Some Roman Poets Sing the Spring

Horace, Ars Poetica 299-304

…”O, what a savage I am,
Who cleanse myself of bile for the coming of the season of spring!
No one else would make better poems. It is truly
Worth nothing. Therefore, I act in place of a whetstone,
Which can return to steel its edge, but is powerless to cut itself.”

…o ego laevus,
qui purgor bilem sub verni temporis horam!
non alius faceret meliora poemata: verum
nil tanti est. ergo fungar vice cotis, acutum
reddere quae ferrum valet, exsors ipsa secandi;

Vergil, Georgics 2.149-154

“Here, spring is endless and summer overtakes other months:
The flocks give birth twice a year; twice a year the trees have fruit.

hic ver adsiduum atque alienis mensibus aestas:
bis gravidae pecudes, bis pomis utilis arbos.

Ovid, Fasti 4.125-132

“And no time of the year was better fit for Venus than spring
In spring the lands shine, the fields are tender in spring,
The grains raises its heads through the broken earth
And the shoot drives its buds in swollen bark.

Gorgeous Venus is worthy of a gorgeous time,
As always, and goes hand in hand with Mars.
In spring she tells the curved ships to go
Over maternal seas because she no longer fears the winter.”

nec Veneri tempus quam ver erat aptius ullum:
vere nitent terrae, vere remissus ager,
nunc herbae rupta tellure cacumina tollunt,
nunc tumido gemmas cortice palmes agit.
et formosa Venus formoso tempore digna est,
utque solet, Marti continuata suo est:
vere monet curvas materna per aequora puppes
ire nec hibernas iam timuisse minas.

Propertius, 4.5.59-60

“While spring is in your blood, while your age is free of wrinkle,
Use it—just in case tomorrow takes the youth from your face.”

dum vernat sanguis, dum rugis integer annus,
60utere, ne quid cras libet ab ore dies

Image result for ancient roman seasons spring

Villa Dar Buc Ammera, Libya, Roman era mosaic of the four seasons

How Many Kisses?

Catullus Carmen 7

You ask me, how many kisses of yours,
Lesbia, are enough for me and more.
As great the number as Libyan sands
Lie among Cyrene, the Silphian producing lands
Between the oracle of stormy Jove
And ancient Battus’ sacred grave.
Or as many stars when the night is still
gaze upon humanity’s secret loves.
That is how many kisses are enough to kiss
And more for you and your insane Catullus.
Which the curious could not count.
Nor use their wicked talk to curse.”

Quaeris, quot mihi basiationes
tuae, Lesbia, sint satis superque.
quam magnus numerus Libyssae harenae
lasarpiciferis iacet Cyrenis
oraclum Iovis inter aestuosi
et Batti veteris sacrum sepulcrum;
aut quam sidera multa, cum tacet nox,
furtivos hominum vident amores:
tam te basia multa basiare
vesano satis et super Catullo est,
quae nec pernumerare curiosi
possint nec mala fascinare lingua.

Image result for medieval manuscript kiss

Bodleian, MS. Douce 195, detail of f. 151r (“Pygmalion embraces the statue, as it lies half-undressed on the bed”).

Anger is Better than Indifference (for Lovers)

Catullus, Carmen 83

“Lesbia talks a lot of shit about me when her husband is around
This brings the greatest pleasure to that fool.
Ass, do you know nothing? She would be sound
If she forgot us in silence—but she rants and she squawks.
She not only remembers me but—a thing sharper to touch,
She’s enraged: it’s like this, she’s burning and talks.”

Lesbia mi praesente viro mala plurima dicit:
haec illi fatuo maxima laetitia est.
mule, nihil sentis? si nostri oblita taceret,
sana esset: nunc quod gannit et obloquitur,
non solum meminit, sed, quae multo acrior est res,
irata est. hoc est, uritur et loquitur.

As I have mentioned before, Catullus is the author who first drew me into classics when I was in high school. I loved the variety in his poems, the vitality, and the inappropriateness of some of his ‘subjects’. I can only imagine what would have happened had I been born but a bit later into a world in which the Latin AP was only Caesar and Vergil…

This poem has stuck with me for years as the most drastic version of the gap between passion (negative or positive) and indifference.

Book of Hours, MS S.7 fol. 5v - Images from Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts - The Morgan Library & Museum

Book of Hours, MS S.7 fol. 5v

Some Dramatic Fragments for a Monday Morning

Accius, Principles for Playwrights, 3–6

“Perperos: uneducated, foolish, rude, uncultured, liars. In his Principles Accius uses “perperos to describe common people.
The same poet in that work writes:

Poets are beat up because of this instead of some fault of their own:
The excessive gullibility of your minds or your lack of sophistication.”

Nonius, 150, 11: ‘Perperos,’ indoctos, stultos, rudis, insulsos, mendaces. Accius Pragmaticis—
describere in theatro perperos popularis.
Idem eodem—

et eo plectuntur poetae quam suo vitio saepius
ductabilitate animi nimia vestra aut perperitudine.

