Horace: The Odes

Book II

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

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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).


BkII:I To Pollio, Writing His History of the Civil Wars

You’re handling the Civil Wars, since Metellus

was Consul, the causes, errors, and stages,

Fortune’s game, and the heavy friendships

of princes, and the un-expiated

stain of blood over various weapons,

a task that’s filled with dangerous pitfalls,

so that you’re walking over embers

hidden under the treacherous ashes.

Don’t let the Muse of dark actions be long away

from the theatre: soon, when you’ve finished writing

public events, reveal your great gifts

again in Athenian tragedy,

you famous defendant of troubled clients,

Pollio , support of the Senate’s councils,

whom the laurel gave lasting glory

in the form of your Dalmatian triumph.

Already you’re striking our ears with the sounds,

the menace of blaring horns, and the trumpets,

already the glitter of weapons

terrifies horses, and riders’ faces.

Now I seem to hear magnificent leaders,

heads darkened, but not with inglorious dust,

and all the lands of earth are subdued,

but not implacable Cato’s spirit.

Juno, and those gods friendly to Africa,

who, powerless to avenge the land, withdrew,

make funeral offerings to Jugurtha,

of the grandchildren of his conquerors.

What fields are not enriched with the blood of Rome,

to bear witness with their graves to this impious

struggle of ours, and the sound, even heard

by the Persians, of Italy’s ruin?

What river or pool is ignorant of these

wretched wars? What sea has Roman slaughter failed

to discolour, and show me the shores

that are, as yet, still unstained by our blood.

But Muse, lest you dare to leave happy themes,

and take up Simonides’ dirges again,

search out a lighter plectrum’s measures,

with me, in some deep cavern of Venus.

BkII:II Money

Crispus , silver concealed in the greedy earth

has no colour, and you are an enemy

to all such metal unless, indeed, it gleams

from sensible use.

Proculeius will be famous in distant

ages for his generous feelings towards

his brothers: enduring fame will carry him

on its tireless wings.

You may rule a wider kingdom by taming

a greedy spirit, than by joining Spain

to far-off Libya, while Carthaginians

on both sides, serve one.

A fatal dropsy grows worse with indulgence,

the patient can’t rid himself of thirst unless

his veins are free of illness, and his pale flesh

of watery languor.

Though Phraates is back on the Armenian

throne, Virtue, differing from the rabble, excludes

him from the blessed, and instructs the people

not to misuse words,

instead conferring power, and security

of rule, and lasting laurels, on him alone

who can pass by enormous piles of treasure

without looking back.

BkII:III One Ending

When things are troublesome, always remember,

keep an even mind, and in prosperity

be careful of too much happiness:

since my Dellius, you’re destined to die,

whether you live a life that’s always sad,

or reclining, privately, on distant lawns,

in one long holiday, take delight

in drinking your vintage Falernian.

Why do tall pines, and white poplars, love to merge

their branches in the hospitable shadows?

Why do the rushing waters labour

to hurry along down the winding rivers?

Tell them to bring us the wine, and the perfume, 

and all-too-brief petals of lovely roses,

while the world, and the years, and the dark

threads of the three fatal sisters allow.

You’ll leave behind all those meadows you purchased,

your house, your estate, yellow Tiber washes,

you’ll leave them behind, your heir will own

those towering riches you’ve piled so high.

Whether you’re rich, of old Inachus’s line,

or live beneath the sky, a pauper, blessed with

humble birth, it makes no difference:

you’ll be pitiless Orcus’s victim.

We’re all being driven to a single end,

all our lots are tossed in the urn, and, sooner

or later, they’ll emerge, and seat us

in Charon’s boat for eternal exile.

BkII:IV Loving A Servant Girl

Phocian Xanthis, don’t be ashamed of love

for your serving-girl. Once before, Briseis

the Trojan slave with her snow-white skin stirred

angry Achilles:

and captive Tecmessa’s loveliness troubled

her master Ajax, the son of Telamon:

and Agamemnon, in his mid-triumph, burned

for a stolen girl,

while the barbarian armies, defeated

in Greek victory, and the loss of Hector,

handed Troy to the weary Thessalians,

an easier prey.

