The Odes and Carmen Saeculare of Horace by Horace


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Page 1

The first thing at which, as it seems to me, a Horatian translator
ought to aim, is some kind of metrical conformity to his original.
Without this we are in danger of losing not only the metrical, but the
general effect of the Latin; we express ourselves in a different
compass, and the character of the expression is altered accordingly.
For instance, one of Horace's leading features is his occasional
sententiousness. It is this, perhaps more than anything else, that has
made him a storehouse of quotations. He condenses a general truth in a
few words, and thus makes his wisdom portable. "Non, si male nunc, et
olim sic erit;" "Nihil est ab omni parte beatum;" "Omnes eodem
cogimur,"--these and similar expressions remain in the memory when
other features of Horace's style, equally characteristic, but less
obvious, are forgotten. It is almost impossible for a translator to do
justice to this sententious brevity unless the stanza in which he
writes is in some sort analogous to the metre of Horace. If he chooses
a longer and more diffuse measure, he will be apt to spoil the proverb
by expansion; not to mention that much will often depend on the very
position of the sentence in the stanza. Perhaps, in order to preserve
these external peculiarities, it may be necessary to recast the
expression, to substitute, in fact, one form of proverb for another;
but this is far preferable to retaining the words in a diluted form,
and so losing what gives them their character, I cannot doubt, then,
that it is necessary in translating an Ode of Horace to choose some
analogous metre; as little can I doubt that a translator of the Odes
should appropriate to each Ode some particular metre as its own. It may
be true that Horace himself does not invariably suit his metre to his
subject; the solemn Alcaic is used for a poem in dispraise of serious
thought and praise of wine; the Asclepiad stanza in which Quintilius is
lamented is employed to describe the loves of Maecenas and Licymnia.
But though this consideration may influence us in our choice of an
English metre, it is no reason for not adhering to the one which we may
have chosen. If we translate an Alcaic and a Sapphic Ode into the same
English measure, because the feeling in both appears to be the same, we
are sure to sacrifice some important characteristic of the original in
the case of one or the other, perhaps of both. It is better to try to
make an English metre more flexible than to use two different English
metres to represent two different aspects of one measure in Latin. I am
sorry to say that I have myself deviated from this rule occasionally,
under circumstances which I shall soon have to explain; but though I
may perhaps succeed in showing that my offences have not been serious,
I believe the rule itself to be one of universal application, always
honoured in the observance, if not always equally dishonoured in the

The question, what metres should be selected, is of course one of very
great difficulty. I can only explain what my own practice has been,
with some of the reasons which have influenced me in particular cases.
Perhaps we may take Milton's celebrated translation of the Ode to
Pyrrha as a starting point. There can be no doubt that to an English
reader the metre chosen does give much of the effect of the original;
yet the resemblance depends rather on the length of the respective
lines than on any similarity in the cadences. But it is evident that he
chose the iambic movement as the ordinary movement of English poetry;
and it is evident, I think, that in translating Horace we shall be
right in doing the same, as a general rule. Anapaestic and other
rhythms may be beautiful and appropriate in themselves, but they cannot
be manipulated so easily; the stanzas with which they are associated
bear no resemblance, as stanzas, to the stanzas of Horace's Odes. I
have then followed Milton in appropriating the measure in question to
the Latin metre, technically called the fourth Asclepiad, at the same
time that I have substituted rhyme for blank verse, believing rhyme to
be an inferior artist's only chance of giving pleasure. There still
remains a question about the distribution of the rhymes, which here, as
in most other cases, I have chosen to make alternate. Successive rhymes
have their advantages, but they do not give the effect of interlinking,
which is so natural in a stanza; the quatrain is reduced to two
couplets, and its unity is gone. From the fourth to the third Asclepiad
the step is easy. Taking an English iambic line of ten syllables to
represent the longer lines of the Latin, an English iambic line of six
syllables to represent the shorter, we see that the metre of Horace's
"Scriberis Vario" finds its representative in the metre of Mr.
Tennyson's "Dream of Fair Women." My experience would lead me to
believe the English metre to be quite capable, in really skilful hands,
of preserving the effect of the Latin, though, as I have said above,
the Latin measure is employed by Horace both for a threnody and for a

The Sapphic and the Alcaic involve more difficult questions. Here,
however, as in the Asclepiad, I believe we must be guided, to some
extent, by external similarity. We must choose the iambic movement as
being most congenial to English; we must avoid the ten-syllable iambic
as already appropriated to the longer Asclepiad line. This leads me to
conclude that the staple of each stanza should be the eight-syllable
iambic, a measure more familiar to English lyric poetry than any other,
and as such well adapted to represent the most familiar lyric measures
of Horace. With regard to the Sapphic, it seems desirable that it
should be represented by a measure of which the three first lines are
eight-syllable iambics, the fourth some shorter variety. Of this
stanza there are at least two kinds for which something might be said.
It might be constructed so that the three first lines should rhyme with
each other, the fourth being otherwise dealt with; or it might be
framed on the plan of alternate rhymes, the fourth line still being
shorter than the rest. Of the former kind two or three specimens are to
be found in Francis' translation of Horace. In these the fourth line
consists of but three syllables, the two last of which rhyme with the
two last syllables of the fourth line of the next succeeding stanza, as
for instance:--

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Fri 28th Feb 2020, 11:35