BMCR 2004.07.08

Golden Verses: Poetry of the Augustan Age

, Golden verses : poetry of the Augustan age. Focus classical library. Newburyport, MA: Focus Pub, 2003. xxv, 369 pages : maps ; 23 cm.. ISBN 9781585100644 $18.95 (pb).

This new addition to The Focus Classical Library Series is the first to offer selections from a variety of authors. The text is aimed at beginners with little or no background in Augustan poetry and provides an excellent assortment of translations suitable for undergraduate courses in Roman civilization and classical literature. The introduction contains a general discussion of the “complex degree of sophistication, evolution, experimentation, and creativity” of literature in the Augustan age compared with “the polysemous virtues” of the Forum of Augustus (ix), and other rather complicated ideas such as pro- and anti-Augustan readings and differences between a “public” and “private” voice. Depending on the needs and goals of a course, this part can be a starting point for discussion or ignored altogether. The introduction continues with brief essays on the characteristics and style of the six authors whose works are represented (Virgil, Horace, Propertius, Tibullus, Sulpicia, and Ovid), a chronological table from the founding of Rome to the death of Ovid, and four maps. At the end there is a glossary of names and short bibliographies for the Augustan age and the authors (except Sulpicia).

Each selection from an author’s works is prefaced by a brief opening paragraph explaining the style and aim of the genre, which will give readers a general sense of the contents without exhausting the subject or getting into fine points that may or may not be relevant for the instructor’s purposes. Instructors who use this text will have to cover a lot of background information, but this is actually a good feature since they will be free to fill in whatever details they decide are important and relevant. The selection should allow instructors to focus on a range of themes (e.g. country vs. city life, wealth vs. poverty, moderation vs. indulgence) and other concepts (politics, patronage, slavery, women, love, etc.) of interest in undergraduate courses. Alessi (hereafter A.) designed the text for courses on Augustan literature and assumes students will also read major works such as the Aeneid and the Metamorphoses. He includes selections from Virgil’s Eclogues and Georgics and Ovid’s Heroides, Amores, Ars Amatoria, and Tristia. All of Horace’s works are represented. The table of contents lists the authors and works from which selections are taken, but there is no list of individual poems and no index indicating which poems have been included. Unless instructors plan to cover all the poems in order, they will have to read through the entire text before assigning readings based on desired themes. In an appendix at the end of the review, I have listed the poems that make up the collection and the order in which they appear.

Although A. does not indicate which Latin text he uses, his translations keep to the traditional line numbers and the typeface reflects the meter of a poem. The translations are lively, often elegant and always competent, and make use of modern parlance that captures the essence of the Latin in ways students will be able to understand and appreciate, as these few examples (for which I include the Latin) should illustrate:

Virg. G. 2.458-460:

O fortunatos nimium, sua si bona norint,
agricolas! quibus ipsa procul discordibus armis
fundit humo facilem victum, iustissima tellus.

O how fortunate are farmers if they ever come to know their own wealth.
For them the earth itself, far from the weapons of civil wars,
Sprouts an easy livelihood from the soil, an earth most just.

Hor. Sat. 1.2.25-26

Maltinus tunicis demissis ambulat; est qui
inguen ad obscenum subductis usque.

Maltinus walks about in baggy pants and another guy
With his tunic tucked up to his raunchy crotch.

Prop. 1.10.29-30

is poterit felix una remanere puella,
qui numquam vacuo pectore liber erit.

The only way a man can be happy with just one woman
is to surrender his carefree heart — and his freedom.

Ov. Her. 10.34-35

“quo fugis?” exclamo; “scelerate revertere Theseu!
flecte ratem! numerum non habet illa suum!”

“Where are you going?” I scream; “Come back, Theseus, come back,
you bastard!
Turn back the ship! It lacks its full complement!”

Cf. Hor. Odes 1.31.16: levesque malvae = “low-cal mallows”; Prop. 1.9.20 infernae . . . rotae = “Hell’s wheel”; 2.19.22 comminus = “mano a mano.”

Occasional but interesting use of italics captures anaphora and other aspects of the original that might otherwise be lost, as, for example:

Prop. 1.10.21-24

tu cave ne tristi cupias pugnare puellae,
neve superba loqui, neve tacere diu;
neu, si quid petiit, ingrata fronte negaris,
neu tibi pro vano verba benigna cadant.

