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Ode III


Propempticon. A prayer for the safety of the vessel that bears Vergil to Greece, followed by reflections on the audacity of man who braves the terrors of the deep, steals fire from heaven, essays to fly though nature has withheld wings, finds out the way to hell, and scales the heavens in defiance of the angry bolts of Jove.

Vergil visited Greece in B.C. 19, and died at Brundisium on his return. The first three books of the Odes were published in B.C. 23. We must assume another voyage, or another Vergil. Cf. on 4. 12. See Sellar, p. 141.

For the friendship of Horace and Vergil, see Sellar, Vergil, p.120 sqq., Ode 1. 24, Sat. 1. 5. 41, 1. 6. 54.

With the Propempticon proper, 1-8, Cf. Callim. fr. 114; Theoc. 7. 52. The diffuse imitation of Statius, Silvae, 3. 2. Epode 10, to an enemy; Odes, 3. 27. Tenn. In Mem. 9, 'Fair ship, that from the Italian shore | Sailest the placid ocean plains,' etc.; ibid. 17. Wordsworth's lines to Scott embarking for Naples:'Be true | Ye winds of ocean, and the midland sea, | Wafting your Charge to soft Parthenope!'

For the second part of the ode, cf. Mill (On Nature, p.22), 'There was always a tedency, though a diminishing one, to regard any attempt to exercise power over nature, beyond a certain degree and a certain admitted range, as an impious effort to usurp divine power, and dare more than was permitted to man. The lines of Horace, in which the familiar arts of shipbuilding and navigation are reprobated as vetitum nefas, indicate even in that skeptical age a still unexhausted vein of the old sentiment.' For further illustration of the feeling, cf. 3. 24. 36-41; Epode 16. 57-62; Tibull. 1. 3. 36-37; Verg. Ecl. 4. 32; Ov. Met. 1. 94; Hesiod, Works and Days, 236; Arat. Phaen. 110; Soph. Antig. 332 sqq.; Lucret. V. 1006.

The reflections of Valerius Flaccus, Argonaut. 1. 245, 530-560, are an interesting exception.

It should be further noted that in the Latin writers the expression of this primitive feeling is combined with a reprobation of the luxurious living to which the audacious enterprise of man panders. See Pliny, N. H. 23 Praef., and the passages cited on Odes, 2. 15. In similar vein Spenser, F. Q. 2. 7. 14-16. Translated by Dryden, Johnson's Poets, 9. 158.

For a discussion of the literary technique of the ode see Hendrickson, Class. Jour. 3. 100-104.


sic: so, i.e. on condition that the prayer contained in reddas . . . precor et serves (deliver him, I pray, and keep safe) be granted, the poet expresses the wish that divinities of the sea may guide (regat) the ship. This use of so is well illustrated by Milton, Song in Comus, 'Tell me but where, . . . So mayst thou be translated to the skies.' Sometimes in Latin the condition, instead of being implied by an optative subjunctive (as reddas here) or by an imperative (as in Verg. Ecl. 9. 30; Catull. 17. 5-8), is explicitly expressed by a si clause, Epp. 1. 7. 69, sic ignovisse putato | me tibi si cenas hodie mecum, On this condition shall you consider that I have pardoned you, if you dine with me to-day. Matter-of-fact critics have observed that the expression of the blessing is superfluous, because it fulfils itself,—the safety of the ship and passenger being inseparable.


diva: Venus.—potens: with gen. cf. 1. 5. 15; 1. 6. 10. C. S.1; Verg. Aen. 1. 80; Homer's πότνια θηρῶν, Il. 21. 470; Pind. Pyth. 4. 213; Ov. Am. 3. 10. 35, diva potens frugum.—Cypri: Cf. on 1. 1. 13. Cyprus was one of the chief seats of the worship of Venus; it was here, according to the myth, that she stepped ashore after rising from the sea. For other references to Venus as a goddess of the sea, cf. note on 3. 26. 5; 4. 11. 15; Solon, fr. 18. 4; Pausan. 1. 1. 3, εὐπλοία.


fratres Helenae: Castor and Pollux; 1. 12. 27; 3. 29. 64; 4. 8. 31; Sen. Herc. Fur. 556, non illic geminum Tyndaridae genus | succurrunt timidis sidera navibus; Prop. 1. 17. 17. They formed the constellation Gemini, and were appealed to in time of peril at sea. The electrical phenomenon, now called St. Elmo's fire, which is said to play around the rigging of ships in the Mediterranean after a storm, was supposed to indicate their presence. Cf. Lucian, Navig. 9; Stat. Silv. 3. 2. 8; Pliny, N. H. 2. 101; Macaulay, Regillus, 40, 'Safe comes the ship to haven, | Through billows and through gales, | If once the Great Twin Brethren | Sit shining on the sails.'


