About the author
To find out about Horace's life and works, click here
Listen to the poem
Recited in Latin, this is how the poem (Horace, Odes I.V) would have been heard by the Romans.
Another recital of Horace, Odes I.V; however, audio cuts out after line 13.
Faithful translation that sticks close to the Latin (noticeably, only omitting to translate flavam in line 4). By A.S.Kline, 2003.
Super, modern yet literal translation by Helen, a recent sixth-form student at Malvern St James School in Great Malvern, UK. You can even listen to it being read aloud.
Two poetic, free translations by Eugene and Roswell Martin Field, 1920. To get to the right page, go to the 'jump to' box in the top right hand corner and type in '72'.
Rather lovely, if oldey-worldy, translation by John Milton from 1673.
A modern (1980) reworking of the poem for our times! Entitled "An Old Malediction", meaning an old curse - referring to the ex-girlfriend - it's by the prize-winning American poet, Anthony Hecht.
Pyrrha - whose name means "fiery-red" - seems to Horace representative of the type of beautiful and deceptive woman who was dangerous to him in his youth, and this poem is the result of that recognition.
Note how Horace plays with contrasting sensations of light and dark, dry and wet, warmth and cold, as well as employing what first appear as two contradictory images of Pyrrha, first as flame and then as a storm out at sea. Horace's susceptibility to Pyrrha is reinforced by the use of complementary metaphors for his own experience (shipwreck) and Pyrrha's nature (beautiful but treacherous weather). In addition, in using images of moisture to describe both the boy who is perfusus liquidis ... odoribus ("drenched with liquid perfumes") in the first stanza, and the uvida ... vestimenta ("wet clothes") of Horace's own shipwreck in the last stanza, Horace links himself with the boy.
For more insights look at the following link, from which this note takes its ideas.
Very interesting and useful article based on the thoughts and opinions of Latin students and teachers from Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA.
A similar sentiment to Horace's ode is found in the 1988 hit song "She's like the Wind". Rather than the sea, the girl in the song is compared to the wind - sometimes gentle ("She leads me through moonlight")...sometimes harsh ("Only to burn me with the sun").
Watch the video here.
As today, in Roman times roses were associated with beauty and love; they were the flowers of Venus.
The painting, "The Birth of Venus" by Botticelli, Zephyr, the gentle West Wind, blowing roses upon Venus (c.1490, in the Uffzi, Florence).
A more modern interpretation of roses and beauty is in the poster for the acclaimed 1999 film American Beauty
As well as a natural cave (which could be a tad uncomfortable for the lovers), Horace may mean an artificial cave or grotto, of which wealthy Romans were particularly fond, sometimes having them built into their gardens. They would have had running water and been fitted out with furniture and statues. The one illustrated here is the remains of the Nymphaeum or Grotto of Egeria just outside Rome.
There may also be an illusion to the famous Roman lovers, Aeneas and Dido, who made love in a cave, as well as the hero Odysseus and Calypso who also got cosy in a cave
(painting by Jan Bruegel, c.1600).
flavam religas comam: In classical times, a girl tying up her hair was a sexual come-on; today, in western society the opposite action is a provactive signal - i.e. shaking your hair out - preferably in slow motion!
Sailors who survived shipwreck sometimes dedicated clothes they were rescued in to Neptune and commemorated this event on a votive tablet.
The following votive tablets, while not dedicated to Neptune by sailors, are good examples of the types and sophistication of classical votive tablets...
The Greeks and Romans commonly offered small items of some worth to the gods either in hope of, or in thanks of, deliverance from some afflication. This painted plaque is a famous, rare example of a painted "votive tablet". Dating to 540 BC, this so-called Pitsa plaque comes from a cave sanctuary at Pitsa near Sikyon in Greece and shows a sacrifical procession. In the National Archaeological Museum, Athens.
A silvered bronze tablet depicting Jupiter standing on a bull, surrounded by attendant deities. In the National Museum of Hungary, Budapest.
Modern votive offerings to be hung on the walls in some Roman Catholic and Greek orthodox churches.
This Greek statue is one of the most famous of all ancient statues due to its almsot complete preservation, its being of bronze and its strking pose. Found in the sea near Artemision, presumably lost in a shipwreck whilst being shipped to Rome - it could be of the god of the sea - Poseidon (Neptune to the Romans) in which case he would be holding a trident; otherwise it is Zeus, in which case he would be holding a thunderbolt.
Famous Roman mosaic of Neptune being pulled in his 4-horse chariot over the sea. He holds his trident and a small dolphin just to let you know who he is! From Chebba, 2nd-century AD; in the Bardo Museum, Tunis, Tunisia.
Awesome photo (even if it is digitally enhanced) of a Neptune statue set against a stormy sky. By Kris Kros, 2006
Map of Rome showing the approximate location in the Circus Flaminius (an open space not as the name would suggest a race-course!) of a known temple to Neptune in Rome. One supposes that most of Neptune's temples were near water or the sea.
The most famous temple of Neptune (Poseidon) in the Greek or Roman world was that of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, south of Athens. Built around 450 BC, it stands on a dramatic promontory above the Aegean, and was a welcome sight to sailors returning home to Athens.
A computer-animated movie showing the inside of the Parthenon, Athens. Although larger and more elaborate than most temples with its interior columns and huge gold-and-ivory cult statue, it nevertheless gives an idea of the impresiveness of ancient temples. However, we also know that paintings & tapestries covered the inside walls of some temples, whilst statues and other types votive offerings filled the spaces. Temple exteriors - columns and steps - were likewise known to have been adorned with offerings! So some classsical temples were not quite as neat and clean-cut as we are often led to believe.
Interactive text with a separate literary and cultural Question & Answer section. Excellent resource created by Godfrey Evans of Chelmsford County High School.
This poem is written in a poetic form or "meter" known as Asclepiads
Find out more in the section LATIN POETRY: Meters, Rhythms & Scansion
on the Verse Authors