You don’t know your blond Phyllis hasn’t parents

who are wealthy, and might grace their son-in-law.

Surely she’s royally born, and grieves at her

cruel household gods.

Believe that the girl you love’s not one who comes

from the wicked masses, that one so faithful

so averse to gain, couldn’t be the child of

a shameful mother.

I’m unbiased in praising her arms and face,

and shapely ankles: reject all suspicion

of one whose swiftly vanishing life has known

its fortieth year.

BkII:V Be Patient

She’s not ready to bear a yoke on her bowed

neck yet, she’s not yet equal to the duty

of coupling, or bearing the heavy

weight of a charging bull in the mating act.

The thoughts of your heifer are on green pastures,

on easing her burning heat in the river,

and sporting with the eager calves

in the depths of moist willow plantations.

Forget this passion of yours for the unripe

grape: autumn, the season of many-colours,

will soon be dyeing bluish clusters

a darker purple, on the vine, for you.

Soon she’ll pursue you, since fierce time rushes on

and will add to her the years it takes from you,

soon Lalage herself will be eager

to search you out as a husband, Lalage,

beloved as shy Pholoë was not, nor your

Chloris , with shoulders gleaming white, like a clear

moon shining over a midnight sea,

nor Cnidian Gyges, that lovely boy,

whom you could insert in a choir of girls,

and the wisest of strangers would fail to tell

the difference, with him hidden behind

his flowing hair, and ambiguous looks.

BkII:VI Tibur and Tarentum

Septimus , you, who are prepared to visit

Cadiz with me, and its tribes (they’re not used

to bearing our yoke) and barbarous Syrtes,

by the Moors’ fierce Sea,

I’d rather Tibur, founded by men of Greece,

were my home when I’m old, let it be my goal,

when I’m tired of the seas, and the roads, and all

this endless fighting.

But if the cruel Fates deny me that place,

I’ll head for the river Galaesus, sweet

with its precious sheep, on Spartan fields, once ruled

by King Phalanthus.

That corner of earth is the brightest to me,

where the honey gives nothing away to that

of Hymettus, and its olives compete with

green Venafrum:

where Jupiter grants a lengthy spring, and mild

winters, and Aulon’s hill-slopes, dear to fertile

Bacchus, are filled with least envy for those rich

grapes of Falernum.

That place, and its lovely heights, call out to me,

to you: and there’ll you’ll scatter your debt of sad

tears, over the still-glowing ashes of this,

the poet, your friend.

BkII:VII A Friend Home From the Wars

O Pompey, often led, with me, by Brutus,

the head of our army, into great danger,

who’s sent you back, as a citizen,

to your country’s gods and Italy’s sky,

Pompey, the very dearest of my comrades,

with whom I’ve often drawn out the lingering

day in wine, my hair wreathed, and glistening

with perfumed balsam, of Syrian nard?

I was there at Philippi, with you, in that

headlong flight, sadly leaving my shield behind,

when shattered Virtue, and what threatened

from an ignoble purpose, fell to earth.

While in my fear Mercury dragged me, swiftly,

through the hostile ranks in a thickening cloud:

the wave was drawing you back to war,

carried once more by the troubled waters.

So grant Jupiter the feast he’s owed, and stretch

your limbs, wearied by long campaigning, under

my laurel boughs, and don’t spare the jars

that were destined to be opened by you.

Fill the smooth cups with Massic oblivion,

pour out the perfume from generous dishes,

Who’ll hurry to weave the wreathes for us

of dew-wet parsley or pliant myrtle?

Who’ll throw high Venus at dice and so become

the master of drink? I’ll rage as insanely

as any Thracian: It’s sweet to me

to revel when a friend is home again.

