Month: February 2018

164. Satires by Horace (c.35-30 BC)

164. Satires by Horace (c.35-30 BC)

Plot:   Two books of poetry gently attacking men’s foibles.

My versions this time were (i) The Satires by Horace, translated by A. M. Juster (University of Pennsylvania, 9780812240900) and (ii) my trusty Penguin edition Horace, Satires and Epistles; Persius, Satires, translated by Niall Rudd (0140455086)

My thoughts:  Trying to break my addiction to Penguin Classics, I brought home a nice shiny library copy of Juster’s rhyming version, but after four attempts at trying to follow Horace’s train of thought, I had to admit defeat and buy an e-copy of Rudd. After reading his introduction and explanation of the structure, I realised the main section of the poems in Book 1 (published circa 33 BC) often contain an unlabelled dialogue which presents different sides of the argument (these dialogues are more clearly labelled in Horace’s second book of Satires, published around 30 BC). After that, I read Rudd’s prose translation, checking back with Juster on verses I especially like to see how he handled them.

Horace was the son of an ex-slave, who left university and joined Brutus’ armies and was routed at the Battle of Philipi, only to return home to find his beloved father dead and his farmland inheritance confiscated. Luckily, his writing left a favourable impression with Virgil, who introduced him to a wealthy patron Maecenas, which set Horace up for the rest of his days.

Although labelled satires, these poems are more rebukes against various vices and follies – greed, ambition, adultery, intolerance, gluttony etc. Unlike his predecessor, Horace rarely attacks individuals by name – he is not barbed or abusive but aims his criticism as suggestions for us all

“if you expect your friend to put up with your boils

You’ll forget about his warts”                   Satire I, iii   Lines 73-74 (Rudd)

Not all the poems are cast in this mould – some are like letters home on the personal events of Horace’s day, but my favourite was a story of a wooden statue carved from a tree trunk and placed in a paupers’ graveyard who happens to witness two loathsome witches performing black magic and decides ..

“With a sudden report like a burst balloon I let a fart

Which split my fig-wood buttocks; the hags scurried off downtown;

Canidia dropped her false teeth, the high wig

Tumbled from Sagana’s head …. If only you’d seen it!”         Satire I, viii   Lines 46-50 (Rudd)

And surprisingly one of the last poems in the second book (II, vi) includes Aesop’s fable of the town mouse and the country mouse!

Favourite lines/passages:

“We can rarely find a man who says

He has lived a happy life and who, when his time is up

Contentedly leaves the world like a guest who has had his fill”        Satire I, i   Lines 117-119 (Rudd)

“Winter may be drawing the snowy day into a smaller circle, but go I must”    Satire II, vi  Lines 25-26 (Rudd)

And this statement from Rudd’s introduction resonated with me:

“[Horace] did believe that men could spare themselves a great deal of misery by acceptance, restraint, good humour and tolerance”  p.18-19

Personal rating:  4/10

Also in those years:

Herod is made King of Judea by the Romans (37 BC)

The second Roman Triumvirate (Lepidus, Antony and Octavius) begins to split apart, as Lepidus and Octavius spar over each other’s lands in Africa and Sicily. Antony marries Octavius’ sister Octavia, averting civil war; but then goes and falls in love and bigamously marries Cleopatra (36 BC). Octavius (the future Emperor Augustus) defeats Antony and Cleopatra’s fleet at the Battle of Actium (31 BC), and the losing couple escape to Egypt and commit suicide (30 BC)

The reads in between: 

The Man with Two Left Feet, and other stories, by P. G. Wodehouse. Notable for the first appearance of Bertie Wooster and (albeit briefly) his butler Jeeves in the second story. A mixed bag of stories, including two told from a dog’s point of view. Still not old Plum’s very best, but even an average Wodehouse is streets ahead of most authors.

Dragonkeeper by Carole Wilkinson. A slave girl in ancient China runs away with the Emperor’s last dragon. Aimed at readers 10-14 and very enjoyable despite one unpleasant scene towards the end. Recommended.

Next :  Epodes by Horace

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163. The Eclogues by Virgil (c. 42-39 BC)

163. The Eclogues by Virgil (c. 42-39 BC)

Plot:   Ten pastoral poems set in the idyllic countryside, full of singing goatherds; sometimes with the bitter undercurrent of rejected love, but also topical themes such as agricultural dispossession as farmers are driven off their farms, which are then given to demobbed soldiers from the battle at Phillipi.

