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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Eheu Fugaces

Let's firstly explain a possible confusion: there were two John W. McCoy's, unrelated each other. One of them (http://research.frick.org/directoryweb/browserecord.php?-action=browse&-recid=6305) lived between 1821-1889 and was a Baltimore merchant and art collector whose donations started the Peabody Institute's Gallery of Art. There is at Peabody a pastel on paper created by Oscar Hallwig and representing this McCoy. Then there was a second John W. McCoy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_W._McCoy) who lived between 1910 - 1989, an artist painter, the brother-in-law of Andrew Wyeth.

And now, let's go to the Eheu Fugaces, i.e. Horace, Ode 2.14. The Latin original first. As Michael Gilleland suggests, it should be read slowly, word by word: even if you don't know Latin at all you'll experience its charm.

Eheu fugaces, Postume, Postume,
labuntur anni, nec pietas moram
rugis et instanti senectae
adferet indomitaeque morti,

non si trecenis quotquot eunt dies,
amice, places inlacrimabilem
Plutona tauris, qui ter amplum
Geryonen Tityonque tristi

compescit unda, scilicet omnibus,
quicumque terrae munere uescimur,
enauiganda, siue reges
siue inopes erimus coloni.

Frustra cruento Marte carebimus
fractisque rauci fluctibus Hadriae,
frustra per autumnos nocentem
corporibus metuemus Austrum.

Visendus ater flumine languido
Cocytus errans et Danai genus
infame damnatusque longi
Sisyphus Aeolides laboris.

Linquenda tellus et domus et placens
uxor, neque harum quas colis arborum
te praeter inuisas cupressos
ulla breuem dominum sequetur.

Absumet heres Caecuba dignior
seruata centum clauibus et mero
tinguet pauimentum superbo,
pontificum potiore cenis.

(video by Nightingail90)
(if you cannot see it here, click on it to open a second window)

Who was Postumus, you'd ask me. Well, nobody knows, and it is possible it was just an imaginary name used for the artistic effect. On the other hand, we shouldn't have any reason to consider that Postumus was not a real person, just because we don't know anything about him.

Here is an English rendering. It is on the web site of Michael Gilleland.

Alas, Postumus, Postumus, the fleeting
years are slipping by, and devotion will
not delay wrinkles, the onslaught
of old age, and unconquered death,

not even, friend, if you try each
day to please dry-eyed Pluto with three
hundred [slaughtered] bulls. He keeps
Geryon and Tityos in check

behind the gloomy stream, which must be crossed
in very truth by all of us who feed on the
bounty of the earth, whether we are
kings or penniless sharecroppers.

In vain will we flee bloody Mars
and the broken waves of the hoarse Adriatic sea,
in vain each autumn will we avoid
the south wind which harms [our] bodies.

You must face the dark Cocytus river,
which meanders with sluggish flow,
and Danaus' accursed race and Aeolus'
son Sisyphus, condemned to endless toil.

You must leave earth, home, and affectionate
wife. None of those trees which you're
tending will accompany you, except for the hated cypresses.

Your heir, more worthy [than you], will use up
your Caecuban wines, kept under a hundred locks;
he will spill on the floor the proud wine,
better than at high priests' feasts.

If you go to the web page (http://www.merriampark.com/horcarm214.htm) of Michael Gilleland, he gave there also some other English translations, also comments for each line.

A succinct and elegant comment in the Hachette edition of the Odes:

La mort est inévitable, la prudence elle-même ne peut nous y soustraire: le jour vient rapidement où il nous faut dire adieu aux biens les plus doux et les plus légitimes, et où notre vaine épargne sera dissipée par un héritier indifférent et prodigue. Strophe alcaïque, date vraisemblable 30 BCE

(Death is inevitable, prudence itself cannot withdraw us from it: the day comes quickly when it is necessary for us to say good-bye to the softest goods and most legitimate, and when our vain saving will be dissipated by an indifferent heir and spendthrift. Alcaic stanza, probable date 30 BCE)

And here a French version of this Ode, given by Ulysse François Ange comte de Séguier, edited by Denys Eissart:

Hélas ! Postumus, mon cher Postumus, comme elles s'enfuient vite
nos années… et toute notre piété ne saurait retarder
ni les rides, ni la vieillesse toute proche,
ni la mort indomptée.

Non, mon ami, quand bien même, chaque jour qui passe,
tu sacrifierais trois cents taureaux,
pour te rendre favorable Pluton, le dieu sans larmes
qui retient le géant Tityos et Géryon aux trois corps,

l'onde infernale nous la traverserons tous, un jour,
nous qui sommes nourris des fruits de la terre,
que nous soyons rois
ou humbles paysans.

C'est en vain que nous nous préserverons de Mars, le dieu violent,
c'est en vain que nous éviterons le déferlement des flots grondants de l'Adriatique,
en vain encore qu'à l'automne
nous éviterons l'Auster malsain.

Inévitablement, il nous faudra aller voir
le sombre et languissant Cocyte au cours errant,
et l'infâme descendance de Danaüs, et Sisyphe,
le fils d'Éole, condamné à un labeur perpétuel.

Il faudra laisser ces terrains, cette maison, cette épouse aimée ;
et de tous ces arbres cultivés avec soin
aucun ne suivra son éphémère maître,
hormis l'odieux cyprès.

Un plus digne héritier videra tout ce Cécube
conservé à l'abri de cent clés
et rougira le pavement de ce vin orgueilleux, de ce vin supérieur
même à celui servi aux dîners des pontifes.




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