The Beauty of Latin

An argument with a friend about the beauty of Latin sent me to Horace.

My initiation into Latin was as a choirboy. Later, my music teacher Denis Fielder took me into the Cambridge Philharmonic Choir, which he then conducted. We sang Bach Passions and Cantatas, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, and much else, and I also sang Thomas Tallis and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (“il principe della musica”, as his statue in the town of his birth near Rome has it) with the Combined Cambridge Choirs under David Willcocks in King’s College Chapel. 

I’ve always loved the sound of Latin. As well as still enjoying many of the Palestrina masses (and those of Tomás Luis de Victoria), I like to read Catullus, Horace, Martial, Ovid in the original but with a good crib when necessary - in the case of Horace, to take the only English example (most of my texts are Italian editions), that of James Michie’s translation of the Odes. I’m sure my schoolmasters would disapprove of my Italian accent when reading Latin, but what can beat the concentrated beauty of a line like “O matre pulchra filia pulchrior” (Horace, Odes, Book I, XVI; “O lovely mother’s yet more lovely daughter…” in Michie’s words) or the painful concision of:

               Odi et amo, quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.

               Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

Catullus LXXXV, rendered by Pound as “I hate and love. Why? You may ask but/It beats me. I feel it done to me, and ache”?

Michie and Pound are good, but the music has disappeared: the astonishing "sentio et excrucior".