Horace: My Day in the City (Satires, book I, poem VI, lines 111 - 131) I stroll about the Forum and the Circus in the evening and then return home to a simple supper served without much ceremony. In the morning I lie late in bed, then I go for a walk or else read or write and after that take exercise and go to the baths: after a frugal lunch I stay lazily at home. This is a life free from ambition and anxiety, happier than if I belonged to a family with a tradition of service to the state.
Quacumque libido est, incedo solus; percontor quanti holus ac far; fallacem Circum vespertinumque pererro saepe Forum; adsisto divinis; inde domum me ad porri et ciceris refero laganique catinum; 5 cena ministratur pueris tribus, et lapis albus pocula cum cyatho duo sustinet; adstat echinus vilis, cum patera gutus, Campana supellex. deinde eo dormitum, non sollicitus mihi quod cras surgendum sit mane, obeundus Marsya, qui se 10 vultum ferre negat Noviorum posse minoris. ad quartam iaceo; post hoc vagor, aut ego, lecto aut scripto quod me tacitum iuvet, unguor olivo, non quo fraudatis immundus Natta lucernis. ast ubi me fessum sol acrior ire lavatum 15 admonuit, fugio Campum lusumque trigonem. pransus non avide, quantum interpellet inani ventre diem durare, domesticus otior. haec est vita solutorum misera ambitione gravique; his me consolor victurum suavius ac si 20 quaestor avus pater atque meus patruusque fuisset.
Horace: A Favourite Spot in the Country (Odes, Book III, poem XIII)
Spring of Bandusia, tomorrow I shall offer the sacrifice of a young kid, together with wine and flowers, to your crystal waters The midsummer heat cannot affect your cool stream, which provides welcome relief to weary cattle You too will become one of the famous springs, when I sing of the ilex tree that overhangs the rocks from which leap down your chattering waters. O fons Bandusiae, splendidior vitro, dulci digne mero non sine floribus, cras donaberis haedo, cui frons turgida cornibus
primis et venerem et proelia destinat; 5 frustra: nam gelidos inficiet tibi rubro sanguine rivos lascivi suboles gregis.
te flagrantis atrox hora Caniculae nescit tangere, tu frigus amabile 10 fessis vomere tauris praebes et pecori vago.
fies nobilium tu quoque fontium, me dicente cavis impositam ilicem saxis, unde loquaces 15 lymphae desiliunt tuae.
Horace: My Day in the City quacumque = wherever, in whatever direction libido = fancy, whim incedo = I go that way percontor = make enquiries about quanti = how much holus = cabbage far = flour fallacem = deceitful vespertinumque = about its evening business adsisto = I stop by porri = leeks ciceris = chick-peas lagani = pancakes catinum = dish lapis albus = (a table topped with) white marble pocula = cups cyatho = a ladle for serving wine sustinet = supports. holds echinus = a bowl vilis = cheap patera = a flat dish gutus = an oil-flask (for dressing salad) Campana suppellex = Campanian (i.e. cheap) tableware eo = I go sollicitus = anxious surgendum = I need to get up (early) obeundus Marsya = to “go and meet Marsyas” (see notes) negat = says that ... not vultum = the face, the sight minoris = the younger ad quartam = supply “horam” iaceo = I lie in bed vagor = I go for a stroll lecto = I read me ... iuvet = I like, I want tacitum = quietly unguor = I have myself anointed or I anoint myself quo = with the same kind of oil as immundus = dirty fraudatis = by cheating lucernis = his oil-lamps ast = but sol acrior = the increased heat of the sun lavatum = to go to the Baths trigonem = the game of trigon, a “catch” game for three players pransus = after I have had lunch avide = though not greedily quantum = just as much as interpellet = will prevent me inani = empty otior = I spend time pottering about solutorum = of men who are free from gravi = irksome, boring victurum = that I shall live ac si = than if quaestor = quaestor, a fairly high political office in Rome avus = my grandfather patruusque = and my uncle fuisset = had been
