MEG. Egone ut parentis sanguine aspersam manum
frātrumque geminā caede contingam? prius
exstinguet ortus, referet occāsus diem,
pāx ante fīda nivibus et flammīs erit375
et Scylla Siculum iunget Ausoniō latus,
priusque multō vicibus alternīs fugāx
Eurīpus undā stābit Euboicā piger.
patrem abstulistī, rēgna, germānōs, larem,
patriam - quid ultrā est? ūna rēs superest mihi380
frātre ac parente cārior, rēgnō ac lare:
odium tuī, quod esse cum populō mihi
commūne doleō - pars quota ex istō mea est!
domināre tumidus, spīritūs altōs gere;
sequitur superbōs ultor ā tergō deus.385
Thēbāna nōvī rēgna: quid mātrēs loquar
passās et ausās scelera? quid geminum nefās
mixtumque nōmen coniugis nātī patris?
quid bīna frātrum castra? quid totidem rogōs?
riget superba Tantalis lūctū parēns390
maestusque Phrygiō mānat in Sipylō lapis.
quīn ipse torvum subrigēns cristā caput
Illyrica Cadmus rēgna permēnsus fugā
longās relīquit corporis tractī notās.
haec tē manent exempla. domināre ut libet,395
dum solita rēgnī fāta tē nostrī vocent.
Megara indignantly rejects the idea of marrying the man who killed her family and offers a list of impossible situations (adynata) that would be more likely than her agreeing. She asserts that intense hatred of Lycus is all that is left to her and concludes with a list of famous figures from Thebes’ tragic past: this is the kind of fate that awaits Lycus as Thebes’ new ruler.
372–73 egone ut … contingam?: answers 371 continge dextram. Ut combined with -ne introduces an indignant question, rejecting the idea as outrageous or preposterous (OLD ut 44). Megara refuses to take Lycus’s hand when it is spattered with her family members’ blood. A strong sense-break after the fifth foot (here, after contingam) is very unusual in Seneca (see only line 644 in this play). This metrical anomaly emphasizes Megara’s indignant question.
373 geminā caede: the basic meaning of geminus is “twin,” but for Megara’s unfortunate brothers, it is their “twin slaughter,” not twin birth, that unites them.
373 prius … 375 ante … 377 priusque: the temporal adverbs unite a long period describing impossibilities (adynata) that would have to occur before Megara would marry Lycus. Such lists are common in Latin poetry (e.g. Virgil, Eclogues 1.59–63). The language and imagery is calculated to reply to Lycus’s request for marriage: it is more likely that there will be “peace” (375 pāx) between snow and fire, or Italy and Sicily will be “joined” (376 iunget), or the Euripus Strait will stop the 378 vicibus alternīs of its currents, than that there will be peace between Lycus and Megara, or they will be joined in marriage, or there will be an end to 362 alterna odia.
374 diem: the object of both clauses: the sunrise will end the day and the sunset begin it.
375 erit: “there will be”; pax fida is the predicate. The impossibility of mixing the elements of fire and water is traditional (Ovid, Ibis 31 dēsinet esse prius contrārius ignibus ūmor, “water will sooner stop being the opposite of fire”), but Megara intensifies the image by using snow (nivibus > nix).
376 The mythical monster Scylla lived in the Strait of Messina between Sicily and Italy. Ausoniō: supply laterī, “the Italian flank,” i.e., “shore.” The separation of Sicily from Italy was a topic of contemporary interest; see for instance the speculation on an ancient land bridge between Italy and Sicily in Lucan, Bellum Civile 2.432–8.
377 multō: ablative of degree of difference (AG 414) with priusque. vicibus alternīs fugāx: “ebbing with successive changes,” i.e., constantly ebbing and flowing.
378 Eurīpus: the Euripus Strait between Euboea and Boeotia. Its shifting currents were symbolic of changeability throughout classical literature. undā … Euboicā: “in the Euboean waters,” i.e., the Euripus Strait. piger: “sluggish,” but often the adjective has a negative sense of “lazy” or even “cowardly,” so Megara’s description of the Euripus Strait ceasing to move also suggests her attitude towards the idea of ceasing her hostility toward Lycus.