BkII:VIII Faithless Barine

If any punishment ever visited

you, Barine, for all your perjuries, if you

were ever harmed at all by a darkened tooth,

a spoilt fingernail,

I’d trust you. But no sooner have you bound your

faithless soul by promises, than you appear

much lovelier, and shine out, as everyone’s

dearest young thing.

It helps you to swear by your mother’s buried

ashes, by all night’s silent constellations,

by the heavens, and the gods, who are free from

the icy chill of death.

Venus herself smiles at it all, yes she does:

the artless Nymphs, smile too, and cruel Cupid,

who’s always sharpening his burning arrows

on a blood-stained stone.

Add that all our youths are being groomed for you,

groomed as fresh slaves, while none of your old lovers

leave the house of their impious mistress, as

they often threatened.

All the mothers fear you, because of their sons,

and the thrifty old fathers, and wretched brides,

who once were virgins, in case your radiance

makes husbands linger.

BkII:IX Stop Weeping

The rain doesn’t fall from the clouds forever

on the sodden fields, and capricious storm-winds

don’t always trouble the Caspian

waters, nor does the solid ice linger,

Valgius , dear friend of mine, through all twelve months,

and the oak woods of Garganus aren’t always

trembling, because of the northern gales,

or the ash trees stripped of their foliage:

But you’re always pursuing in tearful ways

the loss of your Mystes, and your endearments

don’t ebb with the evening star’s rising

or when it sinks before the swift sunrise.

Yet Nestor, who lived for three generations,

didn’t mourn his beloved Antilochus,

every moment, nor were the youthful

Troilus’s Trojan parents and sisters,

always weeping. Stop your unmanly grieving

now, and let’s sing about Augustus Caesar’s

new trophies instead, the ice-bound Mount

Niphates , and the Persian waters,

with its flow reduced, now the Medes are added

to the subject nations, and then the Thracians,

riding over their meagre landscape,

within the bounds that we’ve now set for them.

BkII:X The Golden Mean

You’ll live more virtuously, my Murena,

by not setting out to sea, while you’re in dread

of the storm, or hugging fatal shores

too closely, either.

Whoever takes delight in the golden mean,

safely avoids the squalor of a shabby house,

and, soberly, avoids the regal palace

that incites envy.

The tall pine’s more often shaken by the wind,

and it’s a high tower that falls with a louder

crash, while the mountainous summits are places

where lightning strikes.

The heart that is well prepared for any fate

hopes in adversity, fears prosperity.

Though Jupiter brings us all the unlovely

winters: he also

takes them away again. If there’s trouble now

it won’t always be so: sometimes Apollo

rouses the sleeping Muse with his lyre, when he’s

not flexing his bow.

Appear brave and resolute in difficult

times: and yet be wise and take in all your sails

when they’re swollen by too powerful

a following wind.

BkII:XI Don’t Ask

Don’t ask what the warlike Spaniards are plotting,

or those Scythians, Quinctius Hirpinus,

the intervening Adriatic

keeps off, don’t be anxious about the needs

of life: it asks little: sweet youth and beauty

are vanishing behind us, and dry old age

is driving away all our playful

affections, and all our untroubled sleep.

And the glory of spring flowers won’t last forever,

and the blushing moon won’t always shine, with that

selfsame face: why weary your little

mind with eternal deliberations?

Why not drink while we can, lying, thoughtlessly,

under this towering pine, or this plane-tree,

our greying hair scented with roses,

and perfumed with nard from Assyria?

Bacchus dispels all those cares that feed on us.

Where’s the boy now, who’ll swiftly dilute for us

these cups of fiery Falernian,

with clear water drawn from the passing stream?

Who’ll lure Lyde, that fickle jade, from the house?

Go, tell her to hurry, with her ivory lyre,

her hair done in an elegant knot,

tied up, as if she were a Spartan girl.

