When president Obama announced the death of Bin Laden, there was a great relief and triumphant feeling in the West, though the death of Bin Laden was more symbolically relevant than from a military point of view. An even greater feeling of relief must have engulfed Rome, when it became known that the fleet of Marc Antony and Cleopatra was destroyed at Actium and that Cleopatra had committed suicide. This battle took place in 30 BC and was a turning point in Roman history: after years of civil strife, Octavian got the upper hand and defeated Mark Antony. Assuming the name of Augustus, he brought the Pax Augustana over the Roman Empire, one of the most happy periods this empire has experienced during its long existence.
As soon as Horace (65-8 BC) – then the rising star amongst the poets of Rome – heard of outcome of the battle of Actium, he wrote a poem celebrating this event. Though he describes Cleopatra as afatale monstrum, he admires her courage for wanting to die rather than be taken prisoner.
What Horace could not have known, is that this poem is the first in a long line of artistic works about Cleopatra: fiction, drama, biographies , paintings movies. Let’s say that this start could have been far worse!
The metre is Alcaic http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcaic_stanza
Nunc est bibendum, nunc pede libero
pulsanda tellus, nunc Saliaribus
ornare puluinar deorum
tempus erat dapibus, sodales.
Antehac nefas depromere Caecubum 5
cellis auitis, dum Capitolio
regina dementes ruinas
funus et imperio parabat
contaminato cum grege turpium
morbo virorum, quidlibet impotens 10
sperare fortunaque dulci
ebria. Sed minuit furorem
uix una sospes nauis ab ignibus,
mentemque lymphatam Mareotico
redegit in ueros timores 15
Caesar, ab Italia uolantem
remis adurgens, accipiter uelut
molles columbas aut leporem citus
uenator in campis niualis
Haemoniae, daret ut catenis 20
fatale monstrum. Quae generosius
perire quaerens nec muliebriter
expauit ensem nec latentes
classe cita reparauit oras,
ausa et iacentem uisere regiam 25
uoltu sereno, fortis et asperas
tractare serpentes, ut atrum
corpore conbiberet uenenum,
deliberata morte ferocior:
saeuis Liburnis scilicet inuidens 30
priuata deduci superbo,
non humilis mulier, triumpho.
nunc: emphatic! Now at this very moment the news has come to us!
bibo: to drink
pulso: to beat
tellus, telloris, f: earth, ground
Saliaribus dapibus: the Salii were a class of 12 priest who held in the first of March excessive feasts with wild dancing and lavish meals to honor to god Mars (the month March is of course dedicated to the god Mars).
pulvinar, -aris: couch. At the feast of the Salii statues of the gods were place on couches to accentuate their presence.
nunc…tempus erat: the combination of nunc and erat is awkward. The most easy solution is to take it as `now, it was already time that the Salii etc.’. or simply translate is as tempus est.
nefas: shameful, not done
depromo: to bring forward from
Caecubum (vinum): the best wine came from Caecubum , a plain of Lacium.
Capitolium: the temple of Juppiter at Rome
ruinas funus et = ruinas et funus
regina dementes ruinas: many commentators take this as an enallage (an adjective belonging to one noun, but in effect qualifying an other noun) so we should understand regina demens ruinas, but in my opinion there is nothing wrong with `crazy downfall/ ruining’. Everyone understands that these ruinas are dementes because of the madness of Cleopatra.
funus, –us: death, destruction
parabat, imperfectum de conatu, so not provided, but tried/planned to prepare.
contaminato cum grege turpium morbo virorum = cum contaminato grege virorum morbo turpium. The whole phrase expresses Horace’s disgust for the eunuchs – viri turpes morbo – of the Egyptian court.
grex, grecis: herd
morbus: disease (often was sexual connotations, like here)
impotens: unable to control herself
minuo: lessen, diminish
Sed…..Caesar: two things brought her back from her furor: the fact that hardly one ship of her fleet escaped fire and Octavian chasing her.
sospes ab: saved from
Mareotico (vino) excellent wine from Alexandria
redigo: bring back
volo: to fly, flee (Cleopatram volantem)
adurgeo: to pursue closely
lepor, –oris: hare
in campis niualis Haemoniae (= Thessaly): to describe the fields of Thessaly as covered with snow is a literary convention.
generosius perire quaerens: seeking to end more heroic (than being chained)
nec muliebriter expauit ensem: i.e. she was not afraid to die
expavesco – pavi: be afraid of
latentes oras: coasts hidden (for the fleet of Octavian)
reparo: here `to seek’. Instead of trying to hide herself at some distant coast, Cleopatra returned to Egypt.
audeo – ausus sum: to dare, ausa (est)
iacentem regiam: her palace (= power) in ruins
vultus – us: face
asper, asperi: rough, wild, dangerous
tracto: to handle
ater, atri: black
conbibo: to drink. There are various versions about Cleopatra’s death. The most well-known is that she let herself be bitten by two snakes.
deliberata ferocior morte: as the metre shows, deliberata goes withmorte (the final a is long, so ablative): she was very much spirited for
deliberatus: not deliberated, but decided
saeuis Liburnis inuidens priuata deduci superbo triumpho: the subject is invidens. This takes the dative saevis Liburnis. privata is predicate to invidens. The remainder is what Cleopatra is invidens.
Liburnis (navibus): Liburnian ships are a kind of small and fast vessels, extremely useful for operating in coastal waters. They played an important role in setting the ships of Mark Antony and Cleopatra to fire.
scilicet: of course
invideo: literally `to look upon’ in the sense of `to cast an evil eye upon’, then `to envy, refuse’
privo: to deprive, bereave, privata (regno) `deprived of her kingdom’
deduco: to lead back
superbo triumph: dative of direction = ad superbum triumphum
triumpho: a Roman commander was allowed to have a triumph, a procession through Rome at which the enemies taken captive where shown and especially their leader was shown in humiliating circumstances.
Here is a link to a translation: