This Latin Ode to the London Olympics is written in Sapphics in imitation of Horace’s Carmen Saeculare. Horace’s original was written in honour of the Secular Games (Ludi Saeculares) a grand spectacle which was held in Rome in 17 BC, and was therefore the perfect model for Latin verses on the modern Olympics. These verses do not pun on athletes’ names as with Armand D’Angour’s Greek Pindarics, but do contain an allusion to the modern Olympic motto of “Citius, Altius, Fortius” (Faster, higher, stronger). The orginal was composed to be sung by a choir of 27 youths and 27 virgins. Whilst it did not receive this honour, it was reported by the London Evening Standard and published by Boris Johnson on the Olympics website.
Orbis et caeli venerande Rector,
Numen aeternum recubans in alto,
Fata quod Romae Latiumque colles
Linque sublimes Capitolii arces
Atque Romanos celebres triumphos;
Non iuvant omnis Tiberina ripa
Ecce iam iuxta Tamesem resurgunt
Romulae turres aliusque Circus
Maximus, quo grex populum relictis
Seres et firmi Garamantes adsunt,
India cedunt vidua, Sabaei
Neglegunt deserta loca et relinquunt
Rite nos omnes alacres venimus
Carmen ut dicamus acutum Olympo
qui dedit Romae superare tempus
Non potestatem petimus Quirini,
Iamdiu sceptris positis paternis.
Mundus Augustum trepidus recusat
Pax super terras miseras benigna
Proferet regnum placidum colendis
Dulcibus Ludis, recreans dolentes
Nunc ubi naves nitidi beatae
Mercibus Gangis stationem adibant,
Faustitas felix ibi rursus ora
Hercule Oetaeo citius propinquant
Incluti heroes properanti ad umbras;
Altius turba saliunt Gigantum,
Sicut Alcides, celebratus aris,
Belua Caco rabida necata,
Praebuit luctans Italis subactis
Roborent athletae animum iuventae
laudi ut aspiret meritae, feratque
Pace laetorum cupidis reperta
Most holy guardian of earth and sky,
Eternal power, resting on the deep,
Who set abiding kindly fates to lie
Upon the Roman hills and Tiber’s sweep,
Abandon now the Capitol, and leave
Proud Caesar’s triumphs swaggering in the street:
Not always is it fitting to believe
The shrines of Mars and banks of Tiber sweet.
For near young Father Thames, to rival Rome,
New Circuses and Coliseums rise,
To where the distant nations, leaving home,
Rush eagerly with wondrous surmise.
Beijing falls empty; all the US coast
From Boston down to Florida lies still;
Kolkata and Mumbai have lost their host;
No more they dance the tango in Brazil.
For all have come to London, here to sing
A paean to high Olympus, telling how
It gave to Rome the power from time to ring
Its name by girding laurels on its brow.
But by our songs we do not seek the power
Of ancient Rome, nor hope again to hold
Our once imperial sway: this is no hour
For tsars to march the world into their fold.
May rather kindly peace extend her bounds
Across the wretched earth, that tranquil all
May joy within these Games, whatever hounds
Of want or misery on them may fall.
For where the wealth of Ganges once came safe
To port, and ships from Sindh and Arab lands
Breathed opulence, prosperity, no wraith
But real, will bless Mile End with open hands.
For faster than when Hercules rushed down
To hell, the crowds of heroes hither run,
Or higher leap than giants for Heaven’s crown,
And wrestle stronger than Aegeus’ son.
And just as famous Hercules laid low
The furious monster Cacus in his den,
And thus to Italy oppressed with woe
By striving toil brought radiant joy again,
May all the athletes here stir up the heart
Of youth to seek for worthy praise, and bear,
Once peace reigns on the earth by sporting art,
A blazing torch, dispelling all despair.
Written and translated by Bijan Omrani.