Classical Texts Library >> Seneca the Younger, Hercules Oetaeus >> Lines 1-1030


SENECA THE YOUNGER was a Latin playwright and philosopher who flourished in Rome in the late C1st A.D. during the reigns of the emperors Claudius and Nero. His surviving work includes ten tragedy plays, nine of which are based on mythological themes. His authorship of Hercules Oetaeus and Octavia is uncertain.

Seneca. Tragedies . Translated by Miller, Frank Justus. Loeb Classical Library Volumes. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1917.

The Miller translations of Seneca's tragedies are no longer in print having been replaced in the Loeb Classical Library series by those of John Finch. These are available new from Amazon.com (see left below for details). In addition to the translation of the plays, the two volumes contain the source Latin texts, Miller's introduction and footnotes and an index of proper names.



HERCULES, son of Jupiter and Alcmena.
HYLLUS, son of Hercules and Deïanira.
ALCMENA, daughter of Electryon, king of Mycenae.
DEÏANIRA, daughter of Oeneus, king of Aetolia, and wife of Hercules.
IOLE, daughter of Eurytus, king of Oechalia.
NURSE of Deïanira.
PHILOCTETES, a prince of Thessaly, son of Poeas, and the faithful friend of Hercules.
LICHAS, the messenger (personal muta) of Deïanira to Hercules.
CHORUS of Aetolian women, faithful to Deïanira.
CHORUS of Oechalian maidens, suffering captivity in company with Iole.

THE SCENE is laid, first in Euboea, and later at the home of Hercules in Trachin.


The long, heroic life of Hercules has neared its end. His twelve great tasks, assigned him by Eurystheus through Juno’s hatred, have been done. His latest victory was over Eurytus, king of Oechalia. Him he slew and overthrew his house, because the monarch would not give him Iole to wife.
And now the hero, having overcome the world, and Pluto’s realm beneath the earth, aspires to heaven. He sacrifices to Cenaean Jove, and prays at last to be received into his proper home.

[In Euboea, near Oechalia, after the overthrow of Eurytus, king of that city.]

[1] O sire of gods, hurled by whose hand both homes1 of Phoebus feel the thunderbolt, reign thou untroubled; peace have I ‘stablished for thee wherever Nereus forbids the land to extend its bounds. Thou needst not thunder now; false kings lie low, and cruel tyrants. I have crushed all who merited thy bolts. But to me, father, is heaven still denied? Of a surety have I everywhere proved worthy Jove; and that thou art sire of mine my stepdame testifies. Yet why dost still contrive delays? Am I cause of fear? Will Atlas not avail to bear up Hercules placed upon him together with the sky? Why, O father, why dost thou deny the stars to me? Verily hath death given me back to thee; and every evil thing which earth, sea, air, the lower world, produced, hath yielded to my might. No lion prowls amidst Arcadia’s towns; the Stymphalian bird is smitten; the beast of Maenalus2 is no more; the dragon,3 slain, hath sprinkled the golden orchard with his blood; the hydra’s strength is gone; the herds,4 well known to Hebrus, fat with strangers’ blood, have I destroyed, and have brought away Thermodon’s spoils5 of war. The lot of the silent throng have I beheld; and not alone have I returned, but shuddering day hath seen black Cerberus, and he the sun. No longer doth the Libyan Antaeus renew his strength; before his own altars hath Busiris fallen; by my sole hand hath Geryon been o’erthrown, and the bull, dread terror of a hundred tribes. Whatever hostile earth hath ‘gendered is fallen, by my right hand laid low; the anger of the gods hath been set at naught.6

[30] If the earth is done with monsters, if my stepdame is done with wrath, give back now the father to his son, yea, the stars unto the hero. I ask thee not to show the way to me; but grant thy permission, father, and the way I’ll find. Or, if thou fearest that earth shall yet give birth to monsters, let the ill make haste, whate’er it be, while yet the earth doth hold and look on Hercules; for who else will attack evil things, or who, throughout the Argive cities, will be worthy Juno’s hate? I have my honours safe bestowed; there is no land but sings my praise. The race that shivers ‘neath the Scythian Bear7 hath known me; the sun-scorched Indian and the tropic African. O glowing Sun, bear witness: I have encountered thee where’er thou shinest, nor could thy beams keep pace with my triumphant course; I have gone beyond the changes of the sun, and day hath halted far within my bounds. Nature hath yielded to me, and earth hath failed my feet; she hath been weary first.8 Night and utter chaos have assailed me, and thence to this world have I come again whence none e’er returns. I have borne Ocean’s threats, and no storm of his has availed to wreck the ship which I have weighted down. How trivial Perseus’ deeds compared with mine! How can the empty air no more suffice the hatred of thy wife, and earth fears to produce beasts for me to conquer, nor can she find monsters more. Beasts are at end; ‘tis Hercules now begins to hold the place of monster.9 For how great evils have I crushed, how many crimes, and all unarmed! Whatever monstrous thing opposed me, with but my hands I laid it low; nor was there ever savage thing which as youth or babe10 I feared. All my commanded toils seem light, and no inactive day has ever dawned for me. Oh, how great monsters have I overthrown, which no king11 bade me meet! My courage, more relentless than Juno’s self, has urged me on.

[63] But what avails it to have freed the race of men from fear? Now have the gods no peace; the freed earth sees in the sky all creatures which she feared; for there hath Juno set them.12 The crab I slew goes round the torrid zone, is known as Libya’s constellation,13 and matures her grain; the lion to Astraea gives the flying year;14 but he, his burning mane upon his neck back tossing, dries up the dripping south-wind and devours the clouds. Behold, now has every beast invaded heaven, forestalling me; through victor, I gaze upon my labours from the earth; for to monsters first and to wild beasts has Juno given stars, that to me she might make the sky a place of dread. Yet, though in her rage she scatter them o’er the sky, though she make heaven worse than earth, yea, worse than Styx, to Alcides shall room be given. If after beasts, after wars, after the Stygian dog, I have not yet earned the stars, let Sicilian Pelorus touch the Hesperian15 shore, and they both shall become one land; thence will I put seas to flight. If thou bidst seas be joined, let Isthmus16 give passage to the waves and on their united waters let Attic ships along a new way be borne. Let earth be changed; along new valleys let Ister run and Tanaïs receive new channels. Give, give me, O Jupiter, at least the gods to guard; there mayst thou put aside thy thunderbolts where I shall be on guard. Whether thou bidst me guard the icy pole, whether the torrid zone, there count the gods secure. Cirrha’s shrine17 and a place in heaven did Pean18 earn by one serpent’s19 slaughter – oh, how many Pythons in the hydra lie o’erthrown! Already have Bacchus and Perseus reached the gods; but how small a tract of earth was the conquered east,20 or how meagre a spoil was Gorgon!21 what son of thine and of my stepdame has by his praises merited the stars? I seek the skies which I myself have borne.22

[99] [He turns to LICHAS.] But do thou, Lichas, comrade of the toils of Hercules, proclaim his triumphs – the conquered house of Eurytus, his kingdom overthrown. [To the other attendants.] Do you with speed drive the herds to where the shore, lifting on high the shrine of Cenaean Jove,23 looks out upon the Euboic sea, fearsome with southern gales.

