Lycus. Megara. Amphytriōn.
LYC. Urbis regēns opulenta Thēbānae loca
et omne quidquid ūberis cingit solī
oblīqua Phōcis, quidquid Ismēnos rigat,
quidquid Cithaerōn vertice excelsō videt,335
[et bīna findēns Isthmos exīlis frēta]
nōn vetera patriae iūra possideō domūs
ignāvus hērēs; nōbilēs nōn sunt mihi
avī nec altīs inclitum titulīs genus,
sed clāra virtūs. quī genus iactat suum,340
aliēna laudat. rapta sed trepidā manū
scēptra obtinentur; omnis in ferrō est salūs;
quod cīvibus tenēre tē invītīs sciās,
strictus tuētur ēnsis. aliēnō in locō
haud stabile rēgnum est; ūna sed nostrās potest345
fundāre vīrēs iūncta rēgālī face
thalamīsque Megara; dūcet ē genere inclitō
novitās colōrem nostra. nōn equidem reor
fore ut recūset ac meōs spernat torōs;
quod sī impotentī pertināx animō abnuet,350
stat tollere omnem penitus Herculeam domum.
invidia factum ac sermo populāris premet?
ars prīma rēgnī est posse in invidiā patī.
— Temptēmus igitur, fors dedit nōbīs locum:
namque ipsa, trīstī vestis obtentū caput355
vēlāta, iuxtā praesidēs adstat deōs,
laterīque adhaeret vērus Alcīdae sator.
Lycus enters and delivers a monologue (as Hercules will do at 592–617) that reveals his attitude, motivations, and character. He begins by arguing that he possesses a large kingdom thanks to his clāra virtūs (“outstanding personal merit” 340), not any illustrious ancestry (which he does not possess). But he knows his claim to the throne is weak and resolves to solidify his position by marrying Megara—or to destroy her entire family if she refuses.
332–35 regēns ... possideō: Lycus brags about ruling all Boeotia: Thebes itself, the territory to the north bounded by the mountainous region of Phocis, the river Ismenus running south to north past Thebes, and Mount Cithaeron to the southwest of Thebes. The discussion is carefully structured with a threefold repetition of quidquid (each time in a different position in the verse) and three different verbs (cingit, rigat, videt) to describe what the landmarks do: “surround,” “irrigate,” and “overlook.”
333 omne quidquid ūberis … solī: an idiomatic translation will leave out either omne or quidquid (“whatever rich soil,” or “all of the rich soil that”), but the two words complement each other: “whatever” territory there is in Boeotia, Lycus possesses “all” of it. %% The partitive genitive (AG 346) ūberis solī after quidquid seems to have caused confusion early in the poem’s transmission, because all of the manuscripts have the ablative phrase ūbere solō (e.g., Par. Lat. 11855, 1stcolumn, 13th line from the bottom), i.e., “all that slanting Phocis surrounds with its rich soil.” But the territory of Phocis is in fact mountainous, not fertile, so the 19th-century scholar H. T. Karsten proposed the genitive phrase as a correction.
334 oblīqua Phōcis: the mountainous territory of Phocis is described as “slanting.” Ismēnos: a Greek nominative form, ending in a short -ŏs (AG 52).
336 This line appears in the main text of all the surviving manuscripts, but Fitch (1987) and other scholars argue that it should be removed. The line contributes little to the description of Boeotia, which has already had its southern border marked out by Mount Cithaeron in 335. Furthermore, it breaks the pattern of quidquid + finite verbs that was established in the last three lines.
337–41 Men in Greek and Roman literature from the Iliad onwards typically boast of their noble families and glorious deeds (here, genus and virtūs). Lycus, who has no nobility to brag about, disparages nobles as “lazy heirs” and emphasizes his own virtūs. Seneca’s Roman audience would have also understood Lycus’s argument with reference to Roman politics in particular, where a “new man” (see novitās in 348) not from a patrician family could argue that virtūs is more important than lineage.
337–38 nōn … possideō … ignāvus hērēs: “I do not possess … as a lazy heir.” patriae ... domūs: from the adjective pātrius, a, um, not the noun patria.
338 nōn sunt mihi: dative of possession (AG 373). The things that Lycus does not possess are nōbilēs … avī and inclitum … genus.
