See West Notes at: West, D. Horace Odes I Carpe Diem: Text, Translation and Commentary, Oxford: Clarendon Press, (1995), 182-90
Here I cast Margaret Thatcher as Cleopatra. I think the reason I did this was that in Horace, Cleopatra was a hated figure, yet her bravery in defeat was acknowledged by Octavian, so too Thatcher was to become a much despised figure, yet despite hating her policies, One could almost not resist acknowledging her strength and determination. As Horace opens his poem with an instruction that since Cleopatra was dead this was a time to celebrate. In mine, (at the time of writing) Thatcher is not physically dead, but her time as the first ever British woman prime minister was to end with her announcement to the country on 22 November, 1990, in other words, politically she was dead. In Horace there is a reference to Cleopatra’s ‘contaminated flock of men / diseased by vice’ this is a hint at eunuchs, ‘preparing the ruin of the Capitol’ In Thatcher’s government those men close to her were often accused of having no balls’, not standing up to her, the Latin for ‘rotten’ is in the original text.
As in the original I sneer by not naming, but rather describing through well known traits and characteristics and actions. E.g. Thatcher voted for a return of the birch. I also try to employ the technique of contrapuntal detail, by putting together descriptions like ‘honourable monster’. In my version capital is meant to suggest both Capital as in major city, and capital as in wealth. Like Cleopatra who initially escaped with 60 ships, the first time Thatcher was challenged she survived by 60 votes (made up of votes for her and rejected slips), eventually though she is brought down from inside her own party and Michael Heseltine is a prime mover. Like Cleopatra having to confront the rebellion within her own party, she sees this as the ‘real’ battle. The reference to The Carlton Club is because she was made an honorary member, the only woman to ever be so, and she was granted full membership rights. One of the reasons Caesar acknowledged Cleopatra was that she was brave in defeat and in that defeat she dared ‘to gaze with face serene upon her ruined palace, / and brave enough to take deadly serpents in her hand, and let her body / drink their black poison,’ Likewise in my version Thatcher, having once famously having denied there was any such thing as society, is made to face ‘her crushed society in the face’. Thatcher too, chose her own way of ‘dying’ (politically speaking), ‘She chose her poison’ and ‘took it like a man’ . This is to represent the method by which Cleopatra died. The reference to ‘took it like a man’ is to reflect stanza 6 in Horace, ‘But she looked / for a nobler death and did not have a woman’s fear’
Just as Cleopatra by her death, managed to escape the shame of being paraded in public, shown not to be a queen – humiliated. My version ends with an acknowledgement that rather than face the humiliation of defeat at a second ballot and the subsequent humiliation in front of the media, Thatcher resigned.