Haec, innocuae quibus est vītae

tranquilla quiēs160a

et laeta suō parvōque domus.160b-1a

spēs immānēs urbibus errant161b-3a

trepidīque metūs.163b

ille superbōs aditūs rēgum

dūrāsque forēs expers somnī165

colit; hic nūllō fīne beātās

compōnit opēs

gāzīs inhiāns167b

et congestō pauper in aurō;

illum populī favor attonitum

flūctūque magis mōbile vulgus170


hic clāmōsī rabiōsa forī

iūrgia vēndēns173

improbus īrās et verba locat.173bis

Seneca contrasts the peaceful life of country dwellers with the ambition, anxiety, and greed of city dwellers. The chorus lists four occupations often found in the criticisms of city life: one man laboriously seeks the favor and financial support of powerful patrons, another lusts after wealth, a third courts the fickle mob in electoral politics, and a fourth sells his services as a courtroom advocate.

159–60 haec: supply agunt iī. The omission of the verb after a neuter plural accusative word like haec is not uncommon in poetry (e.g., Virgil, Georgics 4.528 haec [dīxit] Prōteus). Here haec refers to what the shepherds, sailors, and fishermen do. The prose order would be: haec [agunt iī], quibus est quiēs tranquilla vītae innocuae et domus laeta suō parvōque. quibus est: dative of possession (AG 373). The subjects are quiēs and domus. laeta suō parvōque domus: “a home happy in its own, modest means.” The ablatives are causal (AG 404), and the -que that joins them helps to emphasize each word: a country dweller’s resources are modest, but they are nevertheless his own. Often parvus is used substantively to mean a small amount of money, value, or resources. For instance, in a passage similar to this one, Horace says that a peasant in his poor ancestral home “lives well on little” (vīvitur parvō bene, Odes 2.16.13).

161b–3a Lines 124–61 are missing from some manuscripts. In those manuscripts, an extra line, turbine magnō spēs sollicitae, is inserted before urbibus errant to make a coherent sentence: “in a great whirlwind anxious ambitions wander through the cities.” This interpolated line (traditionally numbered 162) has been removed from all modern editions. spēs immānēs: the adjective usually describes things that are horribly or monstrously large or excessive. The spēs of city dwellers are not admirable “hopes,” but rather excessive “ambitions”: for power, wealth, or popularity. urbibus: ablative of place where (AG 426)

163b trepidīque metūs: the corollary of the city dwellers’ ambitions are their fears. Their unsettled lifestyle contrasts with the peace and quiet enjoyed by country dwellers: this short line echoes the rhythm and sound of line 160a: tranquilla quiēs.

164–66 Seneca describes a customary morning greeting of a patron by his clients known as the salutātiō. While the patron-client relationship was a foundation of Roman society, the description here suggests an overly eager client attempting to increase his standing with an arrogant patron.

164 ille: Seneca structures his description of ambitious city dwellers by alternating ille and hic (lines 164, 166, 169, 172): “one man … another … another … another.” superbōs aditūs: the entrances to wealthy houses are often described as superbus in poetry. Do not confuse the noun aditus –ūs with the perfect passive participle of adeō. rēgum: this does not refer to actual kings but is rather a term of respect used by clients for their patrons.

165 expers somnī: a genitive is regularly used with expers, expertis to indicate what is lacking (AG 349). Seneca does not mean that the client had stayed up all night; rather, he wakes up very early to greet his patron, rising with the dawn (or even before) to do a very different sort of “work” from the country dwellers described in the previous section of the ode.

166 nūllō fine: “endlessly,” ablative of manner (AG 412) modifying componit. Avarice was stereotypically insatiable in the classical world, as it is now. This desire to endlessly accumulate wealth prepares us for the paradox in line 168, where the greedy man is poor even though surrounded by gold.

166–7 beātās … opēs: the basic meaning of beātus –a –um is “happy, blessed,” but it is often used more specifically to mean “wealthy, rich.” For instance, in a poem with the criticism of greed similar to our passage, Horace asks “Iccius, do you now envy the rich treasure of Arabia?” (Iccī, beātīs nunc Arabum invidēs / gāzīs?, Odes 1.29.1–2).

167b gāzīs inhiāns: the verb inhiō, inhiāre (from in + hiō hiāre, “to gape at”) usually describes a greedy desire for whatever is being gaped at, and is usually followed by a dative. gāza –ae was originally a Persian word, brought into Greek and then Latin. Its exotic etymology suggests the sort of exotic treasures that the greedy man is interested in.

168 congestō pauper in aurō: “poor in the midst of piled-up gold”: the word-order illustrates the scene, with the piles of gold surrounding the poor man in the text. This trick is common in poetry: compare, e.g., Horace’s famous picture of “a slim boy in the midst of many roses (multā gracilis … puer in rosā, Odes 1.5.1).”

169–71 The verb, tollit, governs both subjects (favor and vulgus). Prose order would be: favor populī illum attonitum [tollit] et vulgus magis mōbile flūctū [illum] tumidum aurā inānī tollit. Classical authors often compare the unpredictable favor of the common people with the unpredictability of the ocean: they can lift a person up on a wave of support, but that wave will inevitably subside.

169 attonitum: the man who pursues fame is “amazed” by popular support, just at the man who pursues wealth “gapes” at treasure (inhiāns, 167b); the strong emotions of both men suggest the intensity of their ambition.

170 flūctūque magis mōbile vulgus: the ocean metaphor is introduced with an ablative of comparison (AG 406), following magis mōbile (an alternative to the comparative form mōbilius). The phrase mōbile vulgus is found in a few authors beside Seneca. It began to be used in English in the 1600s, and was eventually shortened to “mob.”

171 tumidum tollit: this alliteration in the middle of the line echoes the alliteration of magis mōbile in the middle of the previous line, lending structure and momentum to the ocean metaphor. tumidus –a –um often describes a person “puffed up” with pride or ambition. Seneca also uses the word to describe the ocean swollen during a storm (in this play: lines 551, 955).

172–73bis Although a legal career was a standard avenue for personal advancement among upper-class men, criticism of greedy and amoral lawyers was common in the Roman period as in Shakespeare’s day (“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” 2 Henry VI 2.2) or our own time. Seneca begins his statement of the stereotype by adapting a phrase from Ovid’s Tristia (verbōsī garrula bella forī, 3.12.18). Seneca’s version uses much stronger language: “the chattering wars of the wordy forum” becomes “the raving squabbles of the shouting forum.” In particular, rabiōsus –a –um is a rare and striking synonym for the more common rabidus –a –um.

172 clāmōsī … forī: as a center of activity in Roman cities and towns, the forum was naturally noisy, but clāmōsī refers in particular to the cheers and jeers made by the audience to legal cases: Roman trials were considerably louder than their modern counterparts.

173bis improbus: “unprincipled, rascally,” a predicative adjective, describing how the lawyer rents out his services; translate adverbially. īrās et verba: although these words may be taken separately (the lawyer rents out his “indignation and words”), it is perhaps better to interpret them as a hendiadys, the equivalent of īrata verba: the lawyer rents out his “indignant words.” This emphasizes that everything about the lawyer is for sale, from his words to the emotions he pretends to feel. locat: the basic meaning of the verb is “to put, place,” but it also has a variety of specific economic senses that describe giving or lending another person property, goods, services, money, or contracts.

innocuus –a –um: harmless

tranquillus –a –um: calm, still; quiet, peaceful

quiēs quiētis f.: rest, peace

immānis immāne: huge, monstrous

trepidus –a –um: agitated, restless, alarmed

aditus aditūs m.: an approach, access; entrance

foris foris f.: door

expers expertis: lacking; free from (+ gen.)

gāza –ae f.: treasure, riches

inhiō inhiāre inhiāvī inhiātus: to stand open; gape at, gaze with longing

congerō –gerere –gessī –gestum: to gather together, collect; pile up, build up

pauper pauperis: poor 

favor favōris m.: favor, good-will

attonō attonāre attonuī attonitus: to thunder at; to stun

mōbilis –e: loose, changeable; easy to move

tumidus –a –um: swollen; inflated with passion or pride

inānis inānis ināne: empty, void; worthless

clamosus -a -um: noisy

iurgium –ī n.: altercation, quarrel

vendō vendere vendidī venditus: to sell 

improbus –a –um: inferior; excessive; wicked, bad

locō locāre locāvī locātus: to place, arrange; lease, lend, hire or contract out

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