Soror Tonantis – hoc enim sōlum mihi

nōmen relictum est – semper aliēnum Iovem

ac templa summī vidua dēseruī aetheris,

locumque caelō pulsa paelicibus dedī;

tellūs colenda est, paelicēs caelum tenent.5


hinc Arctos altā parte glaciālis polī

sublīme classēs sīdus Argolicās agit;

hinc, quā recentī vēre laxātur diēs,

Tyriae per undās vector Eurōpae nitet;

illinc timendum ratibus ac pontō gregem10

passim vagantēs exserunt Atlantidēs.

ferrō mināx hinc terret Ōrīōn deōs

suāsque Perseus aureus stēllās habet;

hinc clāra geminī signa Tyndaridae micant

quibusque nātīs mōbilis tellūs stetit.15

nec ipse tantum Bacchus aut Bacchī parēns

adiēre superōs: nē qua pars probrō vacet,

mundus puellae serta Cnōsiacae gerit.

Juno, having descended to earth in the pre-dawn hours, expresses her anger at her husband Jupiter’s infidelities. She catalogs Jupiter’s lovers, rape victims, and illegitimate children (as well as some innocent bystanders) who have been turned into constellations. The catalog assumes advanced knowledge of the stories. As usual in Greek mythology, Juno’s wrath is directed not at Jupiter himself, but at the women and their children by him.

Act 1 Essay

Juno is particularly angry at Hercules, the latest and most prominent of Jupiter’s illegitimate sons, who has just completed his greatest exploit, coming home alive from the Underworld with the monster Cerberus. Now that Hercules has pacified the whole of the earth and conquered the Underworld, Juno feels sure that, unless stopped, he will threaten Olympus itself.

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Juno vows to wage war on Hercules in the only way possible, by setting him against himself: she will summon the Furies (Greek Erinyes or Eumenides) from the Underworld to drive him mad and cause him to destroy his own family. Juno’s revenge will be complete in Act 4, when Hercules kills his wife Megara and their young children.

The form of this opening act is similar to other Greco-Roman tragedies that begin with a god or ghost vowing to destroy an enemy. The first Act of Seneca’s Agamemnon features a similar monologue by the ghost of Thyestes, who vows to destroy his brother’s son Agamemnon. The monologue seems like an unfamiliar and off-putting form to us, but ancient audiences, just like North Americans up until the early twentieth century, took pleasure in listening to long speeches. Act 3 features similarly lengthy speeches, as Theseus describes his journey to the Underworld. 

Like the rest of Seneca’s play, this opening monologue is in constant dialogue with the Augustan epics. Readers of Vergil’s Aeneid would recognize the raging queen of the gods familiar from the epic’s opening scenes, where she resolves to destroy Aeneas in a storm at sea. In Vergil’s epic, she was attempting to protect Carthage, her favorite city, from destruction by Aeneas’ descendants, the Romans. In Seneca’s play, she is trying to protect her own turf: she does not want to see Hercules to become a new god or build on his conquest of the Underworld by taking over Olympus. Readers of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, furthermore, would recognize the jealous wife who tries to destroy her victims through madness. At Metamorphoses 4.481–511, Juno sends a Fury (Erinys) to Thebes to drive Athamas mad; like Hercules, he destroys his family. Throughout the Metamorphoses, Juno persecutes Jupiter’s rape victims and their children, such as Io, Callisto and her son Arcas, Semele and her son Bacchus, and others. We recognize a villain who persecutes innocent people because of her anger at Jupiter, the same kind of figure who prompted Vergil’s question: tantaene animis caelestibus irae? (Aeneid 1.8)

Ovid’s Fury adapts Vergil’s Allecto, whom Juno sends to drive Turnus and Amata mad in Aeneid 7. Seneca likewise draws on Vergil’s Allecto, as he makes clear when his Juno commands the Furies to stir up the emotions in their hearts: concutite pectus (105). This echoes Juno’s command to Allecto in Vergil: concute pectus (Aeneid 7.338). Like Vergil and Ovid’s Juno, Seneca’s Juno is rousing the forces of the Underworld to drive an enemy mad. But unlike the previous models, Seneca’s Juno resolves to go mad herself first, explicitly asking the Furies to drive her out of her mind (109–11). This madness at the start of the epic prefigures the madness of Hercules at the end. Vergil similarly links the emotions of Juno at the start of his poem with those of her enemy at the end: both Juno and Aeneas feel saevus dolor, “terrible grief/indignation,” that causes them to seek vengeance (Aeneid 1.25, 12.945). Seneca’s Juno follows in this tradition with saevus dolor of her own (28). But the queen of the gods proceeds from grief, indignation and anger to actual insanity. Seneca wrote a lengthy essay on anger (De Ira), and describes the deranging effect of strong emotions throughout his philosophical works. Here he has amplified his Augustan models to create a newly terrifying Juno.

