Translation is as much about mediating different cultures as it is about language. But I like Ode 3.13 because it mostly lacks any culturally specific content—aside from the sacrifice of the young goat, that is. For the most part, a poem praising a beautiful, fresh spring can be appreciated by a 21st century reader as it was by Horace’s fellow Romans. And the compact image of the goat’s blood in the water is Horace at his best (picture the hot, red blood swirling in the ice-cold, perfectly clear waters of the fountain). All this makes the poem a good test case for the aesthetics of translation: how much of the form and content of the original Latin poem, its intricacies of imagery, wordplay, and rhythm, can be captured in English?
In this translation I’ve abandoned the original meter—Latin meter relies on syllable length, rather than stress, so it’s a bit beside the point to try to recreate it in English—but I’ve kept the poem’s tight organization of four four-line stanzas. The poem essentially hinges on the symbiotic relationship between the poet and the fountain he praises: without the poet, the fountain cannot attain fame, but without the fountain, the poet lacks a subject to sing about. You can follow this dynamic relationship in the last stanza with the pronouns alone, as the poem oscillates between the “I” of the speaker and the “you” of the fountain. Finally, in the last line of the poem, the speaker endows the waters of the fountain with their own capacity for speech and poetic voice. The poet has come to the fountain and lent his own voice, but only to allow the fountain to speak for itself. Not bad advice for a translator, either.
HORACE'S ODE 3.13
O fons Bandusiae, splendidior vitro
dulci digne mero non sine floribus,
cras donaberis haedo,
cui frons turgida cornibus
primis et Venerem et proelia destinat,
frustra: nam gelidos inficiet tibi
rubro sanguine rivos
lascivi suboles gregis.
te flagrantis atrox hora Caniculae
nescit tangere, tu frigus amabile
fessis vomere tauris
praebes et pecori vago.