LYC.                                   Quod Iovī hoc rēgī licet:

Iovī dedistī coniugem, rēgī dabis;490

et tē magistrō nōn novum hoc discet nurus,

etiam virō probante meliōrem sequī.

sīn cōpulārī pertināx taedīs negat,

vel ex coāctā nōbilem partum feram.


MEG.     Umbrae Creontis et penātēs Labdacī495

et nūptiālēs impiī Oedipodae facēs,

nunc solita nostrō fāta coniugiō date.

nunc nunc, cruentae rēgis Aegyptī nurūs,

adeste multō sanguine īnfectae manūs.

dēst ūna numerō Danaīs; explēbō nefās.500


LYC.       Coniugia quoniam pervicāx nostra abnuis

rēgemque terrēs, scēptra quid possint sciēs.

complectere ārās: nūllus ēripiet deus

tē mihi, nec orbe sī remōlītō queat

ad supera victor nūmina Alcīdēs vehī.505

— congerite silvās; templa supplicibus suīs

iniecta flagrent, coniugem et tōtum gregem

cōnsūmat ūnus igne subiectō rogus.


AM.        Hoc mūnus ā tē genitor Alcīdae petō,

Rogāre quod mē deceat, ut prīmus cadam.510


LYC.       Quī morte cūnctōs luere supplicium iubet

nescit tyrannus esse. dīversa irrogā:

miserum vetā perīre, fēlīcem iubē.

ego, dum cremandīs trabibus accrēscit rogus,

sacrō regentem maria vōtīvō colam.515


AM.        Prō nūminum vīs summa, prō caelestium

rēctor parēnsque, cuius excussīs tremunt

hūmāna tēlīs, impiam rēgis ferī

compesce dextram! — quid deōs frūstrā precor?

ubicumque es, audī, nāte.

— Cūr subitō labant520

agitāta mōtū templa? cūr mūgit solum?

īnfernus īmō sonuit ē fundō fragor.

audīmur! est est sonitus Herculeī gradūs.

Amphitryon’s closing reference to Lycus assaulting Megara (488–89) prompts Lycus to restate his intentions to do so (489–96), which leads Megara to rejoin the argument, vowing to kill Lycus should he force her into marriage (495–500). The act ends with Lycus ordering a pyre to be built around Amphitryon and Megara to burn them alive; these plans are interrupted by a rumbling from below, signaling Hercules’ imminent return.

489 quod ... rēgī: “what is allowed to Jupiter is allowed to a king”; literally or “(that) which is allowed to Jupiter, this is allowed to a king,” but English typically does not use the demonstrative pronoun (here, hoc) which is normal in these Latin expressions. The comparison of Jupiter/Zeus (the king of the gods) with mortal rulers is as old as Homer, but here Lycus is specifically alluding to Jupiter and Alcmene, as is made clear in the next line. licet: followed by the datives Iovī and rēgī.

490 Take the object coniugem in both clauses, referring first to Amphitryon’s wife Alcmene, next to Hercules’ wife (Amphitryon’s daughter-in-law) Megara. In reality, Jupiter disguised himself as Amphitryon in order to trick Alcmene into having sex, but Lycus suggests that Amphitryon “gave” his wife to Jupiter willingly; Lycus will elaborate on this insulting suggestion at 492.

491 tē magistrō: abl. absolute. nōn novum hoc discet nurus: “your daughter-in-law will learn this thing, which is not new”; hoc is explained by the infinitive phrase in the next line.

492 etiam virō probante: Lycus suggests that Amphitryon approved of his wife Alcmena sleeping with Jupiter, as Jupiter was better than him. Megara, therefore, should accordingly agree to marry him, as he believes that he is better than Hercules, and Hercules would therefore approve of the match. In some versions of the Alcmene myth, Amphitryon did in fact approve once he discovered that Alcmene had slept with Jupiter (e.g.,  Plautus’ comedy Amphitryon), but the idea that Hercules would approve of Megara marrying Lycus is a fantasy designed to insult.   

