Francis Cairns Publications

Latin and Greek Texts ISSN 0951-7391

Horace, Odes and Carmen Saeculare

with an English version in the original metres, introduction and notes

Guy Lee

ISBN 978-0-905205-94-6 cloth (1998), 978-0-905205-96-0 paper (1999). xxiv+278 pp.

Guy Lee’s exciting new translation of Horace’s major lyric output will be welcomed both by Latinists and by readers of poetry. As always, Lee performs a linguistic miracle: exact attention to the Latin results in innovative English which is both accurate and completely natural.

Lee has a thorough understanding of Horace’s own multi-level, multi-cultural poetic idiom and complex literary inheritance, and this is manifest in his own equally eclectic English. Like Horace, he is a master both of everyday usage and of a range of poetic registers. In addition, he has submitted himself to the same discipline as did Horace by moulding his poetry within an alien metrical system: his translations are as closely as possible identical in metre to those of Horace (and it goes without saying match the number of Horace’s lines). The result in a lesser poet would been stilted artificiality; but Lee’s rhythms flow with vigour, grace and variety.

Readers without knowledge of Latin will gain from Lee an understanding of why Horace is so great a poet; the Latinate will have the added pleasure of direct comparison (text and translation are on facing pages). The introduction gives a short biography of Horace, discusses the Odes in literary terms, and describes the metres. Brief explanatory notes mainly identify names and places, saving the reader from frequent consultations of a classical dictionary. There is a select bibliography and textual points are recorded in an appendix.

The book is suitable as a class text for students of latin and for students of literature in translation. For students with Latin, Lee's English translation is not a crib - on the contrary, it will force them to think harder about the Latin original.

GUY LEE (†2005), whose oeuvre includes translations of Ovid's Amores, Virgil's Eclogues, Tibullus, Propertius, and Persius’ Satires, combined his own fine poetic gifts with an intimate understanding of the Latin language to produce some of the best twentieth-century versions of Augustan Roman lyric and elegiac poetry.


Classical Journal (1999) 302-308 (Jeanne Neumann O'Neill): Lee's talents as a Latinist show in a translation which I would characterize as in the best tradition of scholarly translations. Faithful to Horace's diction and idiom, these renditions aim to capture the tone while representing the language of the original as closely as possible. His translation is both current and (generally) timeless: not so steeped in contemporary idiom as to render it outdated in twenty years' time, yet not at all sterile or monotonous. The translator's familiarity and complete engagement with the poems is everywhere apparent. ... Frequently, as in the beginning of 1.25, Lee achieves a poetically pleasing translation that stays close to Horace's language and whose English word stresses imitate the beat of the Latin meter.
(But contrast
Classical Review 49 (1999) 266-7 (Colin Sydenham): “But alas, the tyranny of his metre routinely produces such stammering as:

    Our soldiers fear the arrows and speedy flight
    of Parthians, Parthians chains and Italian hearts-
        of-oak, but still it's the unexpected
            Death-blow has taken and will take most off. (2.13.17-20)”!

    [miles sagittas et celerem fugam
    Parthi, catenas Parthus et Italum
        robur: sed improvisa leti
            uis rapuit rapietque gentis.])

L'antiquité classique 69 (2000), 359 (Pierre-Jacques Dehon)

Electronic Antiquity: Communicating the Classics 5.2 (October 1999) (Andrew S. Becker): "Not all translations work so well in drawing us back from the English to a better understanding of the Latin; many translations efface the Latin, but this one all but asks us to glance back at Horace's words, to consider them anew after reading Lee's rendition."

The Eagle 1999 (Publication of St John’s College, Cambridge). (Michael Silk).

Latomus 60 (2001), 1007-9 (Arnold Bradshaw): “If this charming book were presented to the shade of Horace in the “realm of wan Proserpina” where he shares the company of Alcaeus and Sappho, he would salute L., “docte sermones utriusque linguae”, and congratulate him warmly on giving the barbarous Britanni these illuminating impressions of both his meaning and his music.”  

Extract (Book 2 Ode 4)

Don’t be ashamed of loving a girl in service,

Xanthias Phoceüs. The slave Briseïs

Long ago entranced with her pale complexion

Haughty Achilles,

And Tecmessa entranced as a captive with her

Loveliness her lord Telamonian Ajax,

While Atrides burned in mid-triumph for the

Virgin he’d kidnapped

After Troy’s barbarian squadrons fell to

Thessaly’s great victor, and loss of Hector

Handed Pergama over to weary Greeks, an

Easier conquest.

How d’you know the parents of fair-haired Phyllis

Won’t make rich in-laws and won’t bring you credit?

She’s of royal birth, I’m convinced, lamenting

Unfair Penates.

Tell yourself your sweetheart has not been picked from

Wicked Plebs, that trust such as hers and lack of

Interest in profit could not have sprung from

Scandalous mother.

I approve, heart-whole, of her arms, her face, her

Shapely legs, so please will you stop suspecting

One whose life has brought to a speedy end his

Fortieth winter.