BkII:XII Terentia’s Singing

You’d not wish the theme of Numantia’s fierce wars

matched to the lyre’s soft tones, nor cruel Hannibal,

nor the Sicilian Sea turned to dark crimson

by the Carthaginians’ blood,

nor the savage Lapiths, and drunken Hylaeus

filled with excess wine, nor Hercules with his hand

taming the sons of earth, at the danger of which

ancient Saturn’s glittering house

was shaken: you’d be better yourself, Maecenas,

at writing prose histories of Caesar’s battles,

and telling us about all those menacing kings,

now led by the neck through the streets.

The Muse wishes me to speak of the sweet singing

of your lady Terentia, and speak of her bright

flashing eyes, and speak of that heart of hers, that is

so faithful in mutual love:

she to whom it’s not unbecoming to adopt

the lead among the dancers, or compete in wit,

or, that holy day that honours Diana, give

her arm in play to shining girls.

Would you exchange now, one hair of Terentia’s

for what rich Achaemenes owned, Mygdonian

wealth of fertile Phrygia, or

the Arabians’ well-stocked homes,

while she bends her neck for those passionate kisses,

or in gentle cruelty refuses to yield them,

more than he who asks likes having them taken: then

at times surprises by taking?

BkII:XIII Nearly, Tree

Tree, whoever planted you first it was done

on an evil day, and, with sacrilegious

hands, he raised you for utter ruin

of posterity, and this region’s shame.

He’ll have broken his father’s neck, I guess:

he’ll have sprinkled the blood of a guest around,

in an inner room, in deepest night:

he’ll have dabbled with Colchian poisons,

and whatever, wherever, evil’s conceived,

that man who one planted you there in my field,

you, sad trunk, who were destined to fall

on the head of your innocent master.

Men are never quite careful enough about

what they should avoid: the Carthaginian

sailor’s afraid of the Bosphorus,

but not the hidden dangers, beyond, elsewhere:

Soldiers fear the Persians’ arrows and rapid

flight, the Persians fear Italian power, and chains:

but they don’t expect the forces of death,

that have snatched away the races of men.

How close I was, now, to seeing the kingdom

of dark Proserpine, and Aeacus judging,

and the seats set aside for the good,

and Sappho still complaining about

the local girls, on her Aeolian lyre,

and you, Alcaeus, with a golden plectrum,

sounding more fully the sailor’s woe,

the woe of harsh exile, the woe of war.

The spirits wonder at both of them, singing,

they’re worth a reverent silence, but the crowd,

packed shoulder to shoulder, drinks deeper

of tales of warfare and banished tyrants.

No wonder that, lulled by the songs, the monster

with a hundred heads lowers his jet-black ears,

and the snakes that wriggle in the hair

of the Furies take time out for a rest.

Even Prometheus, even Tantalus,

are seduced in their torments by the sweet sound:

Orion doesn’t even bother

to chase the lions, or wary lynxes.

BkII:XIV Eheu Fugaces

Oh how the years fly, Postumus, Postumus,

they’re slipping away, virtue brings no respite

from the wrinkles that furrow our brow,

impending old age, Death the invincible:

not even, my friend, if with three hundred bulls

every day, you appease pitiless Pluto,

jailor of three-bodied Geryon,

who imprisons Tityos by the sad

stream, that every one of us must sail over,

whoever we are that enjoy earth’s riches,

whether we’re wealthy, or whether we are

the most destitute of humble farmers.

In vain we’ll escape from bloodiest warfare,

from the breakers’ roar in the Adriatic,

in vain, on the autumn seas, we’ll fear

the southerly that shatters our bodies:

We’re destined to gaze at Cocytus, winding,

dark languid river: the infamous daughters

of Danaus: and at Sisyphus,

son of Aeolus, condemned to long toil.

We’re destined to leave earth, home, our loving wife,

nor will a single tree, that you planted here,

follow you, it’s briefly-known master,

except for the much-detested cypress.

A worthier heir will drink your Caecuban,

that cellar a hundred keys are protecting,

and stain the street with a vintage wine,

finer than those at the Pontiff’s table.

