Maecenas might reasonably have wondered why Horace was celebrating 1 March because it was a feast-day for motherhood and, as Horace says, he was a bachelor. The poem is a direct compliment to Maecenas, who was Horace’s patron and benefactor and Octavians’, the future Emperor Augustus’s, right-hand man. Indirectly, it is also a compliment to Octavian, whose generals have won the victories it refers to: they imply a date around 30 or 29 BCE. The biggest recent victory, over Cleopatra and Mark Antony at Actium in 31 BCE, is not mentioned, perhaps because it is too great a personal triumph for Octavian to refer to in a poem addressed to someone else, or because a reference to civil war might jar in a poem celebrating peace and tranquility.
If the wine was made when Tullus was Consul, it is a year older than Horace himself.
See the illustrated blog post here.
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Martiis caelebs quid agam Kalendis,
quid velint flores et acerra turis
plena miraris positusque carbo in
docte sermones utriusque linguae.
voveram dulcis epulas et album
Libero caprum prope funeratus
hic dies anno redeunte festus
corticem adstrictum pice dimovebit
amphorae fumum bibere institutae
sume, Maecenas, cyathos amici
sospitis centum et vigilis lucernas
perfer in lucem; procul omnis esto
clamor et ira.
mitte civilis super urbe curas.
occidit Daci Cotisonis agmen,
Medus infestus sibi luctuosis
servit Hispanae vetus hostis orae
Cantaber sera domitus catena,
iam Scythae laxo meditantur arcu
neglegens ne qua populus laboret,
parce privatus nimium cavere et
dona praesentis cape laetus horae,
You wonder what I, a bachelor, am doing on
the first of March, what the flowers mean,
the burner full of incense
and the coal set on the living turf, master
as you are of Greek and Latin lore, Maecenas?
I vowed a delicious feast, and a white goat
for Bacchus, when I was nearly done for
by a falling tree.
This day of celebration, as each year comes round,
will see the cork, sealed with pitch, removed
from winejars first taught to drink the smoke
when Tullus was Consul.
Accept a hundred tots of wine, Maecenas,
from your rescued friend, keep the wakeful lamps
alight until the dawn, let shouts and strife
be far away,
lay your responsibilities for the city aside.
Cotiso the Dacian’s forces are destroyed;
the Persian enemy are squabbling, self-destructive
arms turned against each other;
the Cantabrians, the old enemy on the Spanish
coast, have just been conquered, slaves newly
clapped in chains; the Scythians, bows unstrung,
are planning to abandon their campaign.
A private citizen, relax your vigilance for now,
don’t be concerned that Romans may be in trouble,
happily accept this present moment’s blessings:
let weighty matters lie.