Visiting Arezzo, Translating the Untranslatable: Horace, Odes 1.1

Today I visit Arezzo with my students. Arezzo? Once one of the capitols of the Eruscan kings and eventually the home city of that Patrons of patrons, Maecenas, whose largesse helped to support Vergil, Propertius and Horace. In honor of the visit, I sat down to read some Horace, only to be reminded that his Odes remain almost untranslatable.

Horace addresses Maecenas in the first line of his first Ode:

“Maecenas, son of royal ancestors,
My fortress and sweet glory:
there are those who take pleasure in gathering
Olympian dust and the high trophy from the race
when they have passed the turning point with burning wheels.
Let the crowd of fickle Romans praise
That man to the divine rulers of the lands
And choose to raise him in triple honors
If he has stored up in his own granary
A volume surpassing the count of Libyan sands.
But you may never move a man who is pleased
To turn the fields of his fathers
With the promised riches of Attalus
To ride a Cyprian ships as nervous sailor on Myrtoan seas.
The merchant fears the wind that churns Icarian waves
And praises the calm peace of his own home;
But soon, intolerant of his own poverty
He rebuilds his broken ship.”

Maecenas atavis edite regibus,
o et praesidium et dulce decus meum:
sunt quos curriculo pulverem Olympicum
collegisse iuvat metaque fervidis
evitata rotis palmaque nobilis.
terrarum dominos evehit ad deos
hunc, si mobilium turba Quiritium
certat tergeminis tollere honoribus,
illum, si proprio condidit horreo
quidquid de Libycis verritur areis.
gaudentem patrios findere sarculo
agros Attalicis condicionibus
numquam demoveas, ut trabe Cypria
Myrtoum pavidus nauta secet mare.
luctantem Icariis fluctibus Africum
mercator metuens otium et oppidi
laudat rura sui; mox reficit rates
quassas indocilis pauperiem pati.

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