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This review is taken from PN Review 129, Volume 26 Number 1, September - October 1999.

THE ELUSIVE QUINTO ORAZIO FLACCO The Complete Odes and Satires of Horace, Translated with Introduction and Notes by Sidney Alexander (Princeton University Press) £19.95 (cloth), £8.95 (paper)

'I have always believed,' wrote W.H. Auden, 'the essential difference between prose and poetry to be that prose can be translated into another tongue but poetry cannot.' The paradox, that Auden goes on to explore in his introduction to the complete poems of Cavafy (translated by Rae Dalven, Harvest Books, 1961), is that he was influenced by the Greek poet even though he could read him only in English. With Horace there is a great deal which is lost in translation and yet, as Auden points out for Cavafy, the marvel is that somehow we are able to discern the voice of the original poet.

In that poetry entails a complete fusion between form and content, no single translation can capture all the facets of the original and some aspects will always remain beyond reach. As a highly inflected language Latin presents specific features which cannot be readily transposed into another tongue (amabunt, for example, needs three English words: they will love, and amabuntur is translated by they will be loved). This, combined with a flexibility of word order, can bring about a brevity of expression that borders on the laconic.

Horace made full use of the qualities and peculiarities of Latin, indeed, he did so to such an extent that his style was, and has remained, unique in the corpus of Latin literature. Perhaps the most poignant description of his approach was voiced by Friedrich Nietzsche in the 'What I Owe to the Ancients' ...


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