Jupiter “Amputates” the Human Race

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses 1.90-91, Jupiter resolves to extirpate the human race because its ferocious malignity threatened ruin to the gods at every turn:

“All options must be tried, but ultimately the part of the body which does not admit of healing must be cut off, lest the good part be lost.”

cuncta prius temptanda, sed immedicabile corpus

ense recidendum est, ne pars sincera trahatur.

 

Compare this to the sentiment expressed by Caligula, as recorded in Suetonius biography (chp. 30):

“Oh, I wish that the Roman people had but one neck!”

Utinam p. R. unam cervicem haberet!

 

By way of a more recent comparison, there is A.E. Housman, A Shropshire Lad, XLV:

If it chance your eye offend you,
Pluck it out, lad, and be sound:
’Twill hurt, but here are salves to friend you,
And many a balsam grows on ground.

And if your hand or foot offend you,
Cut it off, lad, and be whole;
But play the man, stand up and end you,
When your sickness is your soul.

Spring Celebration with Horace and Housman

In Ode 4.7, Horace uses the return of Spring as a focal point for reflecting upon life, death, the uncertainty of human life and the certainty of death. A.E. Housman composed an excellent translation of it. According to one of his former students, Housman discussed all of the knottier technical and philological points and then invited his students to consider the poem purely as poetry. He read both the Latin and his own translation, and then left the room immediately after proclaiming, “That I regard as the most beautiful poem in ancient literature.”

Diffugere Nives, A.E. Housman’s Translation:

The snows are fled away, leaves on the shaws
And grasses in the mead renew their birth,
The river to the river-bed withdraws,
And altered is the fashion of the earth.

The Nymphs and Graces three put off their fear
And unapparelled in the woodland play.
The swift hour and the brief prime of the year
Say to the soul, Thou wast not born for aye.
Thaw follows frost; hard on the heel of spring
Treads summer sure to die, for hard on hers
Comes autumn, with his apples scattering;
Then back to wintertide, when nothing stirs.

But oh, whate’er the sky-led seasons mar,
Moon upon moon rebuilds it with her beams:
Come we where Tullus and where Ancus are,
And good Aeneas, we are dust and dreams.

Torquatus, if the gods in heaven shall add
The morrow to the day, what tongue has told?
Feast then thy heart, for what thy heart has had
The fingers of no heir will ever hold.

When thou descendest once the shades among,
The stern assize and equal judgment o’er,
Not thy long lineage nor thy golden tongue,
No, nor thy righteousness, shall friend thee more.

Night holds Hippolytus the pure of stain,
Diana steads him nothing, he must stay;
And Theseus leaves Pirithöus in the chain
The love of comrades cannot take away.

Horace’s Original, Odes 4.7

Diffugere nives, redeunt iam gramina campis
arboribus comae;
mutat terra vices et decrescentia ripas
flumina praetereunt;
Gratia cum Nymphis geminisque sororibus audet               5
ducere nuda chorus.
Inmortalia ne speres, monet annus et almum
quae rapit hora diem.
Frigora mitescunt Zephyris, ver proterit aestas,
interitura simul               10
pomifer autumnus fruges effuderit, et mox
bruma recurrit iners.
Damna tamen celeres reparant caelestia lunae:
nos ubi decidimus
quo pater Aeneas, quo dives Tullus et Ancus,               15
puluis et umbra sumus.
Quis scit an adiciant hodiernae crastina summae
tempora di superi?
Cuncta manus avidas fugient heredis, amico
quae dederis animo.               20
Cum semel occideris et de te splendida Minos
fecerit arbitria,
non, Torquate, genus, non te facundia, non te
restituet pietas;
infernis neque enim tenebris Diana pudicum               25
liberat Hippolytum,
nec Lethaea valet Theseus abrumpere caro
vincula Pirithoo.

Whether Life is Chance or Fate Rules All, Be Sudden (Lucan, 2.4-14)

Since we have lately been a bit obsessed with Housman’s idea of scholarship, his invective, and his memory for student names, I thought it only fair to visit with a poet he edited (and there was no way I was reading Manilius this morning):

“…Ruler of Olympos, why did you
Add this worry to human suffering:
To learn of coming horrors through awful omens?
Is it true that the father of nature, when he first grasped unformed realms
And the raw material as creation’s flame receded,
Established causality forever, an act which bound him
To keep the law himself, carrying out the ordered ages
that he decreed for the world with his unchangeable boundary?
Or is it that nothing is certain, and chance wanders without reason:
It turns and returns and governs human outcomes?
May you be prepared, whatever is true, to be sudden:
May man’s mind be blind to future fate; allow the fearful to hope.”

…cur hanc tibi, rector Olympi,
sollicitis uisum mortalibus addere curam, 5
noscant uenturas ut dira per omina clades?
siue parens rerum, cum primum informia regna
materiamque rudem flamma cedente recepit,
fixit in aeternum causas, qua cuncta coercet
se quoque lege tenens, et saecula iussa ferentem 10
fatorum inmoto diuisit limite mundum,
siue nihil positum est, sed fors incerta uagatur
fertque refertque uices et habet mortalia casus,
sit subitum quodcumque paras; sit caeca futuri
mens hominum fati; liceat sperare timenti.

Lucan’s lines of thought are so long! But I do like this passage….

Jupiter Amputates the Human Race: Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.90-91(Also, Caligula and Housman)

“All options must be tried, but ultimately the part of the body which does not admit of healing must be cut off, lest the good part be lost.”

 

cuncta prius temptanda, sed immedicabile corpus

ense recidendum est, ne pars sincera trahatur.

 

This is excerpted from the scene in Ovid’s Metamorphoses in which Jupiter resolves to extirpate the human race because its ferocious malignity threatened ruin to the gods at every turn. Compare this to the sentiment expressed by Caligula, as recorded in Suetonius biography (chp. 30):

“Oh, I wish that the Roman people had but one neck!”

Utinam p. R. unam cervicem haberet!

 

Also, one may compare A.E. Housman, A Shropshire Lad, XLV:

If it chance your eye offend you,
Pluck it out, lad, and be sound:
’Twill hurt, but here are salves to friend you,
And many a balsam grows on ground.

And if your hand or foot offend you,
Cut it off, lad, and be whole;
But play the man, stand up and end you,
When your sickness is your soul.