Horace, Odes and Epodes
. Edited, with Introduction and Notes by Paul Shorey, rev. ed. (Chicago: Benj. J. Sanborn & Co., 1919), p. 230 (summary of Ode
A thunder clap in a clear sky (which the Epicureans say is impossible, Lucret. 6.400) has converted Horace from his youthful belief that the gods 'lie beside their nectar careless of mankind.' (Cf. Sat.
1.5.101, deos didici securum agere aevum.) He has felt 'the steadfast empyrean shake throughout' beneath the winged car of Zeus, and knows now that 'The Lord maketh poor and maketh rich; he bringeth low and lifteth up' (1 Sam. 2.7).
Horace, Odes and Epodes
. With Introduction and Notes by Charles E. Bennett (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1901), p. 43 (outline of Ode
a) I am compelled to renounce my former errors of belief and to
make sail for a new haven, 1-5;
b) The cause: Jove recently hurled his thunderbolts with a
mighty crash through the clear sky, 5-12;
c) The god has power; he can abase the high and exalt the
lowly; from one man he swiftly takes away the crown, to bestow it on another, 12-16.
1.34 (tr. Christopher Smart):
A remiss and irregular worshipper of the gods, while I professed the errors of a senseless philosophy, I am now obliged to set sail back again,
and to renew the course that I had deserted. For Jupiter, who usually cleaves the clouds with his gleaming lightning, lately drove his thundering horses and rapid chariot through the clear serene;
at which the sluggish earth, and wandering rivers, at which Styx, and the horrid seat of detested Taenarus, and the utmost boundary of Atlas were shaken. The Deity is able to make exchange between the highest and the lowest,
and diminishes the exalted, bringing to light the obscure; rapacious fortune, with a shrill whizzing, has borne off the plume from one head, and delights in having placed it on another.
Parcus deorum cultor et infrequens,
insanientis dum sapientiae
consultus erro, nunc retrorsum
vela dare atque iterare cursus
cogor relictos: namque Diespiter, 5
igni corusco nubila dividens
plerumque, per purum tonantis
egit equos volucremque currum,
quo bruta tellus et vaga flumina,
quo Styx et invisi horrida Taenari 10
sedes Atlanteusque finis
concutitur. valet ima summis
mutare et insignem attenuat deus
obscura promens; hinc apicem rapax:
Fortuna cum stridore acuto 15
sustulit, hic posuisse gaudet.
Verse translation by W.S. Marris:
My prayers were rare and scant, and I
The fool of mad philosophy;
But I must bend my sails and back
Betake me to the ancient track.
When skies are black with storm, the Sire
Hath often cleft them with his fire,
But now with car and steeds of thunder
He rives the fleckless blue asunder,
Till sluggard Earth and streams that flow,
Dark Taenarus, abode of woe,
And Styx, and Atlas' mountain-wall
Are rocking. Ay, God bringeth all
The mighty low, and lifts the mean;
He rends the veil of things unseen;
And Fortune speeds on clanging wing
To crown the beggar, strip the king.
Eduard Fraenkel, Horace
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957; rpt. 1997), pp. 254-256 (footnotes omitted):
It would be possible to write an amusing and, perhaps, useful book on 'The Scholiasts' Tyranny over the Reading of the Classics'. The ode Parcus deorum cultor is a case in point. The classifying mind of some ancient schoolmaster excogitated for it the label 'hac ode significat se paenitentiam agere quod Epicuream sectam secutus inreligiosus extiterit' (Porph.), and so we still read in the most influential modern commentary that 'the poem is meant to be taken absolutely seriously as a confession of a religious conversion', despite all that has been said to discredit this view. If a conversion did take
place at all, if in this ode 'Horace has treasured up one decisive event of his own life' (Altheim), it should at least be admitted that the effect of this event was anything but permanent. Even if we leave aside the joke in the letter to Tibullus, Epicuri de grege porcum, there remains the programmatic declaration,
ac ne forte roges, quo me duce, quo lare tuter:
This frank statement is in harmony with all that we know about Horace's behaviour and general outlook during the period, approximately twenty-five years, for which we have the evidence of his own writings. The statement is unambiguous; it ought not to be disregarded in any discussion on 'the philosophy' or 'the religion' of the poet. Nor should we forget that the very serious culmination (96-103) of Epist. i.18 and also the last sentence in that letter show full adherence to the Epicurean creed.
nullius addictus iurare in verba magistri,
quo me cumque rapit tempestas, deferor hospes.
The doctrine of Epicurus 'explained thunder as caused by the clashing of two clouds. But Horace hears thunder in a clear sky: therefore, he reflects, Epicureanism is false. But does that mean that he abandons Epicureanism? Hardly. Horace is no zealot, who must accept a given creed in its entirety or reject it. As a matter of fact he had no interest in Epicurean science, whether for its own sake or for its application to the question of death; he was no Lucretius. Ethics alone engaged his attention. Nor on the other hand are we to interpret the ode as playful. . . . In saying that Jupiter threw his thunderbolt Horace is serious but not literal, poetic but not playful. . . . The significant part of the poem comes at the end. . . . After depicting the power of Jupiter, he says that the god makes the mighty to fall and the humble to rise. Thus the chance observation of a natural phenomenon leads . . . to a reflection on the uncertainties of life. . . . Nor is it without significance that Horace passes from Jupiter to the more generalized deus and finally to Fortune and that the poem which follows is addressed to the same goddess.' One need not agree with every word of this careful interpretation, but it seems to me that it comes much nearer to the true spirit of the poem than the crude simplification of the scholiast and of those who share his view.