493–94 Lycus also imagines Megara being pertināx and refusing to marry him at 350–51. There, he resolved to destroy Hercules’ entire household; here, he threatens to rape Megara.

493 sīn: “if, on the other hand,” a compound of si and –ne used to introduce an alternative question or idea. pertināx: a predicative adjective, explaining how Megara would negat. taedīs: “in marriage.”

494 vel ex coāctā: “from her (Megara), even if compelled,” (> cōgō), i.e., “even if I have to force her. nōbilem partum: “highborn offspring.” Again, Lycus reveals that his only interest in Megara lies in her noble lineage (see 438–48).

 495–500 Megara concludes her dialogue with Lycus by returning to the idea that all Theban rulers are cursed (see 386–96). Now, however, she takes a darker twist, promising to bring about Lycus’ ruin by her own actions.

495–96 Megara prays for a disastrous marriage for Lycus, invoking the ghost of Creon (whom Lycus has killed), the household gods of Labdacus (Oedipus’ grandfather and commonly named as the founder the Theban royal house), and the marriage torches of Oedipus (whose marriage was particularly disastrous).

496 nūptiālēs … facēs: torches are associated with weddings, but also with funerals and with the Furies. impiī Oedipodae: the Greek masculine first declension Oedipodes, -ae (AG 44) is found in Seneca as a common alternative to Oedipus, -i, always in this position in the verse, where it produces an anapestic 5th foot (-ĭpŏdae). If the alternative Oedipīwere used here, it would create and iambic 5th foot (-ĭpī), which Seneca avoids.

497 solita … fāta: i.e., the destruction that is always the fate of Theban royalty.

498–500 Megara looks beyond the house of Thebes to the Danaids, the fifty daughters of Danaus who were married to the fifty sons of his brother Aegyptus and killed their husbands to help Danaus take revenge on his brother.

498 cruentae … nurūs: echoes nurus at 491. There, Lycus predicted that Megara will learn from the example of Alcmene and become his wife. Megara responds by invoking her own exemplum to threaten Lycus with death.

499 adeste: plural imperative > adsum. It was believed that supernatural forces needed to be physically present in order to exert an influence, and so prayers often include a request to come to the speaker. īnfectae manūs: “stained with respect to your hands”: manūs is an accusative of respect (AG 397.b).

500 dēst: = deest > dēsum, dēsse, followed by the dative numerō. explēbō nefās: one of the fifty Danaids, Hypermnestra, refused to kill her husband (see Ovid, Heroides 14). Megara promises to “complete the crime” by killing Lycus. Her threat is striking, particularly given her previous attention to Roman virtues. In light of what follows, it may be that she recognizes her threat of nefās as the only way to avoid being forced into a marriage.

501–8 After Megara’s forceful refusal of his marriage proposal, Lycus returns to the threat to destroy Hercules’ family altogether. See lines 350–51.

501 Note the rapid series of short syllables (cōniŭgĭă quŏnĭām) and repeated velar consonants (c, g, q, x), all suggesting Lycus’ anger. The similarity of this line with 493 (especially pervicāx and pertināx in the middle of the lines) emphasizes the fact that Lycus is about to escalate his threats dramatically, from sexual assault to burning Megara and her whole family alive.

502 terrēs: “threaten,” “attempt to frighten.” scēptra: symbolizing a ruler’s power. This is the subject of the indirect question scēptra quid possint, “what (great) power scepters have.”

503 complectere: deponent imperative (AG 190)

504 mihi: dative of separation after ēripiet (AG 381). Note the expressive juxtaposition of with mihi, which places Megara and Lycus side-by-side in the text just as he promises that she will never escape him. nec … sī: “not even if.” orbe … remōlītō: the ablative absolute describes Hercules pushing back the weight of the world to open an entrance from the Underworld. remōlītō fills the 4th and 5th feet in the line (very rare in Seneca), which helps to suggest the difficulty of Hercules’ actions.

504-5 queat … vehī: queō is a convenient synonym for possum, especially in the present subjunctive where its short first syllable produces a different metrical shape than possim. The passive infinitive vehī means “to ride.” Lycus probably imagines Hercules riding in a chariot like a triumphant Roman general.