BkII:XV Excess

Not long now and our princely buildings will leave

few acres under the plough, ornamental

waters appearing everywhere, spread

wider than the Lucrine Lake is, plane trees,

without vines, will drive out the elms: and violet

beds, and myrtles, and all the wealth of perfumes

will scatter their scent through olive groves

that gave their crops for a former owner.

Then thick laurel branches will shut out the sun’s

raging. It wasn’t the case under Romulus,

or long-haired Cato, it wasn’t the rule,

that our ancient predecessors ordained.

Private property was modest in their day,

the common lands vast: no private citizen

had a portico, measuring tens

of feet, laid out facing the shady north,

nor did the laws allow ordinary turf

to be scorned for altars, ordering cities

and the gods’ temples, to be adorned,

at public expense, with rarest marbles.

BkII:XVI Contentment

It’s peace the sailor asks of the gods, when he’s

caught out on the open Aegean, when dark clouds

have hidden the moon, and the constellations

shine uncertainly:

It’s peace for Thrace, so furious in battle,

peace for the Parthians, adorned with quivers,

and, Grosphus, it can’t be purchased with jewels,

or purple or gold.

No treasure, no consular attendants,

can remove the miserable mind’s disorders,

and all of the cares that go flying around

our panelled ceilings.

He lives well on little, whose meagre table

gleams with his father’s salt-cellar, whose soft sleep

isn’t driven away by anxiety,

or by sordid greed

Why do we struggle so hard in our brief lives

for possessions? Why do we exchange our land

for a burning foreign soil? What exile flees

from himself as well?

Corrupting care climbs aboard the bronze-clad ship,

and never falls behind the troops of horses,

swifter than deer, swifter than easterly winds

that drive on the clouds.

Let the spirit be happy today, and hate

the worry of what’s beyond, let bitterness

be tempered by a gentle smile. Nothing is

altogether blessed.

Bright Achilles was snatched away by swift death,

Tithonus was wasted by lingering old age:

perhaps the passing hour will offer to me

what it denies you.

A hundred herds of Sicilian cattle

low around you, mares fit for the chariot

bring you their neighing, you’re dressed in wool:

African purple

has stained it twice: truthful Fates, ‘the Sparing Ones’,

the Parcae, gave me a little estate, and

the purified breath of Greek song, and my scorn

for the spiteful crowd.

BkII:XVII We’ll Go Together

Why do you stifle me with your complaining?

It’s neither the gods’ idea nor mine to die

before you, Maecenas, you’re the great

glory, and pillar of my existence.

Ah, if some premature blow snatches away

half of my spirit, why should the rest remain,

no longer as loved, nor surviving

entire? That day shall lead us to ruin

together. I’m not making some treacherous

promise: whenever you lead the way, let’s go,

let’s go, prepared as friends to set out,

you and I, to try the final journey.

No Chimaera’s fiery breath will ever tear

me from you, or if he should rise against me

hundred handed Gyas: that’s the will

of all-powerful Justice and the Fates.

Whether Libra or fearful Scorpio shone

more powerfully on me at my natal hour,

or Capricorn, which is the ruler

of the waters that flow round Italy,

our stars were mutually aspected in their

marvellous way. Jupiter’s protection shone,

brighter for you than baleful Saturn,

and rescued you, and held back the rapid

wings of Fate, that day when the people crowding

the theatre, three times broke into wild applause:

I’d have received the trunk of a tree

on my head, if Faunus, the guardian

of Mercurial poets, hadn’t warded off

the blow with his hand. So remember to make

due offering: you build a votive shrine:

I’ll come and sacrifice a humble lamb.

BkII:XVIII Vain Riches

There’s no ivory, there’s no

gilded panelling, gleaming here in my house,

no beams of Hymettian

marble rest on pillars quarried in deepest

Africa, I’ve not, as heir

to Attalus, become unwitting owner

of some palace, no noble

ladies trail robes of Spartan purple for me.

But I’ve honour, and a vein

of kindly wit, and though I’m poor the rich man

seeks me out: I don’t demand

anything more of the gods, or my powerful

friend, I’m contented enough

blessed with my one and only Sabine Farm.

