Anniversary Post: Horace

HoraceOn this day way back in 65 BC, the great Roman poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus, known to us English speakers as simply Horace, was born. Most people know of him because of one line from one of his poems Odes Book III, Poem 2: Dulce Et Decorum Est. The line itself is, “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.” A straight translation is, “Sweet and decorous it is for the fatherland to die.” Now Horace is exhorting his fellow Romans to man up. You can read the whole poem in English at Poetry in Translation. Today, we know the line from Wilfred Owen’s poem of the same name where he quotes the line. This is how he ends his poem:

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori

I learned a great deal about Latin from reading Horace. All my life, I had heard that Latin was a perfect language. Yet here was this famous line that ends with an infinitive. It sounded vaguely like German to me. What I learned is that there is no such thing as a perfect language. And no language is superior to another. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. I run into grammatical problems all the time that simply can’t be solved in English, but that is built right into other languages. It is very much like programming languages. The best language depends upon what you want to say. And that can change clause by clause. But one cool thing about Latin: it really isn’t that hard. If I had a child, I would encourage her to study it.

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