1 Tonantis: Ovid was the first Latin poet to call Jupiter “the Thunderer.” Poets after him frequently used this epithet.

2 relictum est: this phrase should be read relictumst. Prodelision is an exception to the normal rules of elision that occurs when the common word est follows a word that ends in a vowel or vowel + m. The final syllable of the first word is pronounced, and the e of est is prodelided instead. semper aliēnum Iovem: the adjective means “belonging to another,” and refer’s to Jupiter’s unfaithfulness: in Juno’s experience, Jupiter is never hers, and “always some else’s.”

3 templa summī … aetheris: “precincts of high heaven,” i.e., Olympus. A templum originally designated an open area in which the augurs observed the sky when taking the auspices; it later came to mean a building dedicated to a god. Poets accordingly can use templum in the meaning of “sky,” and often substitute plurals for singular (L-S templum I.B.1). vidua: “spouseless” or, more generally, “empty” or “deprived” of something. Here it can refer both to the templa of the sky that Juno has “emptied” by leaving, and also to Juno herself, abandoned by the unfaithful Jupiter.

4 caelō: ablative of place from which (AG 426) with pulsa > pello -ere. Juno claims that her rivals for Jupiter’s love have “expelled” her from the sky (L-S pello II.B.1). paelicibus: a paelex is a mistress installed  as a rival or in addition to a wife. The word is abusive in the mouth of a wife; Fitch accordingly translates “whores.” The case is dative, either as the indirect object of dedī , or as a dative of agent after passive pulsa (AG 375) a common construction in poetry.

5 tellūs colenda est: “I must live on earth,”: passive periphrastic (AG 500.2) with the dative of agent (mihi) unexpressed. The alliteration in a chiastic pattern (tellūs – tenent, colenda – caelum) emphasizes the line’s bitter complaint.

6, 8 hinc … hinc: “on this side … on that side,” answered by 10 illinc “on that side.” Juno points to the various stars visible in the night sky before announcing the dawn at the end of her speech (123–4).

6 Arctos: a Greek nominative form (AG 52), referring to Ursa Major, the Great Bear constellation. Jupiter raped the nymph Callisto, and Juno transformed her into a bear. Callisto’s son accidentally shot his mother while hunting, thinking that she was in fact a bear. Jupiter transformed both mother and her son into the Great Bear and Lesser Bear constellations, Ursa Major and Minor. glaciālis: genitive modifying polī.

7 sublīme … sīdus: nominative, in apposition with Arctos. Argolicās: one of several poetic synonyms for “Greek,” evoking Juno’s favored city Argos. It also alliterates with agit and has a convenient metrical shape (Ārgŏlĭcus). Others poetic words for “Greek” include Grāius -a -um (619) and Argīvus -a -um (1123). classes … agit: sailors since antiquity have navigated by Polaris, the North Star, the brightest star in the Ursa Minor constellation. Juno associates the constellations with sailing, as they were essential for navigation in antiquity.

8 quā: “where” (adv.). recentī vēre: “the new (i.e., only just begun) spring.” In several manuscripts tepentī (“warm”) stands in place of recentī. laxātur diēs: the sun is in the constellation Taurus (the Bull: the vector Europae in line 9) near the beginning of spring, when the days begin to lengthen. The day is accordingly “extended” in spring, or “loosened” from the frozen winter. Seneca later calls the constellation Taurus the “spring Bull” (951–52 vernī … Taurī).

9 Tyriae … vector Eurōpae: Jupiter took the form of a bull and carried Europa from Tyre in Phoenicia to Crete. Titian’s painting is the best-known image of this story.

10 illinc: answering hinc… hinc in lines 6 and 8. timendum … gregem: the unexpected use of gregem as the object of exserunt is a good example of Seneca’s inventive poetic style. Instead of a typical phrase such as “put forth their heads” or “put forth their faces,” the Pleiades “put forth a flock.” The gerundive timendum has the sense of purpose or necessity (AG 500.1). ratibus ac pontō: datives of agent after the gerundive timendum (AG 374). The stormy season on the Mediterranean began with the setting of the Pleiades in November, and so sailors are said to “fear” the stars. This autumn constellation contrasts with the springtime constellation Taurus that Juno has just described (8–9).

11 vagantēs … Atlantidēs: better known as the Pleiades, these are the daughters of Atlas, the Titan who holds up the sky. Juno’s anger is caused by the fact that Jupiter engendered children with three of them: Maia, Electra, and Taygete. The Pleiades, like all stars, seem to “wander” through the sky over the course of a year.

