Epode I: Mrs L. (Ibis Liburnis) [In This Light Ship}
‘In the summer of 31 BC Octavian, (in line 3 called Caesar), facing the 500 ships of Anthony and Cleopatra off the north-west coast of Greece, has summoned all Romans of consequence to Brindisi to support him. Maecenas, Horace’s patron, has not included the poet in his entourage.’(1)
Horace is praising Maecenas, speculating about what life would be like if Maecenas were to die and at the same time chiding him gently for not taking him with him.
Horace recognises that Maecenas is an important person, that he has the ear of Octavian. He is pointing out that he (Horace) will be more fearful having been left, than if he had been taken into battle.
In my poem, Mrs. L replaces the figure of Maecenas. She is acknowledged as a community leader, someone more highly connected, someone who organises events and trips for the community – people look up to Mrs. L. She is a shop owner, probably richer than most of the community. Stanza 1 recognises Mrs. L’s higher status. A chara (bus) trip has been organised by Mrs. L. without the writer and family being included. In stanza 4 the writer says, ‘Truth is, we’re better being taken for a ride,/ because if we stay at home we’ll worry/ that tongues will wag and jibe/ or gossip about who we think we are./ They can’t whisper if we’re with them!’/ There is of course a double play on the phrase, ‘being taken for a ride.’
In stanza 2 the writer asks Mrs. L. ‘What would we do without you? We’d not leave the street./ You take over, and you make us forget/ the cheaper cuts of meat; the rent we haven’t paid/…. then we go along with your suggestions/ to learn about the world.
In stanza 5 Mrs. L. is told we would ‘gladly join you on the coach’ and that she needn’t go to any extra trouble to accommodate us, ‘Don’t load any extra brown ale just for us’.
As in the original Epode, the final stanza acknowledges just how much has been given by the patron figure and assurances are given that this won’t be wasted. ’Your ingenuity has given us enough-/We won’t take the experience/ and bury it at the back of our minds/ or treat it like just another day.’
1. West, David (Tr.) Horace: The Complete Odes and Epodes, 1997, p.132