Horace 2.6: The Weary Soldier

Horace Ode 2.6 is one of my favourite poems. Addressed to his friend Septimius, Horace turns down an invitation to the restless corners of the Empire, pleading the war-weariness of a footsore soldier. He would rather stay in Italy, by the river Tibur, or maybe go down south to the river Galaesus, a place famous for its rich pastures. The description of these places is beautiful, a paradise of nature blessed by the gods, a haven of peace. The poem ends with gentle and charming humour that is characteristic of Horace. This is where the poet wants to die. He grandly commands Septimius to his funeral with a mock-solemnity to give him the tear that he owes him as his friend.

Septimus, you, who are prepared to visit
Cadiz with me, and its tribes (they’re not used
to bearing our yoke) and barbarous Syrtes,
by the Moors’ fierce Sea,

I’d rather Tibur, founded by men of Greece,
were my home when I’m old, let it be my goal,
when I’m tired of the seas, and the roads, and all
this endless fighting.

But if the cruel Fates deny me that place,
I’ll head for the river Galaesus, sweet
with its precious sheep, on Spartan fields, once ruled
by King Phalanthus.

That corner of earth is the brightest to me,
where the honey gives nothing away to that
of Hymettus, and its olives compete with
green Venafrum:

where Jupiter grants a lengthy spring, and mild
winters, and Aulon’s hill-slopes, dear to fertile
Bacchus, are filled with least envy for those rich
grapes of Falernum.

That place, and its lovely heights, call out to me,
to you: and there’ll you’ll scatter your debt of a sad
tear, over the still-glowing ashes of this,
the poet, your friend.

(Translated by A. S. Kline © 2003)

Continue reading