ventorum . . . pater: Aeolus. Cf. Odyss. 10. 21; Verg. Aen. 1. 52.


aliis: all others.—Iapyga: Iāpyx was the west-northwest wind, blowing off the coast of Iapygia (the old name for the 'heel' of Italy), and so favorable to those sailing from Italy to Greece. Cf. Aul. Gell. 2. 22. In 3. 27. 20 albus Iapyx is stormy.


tibi creditum: intrusted to thee.


finibus Atticis: dative with debes; it is felt with reddas also.


reddas: he is a deposit to be duly delivered (cf. reddere epistulam) at (or to) the appointed place. Cf. Stat. Silv. 3. 2. 5, grande tuo rarumque damus, Neptune, profundo | depositum.—incolumem: safe and sound. Cf. 3. 24. 31.


With this definition of a friend, 'half of my soul,' cf.Ar. Eth. 9. 4. 5, φίλος ἄλλος αὐτός; Diog. Laert. 5. 1. 20; Cic. Lael. 92; Anth. Pal. 12. 52; Callim. Ep. 43. Cf. also note on 2. 7. 5, te meae partem animae, and Otto, Sprichwörter derRömer, p.26.


robur et aes triplex: the expression goes back to the Homeric σιδήρειον ἧτορ, Il. 24. 205. Cf. Otto, p. 4. Herrick had Horace's line in mind when he wrote, 106, 'A heart thrice wall'd with Oke and brasse, that man | Had, first, durst plow the Ocean.'


fragilem truci: these words are placed in juxtaposition to make the contrast sharper. See note on 1. 6. 9. With truci, savage, cf. Catull. 4. 9, trucemve Ponticum sinum.


praecipitem: headlong, squally, λάβρος ἐπαιγίζων. Ov. Met. 2. 184, ut acta | praecipiti pinus Borea; Verg. G. 4. 29, praeceps . . . Eurus.—Africum: 1. 1. 15; Epode 16. 22; Verg. Aen. 1. 85.


decertantem: cf. on 1. 9. 11; 1. 1. 15; de- intensive, cf. 1. 18. 9; 3. 3. 55.—Aquilonibus: dat. Cf. on 1. 1. 15; the plural metri causa, but translate blasts of Aquilo (N. E. Wind). Cf. Aesch. Prom. 1085-1086; Verg. Aen. 1. 102, stridens Aquilone procella.


tristis: gloomy, rainy. The Hyades (from υειν, to rain) were 'rain stars,' their rising and setting being frequently accompanied by storms. With this use of tristis, cf. Epode 10. 10, tristis Orion; Verg. G. 3. 279, contristat . . . caelum; cf. also Verg. Aen. 3. 516, pluviasque Hyadas; Tenn. Ulysses, 'when | Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades Vext the dim sea.'


quo . . . major: than whom there (is) no stronger tyrant of the Adriatic.—Hadriae: Hadria is poetical for mare Hadriaticum or mare superum.


(seu) tollere, etc.: for omitted seu, cf. 1. 6. 19; Sat. 2. 8. 16; Aesch. Ag. 1403. For similar omission of first neg., cf. Gildersleeve on Pind. Pyth. 6. 47.—ponere: calm; cf. componere fluctus, Verg. Aen. 1. 135; Jebb on Soph. Ajax, 674.


gradum: step, approach, form. Cf. 1. 33, where death quickens his step (gradum); 3. 2. 14; and 1. 4. 13, 'death's foot.'


siccis: tearless, ξηροῖς (Aesch. Sept. 696). Ancient heroes weep more freely than the ideal of mediaeval chivalry permits to the modern. Cf. Caesar, B. G. 1. 39; Odyss. 20. 349, etc. They were especially afraid of drowning. Cf. Arist. Eth. Nic.3. 6. 7; Verg. Aen. 1. 93; Ov. Met. 11. 539; Fast. 3. 596, etc.; Horace argues that the titanic audacity which did not fear the perils of the deep would not shrink from defiance of heaven—monstra: cf. on 3. 27. 27; 4. 14. 47.


vidit: endured the sight.