Dubious Fragments Attributed to Ennius


“Many a menacing machine maximally menaces the munitions”
Machina multa minax minitatur maxima muris


“Theta, a letter unluckier than the rest”
O multum ante alias infelix littera theta!


“To restep a step…”
regredi gressum

Image result for Ancient Roman Tragedy

Aeneas Gazes Upon the Broken Victors

Accius, Fragment of an unknown play (lines 46-63: from Varro De Lingua Latina 6.60)

This is allegedly Aeneas speaking. I have no idea what is going on here. But a few of these lines are beautiful. And timely.

“Who is it who calls upon my name?”

It is said that Tantalus was born from Zeus
And that Pelops came from Tantalus. Then from Pelops
Atreus was born, who was then the father of our line.
Atreus’ sons, kings, are now preparing their homecoming.

But if you don’t shut up, Menelaos, you’ll fall by this right hand.
And thus, while Argos has power it will strip you of power.
Oh ancient parent of our race, honor of the Argives,
He did the greatest deed when the Danai were turned away
He completed the highest act, the madman regained the fight
With his own hand.
An arrogant victor
He could not endure to be conquered himself
Because of the pain at such terrible fame.

I see you, I see you. Live Ulysses while you can
Seize the final shining light with your eyes.

Is this that Telamon, whom glory has raised
Up to heaven itself
Whom the Greeks used to watch, to whose face
The Greeks always used to turn their own?
His spirit has collapsed with his circumstances.”

Quis enim est qui meum nomen nuncupat?
Iove propagatus est ut perhibent Tantalus,
Ex Tantalo ortus Pelops, ex Pelope autem satus
Atreus, qui nostrum porro propagat genus.
. . . Iam domutionem reges Atridae parant.

Quod nisi quieris, Menelae, hac dextra occides.
Proin demet abs te regimen Argos dum est
potestas consili.
O parens antiqua nostrae gentis, Argivum decus,
. . . Facinus fecit maximum, cum Danais
summam perfecit rem, manu sua restituit proelium
Victor insolens
ignominiae se dolore victum non potuit pati.

Video, video te. Vive, Ulixes, dum licet;
oculis postremum lumen radiatum rape.
Hicine est Telamo ille, modo quem gloria ad
caelum extulit,
quem aspectabant, cuius ob os Grai ora obvertebant
sua? . . .

. . . Simul animus cum re concidit.


Money, Insult and Duty: Some Fragments from Caecilius

Caecilius Statius was a Roman poet who flourished after the second Punic War.

Fr. 19-21

“Although I came here contracted by your wages
I am not dependent on you for this reason:
If you speak of me badly you’ll hear bad things in return”

quamquam ego mercede huc conductus tua advenio, ne tibi
me esse ob eam rem obnoxium reare; audibis male si male dicis mihi.

Fr. 43-4

“People can endure trouble easily if there is no injury with it.
They can also endure injury unless they must handle insults too”

Facile aerumnam ferre possunt si inde abest iniuria;
etiam iniuriam, nisi contra constant contumeliam.

Fr. 54-5

“Why do you tell of such barbarism when you’re illiterate and unmannered?”

Quid narras barbare cum indomitis moribus, inlitterate inlex?

Fr. 56

“You pile of failures, how’d you forget your manners?”

Qui, homo ineptitudinis cumulatus, cultum oblitus es?

Fr. 109

“May the gods unbless you and your badly kept memory!”

Ut te di omnes infelicent cum male monita memoria!

Fr. 171

“Live as you can since you can’t live as you want”

Vivas ut possis quando nec quis ut velis.

Fr. 179

“Are you free?”

Liberne es?

Fr. 257

“A man is god to another man if he knows his duty”

Homo homini deus est si suum officium sciat.

Image result for Ancient Roman tragedy

“What good are words?” Comic Cures for Hangovers

A few Plautine passages on hangovers (Latin: crapula, from Grk. Kraipalê)

Plautus, Rudens 585-590

“But why am I standing here, a sweating fool?
Maybe I should leave here for Venus’ temple to sleep off this hangover
I got because I drank more than I intended?
Neptune soaked us with the sea as if we were Greek wines
And he hoped to relieve us with salty-beverages.
Shit. What good are words?”

sed quid ego hic asto infelix uuidus?
quin abeo huc in Veneris fanum, ut edormiscam hanc crapulam,
quam potaui praeter animi quam lubuit sententiam?
quasi uinis Graecis Neptunus nobis suffudit mare,
itaque aluom prodi sperauit nobis salsis poculis;
quid opust uerbis?

