Process Notes on 1.18

See West’s Notes at: West, D. Horace Odes I Carpe Diem: Text, Translation and Commentary, Oxford: Clarendon Press, (1995), pp.86-91

In the first stanza West’s version refers to the ‘holy vine’[1].  ‘Wine is a consolation and a delight given by the gods (1-6) and there are ample warnings not to misuse it (7-11)[2]
‘… The poem ends with an unflattering account of the participants.  They are led by the blind, by Self-love.’[3]

Horace makes it clear ‘that he wanted nothing to do with self-love and pride and could be trusted to keep silence.  He would drink with the great but he would not retail their conversation.  Such qualities were much appreciated by the Romans… and much appreciated by Augustus.  The proof is the surviving letter in which Augustus asked him to become his private secretary.  This poem is not just a literary game, nor is it simply a piece of flattery from client to patron.  We saw when Horace borrowed his first line from Alcaeus, that he added to it the concept of holiness.  Religious terms abound in the poem.  It is god that makes life hard for teetotallers in line 3… The villains of the piece are not the gods, but their drunken followers.  This is not just literary furniture.  In his cups and his lovemaking, Horace sensed the presence of something more than human.’[4]

In stanza one I use ‘Amber nectar’.  It is a homely term but with hint at sacredness via nectar, drink of the gods and ‘gods’ picks up the sacred vine too.

For the location in the opening of the original, I have an English equivalent; one associated with a literary festival. In stanza two ‘beer, and ‘lover’ pick up Bacchus and Venus in the original. The equivalent in proper names of the Centaurs and Lapiths (archetypal battling boozers) is picked up by using Gazza (Gasgoine the footballer) to add north east colour.

Horace’s dislike for self-love is picked up in my final stanza by the advice, ‘Let others praise your work don’t praise your own. / You’d better keep a tight tongue in your head.’   And the final warning of the original, ‘Keep in check your wild drums and Berecyntian horn with their retinue / of blind Self-love, Vainglory raising her empty head absurdly high / and Trust betrayed, squandering secrets, more transparent than glass.’ [5] picked up as a warning not to view everything through the bottom of a glass: here the intention being to convert the idea of transparency of glass in the original into a warning to the person who abuses alcohol not to see things through the bottom of a beer glass – such a view would be distorted.

Weight of Horace’s original I think is:

Enjoy a drink – praise wine, but don’t abuse it.
Avoid self-love and self-praise
Acceptance that life is hard and perhaps even harder if sober!
’In his cups and in his lovemaking, Horace sensed the presence of something more than human.’[6]


[1] D. West, Horace Odes I Carpe Diem: Text, Translation and Commentary, Oxford:  Clarendon Press,
   1995,  87

[2] Ibid 86

[3] Ibid 87-8

[4] Ibid 91

[5] D. West,. Horace Odes I Carpe Diem: Text, Translation and Commentary, Oxford:  Clarendon Press,
   1995,   87

[6] Ibid 91


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