Navis / After Horace Odes 1.14


This battered sloop, this leaking hull, this limping hind

All stuck with arrows and soft shot and open to the wind,

Veer quickly past Dover, avoid Felixstowe, sail on until you can find

A safe bay in the far north; or nearer at hand

Berthed in the fens you can rot, masts topple, timbers

Rent or stolen, even the flints drop, split anew as they fall

Church-ship, dry-docked like Drake’s vessel, only

The rood-stair hanging in space:

Kenosis and crumbling; the grandeur of loss.

They’ll say we’ve mislaid her, the ship of the nation, last seen

Close to shore, somewhere near Lowestoft

Run aground, wrecked, our kingdom gone.

The pilot we miss. The still beat of the mariner’s drum.



 Glaucus in lockdown

 After and against Ovid, Metamorphoses 14


Death is passing the window over and over again as Glaucus

swims stately and determined through the tightest parts

of Chester Road N19it’s one way and there’s a sharp

bend by the cemetery where the buses get stuck.


Not Glaucus, though, seal-slick he’s slipped

past the traffic and on

nearly there now, he’s come

to the grassed heights of Highgate, the halls

of Circe, child of the sun.


The moment he finds her, he greets her, is greeted, bursts out:


“Have a heart, if you do, goddess as you are, for he who

has a heart himself, god too that I am, after a fashionit’s only you

who can relieveif you please, if I’m worthy

what I like to call this wound of my love.


Titanessis that rude? or even accurate?still

it sounds impressive, and you are awfully imposing

up here on the hill


whatever herb or prescription might

do the trick, unsink

me from this titanic

passionthere’s no-one

knows the power of simples

better than me, you can see

what they have wrought upon me,

my seal-skin, my slippery grey-sheen

the glaucous, insinuating damp of my body

hauled all the way up here.

Out of my element, you might say.


And I can’t believe you don’t know the story, but still

you might have forgotten how once, by the shore

in Italy, a long way from here, just across

from MessinaI saw

a girl, Silla.


No, not that one. There are only so many names, after all.


Well, let’s just say it’s galling to find

all your overtures, promises, blandishments, gifts

thrown back in your face. You’ll know how it feels

in another few lines if you don’t already.


I’m not asking for much, I don’t expect

miracles, or that you could

take away my pain altogether, even

if that’s what I wantedto be honest I’d rather

you just made her suffer a bit, too.

Share the pain, feel the burn.”


And all at once, though far away,

her parts rise up to bite her and she starts to cough.


She’ll turn to rock, or siren.



Death if you can, slip between

The hospital and the paramedics

Crowning the hill.


Glaucus, still,

shed a few tears, not too many;


Circe where to get off; thought

it had been worth the attempt. Coughed.



Horace, Odes 1.14


O navis, referent in mare te novi
fluctus. O quid agis? Fortiter occupa
     portum. Nonne vides ut
     nudum remigio latus,

et malus celeri saucius Africo                                
antemnaque gemant ac sine funibus
     vix durare carinae
     possint imperiosius

aequor? Non tibi sunt integra lintea,
non di, quos iterum pressa voces malo.               
     Quamvis Pontica pinus,
     silvae filia nobilis,

iactes et genus et nomen inutile:
nil pictis timidus navita puppibus
     fidit. Tu, nisi ventis                                         
     debes ludibrium, cave.

Nuper sollicitum quae mihi taedium,
nunc desiderium curaque non levis,
     interfusa nitentis
     vites aequora Cycladas.               




Ovid, Metamorphoses 14.1-74



Iamque Giganteis iniectam faucibus Aetnen

arvaque Cyclopum, quid rastra, quid usus aratri,

nescia nec quicquam iunctis debentia bubus

liquerat Euboicus tumidarum cultor aquarum,

liquerat et Zanclen adversaque moenia Regi               

navifragumque fretum, gemino quod litore pressum

Ausoniae Siculaeque tenet confinia terrae.

inde manu magna Tyrrhena per aequora vectus

herbiferos adiit colles atque atria Glaucus

Sole satae Circes, variarum plena ferarum.               

quam simul adspexit, dicta acceptaque salute,

'diva, dei miserere, precor! nam sola levare

tu potes hunc,' dixit 'videar modo dignus, amorem.

quanta sit herbarum, Titani, potentia, nulli

quam mihi cognitius, qui sum mutatus ab illis.               

neve mei non nota tibi sit causa furoris:

litore in Italico, Messenia moenia contra,

Scylla mihi visa est. pudor est promissa precesque

blanditiasque meas contemptaque verba referre;

at tu, sive aliquid regni est in carmine, carmen               

ore move sacro, sive expugnacior herba est,

utere temptatis operosae viribus herbae

nec medeare mihi sanesque haec vulnera mando,

fine nihil opus est: partem ferat illa caloris.'

at Circe (neque enim flammis habet aptius ulla               

talibus ingenium, seu causa est huius in ipsa,

seu Venus indicio facit hoc offensa paterno,)

talia verba refert: 'melius sequerere volentem

optantemque eadem parilique cupidine captam.

dignus eras ultro (poteras certeque) rogari,               

et, si spem dederis, mihi crede, rogaberis ultro.

