In Carmina 1, poem 5, Horace writes about an untrustworthy and seducing lady. He ends the poem in:

(...) Me tabula sacer
votiva paries indicat uvida
suspendisse potenti
vestimenta maris deo.

Unscrambling the word order and translating, I read this as:

Paries sacer tabula votiva indicat me suspendisse vestimenta uvida maris deo potenti.

"The holy wall indicates by votive tablet that I have hung wet clothes to the powerful god of the sea."

What does this mean? It sounds to me as if the writer made a customary sacrifice after surviving a shipwreck and surviving a shipwreck is getting away from that woman. But this is fully guesswork on my part, as I am not familiar with any relevant sacrificial traditions. It is just the only thing that came to mind that made some sense.

Is this how the message is usually read? Am I missing something or reading too much into it?

Link: Horatius, Carmina 1.

1 Answer 1


This is how it is read.

But as for the “sacrificial” tradition, it is not a sacrifice but a votive offering in a tradition still practised in many parts of the Latin-speaking world. You promise God or a saint to make an offering to get you out of a sticky spot. The offering is of apposite form and nature.

For health troubles it might be an eye or an ear or a foot or whatever, made of silver perhaps. There are, here and there, chapels full of them. With surviving a storm it may be a model (ideally, made by you) of the ship that saved you. For shipwreck, a piece of the flotsam you came ashore on. Uvid vestments would be pushing it a bit, since they would take up a lot of room and soon go mouldy.

This tradition has not really changed since the time of Horace.

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