Intus immēnsō sinū
placidō quiēta lābitur Lēthē vadō680
dēmitque cūrās; nēve remeandī amplius
pateat facultās, flexibus multīs gravem
involvit amnem, quālis incertā vagus
Maeander undā lūdit et cēdit sibi
īnstatque dubius lītus an fontem petat.685
palūs inertis foeda Cōcȳtī iacet;
hīc vultur, illīc lūctifer būbō gemit
ōmenque trīste resonat īnfaustae strigis.
Theseus describes some of the traditional places in the Underworld, including Lethe, the river of forgetfulness, and Cocytus, the river of mourning.
As the river that prevents escape from the Underworld, Lethe takes the place of Virgil’s Styx. See Aeneid 6.438–39 trīstisque palūs inamābilis undae / alligat et noviēs Styx interfūsa coercet.
679 immēnso sinū: locative ablative (AG 426) governed by intus
680 placidō … vadō: ablative of manner (AG 412). The image of a gently flowing river is suggested by the repetition of soft consonant sounds (lābitur Lēthē vadō) and by a short syllable instead of the usual long syllable at the start of the 3rdfoot (quiētă), allowing the line to flow smoothly along. Note also the “Golden line” word order (adjective A - adjective B - verb - noun B - noun A).
681 dēmitque cūrās: the Lethe takes away memories, and thus cares.
681–82 nēve … pateat: “so the possibility of returning will not be available any longer,” a negative purpose clause (AG 529). nēve is nē + the enclitic –ve, used as the equivalent of nec in various negative clauses containing subjunctives or imperative (LS nēve).
682 flexibus multīs: instrumental ablative (AG 408)
683–84 quālis … Maeander: quālis compares the Styx to the Maeander in Asia Minor, the modern Büyük Menderes River in Turkey. This river was famous for its many twists and turns and is the source of the English word “meander.” incertā … undā: ablative of means with lūdit.
684 cēdit sibi / īnstatque: the river “gives way to itself” (bending back) and then goes forward again. It moves alternately forwards towards the coast (lītus) and backwards towards its source (fontem).
685 dubius… an… petat: indirect question (AG 573), “uncertain whether it should seek…”
%% 686-88 Seneca uses a different patterned word order to contrast the stagnant Cocytus river with the gently flowing Lethe. In contrast to the “Golden line” of 680, 686 features interlocking nominatives (palūs … foeda) and genitives (inertis … Cōcȳtī) with a verb meaning “standing still” at the end. Vultures and owls were considered ill-omened birds in the ancient world, despite the fact that owls are actually quite cute. Because the strix was īnfausta, its call could also be considered a bad omen. The vultur, būbō, and strix are also grouped together in a less serious context by Ovid, in a poem where he curses writing tablets that carried an invitation to his girlfriend which she rejected (Amores 1.12.19–20).
intus: within, inside
immēnsus –a –um: immeasurable, boundless, vast
placidus –a –um: gentle, calm; pleasant
quiētus –a –um: at rest, inactive, peaceful
lābor labī lapsus sum: to glide, slip
Lēthē –ēs f.: Lethe
vadum –ī n.: shallow; ford, body of water
dēmō dēmere dēmpsī dēmptus: to remove
neu or neve: or not, and not; nor
remeō remeāre remeāvī remeātus: to go back, return
amplius: further, more, in addition
facultās facultātis f.: means, ability, skill
flexus –ūs m.: a bending, turning
involvō –ere –volvī –volūtus: to roll to or upon; envelop, cover
incertus –a –um: uncertain
Maeander –drī m.: Maeander, a river of Ionia
lūdō lūdere lūsī lūsus: to play, frolic; mock
īnstō īnstāre īnstitī īnstatūrus: to stand upon; approach, threaten
palūs –ūdis f.: swamp, marsh
iners: unskilled; idle; sluggish
Cōcȳtus –ī m.: Cocytus, river in the Underworld
vultur (volt–) vulturis m.: vulture
lūctifer, -a, -um: mournful; grief-bringing
būbō –ōnis m.: owl
gemō gemere gemuī: to sigh, groan
ōmen ōminis n.: sign, portent
resonō resonāre resonāvī resonātus: to make noise again, resound, re-echo
īnfaustus –a –um: unfortunate
strix –gis f.: screech owl