Odes 2.8

Don’t trust Barine

by Horace

This poem, in lively Sapphic metre, describes the stereotypical femme fatale, a woman who is able because of the strength of her attraction to get away with endless lies and broken promises to her men. So blatant is she that, not only Cupid and Venus, who have a special interest, but even the guileless nymphs have to laugh. Whether the poem and Barine, with her unusual, vaguely Greek name, are a pure literary exercise on a stock theme, or whether Horace’s audience might have been intended to recognise a genuine contemporary individual or type under Barine’s disguise, is anybody’s guess. In the interests of balance we should say that lying and faithless men are also widely available, in ancient poetry and myth as in life.

Metre: Sapphic

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Ulla si iuris tibi peierati
poena, Barine, nocuisset umquam,
dente si nigro fieres vel uno
turpior ungui,

crederem; sed tu simul obligasti
perfidum votis caput, enitescis
pulchrior multo iuvenumque prodis
publica cura.

expedit matris cineres opertos
fallere et toto taciturna noctis
signa cum caelo gelidaque divos
morte carentis.

ridet hoc, inquam, Venus ipsa, rident
simplices Nymphae, ferus et Cupido
semper ardentis acuens sagittas
cote cruenta.

adde quod pubes tibi crescit omnis,
servitus crescit nova nec priores
impiae tectum dominae relinquunt
saepe minati.

te suis matres metuunt iuvencis,
te senes parci miseraeque nuper
virgines nuptae, tua ne retardet
aura maritos.

If any penalty for your perjury had ever harmed you, Barine, If you had ever been the uglier for it by one blackened tooth or nail,

I’d believe you, but no sooner have you staked your faithless life on your vows, than your gorgeousness shines out much more brilliantly even than before, stepping out in public, the young men’s idol.

You actually do well out of perjuring yourself on your mother’s buried ashes, on night’s silent standards and all the heavens with them, and on the Gods, who never know chill death!

Venus herself, I tell you, laughs at it, even the guileless nymphs laugh at it, and savage Cupid too, always sharpening his burning arrows on a bloody stone.

Add, that it’s you the young men are growing up for, a new set of slaves for you, and the old ones aren’t leaving their forsworn mistress’s roof either, though they have often threatened to.

It’s you that the mothers fear for their growing sons, you that the mean old men fear, and brides, though only just now married, fear that the waft of your appeal might make their husbands late.