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Horatian Ode

Posted by ted danforth on March 29, 2009, 5:48 pm

Horatian Ode: La Manzanilla

(Horace, Odes II.xviii)

Neither gold nor ivory
gleams in my house
Nor are Hymettian beams
borne on columns

Brought from farthest Africa.
Nor have I, as Attalus’ heir,
Inherited a palace full of
Ladies trailing purple gowns.

But in me is faithfulness and
A gentle genius, and though
A poor man, the rich and powerful
Are yet proud to call me friend.

Nor do I ask men or gods for more
Than my blessèd Sabine farm.
Day treads upon day,
New moons rush to wane.

Yet you order marble to be cut
While teetering on the edge of the grave
And, unmindful of the tomb,
Build ostentatious houses

Overlooking the sea that thunders
On Baiae’s shore, not rich enough already.
What matter that you pull up
Neighbors’ boundary stakes,

Seizing tenant farmers’ land
In your greed? Household gods
Clutched in arm, man and wife
Are driven forth with ragged kids.

Yet nothing is more certain
Than that greedy Orcus’s hall
Is the rich man’s destined home.
Why strive for more? The earth

Waits for princes’ sons and paupers
alike, nor could Charon
Be bribed with gold to ferry back
Even fiery Prometheus.

Tantalus and Tantalus’ son
He binds, and the poor laborer,
his toils done, he hears—
Whether called or not.

Translated by Ted Danforth.

Hymettus is a mountain near Athens famous for its marble. Attalus was the King of Pergamum who left his kingdom to the people of Rome in his will. Maecenas gave Horace his Sabine farm. Baiae was a Roman resort on the Bay of Naples, preferred by the super-rich. Orcus is the Lord of Underworld. Charon ferried the dead across the River Styx. Tantalus was tantalized by fruit always out of his reach. Horace’s Odes (Books I-III) were published in 23 BC.


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