Labor exoritur dūrus et omnēs
agitat cūrās aperitque domōs.
pāstor gelidā cāna pruīnā
grege dīmissō pābula carpit;140
lūdit prātō līber apertō
nōndum ruptā fronte iuvencus;
vacuae reparant ūbera mātrēs;
errat cursū levis incertō
mollī petulāns haedus in herbā.145
pendet summō strīdula rāmō
pinnāsque novō trādere sōlī
gestit querulōs inter nīdōs
turbaque circā cōnfūsa sonat150
murmure mixtō testāta diem.
crēdit dubius nāvita vītae152bis
laxōs aurā complente sinūs.
hic exēsīs pendēns scopulīs
aut dēceptōs īnstruit hāmōs155
spectat pressā praemia dextrā;
sentit tremulum līnea piscem.
As the sun rises, humans awake to perform their day’s labor while animals and their offspring engage in work and play. The Chorus gives a list of three occupations (shepherd, sailor, fisherman), interrupted by a list of three animals (cows, goats, nightingales).
137–38 Labor exoritur dūrus: Seneca personifies labor: “hard Work rises” when the sun rises. To emphasize this connection between celestial and terrestrial matters, Seneca employs assonance of –or– between this line and the previous one: soror. / Labor exoritur. exoritur: from the deponent exorior, exorīrī (ex + orior: “rise up/out from”). omnēs / agitat cūrās aperitque domōs: ancient authors often described night or sleep releasing humans from their cares; in the morning, Labor “stirs up” those cares again, and “opens” every home as people go out to begin their day’s work. omnēs: this adjective is emphatically placed at the end of the line; we may take it with both cūrās and domōs.
139–40 After releasing his flock for the day, the shepherd “gathers fodder white with cold frost”: he picks leaves from trees and plants in the cold of the early morning as extra food for his flock. This was a common practice in the ancient world, described, for instance, in the agricultural treatise of Cato the Elder (De Re Rustica 30). grege dīmissō: ablative absolute (AG 419) using the perfect passive participle of dīmittō. The prefix dī– means “in different directions”: after being released from their pen, the flock will wander in different directions to graze.
141–51 The playfulness of the animals in these lines contrasts with the hard work of the humans in the rest of this section of the ode. The passage ends with another ominous mythological reference to familial violence (149n.). Each animal in the list is introduced by a line with a similar structure: third person singular verb – ablative noun (or adjective) – nominative adjective – ablative adjective (or noun):
141 lūdit prātō līber apertō
144 errat cursū levis incertō
146 pendet summō strīdula rāmō
Note also that each line begins with the same rhythm (two spondaic disyllables), with variation in the second half of the line.
142 nōndum ruptā fronte: the ablative absolute (AG 419) refers to the horns that have not yet broken through the calf’s forehead. The absence of horns was a stereotypical indication of youth in descriptions of cattle, just at the absence of a beard indicated youth in human boys.
143 vacuae … matrēs: the adjective is a transferred epithet (hypallage): it is the cows’ ūbera which are empty. But vacuus can also have the metaphorical sense of “unoccupied, at leisure,” and so we may also understand that the cows are “free” to relax and refill their udders while their calves play in the meadow. reparant: from re– + parō, parāre: “to make ready again.” The cows’ udders refill so they will be ready again for the calves.
144 errat cursū levis incertō: the rhythm of the line is unusual: only one other line in this ode has the pattern spondee – spondee – anapest – spondee (175). This may suggest the wobbly steps of the young kid: slow movements in the first half of the line, followed by a stumble in the second half. cursū… incertō: ablative of manner (AG 412) to describe how the kid wanders. levis: like līber in line 141, this adjective is predicative: the kid wanders “lightly” on the soft grass (lĕvis, lĕve, “light”, not to be confused with lēvis, lēve, “smooth”).
145 mollī ... in herbā: prepositional phrases, even in prose, often placed the adjective before the preposition. In poetry, the word order is even more variable, and the adjective can be widely separated from the rest of the phrase (as here). petulāns: “boisterous,” “frisky.” This adjective is related to the verb petō, petere in the sense of “go after, attack.” It often has a negative sense of inappropriate aggressiveness (“impudent, pert, wanton”), but here it is more positive.
146–51 This description of a noisy nightingale and her chicks greeting the dawn concludes Seneca’s list of happy animals in springtime. But Seneca dramatically describes the nightingale as “the Thracian mistress”: Thrācia paelex, the subject of the sentence, is delayed until the end and given its own line of verse. This alludes to Philomela, a character in one of the most horrific myths of familial violence from the ancient world. %% Philomela, the sister of Procne, was raped, mutilated, and imprisoned by Procne’s husband Tereus, the king of Thrace. The sisters took revenge by killing Procne’s son and feeding him to his father. The three adults were then transformed into birds (nightingale, swallow, and hoopoe). This myth inspired art and literature in the ancient world and beyond: see, for instance, this Attic wine cup, this painting by Peter Paul Rubens, Ovid’s version in Metamorphoses 6.401–674, and Shakespeare’s adaptation for the rape of Lavinia in Titus Andronicus.
146 pendet: the bird seems to “hang” in midair as it perches on a high tree branch. The thing “on” or “from” which something hangs is regularly indicated by an ablative (by itself, or with the prepositions ab, ex, de, or in). strīdula: “shrill-voiced.” This adjective usually describes harsh or unpleasant sounds, like those made by snakes, elephants, or cicadas. It is a striking description of the nightingale’s song, which was usually considered quite musical.
147 pinnāsque novō trādere sōlī / gestit: “yearns to spread her wings to the new morning.” gestiō + infin. means “to long to, be eager to.” The nightingale is happily doing what she longs to do. Because the verb is related to the noun gestus, gestūs, “gesture,” it is particularly suitable for a description of a bird spreading its wings. The metaphor of the bird or “entrusting” its wings to the morning sun is striking (LS trado I.A.α). It is probably made on analogy with “entrusting” a ship’s sails to the winds: like the ship in 152bis, this nightingale is about to launch. novō … sōlī: dative.
148 querulōs inter nīdōs: Latin poets sometimes imaginatively describe the sounds made by birds as “complaining.” Here, the adjective is especially relevant because the nightingale’s hungry children are complaining for food. But given the mythological reference to Philomela, the baby birds’ complaints may remind us that Philomela was transformed into a bird after helping her sister kill her child and feed him to his father.
149 Thrācia paelex: “the Thracian mistress” (from the adjective Thrācius –a –um). Although Philomela was an Athenian princess, Tereus, her rapist, was king of Thrace. He was also her sister’s husband, and so his actions technically (and forcibly) made Philomela a paelex, a “mistress” in rivalry with her sister. Seneca borrows this savage detail from Philomela’s speech in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (6.537) “paelex ego facta sororis,” “I have been made a mistress in rivalry with my sister.”
150–51 Seneca vividly conveys the energy of a dawn chorus with alliteration of ‘t’, ‘c’, and ‘m’ and repetitive rhythm (each line has the shape dactyl – spondee – spondee – anapest and the same alternation of three and two syllable words). He also fills his description with words indicating noise and confusion: for instance, turba describes a “crowd,” but can also mean, simply, “confusion, turmoil.” Similarly, murmur can describe a variety of sounds, such as the ocean, a lion, birds, or bees, but is also used to describe the confused sounds made by a crowd. confūsa sonat: the adjective is predicative, describing how the birds sing: “make jumbled noises.” testāta diem: “proclaiming (literally: having proclaimed) the day,” perfect participle > testor, testārī, a legal word borrowed for poetry by Horace and Ovid (LS testor I.B).
152–53 Sailing was an activity associated with the coming of spring. Horace begins a famous poem about spring by describing ships being dragged out to the water (Odes 1.4). In that poem, Horace uses spring to meditate on human mortality; Seneca will likewise emphasize the shortness of human life later in this ode.
152 carbasa ventīs / crēdit: “entrusts his sails to the winds.” carbasus –ī is second declension feminine (not masculine) in the singular, and second declension neuter in the plural (carbasa –ōrum) (AG 106). Other poets describe “giving” (dare) or “presenting” (praebēre) sails to the wind. The winds are notoriously untrustworthy, and the dangers of sailing were a common topic in ancient literature, so credit casts the sailor as somewhat foolhardy.
152 dubius … vītae: “uncertain of this life,” i.e. risking his life. Objective genitive with adjectives are common in Latin poetry (AG 349). nāvita: this uncontracted form of nauta is found mostly in poetry; it more clearly shows the relationship of the word to nāvis, “ship.”
