Intrāvit Scythiae multivagās domōs
et gentēs patriīs sēdibus hospitās,
calcāvitque fretī terga rigentia535
et mūtīs tacitum lītoribus mare.
illīc dūra carent aequora flūctibus,
et, quā plēna ratēs carbasa tenderant,
intōnsīs teritur sēmita Sarmatīs.
stat pontus, vicibus mōbilis annuīs,540
nāvem nunc facilis, nunc equitem patī.
illīc quae viduīs gentibus imperat,
aurātō religāns īlia balteō,
dētrāxit spolium nōbile corporī
et peltam et niveī vincula pectoris,545
victōrem positō suspiciēns genū.
For Hercules’ ninth Labor, he took the Belt of Hippolyte, Queen of the Amazons.
This section ends with Hippolyte surrendering her Belt, but more space is allotted to a description of the Amazons’ northern territory in Scythia. In keeping with an ode addressed to Fortune, which is stereotypically changeable, Seneca focuses on changes: the nomadic Amazons change their homes from year to year, the waters in their territory freeze and thaw with the changing seasons, and, finally, Hippolyte changes from a proud queen to a humble suppliant.
533 intrāvit … domōs: in poetry this verb occasionally means “go among”: Hercules came to the Amazons’ territory (to get the Belt of Hippolyte) and “went among” their homes. But the verb much more frequently means “enter,” often by force, and intrāvit ... domōs is quite naturally read as “he entered their homes.” Given this, and the Amazons’ famous hostility to men, there may be a hint of sexual boasting here: in the Chorus’s version, Hercules “forced his way into” the Amazons’ homes. Scythiae: the Amazons were sometimes said to live around the River Thermodon south of the Black Sea and sometimes, as here, north of the Black Sea in Scythia. multivagās domōs: the Amazons, like all inhabitants of Scythia, were nomads. Seneca’s description here is adapted from Horace, Odes 3.24.9–10 (which uses the same meter as Seneca’s ode): Scythae, / quōrum plaustra vagās rīte trahunt domōs (“the Scythians, whose custom it is to haul the wandering homes with wagons”).
534 et gentēs patriīs sēdibus hospitās: “and clans that are strangers in their fathers’ dwellings.” This again refers to the nomadic behaviour of the Amazons, who do not maintain a single dwelling place from generation to generation. patriīs: > patrius –a –um, not the noun patria –ae (which, in fact, was originally an abbreviation of patria terra, “father’s land”).
535 fretī: “the sea” (LS fretum II), i.e., the Black Sea. rigentia: “frozen.” As is common in poetry, Seneca uses a present active participle as a synonym for an adjective (rigida). In modern times the Sea of Azov, the northern extremity of the Black Sea, typically freezes over for from two months (at the Kerch Strait) to four months (at Taganrog Bay).
536 The silence of the frozen Black Sea is vividly expressed with elaborate word order (see 200n.), alliteration and assonance (especially of “m”, “t”, “u” and “ī”), and the juxtaposition of mūtis tacitum, two words describing silence. mūtīs … lītoribus: ablative absolute, or ablative of cause (AG 404), explaining why the sea is tacitum.
537 This line repeats the themes of the previous two lines: the hardness of the ice (cf. 535 rigentia) and the absence of waves (cf. 363 mūtīs … lītoribus) on the Black Sea. illīc: repeated once more in this section (542) and twice in the next section (550, 552). The repetition helps to structure each section and to connect the two sections together. aequora: “the sea,” a poetic plural. Poets frequently use this plural to mean “the sea.” flūctibus: ablative of separation (AG 401) following the verb carent.
538 plēna … carbasa: “full sails.” The unusual “heterogeneous” noun (AG 106) carbasus –ī is second declension but feminine in the singular, and second declension neuter in the plural (carbasa –ōrum). tenderant: pluperfect (the usual form would have a reduplicated first syllable: tetenderant).
539 teritur sēmita: “a path is worn” across the snow and ice of the frozen Black Sea. intōnsīs … Sarmatīs: either ablative of means (instead of the expected ablative of agent with ab: AG 405) or a dative of agent, which is often used with passive verbs in poetry (AG 375). The Sarmatians were a confederation of Iranian nomadic tribes who consolidated their power in the northern Black Sea steppe in the 4th to 2nd centuries BCE. In the 1st century BCE, they were allies of the Pontic king Mithradates VI during his war with Rome. Thereafter, the northern Pontic littoral was called Sarmatia, and the group was often mentioned by Latin poets. Their “unshorn” hair is a symbol of their lack of civilization. Compare Ovid’s description of the Getae (another Scythian tribe) as intōnsīs ... Gētīs (Epistulae ex Ponto 4.2.2). Alliteration of “t” and “s” perhaps suggests the sharp sounds of the Sarmatians trudging through the snow.
