Friday, May 7, 2010

Horace. Odes II., 15

I posted this earlier in the week, but it got lost in the oil spills and the party. But Horace deserves a quiet minute to be appreciated:

Building Rage

Soon princely palaces will make
Ploughed acres rare, and ponds will spread
As wide as is the Lucrine lake,
And lindens that no vine has wed

Will rout the elms; while gardens rich
In violet and myrtle pour
A world of scent o'er olives which
Gave elder owners goodly store;

And thickly-matted laurel boughs
Rout out the sun. Ah, other ways
Had Cato wrought, and Romulus,
In those untidy, good old days!

With them the state was rich, the man
Was poor--he had no colonnade
Set north and stretching many a span
To pamper him with air and shade.

Their laws allowed no man to scorn
The wayside turf for building stone
The state provided to adorn
The temples and the towns alone.

Trans. William Sinclair Marris

Most people believe this is about the spread of an over-luxuriant state--but in a way it is also about the loss of wild nature, and unsustainable development. So more than one value is expressed.

The Lucrine Lake was a popular resort, also mentioned in Juvenal and other Roman poets. Violet and myrtle make perfume/are ornamental, while an olive is a harvest crop.
My favorite image is the mat of laurels (awards, and triumph) blocking out the sun: so busy embellishing themselves, no light can get through!  Cato and Romulus were founding fathers of Rome.

We were simpler and more vigorous back then, Horace seems to say. But almost any phrase here is worth a philosophical discussion about one issue or another. The title is different for different translations. I like this one for a. the trend toward overbuilding and b. the anger of the people.

Another man's reading and his own, personalized translation of II: 15 at Horace, et al blog--and it does look intriguing for further browsing, too.

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