Nōn vōs patriae laudis comitēs
ultī saevōs vulnere rēgēs,
nōn Argīvā membra palaestrā
fortēs caestū fortēsque manū —1125bis
iam tamen ausī
tēlum Scythicīs leve gōrȳtīs
missum certā lībrāre manū,
tūtōsque fugā fīgere cervōs
nōndumque ferae terga iubātae.1130
īte ad Stygiōs, umbrae, portūs
quās in prīmō līmine vītae
scelus oppressit patriusque furor.
īte. īnfaustum genus, ō puerī.1135
nōtī per iter trīste labōris.
— īte, īrātōs vīsite rēgēs.
The Chorus addresses the souls of Hercules’ dead sons, remembering their skill at hunting but lamenting that they will never grow to adulthood and follow in their father’s heroic footsteps. The ode concludes ominously with the Chorus imagining Hercules’ sons going to the Underworld to meet its rulers, who have just been angered by Hercules’ theft of Cerberus.
1122–30 This long sentence first lists two things the boys did not have a chance to do because they died young (punish cruel rulers, as their father did, and train in the palaestra): nōn … ultī (estis) … nōn … doctī (estis). It then names what they did “dare” to do (hunt with bow and arrows): iam tamen ausī (estis) … librāre …fīgere.
1122 vōs: Hercules’ dead sons. patriae laudis comitēs: in apposition to vōs: “companions of your father’s glory” (this is what the sons were not, since they were not yet old enough to join Hercules on his travels). %% The adjective patriae (from patrius –a –um, “paternal) has a short first syllable: the combination –tr– may count as either two consonants (making the previous syllable long) or one (making the previous syllable short).
1123 ultī: add estis to make the perfect deponent of ulciscor, ulciscī, ultus sum. saevōs … rēgēs: Hercules punished many “cruel kings” during his travels (e.g., Busiris), but Hercules’ slaughter of Lycus is probably foremost in the Chorus’s mind.
1124 Argīvā … palaestrā: ablative of place where (AG 426). The adjective means “Greek”: training in a palaestra was a quintessential part of the education of a Greek man. Hercules’ sons were too young to have reached this stage of their education.
1124–25 membra … flectere doctī: again, supply estis: “you were [not yet] taught to control your limbs.” The verb flectere may simply mean “bend,” but is more likely used on analogy with flectere equum, and idiom for controlling a horse’s course.
1125bis caestū … manū: ablatives of specification (AG 418), describing the two (or three) athletic events in which Hercules’ sons could have been fortēs, if they had lived longer: wrestling and the more violent pankration, both fought with bare hands, and boxing, which used the caestus. The caestus was a hard leather glove, sometimes reinforced with metal, designed not only to protect the hands but also to increase the damage of a blow. A famous example of the gloves may be seen on the bronze statue in Rome known as the Thermae Boxer.
1126–30 Like training in the palaestra, hunting was considered a useful part of male education. Young boys would begin by hunting easy prey (rabbits, deer, or, more exotically, lion cubs—see line 1130) before moving on to more dangerous animals.
1126 iam tamen ausī: supply estis: “but already you dared…” The complement of ausī [estis] is tēlum … lībrāre in the next two lines.
1127 tēlum … leve: arrows are stereotypically light in poetry (e.g., the line ending levibusque sagittīs at Aeneid 5.68 and 9.178), but the adjective also emphasizes that arrows are an appropriate weapon for boys. Scythicīs … gōrȳtīs: “from Scythian quivers.” The tribes of Scythia were famed for their archery skills, so archers and archery equipment in Latin poetry was often stereotypically “Scythian.” Here the adjective modifies a very rare synonym of pharetra, borrowed from Greek (it appears in Latin only twice before Seneca). The Greeks in turn may have borrowed γωρυτός from the Scythian language.
1128 missum … lībrāre: Fitch (1987) paraphrases as “to aim and fire.” The participle is proleptic: it describes what the arrow will be after it has been aimed and shot. The verb lībrō, lībrāre can describe either aiming or shooting/throwing a weapon. Given that missum describes the shooting of the arrow, lībrāre probably describes its aiming.
1129 tūtōs … fugā: “whose defense is in flight” (Fitch 2018). tūtōs here means “normally safe” (since the stags that the boys shoot would of course no longer be “safe”). fugā is an ablative of means or cause (AG 404), explaining why the deer are (normally) safe. fīgere cervōs: “to shoot stags.” %% Seneca borrows the phrase from Virgil’s Eclogues, where the shepherd Corydon imagines living in the countryside with his beloved Alexis (Eclogues 2.29, atque humilīs habitāre casās et fīgere cervōs, “and to live in a humble cottage and shoot stags”).
1130 nōndumque ferae terga iubātae: “and the back of a beast not yet with a mane,” i.e., a lion cub. Lion cubs are especially appropriate prey for the sons of Hercules, who wore the hide of the Nemean Lion (his 1st Labor) on his back.
1131–37: The Chorus bids the souls of Hercules’ sons to go down to the Underworld. Their mournful tone is suggested by the frequent repetition of long ī’s, especially in the quadruple anaphora of īte at the start of lines.
1031 ad Stygiōs … portūs: literally, the place where souls would wait to cross the River Styx, but also suggesting the idea of death itself as the harbor reached at the end of a life’s journey (see 1072n.)
1131–32 umbrae … innocuae: the souls of Hercules’ sons. The adjective and noun are widely separated to emphasize the adjective and increase the tragedy of the boys’ untimely death.
1133 in prīmō līmine vītae: i.e., at the very beginning of their life. Seneca’s phrase echoes
Virgil’s tragic picture of the souls of infants, which Aeneas sees in līmine prīmō (“on the threshold”) of the Underworld (Aeneid 6.427).
1134 scelus … patriusque furor: hendiadys, “their father’s criminal madness” (literally “crime and their father’s madness”).
1135 genus: “children” (LS genus II.A)
1136 nōtī per iter trīste labōris: going down to the Underworld, the boys will be following the same route Hercules took for his final Labor, which can thus be described as nōtus, “familiar.”
1137 īrātōs … rēgēs: Pluto and Proserpina (so rēgēs means “rulers”). They are angry because Hercules has recently violated their realm. This provides a bitter conclusion to the ode: not only have the boys died young, and by their father’s hand, but they may expect special torment in the Underworld because of their father’s offense against its rulers.
patrius –a –um: father's, paternal; ancestral
ulcīscor ulcīscī ultus sum: to avenge, punish
Argīvus –a –um: belonging to Argos; Argive
palaestra –ae f.: place for wrestling or exercize
flectō flectere flēxī flexus: to bend; turn, direct; persuade
caestus –ūs m.: gauntlet, boxing-glove
Scythicus –a –um: Scythian
gōrȳtus –ī m.: a quiver
lībrō librāre librāvī librātus: to balance; ain; brandish, swing, shoot, throw
fīgō fīgere fīxī fīxus: to fix, fasten; pierce
cervus –ī m.: a stag, deer
fera ferae f.: wild animal
iubātus –a –um: having a mane or crest
Stygius –a –um: Stygian; pertaining to Styx (river)
portus portūs m.: entrance; harbor, refuge
innocuus –a –um: harmless
opprimō opprimere oppressī oppressus: to press on or down; overwhelm
patrius –a –um: father's, paternal; ancestral
īnfaustus –a –um: unfortunate
īrātus –a –um: angry
vīsō vīsere vīsī vīsus: to visit, go to see; look at