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Whether the Virgil of this Ode was the great epic bard, or one of his relations, or a perfumer or trafficker of some other sort, is a question which successive commentators have earnestly discussed without materially elucidating. I rather incline to the commercial theory; not at all liking to suppose that the concluding portion of the poem can have been applicable to the author of the Georgics and the Aeneid.
The story referred to in the second stanza is very differently told by different writers, and it is not solely for convenience' sake that I follow Doering and Dillenburger in supposing Philomela and not Procne to have been intended by Horace to be represented as the mother and murderess of Itys.
Now do Spring's retinue, light Thracian gales,
Which the sea moderate, distend the sails,
Nor are the meadows stiff with frost, nor now
Roar torrents swollen with the winter's snow.
Now builds her nest, bemoaning piteously
Itys and the eternal infamy
Of Cecrops' house, unhappy Philomel,
Who on foul lust of kings wrought vengeance fell.
Shepherds, upon the tender herbage lolling,
Again upon their pipes are carols trolling,
And the god charm who in the shady heights
Of Arcady, and flocks and herds delights.
The season brings on thirst, but, if you think,
Virgil, of wine at Cales pressed to drink,
Then, client of our young nobility,
With spikenard must you that same liquor buy.
One little box of nard, a stoup from those
Which in Sulpician cellars now repose,
JAM veris comites, quae mare temperant,
Impellunt animae lintea Thraciae;
Jam nec prata rigent nec fluvii strepunt
Hiberna nive turgidi.
Nidum ponit, Ityn flebiliter gemens,
Infelix avis et Cecropiae domus
Aeternum opprobrium, quod male barbaras
Regum est ulta libidines.
Dicunt in tenero gramine pinguium
Custodes ovium carmina fistula,
Delectantque deum cui pecus et nigri
Colles Arcadiae placent.
Adduxere sitim tempora, Virgili;
Sed pressum Calibus ducere Liberum
Si gestis, juvenum nobilium cliens,
Nardo vina merebere.
Nardi parvus onyx eliciet cadum
Qui nunc Sulpiciis accubat horreis,
Will draw, of new hopes prodigal, nor less
Able to wash away care's bitterness.
To which regale if you would hasten, come
Quick with your wares, for I do not, like some
Rich owner of a well-stocked house, design
To moisten you scot free with cups of mine.
So put aside delay, and lucre's quest,
And, gloomy pyre foreseeing, some slight zest
Of folly mix with prudence while you may:
'Tis pleasant now and then the fool to play.
The late Lord Lytton seems greatly to have admired this effusion. In my humble judgment, its chief interest consists in its showing how coarsely the most polished of Roman poets could write when in a Locksley Hall humour.
LYCE, the gods have listened to my prayer,
Have listened, Lyce: beldam as you are,
Lovely you fain would still appear,
And tope and frisk with shameless leer,
And in your cups in quavering accents ask
For halting Cupid, who prefers to bask
On blooming Chia's damask cheek-
Hers, skilled to make the cithern speak.
For over sapless oaks the teasing child
Passes, and flies away from you, defiled
With teeth emblackened and with brow
Bewrinkled, and with head of snow.
Spes donare novas largus, amaraque
Curarum eluere efficax.
Ad quae si properas gaudia, cum tua
Velox merce veni: non ego te meis
Immunem meditor tingere poculis,
Plena dives ut in domo.
Verum pone moras et studium lucri;
Nigrorumque memor, dum licet, ignium,
Misce stultitiam consiliis brevem:
Dulce est desipere in loco.
AUDIVERE, Lyce, di mea vota, di
Audivere, Lyce: fis anus, et tamen
Vis formosa videri;
Ludisque et bibis impudens,
Et cantu tremulo pota Cupidinem
Lentum sollicitas. Ille virentis et
Doctae psallere Chiae
Pulchris excubat in genis.
Importunus enim transvolat aridas
Quercus, et refugit te, quia luridi
Dentes, te quia rugae
Turpant et capitis nives.
No Coan purple can to you restore,
No sparkling jewelry the days of yore
Which once by flitting time within
The public rolls interred have been.
Where has your beauty fled? that hue, ah! where?
And grace of movement? what have you of her,
Of her who, love-inspiring, aye
Could tear me from myself away?
Next after Cinara gifted, was she known
For graciousness of face, but fate upon
My Cinara bestowed scant strip
Of life, intending long to keep
Lyce to match the aged raven's years;
So that, and not without abundant jeers,
Our amorous youth might see to white
Ashes reduced her torch's light.
The Latin superscription of this Ode sufficiently indicates that its real object was the praise of Augustus, to which the part taken by Tiberius, together with Drusus, in the victories over the German tribes, is made subservient. For the circumstances in which it was written, see prefatory note to Ode 4 of this Book.
How shall the senate's or the people's care,
Awarding amplest honours, with decree
Of titles and memorial rolls, declare
Thy virtue's fame throughout eternity,
Oh! thou Augustus, greatest prince of all
Who the illuminating day-star see
Circling around this habitable ball?