting syllables, and noting the natural rhythm of individual phrases, may help. Those wishing to understand the precise scansion of Latin lyric verse should consult a specialist text. The Collins Latin Dictionary, for example, includes a good summary. The metres used by Horace in each of the Odes, giving the standard number of syllables per line only, are listed at the end of this text (see the Index below).


Contents

BkI:I The Dedication: To Maecenas

Maecenas, descendant of royal ancestors,

O my protector, and my sweet glory,

some are delighted by showers of dust,

Olympic dust, over their chariots, they

are raised to the gods, as Earth’s masters, by posts

clipping the red-hot wheels, by noble palms:

this man, if the fickle crowd of Citizens

compete to lift him to triple honours:

that one, if he’s stored away in his granary

whatever he gleaned from the Libyan threshing.

The peasant who loves to break clods in his native

fields, won’t be tempted, by living like Attalus,

to sail the seas, in fear, in a Cyprian boat.

The merchant afraid of the African winds as

they fight the Icarian waves, loves the peace

and the soil near his town, but quickly rebuilds

his shattered ships, unsuited to poverty.

There’s one who won’t scorn cups of old Massic,

nor to lose the best part of a whole day lying

under the greenwood tree, or softly

close to the head of sacred waters.

Many love camp, and the sound of trumpets

mixed with the horns, and the warfare hated

by mothers. The hunter, sweet wife forgotten,

stays out under frozen skies, if his faithful

hounds catch sight of a deer, or a Marsian

wild boar rampages, through his close meshes.

But the ivy, the glory of learned brows,

joins me to the gods on high: cool groves,

and the gathering of light nymphs and satyrs,

draw me from the throng, if Euterpe the Muse

won’t deny me her flute, and Polyhymnia

won’t refuse to exert herself on her Lesbian lyre.

And if you enter me among all the lyric poets,

my head too will be raised to touch the stars.

BkI:II To Augustus

The Father’s sent enough dread hail

and snow to earth already, striking

sacred hills with fiery hand,

to scare the city,

and scare the people, lest again

we know Pyrrha’s age of pain

when Proteus his sea-herds drove

across high mountains,

and fishes lodged in all the elms,

that used to be the haunt of doves,

and the trembling roe-deer swam

the whelming waters.

We saw the yellow Tiber’s waves

hurled backwards from the Tuscan shore,

toppling Numa’s Regia and

the shrine of Vesta,

far too fierce now, the fond river,

in his revenge of wronged Ilia,

drowning the whole left bank, deep,

without permission.

Our children, fewer for their father’s

vices, will hear metal sharpened

that’s better destined for the Persians,

and of battles too.

Which gods shall the people call on

when the Empire falls in ruins?

With what prayer shall the virgins

tire heedless Vesta?

Whom will Jupiter assign to

expiate our sins? We pray you,

come, cloud veiling your bright shoulders,

far-sighted Apollo:

or laughing Venus Erycina,

if you will, whom Cupid circles,

or you, if you see your children

neglected, Leader,

you sated from the long campaign,

who love the war-shouts and the helmets,

and the Moor’s cruel face among his

blood-stained enemies.

Or you, winged son of kindly Maia,

changing shape on earth to human

form, and ready to be named as

Caesar’s avenger: 

Don’t rush back to the sky, stay long

among the people of Quirinus,

no swifter breeze take you away,

unhappy with our

sins: here to delight in triumphs,

in being called our prince and father,

making sure the Medes are punished,

lead us, O Caesar.

BkI:III Virgil: Off to Greece

May the goddess, queen of Cyprus,

and Helen’s brothers, the brightest of stars,

and father of the winds, Aeolus,

confining all except Iapyga, guide you,

ship, that owes us Virgil, given

to your care, guide you to Attica’s shores,

bring him safely there I beg you,

and there watch over half of my spirit.

Triple bronze and oak encircled

the breast of the man who first committed

his fragile bark to the cruel sea,

without fearing the fierce south-westerlies

fighting with the winds from the north,

the sad Hyades, or the raging south,

master of the Adriatic,

whether he stirs or he calms the ocean.

What form of death could he have feared,

who gazed, dry-eyed, on swimming monsters,

saw the waves of the sea boiling,

and Acroceraunia’s infamous cliffs?

Useless for a wise god to part

the lands, with a far-severing Ocean,

if impious ships, in spite of him,

travel the depths he wished inviolable.

Daring enough for anything,

the human race deals in forbidden sin.

That daring son of Iapetus

brought fire, by impious cunning, to men.

When fire was stolen from heaven

its home, wasting disease and a strange crowd

of fevers covered the whole earth,

and death’s powers, that had been slow before

and far away, quickened their step.

Daedalus tried the empty air on wings

that were never granted to men:

Hercules’ labours shattered Acheron.

Nothing’s too high for mortal men:

like fools, we aim at the heavens themselves,

sinful, we won’t let Jupiter

set aside his lightning bolts of anger.

BkI:IV Spring

Fierce winter slackens its grip: it’s spring and the west wind’s sweet change:

the ropes are hauling dry hulls towards the shore,

The flock no longer enjoys the fold, or the ploughman the fire,

no more are the meadows white with hoary frost.

Now Cytherean Venus leads out her dancers, under the pendant moon,

and the lovely Graces have joined with the Nymphs,

treading the earth on tripping feet, while Vulcan, all on fire, visits

the tremendous Cyclopean forges.

Now its right to garland our gleaming heads, with green myrtle or flowers,

whatever the unfrozen earth now bears:

now it’s right to sacrifice to Faunus, in groves that are filled with shadow,

whether he asks a lamb, or prefers a kid.

Pale death knocks with impartial foot, at the door of the poor man’s cottage,

and at the prince’s gate. O Sestus, my friend,

the span of brief life prevents us from ever depending on distant hope.

Soon the night will crush you, the fabled spirits,

and Pluto’s bodiless halls: where once you’ve passed inside you’ll no longer

be allotted the lordship of wine by dice,

or marvel at Lycidas, so tender, for whom, already, the boys

are burning, and soon the girls will grow hotter.

BkI:V Treacherous Girl

What slender boy, Pyrrha, drowned in liquid perfume,

urges you on, there, among showers of roses,

deep down in some pleasant cave?

For whom did you tie up your hair,

with simple elegance? How often he’ll cry at

the changes of faith and of gods, ah, he’ll wonder,

surprised by roughening water,

surprised by the darkening storms,

who enjoys you now and believes you’re golden,

who thinks you’ll always be single and lovely,

ignoring the treacherous

breeze. Wretched are those you dazzle

while still untried. As for me the votive tablet

that hangs on the temple wall reveals, suspended,

my dripping clothes, for the god,

who holds power over the sea.

BkI:VI A Tribute to Agrippa

You should be penned as brave, and a conqueror

by Varius, winged with his Homeric poetry,

whatever fierce soldiers, with vessels or horses,

have carried out, at your command.

Agrippa, I don’t try to speak of such things,

not Achilles’ anger, ever unyielding,

nor crafty Ulysses’ long sea-wanderings,

nor the cruel house of Pelops,

I’m too slight for grandeur, since shame and the Muse,

who’s the power of the peaceful lyre, forbids me

to lessen the praise of great Caesar and you,

by my defective artistry.

Who could write worthily of Mars in his armour

Meriones the Cretan, dark with Troy’s dust,

or Tydides, who with the help of Athene,

was the equal of all the gods?

I sing of banquets, of girls fierce in battle

with closely-trimmed nails, attacking young men:

idly, as I’m accustomed to do, whether

fancy free or burning with love.

BkI:VII Tibur (the modern Tivoli)

Let others sing in praise of Rhodes, or Mytilene,

or Ephesus, or Corinth on the Isthmus,

or Thebes that’s known for Bacchus, or Apollo’s isle

of Delphi, or Thessalian Tempe.

There’s some whose only purpose is to celebrate

virgin Athene’s city forever,

and set indiscriminately gathered olive on their heads.

Many a poet in honour of Juno

will speak fittingly of horses, Argos, rich Mycenae.

As for me not even stubborn Sparta

or the fields of lush Larisa are quite as striking,

as Albunea’s echoing cavern,

her headlong Anio, and the groves of Tiburnus,

and Tibur’s orchards, white with flowing streams.

Bright Notus from the south often blows away the clouds

from dark skies, without bringing endless rain,

so Plancus, my friend, remember to end a sad life

and your troubles, wisely, with sweet wine,

whether it’s the camp, and gleaming standards, that hold you

or the deep shadows of your own Tibur.

They say that Teucer, fleeing from Salamis and his

father, still wreathed the garlands, leaves of poplar,

round his forehead, flushed with wine, and in speech to his friends

said these words to them as they sorrowed:

‘Wherever fortune carries us, kinder than my father,

there, O friends and comrades, we’ll adventure!

Never despair, if Teucer leads, of Teucer’s omens!

Unerring Apollo surely promised,

in the uncertain future, a second Salamis

on a fresh soil. O you brave heroes, you

who suffered worse with me often, drown your cares with wine:

tomorrow we’ll sail the wide seas again.’

BkI:VIII : To Lydia: Stop Ruining Sybaris!

Lydia, by all the gods,

say why you’re set on ruining poor Sybaris, with passion:

why he suddenly can’t stand

the sunny Campus, he, once tolerant of the dust and sun:

why he’s no longer riding

with his soldier friends, nor holds back the Gallic mouth, any longer,

with his sharp restraining bit.

Why does he fear to touch the yellow Tiber? Why does he keep

away from the wrestler’s oil

like the viper’s blood: he won’t appear with arms bruised by weapons,

he who was often noted

for hurling the discus, throwing the javelin out of bounds?

