978-0-374-22425-7 / 9780374224257

The Odes of Horace


Publisher:Farrar Straus & Giroux (T)



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About the book:

David Ferry's The Odes of Horace represents the first truly distinguished translation of the complete odes into the American idiom. The translator has managed to retain the poet's moral tone while purging any taint of sententiousness. How? By recasting the structure of "Carpe Diem," for example, he gives this familiar poem a power one would have not thought possible. Ferry even manages a Latin-English rhyme at the end, by shifting the position of the addressee's name: "Leuconoe-- / Hold on to the day."

Ferry's Horace is always a specific personality, with his own identity, background, and attitude. Yet he is also a conduit of history. Turning to "Delicta maiorum immeritus lues..." (which Ferry straightforwardly calls "To the Romans"), we are plunged into a devastating meditation on the imperium. At this point, of course, it's commonplace to point out similarities between the American empire and that of ancient Rome. But this translation gives us a feeling for just how contemporary Horace really is. The best example would probably be "To Dellius":

Dellius, don't be
Too unrestrainedly joyful in good fortune.
You are going to die.

It doesn't matter at all whether you spend
Your days and nights in sorrow,
Or, on the other hand, in holiday pleasure.
Drinking Falernian wine

Of an excellent vintage year, on the river bank.

It helps to know that the historical Dellius was exiled in Egypt at the time, making those Italian vintages strictly off-limits to him. What's more, he was a double or perhaps triple agent, which gives him an additional Cold War coloration. In any case, the allusiveness of the odes--and the taut, bone-dry English of Ferry's translation--should gain Horace a legion or so of new readers. --Mark Rudman

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