I read the World’s Classics version The Eclogues, The Georgics, translated by Cecil Day-Lewis (ISBN 0192816438), then looked at some earlier translations from the 16th-19th centuries in the Penguin classic Virgil in English (ISBN 0140423869)

My thoughts: Virgil has been hailed as a bedrock poet of European literature, inspiring a plethora of translations and imitations from the likes of Chaucer, Spenser, Marlowe, Milton, Dryden, Shelley, Wordsworth, Tennyson and Auden. However the Day-Lewis version left me indifferent, with very little to pass on of interest. More interesting was sampling the various earlier translations, showing how the style of language and literature changes with the ages.

For instance, from Eclogue I, the dispossessed farmer Meliboeus laments his fate in three different versions.

“But the rest of us must go from here and be dispersed — To Scythia, bone-dry Africa, the chalky spate of the Oxus. Even to Britain – that place cut off at the very world’s end. Ah, when will I see my native land again? after long years, or never? — see the turf-dressed roof of my simple cottage, and wondering gaze at the ears of corn that were all my kingdom. To think of some godless soldier owning my well-farmed fallow ….”       (C Day-Lewis, 1963)

“We poor soules must soone to the land cald Affrica packe hence, Some to the farre Scythia, and some must to the swift flood Oaxis, some to Britannia coastes quite parted farre from the whole world. Oh these pastures pure shall I nere more chance to behold yee? And out cottage poore with warme turves coverd about trim. Oh these trim tilde landes, shall a recklesse soldier have them?….”   (William Webbe, 1586)

“But we must roam to parts remote, unknown, under the Torrid and the Frigid Zone. These frozen Scythia, and parcht Affrick those; Cretan Oaxis others must inclose. Some ‘mongst the utmost Britains are confin’d, doomed to an isle from all the world disjoyn’d.

Ah! Must I never more my Country see, but in strange lands an endless Exile be? In my eternal banishment decreed from my poor Cottage, rear’d with turf and reed? Must impious Soldiers all these grounds possess, my fields of standing corn, my fertile Leyes?”  (John Caryll, 1684)

(PS I liked Caryll best)

Digressions/diversions: New word for the day. Stravagueing : to wander aimlessly

Personal rating:  Day-Lewis version : 2.

Also in that year:

To recap …

60 BC Julius Caesar, Pompey and Crassus form an alliance to further their political ambitions.

58-54 BC   Caesar defeats the Gaulish tribes, and briefly invades Britain (twice)

49 – 45 BC Caesar enters Italy with his armies of Gallic war veterans and eventually defeats Pompey’s forces, attaining supreme power of the Roman world

44 BC Caesar assassinated on the Ides of March by conspirators including Cassius and Brutus

43 BC A second ‘triumvirate’ formed between Marc Antony, Lepidus and Caesar’s adopted son Octavius

42 BC Antony and Octavius defeat Brutus and Cassius at Phillipi.

The reads in between: 

The Seeds of Time by John Wyndham (1956).  Wyndham’s other full-length novels always disappointed me after his excellent The Day of the Triffids, but this collection of science fiction short stories were a joy. The first few are gentle Wellesian tales (Chronoclasm, Time to Rest) but then Wyndham shows a more ruthless layer of steel and horror  with stories like Survival, and Pillar to Post (the latter a cat and mouse game as two men fight for the one body using mind transference across the galaxy). Might be difficult to find a copy, but recommended.

Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwall (2017). Looked forward to this a great deal as Cornwall writes excellent and well researched historical novels, especially his Sharpe series. Following Richard Shakespeare, brother to William and a young thief/actor in the latter’s group of players. It started off a little slow without the adventurous setting of his other books, but by halfway I was hooked. To say too much would spoil the ride, but if you liked Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare in Love, or historical action stories …. Recommended.

Next :   Satires by Horace.

162. The Conspiracy of Catiline by Sallust c.40 BC

162. The Conspiracy of Catiline by Sallust c.40 BC

Plot:   Catiline, frustrated over his failure to be elected consul, and driven by his hatred of Cicero, plans a rebellion to overthrow the Roman Senate, raising an army of the disaffected, and simultaneously planning a series of assassinations, massacres and arson attacks to sweep Rome. Forewarned by Gaulish conspirators, Cicero announces the plot in the Senate and the ringleaders remaining in Rome are captured and executed. Catiline and his remaining men are forced to turn and fight to the death against the pursuing Roman army.

