Sunday, July 7, 2013

Horace - To Varus

Nothing, Varus, should be planted before the sacred vine
In the gentle soil around Tivoli and the walls of Catilus;
A hard god, to those who do not imbibe,
offers nothing better to waylay our woes, ...

Ode 1.18

Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus, 65 BC – 8 BC), next to Virgil (Publius Vergilius Maro, 70 BC – 19 BC), was Rome's greatest poet during the reign of Augustus. In 23 BC Horace published the three books of The Odes. Ode 18 of the first book was written to Varus. Horace locates the ode at "mite solum Tibruis et moenia Catili", "the mild soil of Tibur (Tivoli) and the walls of Catilus".  The city was a favorite summer residence of Romans, located in the Sabine Hills 20 miles to the east of Rome. According to legend, it was founded by three brothers who fled from Greece - Tiburnas, Catilus, and Colus.

The Varus Horace writes to is possibly Publius Quinctilius Varus (46 BC  – 9 AD), a general under Emperor Augustus, one time governor of Africa, twice governor of Syria - today, remembered infamously for losing three legions of Roman soldiers to Arminius in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. But, these events were all in the future when Horace wrote this poem.

About 20 BC, Varus married the daughter of Agrippa, (Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa 64/63 BC – 12 BC) hero of the naval battle of Actium, which decided the civil war once and for all in Octavian's favor. Varus was friends to both Agrippa and Augustus. In 13 BC, Varus was elected consul junior partner of Tiberius, Augustus' stepson and future emperor.

Near Tibur (Tivoli) Varus was to build a grand villa, whose foundation and remnants of three walls can still be seen today. The villa sat on a ridge overlooking the several waterfalls of the River Anio, across from Tibur (Tivoli),  To the west was a panoramic view of the plains reaching Rome and the blue Mediterranean Sea.

Waterfalls of River Anio, photo by Lalupa

Sic transit gloria. 

At the time Horace wrote this ode, he knew not what dizzying heights of glory that Varus would rise to, nor his ignominious end. We are simply reminded by the passage of time that, "All glory is fleeting."

Horace, like Varus, owned an estate near Tibur (Tivoli), a trip of several hours by horse from Rome.  Perhaps Horace wrote it as simple advice, at a time when Varus was happy to sip a glass of wine, sitting in the shade of a tree on the veranda enjoying life. Who knows what troubles tomorrow brings.
Ode 1.18 To Varus

Nullam, Vare, sacra vite prius severis arborem 
circa mite solum Tibruis et moenia Catili; 
siccis omnia nam dura deus proposuit 
neque mordaces aliter diffugiunt sollicitudines.

Quis post vina gravem militiam aut pauperiem crepat? 
Quis non te potius, Bacche pater, teque decens Venus? 
Ac ne quis modici transiliat munera Liberi, 

Centaurea monet cum Lapithis rixa super mero debellata, 
menet Sithoniis non levis Euhius, 
cum fas atque nefas exiguo fine libidinum discernunt avidi. 
Non ego te, candide Bassareu, invitum quatiam nec variis obsita frondibus sub divum rapiam. 
Saeva tene cum Berecyntio cornu tympana, 
quae subsequitur caecus Amor sui et tollens vacuam 
plus nimio Gloria verticem arcanique Fides prodiga, perlucidior vitro.

Nothing, Varus, should be planted before the sacred vine
In the gentle soil around Tivoli and the walls of Catilus;
A hard god, to abstainers,
offers nothing better to waylay our woes
After wine, who cares to speak of the gravity of wine or poverty?
Rather, who would not prefer to speak of thee father Bacchus and thee lovely Venus?
Oh, but don't overleap the gift of moderation yee children of Bacchus


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