Humorously exaggerated imprecations on a tree of the Sabine farm that barely missed the owner's head in its fall (1-12). Death comes when least expected, and no man knows the shape he will take (12-20). Narrowly has the poet escaped the dark realm of Proserpina, where Aeacus sits in judgment, and Sappho and Alcaeus sing strains that charm the shades to silence and 'stay the rolling Ixionian wheel, and numb the furies' ringlet snake' (2040). For the incident, cf. 2.17.27; 3.4.27; 3.8.7. The probable date is B.C. 30. Cf. on 1.26. There is a translation by Richard Crashaw.
ille . . . illum: guide the curse. He both planted thee on an unlucky day, whoever (it was that planted thee) in the beginning, and with a wicked hand reared thee for the destruction of posterity and the shame of the village. l. quicunque: sc. posuit. nefasto: technically used of days on which the praetor could not hold court; cf. Festus' remark concerning them, p.165, nefas est praetori, apud quem lege agitur, fari tria verba 'do dico addico'; hence unlawful; from this was developed the popular meaning, exemplified by this passage: unlucky.
sacrilega: in vague abusive sense.
in . . . perniciem: final accusative, expressing the destiny of the tree; cf. 4.2.56.
et . . . et: both . . . and. crediderim: perf. subj. of cautious assertion, I should be inclined to believe.
fregisse cervicem: strangled. Cf. Epode 3.1-2, parentis olim si quis impia manu senile guttur fregerit; Sall. Cat. 55, frangere gulam laqueo.
penetralia . . . nocturno . . . hospitis: aggravate the horror.
Coicha: i.e. Colchica, which some read. We have to choose between an exceptional hiatus, or an exceptional elision. Medea, who came from Colchis, was proverbial for her skill in concocting poisons. Cf. Epode 3.10; 17.35.
tractavit: handled, dealt in (1.37.27). A slight zeugma. Cf. Epode 3.8; Shaks,. As You Like It, 5.1, 'I will deal in poison with thee, or in bastinado, or in steel.' statuit: set up.
triste lignum: sorry log. Cf. 3.4.27, devota arbor. caducum: ready or destined to fall. Cf. 3.4.44.
immerentis: cf. on 1.17.28; Epode 6. l.
The special danger he should shun is never sufficiently guarded against for man from hour to hour. quid . . . vitet: represents the direct quid vitem, quisque: by Latin idiom keeps close to the relative.
in horas: from hour to hour; after analogy of in dies. The general proposition is followed by particular examples -the sailor, the soldier, the Parthian. Bosporum: a typical dangerous strait. Cf. 3.4.30; 2.20.14.
Poenus: a typical navigator; but Thoenus =Thynus has been conjectured.
ultra and aliunde: may be loosely pleonastic, or, more probably, we may explicitly distinguish, that passed . . . from any other quarter, i.e. after he has got through the strait, he does not fear danger from any other source. The latter is facilitated by Lachinan's timetve, which removes the irregular quantity timēt, for which see 1.3.36; 2.6.14.
caeca: like caeca saxa, not caeca fortuna. Cf. 3.27.21.
miles: sc. Italus, Romanus. sagittas: cf. Catull. 11.6, sagittiferosve Parthos; Shakspeare's 'darting Parthia.' celerem fugam: cf. 2.7.9, 4.8.15 for the phrase, and 1.19.11 for the thought.
robur: prison, specifically the dungeon of the Tullianum in Rome. sed improvisa: emphatic, but 'tis the unexpected.
The conclusion in general terms.
rapuit rapiet: so it has been and so it will be.
quampaene: cf. Martial, 1.12.6; 6.58.3, O quam paene tibi Stygias ego raptus ad undas. furvae: a transferred epithet. Cf. Propert. 5. 11.5, fuscae deus audiat aulae. regna: cf. 3.4.46. Pr<*>ŏ<*>serpinae: so Sen. Herc. Fur. 549, vidisti Siculae regna Pr<*>ŏ<*>serpinae. Elsewhere Prōserpina. Cf. 1.28.20.
For Aeacus (son of Zeus and Aegina and Eponym of the Aeacidae) as judge of the dead, cf. Plato, Gorg. 524 A.
discriptas: appointed, allotted; others prefer discretas, the blest seclusion of the good. Cf. Verg. Aen. 8.670, secretosque pios. In the following picture of the world below, Horace blends suggestions from many passages in Greek literature from Pindar and Plato (Apol. 41) down.
Aeoliis: the dialect of Lesbos, tbe home of Alcaeus and Sappho. querentem: because her young countrywomen (puellae populares) did not return her affection. Sappho, fr. 41, and Swinburne's Sappho, 'singing| Songs that move the heart of the shaken heaven,| Songs that break the heart of the earth with pity,| Hearing to hear them.'
Sappho: Greek accus.
Cf. Ronsard, 'De l'élection de son Sépulchre;| Là là j'oirray d'Alcée| La lyre courroucée,| Et Sapphon qui sur tous Sonne| plus doux.'
sonantem: so Ovid (?),Heroid. 15.30, quamvis grandius ille sonet.
aureo . . . plectro: Pind. Nem. 5.24, χρυσέῳ πλάκτρῳ; Quintil. 10. 1.63, Alcaeus in parte operis aureo plectro merito donatur. For the plectrum cf. on 1.26.11, and for Alcaeus, l. 32.5. n.
fugae: exile; but Herod. 5.95 mentions his flight from battle.
silentio: cf. Milton's ' Worthy of sacred silence to be heard.' Cf. 3.1.2. utrumque . . . dicere: depending on mirantur; the participle dicentem would be more usual.
magis: the multitude prefers the themes of Alcaeus, his invective against the tyrants' in his στασιωτικά.
exactos: cf. on 2. 4. 10.
densum umeris: shoulder to shoulder, so eager were they to hear. Cf. spissa ramis, 2. 15. 9; spissae . . . coronae ('ring'), A. P.381; Tenn. Morte D'Arthur, 'That all the decks were dense with stately forms'; Tenn. Prin., 'a press| Of snowy shoulders thick as herded ewes.' bibit: cf. Propert. 4.5.8, suspensis auribus ista bibam; Ov. Trist. 3.5.14; and Rosalind's 'I prythee take the cork out of thy mouth that I may drink thy tidings'; Othello, 1.3, 'with a greedy ear| Devour up my discourse'; Verg. Aen. 4.359.
demittit: droops. Cf. χαλάξαις of the plumage of the eagle (Pindar, Pyth. 1. 6). centiceps: Cerberus has three heads generally, fifty in Hesiod, one hundred in Pindar. Possibly Horace is thinking of the hundred snakes that enwreathe his head, 3.11.17. See Bloomfield, Cerberus, the Dog of Hades, pp.5 sqq.
intorti . . . angues: cf. Aeschyl. Choeph. 1048; Catull. 64.193; Verg. Georg. 4.481, quin ipsae stupuere domus atque intima Leti | Tartara caeruleosque implexae crinibus anguis| Eumenides, tenuitque inhians tria Cerberus ora; Pope, Ode on St. Cecilia's Day, IV., 'But hark! he strikes the golden lyre;| And see! the tortured ghosts respire!| See shady forms advance!| Thy stone, O Sisyphus, stands still,| Ixion rests upon his wheel,| And the pale spectres dance.| The Furies sink upon their iron beds,| And snakes uncurled hang listening round their heads'; Dryden, 'Hear ye sullen powers below,' 'Music for a while| Shall your cares beguile| . . . Till Alecto free the dead| From their eternal bands;| Till the snakes drop from her head,| And whip from out her hands'; Green: Dyce, Vol.11., p.237. recreantur: are lulled to rest.
quinet: cf. 1.10.13; 3. 11.21. Prometheus: Horace here as in 2.18.35, Epode 17.67, represents Prometheus as detained in Tartarus, contrary to all other versions of the myth. Pelopis parens: Tantalus; cf. 1.28.7; Epode 17.65; Odyss. 11.582; Sat. 1. 1.68.
laborem decipitur: is beguiled (into forgetfulness) of his toil; apparently a passive of decipere, fallere laborem. Many read laborum, beguiled out of, away from, κλέπτεται, Cf. on 2. 9.17
curat: cf. Verg. Aen. 6.654, quae cura nitentes| pascere equos, eadem sequitur tellure repostos. Orion: the Greek Nimrod. In Odyss. 11.573 he hunts over the meadow of Asphodel the shades of tbe beasts he slew in the upper world.
lyncas: cf. 4.6.34.