[Exit HERCULES on his way to the Cenaean Promontory, intending there to sacrifice to Jove.]

[104] Mate of the gods is he whose life and fortune have gone side by side; but when ‘tis slowly dragged out midst lamentations, life has the lot of death. Whoe’er has set beneath his feet the greedy fates, and the last river’s barque,24 he will not give his captive arms to bonds nor frae in the victor’s train a noble spoil; ne’er is he wretched for whom to die is easy. Should his boat be wrecked far out upon the deep, where South with North-wind strives, and East with West, rending the sea sunder, he does not gather up the wreckage of his broken ship, that in mid-ocean he may hope for land; he who can straightway render up life, he only from a wreck can suffer naught.

[119] But us, foul wasting claims, and tears, and hair defiled by the dust of fatherland; us nor greedy flame nor crashing wall has overwhelmed. The happy dost thou pursue, O Death, the wretched thou fleest. Here we stand, yet alas! the spot shall no more be given to our country’s crops, but to forests wild, and squalid hovels shall our fallen shrines become. Here soon shall the chill Dolopian lead his flocks where the buried ashes, sole remnant of Oechalia’s ruins, still are warm. Here in our very city a Thessalian shepherd, on rude pipe going o’er his songs, shall sing of our story with doleful notes; and ere God shall bring a few more generations to an end, men will be asking where our country lay. Once I was blest; not barren the hearth nor hungry the acres of Thessalian soil whereon I dwelt; but not to Trachin am I called, to a rough and stony land, to brambles bristling on her parched hills, to woods which e’en the wandering goats disdain. But if some captives by a milder fate are called, then either swift Inachus will bear them o’er,25 or within Dircaean26 walls shall they abide, where flows slow Ismenus with scanty stream, where the mother27 of haughty Hercules once was wed.28

[147] False is the story29 of the double night, when the stars lingered in the sky o’erlong, when Lucifer changed place with Hesperus, and Delia,30 too slow, kept back the sun. What Scythian crag, what rocky cliff begot thee? As some fierce Titan, did Rhodope bring thee forth, or Athos rough? Did some wild Caspian beast, some striped tigress give thee suck? By no wounds may his limbs be assailed; iron he feels blunt, steel is too dull; upon his naked body swords are broken, and stones rebound; and so he scorns the fates, and with body all invincible defies mortality. Sharp spear-points could not pierce him, nor Scythian arrows shot from bended bow, nor darts which cold Sarmatians wield, or the Parthians who, in the land of the rising sun, with surer aim than ever Cretan’s was, direct their shafts against the neighbouring Arabians. With his bare hands did he o’erthrow Oechalia’s walls, and naught can make stand against him; for whate’er he plans to overcome is overcome already. How few the foes who by his wounds have fallen! His angry countenance was death in open view, and but to have seen the threats of Hercules is enough.31 What huge Briareus, what Gyas, puffed with pride, when upon Thessalia’s mountain-heap32 they stood and clutched at heaven with snaky hands, had countenance inflexible as his? But mighty ills have mighty recompense. No more is left to suffer – we have seen, oh, woe! the angry Hercules.

[173] But I, unhappy one, bewail not temples fallen on their gods, or hearth-fires scattered, or fathers burned in mingled heaps with sons, and gods with men, temples with tombs, – nay, no common misfortune do I mourn; elsewhither doth fortune call my tears, for other ruins the fates bid me weep. What lament shall I make first? What last shall I bewail? Equally all things is it meet to mourn. Oh me, that Mother Earth hath not given me more eyes for tears,33 more breasts, that blows of my losses might resound.

[185] Me to a weeping rock34 on Sipylus, ye heavenly gods, transform, or set me on the banks of Po, where the woods give back the grief of Phaëthon’s sad sisters; or add35 me to the rocks of Sicily, where as a Siren I may weep Thessalia’s fate; or bear me to Edonia’s36 woods where I may mourn as, beneath Ismarian shade, the Daulian bird37 ever mourns her son. Give me a form to fit my tears, and let rough Trachin reëcho with my woes. Myrrha, the Cyprian maid, yet guards her tears;38 the wife39 of Ceyx mourns his taking off; and Niobe lives on, surviving e’en herself; her human form has Philomel escaped, and still the Attic maid bewails her son.40 Why not yet do my arms become swift wings? Happy, ha, happy shall I be when the woods shall be called my home, and, in my native meadows resting, with plaintive strains I shall recall my fate, and fame shall tell of winged Iole.

[207] I saw, I saw my father’s wretched fate, when, beaten down by the death-dealing club, he lay in scattered fragments throughout the hall. Ah me, if fate had given him burial, how often, father, must thou have been sought! How could I have looked upon thy death, O Toxeus,41 with thy boyish cheeks as yet unbearded, and thy veins not yet filled with manly vigour? But why do I lament your fates, my parents, whom kindly death has to a place of safety borne? ‘Tis my own fortune that requires my tears. Soon, soon in captive state shall I whirl the distaff and the spindle of my mistress. O cruel beauty, and form doomed to bring death to me, for thee alone is all my house undone, for that my sire refused me to Alcides and feared to have Hercules for son-in-law. And now must I betake me to a mistress’ home.

[225] Why dost thou, foolish one, ever look back upon thy sire’s illustrious kingdom and thine own misfortunes? Banish from thy face thy former fortune. Happy is he whoever knows how to bear the estate of slave or king and can match his countenance with either lot. For he who bears his ills with even soul has robbed misfortune of its strength and heaviness.

[The scene changes to the space before the palace of Hercules and Deïanira at Trachin. Enter NURSE OF DEÏANIRA.]

[233] O how bloody is the rage that goads women on, when to mistress and two wife one house has opened! Scylla and Charybdis, whirling Sicilia’s waves, are not more fearful, nor is any wild beast worse. For when her captive rival’s beauty was revealed, and Iole shone like the unclouded day or a bright star in the clear night glittering, even as one distraught the wife of Hercules stood there with lowering gaze (as a tigress, lying big with young ‘neath some Armenian rock, at sight of an enemy leaps forth; or as a maenad, bidden to toss the thyrsus, what time she bears the god42 within her breast, in doubt where she shall take her way, stands till a while); then through the house of Hercules she madly dashed and scarce did all the house give space enough. Forward she rushes, wanders aimlessly, stands still. All her passion has come forth into her face; in her heart’s depths almost naught is left; tears follow hard on threats. Nor does one posture last, nor can one countenance contain her rage; now do her cheeks flame with wrath, now pallor drives the flush away, and from form to form her smarting anguish wanders; she wails, she begs, she groans.

[254] The doors have sounded – behold, at headlong pace she comes, with confused words revealing all the secrets of her soul.

[Enter DEÏANIRA from within the palace.]

[256] Wife of the Thunderer, whatever portion of thy heavenly home thou treadest, send ‘gainst Alcides a wild beast which shall suffice for me. If any serpent,43 vaster than all the marsh, rears up its head, to conquest all unknown; if anything is worse than other beasts, monstrous, dire, horrible, from sight of which Hercules would turn away his eyes, let this from its huge den come forth. Or, if beasts be denied, change, I pray thee, this heart of mine into some – any evil thing there is can I with this present mind become. Give me a form to match my smarting grief; my breast cannot contain its rage. Why doest thou search out the folds of farthest earth, and overturn the world? Why dost ask ills of Dis? In such a breast thou’lt find all beasts to cause him dread; take thou this weapon for thy hate – let me be step-dame.44 Thou canst destroy Alcides; use but these hands for any end thou wilt. Why dost thou hesitate, O goddess? Use me, the mad one – what crime doest bid me do? Decide. Why dost thou falter? Though now thou dost thyself shrink back, this rage of mine suffices.

