Horace: Ode 2.1 "To Pollio, On His History of the Civil Wars" (From Latin)

To Pollio, On His History of the Civil Wars
By Horace
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Of all that civil unrest since Metellus, 
the phases, causes and the crimes of war,  
 of Fortune's games, of great men's grave
  friendships, of weapons smeared with gore
not yet atoned for – you are writing now  
a work where every turned phrase is a roll      
 of dangerous dice. Let not the ash 
  deceive: you tread on blazing coal.  
Let your stern Muse not leave the tragic stage      
for long. Soon, when you've set affairs of state  
 in order, you will heed the theater's            
  calling again. Pollio the great
bastion of law to grieved defendants, famous      
for counseling the Senate council, crowned   
 with deathless military honor
  for victory on Illyrian ground.  
Even now I hear the war-horns' baleful roar 
in your raucous music, and the bugles' blare.  
 I see the flash of swords strike panicked 
  horses and the horsemen's eyes with fear. 
I see the great commanders filthy with   
war's not inglorious dirt, I hear the whole 
 world fall at Rome's feet notwithstanding
  defiant Cato's dogged soul.
The gods allied with Africa who, helpless 
to help, left unavenged that country's shores,  
 now sacrifice to dead Jugurtha 
  the grandsons of his conquerors. 
What field has Latin blood not fertilized, 
its graves attesting the unholiest   
 of wars, and that the ears of Persia
  ring with the ruin of the West? 
What churning main, what river does not know 
those rueful wars' taste? What sea has the slaughter 
 of Rome's own sons not dyed? What beach
  has our gushed blood not washed like water? 
But stay amusing, sassy muse. Enough           
drumming up death-songs from Simonides.      
  Let's flee to one of Venus' grottos
  to strum a lighter tune than these.  

Notes:

Stanza 1: 
Roman dates were customarily kept according to the names of the two consuls who took office in that year (though, in this case, only one is given.) Metellus Celer was consul in 60 BC, the year the general and politician Pompey along with Marcus Licinius Crassus and a rising politician by the name of Julius Caesar, struck up the informal political alliance normally referred to as the First Triumvirate. It ushered in a period of political deterioration that led to the end of the Roman Republic as a viable political entity. Horace here refers to the problems of rivalry and civil war between the participants in this alliance and those of the Second Triumvirate, which two decades later brought together Octavian (later to be the emperor named Augustus), Mark Antony and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. 

Stanza 3:
Gaius Asinius Pollio (76 BC - 4 AD) served under Julius Caesar and then under Antony. In 40 BC he brought the embittered and estranged erstwhile partners of the Second Triumvirate, Antony and Octavian, together in the Treaty of Brundisium. In 39 BC he was honored with triumphal laurels for his victory over the Parthini, an Illyrian tribe allied with Marcus Junius Brutus, adversary to Octavian and assassin of Julius Caesar. The momentous work to which Horace refers here is Pollio's history of the political turmoil from 60 to 42 BC, which at the time was very fresh in people's minds and therefore, Horace would have us believe, dangerous to write about. 

Stanza 6:
Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis (95– 46 BC), ruler of the North African city of Utica and great grandson of Cato the Censor, was a dogged defender of the republic who, after defeat at the battle of Thapsus, committed suicide rather than legitimate the Empire's dictatorship by accepting a pardon from Julius Caesar.

Stanza 7:
Allusion to the sack of the African city of Carthage in 146 BC. Jugurtha, king of Numidia, was defeated and executed in Rome in 104 BC. 

Stanza 10:
Simonides of Ceos, major Greek lyric poet of the 6th and 5th centuries BC, famed for his evocative elegies on fallen warriors. 


The Original:

Mōtum ex Metellō cōnsule cīvicum 
bellīque causās et vitia et modōs 
 lūdumque Fōrtūnae gravisque
  prīncipum amīcitiās et arma
nōndum expiātīs ūncta cruōribus,  
perīculōsae plēnum opus āleae,  
 trāctās et incēdis per ignīs
  suppositōs cinerī dolōsō.
Paulum sevērae Mūsa tragoediae 
dēsit theātrīs; mox, ubi pūblicās 
 rēs ōrdināris, grande mūnus
  Cēcropiō repetēs cothurnō,
īnsigne maestīs praesidium reīs 
et cōnsulentī, Pōlliō, cūriae, 
 cui laurus aeternōs honōrēs
  Delmaticō peperit triumphō.
Iam nunc minācī murmure cornuum
perstringis aurīs, iam lituī strepunt, 
 iam fulgor armōrum fugācis
  terret equōs equitumque vultūs.
Vidēre magnōs iam videor ducēs 
nōn indecōrō pulvere sordidōs 
 et cūncta terrārum subācta
  praeter atrōcem animum Catōnis.
Iūnō et deōrum quisquis amīcior 
Āfrīs inultā cesserat impotēns 
 tellūre, victōrum nepōtēs
  rettulit īnferiās Iugurthae.
Quis nōn Latīnō sanguine pinguior 
campus sepulchrīs impia proelia 
 testātur audītumque Mēdīs
  Hesperiae sonitum ruīnae?
Quī gurges aut quae flūmina lūgubris 
ignāra bellī? Quod mare Dauniae 
 nōn dēcolōrāvēre caedēs?
  Quae caret ōra cruōre nostrō?
Sed nē relīctīs, Mūsa procāx, iocīs 
Cēae retrāctēs mūnera nēniae, 
 mēcum Diōnaeō sub antrō
  quaere modōs leviōre plēctrō.

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