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 philosopher-friend Corvinus along the way. Part of the joke is to invite the wine-jar to “descend”: something that it would be natural to say in a prayer, but also apt to wine, which in Rome was often kept in attics, rather than cellars. It has something in common with the conventional theme of “carpe diem”, but accentuating the positives of the moment and eliminating negatives to come. Good humour pervades it, in a respectful 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, mad lovemaking
or restful sleep,

whatever you, worthy to bring out on
a special day, are keeping the choice Massic for,
come down, as Corvinus bids me
bring out mellower wines.

He, though marinated in Socratic discourse,
is not uncouth enough to neglect you:
they say even ancient Cato’s virtue
frequently warmed up with wine.

O wine, you work your gentle torture even
on tougher natures; you reveal the worries of
the wise and their concealed opinions
helped by your cheerful patron God;

you bring hope back to anxious minds
and give strength and toughness to poor men,
who, after you, do not quail at kings’ angry crowns
or soldiers’ weapons.

Bacchus, and, if she will graciously attend,
Venus, and the Graces, reluctant to be parted,
and the burning lanterns, shall make you last
until the Sun, returning, chases off the stars.