[275] Dear child, thy mad heart’s plaints restrain, quench passion’s fire and curb thy grief. Show thyself wife of Hercules.

[278] Shall captive Iole give brothers to my sons? Shall a slave become daughter-in-law of Jove? Together will flame and torrent never run, and the thirsty Bear from the blue sea ne’er will drink – nor will I go unavenged. Though thou didst bear the heavens up, though the whole world owes its peace to thee, a worse pest than Hydra waits thee – the wrath of an angered wife. What fire as hot as this rages to heaven from burning Aetna? Whate’er has been conquered by thy might, this passion of mine shall conquer. – And shall a slave seize on my marriage bed? Till now did I fear monsters, but now is no evil more; the pests have vanished and in the place of beasts ahs come the hated harlot. O most high ruler of the gods, O lustrous Sun, I have been wife to Hercules but in his perils; the prayers which to the heavenly ones I raised have been granted to a slave; for a harlot have I been fortunate; for her have ye heard my prayers, O gods, for her is he safe returned. – O grief that can be satisfied with no revenge, seek thee some dreadful punishment, unthought, unspeakable; teach Juno’s self what hate can do; she knows not to rage enough. For me didst thou do battle; on my account did Acheloüs dye his wandering waves with his own blood, when now he became a stubborn serpent, now to a fierce bull changed his threats, the serpent form discarded, and thou in that one foe didst conquer a thousand beasts. But now I please thee not; a captive is preferred to me – but she shall not be preferred; for that day which shall end our marriage joys shall end thy life.

[307] But what is this? My passion dies away and abates its threats. Now anger ceases; why dost thou languish, O wretched grief? Thou givest o’er thy madness, makest me again the faithful, uncomplaining wife. – Why dost forbid the feeding of the flames? Why checkest the fire? Keep but this passion in me; hand in hand let us go on – there will be no need of prayers; a step-dame45 will be near to direct my hands and unbesought.

[314] What crime, distraught one, dost thou purpose? Wilt slay thy husband whose praises the evening and the morning46 know full well, whose fame, towering to the sky, holds all the world beneath? The land of Greece will rise to defend that home, and this thy father’s47 house and the whole Aetolian race will be the first to be o’erthrown; soon rocks and firebrands will be hurled against thee, since every land will rally to its defender. How many penalties wilt thou, one woman, pay! Suppose thou canst escape the world and the race of men – the father of Alcides wields the thunder-bolt. Now, even now behold his threat’ning fires flashing athwart the sky, and the heavens thundering with the lightning shock. Even death itself, which thou deemest a place of safety, fear; for there the uncle48 of thine Alcides reigns. Turn where thou wilt, poor woman, there wilt thou see his kindred gods.

[330] That I am doing a fearful crime, e’en I myself confess; but passion bids me do it.

[332] Thou’lt die.

[332] Yea, truly, will I die, but the wife of glorious Hercules; neither shall any dawn, banishing night, brand me as widow; nor shall captive creature make capture of my bed. Sooner shall day be born in the western sky, sooner shall Indians grow pale ‘neath the icy pole, or Scythians tan ‘neath Phoebus’ burning car, than shall the dames of Thessaly see me abandoned. With my own blood will I quench her49 marriage torches. Either let him die or do me to death. To slaughtered beasts let him add wife as well, and let him count me, too, ‘mongst the toils of Hercules; to Alcides’ couch, aye with my dying body, will I cling. Ah, sweet, ‘tis sweet to go to the shades as bride of Hercules, – but not without my vengeance. If Iole from my Hercules has conceived a child, with mine own hands will I tear it forth untimely, and by her very wedding torches’ glare will I face the harlot. Let him in wrath slay me as victim on his nuptial day, so I but fall on the corpse of Iole. Happy he lies who crushes those he hates.

[351] Why dost thyself feed thy flames and wantonly foster and unmeasured grief? Poor soul, why dost thou cherish a needless fear? He did love Iole; but ‘twas while yet her father reigned secure, and ‘twas a king’s daughter that he sought. The princess has now fallen to the place of slave; love has lost its power, and much from her charm her unhappy lot has stolen. What is forbidden we love; if granted it falls from our desire.

[358] Nay, but fallen fortunes fan hotter the flames of love; for this very cause he loves her, that she hath lost her father’s house, that her hair lies stripped of gold and gems; out of pity, perchance, he loves her very woes; ‘tis the wont of Hercules to love captive maids.

[363] ‘Tis true he loved the captive sister50 of Dardanian Priam, but he gave her to another;51 add all the dames, all the maids he loved before. A wanderer on earth, a wanderer in love was he. Why, the Arcadian maid, Auge, while leading Pallas’ sacred dance, suffered his lust’s violence, but fell from his regard, and Hercules retains no trace of his love for her. Why mention others? The Thespiades are forgotten; for them with but a passing flame Alcides burned. When a guest on Timolus, he caressed the Lydian woman52 and, daft with love, sat beside her swift distaff, twisting the moistened thread with doughty fingers. His shoulders, indeed, had laid aside the famous lion’s-skin, a turban confined his hair, and there he stood like any slave, his shaggy locks dripping with Sabaean myrrh. Everywhere has he burned with love, but burned with feeble flame.

[378] Oft after wandering fires lovers have clung to one.

[379] A slave and daughter of his foe shall he prefer to thee?

[380] As a gladsome beauty covers the budding groves when the first warmth of spring clothes the bare forest trees, but, when the North-wind has put the mild South to flight, and savage winter has shaken off all the leaves, thou seest but a shapeless grove of trunks alone; so does my beauty, pursuing a lengthening way, lose something ever, and less brightly gleams, nor is it as of yore. Whate’er in me was sought in former days has vanished or is failing along with me. Old age with hastening steps hath taken much, and much of it hath motherhood stolen from me. But seest thou how this slave hath not lost her glorious charm? Gone are her adornings and squalor clings close upon her; and yet through her very distresses beauty shines and naught have misfortune and this hard stroke of fate stolen from her save her realm. O nurse, this fear of her racks my heart; this dread doth destroy my slumbers. I was a wife celebrated in every land, and for marriage such as mine all women prayed with envious prayer; or whatever soul asked aught of any god, for the prayers of Grecian dames I was the measure. What father-in-law like to Jove, O Nurse, shall I e’er have? Who beneath these heavens will be given me as husband? Though Eurystheus’ self, who rules Alcides, should wed me with his own torches, ‘tis not enough. ‘Tis a trivial thing to have lost a royal couch; but from a far height has she fallen who loses Hercules.

[407] Children ofttimes win back the love of husbands.

[408] These children themselves perchance will dissolve the bond.53

[409] Meanwhile that slave is brought as gift to thee.

[410] He whom thou seest going, big with fame, from town to town, wearing the spoil of a tawny lion on his back; who gives kingdoms to the lowly and takes them from the proud, his dread hand laden with a massive club; whose triumphs the far off Seres sing, and whoe’er besides dwells in the whole known world, – he is a trifler, nor does the charm of glory urge him on. He goes wandering o’er the earth, not in the hope that he may rival Jove, nor that he may fare illustrious through Grecian cities. Some one to love he seeks; his quest is maidens’ chambers. If any is refused him, she is ravished; against nations doth he rage, midst ruins seeks this brides, and unrestrained excess is called heroic. Oechalia, the illustrious, fell; one sun, one day beheld her stand and fall; and passion was the mother of that strife. As oft as a father shall deny his child to Hercules, as oft as a foeman refuses to be his father-in-law, so oft shall he have cause to fear; if he is not accepted as a son-in-law, he smites. After all this, why do I harmlessly keep back these hands until he feign another fit of madness,54 with deadly hand bend his bow, and slay me and my son?55 Thus does Alcides put away his wives; such is his manner of divorce. Yet naught can make him guilty! He has made the world believe his step-dame answerable for his crimes. Why art inactive then, thou sluggish rage? His crime must be forestalled; act while thy hand is hot!

[436] Wilt slay thy husband?

[436] Truly, my rival’s husband.

[437] But the son of Jove?

[437] Yes, but the son of Alcmena, too.

[438] With the sword?

[438] The sword.

[438] If thou canst not?

[438] I’ll slay with guile.

[439] What madness that?

[439] That which my husband teaches me.

[440] Whom e’en his step-dame could not slay – wilt thou slay him?

[441] Celestial wrath but makes wretched those on whom it falls; man’s wrath makes them naught.

[442] Spare him, O wretched one, and fear.

[443] He has scorned all men, who first has scorn of death; ‘tis sweet to go against the sword.

[444] Thy smart is too great for the offence, my child, let his fault claim but equal hate. Why dost so fiercely judge a light offence? According as thou hast been injured, grieve.

[447] Thinkst thou a mistress is light evil for a wife? Whatever56 fosters anguish, count this57 beyond all bounds.

[449] Has thy love for glorious Alcides fled away?

[450] Not fled, dear Nurse; it still remains, believe me, deep-seated and fixed in my heart’s core; but to be angry with one’s love brings mighty madness.

[452] By magic arts and prayers commingled do wives oft hold fast their husbands. I have bidden the trees grow green in the midst of winter’s frost, and the hurtling lightning stand; I have stirred up the deep, though the winds were still, and have calmed the heaving sea; the parched earth has opened with fresh fountains; rocks have found motion; the gates have I rent asunder and the shades of Dis, and at my prayer’s demand the spirits talk, the infernal dog is still; midnight has seen the sun, and day, the night; the sea, land, heaven and Tartarus yield to my will, and naught holds to law against my incantations. Bend him we will; my charms will find the way.

[465] What herbs does Pontus grow, or what does Pindus nourish ‘neath the rocks of Thessaly,58 wherein I may find a bane to conquer him? Though Luna should leave the stars and come down to earth, obedient to magic; though winter should see ripe grain; though the swift bolt should stand still, arrested by thy charm; though times be changed, and midday burn amid the crowding stars: ‘twill not bend him.

[472] But love has conquered e’en heavenly gods.

[473] By one59 alone, perchance, will he be conquered and yield his spoils, and Love become Alcides’ crowning toil. – But thee by all the deities of heaven I pray, by this my fear: whatever secret thing I am preparing, hide it deep, and in faithful silence hold it fast.

[478] What is it that thou seekst to keep in secret?

[479] It is not spears, not arms, not threatening fire.

[480] That I can keep faithful silence I confess, if it be free from crime; but silence itself sometimes is criminal.

[482] Come, look about, lest someone grasp my secret, and in all directions turn thy questful glance.

[484] Behold the place is safe and free from all observers.

[485] In a remote corner of the royal dwelling is a recess that silently guards my secret. Neither the first rays of the sun can reach that spot, nor yet his last, when Titan, bringing the day to rest, plunges his weary yoke in the ruddy sea. There lurks the surety of Alcides’ love. Nurse, I’ll confess to thee: the giver of the baleful thing was Nessus, whom Nephele, heavey with child, to the Thessalian chieftain60 bore, where lofty Pindus to the stars lifts up his head and Othrys stands stiff, towering above the clouds. For when Achelöus, forced by the club of dread Hercules to shift with ready ease from form to form, his beast-shapes all exhausted, at last stood forth, and bowed his head, marred and with single horn,61 victorious Hercules, with me, his bride, set out for Argos.

[500] It chanced that Evenus, wandering through the plains, rolling his deep eddies to the sea, was now in flood, almost to the tree-top’s level. Nessus, accustomed to ford the whirling stream, offered to take me over for a price; and, bearing me on his back, where the backbone, leaving the equine enters the human form, soon was stemming even the threatening waves of the swollen flood. Now had wild Nessus entirely left the waters and Alcides was still wandering in mid-stream, cleaving the down-sweeping flood with his mighty strides; but when the centaur saw Alcides still afar, “Thou shalt be spoil of mine,” he cried, “and wife; he is kept from thee by the waves”; and, clasping me in his arms as he bore me on, was galloping away.

[513] But the waves did not hold Hercules; “O faithless ferryman,” he cried, “though Ganges and Hister commingled in united beds should flow, I shall o’ercome them both and with my shaft o’ertake thy flight.” His bow was swifter than his words. Then the reedy shaft, wounding from afar, stayed his hampered flight and implanted death. The Centaur, now groping for light, in his right hand caught the poison62 flowing from the wound, and this he gave me, pouring it into his hoof, which with mad hand he had changed to wrench away. Then with his dying words he spoke: “By this charm magicians have said love can be firmly fixed; so were Thessalian wives by the wise Mycale instructed, whom only, midst all wonder-working crones, Luna will forsake the stars and follow. A garment, smeared with this very gore, shalt thou give to him, if ever a hated mistress should usurp thy chamber, and thy fickle husband should give another daughter to his high-thundering sire. This let no light behold; let darkness only, thick and hidden, cover it; so shall the potent blood retain its powers.” Silence seized on his words and to his weary limbs came the sleep of death.

[535] No do thou, whom loyalty makes sharer of my secret, haste thee that the poison, upon a glittering robe besmeared, go through his heart and limbs and, stealing silently, enter his very marrow.

[538] With speed will I do thy bidding, dearest child; and do thou pray to the god63 invincible, who with tender hand doth send unerring shafts. [Exit NURSE.]

[541] Thee do I pray, by earth and heaven-dwellers held in fear, by sea, by him who wields Aetnaean64 thunderbolts, and by thy ruthless mother to be feared, O winged boy; with unerring hand aim a swift shaft, and not of thy lighter arrows. Choose thee, I pray one of thy heavier shafts, which thy hands have ne’er yet shot at any; for no light weapon must thou use that Hercules may feel the power of love. Stretch thy hands stiffly forth, and bend thy bow until the tips shall meet. Now, now that shaft let loose with which once thou aimedst at Jove the terrible, what time the god threw down his thunderbolt and as a bull, with horns quick-sprouting on his brow, clove through the boisterous sea, bearing the Assyrian maid.65 Fill him with love; let him outstrip all precedents, – let him learn to love his wife. If Iole’s beauty hath kindled fires in the breast of Hercules, extinguish them every one, and of my beauty let him deeply drink. Oft hast thou conquered Jove, the thunderer, oft him who wields the dark sceptre of the dusky world, king of the greater throng, and lord of Styx; and now, O god more dreadful than a step-dame’s wrath, win thou this triumph all alone, and conquer Hercules.