Horace: A Favourite Spot in the Country fons = spring splendidior = clearer vitro = than glass digne = worthy to receive dulci = sweet mero = unmixed wine non sine = not without (i.e. and also) donaberis = you shall be made an offering of haedo = a kid goat frons turgida = forehead, swelling cornibus = horns destinat = marks him out for venerem = Venus (love) proelium = battle inficiet = he will stain gelidos ... rivos = your cool banks rubro = scarlet suboles = this offspring lascivi = playful gregis = herd atrox hora = the grim season flagrantis... Caniculae = of the blazing Dog-Star (i.e. July/August) nescit = is unable tangere = to touch, affect vomere = from the plough praebes = you offer pecori vago = the wandering flock fies = you will become one of me dicente = when I tell of ilicem = the ilex tree (Mediterranean oak-tree) cavis = hollowed-out unde = from where loquaces = chattering, babbling lymphae = clear waters desiliunt = leap down
Horace: My Day in the City Horace divided his time between Rome and the country, first at Tibur (now called Tivoli) which was 18 miles outside the city, then at the house given him by his patron Maecenas in the Sabine Hills, a few miles further out. Although Horace loved the country, he also loved the bustle of city life. He doesn't have to "go out to work" but lives the life of a gentleman of leisure: not a very wealthy one, for as you may know many people believe that his father was a slave or freedman. However, he has the patronage of people such as Maecenas, Augustus' chief minister, who will support him. We can understand from this poem how such a man would spend his days.
Wherever the fancy takes me, that's the direction in which I make my solitary way. I make enquiries about the price of cabbage and flour;
Most Romans ate a vegetarian diet for most of the time: meat was expensive, and likely to go "off" quickly, especially in the summer, there being no refrigeration. Meat was available on public holidays, when sacrifices were made at the temples and the parts of the animals not offered to the gods could be given or sold to the worshippers.
I wander through the deceitful Circus, and the Forum about its evening business.
The Circus is deceitful, because although gambling was illegal, it was widespread, and no doubt many Romans lost their tunics on a "sure thing"! The Forum was, of course, the centre of public life in Rome, and came to life after the fiercest heat of the day had passed.
I stop by the temples; then I take myself off back home to a dish of leeks and chickpeas with some pancakes. My dinner is served by three slaves, and my white marble table holds two cups and a ladle. There's also a cheap bowl, a plate, and an oil-flask, all Campanian ware.
Is Horace overdoing the "look how frugally I live" act? He stresses that although in comfortable circumstances he eats the cheapest vegetables off the least expensive tableware - and then tells us that his table-top is made of white marble, and that he has three slaves to dish up his leeks, pancakes and salad dressing.
Then off I go to bed, not at all worried that I'll have to get up early in the morning, to go and make by obeisance to Marsyas, who says he can't bear to look at the face of Novius junior.
Marsyas was the satyr who foolishly took on Apollo in a music contest: he lost, of course, and his punishment was to be flayed alive.His statue stood in the Forum, in a pose with one arm raised in horror to protect his face. Here Horace is pretending that the raised arm is to shield his eyes from the goings-on of the Novius brothers, notorious pay-day loan merchants who charged exorbitant rates of interest.
I lie in bed until the fourth hour:
Romans had no clocks, and told the time by looking at the position of the sun. The day was divided equally into twelve hours, starting with sunrise and ending with sunset. This meant that the length of each individual hour varied according to the time of year, with the only constant being sexta hora, noon. The fourth hour is therefore some time between about 9 a.m. and 10.30 a.m. - not ridiculously late, but most poor Romans had to be up and about at first light - anything up to 5 a.m. - to go and pay their morning visits to their patrons or to make the most of daylight hours to carry on their trade.
After that I go for a stroll, or read or write quietly, just as I please. I have a rub-down with olive oil, but not the sort that dirty Natta cheats his lamps with!
