pallida mors aequo pulsat pede pauperum tabernas
Horace, Odes, 1.4.13-14.
"Pale death knocks at the doors of all alike, be it the pauper's garret
or the king's tower": so writes Horace in this poem which exhorts his friend
Sestius (and us, the larger audience he hoped for) to seize the day and enjoy
life while it is still possible (and fun to do so). Soon enough, pale death
will come knocking for us all, and that includes you, buster.
This sentiment is phrased more interestingly in the Latin than in my uninspiring
translation. Rendering it more literally, we get: "pale death beats with
equal foot on the garrets of paupers and the towers of kings." Romans
(and Greeks) sometimes found their feet better than their knuckles
for knocking on a door. Death knocks with an "equal" foot because
Horace uses a common figure and transfers the idea
of death's impartiality to the foot with which he imperiously knocks. Similarly,
death is pale not because he (it?) is, but because corpses are; this characterization
is still common, of course.
But perhaps most interestingly, this verse-and-a half gives voice to the knocking
by its insistant repetition of the explosive "p"
sounds--five times in one line. And why has death come knocking?
It was . . . the salmon mousse!