Why does he hide, as they say

Achilles, sea-born Thetis’ son, hid, before sad Troy was ruined,

lest his male clothing

had him dragged away to the slaughter, among the Lycian  troops?

BkI:IX Winter

See how Soracte stands glistening with snowfall,

and the labouring woods bend under the weight:

see how the mountain streams are frozen,

cased in the ice by the shuddering cold?

Drive away bitterness, and pile on the logs,

bury the hearthstones, and, with generous heart,

out of the four-year old Sabine jars,

O Thaliarchus, bring on the true wine.

Leave the rest to the gods: when they’ve stilled the winds

that struggle, far away, over raging seas,

you’ll see that neither the cypress trees

nor the old ash will be able to stir.

Don’t ask what tomorrow brings, call them your gain

whatever days Fortune gives, don’t spurn sweet love,

my child, and don’t you be neglectful

of the choir of love, or the dancing feet,

while life is still green, and your white-haired old age

is far away with all its moroseness. Now,

find the Campus again, and the squares,

soft whispers at night, at the hour agreed,

and the pleasing laugh that betrays her, the girl

who’s hiding away in the darkest corner,

and the pledge that’s retrieved from her arm,

or from a lightly resisting finger.

BkI:X To Mercury

Mercury, eloquent grandson of Atlas,

I’ll sing of you, who wise with your training, shaped

the uncivilised ways of our new-born race,

with language, and grace

in the ways of wrestling, you the messenger

of Jove and the gods, and the curved lyre’s father,

skilful in hiding whatever pleases you,

with playful deceit.

While he tried to scare you, with his threatening voice,

unless you returned the cattle you’d stolen,

and so craftily, Apollo was laughing

missing his quiver.

And indeed, with your guidance, Priam carrying

rich gifts left Troy, escaped the proud Atridae,

Thessalian fires, and the menacing camp

threatening Ilium.

You bring virtuous souls to the happy shores,

controlling the bodiless crowds with your wand

of gold, pleasing to the gods of the heavens

and the gods below.

BkI:XI Carpe Diem

Leuconoë , don’t ask, we never know, what fate the gods grant us,

whether your fate or mine, don’t waste your time on Babylonian,

futile, calculations. How much better to suffer what happens,

whether Jupiter gives us more winters or this is the last one,

one debilitating the Tyrrhenian Sea on opposing cliffs.

Be wise, and mix the wine, since time is short: limit that far-reaching hope.

The envious moment is flying now, now, while we’re speaking:

Seize the day, place in the hours that come as little faith as you can.

BkI:XII Praising Augustus

What god, man, or hero do you choose to praise

on the high pitched flute or the lyre, Clio?

Whose name will it be that joyfully resounds

in playful echoes,

either on shadowed slopes of Mount Helicon,

or on Pindus’s crest, or on cool Haemus,

where the trees followed thoughtlessly after

Orpheus’s call,

that held back the swift-running streams and the rush

of the breeze, by his mother the Muse’s art,

and seductively drew the listening oaks

with enchaining song?

Which shall I sing first of the praises reserved

for the Father, who commands mortals and gods,

who controls the seas, and the land, and the world’s

various seasons?

From whom nothing’s born that’s greater than he is,

and there’s nothing that’s like him or near him,

though Athene has honour approaching his,

she’s bravest in war:

I won’t be silent about you, O Bacchus,

or you Diana, virgin inimical

to wild creatures, or you Apollo, so feared

for your sure arrows.

I’ll sing Hercules, too, and Leda’s twin boys,

one famed for winning with horses, the other

in boxing. When their clear stars are shining bright

for those on the sea,

the storm-tossed water streams down from the headland,

the high winds die down, and the clouds disappear,

and, because they wish it, the menacing waves

repose in the deep.

I don’t know whether to speak next, after those,

of Romulus, or of Numa’s peaceful reign,

of Tarquin’s proud axes, or of that younger

Cato’s noble death.

Gratefully, I speak in distinguished verses

of Regulus: and the Scauri: and Paulus

careless of his life, when Hannibal conquered:

of Fabricius.

Of him, and of Curius with uncut hair,

and Camillus too, whom their harsh poverty

and their ancestral gods, and their ancient farms,

inured to struggle.

Marcellus’ glory grows like a tree, quietly

with time: the Julian constellation shines,

among the other stars, as the Moon among

the lesser fires.

Father, and guardian of the human race,

son of Saturn, the care of mighty Caesar

was given you by fate: may you reign forever

with Caesar below.

Whether its the conquered Persians, menacing

Latium , that he leads, in well-earned triumph,

or the Seres and the Indians who lie

beneath Eastern skies,

under you, he’ll rule the wide earth with justice:

you’ll shake Olympus with your heavy chariot,

you’ll send your hostile lightning down to shatter

once-pure sacred groves.