Published by Penguin in a single volume with The Jugurthine War, edited by S.A. Handford (ISBN 0140441328)

My thoughts:  A lot of moralising about the rise and fall of the Roman character leads us to believe Catiline is the worst sort of debaucher and killer imaginable, so it is a surprise when Sallust’s depiction of the battle which marked the end of the Catiline conspiracy shows the valour of the rebels in facing their defeat. It ends with very visual evidence of the horrors of civil war.

Also interesting was the Senate’s difficulty in deciding on the punishment of the captured conspirators, with Caesar suggesting the then-novel idea of long term imprisonment rather than exile or death; and the moral question of exacting punishment before the criminal deed could be committed.

Favourite lines/passages:

Before even starting the text, this sentence in the introduction by the editor caught my eye

“Up to the year 64, Catiline seems to have been merely an ambitious careerist who in spite of a taste for dissipation and homicide had something likable about him”   (page 163)

And Catiline’s supposed parting shot at the Senate after Cicero’s denouncement:

“Since I am encompassed by foes, and hounded to desperation, I will check the fire that threatens to consume me by pulling everything down about your ears!”   (page 199)

Personal rating:  5

Next : The Eclogues of Virgil

161. The Jugurthine War, by Sallust.  c .40 BC

161. The Jugurthine War, by Sallust. c .40 BC

Plot:   Historical account of the North African Jugurthine War (112-105 BC), where the adopted Prince Jugurtha slew his step brothers and attempted to make himself King of the Roman Province of ‘Africa’ (modern day Tunisia), opposed by the Roman forces led unsuccessfully by a series of Roman generals until the leadership of Marius.

Published by Penguin in a single volume with Sallust’s other surviving work, The Conspiracy of Catiline. Translated by S. A. Handford (ISBN 0140441328)

My thoughts:  Unlike Caesar’s reports of honourable battles and pardons, Sallust paints a picture of treachery, bribery, slaughter, incompetence and cowardice, both on the battlefront and in the halls of power on both sides of the conflict, which is probably closer to the truth. Seven years of to-ing and fro-ing is only resolved by the Romans bribing a neighbouring King enough to lure Jugurtha into a trap.

I hadn’t heard of this period of Roman history at all before picking up Sallust, but it does introduce important players Marius and Sulla early in their careers before they orchestrated massacres of Roman citizens in the First Civil War that so horrified Cicero 40 years later, and demonstrates that the North African province was still valuable to the Roman Republic even after the fall of Carthage.

Favourite lines/passages:

Jugurtha travels to Rome to petition (ie bribe) his way to the throne of the Kingdom of Africa, but is only partly successful. As he leaves, he reputedly turns back to look again at the city, and exclaims

“Yonder is a city put up for sale, and its days are numbered if it finds a buyer”   (page 73)

Marius, deputy to Metellus on the African campaign, grows increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress in both the war and this political career, returns to Rome and is elected Consul by the support of the common people. Included in one of his speeches are the lines

“I cannot, to justify your confidence in me, point to the portraits, triumphs, or consulships of my ancestors. But if need be I can show spears, a banner, medals, and other military honours, to say nothing of the scars on my body – all of them in front. These are my family portraits, these my title of nobility, one not bequeathed to me, as theirs were to them, but won at the cost of countless toils and perils.”                        (pages 119-120)

Personal rating:  4

The reads in between: 

Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb : yet another first in a fantasy trilogy by an author that I really should have read before now (I was reading the 20th anniversary edition!!) A young bastard responsible for the scandal leading to his father’s abdication is raised first as a stable boy and later an assassin in the royal court. Kept me interested throughout and keen enough to seek out more.

James Herriot’s Favourite Dog Stories. Heart warming short stories lifted from the All Creatures Great and Small books, capturing not only the spirit and loyalty of the working and family dogs Herriot encounters as a vet in 1930s Yorkshire, but also the beautiful land and earthy people, faithfully captured on the page.

Peril at End House by Agatha Christie. An easy introduction to books set in Cornwall before my walk there in April. A young woman blithely ignores her multiple brushes with death until Poirot becomes involved.  Had the murderer pegged around the 2/3 mark. Ah Agatha, I have your measure now.

Next : The Conspiracy of Catiline.