Thursday, 2 August 2018

Ode XXXVII: The Death of Cleopatra - Horace

Drink, comrades, drink; give loose to mirth!
With joyous footstep beat the earth,
  And spread before the War-God’s shrine
  The Salian feast1, the sacrificial wine.

Bring forth from each ancestral hoard,
Strong draughts of Cæcuban2 long stored,
  Till now forbidden. Fill the bowl!
For she is fallen, that great Egyptian Queen,
With all her crew contaminate and obscene,
Who, mad with triumph, in her pride,
The manly might of Rome defied,
  And vowed destruction to the Capitol.

As the swift falcon swooping from above
With beak unerring strikes the dove,
  Or as the hunter tracks the deer
Over Hæmonian3 plains of snow,
    Thus Cæsar came. Then on her royal state
    With Mareotic4 fumes inebriate,
  A shadow fell of fate and fear,
And thro’ the lurid glow
  From all her burning galleys shed
  She turned her last surviving bark and fled.

She sought no refuge on a foreign shore.
  She sought her doom: far nobler ’twas to die
  Than like a panther caged in Roman bonds to lie.
The sword she feared not. In her realm once more,
Serene among deserted fanes,
  Unmoved mid vacant halls she stood;
Then to the aspic gave her darkening veins,
  And sucked the death into her blood.

Deliberately she died: fiercely disdained
  To bow her haughty head to Roman scorn,
Discrowned, and yet a Queen; a captive chained;
  A woman desolate and forlorn.

Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus) (65-8 BC) Italy (Ancient Rome)
Translated by Sir Stephen E. De Vere
Source: Every Day in the Year: A Poetical Epitome of the World’s History, ed. by James L. Ford and Mary K. Ford. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1902;

  • Cleopatra died in 30BC, so Horace was a contemporary and this is possibly one of the earliest obituaries!

  1. Salian feast - relates to the dancing and jumping performed annually by the Salii (leaping priests)
  2. Cæcuban - a sweet, white wine
  3. Hæmonia - a name of Thessaly, the land of magic
  4. Mareotic - relating to the wine from the vines of Lake Mareotis near Alexandria

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