Ode I.XIV (ca. 28 voor Chr.)


In this poem, Horace (65-8 BC) lets go of the turbulent times of the civil wars. The Ship of State has finally found a safe haven.

illustratie: lees in nederlands


Schip, pas op, nieuwe golven zullen je terug naar zee
voeren! Waar wil je heen? Blijf liever vast in de
haven. Kijk toch, de riemen
zijn van je flanken weggerukt.

De mast kraakt door de kracht van een zuidwestenwind,
de scheepsra kreunt en je kiel is niet met kabeltouw
gesjord; zij kan het geweld van
golven amper verduren!

Je zeil is aan flarden, het boegbeeld is niet meer
voor de zoveelste maal door jou te vermurwen.
Hoezeer jij, Pontische pijnboom,
dochter van het vermaarde woud,

pronkt met je afkomst, trots op een naam - vergeefs:
een bange zeeman heeft geen vertrouwen in
scheepslak. Als je niet oppast,
word je een speelbal der winden.

Tot voor kort wekte jij mijn onrust en weerzin op,
nu het pijnlijk gemis van een niet gering zorgenkind:
mijd de zee die zich uitspreidt
om Cycladische schittering.

Vertaald door Piet Schrijvers.


Listen to this poem in Latin.
Voiced by: Christoph Pieper

illustratie: ontdek dit gedicht in 1 minuut

This poem in 60 seconds

In Ode I.XIV, Horace describes a ship at sea as a metaphor for politics. Horace knew that things could get extremely stormy in politics, as he had personally experienced during the civil war that followed the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC. Augustus, the first Roman emperor, made sure that the ship sailed into calmer waters again. Horace sings the praise of the calm sea and thus of Augustus.

Want to know more? On this website, you can listen to the poem, discover its origins and its author, and find out what the poem means to the people of Leiden.


Over Horatius 

Venusia 65 - Rome 8 voor Christus

Horace was born in 65 BC in the southern Italian city Venusia, now called Venosa. His father, a freedman who made it to local official, invested a lot in his education. He took him to Rome for a literary study after which he allowed Horace to study philosophy in Athens.

Civil war at sea

In Greece, Horace became directly involved in the civil war that had broken out after the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC. He served as an officer in the service of Marcus Junius Brutus (85 - 42 BC), one of the conspirators who had fled to Greece after the assassination. Horace fought in the battle of Philippi (42 BC), in which Brutus was defeated. The battle of Philippi was probably the greatest battle of all time between Roman legions and was partly fought at sea.

The influence of Maecenas

After the battle of Philippi, Horace returned to Rome where he became a secretary. He also started writing poetry. Horace’s work was discovered by Maecenas, a wealthy Roman who took poets under his wing and paid for their livelihood. Maecenas developed close ties with Emperor Augustus, who ended up as the final victor after the civil war in 31 BC. Horace and Virgil, poets from Augustus’ time who both experienced the horrors of war themselves, sung praises of the new order. And with success: Horace became one of the most beloved poets of his time and his works are still widely read.

illustratie: over dit gedicht

What's this poem about?

In the process of writing the Odes, Horace was inspired by the Greek poets, including Alcaeus (6th century BC). In one of his poems, Alcaeus made a comparison between tyranny and a storm at sea. The Ode X.XIV is also known as the Latin ‘Ship of State’-poem. Horace presents the state as a ship: both benefit from strong leadership, peace, and security.

The ship of state in a safe haven
In the poem, Horace urges the ship to ‘Take the port’. Even though the ship is made of good wood from Pontus, a region in present-day Turkey which is famous for its forests and shipbuilding industry, it can barely handle the violence of the waves. Horace urges the ship to avoid the Cyclades, the archipelago in the Aegean Sea which is notorious for the storms.

A mistress?
Scientist A.J. Woodman came up with a counter interpretation and argued that Horace’s metaphor did not symbolize the political state but instead refers to a mistress. He stated that the woman (= the ship) must be subsided, and that she must not start another affair because Horace needs her himself. Even now, the Dutch often talk about het huwelijksbootje (the figurative marital boat; tying the knot) which has to endure the storms.

A ship at sea has been a strong metaphor for thousands of years. What do you read in this poem?

illustratie: ontstaan van dit gedicht

Origin story

Horace published his Odes in 23 BC, a collection of 88 poems. Scientists assume that the majority of the Odes is chronologically written. This means that Ode I.XIV was written relatively early, approximately between 30 and 27 BC. This is the period in which Augustus put an end to the Republic and laid the foundations for the Roman Empire.