[Re-enter NURSE, with robe and charm.]

[563] The charm has been brought out and a robe from Pallas’66 distaff, at whose weaving thy maidens all have wrought with weary hands. Now let the poison be prepared and let the robe of Hercules soak up its pestilence; and by my incantations will I increase its evil.

[While they are occupying themselves with the robe, LICHAS is seen approaching.]
[567] But in the nick of time the zealous Lichas comes; the dire potency of the robe must be concealed lest our wiles be punished.
[Enter LICHAS.]

[569] O Lichas, name ever loyal to thy lords, though loyalty proud houses ne’er possess, take thou this garment which my hands have woven while he was wandering o’er the earth, or, spent with wine, was holding in his doughty arms the Lydian queen, or seeking Iole. And yet, perchance, I may turn his rough heart to me again by my deserving; for deserts oft conquer those who work us ill. Before my husband puts this garment on, bid him burn incense and appease the gods, his stiff locks wreathed the while with hoary poplar.

[LICHAS take the robe and departs upon his mission.]
[579] I will myself pass within the royal palace and with prayers worship the mother of relentless Love.

[581] [To her Aetolian attendants.] Do ye, whom I have brought as comrades from my father’s house, ye Calydonian maids, bewail the fortune that demands your tears. [Exit.]

[583] O child of Oeneus, truly do we weep for thy misfortunes, the band of thy companions through thy childhood years, we weep thy couch dishonoured, lady whom we revere. Often with thee have we splashed in Acheloüs’ shallows, when now, the springtime passed, he allayed his swollen waters and, a slender stream, crept on with quiet course, and Lycormas67 no longer rolled his headlong waters on, dark-hued with bursting fountains. Together were we wont to fare to Pallas’ shrines and join in virgin dances, to bear the mysteries68 in Theban69 baskets hidden, when now the wintry star had fled, and each third summer70 called forth the sun, and when the grain-giving goddess’71 sacred seat, Attic Eleusis, shut in her mystic worshippers. Now too, whatever lot thou fearest, take us as trusted comrades of thy fates; for rare is loyalty when now better fortune fails.

[604] O thou,72 whoe’er thou art who the sceptre holdest, though all the people throng within thy hall, pressing together through its thousand doors; though when thou walkst abroad whole nations hem thee round; in all those nations scarce one man is true. Erinys keeps the gilded gate, and when the great doors have opened wide, there come in treacheries and cunning wiles and the lurking dagger; and when amongst the people thou wouldst walk, envy walks by thy side. As often as dawn drives out the night, so often believe a king is born.73 Few worship kings and not their thrones; for ‘tis the glitter of the royal hall that stirs the most. One man is eager to fare illustrious through broad towns next to the king himself; for greed of glory burns his wretched breast. Another longs with treasure to appease his hunger; and yet not all gem-bearing Hister’s tract would satisfy, nor would the whole of Lydia sate his thirst, nor the land74 which, lying ‘neath the west-wind, marvels to see bright Tagus gleam with golden water; nor if all Hebrus were his own, and rich Hydaspes should be added to his fields, and he should gaze on Ganges flowing with all its streams within his boundaries. For greed, for greed all nature is too little.

[632] One man courts kings and homes of kings, not that his ploughman, forever stooping o’er the deep-driven share, may never cease his toil, or that the peasantry may till his thousand fields; but wealth alone, which he may hoard away, he seeks. Another man courts kings that he may trample all, may ruin many and establish none; he covets power only to harm therewith.

[640] How few live out their allotted span! Whom Cynthia75 saw in happiness, the new-born day sees wretched. ‘Tis rare to find old age and happiness in one. The couch of turf, softer than Tyrian purple, oft soothes to fearless slumber; but gilded ceilings break our rest, and purple coverlets drag out wakeful nights. Oh, if the hearts of rich men were laid bare! What fears does lofty fortune stir within! The waves of Bruttium, when Corus76 lashes up the sea, are calmer far. The poor man’s heart is free from care; he holds cups carved from the wide-spreading beech, but holds them with hand untrembling; he eats but cheap and common food, yet sees no drawn sword77 hanging o’er his head! ‘Tis in golden cups that blood is mixed with wine.78

[658] The wife is wed to one of modest means is not bedecked with necklaces of pearl, the red sea’s gift, nor do stones gathered on Orient shores weigh down her gem-laden ears; for her no soft wool twice dipped in Sidonian cauldrons drinks scarlet dyes; not hers with Maeonian79 needle to embroider stuffs which Serians under sunlit skies gather80 from eastern trees. ‘Tis not common herbs that dye the webs which her unskilled hands have woven; but she cherishes a marriage-couch all undisturbed. With cruel torch doth Fury pursue the bride whose wedding-day great throngs have celebrated; nor does the poor man count himself full blest, unless he sees the blessed fallen from their height.

[675] Whoever has left the middle course fares never in path secure. While for one day the youth81 sought to furnish light and took his stand within his father’s car, and while he passed not o’er the accustomed track, but sought the stars unknown to Phoebus’ rays with wandering wheel, himself he ruined and the world, as well. Daedalus, cleaving his path midway the heavens, reached peaceful shores and to no sea gave his name; but while young Icarus dared rival true birds in flight, looked down upon his father’s wings and soared aloft close to the sun itself, to an unknown sea82 he gave his name. To our undoing, high fortunes are by ruin balanced.

[692] Let another be noised abroad as blest and great; but let no throng hail me as powerful. Let my frail craft keep close to shore, and let no strong wind compel my bark to plough the mighty deep; misfortune passes by quiet ports, and seeks for ships sailing the open sea, whose topsails smite the clouds.

[DEÏANIRA appears hurrying distractedly from the palace.]
[700] But why in terror and with face of fear, like some rage-smit Bacchante, comes the Bacchante, comes the queen with step uncertain?

[703] What new reverse of fortune whirls thee about? Poor lady, tell us. Though thou thyself sayst naught, thy face speaks out whate’er thou hidest.

[706] Vague shivers steal through my trembling limbs, my hair starts up in horror; fear sticks in my soul till now so passion-tossed; my heart leaps wildly and my quaking liver throbs with pulsing veins. As when the storm-tossed sea still heaves, though the skies are clear and the winds have died away, so is my soul still troubled, though my fear has been allayed. Surely when God has once begun to oppress the fortunate, he bears down hard. To such an end do mighty fortunes come.

[715] What headstrong fate, poor soul, whirls thee about?

[716] When I had sent away the robe anointed with Nessus’ blood, and, sad at heart, betook me to my chamber, my soul feared I know not what – did the dying centaur ‘gainst my husband plan revenge,83 and plot some treachery? I was pleased to make the test. Dread Nessus forbade me to expose the wild blood to the sun’s rays and to fire; and this artifice itself forewarned me of treachery.

[722] It chanced the burning sun, its radiance by no cloud dimmed, was setting free the day’s fervid head. – Even now my fear scarce suffers me to speak. – Right into the hot sunlight I had thrown the blood-soaked fleece83 with which the robe had been moistened and the garment smeared. The bloody fleece I flung writhed horribly and, warmed with the sun’s rays, burst aflame – I have scarce words to tell of the awful thing. As the East or the warm South-wind melts the snows which glistening Mimas loses in early spring; as ‘gainst Leucadia’s crags, breasting the Ionian sea, up-flung waves are broken and with spent fury foam upon the shore, or as incense sprinkled on holy shrines is melted in the hot altar-fires; so all the wool withered and lost its fleece. And while I stood wondering at it, the object of my wonder disappears; nay, even the very ground begins to foam, and whatever that poison touched begins to shrink.

[HYLLUS is seen approaching.]
[740] But I see my son approaching with face of fear and hurrying feet. [To HYLLUS.] Speak out – what tidings dost thou bear?

[742] [Hurrying upon the scene.] Go! flee! seek out whatever place lies far away on land, on sea, ‘mongst stars, in Ocean, underworld – far beyond the labours of Alcides, mother, flee!

[745] Some great disaster doth my mind presage.

[746] She84 reigns, she triumphs; Juno’s temple seek. This sanctuary waits thee; closed is all refuge else.

[748] Tell what disaster my guiltless self o’erwhelms.

[749] That glory and sole guardian of the world, whom the fates had given to the lands in the place of Jove, O mother, is no more. The limbs and thews of Hercules a mysterious plague is wasting; and he who conquered monsters, he, he, the victor, is vanquished, is in grief, in agony. What more dost ask?

[754] The wretched are in haste to hear their wretchedness. Tell me: in what condition now stands our house? O home, O wretched home! Now truly am I widowed, exiled, overwhelmed.

[758] Not thou alone dost lament Hercules; low he lies for the whole world to mourn. And think not, mother, thine is a private loss; now the whole race is clamorous with woe. Lo, all men utter thy self-same groans of grief; common to all lands is the ill thou sufferest. Thou hast forestalled their grief; first, but not all alone, poor soul, dost thou mourn Hercules.

[764] You tell me, tell, I beg, how near to death does my Alcides lie.

[766] Death, who once in his own realm was overcome,85 flees from him; nor do the fates dare countenance so great a crime. Perchance Clotho has thrown aside her very distaff from her trembling hand, and is afraid to complete the fates of Hercules. O day, O awful day! And shall this for the great Alcides be the last?

[772] To the shades of death and to that darker world dost say he has gone already? Can I not go before and anticipate his death? Speak, if he is not yet fallen.

[775] Euboea’s shore, swelling with mighty headland, on every side is beaten by the waves. Caphereus cleaves the Phrixean86 Sea, on this side the south-wind blows; but on the side which feels the blasts of snowy Aquilo, restless Euripus turns his wandering waves, whose currents seven times flow and seven times ebb again, till Titan plunges his weary horses in the sea. Here on a lofty cliff, by many a storm-cloud beaten, an ancient temple of Cenaean Jove stands gleaming.87

[784] When all the votive herd stood at the altars, and the whole grove was filled with the bellowing of the gilded bulls, he88 put off his lion’s skin, all stained with gore, laid down his heavy club and freed his shoulders of the quiver’s weight. Then radiant in thy robe, his rough hair wreathed with hoary poplar, he lit the altar-fires. “Accept these gifts,” he said, “upon thy shrine, O father, not falsely claimed, and let thy sacred fire blaze brightly with copious incense which the rich Arab gathers from Sabaean trees, in worship of the Sun. Peace has been given to earth, to sky, to sea; all monsters have I subdued and in triumph come again. Lay down thy thunderbolt.”

[796] As he thus prayed a groan fell from his lips even he standing aghast; then with dreadful cries he filled the air. As when a bull, fleeing the deep-driven axe, bearing both wound and weapon, fills with his huge bellowings the affrighted shrine, or as the launched thunder crashes in the sky; so did he with his roarings smite the stars and sea; towering Chalcis reëchoed and all the Cyclades heard his cries; then all Caphereus’ crags and the whole forest resounded with the cries of Hercules. We saw him weep. The commons thought his ancient madness had returned; then his attendants fled.

[808] But he, his face writhing with pain of the burning heat, pursued and sought out Lichas alone among them all. The boy, embracing the altar with trembling hands, through sheer terror tasted the pangs of death, and left small part of his life for punishment. Then Hercules, by his hand seizing the quivering corpse, exclaimed: “By such a hand, by such a hand as this, ye fates, shall I be said to have been undone? Has Lichas conquered Hercules? Behold another slaughter; Hercules in turn slays Lichas. Be my deeds dishonoured; be this my crowning task.” To the stars the boy went hurtling and sprinkled the clouds with his scattered blood. So does a Getan arrow, from the hand let fly, go speeding skyward, of the shaft a Cydonian has shot; but far below89 even these weapons will wing their flight. His body falls into the sea, his head upon the rocks; one youth lies slain in both.90

[823] “But hold!” said Hercules; “’tis not madness has robbed me of my wits; this bane is worse than madness and than rage; I am fain to rave against myself.” 91 Scarce has he named the plague when lo, he raves, he tears his own flesh apart, with his own hand wounding and rending his huge limbs. He seeks to throw aside the robe; in this alone have I seen Alcides fail. Yet striving to tear the robe, he tears his limbs as well. The robe is part and parcel of his rugged body; the pest blends it with the skin. The cause of his dire suffering is hid, but still there is a cause; and, scarce able to endure his pain, now he lies spent, face down on the ground, now calls for water – water checks not his pain; he seeks the wave-resounding shore and plunges in the sea, but a slave’s hand restrains him wandering aimless there – oh, bitter lot! we were Alcides’ equals!92

[839] And now a vessel is bringing him from Euboea’s shore, and a gentle south wind wafts his huge bulk along; his spirit has left his body; night seals his eyes.

[842] Why, soul, dost hesitate? Why art amazed? The crime is done. Jupiter demands back his son of thee, Juno, her rival; yea, to the world must he be restored.93 What still thou canst, give back, make restitution; let the sword, deep driven, through my body pass. So, so must it be done. But does so frail hand as this exact punishment so great? With thy thunderbolts, O sire, destroy thy guilty daughter. And with no common weapon let thy hand be armed; let that bolt leap from heaven with which, had Alcides not sprung from thee, thou wouldst have scorched the Hydra. Destroy me as some strange pest, as a scourge far worse than step-dame’s wrath. Launch such a bolt as once thou didst hurl at straying Phaëthon; for I, e’en I myself, in Hercules alone have ruined nations.

[855] But why dost ask weapons of the gods? At last spare thy father.94 The wife of Hercules should be ashamed to pray for death; this hand shall grant my prayer; from myself let death be sought. Then quickly seize the sword. – Why then the sword? Whatever brings to death is weapon all-sufficent – from a sky-piercing cliff I’ll cast me down. Let this, this crag of Oeta, which is the first to greet the new-born day, be chosen; from this ‘tis well to fling me. May its broken crags rend asunder, and every rock take its share of me; may my mangled hands hang there, and may the whole rough mountain-side run red. One death is all too light – light? but still it can be prolonged. Thou canst not choose, O soul, on what weapon thou shalt fall. Oh, would that the sword of Hercules were hanging in my chamber! Upon that steel ‘twere well for me to die. But is it enough that by one right hand I perish? Come all ye nations; let the world cast rocks and huge firebrands on me; let no hand shrink its task; seize weapons, for your avenger have I done to death. Now with impunity shall cruel kings wield sceptres; yea, with impunity now fierce monsters shall be born; again shall altars be found wont to behold victim like to worshipper.95 A highway to crime have I prepared; I have exposed you96 to tyrants, kings, monsters, wild beasts and cruel gods, by slaying your avenger. Dost shirk thy task, wife97 of the thunderer? Why dost thou not, in imitation of thy brother,97 scatter fire, snatch from Jove’s hand his bolt, hurl it, and thyself destroy me? Illustrious praise and mighty triumph have been snatched from thee; I have forestalled thee, Juno, in thy rival’s death.

[884] Why dost drag down a house already shaken? From error spring wholly whatever crime is here. He does no sin who sins without intent.

[887] Whoever, because of fate, excuses and spares himself, has deserved to err. My sentence is for death.

[889] Fain would he seem guilty who seeks to die.

[890] ‘Tis death alone can make the beguiled98 innocent.

[891] Fleeing the sun –

[891] The sun himself flees me.

[892] Wilt abandon life?

[892] Ay! a wretched life – that Alcides I may follow.

[893] But he still lives and breathes the air of haven.

[894] When Hercules could be conquered, then he began to die.

[895] Wilt leave thy son? Wilt break thy thread of life?

[896] She whom her son has buried has lived long.

[897] Follow thy husband.99

[897] Faithful wives go before.

[898] If thou thyself dost doom thee, thou convictest thyself, unhappy one, of sin.

[899] No guilty one himself annuls his punishment.

[900] Life has been granted many whose guilt lay in wrong judgment, not in act. Who blames his own destiny?

[902] Whoever has fallen on unkind fates.

[903] But Hercules himself slew Megara, pierced by his arrows, and his own sons as well, shooting Lernaean shafts with furious hand; still, though thrice murderer, he forgave himself, but not his madness. At the source of Cinyps ‘neath Libyan skies he washed away his guilt and cleansed his hands. Whither, poor soul, dost haste thee? Why dost condemn thy hands?

[910] ‘Tis Alcides’ overthrow that doth condemn my hands. ‘Tis well to punish crime.

[911] If I know Hercules, he will soon be here, perchance victorious o’er the cruel plague; and pain, subdued, will yield to thy Alcides.

[914] Thy hydra’s poison, as report declares, hath consumed his frame; the deadly plague hath wasted his giant limbs.

[916] Thinkst thou the poison of a serpent, slain, cannot be overcome by him who met and overcame the monster, living? He crushed the hydra, and deep in the marsh, with the fangs fixed in his flesh, he stood victorious, while his limbs were bathed in venom. Shall Nessus’ blood destroy the man who overcame e’en the hands of savage Nessus?

[922] Vainly is he restrained who is bent on death; my will is fixed straightway to flee the light. Whoever has died with Hercules has lived enough.

[925] Lo, by these aged locks and by these breasts which were almost as a mother’s to thee, I humbly pray; put by the wild threatenings of thy wounded heart, and banish thy dread resolve of cruel death.

[929] Whoever, perchance, dissuades the wretched from death, he is the cruel one; sometimes death is a punishment, but often ‘tis a boon, and to many a way of pardon has it proved.

[932] At least absolve thy hand, unhappy one, that he may know that the deed was a treacherous foeman’s not his wife’s.

[934] There100 shall I be absolved; the lower gods will acquit the criminal, though I condemn myself. Let Pluto cleanse these hands. Upon thy banks, O Lethe, shall I stand, the past forgotten, and my grieving shade will welcome its lord again.

[938] But do thou, who torturest the realms of the dark under-world, prepare a toil – for this fault of mine outweighs all sins that man has ever dared; Juno was never bold enough to rob the world of Hercules – some dreadful toil prepare. Let Sisyphus’ neck be eased and let his rock press hard upon my shoulders; let the inconstant water fly my lips, my thirst let the elusive waves deceive.101 Unto thy whirlings have I deserved to give my hands, whatsoe’er wheel thou art which rackest Thessalia’s king;102 from every side let the greedy vulture tear my entrails out. There still lacks one103 from the Danaïdes; I will fill up their number – ye ghosts makes room for me. Take me as thy companion, O Phasian wife;104 my deed is worse, far worse than both thy crimes, whether as mother or as cruel sister thou hast sinned; let me be comrade also to thy crimes, thou Thracian wife;105 Althea, mother, welcome thy daughter, now recognize in me thine own true child – yet what crime so great have your hands ever done? Shut Elysium against me, O all ye faithful wives who have your dwelling in its sacred grove; but if any has bespattered her hands with her husband’s blood and her chaste marriage torch forgot, has stood with drawn sword like Belus’ bloody child, in me let her recognize and praise her own handiwork. To such a company of wives ‘tis well to pass – but e’en that company will shun hands so accursed.

[964] O my unconquered husband, my soul is innocent, though my hands have sinned. O mind too credulous! O Nessus, false and of half-bestial guile! Striving to snatch him from a concubine, I have snatched him from myself. Away! thou sun, and life, who by thy cozening arts dost keep the unhappy in the light of day; worthless that light without my Hercules. I will exact penalty for thee,106 will give up my life – or shall I put off my fate, O husband, and save myself for death at thine own hands? Hast still some strength, and can thy armed hands still bend the bow and send the arrow darting? Or do thy weapons fail thee, and does thy bow no more heed thy enfeebled hand? If thou canst deal destruction, O undaunted husband, I await thy stroke. Let death be stayed awhile;107 crush me as thou didst the unoffending Lichas; to other cities scatter me, yeah, hurl me to a world to thee unknown. Destroy me as thou didst the Arcadian monster,108 and whatever else succumbed to thee; yet from them, my husband, thou didst return.

[982] Give o’er now, mother, I beseech thee, pardon thy fate; an error is not counted as a crime.

[984] If, Hyllus, thou wouldst be truly filial, come, slay thy mother – why does thy hand quake and tremble? Why turnst thy face away? This crime will be filial piety. Tamely dost hesitate? This hand robbed thee of Hercules, yea, this right hand destroyed him to whom as father thou owest descent from Jove. Of greater glory have I robbed thee than I gave thee at thy birth. If thou art unskilled in monstrous crime, learn from thy mother. Whether in my throat it pleases thee to plunge the sword, or ‘tis thy will to assail thy mother’s womb, thy mother herself will give thee unshrinking courage. Not by thee will this dreadful crime be done; by thy hand, truly, shall I fall, but by my will. Son of Alcides, art afraid? Wilt thou not do as bidden, wilt not crush monsters, and so be like thy sire? Thy dauntless hand make ready. Behold my breast, so full of cares, lies open: smite; I forgive the deed, the Eumenides themselves will acquit thy hand – but I hear their scourges hissing.

