A thunder clap in a clear sky (which the Epicureans say is impossible, Lucret. 6. 400) has converted Horace from his youthful belief that the gods 'lie beside their nectar careless of mankind.' (Cf. Sat. 1. 5. 101, deos didici securum agere aevum.) He has felt 'the steadfast empyrean shake throughout' beneath the winged car of Zeus, and knows now that 'The Lord maketh poor and maketh rich; he bringeth low and lifteth up' (1 Sam. 2. 7).For the religion of the Odes, cf. on 3. 18; 3. 23; and Sellar, p.159. Dryden, Preface to Odes, observes, 'Let his Dutch commentators say what they will, his philosophy was Epicurean, and he made use of gods and Providence only to serve a turn in poetry.' Lessing (Rettungen des Horaz) discusses this ode, and sensibly decides that it is the half playful record of a poetical mood which it would be sheer pedantry to interpret as a serious recantation. He points out that Augustus, according to Suetonius (Aug.90), was so sensitive to thunder that he would shut himself up in a dark chamber on the approach of a storm.
parcus . . . infrequens: his offerings had been scant and niggardly, his presence at the altar rare. Cf. parca superstitio in the beautiful lines of Statius on the worship of Pity (Theb. 12. 481 if.).
insanientis . . . sapientiae consuitus: an adept in a mad philosophy, i.e. Epicureanism. 'The Democritic hypothesis . . . is rather a madness than a philosophy' (Cudworth, Intellect. System, 1. 1. 45). Cf. Byron, Childe Harold, 2. 8, 'And sophists madly vain of dubious lore.' For the oxymoron, cf. on 3. 11. 35. It is continued by the antithesis of consultus erro, wandered, strayed from the path of truth, (though) an adept. Lucret. (5. 10, etc.) calls the Epicurean doctrine sapientia par excellence.
consultus: this use is an extension of the expression iuris consultus. Livy, 10. 22, has iuris atque eloquentiac consultus. Cf. Sat. 1. 1. 17; Epist. 2. 3. 369.—nunc: makes the contrasted reference to the past in dum erro unambiguous.
iterare: take once more to; cf. 1. 7. 32; 2. 19. 12.
relictos: the forsaken course is the naive faith of childhood. Bentley's relectos, retraced, is idiomatically cumulative with iterare. Horace perhaps could not have told us himself whether he meant simply 'turn back,' or more specifically 'sail back to the point where I started on the wrong tack and then enter on the right.' Diespiter: an archaic word for Jupiter as Lord of light and God of day. Cf. 3. 2. 29; 1. 1. 25. n.; Preller-Jordan, 1. 189.
nubila: emphatic.—dividens: cf. 'Saw God divide the night with flying fire' (Tenn. Dr. of Fair Women); Psalms 29. 7.—plerumque: with dividens in preceding line. Cf. 1. 1. 23; 1. 31. 2; 1. 35. 10.
egit: he has this time driven across a clear sky (per purum), which is the marvel. Cf. Homer, Odyss. 20. 112-114; Lucan, 1. 525; Verg. Aen. 8. 524; Georg. 1. 487.—currum: cf. 1. 12 58; the πτηνὸν ἅρμα of Plato (Phaedr. 246 E); Pind. O. 4. 1.
bruta: cf. iners, 3. 4. 45, contrasted with gliding streams; Milton's 'brute earth would lend her nerves and shake'; and Tenn. In Mem. 127, 'The brute earth lightens to the sky.'—vaga: frequent epithet of rivers; cf. 1. 2. 18; Pseudo-Tibull. 4. 1. 143, vago . . . Araxe; Petron. Sat. 122, nec vaga passum flumina.
invisi: hateful as all associations of death. Cf. on 2. 14. 23; and Verg. Aen. 8. 245. Lessing prefers to take it as imitation of the Greek ἀΐδης, the unseen world, on the ground that otherwise horrida is tautologous.—Taenari: a rift in the rocks at Taenarum, a promontory on the south coast of the Peloponnesus (now Cape Matapan), was deemed the mouth of hell, Ἄιδα στόμα (Pind. Pyth. 4. 44). Cf. Verg. Georg. 4. 467, Taenarias etiam fauces alta ostia Ditis; Sen. Her. Fur. 667; Milton, Comus, 'rifted rocks whose entrance leads to hell.'
Atlanteus finis: Atlas at the world's end. Atlas, the mountain range in N. W. Africa, was regarded as the western limit of the world. 'Where Atlas flings his shadow | Far o'er the western foam' (Macaulay, Proph. of Capys). Cf. τέρμονες, Eurip. Hippol. 3; 747; 1053; Milton's 'Atlantean shoulders.'
valet: for syntax, cf. 2. 5. 1; 3. 25. 15; 4. 7. 27; Epode 16. 3. For sentiment, cf. Job 5. 11; Hom. Odyss. 16. 211; Hesiod, Op. 6; Archil. fr. 56; Aesop. apud Diog. Laert. 1. 3; Pind. Pyth. 2. 89; Eurip. Tro. 608; Tac. Hist. 4. 47; Aristoph. Lysist. 772; F. Q. 5. 2. 41, 'He pulleth down, He setteth up on high; | He gives to this, from that He takes away; | For all We have is His: what He list do He may.'—ima summis: Tac. Hist. 4. 47; Otto, p.335.
hinc: from one.—apicem: properly the pileus or conical cap of a flamen. Here tiara; i.e. of eastern kings, and so a symbol of royalty. Cf. 3. 21. 20. But Horace may be thinking of the legend of Tarquin, Livy, 1. 34.—rapax: participial or adverbial in effect. Cf. pugnax, 4. 6. 8.
Fortuna: cf. next ode and 3. 29. 49. Fortuna and Deus shift as Nature and God in Seneca and Emerson. Cf. the Homeric μοῖρα Διός and Pind. Ol. 12. 1, παῖ Ζηνὸς . . . τύχα. Or she is conceived as God's minister, as in the beautiful description of Dante, Inferno, vii. Cf. Sir R. Fanshawe, "Tis he does all, he does it all: Yet this blind mortals fortune call.' So Sir Thomas Browne, 'The Romans that erected a temple to Fortune acknowledged . . . though in a blinder way, some-what of divinity' (Relig. Med.).—stridore: of her wings. Cf. 3. 29. 54; Verg. Aen. 1. 397, stridentibus alis; Ov. Trist. 1. 1. 75, pennae stridore; Milton, P. L. 1, 'and in the air, | Brush'd with the hiss of rustling wings'; Swinb. 'resounds through the wind of her wings.'
sustulit: takes away; the gnomic perfect of habitual action.—posuisse: cf. on 1. 1. 4; 3. 4. 52.