Thēbīs laeta diēs adest.875
ārās tangite supplicēs,
pinguēs caedite victimās;
permixtae maribus nurūs
sollemnēs agitent chorōs;
cessent dēpositō iugō880
arvī fertilis incolae.
pāx est Herculeā manū
Aurōram inter et Hesperum,
et quā sōl medium tenēns
umbrās corporibus negat;885
quodcumque alluitur solum
longō Tēthyos ambitū,
Alcīdae domuit labor.
trānsvectus vada Tartarī
pācātīs redit īnferīs.890
iam nūllus superest timor;
nīl ultrā iacet īnferōs.
— Stantēs sacrificus comās
dīlēctā tege populō.
The Chorus celebrates Hercules’ triumphant return. Hercules’ Labors have created peace throughout the world.
875 Thēbīs: dative plural, after the compound verb adest. Like many Greek and Roman cities, Thēbae is a plural noun. laeta dies: i.e., the day of Hercules’ return.
876–79 The excitement of the Chorus is suggested by a repeated pattern in these lines: an adjective and noun at the start and the end of the line, with a verb (lines 876–77, 879) or another noun (878) in the center.
876 ārās … supplicēs: supplicātiō was a religious action that either asked for a favor or gave thanks for a benefit: in this case, the Thebans are thanking the gods from Hercules’ safe return.
878 maribus: > mās, maris (“a male”), not mare, maris (“the sea”). nurūs: the basic meaning of nurus, nurūs is “daughter-in-law,” but in poetry it is used freely to mean “young woman.”
879 sollemnēs agitent chorōs: “[let them] break into festive dances” (Fitch 2018). The adjective describes religious activity that can range from “solemn” to “festive.” Choral dancing would be the latter. See Vergil, Georgics 4.533 chorōs lūcīs agitābat in altīs.
880 cessent: another jussive subjunctive (like agitent 879). The subject is the incolae in the next line, who will stop plowing and “be at leisure” (LS cesso II.A).
881 incolae: “farmers,” “tillers.” The (masculine first declension) noun usually means “inhabitant.” But it is derived from the verb colō, colere, which means “to cultivate” land, and therefore “to inhabit” an area (for an agricultural society like Rome, inhabiting often automatically entailed farming).
882–87 Hercules’ Labors were understood as bringing peace and civilization to the world by defeating various monsters. To emphasize this idea, the description of the world at peace is bounded by the key words pāx … labor.
882 Herculeā manū: ablative of cause (AG 404), explaining why there is peace in the world. Often manus carries the specific sense of “the hand as the instrument used in fight,” and therefore, by metonymy, “valor” (LS manus II.a).
883 Aurōram inter et Hesperum: translate inter first. This triumphant reference to the East and West (Aurora, goddess of the dawn, and Hesperus, the evening star) ominously recalls the description of the sunset and sunrise that surround all mortal things on earth which are doomed to die (871–72). Seneca’s Roman audience perhaps pondered this complex image of universal peace/mortality along with thoughts of their own (supposedly) universal empire.
884 medium tenēns: “occupying the middle region of the sky.” This refers to the tropics, which was considered the middle of five zones on the Earth (with two temperate zones and two Arctic zones to the North and the South). The ancients were aware that at the equator the sun would cast no shadow whatsoever at certain times.
885 corporibus: dative indirect object of negat.
886–87 i.e., the entire world: the Greeks and Romans imagined that the Earth was surrounded by a great ocean (most famously, in the description of the Shield of Achilles, Iliad 18.478–608), here referred to with the name of the goddess Tethys, wife of Oceanus and mother of the various marine divinities.
886 solum: the neuter noun (“ground, land, region”) can be distinguished from the adjective sōlus, -a, -um (“alone”) by the length of the first syllable.
888 Alcīdae: the patronymic derives from Hercules’ paternal grandfather, Alcaeus. It is a Greek first declension noun with several distinctive endings, but the genitive ending is the familiar –ae (AG 44). domuit: the object is quodcumque … solum in line 886.
889 trānsvectus: the passive voice of vehō, vehere (and its compounds) is the standard way of describing travel by horse, chariot, boat, etc.; here, it describes Hercules crossing “the waters of the Underworld” (vada Tartarī) to enter the land of the dead.
891–92 The Chorus’s point is that Hercules’ Labors must necessarily be finished, since there is no place “beyond the Underworld” to which he could travel for a more difficult task. But if we understand ultrā as referring to degree (LS ultra I.B.2), rather than distance, we may hear an ominous hint of the murders he is about to commit, which are “beyond” (i.e., more extreme than) his trip to the Underworld.
893–94 These lines are addressed to Hercules, who has just entered and will begin Act IV by announcing his intention to make a sacrifice while wearing a poplar wreath (line 912). stantēs … comās: Hercules’ hair is not exactly “standing on end,” but simply “shaggy” or “unkempt” (cf. 468 horrentēs comae). dīlēctā tege populō: the poplar is associated with Hercules throughout Latin poetry, and so is “beloved” to him here. Wearing a wreath to sacrifice was a Greek custom. At Roman sacrifices, the priest would cover his head with his toga, which perhaps explains the slightly odd idea of “covering” hair with a wreath.
Thēbae –ārum f. pl.: Thebes
supplex supplicis: suppliant; humble, beseeching
pinguis pingue: fat, rich; dull, quiet
victima –ae f.: sacrificial animal; victim
permisceō –ēre –miscuī –mixtus: to mingle, mix; confuse
mās maris m.: a male
nurus –ūs f.: a daughter–in–law; young woman, married woman
sollemnis –e: annual; established, customary; religious, solemn, festive
chorus –ī m.: a dance (in a circle); a troop of dancers or singers
cessō cessāre cessāvī cessātus: to delay; cease; be idle
dēpōnō dēpōnere dēposuī dēpositus: to put down, lay aside
fertilis –e: productive, fruitful
incola incolae m.: inhabitant
Herculeus –a –um: of Hercules; Herculean
Aurōra Aurōrae f.: dawn, morning; Aurora; the East
Hesperus –ī m.: Hesperus (evening star)
adluō –ere –luī: to wash against; bathe
solum –ī n.: ground, land, region
Tēthys Tēthyos f.: Tethys (sea-goddess)
ambitus –ūs m.: a going around, revolution; circuit
Alcīdēs –ae. m.: a descendant of Alceus; Hercules
domō domāre domuī domitus: to tame, subdue
trānsvehō trānsvehere –vēxī –vectum: to carry across; transport
vadum –ī n.: shallow; ford, body of water
Tartarus –ī m. or Tartara –ōrum n.: Tartarus
pācō pācāre pācāvī pācātus: to make peaceful, quiet; pacify, subdue
inferī –ōrum m.: the dead; the lower world
sacrificus –a –um: sacrificial; making a sacrifice
pōpulus –ī f.: poplar tree; wreath of poplar