Odes Book 1.34

Awe for the Gods

by Horace

This intriguing little poem could not be further away from many of Horace’s usual themes such as the grandeur of Augustus and Rome, the elegant and learned reworking of a literary theme or the pleasures of company, food, drink and love. Here it seems more than usually possible that something uncanny – thunder from a clear sky – has prompted a strong personal response. Horace does sometimes seem to have such impulses towards piety, for example when he escapes unharmed from a meeting with a wolf in Ode 1.23, and when he seems to have a vision of the God Bacchus in Ode 2.19.

See the illustrated blog post here.

To scroll the original and English translation of the poem at the same time - tap inside one box to select it and then scroll.

Parcus deorum cultor et infrequens,
insanientis dum sapientiae
consultus erro, nunc retrorsum
vela dare atque iterare cursus

cogor relictos: namque Diespiter
igni corusco nubila dividens
plerumque, per purum tonantis
egit equos volucremque currum,

quo bruta tellus et vaga flumina,
quo Styx et invisi horrida Taenari
sedes Atlanteusque finis
concutitur. Valet ima summis

mutare et insignem attenuat deus,
obscura promens; hinc apicem rapax
Fortuna cum stridore acuto
sustulit, hic posuisse gaudet.              

This very moment, as I’m drifting, a grudging and occasional worshipper of the Gods and a follower of a senseless philosophy, I’m compelled to set sail back for where I’ve come from, and plot a course that I had already left behind me. Because Jupiter the Ancient of Days, who usually cleaves a cloudy sky with his lightning flash, has driven his swift chariot and horses of thunder across a clear one, fit to shake the mass of the earth and the flow of the rivers, the Styx, the dread hell-gate at Taenarus, Atlas the boundary of the world, all of them right to their foundations. He is God, who has the power to change the places of what is highest and lowest, who eclipses the famous and brings forward what is obscure, while greedy Fortune has picked the crown from off the head of one man, and revelled in putting it on another.