Consolatory literature had a long history in antiquity, and all possible themes had been explored long before Horace. This poem, addressed to Vergil on the death of their friend Quintilius, stands in the tradition. Its finely balanced phrasing, its mythology and abstractions (Pudor, Iustitia, Fides, Veritas) give it a formality that seems strange to us today, but that illustrates how an ancient author worked within a framework developed by his predecessors.
Horace tells us elsewhere (Ars poetica 43&ff.) that Quintilius was a competent and tactful literary critic.
Quis desiderio sit pudor aut modus tarn cari capitis? praecipe lugubris cantus, Melpomene, cui liquidam pater vocem cum cithara dedit, ergo Quintilium perpetuus sopor 5
urget; cui Pudor et Iustitiae soror incorrupta Fides nudaque Veritas quando ullum inveniet parem?
text Q. Horati Flacci Opera, ed. D. R. Shackleton Bailey
(Bibliotheca Teubneriana, 2001) meter second Asclepiad [§m 12]
quis de|siderio || sit pudor aut | modus tarn ca|ri capitis || praecipe lu|gubris cantus | Melpomene || cui liquidam | pater vocem | cum cithara | dedit
1 Quis ... pudor aut modus what restraint or limit (modus -I m.); desiderio dat, to longing (deslderium -(i)i n.); sit potential subj. [§g68], trans, could there be. 2ff. tam carl capitis objective gen. [§G23] after desiderio, for so dear a head (by synecdoche [§g 98] for person); praecipe 2 imp. act. of praecipio -ere begin, lead— Melpomene is to take the lead in singing the dirge and the poet is to follow; lugubris cantus mournful song (pi. for sg. [§G53]; cantus -us m.); Melpomene Melpomenes f, one of the Muses; liquidus clear(-toned); pater i.e., Jupiter, father of the Muses; cithara -ae f. lyre. 5 ergo so, expressing resignation; Quintilius -il m.; perpetuus sopor eternal sleep (sopor sopdris m.).
6ff. urged -ere here weigh down on; the remaining words of the stanza are a question introduced by a postponed [§G4] quando (1, 8) but connected with the preceding clause by cui (antecedent Quintilium; dat. with ullum parem (1.8), lit., to whom); Pudor (here Modesty), Fides, and Veritas (veritatis f. Truth) are the subjects of inveniet, which agrees with the nearest [§G58]; iustitia -ae justice f.; incorruptus untainted; nudus naked; ullum ... parem any equal (par (paris)).
multis ille bonis flebilis occidit, nulli flebilior quam tibi, Vergili. 10
tu frustra pius, heu, non ita creditum poscis Quintilium deos. quid? si Threicio blandius Orpheo auditam moderere arboribus fidem, num vanae redeat sanguis imagini, 15
quam virga semel horrida
9 Take multis ... bonis (dat. of reference [§g32]) with flebilis, lit., worthy of tears for many good [people]; occido -ere die—rather than he died ..., English would say his death was
10 Take nulli and tibi (dat. of reference [§g32]) with flebilior (compar. of flebilis); quam than; Vergili voc. of Vergilius -(i)l m. Vergil.
1 if. Take frustra with poscis (2 sg. pres. ind. act. posed -ere), which is followed by two accusatives [§G 9], ask the gods for Quintilius; translate pius by an adverbial phrase [§G 55j, in your loyalty (i.e., toward Quintilius); heu alas!; take non ita creditum (not thus (i.e., on such terms) entrusted) with Quintilium—it seems that when Quintilius was close to death, Vergil, as his loyal friend, entrusted his well-being to the gods in the expectation that Quintilius would be returned to him; the gods, however, did not take Quintilius on such terms.
13 quid? what [then]?, i.e., what then can be done?—the answer is that even the highest powers of persuasion, such as the music of Orpheus, could not bring Quintilius back; Threicio ... Orpheo abl. of comparison [§G42] than Thracian Orpheus (see Vergil Georgics 4.464ff., page 60); blandius (compar. adv. of blande) more persuasively.
14 auditam ... arboribus fidem a lyre (fides fidis f.) heard by trees (dat. of agent [§g29]); moderere (= modereris) 2 sg. pres. subj. moderor -ari here play—Orpheus, as Shakespeare tells us, with his lute made trees, and the mountain tops that freeze, bow themselves when he did sing (King Henry VIII, act 3, scene 1).
15 num introduces a question expecting a negative answer, trans, surely ... not; vanae ... imagini dat. of motion toward [§G35] to the empty likeness (imago imaginis f.), i.e., to the Shade of a dead person, which lacked blood, the essence of life (see"Roman Beliefs About an Afterlife," page 78); si... moderere ... num ... redeat sanguis category 1 conditional sentence referring to the future [§g94], where both verbs are present subjunctive, if you were to play ... surely blood would not return.
16 The antecedent of quam is imagini; virga... horrida instrumental abl. [§g 47] with [his] terrible wand (virga -ae f.)—Horace is referring to a Greek belief that the god Mercury (Mercurius -(i)l m.) herded the Shades of the dead to the Underworld with a stick.
non lenis precibus fata recludere nigro compulerit Mercurius gregi?
durum: sed levius fit patientia quidquid corrigere est nefas. 20
17 non lenis (with Mercurius) not lenient; precibus abl. of cause [§G48] through prayers; fata recludere lit., to open (recludo -ere) death (pi. for sg, [§G53]), trans. in opening [the gates of] death—the line is grimly euphemistic, since Mercury never opened the gates of death to anyone.
18 nigro ... gregi dat. of motion toward [§G35] to the black crowd (grex gregis m.), i.e., to the Shades already in the Underworld, who take their color from the surrounding darkness; compulerit 3 sg. perf. subj. act. compello -ere drive (as one would cattle)—the subjunctive follows on from redeat, lit., would have driven, but trans, has driven.
19 durum [est] [it is] hard, i.e., to accept Quintilius' death; levius n.sg. compar. of levis; fit becomes; patientia instrumental abl. [§G 47] through endurance (patientia -ae f.).
20 quidquid whatever; corrigo -ere correct; nefas here an offense against divine law, trans, wrong.
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