Horace: The Epistles
Book I: Epistle II
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2005 All Rights Reserved
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- BkIEpII:1-31 The value of reading Homer
- BkIEpII:32-54 Sapere aude: dare to be wise
- BkIEpII:55-71 Limit your desires
BkIEpII:1-31 The value of reading Homer
Lollius Maximus, while you are orating, at Rome,
Where he tells us what’s foul or fair, beneficial
Listen to why I think so, if nothing prevents you.
The tale, which tells how Greece clashed in lengthy war,
With a foreign race, because of Paris’s amour,
Records the passions of foolish kings and clans.
Antenor suggests they return the woman who caused
The war: and Paris ? Nothing he says can compel him –
To manage his affairs in safety, and live content!
And Agamemnon: one fired by love, both by anger.
However the princes rave, the Acheans suffer.
In-fighting, cunning, and crime, lust, and anger,
There’s error inside and outside the walls of Troy .
Conversely, in Ulysses, Homer shows us a fine
Example of what virtue and wisdom can do,
A tamer of Troy, who studied with insight, the ways
And the cities of men, and endured many hardships
As he struggled to bring his men and himself back home
Over wide seas, un-drowned by waves of adversity.
If Ulysses had been foolish and greedy enough
To drink these last like his comrades, he’d have become
Brutish, mindless, in thrall to a whore of a mistress,
Existing like a vile dog, or hog that loves the mire.
We are the masses, born to consume earth’s produce,
Men, preoccupied with tending their appearance,
Who thought it a fine thing to slumber till midday,
And soothe their cares to rest, to the sound of their lutes.
BkIEpII:32-54 Sapere aude: dare to be wise
Brigands rise in the depths of night to cut men’s throats:
Won’t you wake, to save yourself? Just as, you’ll have to
Run with dropsy, if you won’t start now when you’re sound,
So, if you don’t summon a book and a light before dawn,
If you don’t set your mind on honest aims and pursuits,
On waking, you’ll be tortured by envy or lust.
Why so quick to remove a speck from your eye, when
If it’s your mind, you put off the cure till next year?
Who’s started has half finished: dare to be wise: begin!
He who postpones the time for right-living resembles
The rustic who’s waiting until the river’s passed by:
Yet it glides on, and will roll on, gliding forever.
Wealth you want, and a fertile wife to bear children,
And uncultivated woods to be tamed by the plough:
But he who’s handed enough, shouldn’t long for more.
Houses and land, piles of bronze and gold, have never
Freed their owner’s sick body from fever, or his spirit
From care: if he wants to enjoy the goods he’s gathered
Their possessor must be well. House and fortune grant
As much pleasure to one who’s full of fear and craving
As painting to sore eyes, poultice to gouty joint,
Or lute to ears that ache from accumulated wax.
Unless the jar is clean whatever you pour in sours.
BkIEpII:55-71 Limit your desires
Scorn pleasures: the pleasure that’s bought with pain does harm.
The greedy always want: set fixed limits to longing.
The envious grow thin while their neighbours fatten.
Sicilian tyrants invented no worse torture
Than envy. The man who fails to control his anger,
Rushing to scourge the hated and un-avenged by force.
Will wish undone what resentful feelings prompted.
Anger’s a brief madness: rule your heart, that unless
It obeys, controls: and check it with bridle and chain.
Its master trains a tender-necked colt that will learn
To take the path its rider directs: a hunting dog
Works the woods from the first moment it barks
At a deer’s hide in the yard. While you’re still a boy,
And pure-hearted, drink in my words, trust your betters.
A jar will long retain the odour of what it was
Dipped in when new. But if you delay or rush onwards
I don’t wait for the slow, or play follow my leader!
End of Book I Epistle II