More Horatian Advice

from The Epistles of Horace Book I
"To Lollius Maximus"
Tr. David Ferry

Take a long, cold, intelligent look at pleasure:
It hurts you if you purchase it with pain;
The avaricious man always feels poor;
Set limits to what your desires make you long for:
When his neighbor grows fat the covetous man grows thin.
The worst Sicilian tyrant couldn't invent
A torment worse than envy.

The letter is filled with wonderful notes like this earlier in the letter we hear:

If your life is governed
By cravings for what you lack, or else by fear
Of losing what you have, then what you have,
Your house and your possessions, give you as much
Pleasure as a picture gives a blind man,
Or an elegant pair of shoes gives a man with gout
Or music gives to an ear stuffed up with wax.
A glass that isn't clean will guarantee
That whatever you pour into it will sour.

What wouldn't I give to have a correspondent who wrote to me in such terms.  And the more I read this selection of the poetry of Horace, the greater the appreciation I have for the skill of the translator, who makes this a very lively, very readable--intensely readable and intensely modern English Version of the poems.  I don't like to use the word translation, because even though they are translations, what Ferry has done in this work is made them come alive for the modern audience.  The don't drip with thys, thous, dost, and other appurtenances of previous "serious" considerations of Latin poetry.  They speak--they speak now as I think they were probably meant to speak then.  Purists probably would decry the eschewing of allusion for a more direct approach to translation that can be found here, but which is not directly substantiated in a literal translation of the Latin text.  But these make the poems live and sing for me today.  And when my Latin is good enough, it makes me want to dive in and enjoy them as they were written.


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