Odes 3.13

O Fons Bandusiae

by Horace

One of many odes in the form of a prayer. A prayer to a spring is not just a metaphor, as natural features could have true religious significance for Greeks and Romans. 10 October was a Roman festival, the Fontinalia, when flowers and wine were offered to springs and wells. The poem praises, not just the spring, but also Horace’s poetry, because that is what is going to make the spring’s fame last.

The sacrifice of the kid is off-putting for us, and a reminder that Roman attitudes to death were very different from ours. The spring might well be a real one, but as usual we can’t be absolutely certain.

I once found this ode on my duvet cover in a seaside bed-and-breakfast in Devon, proving Horace right when he said that his odes were a monument more enduring than bronze.

Metre: fourth Asclepiad

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O fons Bandusiae, splendidior vitro,
dulci digne mero non sine floribus,
cras donaberis haedo,
cui frons turgida cornibus

primis et venerem et proelia destinat
frustra: nam gelidos inficiet tibi
rubro sanguine rivos
lascivi suboles gregis.

te flagrantis atrox hora Caniculae
nescit tangere, tu frigus amabile
fessis vomere tauris
praebes et pecori vago.

fies nobilium tu quoque fontium
me dicente cavis impositam ilicem
saxis, unde loquaces
lymphae desiliunt tuae.

Spring of Bandusia, brighter than crystal, deserving my sweet wine, and no less my flowers, tomorrow You shall have the present of a kid, for which its brow, swelling with horns

just budding, promises battle and the pleasures of love.But vainly; this offspring of a playful flock will tint Your cool edges with his red blood.

The fierce hour of the blazing summer heat
has no way to touch You;
You offer to pour out delightful coolness for tired oxen and the wandering flock.

You too shall join the company of the noble springs as I tell of the tree set above
the hollow rocks, from where Your waters, chattering, leap down.