Odes 3.21

Horace’s prayer to a wine-jar

by Horace

This poem takes the form of a prayer, first to a wine-jar, then to the virtues of wine in general, poking gentle fun at Horace’s serious philosopher-friend Corvinus along the way. Part of the joke is to invite the wine-jar to “descend”like a god, as Romans often kept wine in attics, rather than cellars. Good humour pervades the poem, in a playful tribute to the Gods, friendship and the good things in life.

Metre: Alcaic

See the blog post with a fresco of a banquet from Herculaneum here.

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O nata mecum consule Manlio,
seu tu querellas sive geris iocos
seu rixam et insanos amores
seu facilem, pia testa, somnum,

quocumque lectum nomine Massicum
servas, moveri digna bono die,
descende, Corvino iubente
promere languidiora vina.

Non ille, quamquam Socraticis madet
sermonibus, te negleget horridus:
narratur et prisci Catonis
saepe mero caluisse virtus.

Tu lene tormentum ingenio admoves
plerumque duro; tu sapientium
curas et arcanum iocoso
consilium retegis Lyaeo.

Tu spem reducis mentibus anxiis
viresque et addis cornua pauperi,
post te neque iratos trementi
regum apices neque militum arma.

Te Liber et si laeta aderit Venus
segnesque nodum solvere Gratiae
vivaeque producent lucernae,
dum rediens fugat astra Phoebus.

O faithful wine-jar, born with me when Manlius was consul, whether you bring complaints, hilarity, brawls, frantic lovemaking or restful sleep,

though you’re fit to bring out on a special day, and whatever you may be keeping your choice vintage for,
come down to us, since Corvinus tells me to bring out mellower wines.

He is marinated in Socratic dialogue, but even he is not bristly enough to neglect you: they say that even old Cato’s virtue was often warmed up with wine.

Wine, you work your gentle torture even on the hardest natures; with the wine-God’s cheerful help, you reveal the worries and the inmost thoughts of the wise;

you bring back hope to anxious minds and give the poor man strength and horns – after you, he does not fear kings’ angry crowns or the soldiers’ weapons.

Bacchus, and, if she will graciously attend, Venus, and the Graces, slow to part the knot that binds them,
and the living lanterns shall lead you on until the Sun, returning, chases off the stars.