TBJe possess a large body of philosophical writings by Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c. 2 b.c.-a.d. 6$). In addition, ten plays have come down under his name, of which eight—all tragedies—are probably genuine. They were likely intended to be read aloud at recitationes (cf. Juvenal Satires 1.1-18, page 202) rather than to be performed on stage. Though modeled on Greek tragedy, the plays exemplify the rhetorical style in vogue at Rome in the first century a.d.
Seneca's plays were extremely popular in Renaissance Europe and influenced the development of tragedy in most Western countries. After falling from favor in the nineteenth century, they have lately been revived, and amid the upheavals of current times, their exaggerated violence has found sympathetic ears.
The following choral passage is spoken by Trojan women whom the Greeks have captured after the sack of Troy.
Verum est an timidos fabula decipit umbras corporibus vivere conditis, cum coniunx oculis imposuit manum supremusque dies solibus obstitit et tristis cineres urna coercuit? 375
text L, Annaei Senecae Tragoediae, ed. Otto Zwierlein
(Oxford Classical Texts, 1986) meter first Asclepiad [§mii]
ver(um) est | an timidos || fabula de|clpit umbras | corporibus || vivere con|ditis
371 Verum est an ... is it true or ...; timidos adj. used as a masculine noun, the fearful; fabula -ae P. here tale; decipid -ere deceive.
372 An acc.+inf. [§gio] follows the double question of 1. 371, umbras ... vivere that the Shades (umbra -ae f.) [of the dead] live [on]; trans, the abl. absolute [§g49] corporibus ... conditis (condo -ere bury) by a clause, after their bodies have been buried—there is a slight inconsistency between this and 1. 375, which refers to the normal Roman practice of cremation; however, urns with the ashes of the dead were often buried beneath a tombstone.
373 cum (when) introduces three clauses, all with verbs in the indicative; imposuit (impono -ere place on) governs an accusative, manum, and a dative, oculis— the dead persons eyelids are being closed.
374 supremus (last, final) agrees with dies, which is masculine here; solibus dat. after obstitit (obsto -are), has stood in the way of [further] suns—the plural reflects the fanciful notion that a new sun rises every day.
375 tristis cineres (sad ashes (cinis cineris m.)) is the object of coercuit (coerced -ere confine), whose subject is urna (-ae f. urn).
non prodest animam tradere funeri, sed restat miseris vivere longius? an toti morimur nullaque pars manet nostri, cum profligo spiritus halitu immixtus nebulis cessit in aera et nudum tetigit subdita fax latus ? Quidquid sol oriens, quidquid et occidens novit, caeruleis Oceanus fretis quidquid bis veniens et fugiens lavat, aetas Pegaseo corripiet gradu.
376 non prodest impers. is it of no use (prosum prodesse); animam here soul; tradd -ere hand over; fonus funeris n. here death.
377 restat impers. it remains (resto -are); miseris (dat.) adj. used as a noun, for the wretched; longius compar. adv. of longus, longer, further.
378ff. an (or) introduces the alternative to the preceding two lines; trans, toti by an adverb [§G55], wholly; take nostri (gen. of nos) with nulla pars no part of us; cum + ind. when; profugo... halitu abl. of attendant circumstances [§G 4.5], trans. with fleeting hreath (halitus -us m.); spiritus (-us m. spirit, soul) is here the equivalent of anima; immixtus (immisceo -ere) governs the dative nebulis, mingled with the clouds (nebula -ae f.); cessit (cedo -ere) has gone; aera (three syllables) Greek acc. of aer aeris m. air.
381 nudum ... latus (naked side) is the object of tetigit, and subdita (perf. pple. of subdd -ere place under) fax (facis f. torch) is its subject, lit., the torch, having been placed under, has touched the naked side (latus here the side of the upper part of the human body, but to avoid ambiguity trans, corpse), trans, the torch has been placed under and touched the naked corpse.
382 Quidquid (whatever) is repeated for emphasis; sol oriens ... et occidens (occido -ere) the rising and setting sun.
383 novit (nosco -ere get to know) is a perfect used with a present meaning, trans. knows; in the next clause, the introductory quidquid is postponed [§g4]; caeruleis ... fretis instrumental abl. [§g47] with [its] blue waters (fretum -1 n.); for Homer and early Greek writers, who thought the earth was flat, Oceanus (-1 m.) was a mighty river that flowed in a circle around Europe, Africa, and Asia, the only known lands—this view of world geography became traditional in poetry.
