This poem, heart-warming at the personal level, makes a political point as well. Who has allowed Pompeius (not Caesar’s dead opponent, another one) back to Rome and made him a full citizen (Quiritem) again? Augustus has. Many former enemies, including Horace himself, have long been forgiven, and now clemency is extended even to harder cases like Pompeius. The civil wars are well and truly over, and Rome is at peace, thanks to Augustus.
That throwing your shield away is embarrassing, but worth it if it saves your life, is a theme that goes back in Greek poetry at least 500 years before Horace. Being spirited away by a god in a mist happens in Homer. Smearing yourself with perfumed ointment before drinking would not appeal to me, but garlands of parsley or myrtle might raise the tone a bit down the Dog and Duck. The Edonians were Thracians, by stereotype a rough lot. Venus is a winning throw, with all four dice showing a different number.
The recording and translation are dedicated to Simon Gilbert: “O saepe mecum tempus in ultimum deducte Lunto militiae duce”.
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O saepe mecum tempus in ultimum
deducte Bruto militiae duce,
quis te redonavit Quiritem
dis patriis Italoque caelo,
Pompei meorum prime sodalium
cum quo morantem saepe diem mero
fregi coronatus nitentes
Malobathro Syrio capillos?
tecum Philippos et celerem fugam
tensi relicta non bene palmula,
cum fracta virtus et minaces
turpe solum tetigere mento.
sed me per hostes Mercurius celer
denso paventem sustulit aëre
te rursus in bellum resorbens
unda fretis tulit aestuosis.
ergo obligatam redde Iovi dapem
longaque fessum militia latus
depone sub lauru mea nec
parce cadis tibi destinatis.
oblivioso levia Massico
ciboria exple; funde capacibus
unguenta de conchis. quis udo
deproperare apio coronas
curatve myrto? quem Venus arbitrum
ducet bibendi? non ego sanius
bacchabor Edonis: recepto
dulce mihi furere est amico
Pompeius, you who were often led with me
into supreme danger, soldiering under Brutus,
who was it that gave you back, a citizen once more,
to the gods of your fathers and the Italian sky,
you, the first among my companions,
with whom I often cracked a tedious day
with wine, our shining hair crowned
with Syrian ointment?
With you I went through Philippi, ran away as fast
as I could, my shield shamefully left behind, when
our strength was broken, and men who had been
full of threats chinned the earth in disgrace.
As for me, swift Mercury bore me
on a dense cloud of obscurity past the enemy;
but the receding wave, on stormy waters,
sucked you back again into the war.
Then pay back to Jupiter the feast you owe,
lay down your side, tired with long soldiering,
under my laurel tree, and don’t spare
these wine jars, meant for you.
Fill the polished cups with forgetful
Massic wine, pour ointment from
the ample shells. Who will see to
the crowns of dampened parsley or myrtle?
Whom will Venus name as master of the revels?
I will be no quieter than the Edonians
in celebrating Bacchus: it is sweet to let myself go,
now that I have found my friend again.