A difficult ex-mistress has a new, young lover. The metre, the scenario and the lady’s name are Greek: whether Horace knew a real “Pyrrha”, we can’t know. The language is very condensed in places – no-one ever used word order like this in conversation – and it uses strongly sexual imagery. Pyrrha is intoxicating but the poet uses stormy seas as a metaphor for the dangers of loving her. He has been shipwrecked, but made it to shore and, as thanks for his escape, hung up his wet clothes in the temple as an offering to “the powerful God of the sea” (Neptune, or Cupid?)
Metre: fourth Asclepiad
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Quis multa gracilis te puer in rosa
perfusus liquidis urget odoribus
grato, Pyrrha, sub antro?
cui flavam religas comam,
simplex munditiis? heu quoties fidem
mutatosque deos flebit et aspera
nigris aequora ventis
qui nunc te fruitur credulus aurea;
qui semper vacuam, semper amabilem
sperat, nescius aurae
fallacis. miseri quibus
intentata nites! me tabula sacer
votiva paries indicat uvida
vestimenta maris deo.
What sweet boy among the many roses,
soaked in fragrance, is thrusting close against you
under your sweet grotto, Pyrrha?
Who do you tie back your golden hair for,
simple in your elegances? Ah, how many times
he will weep for faith and altered fortunes
and on seas rough with black winds
will gaze in unfamiliar amazement,
who, trusting boy, is now enjoying your golden self;
always available, always loving,
he hopes, not knowing that the breeze
is deceptive. Woe betide those at whom
your splendour is levelled! As for me, the sacred
wall shows with a votive plaque that I
have hung up my wet clothes to the mighty God
of the sea.