384 The phrase bis veniens et fugiens (coming and fleeing twice (i.e., in a day)) agrees with Oceanus and refers to the action of the tides; lavat (washes; lavo -are) has Oceanus as its subject and the preceding quidquid as its object.
385 The noun clauses whatever the sun knows and whatever Oceanus washes are the object of aetas ... corripiet (time will sweep away (corripio -ere)); Pegaseo ... gradu abl. of manner [§G45] with Pegasean pace (gradus -us m.), i.e., with the speed of Pegasus (a flying horse in Greek mythology).
quo bis sena volant sidera turbine, quo cursu properat volvere saecula astrorum dominus, quo properat modo obliquis Hecate currere flexibus:
hoc omnes petimus fata nec amplius, 390
iuratos superis qui tetigit lacus, usquam est; ut calidis fumus ab ignibus vanescit, spatium per breve sordidus, ut nubes, gravidas quas modo vidimus,
386 In 11. 386-390, Seneca compares the speed with which human life passes to the passage of various celestial bodies; this is contained in three adjectival clauses introduced by phrases expressing the speed of the zodiac, the sun, and the moon: quo ... turbine (with what revolution (turbo turbinis m.)), quo cursu (with what motion (cursus -us m.)), and quo ... modo (in what way (modus -1 m,)); bis sena twice six—Roman poets regularly use a periphrasis for larger numbers (here the distributive sen! six each is used instead of the cardinal sex); void -ate fly, move quickly; sldus sxderis N. normally star, but here constellation—the twelve signs of the zodiac are meant. 387f. propero -are hasten; volvere saecula bring around (lit., turn) periods of time (saeculum -1 n.); astrorum dominus the lord of the stars (astrum -1 n.), i.e., the sun—Seneca is thinking in terms of Ptolemaic astronomy, according to which the sun revolves around the earth. 389 Hecate (Hecates f.) was another name for the moon, whose course in Ptolemaic astronomy was conceived as swerving to the south, hence obliquis ... flexibus (abl. of manner [§g45] in slanting curves (flexus -us m.)). 39off. hoc [modo] in this way, i.e., with similar speed (hoc is the antecedent of the three adjectival clauses); petimus fata lit., we head for death—in this sense, peto does not imply a willing search for a goal; fata pi. for sg. [§G53], here death, doom; nec amplius ... usquam est nor is [he] any longer (amplius) anywhere (usquam), i.e., nor does he exist any longer in any place—the understood subject of est is the antecedent of the adjectival clause of 1. 391; iuratos superis ... lacus the lakes (lacus -us m.) sworn (iurd -are) by the gods ([dl] superl—see note to Vergil Ae-neid 1.4, page 66)—the river Styx is meant, but it is called lakes because, like the other Underworld rivers, it was stagnant, having nowhere to discharge its waters; the Styx was used by the gods in their oaths, and such an oath could not be broken; qui is postponed in its clause [§G4]; tetigit (tango -ere) has reached—instead of simply saying [a person] who has died, Seneca, rather illogically, uses an expression that implies the continued existence of his umbra in the Underworld.
392 ut + ind. here (and in 1.394) introduces a comparison, trans, as; calidis ... ab ignibus from hot fires; fumus -1 m. smoke.
393 vanesco -ere vanish; spatium -il n. here span of time; sordidus lit., dirty, grimy, trans, of a grimy color.
arctoi Boreae dissipât impetus: 395
sic hie, quo regimur, spiritus effluet.
post mortem nihil est ipsaque mors nihil, velocis spatii meta novissima;
spem ponant avidi, solliciti metum:
tempus nos avidum dévorât et chaos. 400
mors individua est, noxia corpori nec parcens animae: Taenara et aspero regnum sub domino, limen et obsidens custos non facili Cerberus ostio
394 nùbës (nûbës nûbis f. cloud) is here accusative plural and is the object of dissipât (1. 395); gravidas swollen (i.e., with rain); the relative quàs (antecedent nûbës) is postponed [§G4]; modo here an adv., recently; vidimus we have seen.
395 arctoi Boreae ... impetus the blast (impetus -ûs m.) of northern Boreas (Boreas -ae m. the north wind); dissipô -are scatter.
396 sic (in this way) introduces the other half of the comparison; hie ... spiritus this soul; quo regimur by which we are governed; effluô -ere dissolve (intr.).
398 Seneca uses a metaphor from horse racing (mëta is in apposition [§G52] to mors); vëlox (vëlôcis) swift; spatium -ii n. here racetrack, but used by metonymy [§G 97] for the race itself; mëta -ae f. the turning point at either end of a racetrack, trans, goal; novissimus superl. of novus, last.
