Ode 1.32


by Horace

This is one of Horace’s manifesto poems: he is going to use Greek conventions to make a new kind of poetry that will be a permanent enhancement of Roman culture. The lyre is not real: it stands for Greek tradition and Horace’s poetic skill (he is not shy about making big claims for his work). He elevates the mood by using the form of an invocation. The “citizen of Lesbos” is Alcaeus, a Greek poet born towards the end of the 7th century BCE and presumed inventor of the metre – Alcaics – which Horace tends to use when he has an especially serious point to make. The metre of this Ode is Sapphic.

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Poscimur. Si quid vacui sub umbra
lusimus tecum, quod et hunc in annum
vivat et plures, age, dic Latinum,
barbite, carmen,

Lesbio primum modulate civi,
qui ferox bello tamen inter arma,
sive iactatam religarat udo
litore navim,

Liberum et Musas Veneremque et illi
semper haerentem puerum canebat
et Lycum nigris oculis nigroque
crine decorum.

o decus Phoebi et dapibus supremi
grata testudo Iovis, o laborum
dulce lenimen, mihi cunque salve
rite vocanti.

That is our call. If in the past we have played something light with you in in the shade, come, now play something that can live for this year and many more, a Latin song, my lyre!

Lyre, first played by that citizen of Lesbos,
who, though fierce in war, when under arms
or when at the water’s edge he moored his sea-tossed
ship on the shore,

Would sing of Bacchus, the Muses, Venus
and the little boy who always clings to her,
and Lycus, so handsome with his dark eyes and dark

O Apollo’s grace, pleasure of the feasts of supreme
Jupiter, lyre, O you sweet relief from my labours
greet me whenever
I duly call on you.