Wednesday, October 13, 2004


Fontanalia and the Fons Bandusiae

Today is the Roman festival of Fontanalia, devoted to fountains and springs. Some think it was for this festival that Horace wrote his exquisite Ode 3.13:
O Bandusian spring, clearer than glass, worthy of sweet wine and flowers too, tomorrow you'll receive the gift of a kid goat, whose head, swollen with horns newly grown, gives promise of love and battles; in vain: for this offspring of a playful flock will stain your ice-cold waters with his crimson blood. The harsh season of the blazing Dog Star is powerless to affect you. You grant welcome coolness to oxen weary of the plow and to the wandering herd. You too will become one of the famous springs, when I sing of the oak tree perched upon your hollow rocks, whence your babbling waters leap forth.

O fons Bandusiae, splendidior vitro,
dulci digne mero non sine floribus,
  cras donaberis haedo,
    cui frons turgida cornibus

primis et venerem et proelia destinat;
frustra: nam gelidos inficiet tibi
  rubro sanguine rivos,
    lascivi suboles gregis.

Te flagrantis atrox hora Caniculae
nescit tangere, tu frigus amabile
  fessis vomere tauris
    praebes et pecori vago.

Fies nobilium tu quoque fontium,
me dicente cavis impositam ilicem
  saxis unde loquaces
    lymphae desiliunt tuae.
This was too bloodthirsty a poem for some nineteenth century souls to stomach. In his poem An Evening Walk (lines 72-85), William Wordsworth (1770-1850) accused Horace of being a "ruthless minister of death" because of his intention to sacrifice the kid goat. The English poet Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864), in some Latin verses addressed Ad Haedum (To a Goat) published in the collection Dry Sticks Fagoted (1858), wrote: "You will be safe with me, little goat! Your blood will not flow for any Bandusia" (per me salvus es, haedule! / nulli Bandusiae cruor / manabit tuus). And Samuel Taylor Coleridge's son, Hartley Coleridge (1796-1849), who was a poet in his own right, wrote an odd poetic meditation on Horace's ode, in which he regarded the pagan Horace as a kind of anima naturaliter christiana, who never would have slain the kid in fact: "He never did the thing / Which he was constrain'd to sing."

On a lighter note, here's a good parody of Horace's ode by my favorite Horatian translator, Franklin P. Adams (1881-1960), in which the Bandusian spring becomes a soda fountain:
Worthy of flowers and syrups sweet,
  O fountain of Bandusian onyx,
To-morrow shall a goatling's bleat
  Mix with the sizz of thy carbonics.

A kid whose budding horns portend
  A life of love and war -- but vainly!
For thee his sanguine life shall end --
  He'll spill his blood, to put it plainly.

And never shalt thou feel the heat
  That blazes in the days of Sirius,
But men shall quaff thy soda sweet,
  And girls imbibe thy drinks delirious.

Fountain whose dulcet cool I sing,
  Be thou immortal by this Ode (a
Not wholly metricious thing),
  Bandusian fount of ice-cream soda!
In his learned travelogue Old Calabria (1915), British writer Norman Douglas (1868-1952) devoted an entire chapter to his search for the actual location of The Bandusian Fount.

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