The Rites of Spring

Horace Ode I.23

You bolt from me like a fawn, Chloē,
One searching pathless hills for her anxious mother,
And not without unfounded fear
Of the winds and woods.

For when the arrival of spring
Ruffled leaves, making them sway,
Or green lizards parted the brambles,
In her heart and in her knees the fawn trembles.

But I’m not pursuing you, like a wild tiger
Or Gaetulian lion, so as to crush you.
It’s time–stop traipsing after your mother.
You’re ripe for a man.

Vitas hinnuleo me similis, Chloē,
quaerenti pavidam montibus aviis
matrem non sine vano
aurarum et siluae metu.

nam seu mobilibus veris inhorruit
adventus foliis seu virides rubum
dimovere lacertae,
et corde et genibus tremit.

atqui non ego te tigris ut aspera
Gaetulusve leo frangere persequor:
tandem desine matrem
tempestiva sequi viro.

Some thoughts:

  • Chloe does not simply bolt (vitas), but does so in the manner of a frightened fawn searching for the familiar in a bewildering environment. Since the simile insists that the fawn is lost and afraid, we should imagine Chloē’s movement as hesitant, confused, uncertain (“vitas…me” could simply mean “you evade me”). 
  • The second stanza is an elaboration of the fawn’s “unfounded fear” (vano…metu). Here too the concern is with movement: movement of the leaves and movement of the brambles. What the two movements have in common is that we readers know the cause of each (wind in the case of the leaves, lizards in the case of the brambles) but the inexperienced fawn does not. To the fawn, the movements are unexplained and frightening. Are these movements in nature metaphors for some movement in Chloē–the cause of which we know but she does not? Is Horace pointing to the birth of sexual desire in the young woman? 
  • In Sappho 31, trembling is one of the physical manifestations of desire. And green is associated with–technical terming coming–horniness. “Trembling seizes all of me,” Sappho sings, “And I’m greener than grass” (31.13-14). Not for nothing, Chloē, χλόη in Greek, means “green shoots.” What moves the brambles (metaphor for a movement within her) is a green lizard. And of course Chloē’s stand-in, the fawn, trembles (tremit) at nature’s mysterious developments.
  • “You’re ripe for a man” (tempestivaviro). This phrase is ordinarily read as an expression of the speaker’s desire for Chloē. It concludes his seduction attempt. But her ripeness (“ready for a man” is probably the most common translation) might speak as much to her needs as to his. That is to say, Chloē has reached the age where she has not only a desirable body, but a desiring self.
Mark Rothko. Untitled (Green on Maroon). 1961. Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

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