infamis, δυσωνύμους, ill-famed, because of shipwrecks. Cf. Livy, 21. 31. 8, infames frigoribus Alpes.—Acroceraunia: 'Thunder Cape,' a promontory of Epirus at the entrance to the sheltering gulf of Oricum (cf. 3. 7. 5); cf. Macaulay, 'And the great Thunder-Cape has donned his veil of inky gloom.'


deus . . . prudens: God in his wisdom. Cf. 3. 29. 29; Herod. 3. 108.


abscidit . . . Oceano dissociabili . . . terras: has parted the earth from the alien ocean. The reference is to the separation of the elements to make a habitable world, as in Ov. Met. 1. 22, nam caelo terras et terris abscidit undas; dissociabili means unmixing, incompatible. Some editors give a different interpretation: has divided the lands (from one another) by the estranging ocean. Cf. Sen. Medea, 334, bene dissaepti foedera mundi | traxit in unum Thessala pinus. It is of course possible for -abilis to be active. Cf. Verg. G. 1. 93, and Munro on Lucret. 1. 11.


impiae, non tangenda, and transiliunt (bound over, with the idea of transgression) reinforce one another in expressing the idea of man's daring impiety.


omnia: everything and anything.


ruit: of the headlong recklessness of sin, rushes.—vetitum: (though) forbidden.


audax: insistent repetition leading up to the examples.—Iapeti genus: son of Iapetus, i.e. Prometheus. Cf. Danai genus, 2. 14. 18; Uraniae genus, Catull. 61. 2. Prometheus stole fire from heaven and brought it to men in a hollow reed. Cf. Hes. Op. 50; Aesch. Prom.; Frazer, Pausanias, III., p.191.


fraude mala: with mischievous craft; mala, with reference to the consequences enumerated in the following lines.


post ignem . . . subductum: after the theft of fire; the idiom is the same as in ab urbe condita; Cf. on 2. 4. 10.


macies et nova februm . . . cohors: angry at Prometheus' deed the gods, through the agency of Pandora and her box, sent all manner of diseases and other afflictions upon the world. Cf. Servius ad Verg. Ecl. 6. 42; Shelley, Prom. 2. 4, 'for on the race of man | First famine, and then toil, and then disease, | Strife, wounds and ghastly death unseen before | Fell.'—macies: wasting disease.—cohors: retinue, troop.


incubuit: fell upon. Cf. Lucret. 6. 1143, (mortifer aestus) incubuit . . . populo; Aesch, Suppl. 684, νούσων ἐσμός.


semoti . . . tarda: cumulative; death was distant and drew nigh slowly; prius with both words.


necessitas leti: Homer's Μοῖρα . . . θανάτοιο. κρατερή ἀνάγκν.


corripuit: quickened. Cf. Lucan, 2. 100, quantoque gradu mors saeva cucurrit.


expertus (est).—vacuum: void; Hom. Il. 17. 425; Pind. O. 1. 6, ἐρήμας δι᾽ αἰθέρος. For the story of Daedalus flying from Crete, see Verg. Aen. 6. 14; Ov. Met. 8. 183. Cf. 4. 2. 2.


perrupī: cf. manēt (1. 13. 6; 2. 6. 14; 2. 13. 16; 3. 16. 26; 3. 24. 5), always under verse ictus. There is no instance in the fourth book.—Acheronta: into Acheron; Acheron, one of the rivers of Hades, is here put for Hades itself.—Herculeus labor: cf. 2. 12. 6. A little more than the idiom of βίη Ἡρακληείη (cf. on 3. 21. 11). It was a 'Herculean task,' and his twelfth labor. He went down to fetch Cerberus, and released Theseus. Cf. 4. 7. 28.—labor: note how 'The line too labours, and the words move slow.'


nil . . . arduist: ardui with nil, too steep, literally of caelum; metaphorically hard.


stultitia: because a proverbial impossibility. Cf. Pind. Pyth. 10. 27.


iracunda: Pind. Nem. 6. 55, ἔγχος ζάκοτον. For the transferred epithet, cf. on 1. 18. 7; 3. 1. 42; 1. 37. 7; Epode 16. 60; 10. 14; Arnold, Sohrab and Rustum, 'Come plant we here in earth our angry spears.'—ponere: deponere, lay aside. Cf. 3. 2. 19; 3. 4. 60.


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  • Commentary references from this page (4):
    • Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, 1085
    • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1115a
    • Callimachus, Epigrams, 43
    • Seneca, Hercules Furens, 556
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