Monday, July 17, 2006


Persicos Odi

Horace, Ode 1.38, paraphrased by Charles Larcom Graves (1856-1944):
Oriental flowers, my Cyril,
  (Save of language), I detest:
Cull for me no costly orchid
  To adorn my blameless breast.
Nor essay to deck my raiment
  With the blushing English rose,
For its brutal Saxon odour
  Aggravates my Scottish nose.

Me as Minister the fragrance
  Of the leek doth most arride,
With the shamrock and the thistle
  In a triple posy tied;
So, beneath my grand umbrella
  Fixed firmly on College Green
Let us deviate from duty
  In a deluge of poteen.
The leek is a symbol of Wales, the shamrock of Ireland, and the thistle of Scotland, all three opposed here to the English rose. The archaic arride means "please, gratify" (Webster's 1913); College Green is a public square (or rather triangle) in Dublin; and poteen is Irish whiskey. Charles Larcom Graves was the brother of Alfred Perceval Graves and uncle of poet and mythologist Robert Graves.

I have serious doubts about "Me as Minister" in the second stanza, because Cyril is the servant, and the Latin original has "te ministrum." I copied the poem by hand a few years ago (I think from Graves' Hawarden Horace), and I reproduce it now from my possibly faulty handwritten copy. Perhaps "Me as Minister" should be "Thee as Minister." My copy also has a note -- The Spectator, 71:872, Dec. 16, 1893.

Here is the Latin original of Horace's ode, with a closer English translation:
Persicos odi, puer, apparatus;
displicent nexae philyra coronae;
mitte sectari rosa quo locorum
  sera moretur.

Simplici myrto nihil adlabores
sedulus curo; neque te ministrum
dedecet myrtus neque me sub arta
  vite bibentem.

Boy, I dislike Persian finery; garlands sewn with bast displease me; don't try to find out in what spot the late-blooming rose lingers.

I don't want you busily embellishing plain myrtle; myrtle isn't unsuitable, either for you as you serve or for me as I drink beneath the trellised vine.

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