Epode XVII: Dave to Sheila
(Iam iam efficacy)
[I Yield, I Yield]
‘Horace is addressing Canidia, the sorceress of Epodes iii and v, who is the leader of the Cotytian rites (line 56) which included wholesale sexual indulgence. In these rites Horace (lines 58-9) had been an important figure, but had revealed their secrets (ss Saire i.iii) He is now at Canidia’s mercy, begging for some respite from his punishment. Canidia refuses it, speaking from line 52. His punishment is presumably love.
swift wheel: the magician turned his wheel while uttering prayers and curses (Theocritus ii. 30)
the Nereid’s son: literally grandson of Nereus, god of the sea, that is Achilles, son of the goddess Thetis. Telephus, king of the Mysains, had been wounded by Achilles and was cured by the touch of the spear that had wounded him.
the king: Priam, king of Troy, who went by night to the camp of the Greeks in the last book of Homer’s Illiad, and touched the hands which had killed his son. Achilles accepted ransom for Hector’s body.
Circe’s blessing: in Homer’s Odyssey x. 233-43 Circe turns Odysseus’ men into pigs. At x. 390-5 she changes them back into men.
deceitful lyre: this part of the poem is heavily ironic. We are to understand from lines 19 and 39 that Canidia is anything but chaste; from line 45 that she is of low birth; from line 46 that at the end of the nine-day mourning period she collects pauper’s bones for her magic spells and potions; from line 48 that she does not respect the laws of hospitality (we think of the fifth Epode), and that she is sterile and pretends to have babies, in order to stand well with her lovers.
Sabellan…. Marsian: peoples of central Italy famous for expertise in magic.
Castor: Castor and Pollus blinded Stesichorus when he wrote a poem attacking their sister Helen. His sight was restored when he wrote a palinode.
Cotytian rites: Cotys was a Thracian goddess
Paelignian: the Paelignians were another people of central Italy famous for their skill in magic.
Noric: from Noricum in the Alps, famous for the excellence of its steel.’ (1)
Here I try to tie it in as tightly as I can with Epode V. The reference to a ‘green greasy-goggler too far’ is picked up from a non-epode poem called ‘The Cutting Place’ and is a reference to Kenny spitting (which he does in addition to the pissing) and for which, in ‘The Cutting Place’ Maureen manages to slash his calf with a bicycle mudguard. The reference to Maureen’s Mam and auntie Nellie comes from a non-epode poem called, ‘Mams at War’ (The Close Woman) in which the two mothers almost come to blows over their children. Fat Mary, though not named, is the narrator in ‘Landlady and Cleaner’ (Epode IV) and of course you’ll remember Aggie and Billy by their appearances in numerous epodes.
In the original the emphasis is very much on witchcraft (‘…she is giving him a hard time and haunting him, but not erotically) …The stress on her books of spells at the beginning of the poem is important here, as are the mythological comparisons with Telephus, Priam and Circe (all to do with witchcraft, not love)…Though some scholars do put more emphasis on love than witchcraft in this poem) (2)
I have Dave as the target of Sheila’s violent revenge. She is not seeking to get him back she just wants to make his life hell as revenge. My version does not imply her love for him, but rather her continuing magical power over him.
I have adapted mythology to my environment : ‘to the wolves’ for heroic lack of burial, ‘pigs in shit’ for Circe, fire and laceration for Prometheus, ‘rolling stone’ for Sisyphus.
The end of Dave’s speech is meant to be half-hearted ironic remarks, alluding to her lies and deceit etc.
I have concentrated on the idea of witchcraft, revenge, a woman scorned etc and making Dave a target for Sheila’s violent revenge.
‘The original text seems indeed to imply that Horace before accused Canidia of falsely pretending to be the mother of Pactumeius but now recants (the palinode is itself a trope of older Greek lyric poetry which helps)’. (3)
(1) West, D. The Complete Odes and Epodes (1997) Oxford University Press: Oxford. (p.139-140)
(2) Harrison, S.J. (in personal correspondence)
(3) Harrison, S.J. (in personal correspondence)