379–80 patrem … patriam: the list of things of which Lycus has robbed Megara, all objects of abstulistī, ends with the emphatic enjambment of patriam, which sums up Megara’s loss: deprived of everything she values, she has essentially lost her “homeland.” patrem abstulistī: the elision is expressive, since the verb “robs” patrem of its final syllable just as Lycus has robbed Megara of her father.
380 quid ultrā est?: “what is there beyond that?” The expected answer would be “nothing,” but Megara says there is in fact one thing left to her.
381 A skillful repetition of 378, switching from accusatives to ablatives of comparison with carior.
382 odium tuī: tuī is objective genitive (AG 347). This phrase is pointedly enjambed just as 380 patriam was: hatred is Megara’s home now.
382–83 quod … doleō: “I grieve that it [i.e., odium] it shared by me with the common people.” quod is a connecting relative (AG 308.f). mihi: dative after commūne (neut. acc. sing.), a sort of dative of possession.
383 pars quota ex istō mea: i.e. “how small a part of it [i.e., odium] is mine.” Megara does not grieve because the common people are suffering (which leads to their hatred), but because she is so obsessed with her odium that she does not wish to share it with anyone.
384–96 Megara predicts that the grim fate that has doomed so many other rulers of Thebes will pursue and destroy Lycus as well.
384 domināre: imperative deponent (AG 190). tumidus: adverbial, “arrogantly.” The several short syllables in dŏmĭnārĕ tŭmĭdus help underscore Megara’s point by expanding the length of the half-line just like Lycus “swells” with the arrogance of his power. The next line starts with another series of short syllables in a verb (sĕquĭtur) and another adjective meaning “arrogant” (superbōs): rhythm and diction tie together Lycus’s actions and their consequences.
385 ultor … deus: Megara probably does not have a particular god in mind–in the polytheistic world of Greece and Rome, vague references to “a god” were common. But the audience knows that Hercules will be the promised avenger, and that he will eventually become a god himself. ā tergō: “from behind.”
386–94: Megara briefly and allusively describes several prominent Theban myths, explicitly naming only one figure (Cadmus). Such allusivity is common in treatments of well-known myths, as are statements acknowledging that the myths are well-known (here, 386 quid … loquar, “why should I speak of…?”). Readers in Seneca’s generation could turn Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book 3, for a catalog of Theban myths.
386 quid loquar … 387 quid … 389 quid … quid…: understand loquar with each quid.
386 nōvī: first-person perfect > noscō, used with present sense. loquar: deliberative subjunctive (AG 443).
387 passās et ausās scelera: some examples of Theban mothers who “suffered and dared crimes” include Jocasta, who killed herself after realizing she had committed incest; Ino, who plotted to kill her step-son Phrixus and later jumped into the sea to escape her insane husband Athamas; and Agave, who killed her son Pentheus in a fit of madness.
387 geminum nefās: Oedipus committed both patricide and incest, as told most famously in Sophocles’ Oedipus the King.
388 mixtumque nōmen: by sleeping with his mother, Oedipus confused the family names of his relatives. He was the son of his wife (coniugis nātī) and the father (patris) of his siblings (since they were the children of his mother).
389 bīna … castra: the civil war fought between Oedipus’ sons Eteocles and Polynices, which is the subject of Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes. Statius’ epic poem Thebaid, written in the generation after Seneca, also tells this story. totidem rogōs: Eteocles and Polynices killed each other. Their bodies were placed on the same funeral pyre but the flame split in two, indicating that their hatred lived on after death.
390–91 Niobe was the wife of Amphion (262). She boasted that she had more children than Latona, mother of Apollo and Diana, and so those gods punished her by slaughtering her children. After sitting motionless and weeping over the loss, she was eventually transformed into a rock with water running down its side. For the story, see Ovid Metamorphoses 6.146ff.
390 riget: “is rigid,” because Niobe remained motionless until turning to a stone. But the metaphorical meaning “is stubborn” is also relevant to Niobe’s sin of hubris. Tantalis: Niobe was the daughter of Tantalus. Nouns in -is, -idis are frequently formed from the name of a woman’s father. lūctū: ablative of cause with riget (AG 404). There might also be the suggestion that Niobe is suberba … lūctū, “proud in her grief” (she continued to boast of the number of her children even after they had begun to die).
