22 April 2009

Now is the time for drinking...

As archeologists inch ever closer to finding the tomb of Cleopatra, take another look at Horace's wonderful Odes I.37, more commonly known as his "Cleopatra Ode." Cleopatra, from the beginning, has been a figure hard to get one's head around.

Notice how, despite its initial hatred toward the prisoner (who's unnatural for any number of reasons, not the least of which is her being a woman) and genuine joy about her capture, by the end the poem reflects a respect for an honorable enemy who faces defeat (well, just like a man).

XXXVII. Nunc Est Bibendum. (translated by John Conington)

Now drink we deep, now featly tread
A measure; now before each shrine
With Salian feasts the table spread;
The time invites us, comrades mine.
'Twas shame to broach, before to-day,
The Caecuban, while Egypt's dame
Threaten'd our power in dust to lay
And wrap the Capitol in flame,
Girt with her foul emasculate throng,
By Fortune's sweet new wine befool'd,
In hope's ungovern'd weakness strong
To hope for all; but soon she cool'd,
To see one ship from burning'scape;
Great Caesar taught her dizzy brain,
Made mad by Mareotic grape,
To feel the sobering truth of pain,
And gave her chase from Italy,
As after doves fierce falcons speed,
As hunters 'neath Haemonia's sky
Chase the tired hare, so might he lead
The fiend enchain'd; SHE sought to die
More nobly, nor with woman's dread
Quail'd at the steel, nor timorously
In her fleet ships to covert fled.
Amid her ruin'd halls she stood
Unblench'd, and fearless to the end
Grasp'd the fell snakes, that all her blood
Might with the cold black venom blend,
Death's purpose flushing in her face;
Nor to our ships the glory gave,
That she, no vulgar dame, should grace
A triumph, crownless, and a slave.

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