Friday, February 20, 2009

Mount Soracte

Horace's Ode I.9 (a translation of which you can find here or here) opens with the poet observing the effects of winter all around him and urging his (probably imaginary) friend to build up a nice big fire and get out the wine.

Vides ut alta stet nive candidum
Soracte nec iam sustineant onus
silvae laborantes geluque
flumina constiterint acuto?

Dissolve frigus ligna super foco 5

large reponens atque benignius
deprome quadrimum Sabina,
o Thaliarche, merum diota.

See how Soracte stands deep
in dazzling snow and the trees cannot bear
their loads and bitter frosts
have paralysed the streams?

Dispel the cold, heap plentiful logs
on the hearth and draw out
your four-year old Sabine wine
from its two handled jugs, Thaliarchus.

This is what Nisbett and Hubbard have to say about Mt Soracte in their commentary on Book I of Horace's Odes:

Mount Soratte is sometimes visible from a few favoured parts of Rome, and the modern tourist, as he (sic) surveys the horizon from the Gianiculo on a clear day willingly imagines that he is re-creating the poet's experience. But we should not suppose that Horace saw the mountain twenty miles away on a winter evening through the narrow slit of an ancient window; he is simply giving local colour to a Greek theme... Horace is not describing a particular scene; rather he has composed a picturesque Christmas-card, based on Alcaeus, and containing among more conventional elements a single feature of familiar topography.

Mount Soratte, 2,400 feet high, [is] about 20 miles north of Rome... At different times it has been called Monte S. Silvestro (after Pope Sylvester I who hid there during the reign of Constantine), or Treste, or Sant'Oreste. It is visible from the
Gianiculo and the Pincio, some tall buildings in Rome, much of the Campagna, and Tivoli (though not, of course, from Horace's Sabine farm). It was associated with Apollo, with the fire-walking Hirpini, with Soranus and Feronia and the cult of the dead (Virg. Aen. 11.785 with Servius, Str. 5.2.9). Some scholars suppose that it has been introduced here becauses of it's funereal associations... but so melancholy a note would be inappropriate at this place in the poem, There is no evidence that the mountain was so sinister that every mention of it suggested thoughts of mortality.

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