"And Now for Something Completely Different . . . Poets of Ancient Rome."

I was lucky enough to find on the library shelves several translations of major works of Roman poets by David Ferry.  Among these were the Odes and the Epistles of Horace.  I must admit to the fact that I have not much indulged in the writing of Ancient times.  I've read my share of the Greek playwrights (though not all, and not tremendously extensively), Ovid, Catullus, Martial, and most of the Major Historians: Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Livy, Tacitus, Suetonius, Procopius, etc.  I've dipped into the Aeneid (mostly through Purcell's Dido and Aeneas), and Ovid's Ars Amatorica and Metamorphoses but for the most part I've left most of the serious Roman poets alone. I've read their derivatives in 17th and 18th century English poetry and felt that was enough of an acquaintance.

How very wrong I was.  As usual.  The blindspots in my education are really quite vast, and I can only hope to repair them as I discover them.  It is a pleasure to find this one and to spend some time repairing it, if only because we find such lovely things as this:

from The Odes of Horace ii.17
tr. David Ferry

To Maecenas

Why do you worry me so
  with your anxieties?
Neither the gods nor I
  Desire that you should go
Before me into death.
  Your friendship is the thing
My life most glories in.
  It is what most sustains me.

Ah, if some unexpected
  Event should happen one day,
And carry you off who are
  The half of what I am,
What would the other half do,
  Going on living, neither
As dead as it used to be
  Nor able to be by itself?

That fatal day would be
 The ruin of us both.
This oath is not sworn falsely:
  You and I will go together,
We will go together Maecenas,
  I following your lead,
Whenever that day comes
  Companions ready to go.

According to Ferry, Maecenas was Horace's patron, and, in fact, when he died, Horace followed very shortly thereafter.  But the sincerity and the depth of feeling expressed in the poem are refreshing, and the life that Ferry gives to it remarkable.  I don't know that I would call Ferry's work a literal translation, from my little Latin there are phrases and notions that are not present or not translated literally.  Nevertheless, this feels like an excellent translation--capturing in "normal tones" what too often has been given vaunted language and well-nigh inaccessible flights of language.  We get the sense of a poet who works hard to tackle the ordinary things in life and bring them into the realm of poetry.  


  1. Beautiful. But after coming to "Momentary Taste" - which, for some reason I always think is called "Momentary Bliss" - I always have more books I want to read. Like the Mormon polygamy novel and "The Shallows" and....

  2. Dear TS,

    I'm glad the blog can be a source of inspiration for you as you continue your reading. Thank you for the comment. It really makes my day to know that people are coming into contact with things they want to read through this blog.




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