Cadmēa prōlēs atque Ophīonium genus,
quō reccidistis? tremitis ignārum exulem,
suīs cārentem fīnibus, nostrīs gravem.270
quī scelera terrā quīque persequitur marī
ac saeva iūstā scēptra cōnfrēgit manū,
nunc servit absēns fertque quae fierī vetat,
tenetque Thēbās exul Herculeās Lycus.
— Sed nōn tenēbit. aderit et poenās petet275
subitusque ad astra ēmerget; inveniet viam
aut faciet. adsīs sospes et remeēs tuīs
tandemque veniās victor ad victam domum.
Amphitryon addresses his fellow Thebans, lamenting how far they have fallen under the tyranny of Lycus. His speech ends, as it began, hoping for an end to his suffering through the return of Hercules.
268–69 Cadmēa prōlēs … Ophīonium genus: apostrophe referring to the Theban people by some of their ancestors, the founder and first king of Thebes, Cadmus, and the much more obscure Ophion. A Theban Ophion appears in extant Latin only here and at Seneca, Oedipus 485. It is possible that he is an alternative version of the more famous Echion, one of the Spartoi that arose from the dragon’s teeth sown by Cadmus: in Greek, both ophis and echis are words for “snake.”
269 quō reccidistis: “where (i.e., how far) have you fallen (back)?” See LS quo II.A. rec(c)ido -cidere -cidi is a compound of cado cadere implying relapse into a previous bad state. See rursus above, 251. ignārum exulem: the shame of Thebes’ subjugation to Lycus is even greater because he is “unknown,” i.e., not of noble birth (Lycus himself discusses his pedigree at 337–48). It is relatively rare for ignārus to have a passive meaning (“unknown”) instead of an active one (“ignorant”). %% Some editors prefer the reading ignāvum exulem (“a cowardly/lazy exile”), which is found in a few manuscripts. But this contradicts Lycus’ own assertion at 337–38 that he is not, specifically, ignāvus; more importantly, it clashes with Amphitryon’s earlier description Lycus as 254 truculentus (“fierce/cruel”). It is likely that the unusual passive meaning of ignārus prompted a scribe to “correct” it to a more familiar adjective for describing tyrants.
270 A typically pointed juxtaposition: Lycus is exiled from his land (Euboea) but oppressive to the Thebans’ land. The syntax shifts from an ablative of separation (suīs … finibus) with cārentem to a dative of reference (nostrīs [finibus]) with gravem.
271–74 Amphitryon describes Hercules as a dēfēnsor iūstitiae, an avenger and chastiser of tyrants, on land and at sea alike, but one now cruelly and unjustly being treated like a slave (273 servit).
271 quī: Hercules. The main clause of the sentence is delayed until 273–74 (servit ... fertque).
272 saeva iūstā scēptra … manū: synchysis (arrangement of words in the pattern adjective A - adjective B - noun A - noun B) allows the juxtaposition of the two important adjectives saevus (typical descriptor of a tyrant) and iūstus (typical descriptor of a tyrannicide).
273 servit: Hercules is in servitude to Eurystheus. fertque quae fierī vetat: “and endures what [things] he prohibits to be,” i.e. tyranny.
274–75 tenetque ... sed nōn tenēbit: Amphitryon delivers a rousing and confident prediction that Hercules will return and (it is implied) kill Lycus. Calling the city of Thebes “Herculean” is a bit of a stretch, considering Hercules has only married into the royal family, but the language emphasizes the legitimacy of Hercules’ right to take vengeance against the exile and usurper Lycus. The wordplay of tenet ... tenēbit is common in Senecan language as well as rhetorically effective.
274 Thēbās exul Herculeās Lycus: the interlocking word order (synchysis) emphasizes the situation: Thebes belongs to Hercules, but the exile Lycus has insinuated himself, both in the text and in the action of the play.
275 aderit: “(Hercules) will be present to help” (LS adsum II.E). There is a sense pause after the previous verb tenēbit(indicated by the period), and the final syllable of that verb occurs in the fifth position of the meter, usually occupied by a long syllable. But here, the final syllable is the first in a series of four short syllables (tĕnēbĭt ădĕrĭt). The effect is for the word aderit to arrive unexpectedly quickly, thus suggesting Amphitryon’s excited hopes that Hercules will suddenly (276 subitusque) arrive any minute. poenās petet: “he will seek [to exact/inflict] punishments.” Recall Hercules’ iūstā … manū (272) and Amphitryon’s focus on Hercules as dēfēnsor iūstitiae.
276 subitus: a predicative adjective, describing how Hercules will ēmerget; translate as an adverb (“suddenly”). ad astra: on the literal level, Hercules will be able to see the stars once more after emerging from the Underworld. But Amphitryon also inadvertently predicts Hercules’ future apotheosis, as Juno did earlier (23).
276–77 inveniet viam / aut faciet: the enjambment of the second verb adds force to the expression: if Hercules cannot find a way back to earth, he will make one. Variations of this phrase have been used as mottos throughout history.
277–78 adsīs … remeēs … veniās: jussive subjunctives (AG 439) addressed to Hercules. tuīs: i.e., Hercules’ loved ones and fellow citizens. tandem is emphatic and rounds off the speech. veniās … domum = “come home” (with no preposition) is normal Latin (AG 427), but the addition of an adjective, in this case victam, is highly unusual and poetic. With wordplay, alliteration, and striking diction Seneca brings the speech to a thundering close.
Cadmus –ī m.: Cadmus
prōlēs prōlis f.: descendants
Ophinonius - i m.: Ophion
quō: by how much more or less
recidō –cidere –cidī –cāsūrus: to fall back, recoil
tremō tremere tremuī: to shake, quiver
ignārus –a –um: ignorant; unaware, having no experience of
exul, exulis: exile
persequor persequī persecūtus sum: to follow up, pursue; attack; accomplish
scēptrum –ī n.: royal staff; scepter
cōnfringō –fringere –frēgī –frāctum: to shatter
Thēbae –ārum f.: Thebes
exul, exulis: exile
Herculeus –a –um: of Hercules; Herculean
Lycus –ī m.: Lycus
subitus –a –um: sudden, unexpected
ēmergō –gere –si –sum: to come out of the water, emerge
sōspes –itis: a saving; safe, happy
remeō remeāre remeāvī remeātus: to go back, return