505 ad supera … nūmina: “to the land of the living,” which is presided over by “the powers above.” nūmina carries extra resonance for Hercules, however, whose eventual deification Seneca is likely suggesting (compare a similar ambiguity earlier in this act, 317–18n.).

506–8 Lycus orders his soldiers to burn down the temple or shrine where Amphitryon and Megara have taken refuge.

506–7 silvās: literally, “trees” or “forests,” but here, the wood needed for a pyre. templa … iniecta: plural templa to refer to a single temple is poetic and Virgilian (Aeneid 6.19). The burning temple would collapse on the suppliants. “One cannot be certain to what extent Seneca envisages the scene in terms of actual stage conventions, but in Greek drama a temple is often spoken of as the immediate background to the action” (Fitch 1987). supplicibus suīs: datives with the compound verb iniecta (AG 370).

507-8 tōtum … ūnus: each adjective is placed emphatically before its noun to emphasize the image of Megara and all those with her being burned to death in one fire.

508 igne subiectō: “the flame having been applied [to the wood of the pyre].”

509-10 “As the father of Hercules, I request this favor from you, which it is right for me to ask: that I die first.”Amphitryon wishes to demonstrate bravery worthy of Hercules’ father by volunteering to die first. The slight strangeness of this request (the fire would kill everyone at once, and not in a particular order) can be explained by reference to the scene in Euripides’ Heracles that Seneca is adapting, where Megara and Amphitryon have left the altar in order to die more bravely by Lycus’ sword.

509 Alcīdae: Alcīdēs, -ae is a Greek masculine first declension noun, like Persēs (AG 44).

510 deceat: impersonal, “it is right,” followed by an accusative-infinitive construction. The subjunctive marks the relative clause of characteristic (AG 534). ut prīmus cadam: the jussive noun clause / substantive clause of purpose (AG 563) is introduced by petō in the previous line.

 511–13 Lycus tells how to be an evil tyrant: kill the successful and prosperous and force the wretched to live (although in this case he plans to kill Amphitryon and the rest, wretched or not). This was a common feature of descriptions of ancient tyrants both fictional and real: e.g., Suetonius says of the emperor Tiberius, mōrī volentibus vīs adhibita vīvendī. nam mortem … leve supplicium putābat (“those who wished to die were forced to live. For he thought that death was too light a punishment,” Tib. 61).

511 morte … luere supplicium: “to suffer the punishment of death,” literally “pay a penalty by means of death.”

512 nescit: “does not know how.” dīversa: “contrasting punishments.”

512–13 irrogā, vetā, iubē: the imperatives are addressed to aspiring tyrants everywhere.

514 cremandīs trabibus: “with timbers that will be burned,” trabibus > trabs trabis f.

515 regentem maria: i.e., Neptune. A sacrifice to the god supplies a reason for Lycus to leave so that Hercules can return without his knowledge.

516 prō … prō: not the preposition, but the interjection (“oh! alas!”), followed as usual by a nominative of a god being invoked, typically Jupiter (here called nūminum vīs summa and caelestium rēctor parēnsque).

517–18 excussīs … tēlīs: “at the hurling of whose weapons [i.e., lightning bolts] the human world trembles.”

518–19 impiam … dextram: note the wide separation of adjective and noun, which emphasizes the impiety of Lycus’ plan to murder suppliants at an altar.

520–23 Amphitryon has shifted his prayer from Jupiter in the heaven to Hercules in the Underworld. Instead of lightning from above (cf. 517–18), he is answered by an earthquake and rumbling from below.

520–21 Cūr subitō ... templa?: “why does the temple totter, rocked with a sudden movement?” lăbō, lăbāre (“to totter, be ready to fall”) should not be confused with the deponent lābor, lābī (“to fall, glide, sink down”).

521 mūgit solum: the verb describes the sound of cattle, but also a variety of loud, low sounds, like the roar of an earthquake, thunder, or storm winds (a cow’s moo evidently sounded more impressive to the ancient ear than it does today).

