Author Archives: Jane Mason

Epigrams 9.61 and 12.50: A Living Estate and a Sterile Mansion

In my seventeenth-century literature class, I teach Ben Jonson’s poem “To Penshurst.”  He borrows from both of these (and other) epigrams in that poem. I wanted my students to read them, but I could not find translations of these two pieces that were well adapted to my needs in the course, so I made these […]

Aeneid 1.198-207: Keep yourselves safe for better times

Over the centuries since Virgil wrote these words, they must have been read by countless people who were experiencing a time of crisis. In the Spring of 2020, with people round the world confined to their homes, the words ‘sedes.. quietas’ ‘quiet homes’ take on a new meaning. For most of us it is a […]

Histories 1.30-1.32: Solon at the Court of Croesus Part 2 – Cleobis and Biton

The Cleobis and Biton passage, like the Tellos passage, encapsulates the archaic Greek values of familial piety and of death over life. This passage, however, is somewhat more revolutionary than the Tellos passage, since Tellos was by Herodotus’ admission “prosperous to us” in addition to having healthy children and grandchildren, which was at the time […]

Histories 1.30-1.32: Solon at the Court of Croesus Part 1 – the story of Tellos

This passage is incredibly iconic and embodies as much as it reinforces many conceits in the Greek and consequently the Western imagination: this is the archetypal dialogue between simplicity and wealth, wisdom and desire, the virtuous Greek and the haughty Lydian.  This passage, with its generic hagiographies of two Greeks, also very effectively codifies archaic […]

The power of fortuna: Odes 1.34, lines 1-15

I appreciate this poem because Horace here points to the influence chance, personified in Fortuna, has on the lives of everyone. He examines anxieties common to everyone, especially those living in a period of political unrest as Horace was. Also, as an English major and a writer, I appreciate Horace’s imagery in this passage; he […]

Justice and the City: Solon fr. 4

Solon, statesman-poet and archon of ancient Athens, here plays off the image of Dike found in Hesiod’s Works and Days, but in such a way as to not only reflect but also bring about more progressive political norms.  Where the penalty for unjust rulers in Hesiod’s passage was material desolation, and the reward only material […]

The Golden Age in Pastoral: Eclogues 4.15-45

Virgil’s vision of the Golden Age of peace and prosperity is notable, to me, for its deep emotional resonances as expressed in the earthy imagery of the pastoral genre.  The visuals of abundant, surfeiting βιος [life] forms a hard contrast with the oft-repeated Civil War image of blood and gore soaking Italian fields.  So this […]

Sulpicia IV: On Adultery

The fourth poem in what survives of Sulpicia’s corpus, this direct and scornful reproach of Cerinthus’ adultery is the voice of a strong-willed, emotionally autonomous Roman woman. Drawing attention to her own birth (‘Servi filia Sulpicia’ – Sulpicia, daugher of Servius), she denounces Cerinthus’ pursuit of girls who demand no respect: those wearing the common […]

de rerum natura 1.62-79: Lucretius’ devotion to Epicurus

This famous passage from the first book of Lucretius’ de rerum natura is that in which Lucretius describes the philosophical feat of Epicureanism. The eminently spatial description of this epistemic mission is, for me, what makes the passage such a striking one. In the following five books, Lucretius will construct one of the most ambitious […]

Catullus 101: A fraternal farewell

Here, Catullus provides a glimpse of tender sincerity as he bids farewell to his brother. Having travelled far and wide to be at the funeral, Catullus honours his brother with the traditional funeral rites. The poignant ‘ave atque vale’ (hail and farewell) adds a particularly resonant conclusion to a poem of such intense emotion. For […]