391 Phrygiō … in Sipylō: Seneca puts the transformed Niobe in Phrygia, following Ovid, rather than in Lydia, the actual location of Mt. Sipylus. Latin poetry often shows this kind of geographical inexactness. mānat: “flows (with tears).” This verse is a “golden line” (adj. A - adj. B - verb - noun A - noun B); the artificial word order draws attention to the image being described.
392–93 quīn ipse … Cadmus: “why, even Cadmus himself,” the very first Theban, whose suffering set the tone for his descendants. At the end of his life, Cadmus fled to Illyria with his wife Harmonia, where both were transformed into snakes. For the story, see Ovid Metamorphoses 4.563–603.
392 torvum … cristā caput: “his head fierce with a crest,” describing the crest that is a typical feature of supernatural snakes in mythology (see line 216).
393 Illyrica: modifies rēgna. permēnsus fugā: “traversing in exile”
394 longās … notās: literally this refers to the long track left by the snake’s body, but figuratively also to the pattern of divine hostility against Cadmus’ descendants (sometimes warranted, often not), up to Lycus. Note the wide separation between adjective and noun, supporting the sense of longās; this expressive word order comes at the end of an already long three-line description.
395 manent: “await” (LS maneo II.B). exempla: “precedents,” “models to follow.” Roman education made extensive use of exempla, stories of famous figures of history and mythology that provided positive or negative moral lessons (a large collection of such exempla is Valerius Maximus’s Memorable Deeds and Words, written under the Emperor Tiberius). Here, the history of the Theban royalty should teach Lycus that rulers of Thebes all meet disastrous ends. domināre: a deponent imperative form, as at 384. The repetition underscores the pointlessness of Lycus’ tyranny: it will end in disaster, as always happens at Thebes. ut libet: “as you please.”
396 dum: introduces a proviso clause (AG 528). Lycus’ impending doom is underscored by the long phrase solita rēgnī fāta … nostrī vocent, surrounding the short word tē.
aspergō –ere –spersī –spersus: to scatter, sprinkle
geminus –a –um: twin
exstinguō exstinguere exstinxī exstinctus: to extinguish; kill
ortus ortūs m.: rising, beginning; sunrise, the East
occāsus –ūs m.: a setting; sunset, the West; destruction, ruin
fīdus –a –um: faithful, trustworthy
nix nivis f.: snow
Scylla –ae f.: Scylla
Siculus –a –um: Sicilian
Ausonius –a –um: Ausonius; Italian
vicis vicis f.: change, alternation; turn
alternus –a –um: one after the other, by turns; alternate
fugāx –ācis: swift in flight
eurīpus or –os –ī m.: a channel, strait, narrow sea
Euboicus –a –um: of Euboea (island); Euboean
piger pigra pigrum: reluctant; slow, lazy
germānus –ī m.: brother
Lār Laris m.: Lar (household god); house, home
commūne –nis n.: that which is in common; community, state
quotus –a –um: of what number
dominor dominārī dominātus: to be lord or master, rule
tumidus –a –um: swollen; inflated with passion or pride
ultor –ōris m.: avenger, punisher
Thēbānus –a –um: Theban
geminus –a –um: twin
bīnī –ae –a: two by two; two (> bis)
totidem: just as many
rogus rogī m.: funeral pile
rigeō –ēre: to be stiff, numb; stiffen
Tantalus –ī m.: Tantalus (a name)
lūctus lūctūs m.: mourning, grief
Phrygius –a –um: Phrygian; Trojan
mānō mānāre mānāvī mānātus: to drip, flow
Sipylus –ī m.: Sipylus (a name)
torvus –a –um: keen, stern; wild, savage
crista –ae f.: crest
Īllyricus –a –um: pertaining to Illyria
Cadmus –ī m.: Cadmus
permētior –mēnsus sum: to measure completely; traverse
dominor dominārī dominātus: to be lord or master, rule
solitus –a –um: accustomed; customary, usual