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 uses here, and elsewhere when he has an especially serious point to make.

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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.

We are summoned (to perform). If in the past we have played something light
with you in in the shade, come, now utter something that can live
for this year and many more,
a Latin song, my lyre!

Lyre, first played by that citizen of Lesbos,
who, fierce under arms in war,
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 with his dark eyes and dark
hair, handsome lad.

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