Saturday, March 5, 2022

Love Can Not Save You From Death: Horace, Carm IV.7

In this poem, Horace uses two examples from mythology (Diana's asexual love for Hippolytus and Theseus' love for Pirithous) to convince the addressee, Torquatus, to contemplate his own mortality.

Diffugere nives, redeunt iam gramina campis

     arboribusque comae;

mutat terra vices et decrescentia ripas

     flumina praetereunt;

Gratia cum Nymphis geminisque sororibus audet               5

     ducere nuda choros.

Inmortalia ne speres, monet annus et almum

     quae rapit hora diem.

Frigora mitescunt Zephyris, ver proterit aestas,

     interitura simul               10

pomifer autumnus fruges effuderit, et mox

     bruma recurrit iners.

Damna tamen celeres reparant caelestia lunae:

     nos ubi decidimus

quo pater Aeneas, quo dives Tullus et Ancus,               15

     pulvis et umbra sumus.

Quis scit an adiciant hodiernae crastina summae

     tempora di superi?

Cuncta manus avidas fugient heredis, amico

     quae dederis animo.               20

Cum semel occideris et de te splendida Minos

     fecerit arbitria,

non, Torquate, genus, non te facundia, non te

     restituet pietas;

infernis neque enim tenebris Diana pudicum               25

     liberat Hippolytum,

nec Lethaea valet Theseus abrumpere caro

     vincula Pirithoo.


--Horace, Carm. IV.7

The snow has melted, the grass has returned to the fields

And leaves have returned to the trees

The earth has changed seasons again

And the ebbing rivers are bubbling along the riverbanks.

One of the Graces dares to lead the dance naked

And her twin sisters and fellow nymphs join her.

Stop hoping for never-ending things;

The [changing] year and the hour that snatches away each life-giving day shows you otherwise.

The cold softens the west-wind,

The summer wears down the spring,

Which in turn will soon pass away.

Bountiful autumn scatters its fruits

 And then sterile winter comes back.

The swift [cycles of the] moons restore each season’s damage:

 Yet when we drop down [to death]

To where father Aeneas dwells,

Where wealthy Tullus* and Ancus* dwell,

We are only dust and shadow.

Who knows whether the immortal gods will add a tomorrow

To the end of today?

Every hour that you spend with a cheerful outlook

Will not fall into the greedy hands of your heirs.

Torquatus, at some point you will die, and

Minos will make a glorious judgment about your soul**

Your lineage will not save you.

Your eloquence will not save you.

Your character will not save you.

Diana could not save the chaste Hippolytus

From the Underworld,

Nor could Theseus break free Pirithous from

His Stygian chains.

*Tullus Hostilius and Ancus Marcius were legendary kings of early Rome

** According to Greco-Roman mythology, Minos judges the souls of the dead.




Name:  Quintus Horatius Flaccus

Date:  65 BCE – 8 BCE

Works:  Odes






 The Latin poet Horace is known for his famous line, “Carpe Diem.” He was an Italian-born poet who lived during the rise and reign of Rome’s first emperor, Augustus. Although his life began with civil unrest and uncertainty (his father was enslaved and later freed during the civil wars of the 1st century BCE), Horace became friends with the influential entrepreneur Maecenas and earned the position in Augustus’ literary circle.  His poetry provides valuable insight into the so-called “Golden Age” of Augustan literature.  


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