Classical Texts Library >> Seneca the Younger, Hercules Oetaeus >> Lines 1031-1995



[1031] True sang the bard beneath the heights of Thracian Rhodope, fitting the word to his Pierian lyre, e’en Orpheus, Calliope’s blest son, that naught for endless life is made. At his sweet strains the rushing torrents’ roar was stilled, and, forgetful of their eager flight, the waters ceased their flow; and, while the river stayed to hear, the far Bistonians thought their Hebrus had failed the Getan. The woods came with their birds to him, yea, perched among the trees they came; or if, in the high air soaring, some wandering bird caught sound of the charming song, his drooping wings sank earthward. Athos broke off his crags, bringing the Centaurs as he came, and next to Rhodope he stood, his snows melted by the music; the Dryad, leaving her oaken haunts, sped to the singer’s side. To hear thy song, with their very lairs the wild beasts came, and close to the fearless herds the Marmaric lion crouched; does felt no fear of wolves, and the serpent fled her gloomy den, her venom at last forgot.

[1061] Nay, when through the gates Taenarian to the silent ghosts he came, smiting his mournful lyre, with his sad song he conquered Tartarus and the sullen gods of Erebus; nor was he daunted by the pools of Styx, by which the high gods swear. The never staying wheel1 stood still, listless, with conquered whirling; the liver of Tityus grew, undevoured, while spell-bound the singer held the birds. The impish stone2 allowed defeat and attended on the bard. Then first the aged Phrygian,3 though the waves stood still, banished his raging thirst, forgetful quite, nor to the apples stretched his hand. Thou also, ferryman,4 didst hear, and thy boat that plies the infernal sea came oarless on. So when by his song Orpheus had utterly o’ercome the infernal gods, then did the goddesses5 renew again Eurydice’s exhausted thread. But while Orpheus thoughtlessly looked back, all unbelieving his Eurydice restored to him and following, he lost his singing’s recompense; and she had come to the verge of life only to die once more.

[1090] Then, solace in song still seeking, in mournful measures Orpheus thus to the Getans sang: that the gods are under law, e’en he who rules the seasons, who has arranged the four changes of the flying year; that for no one the Parcae spin again the threads of the greedy distaff, and that all which has been and shall be born shall die.6

[1100] The overthrow of Hercules bids us believe the Thracian bard. Soon, soon, when to the universe shall come the day that law shall be o’erwhelmed, the southern skies shall fall upon Libya’s plains and all that the scattered Garamantians possess; the northern heavens shall overwhelm all that lies beneath the pole and that Boreas smites with withering blasts. Then from the lost sky the affrighted sun shall fall and banish day. The palace of heaven shall sink, dragging down East and West, and death in some form and chaos shall o’erwhelm all gods in one destruction; and death shall at last bring doom upon itself. What place will then receive the world? Will the gates of Tartarus spread wide, that room for the shattered heavens may be found? Or is the space ‘twixt heaven and earth great enough (perchance too great) for the evils of the world? What place will be great enough to hold (oh, horrible!) a death so vast, what place, the gods? Sea, Tartarus and heaven – three kingdoms shall one place contain.

[1128] But what outrageous clamour this assails our startled ears? It is, it is the sound of Hercules.

[Enter HERCULES in the extremity of suffering.]

[1131] Turn back, O shining Sun, thy panting steeds, and let loose the night; let this day wherein I die perish for the world, and let heaven shudder in the pitchy dark. So thwart7 my stepdame. Now, father, were it fitting to restore blind chaos; now this side and that should heaven’s frame be burst and both poles rent asunder. Why dost thou spare the stars? Thou art losing Hercules, O father. Now, Jupiter, look well to every part of heaven, lest any Gyas hurl Thessalian crags and Othrys become a slight missile for Enceladus.8 Now, now will haughty Pluto open his dark prison gates, strike off his father’s9 chains and give him back to heaven. Since I thy son, who on earth have been in place of thy bolt and lightning flash, am turning me back to Styx, Enceladus, the fierce, will rise, and the mass ‘neath which he now is crushed will he hurl against the gods; yea, father, thy whole realm of air will my death put to hazard. Then ere thou art utterly despoiled of heaven, bury me, father, ‘neath the whole ruined world; shatter the skies which thou art doomed to lose.

[1151] Not vain thy fears, son of the Thunderer. Soon now shall Pelion weigh down Thessalian Ossa, and Athos, on Pindus heaped, shall thrust his forests midst the heavenly stars; then shall Typhoeus overcome the crags10 and upheave Tuscan Inarime; the Aetnaean furnaces then shall Enceladus upheave, not yet by thy bolt o’ercome, and rend the gaping mountain’s side. E’en now the kingdoms of the sky are following thee.11

[1161] Lo I, who have escaped from death, who scorned the Styx, who through the midst of Lethe’s pool have returned with spoil,12 at sight whereof Titan was almost flung from his falling car, I, whose presence three realms of gods have felt, am perishing. No deep-thrust sword grates through my side, nor is all Othrys the instrument of my death; no giant with fierce and gaping jaws has buried my body beneath the whole of Pindus; no, without enemy am I overcome and, thought which racks me more (shame to my manhood!) the last day of Alcides has seen no monster slain. Ah, woe is me! I am squandering my life for no return.

[1173] O thou ruler of the world, ye gods, once witnesses of my deeds, O earth entire, is it resolved your Hercules should perish by such death as this? Oh, cruel shame to me, oh, end most foul – a woman will be called author of Alcides’ death! And for whom13 is Alcides dying? If the fates unchanging have willed that by a woman’s hand I fall, if through distaff so base the thread of my death has run, ah me! that I might have fallen by Juno’s hate! ‘Twould be by woman’s hand, but of one who holds the heavens. If, O ye gods, that were too much to ask, the Amazon, born ‘neath Scythian skies, might have o’ercome my strength. But by what woman’s hand is Juno’s foe o’ercome? This is for thee, my stepdame, heavier14 shame. Why callest thou this day joyful? What monster such as this has earth produced to sate thy wrath?15 A mortal woman has outdone thy hate. Till now thou deemdst thyself by Alcides alone outmatched; by two hast thou been surpassed – of such wrath let heaven be ashamed! Oh, that the Nemean lion with my blood had sated his gaping jaws, or that, hedged by hundred snakes, I had fed the hydra with my gore! O that I had been given to the Centaurs as a prey, or that midst the shades I, bound to an everlasting rock, in wretchedness were sitting! But now have I dragged here my latest spoil16 while Death looked on amazed; now from infernal Styx have I regained the light, the bars of Dis I’ve conquered – on every hand death shunned me, that I might lack at last a glorious end. O beasts, O conquered beasts! Neither did the three-formed dog, when he saw the sun, drag me back to Styx, nor ‘neath western skies did the Spanish rout of the wild shepherd17 conquer me, nor the twain serpents18 – ah, woe is me! how often have I missed a glorious death! My final claim to glory – what is it?

[1208] Seest thou how virtue, conscious of its fame, shrinks not from Lethe’s stream? He grieves not at death but blushes for its cause; he longs ‘neath some towering giant’s vasty bulk to end the last day of life, to suffer some mountain-heaving Titan’s weight, to owe his death to some wild, raging beast. But no, poor soul, because of thine own hand, there is no beast, no giant; for what worthy author of the death of Hercules is left save thy right hand?