BkI:XIII His Jealousy

When you, Lydia, start to praise

Telephus’ rosy neck, Telephus’ waxen arms,

alas, my burning passion starts

to mount deep inside me, with troubling anger.

Neither my feelings, nor my hue

stay as they were before, and on my cheek a tear

slides down, secretly, proving how

I’m consumed inwardly with lingering fires.

I burn, whether it’s madhouse

quarrels that have, drunkenly, marked your gleaming

shoulders, or whether the crazed boy

has placed a love-bite, in memory, on your lips.

If you’d just listen to me now,

you’d not bother to hope for constancy from him

who wounds that sweet mouth, savagely,

that Venus has imbued with her own pure nectar.

Three times happy are they, and more,

held by unbroken pledge, one which no destruction

of love, by evil quarrels,

will ever dissolve, before life’s final day.

BkI:XIV The Ship of State

O ship the fresh tide carries back to sea again.

Where are you going! Quickly, run for harbour.

Can’t you see how your sides

have been stripped bare of oars,

how your shattered masts and yards are groaning loudly

in the swift south-westerly, and bare of rigging,

your hull can scarce tolerate

the overpowering waters?

You haven’t a single sail that’s still intact now,

no gods, that people call to when they’re in trouble.

Though you’re built of Pontic pine,

a child of those famous forests,

though you can boast of your race, and an idle name:

the fearful sailor puts no faith in gaudy keels.

You must beware of being

merely a plaything of the winds.

You, who not long ago were troubling weariness

to me, and now are my passion and anxious care,

avoid the glistening seas

between the shining Cyclades.

BkI:XV Nereus’ Prophecy of Troy

While Paris, the traitorous shepherd, her guest,

bore Helen over the waves, in a ship from Troy,

Nereus , the sea-god, checked the swift breeze

with an unwelcome calm, to tell

their harsh fate: ‘You’re taking a bird of ill-omen,

back home, whom the Greeks, new armed, will look for again,

having sworn to destroy the marriage your planning

and the empire of old Priam.

Ah, what sweated labour for men and for horses

draws near! What disaster you bring for the Trojan

people! Athene’s already prepared her helm,

breastplate, chariot, and fury.

Uselessly daring, through Venus’ protection,

you’ll comb your hair and pluck at the peace-loving lyre,

make the music for songs that please girls: uselessly

you’ll hide, in the depths of your room,

from the heavy spears, from the arrows of Cretan

reeds, and the noise of the battle, and swift-footed

Ajax quick to follow: yet, ah too late, you’ll bathe

your adulterous hair in the dust!

Have you thought of Ulysses, the bane of your race,

have you even considered Pylian Nestor?

Teucer of Salamis presses you fearlessly,

Sthenelus , skilful in warfare,

and if it’s a question of handling the horses

he’s no mean charioteer. And Meriones

you’ll know him too. See fierce Tydides, his father’s

braver, he’s raging to find you.

As the deer sees the wolf there, over the valley,

and forgets its pastures, a coward, you’ll flee him,

breathing hard, as you run, with your head thrown high,

not as you promised your mistress.

The anger of Achilles’ armies may delay

the day of destruction for Troy and its women:

but after so many winters the fires of Greece

will burn the Dardanian houses.’

BkI:XVI He Repents

O lovelier child of a lovely mother,

end as you will, then, my guilty iambics

whether in flames or whether instead

deep down in the Adriatic’s waters.

Neither Cybele, nor Apollo, who troubles

the priestess’s mind in the Pythian shrine,

nor Bacchus, nor the Corybants who

clash their shrill, ringing cymbals together,

pain us like anger, that’s undefeated by

swords out of Noricum, or sea, the wrecker,

or cruel fire, or mighty Jupiter

when he sweeps down in terrible fury.

They say when Prometheus was forced to add

something from every creature to our first clay

he chose to set in each of our hearts

the violence of the irascible lion.

Anger brought Thyestes down, to utter ruin,

and it’s the prime reason powerful cities

vanished in their utter destruction,

and armies, in scorn, sent the hostile plough

over the levelled spoil of their shattered walls.

Calm your mind: the passions of the heart have made

their attempt on me, in my sweet youth,

and drove me, maddened, as well, to swift verse:

I wish to change the bitter lines to sweet, now,

since I’ve charmed away all of my hostile words,

if you might become my friend, again,

and if you, again, might give me your heart.

BkI:XVII The Delights of the Country

Swift Faunus, the god, will quite often exchange

Arcady for my sweet Mount Lucretilis,

and while he stays he protects my goats

from the midday heat and the driving rain.

The wandering wives of the rank he-goats search,

with impunity, through the safe woodland groves,

for the hidden arbutus, and thyme,

and their kids don’t fear green poisonous snakes,

or the wolf of Mars, my lovely Tyndaris,

once my Mount Ustica’s long sloping valleys,

and its smooth worn rocks, have re-echoed

to the music of sweet divine piping.

The gods protect me: my love and devotion,

and my Muse, are dear to the gods. Here the rich

wealth of the countryside’s beauties will

flow for you, now, from the horn of plenty.

Here you’ll escape from the heat of the dog-star,

in secluded valleys, sing of bright Circe,

labouring over the Teian lyre,

and of Penelope: both loved one man.

Here you’ll bring cups of innocent Lesbian

wine, under the shade, nor will Semele’s son,

that Bacchus, battle it out with Mars,

nor shall you fear the intemperate hands

of insolent Cyrus, jealously watching,

to possess you, girl, unequal to evil,

to tear off the garland that clings to

your hair, or tear off your innocent clothes.

BkI:XVIII Wine

Cultivate no plant, my Varus, before the rows of sacred vines,

set in Tibur’s gentle soil, and by the walls Catilus founded:

because the god decreed all things are hard for those who never drink,

and he gave us no better way to lessen our anxieties.

Deep in wine, who rattles on, about harsh campaigns or poverty?

Who doesn’t rather speak of you, Bacchus, and you, lovely Venus?

And lest the gifts of Liber pass the bounds of moderation set,

we’ve the battle over wine, between the Lapiths and the Centaurs,

as a warning to us all, and the frenzied Thracians, whom Bacchus

hates, when they split right from wrong, by too fine a line of passion.

Lovely Bacchus, I’ll not be the one to stir you, against your will,

nor bring to open light of day what’s hidden under all those leaves.

Hold back the savagery of drums, and the Berecyntian horns,

and those deeds that, afterwards, are followed by a blind self-love,

by pride that lifts its empty head too high, above itself, once more,

and wasted faith in mysteries much more transparent than the glass.

BkI:XIX Glycera’s Beauty

Cruel Venus, Cupid’s mother,

Bacchus, too, commands me, Theban Semele’s son,

and you, lustful Licentiousness,

to recall to mind that love I thought long-finished.

I burn for Glycera’s beauty,

who gleams much more brightly than Parian marble:

I burn for her lovely boldness

and her face too dangerous to ever behold.

Venus bears down on me, wholly,

deserting her Cyprus, not letting me sing of

the Scythians, or Parthians

eager at wheeling their horses, nor anything else.

Here set up the green turf altar,

boys, and the sacred boughs of vervain, and incense,

place here a bowl of last year’s wine:

if a victim’s sacrificed, she’ll come more gently.

BkI:XX To Maecenas

Come and drink with me, rough Sabine in cheap cups,

yet wine that I sealed myself, and laid up

in a Grecian jar, when you dear Maecenas,

flower of knighthood,

received the theatre’s applause, so your native

river-banks, and, also, the Vatican Hill,

together returned that praise again, to you,

in playful echoes.

Then, drink Caecubum, and the juice of the grape

crushed in Campania’s presses, my cups are

unmixed with what grows on Falernian vines,

or Formian hills.

BkI:XXI Hymn to Diana

O tender virgins sing, in praise of Diana,

and, you boys, sing in praise, of long-haired Apollo,

and of Latona, deeply

loved by all-conquering Jove.

You girls, she who enjoys the streams and the green leaves

of the groves that clothe the cool slopes of Algidus,

or dark Erymanthian

trees, or the woods of green Cragus.

You boys, sounding as many praises, of Tempe

and Apollo’s native isle Delos, his shoulder

distinguished by his quiver,

and his brother Mercury’s lyre.

He’ll drive away sad war, and miserable famine,

the plague too, from our people and Caesar our prince,

and, moved by all your prayers,

send them to Persians and Britons.

BkI:XXII Singing of Lalage (Integer Vitae)

The man who is pure of life, and free of sin,

has no need, dear Fuscus, for Moorish javelins,

nor a bow and a quiver, fully loaded

with poisoned arrows,

whether his path’s through the sweltering Syrtes,

or through the inhospitable Caucasus,

or makes its way through those fabulous regions

Hydaspes waters.

While I was wandering, beyond the boundaries

of my farm, in the Sabine woods, and singing

free from care, lightly-defended, of my Lalage,

a wolf fled from me:

a monster not even warlike Apulia

nourishes deep in its far-flung oak forests,

or that Juba’s parched Numidian land breeds,

nursery of lions.

Set me down on the lifeless plains, where no trees

spring to life in the burning midsummer wind,

that wide stretch of the world that’s burdened by mists

and a gloomy sky:

set me down in a land denied habitation,

where the sun’s chariot rumbles too near the earth:

I’ll still be in love with my sweetly laughing,

sweet talking Lalage.

BkI:XXIII Chloë, Don’t Run.

You run away from me as a fawn does, Chloë,

searching the trackless hills for its frightened mother,

not without aimless terror

of the pathless winds, and the woods.

For if the coming of spring begins to rustle

among the trembling leaves, or if a green lizard

pushes the brambles aside,

then it trembles in heart and limb.

And yet I’m not chasing after you to crush you

like a fierce tiger, or a Gaetulian lion:

stop following your mother,

now, you’re prepared for a mate.

BkI:XXIV A Lament For Quintilius

What limit, or restraint, should we show at the loss

of so dear a life? Melpomene, teach me, Muse,

a song of mourning, you, whom the Father granted

a clear voice, the sound of the lyre.

Does endless sleep lie heavy on Quintilius,

now? When will Honour, and unswerving Loyalty,

that is sister to Justice, and our naked Truth,

ever discover his equal?

Many are the good men who weep for his dying,

none of them, Virgil, weep more profusely than you.

Piously, you ask the gods for him, alas, in vain:

not so was he given to us.

Even if you played on the Thracian lyre, listened

to by the trees, more sweetly than Orpheus could,

would life then return, to that empty phantom,

once Mercury, with fearsome wand,

who won’t simply re-open the gates of Fate

at our bidding, has gathered him to the dark throng?

It is hard: but patience makes more tolerable

whatever wrong’s to be righted.

BkI:XXV A Prophecy of Age

Now the young men come less often, violently

beating your shutters, with blow after blow, or

stealing away your sleep, while the door sits tight,

hugging the threshold,

yet was once known to move its hinges, more than

readily. You’ll hear, less and less often now:

‘Are you sleeping, Lydia, while your lover

dies in the long night?’

Old, in your turn, you’ll bemoan coarse adulterers,

as you tremble in some deserted alley,

while the Thracian wind rages, furiously,

through the moonless nights,

while flagrant desire, libidinous passion,

those powers that will spur on a mare in heat,

will storm all around your corrupted heart, ah,

and you’ll complain,

that the youths, filled with laughter, take more delight

in the green ivy, the dark of the myrtle,

leaving the withering leaves to this East wind,

winter’s accomplice.

BkI:XXVI A Garland For Lamia

Friend of the Muses, I’ll throw sadness and fear

to the winds, to blow over the Cretan Sea,

untroubled by whoever he is, that king

of the icy Arctic shores we’re afraid of,

or whatever might terrify the Armenians.

O Sweet Muse, that joys in fresh fountains,

weave them together all the bright flowers,

weave me a garland for my Lamia.

Without you there’s no worth in my tributes:

it’s fitting that you, that all of your sisters,

should immortalise him with new strains

of the lyre, with the Lesbian plectrum.

BkI:XXVII Entanglement

To fight with wine-cups intended for pleasure

only suits Thracians: forget those barbarous

games, and keep modest Bacchus away

from all those bloodthirsty quarrels of yours.

The Persian scimitar’s quite out of keeping

with the wine and the lamplight: my friends restrain

all that impious clamour, and rest

on the couches, lean back on your elbows.

So you want me to drink up my share, as well,

of the heavy Falernian? Then let’s hear

Opuntian Megylla’s brother tell

by what wound, and what arrow, blessed, he dies.

Does your will waver? I’ll drink on no other

terms. Whatever the passion rules over you,

it’s not with a shameful fire it burns,

and you always sin with the noblest

of lovers. Whoever it is, ah, come now,

let it be heard by faithful ears – oh, you wretch!

What a Charybdis you’re swimming in,

my boy, you deserve a far better flame!

What magician, with Thessalian potions,

what enchantress, or what god could release you?

Caught by the triple-formed Chimaera,

even Pegasus could barely free you.

BkI:XXVIII Three Handfuls of Earth

You, my Archytas, philosopher, and measurer of land,

of the sea, of wide sands, are entombed  

in a small mound of meagre earth near the Matinian shore,

and it’s of no use to you in the least,

that you, born to die, have explored the celestial houses

crossed, in spirit, the rounds of the sky.

Tantalus, Pelop’s father, died too, a guest of the gods,

and Tithonus took off to the heavens,

Minos gained entry to great Jupiter’s secrets, Tartarus

holds Euphorbus, twice sent to Orcus,

though he bore witness, carrying his shield there, to Trojan times,

and left nothing more behind, for black Death,

but his skin and his bones, and that certainly made him, Archytas,

to your mind, no trivial example

of Nature and truth. But there’s still one night that awaits us all,

and each, in turn, makes the journey of death.

The Furies deliver some as a spectacle for cruel Mars,

the greedy sea’s the sailor’s ruin:

the funerals of the old, and the young, close ranks together,

and no one’s spared by cruel Proserpine.

Me too, the south wind, Notus, swift friend of setting Orion,

drowned deep in Illyrian waters.

O, sailor, don’t hesitate, from spite, to grant a little treacherous

sand, to my unburied bones and skull.

So that, however the east wind might threaten the Italian

waves, thrashing the Venusian woods,

you’ll be safe, yourself, and rich rewards will flow from the source,

from even-handed Jupiter, and from

Neptune, who is the protector of holy Tarentum. Are you

indifferent to committing a wrong

that will harm your innocent children hereafter? Perhaps

a need for justice, and arrogant

disdain, await you, too: don’t let me be abandoned here

my prayers unanswered: no offering

will absolve you. Though you hurry away, it’s a brief delay:

three scattered handfuls of earth will free you.

BkI:XXIX Off To The Wars

Iccius, are you gazing with envy, now,

at Arabian riches, and preparing

for bitter war on unbeaten kings

of Saba, weaving bonds for those dreadful

Medes? What barbaric virgin

will be your slave, when you’ve murdered her lover?

What boy, from the palace, with scented

hair, will handle your wine-cups, one taught

by his father’s bow how to manage eastern

arrows? Who’ll deny, now, that rivers can flow

backwards, to the summits of mountains,

and Tiber reverse the course of his streams,

when you, who gave promise of much better things,

are intent on changing Panaetius’s

noble books, the school of Socrates,

for a suit of Iberian armour?

BkI:XXX Ode To Venus

O Venus, the queen of Cnidos and Paphos,

spurn your beloved Cyprus, and summoned

by copious incense, come to the lovely shrine

of my Glycera.

And let that passionate boy of yours, Cupid,

and the Graces with loosened zones, and the Nymphs,

and Youth, less lovely without you, hasten here,

and Mercury too.

BkI:XXXI A Prayer to Apollo

What is the poet’s request to Apollo?

What does he pray for as he pours out the wine

from the bowl? Not for the rich harvests

of fertile Sardinia, nor the herds,

(they’re delightful), of sunlit Calabria,

not for India’s gold or its ivory,

nor fields our silent Liris’s stream

carries away in the calm of its flow.

Let those that Fortune allows prune the vines,

with a Calenian knife, so rich merchants

can drink their wine from a golden cup,

wine they’ve purchased with Syrian goods,

who, dear to the gods, three or four times yearly,

revisit the briny Atlantic, unscathed.

I browse on olives, and chicory

and simple mallow. Apollo, the son

of Latona, let me enjoy what I have,

and, healthy in body and mind, as I ask,

live an old age not without honour,

and one not lacking the art of the lyre.

BkI:XXXII To the Lyre

I’m called on. O Lyre, if I’ve ever played

idle things with you in the shade, that will live,

for a year or more, come and utter a song

now, of Italy:

you were first tuned by Alcaeus of Lesbos,

a man daring in war, yet still, amongst arms,

or after he’d moored his storm-driven boat

on a watery shore,

he sang of the Muses, Bacchus, and Venus

that boy of hers, Cupid, that hangs around her,

and that beautiful Lycus, with his dark eyes

and lovely dark hair.

O tortoiseshell, Phoebus’s glory, welcome

at the feasts of Jupiter, the almighty,

O sweet comfort and balm of our troubles, heal,

if I call you true!

BkI:XXXIII Tibullus, Don’t Grieve

Tibullus, don’t grieve too much, when you remember

your cruel Glycera, and don’t keep on singing

those wretched elegies, or ask why, trust broken,

you’re outshone by a younger man.

Lovely Lycoris, the narrow-browed one, is on fire

with love for Cyrus, Cyrus leans towards bitter

Pholoë, but does in the wood are more likely

to mate with Apulian wolves,

than Pholoë to sin with some low-down lover.

So Venus has it, who delights in the cruel

game of mating unsuitable bodies and minds,

under her heavy yoke of bronze.

I, myself, when a nobler passion was called for,

was held in the charming bonds of Myrtale,

that freed slave, more bitter than Hadria’s waves

that break in Calabria’s bay.

BkI:XXXIV Fortune’s Changes

Once I wandered, an expert in crazy wisdom,

a scant and infrequent adorer of gods,

now I’m forced to set sail and return,

to go back to the paths I abandoned.

For Jupiter, Father of all of the gods,

who generally splits the clouds with his lightning,

flashing away, drove thundering horses,

and his swift chariot, through the clear sky,

till the dull earth, and the wandering rivers,

and Styx, and dread Taenarus’ hateful headland,

and Atlas’s mountain-summits shook.

The god has the power to replace the highest

with the lowest, bring down the famous, and raise

the obscure to the heights. And greedy Fortune

with her shrill whirring, carries away

the crown and delights in setting it, there.

BkI:XXXV To Fortune

O goddess, who rules our lovely Antium,

always ready to lift up our mortal selves,

from humble position, or alter

proud triumphs to funeral processions,

the poor farmer, in the fields, courts your favour

with anxious prayers: you, mistress of ocean,

the sailor who cuts the Carpathian

Sea, in a Bithynian sailing boat:

you, the fierce Dacian, wandering Scythian,

cities, and peoples, and warlike Latium,

mothers of barbarous kings, tyrants,

clothed in their royal purple, all fear you,

in case you demolish the standing pillar

with a careless foot, or the tumultuous crowd

incite the peaceful: ‘To arms, to arms’,

and shatter the supreme authority.

Grim Necessity always treads before you,

and she’s carrying the spikes and the wedges

in her bronze hand, and the harsh irons

and the molten lead aren’t absent either.

Hope cultivates you, and rarest Loyalty,

her hands bound in sacred white, will not refuse

her friendship when you, their enemy,

desert the great houses plunged in mourning.

But the disloyal mob, and the perjured whores

vanish, and friends scatter when they’ve drunk our wine

to the lees, unequal to bearing

the heavy yoke of all our misfortunes.

Guard our Caesar who’s soon setting off again

against the earth’s far-off Britons, and guard

the fresh young levies, who’ll scare the East

in those regions along the Red Sea’s shores.

Alas, the shame of our scars and wickedness,

and our dead brothers. What has our harsh age spared?

What sinfulness have we left untried?

What have the young men held their hands back from,

in fear of the gods? Where are the altars they’ve left

alone? O may you remake our blunt weapons

on fresh anvils so we can turn them

against the Scythians and the Arabs.

BkI:XXXVI Numida’s Back Again

With music, and incense, and blood

of a bullock, delight in placating the gods

that guarded our Numida well,

who’s returned safe and sound, from the farthest West, now,

showering a host of kisses

on every dear friend, but on none of us more than

lovely Lamia, remembering

their boyhood spent under the self-same master,

their togas exchanged together.

Don’t allow this sweet day to lack a white marker,

no end to the wine jars at hand,

no rest for our feet in the Salian fashion,

Don’t let wine-heavy Damalis

conquer our Bassus in downing the Thracian draughts.

Don’t let our feast lack for roses,

or the long-lasting parsley, or the brief lilies:

we’ll all cast our decadent eyes

on Damalis, but Damalis won’t be parted

from that new lover of hers she’s

clasping, more tightly than the wandering ivy.

BkI:XXXVII Cleopatra

Now’s the time for drinking deep, and now’s the time

to beat the earth with unfettered feet, the time

to set out the gods’ sacred couches,

my friends, and prepare a Salian feast.

It would have been wrong, before today, to broach

the Caecuban wines from out the ancient bins,

while a maddened queen was still plotting

the Capitol’s and the empire’s ruin,

with her crowd of deeply-corrupted creatures

sick with turpitude, she, violent with hope

of all kinds, and intoxicated

by Fortune’s favour. But it calmed her frenzy

that scarcely a single ship escaped the flames,

and Caesar reduced the distracted thoughts, bred

by Mareotic wine, to true fear,

pursuing her close as she fled from Rome,

out to capture that deadly monster, bind her,

as the sparrow-hawk follows the gentle dove

or the swift hunter chases the hare,

over the snowy plains of Thessaly.

But she, intending to perish more nobly,

showed no sign of womanish fear at the sword,

nor did she even attempt to win

with her speedy ships to some hidden shore.

And she dared to gaze at her fallen kingdom

with a calm face, and touch the poisonous asps

with courage, so that she might drink down

their dark venom, to the depths of her heart,

growing fiercer still, and resolving to die:

scorning to be taken by hostile galleys,

and, no ordinary woman, yet queen

no longer, be led along in proud triumph.

BkI:XXXVIII The Simple Myrtle

My child, how I hate Persian ostentation,

garlands twined around lime-tree bark displease me:

forget your chasing, to find all the places

where late roses fade.

You’re eager, take care, that nothing enhances

the simple myrtle: it’s not only you that

it graces, the servant, but me as I drink,

beneath the dark vine.


Index of First Lines


Metres Used in Book I.

The number of syllables most commonly employed in each standard line of the verse is given. This may vary slightly for effect (two beats substituted for three etc.) in a given line.

Alcaic Strophe: 11 (5+6) twice, 9, 10    

used in Odes: 9,16,17,26,27,29,31,34,35,37

Sapphic and Adonic: 11(5+6) three times, 5

Odes: 2,10,12,20,22,25,30,32,38

First Asclepiadean: 12 (6+6) all lines

Ode: 1

Second Asclepiadean:8, 12 (6+6), alternating

Odes: 3,13,19,36

Third Asclepiadean: 12 (6+6) three times, 8

Odes: 6,15,24,33

Fourth Asclepiadean: 12 (6+6) twice, 7, 8

Odes: 5,14,21,23

Fifth Asclepiadean: 16 (6+4+6) all lines

Ode: 11, 18

Alcmanic Strophe: 17 (7+10) or less, 11 or less, alternating

Odes: 7,28

First Archilochian: 17 (7+10) or less, 7 alternating

Odes: None in Book I

Fourth Archilochian Strophe: 18 (7+11) or less, 11 (5+6) alternating

Ode: 4

Second Sapphic Strophe: 7, 15 (5+10) alternating

Ode: 8

Trochaic Strophe: 7,11 alternating

Odes: None in Book I

Ionic a Minore: 16 twice, 8

Odes: None in Book I