This famous poem is the epilogue to the first three books of Horace's Odes, which were published in 23 B.C. Its meter is known as the First Asclepiadean ( u u || u u X), named for Asclepiades, an ancient Greek poet of ca. 290 BC This is worth pointing out as it is Horace's claim to fame in the poem: he "bent to Roman measure Grecian verse" (line 17). I chose it for the foundation of my Latin manuscript for several reasons, the most obvious of which being its message about the enduring nature of the written word. It describes the author's poetry as being more solid and lasting than a physical monument, a great claim for the citizen of a nation known for its monumental accomplishments. In fact, Horace's hubristic claims are well-founded: while the marvels of Roman architecture are in many cases still in existence, their crumbling opus incertum facades make it difficult to imagine what such buildings would have looked like new. Horace's poems, on the other hand, sound as fresh as the day they were penned. This particular poem has become one of the cornerstones for the literary theme of the immortal word, and has been widely translated and quoted through the centuries.
Horace uses a great deal of monumental language, but this is not the only artistic genre to which he appeals. The first line, "Exegi monumentum aere perennius" ("I have built a monument more durable than brass/bronze") may refer to the bronze equestrian statues that proliferated in ancient Rome, monuments to the emperors and great military leaders of the empire. These statues were largely melted down in the Middle Ages, condemned for their pagan topics and bronze make-up, which was much coveted at that time for making weapons. I understand that we have only one such statue left intact, and a few deteriorated fragments of others. Horace goes on to mention the pyramids and the eroding powers of nature, wind and rain. I should point out here that the height comparison in lines 2-3 emphasizes the monumental quality of words: they take up space in the real world.
From here through line 17, Horace draws on very earthy images of Italy, tying him solidly to his homeland. Flowing out of the images of nature in lines 4-6, he describes his renown as growing almost organically ("crescam laude") and himself as rising "ex humili" from the earth of his homeland, almost like a plant nourished by its surroundings. Further reference to the Capitoline hill, symbol of Rome's eternal existence; the river Aufidus and mythical King Daunus, both of Apuleia, Horace's homeland; and Libitina, the Roman goddess of death, firmly attach the poet to the glory that was Rome. I found it particularly interesting that as soon as the Greek source for the meter is mentioned, the remainder of the poem uses only Greek references: to Melpomene, the muse of song and tragedy, and to the laurel of Delphi. Musical and poetical contests were held at Delphi among singers and composers, and prizes were offered to the best hymn to the god. A crown of laurel was the prize for a victory there because of the love of Delphic Apollo for Daphne, who turned into a laurel tree. I am not sure what the reference to Melpomene suggests specifically, but she was the patron of tragic poetry, one of Apollo's handmaidens, and sometimes wore a garland herself.