Odes 2.6

Tibur or Tarentum: a poet’s dilemma?

by Horace

Tibur is next door to Horace’s beloved Sabine farm: is he actually thinking of leaving it to live in Tarentum, on the heel of Italy? Not really: his list of Tarentum’s local attractions is appealing, but its purpose is probably to compliment Septimius, who has a local connection of some kind, and the sub-text is surely that Horace prefers to stay where he is. In fact he begins by telling us so, and the tear at the end looks like a virtual one, shed on virtual ashes. Nothing much seems to be known about Septimius, though the prominent references to Greek traditions and the emphatic “poet friend” in the last line indicate that Horace’s poetry played an important part in the relationship. Was he an army friend? We will never know, but the second stanza has clear military overtones, and the very next poem will be addressed to someone who is certainly a fellow-veteran of Horace’s. Many thanks to Tony Sillem for the fine translation of this charmingly mysterious ode.

Metre: Sapphic

To listen, press play:

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

Septimi, Gadis aditure mecum et
Cantabrum indoctum iuga ferre nostra et
barbaras Syrtis, ubi Maura semper
aestuat unda,

Tibur Argeo positum colono
sit meae sedes utinam senectae,
sit modus lasso maris et viarum

Unde si Parcae prohibent iniquae,
dulce pellitis ovibus Galaesi
flumen et regnata petam Laconi
rura Phalantho.

ille terrarum mihi praeter omnis
angulus ridet, ubi non Hymetto
mella decedunt viridique certat
baca Venafro,

ver ubi longum tepidasque praebet
Iuppiter brumas et amicus Aulon
fertili Baccho minimum Falernis
invidet uvis.

ille te mecum locus et beatae
postulant arces; ibi tu calentem
debita sparges lacrima favillam
vatis amici.

Septimius, you are happy to go with me to Cadiz,
to the Cantabrian tribes still free from Rome’s yoke, or
to the wild North African sand-banks, where
the Moorish wave forever heaves.

But I would wish to end my days at Tibur,
home to the Argive Settlers: that will be my retreat
when I am tired of wandering and warfare, when I have
seen my last Ocean view.

And if the adverse fates should bar that road, then I will
go in search of the river Galaesus,
kind to its skin-clad sheep, and the fields once ruled by
Spartan Phalanthus.

That quiet corner of the world still smiles for me
above all others, Hymettus has not such honey,
nor will you find the same richness of olives
in green Venafrum.

There mild midwinters and an early spring
are Jupiter’s gift, there Tarentine Aulon, dear to
fertile Bacchus, can find no cause to envy
The Falernian vineyards.

That is the place, that high, abundant land
calls to us, Septimius, and there you will one day
shed a tear on the still-warm ashes
of your poet friend.