Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Latin Birthday Song

I get asked sometimes how to sing “Happy Birthday” in Latin. This is how. Apparently Horace's family still holds copyright on this song:

Alas, the swift years, Postumus, Postumus,
fall away. Neither will any righteousness
     impede your wrinkles or your old age
          or your unyielding annihilation.

Three hundred bulls, though sacrificed every day,
won’t be enough, dear friend, to propitiate
     unweeping Pluto, who imprisons
          Tityos and Geryon the vast one

with his sad river, which must be crossed someday
by every man who eats of the fruitful earth.
     We’ll surely cross it, whether kings or
          whether we’re penniless, begging peasants.

No use to hide from bloodthirsty Ares’ wars,
nor from the shattered waves of the eastern sea.
     No use to shy from autumn south winds,
          which threaten harm to our mortal bodies.

We’ll see the black stream Cocytus, wandering
languidly. We’ll see Danaus’ evil race,
     loathed by men, and Aeolus’ offspring—
          Sisyphus, damned to eternal labor.

You’ll leave the earth, your home, and your loving wife,
nor will a single one of your planted trees
     follow its short-lived, fallen master
          save for the cypresses that you hated.

Your worthy heir will drink up your Caecuban,
guarded for now in casks by a hundred locks.
     He’ll stain the ground with noble, pure wine
          better than that of the pontiffs’ banquets.

Rubens saturn.jpg
Painted by Rubens: Time devours his sons.
II.14

Eheu fugaces, Postume, Postume,
labuntur anni nec pietas moram
     rugis et instanti senectæ
          adferet indomitæque morti,

non si trecenis quotquot eunt dies,
amice, places illacrimabilem
     Plutona tauris qui ter amplum
          Geryonen Tityonque tristi

compescit undâ scilicet omnibus
quicumque terræ munere vescimur
     enavigandâ sive reges
          sive inopes erimus coloni.

Frustrà cruento Marte carebimus
fractisque rauci fluctibus Hadriæ,
     frustrà per autumnos nocentem
          corporibus metuemus Austrum.

Visendus ater flumine languido
Cocytos errans et Danai genus
     infame damnatusque longi
          Sisyphus Æolides laboris.

Linquenda tellus et domus et placens
uxor neque harum quas colis arborum
     te præter invisas cupressos
          ulla brevem dominum sequetur;

absumet heres Cæcuba dignior
servata centum clavibus et mero
     tinguet pavimentum superbo
          pontificum potiore cenis.

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