Translated by Steven J. Willett
Hades and Cerebus 2nd-century AD, Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, Crete
Note: Hades was the eldest male child of Cronus and Rhea. His brothers were Zeus and Poseidon. He was later known to the Greeks as Pluton (Πλούτων), which the Romans changed to Pluto. He was married to Persephone the daughter of Demeter.
This is one of Horace’s most popular and emotionally charged odes due to its complex fugal control of syntax, verbal tonality and rhythm. The Lesbian strophe in its Sappho-Alcaeus, Horace and English versions is outlined below to give the readers some understanding of the meter. In the English alcaic strophe, I stick as closely as possible to the accentual Greek lyric meters that emerged in German from the late 16th century down to their greatest exploitation by Hölderlin. The most difficult part of this translation is the meter of personal names. In a few places I follow Hölderlin in slight single-syllable departures from the strict accentual meter.
Sappho-Alcaeus x – u – × – u u – u – || × – u – × – u u – u – || × – u – × – u – – || – u u – u u – u – – ||| (where "–" is a longum, "u" a breve, and "×" an anceps) Horace – – u – – : – u u – u – – – u – – : – u u – u – – – u – – – u – – – u u – u u – u – – English (x=unstressed, /=stressed) x / x / x : / x x / x / x / x / x : / x x / x / x / x / x / x / x / x x / x x / x / x
Alas, how swiftly, Postumus, Postumus, The years glide by and piety can't delay All wrinkled skin and looming old age Bourne by a death that's indomitable, Not even if you sacrifice every day, My friend, three hundred bulls to assuage the stern God Pluto, who the triple-bodied Geryon now with the Tityos prisons In gloomy waters, certainly all of us, Who feed on bounty drawn from the pendant earth, Must sail across if ruling kings or Destitute laboring farmers we are. In vain the bloody Mars we'll attempt to flee And breaking waves of Hadria's hoarse-voiced roar, In vain each autumn we shall tremble Southern sirocco may harm our bodies: We all must see miandering, sluggish flow Cocytus gives and Danaus' daughters who Were infamous and long the punished Sisyphus Aeolus' son to labor. We must forsake the earth with our home and wife So dear, and never one of these trees you tend Except the hated cypresses will Follow along with their short-lived master. A worthier heir will drink off the Caecuba A hundred keys have saved and a wine unmixed Will stain your pavements with its glory Better than served at the pontiffs' banquets.
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