Don’t look for trouble when she is feeling moody;
don’t preach sermons; don’t sit and sulk;
Don’t scowl and don’t say no when she asks a favor;
don’t underreact when she says something sweet.

The notes for the most part are helpful without being overwhelming. They indicate subsections of a poem (see G. 4.1-7; 8-50; 51-66; 67-102; 103-148; 149-202; 203-227; 228-280, etc.), and often provide useful information. For example, the notes at G. 1.222 and Her. 7.2 use and define the word “catasterize”; the note at G. 4.453-529 explains how the story of Orpheus and Eurydice relates to Aristaeus; the note at Tibull. 1.4.81 observes the delayed mention of Marathus; the note at Ovid Her. 7.83-84 glosses “mother of handsome Iulus,” as Creusa and points out that in Ovid Dido blames Aeneas for deserting Creusa, whereas in Virgil she was lost during the sack of Troy. Some notes are cross referenced for easy consultation. For example, the note at Odes 1.6 explains what a recusatio is and refers the reader to Prop. 2.1; the note at Odes 1.11 refers to the previously given Odes 1.9 for the “carpe diem” theme; the note at Prop. 2.31 refers back to Odes 1.31 for information on the temple to Apollo; the note at Prop. 4.8.45-46 on the dice throws “Lucky Venus” and “Damn Dogs” refers to Odes 2.7.25. Occasionally the notes remind the reader that the poets are tied to their circumstances, e.g. G. 1.311-350: “the unpredictable and unseasonable storms that can bring ruin despite all the labor of the diligent farmer. Vergil maintains that only constant vigilance and piety can hope to minimize the destruction. The sudden storm metaphorically presages the political devastation described at the end of book.” Cf. Trist. 1.3: “in this poem Ovid suggests a comparison of his experiences with Aeneas’ departure from Troy.”

Not all of the notes are helpful. For example, at Sat. 1.2.107-108 A. points out that these lines rework a famous epigram by Callimachus, and likewise at Amores 2.19.36 the note reads “a Latin version from a famous epigram of Callimachus” but in neither case is a translation of the epigram in question given or specifically referenced. The note at Prop. 3.4.19-20 says “see note to 2.1.42,” but no such note exists. These are minor quibbles, to which I would add that “Octavian” appears on page ix, but elsewhere the name is “Octavius,” and the statement that Horace acquired equestrian status after Maecenas’ gift of the Sabine farm is odd. I was surprised at the absence of certain poems, e.g. G. 3.1-46 on Virgil’s future epic; Odes 1.24 to Virgil; Odes 1.38 and Odes 2.20 for book “endings”; the Actium Epodes, especially as the introduction to the Epodes mentions that these poems introduce political themes that are more fully developed in the Odes; Epist. 1.17 to Scaeva for comparison with Epist. 1.18 to Lollius; Epist. 1.1 for the book’s program, Epist. 1.7 to Maecenas on friendship, and Epist. 1.20 for Horace’s humorous self-description; Tibullus 1.7 on Messalla’s triumph; and poems in Horace and Ovid that mention or might mention Tibullus. Others will find their own gaps, but these can easily be filled in. On the whole the book offers a useful and delightful selection of Augustan poetry and should be of great service in the classroom.


Virgil: Eclogues: 1; 4; 5; 6; 8; 10; Georgics: 1 (entire); 2.136-176; 458-540; 4 (entire)

Horace: Satires One: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10; Satires Two: 6, 8; Odes One: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 18, 20, 22, 23, 25, 30, 31, 37; Odes Two: 1, 3, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19; Odes Three: 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 13, 21, 24, 26, 29, 30; Odes Four: 1, 2, 3, 7, 11, 13; Carmen Saeculare (entire); Epodes 2, 12, 16; Epistles One: 2, 3, 5, 6, 10, 12, 18, 19; Epistles Two: 1

Propertius: One: 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 16, 19, 21, 22; Two: 1, 5, 7, 8, 12, 15, 16, 19, 25, 26A, 31, 33, 34; Three: 1, 3, 4, 8, 9, 11, 16; Four: 1, 3, 4, 7, 8, 11

Tibullus One: 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9; Two: 3, 4

Sulpicia: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Ovid: Heroides 1, 5, 7, 10, 11; Amores One: 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15; Two: 4, 7, 8, 10, 15, 19; Three 2, 7, 9, 11, 14; Ars Amatoria One (entire); Tristia One: 1, 3, 5, 11; Three 3, 4b, 10, 11, 14; Four: 1, 10; Five: 7