I know a wee smidgen of Latin, so I know the basic meaning of this phrase, and that it’s often seen on soldiers’ gravestones. Question is, what is the best/most commonly accepted standard English translation of it?
“It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country”? “It is sweet and proper to die for one’s country”? “It is sweet and appropriate to die for one’s country”? “How sweet and [whatever] it is to die for one’s country!”?
Any help would be much appreciated.
I believe the second of your choices is the accepted translation.
As a title to the poem, though, number 4 might have been more appropriate (as irony).
What I always heard is “it is sweet and mete to die for one’s country.”
The translation I most often see is “It is a sweet and noble thing to die for your country.”
Would “it is a sweet and decorous thing to die for your country” be the most “literal” translation? I’m no Latin scholar, but this is how I first read it as a guesstimate.
“Becoming”, “fitting”, “proper”, “seemly”, “suitable”, and “appropriate” all capture the meaning of decorus, -a, -um, so all are good translations. The cognate “decorous” is also correct, though I’d refrain from using it since one may read the idea of “decorative”, which is not at all what Horace was getting at in this verse.
If the question is which is the most commonly-heard translation, I’d recommend googoling each.