Image result for Ancient Roman Drinking

Plautus, Stichus 226-230

“I am selling Greek moisturizers
And other ointments, hangover-cures
Little jokes, blandishments
And a sycophant’s confabulations.
I’ve got a rusting strigil, a reddish flask,
And a hollowed out follower to hide your trash in.”

uel unctiones Graecas sudatorias
uendo uel alias malacas, crapularias;
cauillationes, assentatiunculas,
ac periuratiunculas parasiticas;
robiginosam strigilim, ampullam rubidam,
parasitum inanem quo recondas reliquias.

The Roman Comic Scene Parents Act Out with Their Children

Plautus, Curculio, 182-184

It is as if Plautus wrote for a parent and a young child. Phaedromus = Me; Palinurus = Either child.

Ph. Shhhhh.
Pal: Why? I am being quiet. Why don’t you go back to sleep?
Ph. I am sleeping. Don’t yell.
Pal. But you are awake.
Ph. No. I am sleeping the way I do. This is how I sleep!

Phae: tace.
Pal: quid, taceam? quin tu is dormitum?
Phae: dormio, ne occlamites.
Pal: tuquidem uigilas.
Phae: at meo more dormio: hic somnust mihi.

Image result for Ancient Roman Sleeping

Escape Yourself! Study the Nature of Things

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 3.1053-1075

“When people seem to feel that there is a weight
On their minds, which wears them out with its pressure–
If they were able to understand where it comes from and what causes
So great a burden of misery to press upon their chests,
They would hardly live their lives as we now see most do:
Each person does not know what he wants and always seeks
To change his place as if he could possibly slough of the burden.

Often this man departs from the doors of his great home,
When he has tired of being there, only to return suddenly
When he comes to believe that he is no better off outside.
He rushes out driving his ponies heedlessly to his villa
As if he were bringing crucial help to a burning home.
Yet when he arrives and crosses the threshold of the house,
He either falls into a deep sleep or pursues oblivion,
Or he even rushes to visit the city again,
This is the way each man flees from himself, but it is his self
That it is impossible to escape, so he clings to it thanklessly and hates.

He does this because he is a sick man who is ignorant of the cause.
If he knew the cause, he would abandon all these things
And begin his first study of the nature of things,
Since the problem is not that of a single hour but of eternal time—
In what state we must understand that all time will pass
For mortal man after the death that awaits all of us.”

Image result for ancient roman art death

Si possent homines, proinde ac sentire videntur
pondus inesse animo, quod se gravitate fatiget,
e quibus id fiat causis quoque noscere et unde
tanta mali tam quam moles in pectore constet,
haut ita vitam agerent, ut nunc plerumque videmus
quid sibi quisque velit nescire et quaerere semper,
commutare locum, quasi onus deponere possit.
exit saepe foras magnis ex aedibus ille,
esse domi quem pertaesumst, subitoque [revertit>,
quippe foris nihilo melius qui sentiat esse.
currit agens mannos ad villam praecipitanter
auxilium tectis quasi ferre ardentibus instans;
oscitat extemplo, tetigit cum limina villae,
aut abit in somnum gravis atque oblivia quaerit,
aut etiam properans urbem petit atque revisit.
hoc se quisque modo fugit, at quem scilicet, ut fit,
effugere haut potis est: ingratius haeret et odit
propterea, morbi quia causam non tenet aeger;
quam bene si videat, iam rebus quisque relictis
naturam primum studeat cognoscere rerum,
temporis aeterni quoniam, non unius horae,
ambigitur status, in quo sit mortalibus omnis
aetas, post mortem quae restat cumque manendo.

Leisure, Work and Child-Sacrifice: Two Fragments from Ennius

Ennius’ Iphigenia was certainly modeled on Euripides’ Iphigenia on Aulis. But that in no way keeps the fragments from being their own creations….

232-234 Agamemnon

“Am I tortured because you mess up? You wander and I am on trial?
Let Helen return for her misdeed, but an innocent girl will perish?
That you and your wife be reconciled, my daughter should be served up?”

Ego projector quod tu peccas? Tu delinquis, ego arguor?
Pro malefactis Helena redeat, virgo pereat innocens?
Tua reconcilietur uxor, mea necetur filia?

241-248 Chorus

“Whoever doesn’t know who to use leisure when he has it,
Has more work in leisure than he has in work.
For the man who has a set task, does it without work:
He pays attention to it and in it entertains his mind and spirit.
In true leisure the sick mind does not know what it wants.
It is the same way here: look, we are neither at home nor soldiers;
We go here and there and when we have gone there, we go away again.
Our spirit wanders pointlessly; life is lived, more or less.”

Otio qui nescit uti <quom otium est, in otio>
Plus negoti habet quam quom est negotium in negotio;
Nam cui quod agat institutumst non ullo negotio
Id agit, id studet,ibi mentem atque animum delectat suum.
Otioso in otio animus nescit quid velit.
Hoc idem est; em neque domi nunc nos nec militiae sumus;
Imus huc, hin illuc;quom illuc ventum est, ire illic lubet.
Incerte errat animus, praeterpropter vitam vivitur.

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