Saturday, December 30, 2006


Caesar, Cicero, and Horace

Chilson D. Aldrich, The Real Log Cabin (1928), chap. 1:
In my extremely brief and unsatisfactory study of Latin -- because the high school course required it -- there was only one person who seemed to me to have a few regular human feelings. Why in thunder Julius Caesar should want to fight all the time -- and why in double thunder he should want to write about his wars, and why in triple thunder anybody should want to read about them, even if written in English, passed my comprehension. My private opinion of Cicero was that he was a conceited old bore who talked entirely too much in public about people he did not like. But the fellow who came on after him. I could understand the gentleman by the name of Quintus Horatius Flaccus even though he considered himself a poet.

Signor Flaccus -- or to get right down to chumminess at once, Friend Horace -- sounded to me a lot like a Boy Scout. He believed in the out-of-door life. Already -- in the early thirties B.C. he was longing for a return of the good old times when a man was not harassed by the shackles of civilization. (Which meant to me that he did not have to wear a tie and could spread a whole piece of bread at once if he liked.)

Translation was easy. Not that I knew Latin, but I knew Friend Horace. I could tell exactly what he was going to say. Not only did I render his feelings in my mother tongue with great gusto, but I interpolated a few sentiments of my own. These a narrow-minded professor repudiated for the inadequate reason that they did not appear in the original. Anyway, I made Quint Flaccus a regular fellow. Yet in my heart he created a poignant yearning. With a vast envy I envied him. Not his literary triumphs -- Heavens, no! Though two thousand years have established pretty definitely the fact that he wielded no mean stylus in satire and also that he watched his feet pretty carefully in meter.

It is when I read of that plutocrat Maecenas placing him "above the anxieties of a literary life" and presenting him casually -- offhand -- just like that -- with a Sabine farm because he talked so much about wanting one, that even now I rise to a point of disorder in my envy of him. The good old custom of presenting farms to people who are tired of city life ought never to have been allowed to fall into disrepute. Time came -- and very shortly -- when I could not have told you a word that Horace wrote, but I never forgot Maecenas and that farm.

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