MEG. Ēmerge, coniūnx, atque dispulsās manū
abrumpe tenebrās. nūlla sī retrō via280
iterque clausum est, orbe dīductō redī,
et quidquid ātrā nocte possessum latet
ēmitte tēcum. dīrutīs quālis iugīs
praeceps citātō flūminī quaerēns iter
quondam stetistī, scissa cum vastō impetū285
patuēre Tempē — pectore impulsus tuō
hūc mōns et illūc cessit, et ruptō aggere
novā cucurrit Thessalus torrēns viā —
tālis, parentēs līberōs patriam petēns,
ērumpe rērum terminōs tēcum efferēns,290
et quidquid avida tot per annōrum gradūs
abscondit aetās redde, et oblītōs suī
lūcisque pavidōs ante tē populōs age.
indigna tē sunt spolia, sī tantum refers
quantum imperātum est.
Megara implores Hercules to return from the Underworld, by force if necessary.
Her speech is marked by intense emotion and violent language, like similar scenes expressing the inner turmoil of heroic figures in Seneca. Emphatic imperatives at the starts of lines (ēmerge, abrumpe, ēmitte, ērumpe) punctuate the speech in a lively, personal fashion, but taper off as the speech continues and Megara regains control of herself in the second half (295–308).
279 ēmerge, 280 abrumpe, 281 redī, 282 ēmitte: the imperatives are more forceful than the jussive subjunctives that Amphitryon had just used at the end of his speech to also ask for Hercules’ return (277–78 adsīs … remeēs … veniās): the emotional pitch of the scene thus increases.
279–80 dispulsās … tenebrās: “dispelled shadows.” The verb dispellō is rare, but used by Livy (22.6.9) to describe a mist dispelled by the sun. Here the dispelling happens manū, “by force” (LS manus II.A.2), ablative of instrument (AG 398).
280 nūlla ... retrō via: “no way back”
281 orbe dīductō: ablative absolute (AG 419). Dīdūcō is usually used much less violently of things that can be separated or divided, like clouds, or the arms in dancing (LS dīdūcō). Here the whole world is hyperbolically said to be torn asunder to make a path out of the Underworld.
282–83 et quidquid ... ēmitte tēcum: the generalizing quidquid emphasizes our ignorance of the Underworld, and thus perhaps the special danger of wishing to blindly unleash its contents into the world. Megara elaborates on this idea at 291–95, repeating et quidquid. The thought of Hercules unleashing the Underworld is horrifying; the fact that Megara asks for it twice is testament to the wild despair she feels.
283–89 quālis ... tālis: Megara continues in prayer style – “as before, so now.” The main verb, stetistī, is delayed until 285, where meter naturally emphasizes it. Other writers also credit Hercules with opening the Vale of Tempe in Thessaly for the river Peneus to flow through (Lucan, Civil War 8.1). Note the parallel between making a path for the Ocean at Gibraltar (238), the creation of the Tempe pass, and the escape from the Underworld.
283 iugīs: “mountain ridges.”
284 citātō flūminī: dative of advantage or reference (AG 376) after iter. quaerēns: “obtaining,” rather than “seeking” (LS quaero II.B.1). Megara macabrely imagines the souls of the dead flooding out of the Underworld as the river Peneus flowed to the sea when Hercules gave it an opening.
284 quaerēns … stetistī: Megara creates a more impressive scene by saying that Hercules “stood obtaining,” rather than that he simply “obtained.” Hercules stood immovable while the mountain ridges split open in front of him.
285–86 scissa … Tempē: Tempē is indeclinable neuter plural. vastō impetū: ablative of means (AG 398).
286 patuēre: syncopated perfect = patuērunt > pateō
287 hūc … et illūc cessit: “moved (apart) in one direction and the other.” ruptō aggere: ablative absolute (AG 419); agger is normally a man-made rampart or barrier, but the poets can use it to refer to mountains (LS agger II.A).
289 parentēs līberōs patriam: the asyndeton (AG 323) emphasizes that Hercules is currently unable to enjoy everything that the Chorus said mattered to them in the first choral ode.
290 rērum terminōs: “the boundaries of nature.” By breaking out of the Underworld, Hercules would also displace the natural barriers that divide it from the upper world.
291 quidquid: the object of both abscondit and redde. avida: modifies aetās. Death was often identified as greedy (see 555–56 Mors avidīs pallida dentibus / gentēs innumerās mānibus intulit). Tot per annōrum gradūs: “through the footsteps of so many years,” i.e., through all time—a striking metaphor without parallel in extant Latin poetry.
292-93 oblītōs suī / lūcisque pavidōs: the dead have forgotten themselves (suī) after drinking from the river Lethe and now cower at the light of the upper world. The genitive with oblīvīscor is regular, but the objective genitive with pavidusis found mostly in poetry (LS pavidus I.β).
294–95 indigna tē: the pronoun is ablative, the normal case after dignus or indignus (LS indignus I.A). sī tantum refers / quantum imperātum est: “if you bring back only as much as was commanded [to you],” i.e., only Cerberus. Tantum and quantum are correlatives (AG 152).
ēmergō –gere –si –sum: to come out of the water, emerge
dispellō –ere –pulī –pulsus: to drive away; separate
abrumpō abrumpere abrūpī abruptum: to break off, sever
clausum –ī n.: enclosure
dīdūcō –dūcere –dūxī –ductum: to draw apart, separate
āter atra atrum: black
possideō –ēre –sēdī –sessus: to have, hold, own
ēmittō ēmittere ēmīsī ēmīssus: to send out, release
dīruō –ere –uī –utus: to overthrow
praeceps praecipitis: headlong; downhill, steep
citō –āre –āvī –ātum: to set in motion, urge on; call, summon
scindō scindere scidī scissum: to cut, rend, tear asunder
vāstus –a –um: empty, desolate; vast
Tempē indecl. n.: Tempe (valley)
impulsus –ūs m.: an impelling; shock
illic illaec illuc: pron., that person or thing
agger aggeris m.: mound, rampart
Thessalus –a –um: Thessalian
torrens –ntis m.: a rushing stream, torrent
ērumpō ērumpere ērūpī ēruptus: to break out, burst out
terminus –ī m.: boundary line; limit
efferō efferre extulī ēlātus: to carry out
avidus –a –um: eager; greedy; hungry
abscondō abscondere abscondī and abscondidī absconditus: to put out of sight, hide
oblīvīscor oblīvīscī oblītus sum: to forget
pavidus –a –um: scared, frightened
indīgnus –a –um: unworthy (of)
spolia –ōrum n.: plunder; hide (of an animal), arms