12 ferrō: either an instrumental ablative with terret (AG 409) or an ablative of specification with mināx. mināx … Ōrīōn: the hunter Orion is not normally thought of as a son of Jupiter, but of Poseidon and Euryale (Hes. fr. 148(a) M.-W.) or of the earth (Apollod. 1.25f.). Ovid has an odd story by which Orion was conceived without a mother, through the mixing of semen from Zeus, Poseidon, and Hermes (Ov. Fast. 5.493–536). So he still counts for the purposes of Juno’s tirade as one of her husband’s illegitimate children. Orion  is a violent, unsavory man (mināx), an interloper in heaven, and so in Juno’s view much like Hercules.

13 Perseus aureus: Perseus is called “golden” because Jupiter appeared to his mother Danaë in the form of a shower of gold (as shown on a 5th c. Boeotian krater). The -eu- in Perseus is a diphthong (unlike the -eu- in aureus, which are separate vowels).  suās … stēllās: plural because more than one star forms the constellation Perseus.

14 geminī …. Tyndaridae: nominative, in apposition to clāra … signa. These are Castor and Pollux (i.e., the constellation Gemini), Jupiter’s sons by Leda, also known as the Dioscuri or “sons of Zeus.” Here they are called by the Greek patronymic Tyndaridae, referring to their mortal stepfather Tyndareus.

15 quibusque nātīs: dative = nātī quibus, “those children for whom.” The antecedent has been attracted into the relative clause. These are Latona’s children Apollo and Diana, i.e., the sun and the moon. The sun is of course not visible to Juno in the night sky, but by mentioning both sun and moon Seneca gains a parllelism in his list of Jupiter’s illegitimate children: two heroic sons (Orion and Perseus, 12–13), and two sets of twins (Castor and Pollux and Apollo and Diana). mōbilis tellūs: Juno attempted to punish Latona by forbidding any land to allow her to give birth. The island of Delos was imagined to float in the sea, and so escaped Juno’s prohibition. In gratitude for allowing her to give birth, Latona fixed Delos in place.

16 nec … tantum: “not only,” emphasizing Juno’s frustration: the sky contains not only Jupiter’s illegitimate son Bacchus and his mother Semele (Bacchī parēns), but also Ariadne.

17 adiēre: an alternate form of adiērunt: Latin poets commonly shorten –ērunt, the third person plural form of the perfect active, to –ērĕ, in part because it provides a useful short syllable. Bacchus and Semele “have gone to” the gods, i.e., joined them: Bacchus rescued his mother from the Underworld after her death and brought her to Olympus to become the goddess Thyone.

17 nē … probrō vacet: introduces a negative purpose clause (AG 531.1). Probrō is ablative of separation after a verb (vacet) that indicates absence or want (AG 401). qua pars: forms of the indefinite pronoun quis often follow the conjunctions sī, nisi, num, and (AG 310.a).

18 puellae … Cnōsiacae: Ariadne is the “girl from Knossos“ on Crete. Bacchus discovered her abandoned on the island of Naxos and took her as his wife, turning her marriage crown (called a serta here) into the constellation Corona, or “Ariadne’s crown.”

tonat tonāre tonuit: to thunder

Iuppiter Iovis m.: Jupiter, Jove

summus –a –um: highest; top (of)

viduus –a –um: without or deprived of a husband or wife

paelex –icis f.: a mistress (who is a rival to a wife) 5

hinc: from here, hence

Arctos –ī f.: Arctos

glaciālis –e: icy

polus –ī m.: pole, heavens

sublīme: loftily, on high

Argolicus –a –um: of Argolis; Argolic; Greek

vēr vēris n.: spring

laxō laxāre laxāvī laxātus: to spread out; open up

Tyrius –a um: of Tyre, Tyrian; crimson (from the purple dye produced at Tyre)

vector vectōris n.: one who carries

Eurōpa –ae f.: Europa (name)

niteō nitēre nituī: to shine

illinc: from there 10

ratis ratis f.: raft; boat

grex gregis m.: herd, flock

passim: here and there

vagō –āre: to wander

exserō –ere –uī –tus: to thrust out; expose

Atlantis –idis f.: Atlantis

mināx –ācis: threatening

hinc: from here, hence

Ōarion –ōnis m.: Orion

Perseus –eī m.: Perseus

hinc: from here, hence

geminus –a –um: twin

Tyndarides –ae m.: a male descendant of Tyndareus, i. e. Castor or Pollux

micō micāre micuī: to vibrate; sparkle

quis quid after si nisi ne or num: anyone/thing, someone/thing

mōbilis –e: loose, changeable; easy to move 15

Bacchus –ī m.: Bacchus; Bacchant; wine

probrum –ī n.: disgrace, scandal

serta –ōrum n.: things entwined; garlands

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