The Odes includes poems related to everyday life and works which refer to the political situation of the country, such as Ode I.XIV. Most of the Odes are addressed to a subjective ‘you’ and thus look a lot like letters. According to Horace’s biographer Piet Schrijvers, relatively many autobiographical elements have been incorporated.

illustratie: ik heb een verhaal bij dit gedicht

Share your story

Does this poem hold a special place in your heart? For example, do you remember when you first read the poem? Or did you come across it someplace unexpected? Let us know at muurgedichten@taalmuseum.nl. We would love to add your story to our website.

illustratie: gedicht in leiden

Horatius in Leiden

Photo Anoesjka Minnaard

From 1980 to 2001, Piet Schrijvers (1939) was a professor of Latin linguistics and literature at Leiden University. He was a great connoisseur of Horace and picked this poem in close consultation with ‘Stichting TEGEN-BEELD,’ the foundation that realized the Leiden wall poems. On Schrijvers’ sixty-fifth birthday in 2004, the poem was unveiled. Schrijvers ‘finished’ the poem by placing his signature on the bottom right with the letters Sc.

illustratie: citaten


In a Horatian poem, a form of conversation with a reader, listened to by other readers, is the humanitas, the humanity expressed in humor, civilization, tact and self-relativity a vital element.

Piet Schrijvers, in: Horatius: verzameld werk.

illustratie: wist je dat

Fun facts

  • One of Horace’s poems contains a self-portrait:

    He is a bit too hot-tempered, to the people’s
    fine nose here too rude, maybe somewhat ridiculous
    with his shaved skull, gown without fold
    and ever too wide shoes, yet he is a good man,
    you won’t find anyone better, and yet he is your friend
    yet this rough body houses a great talent

    Translation: Rianne Koene
  • In his last Ode, Horace expressed the expectation that his poetry would be ‘more resistant than bronze’.
  • In a number of poems, Horace spoke very well of Emperor Augustus. He wrote: ‘I will not fear revolt or violent death as long as Augustus rules the world. Come on, servant, go get perfume bottles and floral wreaths…’ The German poet Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) therefore called him ‘the fat court jester of the Emperor’.
  • In one of his Satires, Horace described his greatest dream: ‘A piece of land, not too big, with a garden and a house nearby a rich water spring, and a small forest above it’. From his patron Maecenas, he finally received a complete estate.
  • The ‘ship of state’ is a well-known metaphor that is still used today. Even the Greek philosopher Plato regarded politics as the art of navigation. In World War II, US President Roosevelt sent a poem to the British Prime Minister Churchill about the Ship of state that had to endure storms. Dutch Queen Wilhelmina also used this metaphor repeatedly.
illustratie: lees dit gedicht in het engels

Boek I Ode XIV

O navis, referent in mare te novi
fluctus. o quid agis? fortiter occupa
portum. nonne vides, ut
nudum remigio latus

et malus celeri saucius Africo
antemnaeque gemant ac sine funibus
vix durare carinae
possint imperiosius

aequor? non tibi sunt integra lintea,
non di, quos iterum pressa voces malo.
quamvis Pontica pinus,
silvae filia nobilis,

iactes et genus et nomen inutile:
nil pictis timidus navita puppibus
fidit. tu nisi ventis
debes ludibrium, cave.

nuper sollicitum quae mihi taedium,
nunc desiderium curaque non levis,
interfusa nitentis
vites aequora Cycladas.

illustratie: lees dit gedicht in het engels

Book I Ode XIV

O luckless bark! new waves will force you back
To sea. O, haste to make the haven yours!
E’en now, a helpless wrack,
You drift, despoil’d of oars;

The Afric gale has dealt your mast a wound;
Your sailyards groan, nor can your keel sustain,
Till lash’d with cables round,
A more imperious main.

Your canvass hangs in ribbons, rent and torn;
No gods are left to pray to in fresh need.
A pine of Pontus born
Of noble forest breed,

You boast your name and lineage—madly blind
Can painted timbers quell a seaman’s fear?
Beware! or else the wind
Makes you its mock and jeer.

Your trouble late made sick this heart of mine,
And still I love you, still am ill at ease.
O, shun the sea, where shine
The thick-sown Cyclades!

Translated by John Conington, 1882.

illustratie: meer weten

Learn more

This lemma was written by Taalmuseum in collaboration with Kaylee Bransee. The translation into English is by Rianne Koene. The following publications were consulted:

  • Nisbet, R.G.M., Hubbard, M., A commentary on Horace: Odes book 1 (Oxford 1980).
  • Quinn, K., Horace: the Odes (Londen 1980).
  • Schrijvers, Piet, Horatius: verzamelde gedichten; uitgegeven, vertaald, ingeleid en van aantekeningen voorzien door Piet Schrijvers (Groningen 2003).
  • Toolen, Afke van der, ‘De echte Maecenas’, Historisch Nieuwsblad 3/2011, via Historisch Nieuwsblad.nl.
  • West, D., Horace Odes I: Carpe Diem (Oxford 1995).
  • Williams, Gordon, Horace (Oxford 1972).
  • Woodward, A.J., ‘The Craft of Horace in Odes 1.14’, in: From poetry to history (2012), via oxfordscholarship.com.
  • ‘Muurgedicht onthuld op Cleveringaplaats’, via Sleutelstad.nl.
  • ‘Muurgedicht voor jarige Schrijvers’, via Mare Online.