Like a Fawn

My son and I saw two deer on the Sewanee bike-path this morning, and it reminded me of a Horatian ode.  We were barreling along when a doe crossed far ahead of us.  As we got closer, a younger deer suddenly appeared and, seeing us, scrambled after its mother.  We laughed and pedaled on, but a few Latin lines began to buzz around in my head.

Now I love Horace, as do most classicists, and one of my married colleagues has even referred to him as “the other man in her life.”  As it happens, though, I don’t teach him all that often, and when I do, it’s usually the “greatest hits” in translation.  But the poem that came to mind on the bike-path–Ode 1.23, Vitas Hinuleo– is an old friend, so to speak, one I recall studying in high school.  In fact, my senior year, I won a medal for my translation of it.

I no longer have the medal, and I can barely remember my version of it.  A few of my lines were coming back to me on the bike, though, and making me wince.  At any rate, Horace’s poem is below, with a translation following, and after that, some cursory discussion.

Horace, Odes 1.23

Vitas hinuleo me similis, Chloe,
Quaerenti pavidam montibus aviis
Matrem non sine vano
Aurarum et silvae metu.

Nam seu mobilibus veris inhorruit
Adventus foliis, seu virides rubum
Dimovere lacertae,
Et corde et genibus tremit.

Atqui non ego te tigris ut aspera
Gaetulusve leo frangere persequor:
Tandem desine matrem
Tempestiva sequi viro.

Like a Fawn

Like a fawn you avoid me, shy Chloe, a young one
alongside her mother, astray in the hills,
whom the rustle of leaves or the sight of a lizard
in the first flush of spring is enough to give chills.

Both your knees and your heart are for some reason trembling.
You presume me a predator, falsely, and hide
as though from a lion, and run to your mother,
yet you’re ready for love and should come from her side.

One of the things I have always liked about Horace is the way he creates these interesting personae in even his shortest poems.  The speaker here has his eye on Chloe and is filled with unconvincing reassurances about his intentions.  He likens her to a young deer seeking a mother’s protection, and only half-heartedly denies his own comparison to a beast of prey. In the Latin, Atqui non ego te tigris ut aspera / Gaetulusve leo frangere persequor more literally means “And I, not like a tiger or Gaetulian lion, chase to break you.”  Yikes.  Even the simple natural images of the wind in the leaves and skinks in the shrubs are suspect.  Springtime simply seems spooky in Chloe’s world.

I feel fairly certain that none of this was brought out in my high school Latin class, and if it had been, I am equally certain I was incapable of understanding it.  But beneath Horace’s charming imagery, this courtship poem has an unmistakable predatory quality.  I was glad to have a reason to re-visit the poem.  “Animals are good to think with,” as Claude Lévi-Strauss once said.

About Uncomely and Broken

I am a classicist in Sewanee, Tennessee.
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8 Responses to Like a Fawn

  1. Nick says:

    Nice translation… In the comment, though, to clarify the predator line’s literal wording and order, wouldn’t it be more accurate to translate as “Nor do I, like a tiger or Gaetulian lion…”? Or am I wrong? (Your literal translation seems to give the speaker’s id too much power, turning the statement “I…chase” into a positive?)

  2. Hi Nick–Oops! Yes. I left out the “like” inadvertently. Talk about id! I’ve put it back in.

  3. Nick says:

    Still looks like the id is on too long a leash… I thought the “Nor do I…” was the important part. Your translation still reads, in its essential structure, “I…chase to break you.” Isn’t that neglecting the place of the negative? Or is it my Latin that’s negative?

  4. Nick says:

    P.S. Uncomely, do you already own a copy of the Penguin volume “Horace in English”? If not, I have an extra to pack off to you. It’s a great compilation.

  5. Ooh, I would like that. I have checked Horace in English out of the library many times but haven’t bought a copy. When I do teach Horace in the Latin Lit in Translation class, we go over about 8 translations of the Pyrrha Ode (1.5, Quis multa gracilis te puer in rosa), from Milton to Anthony Hecht.
    Okay, as to Atqui non ego te tigris ut aspera / Gaetulusve leo frangere persequor. What is it that the speaker is denying exactly? His pursuit, or his similarity to a lion or tiger? It seems to me to be both. The simile is an adverbial clause, so it’s the entire predicate that’s being negated. So I guess my literal translation above doesn’t render that very well. But here’s what I think it does capture, the distance between the non and frangere persequor. The non is closer to the subject than the predicate. I suppose one might invoke slippage here?

  6. Nick says:

    Finally got back to reading your response here – apologies. I’ll gladly donate my extra Horace in English to someone who’ll use it. On slippage, I bow to your superior Latin, seeing what you mean (while noting that Austin Dobson, whose version is reproduced in the Penguin volume, translates “And yet no Libyan lion I…” without rendering the chasing verb at all…perhaps a Dobson dodge).

  7. Nick says:

    Maybe your slippage could be literally Englished by flipping your literal English just a bit: “I’m not chasing you like a tiger/ or like a Gaetulian lion, to break you” …

  8. Nick says:

    And here’s another ambi-dexterously ambiguous rendering by James Michie: “Am I a fierce Gaetulian/ Lion or some tiger with a plan/ To seize and maul you?…”

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