On Lines From Horace’s Epistles

Here are lines from David Ferry’s translation of Horace’s Epistles on fortune, authentic contentment, and the achievement of happiness. Horace suggests that we would do well to consider the efficacy of achieving happiness in the present–in daily life–as opposed to thinking about it as an abstract concept or as achievable in a remote future.  It may begin with a fleeting and transient simple pleasure, such as a cup of coffee or a hot bath, but such gratifications hardly last.  Certainly, happiness is a state of mind of inner peace and cannot be purchased at any cost.  It cannot be reached by traversing great geographical distances.  That is, happiness is not a remote elsewhere, a paradisiacal island, at the end of the world.  In the words of Horace, he writes:

A man who has traveled from Capua to Rome

And arrives at an inn all muddy and wet and chilled

Wouldn’t want to live on forever at the inn,

No matter how cozy he’s made by its stove and hot baths.

If you arrived on the other side of the sea,

Safe and sound, after a stormy crossing,

You wouldn’t therefore decide to sell the ship

On which you were going to get back home again.

To a sensible free man, being away in Rhodes

Or beautiful Mitylene is like wearing

A heavy overcoat in the summertime,

Or wearing a loincloth in the wintertime

To go in swimming in the freezing Tiber;

It’s lighting up a stove in the middle of August.

While Fortune smiles on you and you’re able to,

Stay home in Rome, while praising Samos and Chios

And Rhodes, and so on, as long as they’re far away.

Whatever good things the god sees fit to give you,

Take them with thanks; don’t think you can save them up

For a rainy day.  You want to be able to say

You’ve lived a happy life.  It’s reason, good sense,

That takes away your cares; it isn’t owning

A house at the shore that has a commanding view.

He only changes his scene, he doesn’t change

His mind, who rushes to go abroad.  How many

Are busy going elsewhere getting nowhere;

But if you have a healthy attitude,

Then what you’re seeking to find can always be found

Right where you are, even in froggy Ulubrae.

(To Bullatius, i.11)


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