Romans used olive oil as we would use soap, to rub on their skin at the baths, then scrape off with a curved tool called a strigil. We don't know anything else about this Natta, other than that Horace thinks he pinched the oil out of his lamps to use instead of clean new oil!
But when I'm tired, and the increasing heat of the sun tells me it's time to go to the baths, I leave the Campus and my game of trigon.
Most Romans - men, women, free and slave - went to the baths every day. The Campus is the Campus Martius - the Field of Mars - an open-air exercise space. Horace says he has been playing a ball-game called trigon - a simple game of catch for three players.
I have some lunch - I'm not greedy about that - just enough to stop me going through the day on an empty stomach.The I spend time pottering about at home. This is the lifestyle of men who are free from wretched, boring ambition; I console myself that by these means I shall live a more pleasant life than I would have if my grandfather, father and uncle had all been public officials.
Horace is again plugging his "look-at-me-how-plainly-I-live" lifestyle. Here he is also, perhaps unwittingly, revealing a chip on his shoulder. All Roman aristocratic families were very proud of the public offices held by their (male) ancestors: they had wax masks made of them when they died, which were displayed in the atrium of their house and trotted out at family funerals. Horace's family has no such illustrious history: his father was a freedman. However, Horace does pick the lowest public office, the first rung for an ambitious young man, on the "cursus honorum"
Horace: A Favourite Spot in the Country
This is another of Horace's most celebrated and charming poems, addressed to the spring that flowed through his Sabine farm. This little estate was given to him when he was in his early thirties by Maecenas and was situated about 25 miles north-east of Rome in the Sabine hills, near a place now called Licenza where there is a river of the same name that in Horace's time was called Digentia. It is still a delightful place, built on the shoulder of Mount Lucretilis (now Monte Gennaro); the ground floor of the house is now revealed by excavations and still has a mosaic pavement in one room. Besides the house itself, which had fifteen rooms and stood in about an acre of flat garden, there was the surrounding farmland with vineyards, olive trees, and cornfields, which was worked by eight slaves under a bailiff; there were also five tenant farmers living on the estate who went to market at the neighbouring town of Varia (now Vicovaro). On a slope above the house still flows what was probably the spring of Bandusia, as cold and clear as it was 2,000 years ago, which Horace promises in this poem to make one of the most famous springs in the world.
O spring of Bandusia, clearer than glass, worthy of (offerings of) sweet unwatered wine and flowers too, tomorrow you shall be made an offering of a kid he-goat, whose forehead, swelling with his first horns, marks him out for love and warfare; but in vain, for this child of the playful flock shall stain your cool banks with his scarlet blood.
People still throw things - usually coins, these days - into springs and fountains. Why? Horace's first idea - to offer wine and flowers - chimes with our modern ideas of a fitting tribute: we may be less delighted by the sacrifice he is actually going to make!
The grim season of the blazing dog star cannot touch you, so you offer delightful coolness to oxen, tired from the plough, and to the wandering flocks.
The Dog Star - Sirius, one of the brightest stars in the night sky and easy to find at the foot of Orion the Hunter - is visible above the horizon in Italy in July and August. These are the hottest months of the year, and are still called the "dog days" by many older people. Oxen - castrated bulls - are huge, placid beasts, willing to be trained to farm work, and cheaper to buy and to feed than the horses which superseded them. In the Greek islands you will still see flocks of sheep with their shepherd, wandering round several square miles of country to find grazing.
You too will become one of the famous springs, when I tell of the holm-oak planted above the hollow rocks from which your babbling waters come leaping down.
Famous springs must include the Castalian spring at Delphi, and the Hippocrene spring, not far away on Mount Helicon, both dedicated to the Muses. Springs had particular significance, especially those that flowed year-round, because of the scarcity of water in hot, bare, mountainous Greece. Horace's little farmland stream doesn't exactly rank with these great centres of religious devotion - but is just as well-known, thanks to this poem! A holm-oak or ilex tree is a common sight in the Mediterranean - it looks like a holly tree, with spiky leaves, but bears acorns like an oak, and is evergreen.