153 laxōs … sinūs: the curved surface (sinus) of the sails hangs loose (laxus), until the wind fills them and stretches them taut.
154 hic: a fisherman, contrasted with the sailor in the previous sentence. The demonstrative pronouns hic (masculine nominative singular) and hoc (neuter nominative and accusative singular) usually scan as long in poetry, even though they contain a short vowel. This reflects an emphatic pronunciation of the final “c,” as if the words were spelled hicc and hocc. exēsīs pendēns scopulīs: like the nightingale perched on a branch in line 146, the fisherman seems to “hang” in midair as he perches on a cliff (scopulīs is a poetic plural). The cliff is “hollowed out” or “eroded” by the ocean waves so that it hangs out over the water, allowing for easier fishing.
155 dēceptōs: “caught, ensnared, deceived” (see LS decipio). The participle may have an unusual active sense (“deceptive” instead of “deceived”), meaning that the hooks deceive the fish with their bait. Or the hooks themselves may be “cheated” or “eluded” by the fish, meaning that the fish picked the bait off the hooks without getting caught.
156–58 The rhythm of these lines is expressive. The fisherman’s tense waiting is suggested by the series of slow spondees in the first four words, emphasized by the shortness of the first line. The anapestic tremulum suggests the sudden, exciting movement when a fish is hooked. Alliteration of “s” and “p” contributes to the effect.
156–7 suspēnsus / spectat pressā praemia dextrā: “anxiously gazes upon his catch, his hand closed tight (on the fishing pole).” suspēnsus has a double meaning, as the fisherman “hangs” on the edge of the cliff (recall pendēns in line 154); he is also “anxious,” waiting for a fish to bite (LS suspensus A and B). The feminine of dexter is often used substantively to mean “right hand” (the noun manus is understood). From there, it comes to mean “hand” in general, since the right hand is usually dominant.
158 sentit tremulum līnea piscem: Seneca boldly personifies the fishing line, saying that it “feels the trembling fish.” It would have been more expected to describe the line as “trembling,” for the fisherman to feel the vibration when the fish is hooked, or for the fish itself to feel the line when it suddenly realizes it is caught.
exorior exorīrī exortus sum: to come out, spring up; arise, appear
pāstor pāstōris m.: shepherd
gelidus –a –um: cold, icy
cānus –a –um: white
pruīna –ae f.: frost
grex gregis m.: herd, flock
pābulum –ī n.: food, fodder
carpō carpere carpsī carptum: to pluck, crop, graze, tear off; sieze; enjoy; criticize
lūdō lūdere lūsī lūsus: to play, frolic; mock
prātum prātī n.: meadow
iuvencus –ī m.: young bull, bullock
reparō reparāre –āvī –ātum: to recover, repair, renew
ūber ūberis n.: udder
incertus –a –um: uncertain
petulāns –antis: boisterous; self-assertive; impudent
haedus –ī m.: a young goat, kid
herba herbae f.: grass, herb
pendeō pendēre pependī: to hang, be suspended
summus –a –um: highest; top (of)
strīdulus –a –um: shrill; creaking, hissing
rāmus rāmī m.: branch
pinna –ae f.: feather, wing
gestiō gestīre: to gesticulate; exult, be joyful; long for (+ inf.)
querulus –a –um: complaining
nīdus –ī m.: a nest; nestling
Thrācius –a –um: Thracian
paelex –icis f.: a mistress (who is a rival to a wife)
cōnfūsus –a –um: confused, jumbled
murmur murmuris n.: a low, continuous noise (rumble, growl, hum, etc.)
testor –ātus sum: to testify, proclaim; demonstrate; invoke
carbasus –ī f. (pl. carbasa –ōrum n.): linen, canvas; sail
nāvita –ae m.: sailor
laxus –a –um: wide, loose, spacious
compleō complere complēvī complētus: to fill up
exedō –ere –ēdī –ēsus: to eat out, consume, corrode
pendeō pendēre pependī: to hang, be suspended
scopulus –ī m.: cliff, rock
dēcipiō dēcipere dēcēpī dēceptus: to deceive, cheat
īnstruō īnstruere īnstrūxī īnstrūctus: to build upon; to build; prepare, procure
hāmus –ī m.: a hook
suspendō suspendere suspendī suspēnsum: to hang, suspend; stop; be anxious
tremulus –a –um: trembling
līnea or līnia –ae f.: a string, line
piscis piscis m.: fish