522 īmō … ē fundō: “from the lowest depths (of the earth).” The pattern of the line is the equivalent of a “Golden line,” often used as a special effect in hexameter poetry (adjective A, adjective B, verb, noun A, noun B). Note also the repetition of f.

523 audīmur: Amphitryon’s prayer has been heard by Hercules. est est: the repetition signals excitement. Herculeī gradūs: “the sound of Hercules’ footstep.” The adjective Herculeī is the equivalent of a genitive noun Herculis, and the phrase Herculis gradūs would in fact have fit at the end of the line. By using the adjective instead, Seneca avoided two problems: and inelegant phrase with two genitives in a row, and the iamb -culis in the fifth foot (Seneca heavily favors a spondee or anapest in this position).

Iuppiter Iovis m.: Jupiter, Jove

coniūnx coniugis f.: spouse, wife

nurus –ūs f.: a daughter–in–law; young woman, married woman

melius; optimē: better; best

cōpulor –ārī: to bind together; to join, unite

pertināx –ācis: persevering, stubborn

taeda taedae f.: torch

coāctus –ūs m.: compulsion, constraint

fera ferae f.: wild animal

Creōn –ontis or Creō –ōnis m.: Creon

Penātes –ium m.: Penates (gods)

Labdacus -i m.: Labdacus 

nuptiālis –e: of or pertaining to marriage or a wedding

impius –a –um: disloyal, wicked

Oedipodes - ae m.: Oedipus

solitum –ī n.: the customary, what is usual

coniugium –iī n.: joining together; marriage

cruentus –a –um: bloody, blood–stained

Aegyptos (–tus) –ī f.: Egypt

nurus –ūs f.: a daughter–in–law; young woman, married woman

īnfectus –a –um: not done; unworked

Danaē –ēs f.: Danae

expleō explēre explēvī explētus: to fill up, fulfil

coniugium –iī n.: joining together; marriage

pervicax –acis: firm; stubborn

abnuō abnuere abnuī abnuitūrus: to refuse, deny

scēptrum –ī n.: royal staff; scepter

complector complectī complexus sum: to embrace

remolior remoliri remolitus sum: to push back

queō quīre quīvī/quiī quitus: to be able

Alcīdēs –ae. m.: a descendant of Alceus; Hercules

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

supplex supplicis: suppliant; humble, beseeching

iniciō –ere –iēcī –iectum: to bring into, instill

flagrō flagrāre flagrāvī flagrāturus: to burn

coniūnx coniugis f.: spouse, wife

grex gregis m.: herd, flock

subiciō subicere subiēcī subiectus: to throw under

rogus rogī m.: funeral pile

genitor genitōris m.: father

Alcīdēs –ae. m.: a descendant of Alceus; Hercules

luō luere luī: to satisfy

tyrannus tyrannī m.: tyrant

irrogō irrogāre: to impose, inflict

cremō cremāre cremāvī cremātus: to burn

trabs trabis f.: beam of wood

accresco (or adcresco) accrescere accrēvī accrētum: to grow, increase

rogus rogī m.: funeral pile

sacrum sacrī n.: a holy thing; sacrifice; a sacred thing, temple

regēns –entis m.: ruler

vōtīvus, –a, –um: of or belonging to a vow 

prō (prōh): wow!

summus –a –um: highest; top (of)

rēctor –ōris m.: director, leader, ruler

excutiō excutere excussī excussum: to shake off; cast out; examine, investigate

tremō tremere tremuī: to shake, quiver

impius –a –um: disloyal, wicked

compescō –pescere –pescuī — : to restrain, hold back

quid: what; why

ubīcumque: wherever, whenever

subitus –a –um: sudden, unexpected

labō labāre labāvī labātus: to give way

mōtus mōtūs m.: motion, movement

mūgiō –īre –īvī or iī: to low; to bellow

sōlum –ī n.: ground, land, region

īnfernus –a –um:  of that which is below, infernal

imus –a –um: deepest, last

fundus fundī m.: bottom, foundation

fragor –ōris m.: breaking

sonitus –ūs m.: noise

Herculeus –a –um: of Hercules; Herculean

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