339 altīs … titulīs: ablative of cause (AG 404) with inclitum. These titulī would suggest “the honorific titles of ancestors a family at Rome would prize” (Fitch 1987), such as consulships or military triumphs, though the word also means the inscriptions on which such titles were listed. altīs is dismissive: “lofty,” “high-sounding.”
340 sed: “but rather,” introducing what Lycus does have. clara virtūs: the combination evokes a cherished, traditional Roman value, public recognition for outstanding merit (virtūs clāra aeternaque habētur, as Sallust puts it in the preface to War with Catiline). quī: “he who…”
341 aliēna: “someone else’s achievements,” implying that the great deeds of ancestors exalt only them, and not their descendants. %% This argument may also be found in Ovid’s contest of Ulysses and Ajax for the arms of Achilles, a debate largely structured around ideas of genus and virtūs. Ulysses similarly dismisses ancestral nobility: Met. 13.140–41 nam genus et proavōs et quae nōn fēcimus ipsī / vix ea nostra vocō (“for lineage and our ancestors and the things which we ourselves have not done, all of this I do not call our possession”).
341–45 Despite his pride in winning power, Lycus is aware that as a usurper his claim to the throne is unstable and must be defended by force.
341 sed: translate at the start of the sentence.
342 obtinentur: equivalent to tenentur, “are held.”
343 quod … sciās: assume an antecedent such as rēgnum: “(that dominion) which you know…”. The subjunctive sciās produces a relative clause of characteristic (AG 534), and introduces indirect statement.
344 tuētur: a deponent; the direct object is [rēgnum] quod in the previous line. aliēnō in locō: i.e., the usurped rēgnumproperly belongs to someone else. The repetition of aliēnus from 341 aliēna laudat suggests a problem for Lycus: he disparages a noble ancestry (since he has none) as “someone else’s achievements,” but the only achievement that he had managed thus far is to rule “in someone else’s place.”
345–47 ūna … Megara: “only Megara.” The prolonged separation of adjective and noun emphasize Lycus’ point that marriage to Megara is the one thing that will set his rule on a firmer foundation.
345 nostrās: modifies vīrēs.
346–47 iūncta rēgālī face / thalamīsque: lit. “joined (to me) by the royal wedding torch and the marriage bed.” The torches used in the wedding procession and the marriage bed are common symbols of marriage in Roman poetry.
347–48 dūcet … nostra: “my newness (to the elite) will take on color from (be excused by) a famous family.” Lycus is not an aristocrat, and so his “newness” to the throne will take on the “color” of nobility from Megara’s royal ancestry. The imagery is probably that of a grape ripening: both Virgil and Ovid use dūcere colōrem (Ecl. 9.49, Met. 3.485) to describe this process). %% For Seneca’s Roman audience novitās would suggest the novus homō (a man who was the first in his family to become consul, such as Cicero). Furthermore, dūcere was the Roman technical term to describe a man marrying a woman, so dūcet here helps to link the planned marriage to its political results.
348 nōn equidem reor: “I certainly don’t think…” Lycus knows that he could kill Megara and her family if she refuses (as he will threaten at 351). But perhaps here we should laugh at the tyrant’s misguided confidence in his charms.
349 fore ut: “that it will be (the case) that”; fore is the common alternative form of the future infinitive fūturum esse, followed by a substantive clause of result (AG 569.3a) with the subjunctives recūset and spernat. torōs: “marriage,” by metonymy, like 347 thalamus.
350 impotentī … animō: “with a headstrong spirit” (LS impotens II.A). pertināx: a predicative adjective describing how Megara would refuse Lycus.
351 stat: supply mihi, “I am determined (to)” (LS sto II.B.c.δ). omnem penitus: the juxtaposition creates emphasis: Lycus would destroy all of Hercules’ house completely.
352–53 In rhetorical fashion, Lycus brings up a potential objection to destroying Hercules’ house, that public opinion would “attack,” or “stop” (premet), this action, and then answers the objection in the next line. Seneca supplies his other bad rulers with versions of this tyrannical attitude towards unhappy subjects: Phoen. 654 (Eteocles) rēgnāre nōn vult, esse quī invīsus timet (“he who fears to be disliked does not wish to rule”), Oed. 703–4 (Oedipus) odia quī nimium timet / rēgnāre nescit (“he who fears hatred too much does not know how to rule”).