540–41 The Chorus elaborates on the theme of the previous lines, describing the yearly freezing and thawing of the Black Sea with two balanced phrases to express the seasonal change (stat … mōbilis and nāvem nunc … nunc equitem). This phenomenon was fascinating for Greeks and Romans, whose direct experience was with the warm Mediterranean.
540 “The sea stands still but alters with the changes of the year.” stat … mōbilis: in addition to the contrast between stillness and motion, Seneca exploits a double meaning for each word. The sea both “stands still” (when it is frozen in the winter) and “stands unchanged” (because it is the same sea, whether frozen in winter or thawed in summer). The sea also is “mobile” (when it is thawed in the summer) and “changeable” (because it changes from frozen to liquid). vicibus ... annuīs: changes of season are often called vicēs, as in Horace’s description of the arrival of spring in Odes 1.4.1: Solvitur acris hiēms grātā vice vēris et Favōnī (“fierce winter relaxes with the pleasant change of spring and the West Wind”).
541 facilis … patī: the Black Sea is “willing to bear” both ships and horsemen (LS facilis II.B.1.b). The full expression would be [pontus] nunc facilis nāvem patī, nunc facilis equitem patī. patī (> patior) explains the way in which the sea is facilis; such infinitives after adjectives are common in poetry (AG 461). Note the balance created by anaphora and chiasmus (nāvem nunc … nunc equitem), and the alliteration of “n.”
542–46 Continuing the sexual innuendo of 533 intrāvit … domōs (see n.), here Hippolyte is on bended knee looking up at Hercules, having taken off not only her famous Belt for him, but also her shield and body armor described as “the bonds of her snow white breast” (niveī vincula pectoris). In some versions of the myth, Hercules takes the Belt by force; in others, Hippolyte surrenders it as ransom for her sister Melanippe (see Ps.-Apollodorus 2.5.9 and Diodorus Siculus 4.16.3). Seneca suggests both versions with 544 dētrāxit spolium nōbile corporī: normally a phrase like this would describe a victor stripping the armor from a defeated enemy’s body, but here it is Hippolyte herself who removes her own armor.
542 quae … imperat: “she who commands,” i.e., Hippolyte, ruler of the Amazons. The main clause does not begin until line 544, dētrāxit. viduīs: “unmarried, spousless,” rather than widowed (LS viduus I.B). Compare the earlier description of Hippolyte: 246 rēgīna gentis vidua Thermōdontiae. viduīs gentibus is dative after imperat (AG 367).
543 The Belt of Hippolyte is introduced in a sonorous line filled with diphthongs and long vowels. By positioning the words aurātō … balteō at the ends of the line, Seneca has the Belt surround Hippolyte’s waist (īlia) on the page, just as it does in reality. Ovid describes the Belt in similar language as a “belt engraved with gold” (caelātus balteus aurō, Heroides 21.121 and Metamorphoses 9.189).
544 nōbile: “celebrated, renowned.” corporī: a dative of separation (AG 381) after dētrāxit.
545 peltam: a lightweight shield in the shape of a crescent moon, associated with Thracians and other “barbarous” peoples.
546 victōrem: Hercules. positō … genū: “with her knee placed [on the ground]”; Ovid uses this phrase several times to describe a person on bended knee.
Scythia –ae f: Scythia
multivagus –a –um: wandering far or often
patrius –a –um: father's, paternal; ancestral
hospitus –a –um: friendly, hospitable; foreign, strange
calcō calcāre calcāvī calcātus: to tread upon; oppress, spurn
fretum fretī n.: strait, channel; the sea
rigeō –ēre: to be stiff, numb; stiffen
mūtus –a –um: inarticulate, silent
tacitus –a –um: silent
ratis ratis f.: raft; boat
carbasus –ī f. (pl. carbasa –ōrum n.): linen, canvas; sail
intōnsus –a –um: unshaven, uncut (hair/beard/wool)
terō terere trīvī trītum: to rub, wear; use up; tread often, visit
sēmita –ae f.: way, path
Sarmata –ae m.: a Sarmatian
vicis vicis f.: change, alternation; turn
mōbilis –e: loose, changeable; easy to move
annuus –a –um: of the year, yearly
viduus –a –um: without or deprived of a husband or wife
aurātus –a –um: golden
religō religāre religāvī religātus: to tie up, bind, fasten
īlia –ium n. pl.: the groin, flank; belly
balteus –ī: belt
dētrahō –ere –trāxī –tractum: to take away from, remove, withdraw
spolia –ōrum n.: plunder; hide (of an animal), arms
pelta –ae f.: a light crescent–shaped shield
niveus –a –um: snowy; snow-white
suspiciō suspicere suspexī suspectus: to look up; respect; suspect
genū genūs n.: knee