dulce et decorum est

Literary Tattoos: Wilfred Owen Odes Horace Dulce et Decorum est

This is Erik’s tattoo.

The tattoo is an abridged version of the more famous full quote “Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori” (“It is sweet and fitting/just/right to die for one’s country,” depending on how you translate decorum in the Latin). It originally appeared in the Odes of the Roman poet Horace (III.2.13), but was also reworked in a very famous WWI-era poem by the English poet Wilfred Owen. Owen, having fought in the war (he would die in it not too long after writing the poem), turns Horace’s homage to patriotism on its head by illuminating the disconnect between the realities and expectations of war by juxtaposing Horace’s lofty rhetoric with images of the barbarism of soldiers dying in WWI.

While living in the UK for a time, I had the opportunity to visit the British Library in London and hear a clip of Owen reading his poem. I thought about what I wanted to do with it for about a year, and then decided on cutting it in half and adding the question mark. It is meant to be more ambiguous and decontextualized, but it also functions quite clearly as a straight-up anti-war statement.


  1. jaiberg says

    Pardon the Latin geekery, but to ask a question the last word should change a bit. It should be estne. “Dulce et decorum estne?” would then mean something like “Is it sweet and fitting?”

    Just in case anyone else liked this idea…

  2. Thorne says

    This is absolutely beautiful, and i get the sentiment completely. I fell in love with Owen’s works as a university student, and still find them haunting.

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