The story of a party: planning and shopping, agreeing the venue, preparing the drinks, starting with a bang, getting out of hand, annoying (and mocking) the neighbours and finishing in an amorous mood as night and the wine do their work. Everything is indirectly conveyed in seven short stanzas. The metre (a variety of Asclepiad, for the record) dances along in keeping with the atmosphere of celebration and music: as the drinking progresses, it can give the odd lurch, as well. Horace argues that, as a poet, he has the nine Muses, so should be allowed three times as much to drink as a normal person who has just the three Graces.
The poem celebrates its Greek antecedents with wine from Chios and a (probably made-up) Greek drinking companion. Inachus and Codrus, and Aeacus’s family too, were from Greek royal lines. The poem’s purpose, however, is to pay a very Roman compliment to Murena, who has just received the honour of membership of the college of augurs. Murena was a close connection of Maecenas, Horace’s patron and one of the most powerful men in the Empire.
See the illustrated blog post here.
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To scroll both versions of the poem at the same time - tap inside one box to select it and then scroll.
Quantum distet ab Inacho
Codrus pro patria non timidus mori
narras et genus Aeaci
et pugnata sacro bella sub Ilio
quo Chium pretio cadum
mercemur, quis aquam temperet ignibus,
quo praebente domum et quota
Paelignis caream frigoribus, taces.
da lunae propere novae,
da noctis mediae, da, puer, auguris
Murenae: tribus aut novem
miscentur cyathis pocula commodis.
qui Musas amat imparis,
ternos ter cyathos attonitus petet
vates; tris prohibet supra
rixarum metuens tangere Gratia
nudis iuncta sororibus.
insanire iuvat: cur Berecyntiae
cessant flamina tibiae?
cur pendet tacita fistula cum lyra?
parcentis ego dexteras
odi: sparge rosas, audiat invidus
dementem strepitum Lycus
et vicina seni non habilis Lyco.
spissa te nitidum coma,
puro te similem, Telephe, Vespero
tempestiva petit Rhode;
me lentus Glycerae torret amor meae.
You talk about how long after Inachus Codrus came, who was not afraid to die for his country, and the race of Aeacus, and the wars fought in front of sacred Troy.
About what price we can buy a jar of Chian for, or who is to warm the water at the fire (for diluting the wine),and at whose house, and when I can come in out of weather that feels as cold as the Abruzzi, you have nothing to say!
Quick, boy, pour a toast to the new moon, a toast to midnight, a toast to Murena – the Augur! Mix the cups with three or with nine full measures of wine;
Let a poet, who, thunderstruck with inspiration, loves the odd-numbered Muses, call for three cups times three! A Grace, worried about an uproar, vetoes more than three,
arm-in-arm with her (two) bare sisters. Let’s let ourselves go! Why are Cybele’s pipes not blowing? Why is the flute hung up with the silent lyre?
Stingy hands? I hate them! Let our neighbour, Lycus, hear the row we make, and envy! And let his wife, a bit of a handful for old Lycus, hear it too!
Handsome with your fine head of hair, Telephos, and just like the undimmed evening star, Rhode comes to you with perfect timing, while I smoulder with love of my Glycera.