[1003] Oh, who is that in whose locks viperous serpents coil, who brandishes deadly shafts at her foul temples? Why dost pursue me, awful Megaera, with blazing torch? Penalty for Alcides’ murder dost demand? I’ll pay. Already, dread one, have the arbiters of hell passed judgment on me? They have. I see the prison doors opened wide. Who is that ancient109 who bears a huge stone on his toil-worn back? But see! already does the mastered stone seek to roll back again? Whose110 limbs on the wheel are racked? Look! here has Tisiphone taken her stand, ghastly and dread; she demands revenge. Oh, spare thy scourge, I pray thee, Megaera, spare! Keep back the Stygian torches; mine was the crime of love.

[1015] But what is this? The earth quakes, the palace resounds with the noise of crashing roofs – whence comes the rushing ‘gainst me, on every side the nations rage and the whole universe demands of me its saviour. Oh, spare me now, ye cities. Whither shall I rush in headlong flight? Death alone will be granted as a haven for my cares. By gleaming Phoebus’ flaming car I swear, I swear by the heavenly gods: though to my death I go, I leave Alcides still upon the earth.
[She rushes wildly from the scene.]

[1024] Ah me! in frenzy has she fled. Already has my mother played her part – she has resolved on death; now does my part remain, to thwart her deadly purpose. O wretched plight of love! if thou forbidst thy mother’s death, thou wrongst thy father; if thou sufferest her to die, still ‘gainst thy mother doest thou sin. Crime drives from either hand; still must I check her, that from true111 crime she may be saved.
[Exit after his mother.]


1. East and West, or both hemispheres.
2. The Arcadian stag. Its capture was the third labour of Hercules.
3. Which guarded the apples of the Hesperides.
4. i.e. of Diomedes.
5. i.e. the golden girdle of Hippolyte, queen of the Amazons.
6. The gods, in wrath, were supposed to have sent monsters on the earth, and by slaying these Hercules has frustrated that wrath.
7. i.e. the Scythians, dwelling far north beneath the Bear.
8. It is as if the whole earth, trying to keep pace with Hercules, and to give him new land to travel over, has become weary of the attempt.
9. i.e. he is the only unconquered creature left on earth – a marvel, past the bounds of nature.
10. On the very day of his birth he killed two huge snakes which Juno sent against him.

11. i.e. Eurystheus.
12. i.e. she has changed them to constellations in the sky.
13. The zodiacal constellation of the Crab, in which the sun attains his summer solstice.
14. i.e. the sun passes from Leo into Virgo.
15. i.e. Italian.
16. The Isthmus of Corinth.
17. i.e. Delphi.
18. Apollo.
19. The Python.
20. i.e. India, the scene of Bacchus’ conquests.

21. Slain by Perseus.
22. i.e. when he relieved Atlas of his burden.
23. So called because his temple stood at Cenaeum, a lofty promontory on the north-west point of the island of Euboea.
24. i.e. he who does not fear death.
25. i.e. either to Argos or Mycenae.
26. Theban, so called from the neighbouring fountain of Dirce.
27. Alcmena.
28. i.e. to Amphitryon.
29. The chorus means to say that Hercules is not the son of Jove and Alcmena.
30. The moon.

31. i.e. was enough to kill his opponent.
32. The giants piled up Ossa, Pelion, and Olympus in their effort to reach the skies.
33. Translating the suggested insertion of Gronovius.
34. She is thinking of the fate of Niobe.
35. i.e. make me one of the number of the Sirens who haunt those rocks.
36. i.e. Thracian.
37. Procne.
38. The exuding gum of the myrrh tree into which the maid was changed.
39. Alcyone, still alive in feathered form.
40. Itys was not the son of Philomela, but of her sister, Procne.

41. Her brother.
42. Lyaeus.
43. i.e. the Hydra.
44. She thinks of the possible children of Hercules by Iole and her chance for vengeance on them.
45. Juno.
46. i.e. East and West.
47. Deïanira’s father, the father-in-law (socer) of Hercules.
48. Pluto, the brother of Jove.
49. i.e. Iole’s.
50. Hesione.

51. i.e. to Telamon, who assisted him in the capture of Troy.
52. Omphale, queen of Lydia.
53. i.e. if one woman’s child holds her husband to her, another’s child (Iole’s) will turn him from the old to his new love.
54. The reference is to the death of Megara and her sons at the hands of mad Hercules.
55. Hyllus.
56. i.e. whatever else.
57. i.e. the situation described in the preceding line.
58. Where Medea, the famous witch, gathered magic herbs.
59. Hercules.
60. Ixion.

61. Hercules had wrenched away one horn from Achelöus while the latter was fighting in bull-form.
62. Communicated to the blood by the Hydra-poisoned arrow of Hercules.
63. Cupid.
64. The bolts of Jove were forged in Vulcan’s smithy under Aetna.
65. Europa.
66. The arts of spinning and weaving were of Pallas’ invention.
67. Identified by Strabo with the Evenus, a neighbouring river of Aetolia.
68. The sacred objects used in the orgiastic worship of Bacchus.
69. Called in the text Cadmaean from Cadmus, founder of Thebes.
70. The festival of Bacchus was celebrated every third year in honour of his conquest of India.

71. Ceres. The reference is to the Eleusinian mysteries. All these festivals these women had been wont to attend together in childhood.
72. Addressed to kings in general.
73. i.e. so many dangers to the king’s life lurk in the night that if he survives these it is as if he were born anew in the morning.
74. Spain.
75. i.e. the moon of the previous night.
76. The north-west wind.
77. The reference is to the story of the sword of Damocles.
78. The author may have the story of Atreus and Thyestes in mind.
79. The Lydian (Maeonian) women were famous for their skill in embroidery.
80. The reference is to silk-culture, for which the Seres (the Chinese) were well known among the ancients.

81. Phaethon.
82. The Icarian sea.
83. Translating Leo’s conjecture.
84. i.e. Juno.
85. A probably reference to the struggle of Hercules with Death for the recovery of Alcestis.
86. i.e. the Aegaean.
87. Seneca’s description in this passage of the topography of Euboea is not correct. The Cenaean Promontory is at the far north-western point of the island, while the Strait of Euripus is very nearly off the middle point. Caphareus, moreover, is exposed not to the south but almost directly to the east wind.
88. i.e. Hercules.
89. i.e. below the height reached by Lichas.
90. i.e. both head and body.

91. And not against others as heretofore.
92. i.e. in the hero’s present weakness, common men were able to control him.
93. She has robbed the world of Hercules, and now must make such restitution as she may.
94. i.e. do not impose thy punishment on Jove.
95. i.e. where human sacrifices are offered up.
96. i.e. the “nation” addressed in line 871.
97. Juno was both sister and wife of Jove.
98. i.e. those who have been ensnared into sin.
99. i.e. do not die until he is dead.
100. In the lower world.

101. The punishment of Tantalus.
102. Ixion.
103. Hypermnestra.
104. Medea.
105. Procne.
106. i.e. will see that he is avenged.
107. i.e. until she may die at her husband’s hands.
108. The Erymanthian boar, Hercules’ fourth labour.
109. Sisyphus.
110. Ixion.
111. i.e. the true crime of her own death as contrasted with the fancied crime of her act against Hercules.