Solvite tantīs animum, ō superī,
rēctam in melius flectite mentem.1064bis
tūque, ō domitor Somne malōrum,
pars hūmānae melior vītae,
volucre ō mātris genus astriferae,
frāter dūrae languide Mortis,
vērīs miscēns falsa, futūrī1070
certus et īdem pessimus auctor,
pāx ō rērum, portus vītae,
lūcis requiēs noctisque comes,
quī pār rēgī famulōque venīs,
pavidum lētī genus hūmānum1075
cōgis longam discere noctem:
placidus fessum lēnisque fovē,
preme dēvīnctum torpōre gravī;
sopor indomitōs alliget artūs,
nec torva prius pectora linquat,1080
quam mēns repetat prīstina cursum.
The Chorus offers a short hymn in praise of Sleep, focusing especially on its close relationship with Death, and prays for the god to keep Hercules asleep until his mind returns to sanity.
After the long honorific address to Somnus (1065–76), the Chorus makes its request of Sleep (1077–81), expressed by imperatives (fovē, preme) and jussive subjunctives (alliget, linquat). The urgency of the request is suggested by several alliterative pairs: fessum … fovē, alliget artūs, prius pectora, and the repeated “p”s and “r”s in repetat prīstina.
1063–64 solvite … solvite: the repetition of the imperative, with its gentle sounds, creates a soothing effect (try lingering on the “s” and “lv” when you pronounce the word). tantīs … mōnstrīs: ablative of separation (AG 400), indicating what the gods should free Hercules’ mind from.
1064bis rēctam in melius flectite mentem: Fitch (1987) translates “guide and turn his mind to a better state,” turning the perfect passive participle rēctam (“having been guided”) into a second verb. This is a good strategy for translating a verb + perfect passive participle, which is a much more common construction in English than in Latin.
1065 Prose order: tūque, ō Somne, domitor malōrum. The repetition of “o” and “m”/”n” seems to suggest the gentle power of sleep.
1068 volucre ō mātris genus astriferae: “o winged child of a starry mother” (Fitch 2018). The mother of Sleep and Death (both gods usually depicted with wings) was Night. For genus = “child, descendant,” a poetic usage, see LS genus II.A.
1069 frāter dūrae languide Mortis: the synchysis brings together the adjectives dūrae and languide, emphasizing the striking fact that “languid” Sleep and “harsh Death” are brothers. The relationship between Sleep and Death is as old as a famous scene in Homer’s Iliad, where the two brothers carry the body of Zeus’s son Sarpedon back to Lycia (Iliad 16.667–84); this scene is depicted on the well-known Euphronios Krater.
1070–71 futūrī / certus et īdem pessimus auctor: “at the same time a reliable and very bad informant about the future”: an elaboration on the idea that Sleep brings both true and false dreams (vērīs miscēns falsa), focusing on the power of dreams to offer both true and false prophecies. īdem: “likewise, at the same time” (LS idem II.A.1) modifies the implied subject, Somnus. auctor: “narrator, reporter, informant.” The basic meaning of auctor, “creator,” was applied to the “author” of a literary work; because authors provide information, the word was subsequently extended to mean a narrator more generally.
1072–73 The sense of the genitives subtly shifts with each phrase: “peace for the world, haven of life, rest from light and companion in darkness” (adapted from Fitch 1987). But Seneca is able to use genitives throughout to create a complicated pattern of repetition and chiasmus: nom. – gen. – nom. – gen. – gen. – nom. – gen. – nom. The pattern is accompanied by alliteration (pāx … portus) and more subtle sound effects: homoeoteleuton of lūcis … noctis and assonance in requiēs … -que comes. 1072 is entirely composed of spondees, suggesting perhaps the peaceful grandeur of Somnus. pāx ō rērum:as often, the plural of rēs means “all things, the world, the universe.” Compare, e.g., the title of Lucretius’ poem Dē rērum nātūrā (“on the nature of the universe”), or Ovid’s praise of Sleep as quiēs rērum in Seneca’s primary model for the section (1065–76n.).
1074 pār: a predicative adjective, describing how Sleep comes to kings and servants.
1075–76 the subject is quī in the previous line: this clause is joined to the clause in 1074 by asyndeton (in English, it is best to join the two by adding “and”).
1075 pavidum lētī: the genitive is objective (AG 347).
1076 longam discere noctem: “to learn about the long night,” i.e., death.
1077 placidus … lēnisque: the adjectives are predicative, and so best translated as adverbs (as usual). The two adjectives for Somnus surround the adjective for Hercules (fessum), thus suggesting the embrace that the Chorus hopes Sleep will grant to Hercules.
1078 torpōre gravī: ablative of means (AG 408), to be taken with both preme and dēvinctum. dēvinctum: from dē- + vinciō, vincīre (“to bind”), not to be confused with dē + vincō, vincere (“to defeat”); this mistake is found in some of the manuscripts, which read dēvictum.
1079 indomitōs … artūs: Hercules’ limbs are “untamed,” even though sleep is traditionally the “tamer of all things” (pandamatōr in Homer, Iliad 24.5, Odyssey 9.373). alliget: continues the imagery of binding suggested by dēvinctum in the previous line.
1080–81 prius … quam: “before” or “until.” The two words are sometimes separated, and sometimes written as one word. They may be followed by either an indicative or a subjunctive (AG 551), here by the subjunctive repetat, perhaps suggesting some uncertainty as to whether Hercules will regain his sanity.
1081 mēns repetat prīstina cursum: Hercules’ mind has gone off course and must be brought back on track. prīstinamodifies mēns, but it is more naturally translated with cursus, as a transferred epithet, otherwise known as hypallage.
mōnstrum mōnstrī n.: monster; omen
melius; optimē: better; best
flectō flectere flēxī flexus: to bend; turn, direct; persuade
domitor –ōris m.: tamer, conquerer
requiēs –ētis or ēī f.: repose, respite
melior melius: better
astrifer –fera –ferum: star-bearing, stary
languidus –a –um: weak, sluggish, feeble
futūrus –a –um: about to be; future
pessimus –a –um: worst
portus portūs m.: entrance; harbor, refuge
requiēs –ētis or ēī f.: repose, respite
famulus –ī m.: servant, attendant
pavidus –a –um: scared, frightened
lētum letī n.: death
placidus –a –um: gentle, calm; pleasant
lēnis –e: soft, mild, gentle
dēvinciō –īre –vinxī –vinctus: to bind fast; bind
torpor torpōris m.: numbness, torpor, listlessness
sopor –ōris m.: deep sleep
indomitus –a –um: untamed, wild
adligō adligāre adligāvī adligātus: to tie to, bind
artus artūs m.: joint; limb
torvus –a –um: keen, stern; wild, savage
linquō linquere līquī: to leave, forsake
prīstinus –a –um: former, previous