352 factum: “the deed,” object of premet
354 locum: “an opportunity”
355–57 Lycus describes the other characters present on stage: Megara and her elderly father-in-law Amphitryon, both taking shelter by an altar or shrine (deōs). The tableau recalls Virgil Aeneid 2.515–25, where the elderly Hecuba and Priam huddle by an altar as Pyrrhus attacks the palace.
355–56 namque: a slightly stronger synonym for nam, but often used in poetry for metrical reasons; here, it prevents the elision that would have happened if Seneca had written nam ipsa. ipsa: Megara. trīstī ... vēlāta: an elaborate description of Megara wearing a veil of mourning: “her head veiled with the sad covering of her clothing.” caput: accusative of relation, the so-called “Greek” accusative (AG 397.b): Megara is literally “veiled with respect to her head.”
356 iuxtā praesidēs … deōs: “beside the protecting gods,” i.e. a shrine of some kind containing images of the gods (OLD deus 3), possibly identical to the templa mentioned in line 506.
357 laterīque adhaeret: “Lycus speaks with contempt of Amphitryon as clinging to a woman’s skirts” (Fitch 1987). It is this figure, and not Jupiter, that Lycus calls the vērus ... sator (“true begetter”) of Hercules. This meaning of sator is highly poetic, and used commonly of Jupiter, whom Vergil calls hominum sator atque deōrum (Aeneid 1.254 and 11.725).
opulentus –a –um: rich, opulent
Thēbae –ārum f.: Thebes
ūber ūberis: fertile
sōlum –ī n.: ground, land, region
oblīquus –a –um: slanting, indirect, covert
Phōcis –idis or –idos f.: Phocis
Ismenus/os -i m.: Ismenus/os (river)
rigō rigāre rigāvī rigātus: to moisten
Cithaerōn –ōnis m.: Cithaeron
vertex verticis m.: peak, summit; whirlpool
excelsus –a –um: elevated
bīnī –ae –a: two by two; two (> bis)
findō findere fidī fissum: to split apart
Isthmus -i m. (Isthmos): Isthmus of Corinth
exilis exile: small, thin
fretum fretī n.: strait, channel; the sea
possideō –ēre –sēdī –sessus: to have, hold, own
ignāvus –a –um: lazy
hērēs hērēdis m. or f.: heir
avus avī m.: grandfather, ancestor
altum altī n.: deep sea; height
inclutus –a –um: famous, glorious
titulus – ī m.: title, label, claim to fame
iactō iactāre iactāvī iactātus: to throw; throw around; boast
aliēnum –ī n.: the property of a stranger
raptō raptāre raptāvī raptātus: to seize violently; drag
trepidus –a –um: agitated, restless, alarmed
scēptrum –ī n.: royal staff; scepter
obtineō obtinēre obtinuī obtentus: to possess
invītus –a –um: unwilling, reluctant
stringō stringere strīnxī strictum: to draw tight, bind fast; draw (from a scabbard, etc.)
tueor tuērī tūtus sum: to look at
ēnsis ēnsis m.: sword
aliēnum –ī n.: the property of a stranger
stabilis –e: steadfast, permanent
rēgālis –e: regal, kingly
thalamus –ī m.: marriage bed; bedchamber
Megara –ōrum n./–ae f.: Megara (wife of Hercules)
inclutus –a –um: famous, glorious
novitās –ātis f.: newness
recūsō recūsāre recūsāvī recūsātus: to refuse
spernō spernere sprēvī sprētum: to reject
torum –ī n. (alsō torus –ī m.): bulge; muscle, knot, bank, cushion
impotens –entis: powerless; lacking control, violent
pertināx –ācis: persevering, stubborn
abnuō abnuere abnuī abnuitūrus: to refuse, deny
penitus or penitē: internally, entirely
Herculeus –a –um: of Hercules; Herculean
tentō tentāre tentāvī tentātus: to try
dēdō dēdere dēdidī dēditus: to give up, surrender
obtendō –ere –tendī –tentus: to stretch before; draw
vēlō vēlāre vēlāvī vēlātus: to cover
iūxtā: near, close
praeses praesidis m. or f.: protector
astō astāre astitī: to stand near/by
adhaereō adhaerēre adhaesī –––: to adhere, stick to
Alcīdēs –ae. m.: a descendant of Alceus; Hercules
sator satōris m.: planter, sower, begetter, father, founder