Day treads on the heels of day,

and new moons still continue to wane away.

Yet you contract on the edge

of the grave itself for cut marble, forget

the tomb and raise a palace,

pushing hard to extend the shore of Baiae’s

roaring seas, not rich enough

in mainland coast. What’s the point of tearing down

every neighbouring boundary

edging your fields, leaping over, in your greed,

the limits of your tenants? Both the husband

and wife, and their miserable

children, are driven out, and they’re left clutching

their household gods to their breast.

Yet there’s no royal courtyard

that more surely waits for a wealthy owner,

than greedy Orcus’ fateful

limits. Why stretch for more? Earth’s equally open

to the poorest of men and

the sons of kings: and Orcus’s ferryman

couldn’t be seduced by gold

to row back and return crafty Prometheus.

Proud Tantalus, and Pelops

his son, he holds fast, and whether he’s summoned,

or whether he’s not, he lends

an ear, and frees the poor man, his labours done.

BkII:XIX To Bacchus

I saw Bacchus on distant cliffs - believe me,

O posterity - he was teaching songs there,

and the Nymphs were learning them, and all

the goat-footed Satyrs with pointed ears.

Evoe ! My mind fills with fresh fear, my heart

filled with Bacchus, is troubled, and violently

rejoices. Evoe! Spare me, Liber,

dreaded for your mighty thyrsus, spare me.

It’s right to sing of the wilful Bacchantes,

the fountain of wine, and the rivers of milk,

to sing of the honey that’s welling,

and sliding down from the hollow tree-trunks:

It’s right to sing of your bride turned goddess, your

Ariadne, crowned among stars: the palace

of Pentheus, shattered in ruins,

and the ending of Thracian Lycurgus.

You direct the streams, and the barbarous sea,

and on distant summits, you drunkenly tie

the hair of the Bistonian women,

with harmless knots made of venomous snakes.

When the impious army of Giants tried

to climb through the sky to Jupiter’s kingdom,

you hurled back Rhoetus, with the claws

and teeth of the terrifying lion.

Though you’re said to be more suited to dancing,

laughter, and games, and not equipped to suffer

the fighting, nevertheless you shared

the thick of battle as well as the peace.

Cerberus saw you, unharmed, and adorned

with your golden horn, and, stroking you gently,

with his tail, as you departed, licked

your ankles and feet with his triple tongue.

BkII:XX Poetic Immortality

A poet of dual form, I won’t be carried

through the flowing air on weak or mundane wings,

nor will I linger down here on earth,

for any length of time: beyond envy,

I’ll leave the cities behind. It’s not I, born

of poor parents, it’s not I, who hear your voice,

beloved Maecenas, I who’ll die,

or be encircled by Stygian waters.

Even now the rough skin is settling around

my ankles, and now above them I’ve become

a snow-white swan, and soft feathers are

emerging over my arms and shoulders.

Soon, a melodious bird, and more famous

than Icarus, Daedalus’ son, I’ll visit

Bosphorus’ loud shores, Gaetulian

Syrtes, and the Hyperborean plains.

Colchis will know me, so will the Scythians,

who pretend to show no fear of Italian

troops, and the Geloni: Spain will learn

from me, the expert, and those who drink Rhone.

No dirges at my insubstantial funeral,

no elegies, and no unseemly grieving:

suppress all the clamour, not for me

the superfluous honour of a tomb.

Index of First Lines

Metres Used in Book II.

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: 1,3,5,7,9,11,13,14,15,17,19, 20

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

Odes: 2,4,6,8,10,16

First Asclepiadean : 12 (6+6) all lines

Odes: None in Book II

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

Odes: None in Book II

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

Ode: 12

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

Odes: None in Book II

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

Odes: None in Book II

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

Odes: None in Book II

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

Odes: None in Book II

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

Odes: None in Book II

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

Odes: None in Book II

Trochaic Strophe : 7,11 alternating

Ode: 18

Ionic a Minore : 16 twice, 8

Odes: None in Book II