neu dubites absitque tuae fiducia formae,

en ego, cum dea sim, nitidi cum filia Solis,

carmine cum tantum, tantum quoque gramine possim,

ut tua sim, voveo. spernentem sperne, sequenti               

redde vices, unoque duas ulciscere facto.'

talia temptanti 'prius' inquit 'in aequore frondes'

Glaucus 'et in summis nascentur montibus algae,

Sospite quam Scylla nostri mutentur amores.'

indignata dea est et laedere quatenus ipsum               

non poterat (nec vellet amans), irascitur illi,

quae sibi praelata est; venerisque offensa repulsa,

protinus horrendis infamia pabula sucis

conterit et tritis Hecateia carmina miscet

caerulaque induitur velamina perque ferarum               

agmen adulantum media procedit ab aula

oppositumque petens contra Zancleia saxa

Region ingreditur ferventes aestibus undas,

in quibus ut solida ponit vestigia terra

summaque decurrit pedibus super aequora siccis.               

parvus erat gurges, curvos sinuatus in arcus,

grata quies Scyllae: quo se referebat ab aestu

et maris et caeli, medio cum plurimus orbe

sol erat et minimas a vertice fecerat umbras.

hunc dea praevitiat portentificisque venenis               

inquinat; hic pressos latices radice nocenti

spargit et obscurum verborum ambage novorum

ter noviens carmen magico demurmurat ore.

Scylla venit mediaque tenus descenderat alvo,

cum sua foedari latrantibus inguina monstris               

adspicit ac primo credens non corporis illas

esse sui partes, refugitque abigitque timetque

ora proterva canum, sed quos fugit, attrahit una

et corpus quaerens femorum crurumque pedumque

Cerbereos rictus pro partibus invenit illis:               

statque canum rabie subiectaque terga ferarum

inguinibus truncis uteroque exstante coercet.

Flevit amans Glaucus nimiumque hostiliter usae

viribus herbarum fugit conubia Circes;

Scylla loco mansit cumque est data copia, primum               

in Circes odium sociis spoliavit Ulixem;

mox eadem Teucras fuerat mersura carinas,

ni prius in scopulum, qui nunc quoque saxeus exstat,

transformata foret: scopulum quoque navita vitat.

Translator's Note

Horace's Odes 1.14, the famous ‘ship of state’ poem, has a long history of interpretation and imitation in relation to contemporary politics. In England, this was particularly marked during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This version of the ode alludes to that tradition by linking the English ‘ship of state’ with the Reformation, the Elizabethan period and the landscape of East Anglia, a part of the country which was wealthy in the late middle ages, but in decline since then, with most of the enormous local churches stripped of decoration under the Protectorate. There are a particularly large number of versions of Odes I.14 dating from the mid-seventeenth century.

Horace’s ode describes a ship in danger of catastrophe, but still (just) able to avoid disaster. My version of the poem belongs, politically and emotionally, to a much later stage of that story. It is a poem about belatedness both in its relationship to the original and in its allusions to the particular landscape of East Anglia. The sense of ruin or dissolution is echoed in the formal features of the poem, which suggest (but fall short of) those of a sonnet, and in the use of partial rhymes. The combination of strong feeling with indirect political force reflects that of the original. The Christian references and imagery of the English poem reflect the long history of religious paraphrase and imitation of Horatian odes, especially in the Renaissance and early modern period.

In the winter of 2021, as the UK returned to lockdown, I was teaching (online, of course) a class reading Ovid Metamorphoses 14 in Latin. I wrote “Glaucus in lockdown”, which is only a translation in the broadest sense (more like a response or a creative paraphrase), during this period. It refers geographically to North Londonthe area just west of Archway and south of Highgate where we were living, close to the large Whittington Hospital. You could think of it as a late contribution to the tradition of Ovid moralisé.

This version skips or compresses much of the detail of the Latin original, though retains the main pointsGlaucus’ initial journey, his approach to Circe, the story of his desire for Scylla and his request for revenge, Scylla’s transformation, and Glaucus’ rejection of Circe. Some parts of the poem are close translations, though often with some element of incorporated gloss or commentaryGlaucus names Scylla (as “Silla”) but adds “No, not that one. There are only so many names, after all”, because there are two stories about a Scylla in the Metamorphoses (the other is in Metamorphoses 8). At the same time, the poem relocates the action of the passage to North London, and specifically to North London during the coronavirus pandemic. This setting contrasts sharply with Glaucus’ glibness and self-absorption.

Ovid has been particularly fashionable and popular among classicists for the last few decades, with the flippancy and violence of his content, and superficiality of his style now often interpreted as marks of sophistication and knowing subversion. Historically, however, many readers have taken these features at face-value and been troubled by them, often concluding that the Metamorphoses was only appropriate material for teaching when very carefully presentedeither in the actively allegorised or reinterpreted versions of Ovid moralisé, or by expurgation or detailed commentary.

If I am honest, I dislike Ovid a good deal, and while teaching Metamorphoses 14 during lockdown I felt a great deal of sympathy with those Elizabethan schoolmasters who doubted whether he should be taught at all. This poem is in that sense, unusually for me, a piece which arises from reflecting on my hostility to the source text rather than my admiration; an emotion probably sharpened by my professional responsibility, while teaching it, not to make my own outright distaste obvious to the students. This is what is meant by subtitling the version “after and against Ovid”.

Victoria Moul


In the Classroom