Friday, June 04, 2010

wind and running water

The speaker on Lyric Poetry at Wednesday's HSC study day, made a comment at one point that whenever you come across storm imagery, you know the poet is about to have a go at women - for being unpredictable, fickle, irrational, even violent. It's not a bad point, think for example of Horace I.5, where he takes pity on his ex-girlfriend's new lover:
...heu quatiens fidem
mutatosque deos flebit et aspera
nigris aequora ventis
emirabitur insolens...

Alas, how often he will weep
At your (and the gods') vacillations
And be exasperated by your rough seas
And black gales.
But it's not just women who get this treatment. In Ode III.9 (a conversation between two lovers) the woman uses similar imagery to describe the man:
...tu levior cortice et improbo
iracundior Hadria,
tecum vivere amem. tecum obeam libens.

Though... you are as light as cork and as bad-tempered
As the deceitful Adriatic, I'd love
To live with you, with you I'd gladly die.
It's a similar story with Catullus. He says of Lesbia in poem 70:
nulli se dicit mulier mea nubere malle
quam mihi, non si se Iuppiter ipse petat.
dicit - sed mulier cupido quod dicit amanti
in vento et rapida scribere oportet aqua.

My woman says there's no one she would rather wed
Than me, not even if asked by Jove himself.
So she says - but what a woman says to an eager lover
One should write on the wind and running water.
But he also has Ariadne speak of Theseus in this way in his mini-epic poem 64 (lines 141-144):

sed conubia laeta, sed optatos hymenaeos,
quae cuncta aerii discerpunt irrita venti.
nunc iam nulla viro iuranti femina credat,
nulla viri speret sermones esse fideles...

But our married happiness, our longed for wedding-hymns
All of these things the misty winds have torn to shreds, unfulfilled.
No woman now should put her faith in a man's oath
And none should expect a man's word to be faithful.
He even uses the same language in poem 30, addressed to his back-stabbing friend Alfenus:
idem nunc retrahis te ac tua dicta omnia factaque
ventos irrita ferre ac nebulas aereas sinis.

Now you back out and allow the winds and the misty breezes
To carry away unfulfilled all your words and deeds.

I think it's interesting that both Catullus and Horace use similar imagery to describe different kinds of relationships. It's not just about their (ex-) girlfriends, it's also used about men, and Catullus can even describe a (former) friend in the same terms.

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