399 ponant (pônô -ere) here lay aside (the subjunctive is jussive [§g69]); avidi adj. used as a masculine noun, the greedy; supply ponant with solliciti (adj. used as a masculine noun, the worried).
400 The subject of dëvorat (dëvorô -are swallow up) is tempus ... et chaos, but the verb agrees with the nearer noun (tempus) [§G58]; chaos (-Ï n.) a Greek noun partly assimilated into the second declension, trans, primordial matter.
401 indxviduus indivisible (death of the body necessarily entails death of the soul—the two cannot be divided); noxius + dat. harmful to.
402ff. parcens pres. pple. of parcô -ere (+ dat.) spare; in the next sentence supply sunt (Taenara ... regnum ... custos ... Cerberus constitute the subject, and rumôrës... verba... fabula the predicate); Taenara (-ôrum n.pl.; also Taenarus -i m./f.) Taenarus, a promontory in Laconia with a cave leading down to the Underworld (see Vergil Georgics 4-467, page 60); asperô ... sub domino under a harsh master (i.e., Pluto, the king of the Underworld); limen (liminis n. threshold) is the object of obsidens (obsideô -ëre block); et is placed second in its clause [§g3]; non facili... ostiô (ostium -(i)i n.) abl. of description [§g44] with no easy entrance; Cerberus (-i m.) the three-headed dog that guarded the entrance of the Underworld—trans, the guardian Cerberus blocking the threshold with [its] difficult entrance.
rumores vacui verbaque inania 405
et par sollicito fabula somnio. quaeris quo iaceas post obitum loco? quo non nata iacent.
<-: Seneca Troades 371-408
405f. rumores (rumor rumoris m.) vacui idle (lit., empty) gossip; inanis empty; take par ((paris) + dat. similar to) with fabula; sollicito (troubled)... somnio dat. after par.
407f. The indirect question [§G9i] after quaeris is introduced by quo ... loco (abl. of place where [§g 38]); obitus -us m. death—the whole sentence is a direct question, do you ask...?; the half line giving the answer (where (lit., in what [place]) [things] not born lie, i.e., nowhere) adds to the dramatic effect.
In a choral ode of his tragedy Medea, Seneca describes how navigation, which began with the voyage of the Argonauts, had become commonplace by his own time and had extended the known world. He goes on to predict that a new land would someday be discovered beyond Oceanus, the mighty river presumed to encircle Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Venient annis saecula seris, quibus Oceanus vincula rerum laxet et ingens pateat tellus Tethysque novos detegat orbes nec sit terris ultima Thüle, Medea 375ff.
Times üi'iU come in later years when (lit., in which) Oceanus will loosen the bonds of the world and a. huge land, will lie revealed and Tethys will uncover new regions and Thüle will not be the farthest [land] on earth. (Tethys was the wife of Oceanus and queen of the seas. Thüle was a fabled land in the far north.)
After Columbus' voyages, it was natural that these lines were interpreted as foretelling his discovery of America. In fact, the navigator's son Ferdinand wrote this in his copy of Seneca:
Haec prophetia expleta est per patrem meum, Cristoforum Colon admirantem, anno 1492.
This prophecy was fulfilled by my father, Admiral Christopher
Columbus, in the year 1492.
Pompey and Caesar
The idea of an epic on a historical topic was not new to Latin, hut Marcus Annaeus Lucanus (a.d. 39-65), known in English as Lucan, chose a dangerous topic with his Bellum civile, a poem on the civil war between Pompey and Julius Caesar that began the final disintegration of republican government in Rome. The following selection, which compares the two opposing leaders, shows Lucan's rhetorical technique, and in particular his mastery of the sententia, the brief striking phrase or sentence that was the hallmark of Silver Age writers, whether of prose or verse.
Quis iustius induit arma scire nefas: magno se iudice quisque tuetur; victrix causa deis placuit sed victa Catoni. nec coiere pares, alter vergentibus annis in senium longoque togae tranquillior usu 130
text Lucan The Civil War, trans. J. D. Duff (Loeb Classical Library, 1928)
meter hexameter [§mi]
scire ne|fas mag|no || se | iudice | quisque tu|etur victrix | causa de|is || placu|it sed | victa Ca|toni
126 iustius more rightly (compar. adv. of iuste); induit armajjwf on (3 sg. perf. ind. act. induo -ere) arms.
127 scire nefas [est] it is wrong to know—Caesars victory ultimately led to the establishment of the Julio-Claudian line of emperors, one of whom, Nero, was ruling when the poem was written; Lucan's open criticism of Caesar and his admiration of Pompey were certainly among the reasons why Nero ordered him to commit suicide; magno ... iudice instrumental abl. [§G47] with a mighty judge; se ... tuetur defends (tueor tuerl) himself.
128 victrix victricis fem. of victor, here used as an adj. with causa, victorious; dels dat. with placuit pleased the gods; with victa Catoni (dative of Catd Catonis m.) supply causa placuit—the meaning is that Caesar had the favor of the gods and so won; Pompey lost but he attracted the support of one of the most respected figures of the day, the younger Cato, who is idealized by Lucan (see the next selection, page 177).
X2gf. coiere (= coierunt) came together [in war] (coed colre); pares [as] equals (par paris m./f.); alter the one, i.e., Pompey; vergentibus annis in senium abl. absolute [§G49], lit., [his] years declining (vergo -ere) into old age (senium -il n.)—Pompey at 58 was six years older than Caesar; longo ... usu instrumental abl. [§G47] through long use; togae of the toga (toga -ae f.)—the toga symbolized civil life (Pompey had not been engaged in military activities for some time); tranquillior more peaceful (compar. of tranquillus), i.e., than he otherwise would have been.
dedidicit iam pace ducem, famaeque petitor multa dare in vulgus, totus popularibus auris impelli plausuque sui gaudere theatri, nec reparare novas vires, multumque priori credere fortunae. stat magni nominis umbra, 135
qualis frugifero quercus sublimis in agro exuvias veteres populi sacrataque gestans dona ducum nec iam validis radicibus haerens pondere fixa suo est, nudosque per aera ramos effundens trunco, non frondibus, efficit umbram, 140
et quamvis primo nutet casura sub Euro,
131 dedidicit he unlearned (dedisco -ere), i.e., he forgot: pace instrumental abl. [§G47] through peace; ducem [the role of] leader—extremely condensed expressions of this sort are a feature of Silver Age rhetoric; petitor petitoris m. seeker.
132 Although we have already had a finite verb (dedidicit), a series of historic infinitives [§G77] follows: dare, impelli, gaudere, reparare, and credere; in vulgus to the common people; trans, totus by an adverb [§G55], wholly; popularibus auris lit., by the public (popularis) breezes (aura -ae f.), trans, by the breath of popular favor.
133 impelli (pres. pass. inf. of impello -ere) historic inf. [§G77] he was swayed; plausu (plausus -us m. applause) abl. with gaudere; sui theatri of his own theater (theatrum -i n.)—Pompey had built the first stone theater in Rome (see the map of Rome on page xxiv).
I34f. nec reparare novas vires lit., nor did he rebuild (reparo -are) new power, trans, and he did not acquire fresh power; multum adv. much; priori ... fortunae dat. with credere (here trust); stat (historic pres. [§g6o]) ... umbra he stood, the shadow of a mighty name. 136fF. qualis (ofu/hat sort) introduces a simile, trans, just as; irugifer fertile; quercus -us f. oak tree; sublimis lofty; exuviae -arum f.pl. trophies; sacrata ... dona consecrated (sacro -are) gifts; gesto -are bear, carry; the ancient trophies of a people and the consecrated gifts of leaders are fastened on the old oak tree—this custom was reserved for oak trees, considered sacred to Jupiter; nec iam but no longer (nec negates haerens only); validis radicibus instrumental abl. [§G47] with strong roots (radix radicis f.); haereo -ere be firmly attached, cling. i39f. pondere ... suo instrumental abl. [§G47] by its own weight (pondus pon-deris n.); fixa ... est lit., has been fixed (figo -ere), trans, is held; nudds ... ramos naked branches (ramus -i m.)—the old tree has no leaves; aera Greek acc. of aer aeris m. air; effundens (effiindo -ere here stretch out, spread) governs ramos; trunco, non frondibus instrumental ablatives [§G47] with [its] trunk (truncus -i m.), not with [its] leaves (frons frondis f.foliage); efficio -ere make, create. 141 quamvis is followed by the subjunctives nutet (nuto -are nod, sway) and tollant (tolld -ere raise); primo ... sub Euro under (i.e., due to) the first east wind (Eurus -i m.); casura (cadd -ere) lit., going to fall, trans, by a finite verb, and is going to fall.
tot circum silvae firmo se robore tollant sola tamen colitur. sed non in Caesare tantum nomen erat nec fama ducis, sed nescia virtus stare loco, solusque pudor non vincere bello. 145
acer et indomitus, quo spes quoque ira vocasset, ferre manum et numquam temerando parcere ferro, successus urguere suos, instare favori numinis, impellens quidquid sibi summa petenti obstaret gaudensque viam fecisse ruina, 150
qualiter expressum ventis per nubila fulmen
142JT. There is no conjunction between the first clause introduced by quamvis and the second, but English requires that we supply and; take tot (so many) with silvae (here trees); circum here an adv. round about; firmo ... robore instrumental abl. [§G47] with solid growth (lit., strength; robur roboris n.); se ... tollant lit., raise themselves, trans, rise; it alone (i.e., the old oak tree) is revered (colo -ere); tantum adv. only; with nec supply tantum erat; fama ducis trans, reputation as a [military] leader (ducis possessive gen. [§gi8]); nescia not knowing agrees with virtus and governs stare loco, lit., vigor not knowing [how] to stand in [one] place, trans, vigor that did not know...; solus pudor [erat] his only shame (pudor pudoris m.) was, i.e., the only thing that caused him shame; non vincere bello (instrumental abl. [§G47]) not to conquer by war—Caesar always won, but he felt shame if he achieved his ends by peaceful means. I46f, acer et indomitus (energetic and headstrong) qualifies the understood subject (Caesar) of the following historic infinitives [§G77]; quo spes quoque (= quo + -que) ira vocasset (= vocavisset) wherever (lit., to wherever) hope and wherever anger had summoned [him]—the subjunctive vocasset gives the clause a general sense [§g88], which is conveyed in English by wherever; ferre manum = prose conferre manum, a common expression for joining battle, trans.fight; temerando (gerundive of temero -are violate) ... ferro dat. after parcere (parco -ere + dat. spare, refrain from), lit. refrained from his sword going to be violated, i.e., refrained from violating [his] sword—Caesar never refrained from using war for unjust purposes (on the use of the gerundive, see §g8i). 148 successus ... suos his successes (successus -us M.); urg(u)ed -ere press, i.e., make the most of; insto -are + dat.pursue; favor favoris m. favor, support. I49ff, Lucan uses the vague term numen (divinity), presumably to imply that Caesar enjoyed the favor of several divine powers; impello -ere here overcome; quid-quid ... obstaret whatever stood in [his] way (obsto -are + dat.)—quidquid and the use of the subjunctive give the clause a general sense [§g88]; sibi summa petenti (dat. after obstaret) for him seeking supreme power (lit., highest things); gaudens (rejoicing) is foEowed by the infinitive construction viam fecisse ruina (to make a path by devastation (ruina -ae f.))—the perfect infinitive is used in a present sense [§G76]; qualiter (rel. adv.) introduces a simile (see qualis in 1.136), just as; expressum ventis per nubila fulmen lightning (fulmen fulminis n.) driven forth (exprimo -ere) by winds through clouds (nubilum -i n.)—an allusion to the theory that lightning was produced by clouds colliding.
aetheris impulsi sonitu mundique fragore emicuit rupitque diem populosque paventes terruit obliqua praestringens lumina flamma:
in sua templa furit, nullaque exire vetante 155
materia magnamque cadens magnamque revertens dat stragem late sparsosque recolligit ignes.
<-: Lucan Bellum civile 1.126-157
152 Take impulsi (perf. pple. of impello -ere) with aetheris (aether aetheris m.) of the smitten sky; sonitu ... fragore ablatives of attendant circumstances [§G45j with the sound (sonitus -us m.) ... with the crash (fragor fragoris m.); mundus -i m. (here with virtually the same meaning as aether) heavens.
153 The subject of emicuit (emico 'ire flash) and the following finite verbs is fill-men in 1.151—trans, emicuit and rupit (rumpo -ere break) by the present (the perfect is sometimes used for the present in similes); dies -ei m. here the light of day; paveo -ere be frightened.
154 terruit trans, by the present (see the note to 1.153); obliqua ... flamma instrumental abl. [§G47] with [its] zigzag flame; praestringo -ere dazzle; lumen luminis n. here eye.
I55ff. sua templa its own area [of the sky] (pi. for sg. [§G53])—templum here has the sense used by augurs, who divided the sky into various parts (templa) and made predictions according to where lightning appeared; furo -ere rush; nulla exire vetante materia abl. absolute [§G49] no [solid] matter preventing [it] from leaving—only clouds stood in the way of the lightning when it left its quarter of the sky to strike the earth; both when falling and returning (reverter -i), the lightning causes (dat) great devastation (strages stragis f.)—magnam is repeated for emphasis; late (adv. of latus) over a wide area; sparsos ... ignes [its] scattered (spargo -ere) fires; recolligo -ere gather up again.
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