[1218] Alas, what scorpion,19 what crab,19 torn from the torrid zone, burns deep fixed in my marrow? My heart, once filled with pulsing streams of blood, hotly distends the parched fibres of my lungs; my liver glows, its bile dried quite away, and a slow fire has exhausted all my blood. First did the dread plague feed upon my skin, next to my limbs it passed, devoured my sides, then deep in my joints and ribs the pest ate its way, and drank my very marrow. In my hollow bones it lurks; nor do my bones themselves retain their hardness, but, shattered with broken structure, fall in a crumbling mass. My huge frame has shrivelled, and even the limbs of Hercules sate not the pest. – Oh, how mighty the ill which I admit is great! Oh, cruel curse! Behold, ye cities, behold what now remains of that great Hercules. Dost recognize thy Hercules, my father? Was it with these arms I crushed and overwhelmed the Nemean plague? Was it with this hand I stretched the bow that brought down the Stymphalian birds from the very stars? With these feet did I o’ertake the swift-fleeing beast20 with golden antlers gleaming on his head? By these hands shattered, did Calpe21 let out the sea? So many beasts, so many monstrous things, so many kings, have these hands of mine brought low? Upon these shoulders did the heavens rest? Is this my massive frame, is this my neck? These hands did I oppose to the falling sky? What Stygian watch-dog will hereafter be dragged forth by my hand? Where are my powers, buried before my burial? Why on Jove as father do I call? Why, wretched man, by right of the Thunderer do I claim heaven? Now, now will Amphitryon be deemed my sire.

[1249] O pest, whate’er thou art that lurkest in my vitals, come forth – why dost attack me with a hidden smart? What Scythian Sea beneath the icy pole, what sluggish Tethys, what Spanish Calpe, crowding the Moorish coast, begot thee? O cursed bane! Art thou some serpent, brandishing his foul, full-crested head, or some evil thing even to me unknown? Art thou begotten of the Lernaean monster’s22 gore, or did the Stygian dog leave thee here on earth? Every ill thou art and yet no ill – what form hast thou? Grant me at least to know by what ill I am perishing. Whatever pest or whatever beast thou be, oppose me openly! Who gave thee place within my inmost marrow? See, my hand has ripped away the skin and the flesh uncovered; yet deeper still must its lurking place be found – O woe, invincible as Hercules!

[1265] But whence this lamentation? Whence tears upon these cheeks? My face, before unmoved, and never wont to express its woes in tears, at last (oh, shame!) has learned to weep. What day, what country has seen the tears of Hercules? Dry-eyed have I borne my cares. To thee23 that strength, which has crushed so many monsters, to thee alone has yielded; thou first of all hast forced tears from mine eyes; my face, harder than rough rock, harder than steel and the wandering Symplegades, ahs relaxed my visage and driven forth my tears. Me, weeping and groaning, O most high ruler of the heaven, the earth has seen and, thought which racks me more, my step-dame has seen. But lo, again the scorching heat flames up and burns my vitals. Oh, where is the lightning flash to bring me death?

[1279] What may not suffering overcome? But now, harder than Thracian Haemus’ crags, than Parrhasian skies more calm, to dire agony has he yielded him; his head drops wearily upon his neck, from side to side he turns his mighty bulk and oft does his fortitude drain back his tears. So, with however fervent beam he shine, Titan avails not to melt the arctic snows, whose icy splendour defies the torches of the burning sun.

[1290] O father, turn thou thine eyes on my calamity. Never till now has Alcides fled to thee for aid, not even when around my limbs the hydra entwined its fertile heads. Midst the infernal pools, by the black pall of night enfolded, I stood with Death nor did I call upon thee. So many dreadful beasts have I o’ercome, yea kings and tyrants; yet have I ne’er lifted my face unto the stars. This hand of mine has ever been surety for my prayers; no bolts for my sake have flashed from the sacred sky – but this day has bidden me ask somewhat of thee. ‘Tis the first to hear my prayers, ‘twill be the last. Just one thunderbolt I ask; count me a giant.24 I could have laid hands on heaven no less than they; but while I thought thee my sire in very truth, I spared the skies. Oh, whether thou be harsh, my sire, or merciful, lay hands on thy son with speedy death and claim thee this great renown.25

[1307] Or, if thy hand shrinks reluctant from the impious task, ