"You Who Measured the Sea"

(Horace, Odes 1.28)

translated by Peter Saint-Andre

You who measured the sea and the earth and the numberless sands,
You, Archytas, are now confined in a small mound of dirt
Near the Matine shore, and what good does it do you that you
Attempted the mansions of the skies and that you traversed
The round celestial vault — you with a soul born to die?

For these have perished: Tantalus, the father of Pelops,
Guest of the gods; Tithonus, scattered to the far-off winds;
Minos, privy to the secrets of Jove; Pythagoras,
Son of Panthous, held by Tartarus, consigned to Orcus
Not once but twice, who witnessed Trojan times by taking down
The shield and who conceded to dark death nothing at all
But his sinews and skin — and I know you consider him
No mean judge of nature and truth. A common night awaits
Us all, and in the end we must all tread the path of death.

Some are offered by the Furies to bloody Mars as sport;
Sailors are devoured when they go out on voracious seas;
Mixed corpses of young and old are densely packed together;
No head escapes harsh Proserpina. I've been submerged too
In Illyrian waves by Orion's swift friend, the south wind.

So, sailor, don't spite me, don't be sparing with the shifting sands,
Grant instead a little to my unburied bones and skull —
Then may you stay safe whatever the east wind vents against
Hesperian waves when Venusian woods are beaten back,
May a great reward flow down to you from Jove and Neptune.

Would you make light of committing a wrong that might bring harm
To your innocent children? For chance may yet deny you
Due justice and bring you outrageous fortune: in which case
My entreaty would not go unrewarded, nor would any
Atonement release you. Though you're in a hurry, the wait
Won't be long: scatter three handfuls of earth and scurry away.


Peter Saint-Andre > Writings > Ancient Fire