Quid ista prōsunt? orbe dēfēnsō caret.
sēnsēre terrae pācis auctōrem suae250
abesse. rursus prōsperum ac fēlīx scelus
virtūs vocātur; sontibus pārent bonī,
iūs est in armīs, opprimit lēgēs timor.
ante ōra vīdī nostra truculentā manū
nātōs paternī cadere rēgnī vindicēs255
ipsumque, Cadmī nōbilis stirpem ultimam,
occidere; vīdī rēgium capitī decus
cum capite raptum. — quis satis Thēbās fleat?
Amphitryon laments that, for all the fame of Hercules’ exploits, they have not brought security to him or his family. Hercules is either stuck in the Underworld, or still obliged to serve Juno and Eurystheus. Meanwhile, Amphitryon has lost his kingdom to the usurper Lycus.
249 quid ista prōsunt: supply illī: “how do those accomplishment benefit (him)?” orbe dēfēnsō caret: “he lacks the world that has been defended (by him),” because he is in the Underworld. careō governs an ablative, as usual. For the meaning “to be kept away (from a place)” see OLD careo 2.c.
250 sēnsēre: syncopated perfect > sentiō = sensērunt. The upper world “has felt” Hercules’ absence because the peace and moral order he underwrote have collapsed (251–53), as seen especially in the murder of Creon by Lycus (254–58).
251–53 A general statement that successful crime is now considered virtūs is followed by three variations on the theme. They are typically abrupt and pointed Senecan remarks, excellent illustrations of the vigor of his style. They forcefully express the moral confusion of Seneca’s tragic universe.
251 rursus: with Hercules gone, vice is allowed to prosper “once again” (LS rursus II.B).
In all manuscripts the word terrīs is found here (e.g., Par. Lat. 11855, 4th column, 6th line from the top; note that terrae in the line above is abbreviated in a standard way as t’re). But the repetition from terrae in the previous line is very clumsy (“the earth has felt that Hercules is gone from the earth”). In fact, terrae in 250 probably led the scribe to accidentally repeat the word in the line directly below. The most plausible correction is rursus (proposed by Wilamowitz), which reinforces the key idea, that Hercules’ absence has caused a moral breakdown.
252 virtūs: predicate nominative after the linking verb vocātur.
254, 257 ante ōra vīdī nostra … vīdī: the sons of Creon died while Amphitryon watched. In ancient thought, emotions were closely connected with sight; even hearing about a powerful scene could produce a mental image of that scene and thereby provoke an emotional response. Amphitryon was affected by the suffering he saw and wants his audience to be similarly affected. %% ante ōra is used with great pathos three times in the Aeneid to describe parents watching their children dying or being buried (1.95, 2.663, 6.308), and Seneca evokes similar emotion here.
254 truculentā manū: ablative of means (AG 398). The hand belongs to Lycus.
255 paternī … rēgnī vindicēs: “as they defended their father’s kingdom.”
256 ipsumque: the accusative subject of occidere, referring to Creon. Cadmī nōbilis stirpem ultimam: the genealogy of the descendants of Cadmus (the legendary first king of Thebes) is complicated, but Creon is a descendent of Cadmus, and may be called his “last” descendent for rhetorical purposes.
257 rēgium capitī decus: “the royal adornment of his head” (Fitch 2018), i.e. a crown. capiti could be felt as a dative with a verb of taking away, rapio, “(snatched) from the head” (AG 381), or as a dative of purpose with decus (“an ornament for the head”) (AG 382.2).
258 cum capite: Creon lost both his crown and his head. Quis … fleat: potential subjunctive in a rhetorical question, expecting the answer “no one.”
dēfēnsō –āre –āvī –ātum: defend, protect
prōsper –or –more frequently –prōsperus –a –um: favorable, auspicious
sōns –sontis: hurtful; guilty
parō parāre parāvī parātus: to make equal
opprimō opprimere oppressī oppressus: to press on or down; overwhelm
truculentus –a –um: ferocious; n. pl. as subst., ferocity
paternus –a –um: fatherly
vindex –icis m.: champion, defender; avenger
Cadmus –ī m.: Cadmus
stirps stirps f.: stem
raptō raptāre raptāvī raptātus: to seize violently; drag
Thēbae –ārum f.: Thebes