"A Priest of the Muses"

(Horace, Odes III.1)

translated by Peter Saint-Andre

I loathe and shun the uninitiate crowd,
I keep a sacred silence: for I am
A priest of the Muses and I sing songs
Never heard before to virgins and boys.
Great rulers are feared by their subject-flocks,
But high over them is the rule of Jove,
Famed for his triumph over the Giants,
Changing all by a move of his eyebrow.
It's true that one man plants greater vineyards,
That one candidate in the Campus is
Of nobler descent whereas another is
Of greater fame and worth, and a third has
A bigger crowd of followers — yet Fate,
With blind justice, decides the end of high
And low alike: the urn stirs every name.
To one above whose neck the drawn sword hangs,
Sicilian feasts hold no sweet savor, nor will
The songs of birds and citharas let him sleep —
Yet gentle dreams do not shun peasant homes,
Shady riverbanks, and breezy valleys.
One who desires no more than his needs
Is not disturbed by stormy seas and the
Raging onset of setting Arcturus
Or rising Haedus, not by the hail that
Attacks his vines, nor by an estate that
Disappoints him, the fruit-trees now blaming
Floods, now field-parching stars, now harsh winter.
Or look here: shunning land, crowds of workers
And the contractor, and the owner himself
Lay their stones in the water, and the fishes
Are confined by pilings built in the deep;
Yet fear and threats rise up to plague the owner,
And gloomy trouble besets his bronze-beaked
Trireme and even sits behind his horsemen.
Yet if Phrygian marble and brilliant purples
And Falernian wines and Persian spices
Cannot comfort one who's in pain, why build
A huge hall with pillars in the latest style?
Why switch my Sabine vale for troublesome wealth?


Peter Saint-Andre > Writings > Ancient Fire