Written when Horace thought he had completed the Odes (in fact he wrote a fourth book), this was Horace’s sign-off. It is a short poem, but not by any stretch of the imagination a small one. No-one should deny Horace his bragging rights – others come in and out of fashion, and some wrote as well in shorter bursts, but he and Virgil do stand supreme for sustained achievement. The last stanza especially pushes it a bit – in another usage, “princeps” (“the first”) was a title (“first citizen”) that Augustus adopted, and laurel crowns were what victorious generals wore in their Triumphs through the city. But Horace’s claim that his work is more eternal than bronze is true: as one small example, I once checked into a Bed and Breakfast and found one of the Odes (o fons Bandusiae) on my pillowcase and duvet cover. I hoped the landlady did not know it involved the sacrifice of a goat.
The river Aufidus and the legendary Daunus were local to Horace’s birthplace in the South. One of the nice touches in the poem is the switch in the second and third stanzas between the most august location in Rome and Horace’s small home town: both matter to him. In the second stanza, Libitina is the goddess of funerals. In the fourth, Melpomene, the Muse of tragedy, was also the patroness of the lyre: Horace leaves some ambiguity about whether the tribute of pride that he offers her has been won by her “merits” or his.
Metre: first Asclepiad
See the illustrated blog post here.
To listen, press play: