Odes 1.13


by Horace

As in Ode 1.5, the speaker has loved and lost. The lover in the earlier poem had moved on: in this one, he is still burning in the fires of jealousy. Horace could hardly have written the piece without knowing how jealousy feels, but the Greek names are as always a clue that he is probably writing more from a literary than a personal viewpoint. There was a legendary warrior called Telephus who was wounded by Achilles’s spear, then later cured by rust from it. By using the name here, Horace may be giving us a witty clue that we are dealing with someone whose passion doesn’t last. We have already met a Lydia in Ode 1.8, distracting another likely young man from athletics and military training.

What the translation calls the “last secret” (“quinta pars”, or “fifth part”) of Venus’s  nectar is probably a spiritual element in which Pythagoreans believed in  addition to the four physical ones that made up the world: fire, air, earth and water. The speaker’s “heart” is actually his liver, which was regarded as the seat of the emotions.

The language at the end of the poem is so compressed and the word-order so intricate that, like many of Horace’s most memorable passages, it is impossible to translate literally into coherent English.

See the illustrated blog post here.

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To scroll the original and English translation of the poem at the same time - tap inside one box to select it and then scroll.

Cum tu, Lydia, Telephi
cervicem roseam, cerea Telephi
laudas bracchia, vae, meum
fervens difficili bile tumet iecur.
tum nec mens mihi nec color
certa sede manet, umor et in genas
furtim labitur arguens,
quam lentis penitus macerer ignibus.
uror, seu tibi candidos
turparunt umeros inmodicae mero
rixae sive puer furens
inpressit memorem dente labris notam.
non, si me satis audias,
speres perpetuum dulcia barbare
laedentem oscula, quae Venus
quinta parte sui nectaris imbuit.
felices ter et amplius
quos inrupta tenet copula nec malis
divolsus querimoniis
suprema citius solvet amor die.

Oh, Lydia, when you sing the praises of Telephus and his rosy neck, Telephus and the waxen white of his arms, my burning heart swells uncontrollably with bile. Then I can’t keep my mind steady, I turn pale and a stealthy tear creeping down my cheek tells that I am  tortured right to my core by slow fires. I burn if drunken quarrels have disfigured your white shoulders, or if in his frenzy the boy has given you a mark on your lips with his teeth to remember him by.  If you will only listen to me, you will not want to keep for good someone who so crudely mars your lovely lips, which Venus has infused with the last secret  of her nectar. Triply blessed and more are those united by an unshakeable bond; whose love is not torn apart by quarrels and their destructive power, and will not see them parted before their dying day.