Horace Odes 3.29-65 (contributed by Llewelyn Morgan)

The second half of Horace’s very finest lyric – it combines a profound view of how to live life with the most exquisite use of poetic form. Just to give two examples: the language describing the river of life fails to obey the stanza structure the way floodwaters fail to respect their ordinary channels, and I am deeply moved by the image of  virtue as a warm cloak against the chill of circumstance “mea/ uirtute me inuoluo”.

Llewelyn Morgan

 

prudens futuri temporis exitum

caliginosa nocte premit deus                            30

ridetque, si mortalis ultra

fas trepidat. quod adest memento

 

componere aequus; cetera fluminis

ritu feruntur, nunc medio aequore

cum pace delabentis Etruscum                  35

in mare, nunc lapides adesos

 

stirpisque raptas et pecus et domos

uoluentis una, non sine montium

clamore uicinaeque siluae,

cum fera diluuies quietos                              40

 

inritat amnis. ille potens sui

laetusque deget cui licet in diem

dixisse: ‘uixi’: cras uel atra

nube polum Pater occupato

 

uel sole puro; non tamen inritum                  45

quodcumque retro est efficiet neque

diffinget infectumque reddet

quod fugiens semel hora uexit.

 

Fortuna saeuo laeta negotio et

ludum insolentem ludere pertinax               50

transmutat incertos honores,

nunc mihi, nunc alii benigna.

 

laudo manentem; si celeris quatit

pinnas, resigno quae dedit et mea

uirtute me inuoluo probamque                 55

pauperiem sine dote quaero.

 

non est meum, si mugiat Africis

malus procellis, ad miseras preces

decurrere et uotis pacisci,

ne Cypriae Tyriaeque merces                      60

 

addant auaro diuitias mari;

tunc me biremis praesidio scaphae

tutum per Aegaeos tumultus

aura feret geminusque Pollux.

 

 

God in his wisdom buries the outcome

of future time in impenetrable  night,

     and laughs if mortals worry more

     than they should. Be sure to deal equitably

 

with what is at hand. As for the rest,

it flows by like a river, now gliding calmly

     in mid-channel down to the Tuscan sea,

     now tumbling eroded rocks

 

and uprooted trees and cattle and homes

all together, with a din from the mountains

     and forest beside it

     as the wild deluge stirs up

 

its tranquil waters. That man will be happy

and  in control of his life who every day

     can say “I have lived.” Tomorrow let Father Jupiter

     fill the sky with black cloud

 

or with clear sunlight, but he will not

render invalid what is behind us, nor

     alter or make undone

     what once the racing hour has brought.

 

Fortune is happy in her cruel work and

plays her proud game unrelentingly,

     shifting her fickle affections,

     one moment kind to me, the next to another.

 

I praise her while she’s with me. If she shakes out

her swift wings, I resign what she gave, wrap   

     myself in my virtue, and court honest

     Poverty, who brings no dowry.

 

It is not my way, if the mast creaks

in African gales, to resort to pitiful

     pleading and bargaining with prayers

     so my Cypriot and Tyrian cargo

 

not add its wealth to the greedy sea;

When that time comes, the breeze and Castor and Pollux

     will carry me safe in the fortress of my two-oared dinghy

     through the Aegaean storms.

 

 


 

Chosen by Llewelyn Morgan, Brasenose College, Oxford. Llewelyn’s recommended translation is by David West in Oxford World’s Classics.

More about Llewelyn Morgan.

The above text and translation is provided by the Perseus Digital Library.

Read more of this text at the Perseus site.

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