Horace Ode II.1 Translated by Steven J. Willett
A Roman bust of C. Asinius Pollio 76BC~4AD
Note: Pollio fought with Caesar during the Civil War 49 to 45BC serving as his legate in Africa and Spain. After Caesar’s assassination in 44BC he shifted his allegiance to Anthony, became consul in 44BC and won a triumph in 39BC for his victory over the Parthini. He then retired from military life and devoted himself to poetry, drama and history. He used the spoils from his triumph to build and supply the first national public library in Rome. It had Latin and Greek book wings for open consultation of texts. After Anthony became entangled with Cleopatra, he backed away and refused to sail with Octavian to the battle at Actium. His response to the request is wonderfully discrete in its irony: “mea in Antonium maiora merita sunt, illius in me beneficia notiora; itaque discrimini vestro me subtraham et ero praeda victoris” (“My services to Antony have been exemplary, and his benefits to me are very well known; I shall therefore withdraw from your disagreements and will be the spoils of the victor”). I’d like to see any American multi-star general who could even approach Pollio’s mastery in battle, negotiation, social affaires consultation and literary skills.
Horace presents this ode as praise of Pollio for his Civil War history, but it’s less praiseworthy than fiercely realistic of all human and destructive ruin that war has brought to the world and especially to Italy. In a true encomium he would not have put the endless bloody chaos of battle into a description of what Pollio wrote. Unfortunately Pollio’s history has been lost, so we have no way to compare Horace with its emotional ambiance. The meter of this ode is in the asclepiad strophe.
The civil strife that rose from Metellus consul, the cause of war, the blunders and ways of it, and Fortune's game, the harshly grievous friendships with powerful men and arms still unexpiated, smeared in their carnage blood, a task that's fraught with hazardous throw of dice, all these you wield, and step across fires hidden just under the dolorous ash. But briefly let your solemn and tragic Muse abandon stage, for shortly when state affaires you've organized, to your sublime role then you renew in our Cecrops' buskins, a famed defence for clients in abject fear and for the Senate, Pollio, consulting voice, to whom the garland deathless honors brought with renown in Dalmation triumph. But now with murmur menacing us from horns you deaden ears, now bugles are blaring out, now brilliant armor puts the fleeing horses in terror and horsemen's faces. I seem to hear now mighty commanders who are grimed with dust that's never indecorous, and set the world to subjugation other than furious soul of Cato. Among the gods, and Juno, who friendly were to Africa, abandoned without revenge on land, made offspring of the victors funeral offerings for Jugurtha. What field is never rich with Italian blood, with sepulchres that impious battlefield have testified and Medes can hear the thunderous roar of Hesperia's fall? What seas, what rivers ever were ignorant of plaintive war? What ocean has never been discolored from the Daunian slaughter? Where is a coastline without our blood? Now come, my shameless Muse, don't forsake your jests to try again the duties of Cean dirge, but stay with me in Dion's grotto searching for measures with lighter plectum.