»  Horace's ode "Diffugere nives"


The ode "Diffugere nives"

by Horace, 65–8 b.c.


•  Background

Having advertised Diffugere nives in my June 9 reading of Eheu fugaces as being the most celebrated of Horace's poems, I though I might as well give it a try.

This is Ode 7 from Book 4 of the Odes. Its meter is the one called "first Archilochian," in which odd-numbered lines follow a barely-recognizable descendant of the old dactylic hexameter (i.e. six repetitions of DAH-duh-duh), while even-numbered ones are dactylic trimeter catalectic (DAH-duh-duh DAH-duh-duh DAH). Next to the iambic meters, which Horace hardly uses much in the Odes, this is the easiest for an English-trained ear to appreciate.

I've presented the Latin with C.E. Bennett's translation for the 1914 Loeb edition alongside. I have added A.E. Housman's fine verse translation as a separate reading.

•  Notes

"The Grace" — I'm not sure which one Horace is picking out as the Grace, or why the other two are "her twin sisters." There were three Graces sure enough, but I didn't know twinhood was involved.

"Tullus and Ancus" — legendary kings of Rome.

"Torquatus" — a real person, a friend of Horace's.

"Hippolytus" — famous for his chastity. Housman seems to be denying the cheery myth told here.

"Theseus … Pirithous" — Theseus was the legendary king of Athens, Pirithous his friend. Pirithous persuaded Theseus to go to the underworld with him to kidnap Persephone (= Proserpina), wife of Hades (= Pluto). Hades traps them, though. Hercules, while about one of his labors, sees them and frees Theseus, but he can't free Pirithous.

"Lethean" — the Lethe was one of the rivers of hell, associated with forgetfulness.


•  Play the reading


•  Text of the poem

Diffugere nives, redeunt iam gramina campis
    arboribusque comae;
mutat terra vices et decrescentia ripas
    flumina praetereunt;
The snow has fled; already the grass is returning to the fields and the foliage to the trees. Earth is going through her changes, and with lessening flood the rivers flow past their banks.
Gratia cum Nymphis geminisque sororibus audet
    ducere nuda choros.
immortalia ne speres, monet annus et almum
    quae rapit hora diem.
The Grace, with the Nymphs and her twin sisters, ventures unrobed to lead her bands. The year and the hour that rob us of the gracious day warn thee not to hope for unending joys.
frigora mitescunt zephyris, ver proterit aestas
    interitura, simul
pomifer autumnus fruges effuderit, et mox
    bruma recurrit iners.
The cold gives way before the zephyrs; spring is trampled underfoot by summer, destined likewise to pass away so soon as fruitful autumn has poured forth its harvest; and lifeless winter soon returns again.
damna tamen celeres reparant caelestia lunae;
    nos ubi decidimus,
quo pius Aeneas, quo Tullus dives et Ancus,
    pulvis et umbra sumus.
Yet the swiftly changing moons repair their losses in the sky. We, when we have descended whither righteous Aeneas, whither rich Tullus and Abcus have gone, are but dust and shadow.
quis scit an adiciant hodiernae crastina summae
    tempora di superi?
cuncta manus avidas fugient heredis, amico
    quae dederis animo.
Who knows whether the gods will add to-morrow's time to the sum of today?All things which thou grantest to thine own dear soul, shall escape the greedy clutches of thine heir.
cum semel occideris et de te splendida Minos
    fecerit arbitria,
non, Torquate, genus, non te facundia, non te
    restituet pietas;
When once thou hast perished and Minos has pronounced on thee his august judgment, not family, Torquatus, nor eloquence nor righteousness shall restore thee again to life.
infernis neque enim tenebris Diana pudicum
    liberat Hippolytum,
nec Lethaea valet Theseus abrumpere caro
    vincula Pirithoo.
For Diana releases not the chaste Hippolytus from the nether darkness, nor has Theseus power to break the Lethean chains of his dear Pirithous.