This poem was published in the Civil and Military Gazette for 15 June 1887, with the signature ‘R.K.R.’ and a heading:
“Her name was Thali’a and not Tha’lia”. v. Philothespian’s letter yesterday.
“Exigi false quantitantum aere audacius”
“I have played off a false quantity bolder than brass.”:
Horace (Simla Edition)
v.l. “I have only exaggerated a false quantity audacious and airy.”:
Horace (Lahore Edition).
The CMG on the previous day had carried a letter by ‘Philothespian’ (‘Theatre-lover’) headed The Latin of Olympus:
Sir, on behalf of the poor Muse of Comedy whose name has been taken in vain by the author of the Prologue on the occasion of the first performance in the Simla New Gaiety Theatre, it should be pointed out that her name was Thalei’a and not Tha’lia as in the line ‘the pliant mien of Thalia’s face’. If the actors of Olympus don’t know the name of their own patrons—what can do?
In his poem Kipling is sending up the writer in schoolboy fashion, going to some trouble to make as many mistakes in pronunciation as possible. He gets the Muses’ names wrong, and rhymes names ending in ‘e’ as if they were English, whereas in Greek the final ‘e’ is pronounced as a separate syllable. He makes ‘Olympus’ rhyme with ‘deuce’ and ‘Erahto’ with ‘Playto’; he repeats the false quantity in ‘Thalia’; and he stresses the second syllable of ‘Uranus’, giving it the scatological emphasis now regrettably widely used. As the final clincher he makes Hades a monosyllable.
June and July were the high season for theatrical and other social events in Simla. See also “In the Matter of a Prologue” and
“A Prologue”; these were, incidentally, different productions from the one corrected by ‘Philothespian’. In Kipling’s day Latin and Greek were the foundation of a liberal education, classical references would have been readily recognised by Anglo-Indian audiences, and errors swiftly noticed by men with good degrees in classics from Oxford or Cambridge, who were not uncommon in the ICS.
Kipling and Horace
Kipling attributes the Latin sentence in the heading to the Roman poet ‘Horace’ (Quintus Horatius Flaccus, 65-8 B.C.E.) who published three books of Odes in 23 B.C.E. There was later a fourth book, of which the date is controversial, but which was probably circulated before he died. Kipling encountered him as a schoolboy, and wrote in Something of Myself (p. 33) that C—— his classics master (‘King’ in Stalky & Co.):
…taught me to loath Horace for two years, to forget him for twenty, and then to love him for the rest of my days and through many sleepless nights.
(Something of Myself p.33)
Here a recollection shows through during the twenty years of forgetfulness: the heading is a parody of the first line of Ode 30 in Book III: Exegi monumentum aere perennius: ‘I have raised a monument, more durable than bronze.’
Kipling wrote “Donec Gratus Eram” as a schoolboy, and a series of other ‘echoes’ of Horace in later life. He carried a copy of Horace’s four books of Odes around with him, in which he wrote original epigrams of his own.
See Kipling’s Horace by Charles Carrington, Susan Treggiari’s essay “Kipling and the Classical World”, and Kipling, Horace, and literary parenthood by Harry Ricketts.
Notes on the Text
Quantities This has a double meaning here. It stresses the large ‘quantity’ of Muses (nine), but it also refers to the length or shortness of vowel sounds or syllables in Latin or Greek, what the writer of the Prologue had got wrong. They play a large part in the scansion and understanding of Latin verse, and Kipling had trouble with them at school, as he recalls in “Regulus” (A Diversity of Creatures, p. 242):
“Oblittus agrees with milesne Crassi, sir,” volunteered too hasty Beetle.
“Does it? It doesn’t with me.”
“Oh-blight-us,” Beetle corrected hastily…
In “An English School” as part of his apology for corporal punishment (Land and Sea Tales, p. 268) he writes :
Canes … are a sound cure for certain offences; and a cut or two … can correct and keep corrected a false quantity or a wandering mind, more completely that any amount of explanation.
And in “Gloriana” (Rewards and Fairies p. 36) Queen Bess tells that if she had made false quantities in her childhood she’d have been soundly whipped.
v. vide. Latin for ‘see’.
v.l. varia lectio Latin for ‘variant reading’.
Olympus The highest mountain in Greece, and the abode of the gods in classical mythology. It was also an Anglo-Indian nickname for Simla. Members of the I.C.S. were sometimes ironically referred to as the ‘Heaven-born’.
the Muses The Nine Muses, daughters of Mnemosyne (Memory), were minor goddesses in Greek mythology, each responsible for a particular art: Terpsichore (dancing), Melpomene (tragedy), Thalia (comedy), Erato (love poetry), Euterpe (lyric poetry), Calliope (epic poetry), Polyhymnia (sacred music), Urania (astronomy), Clio (history).
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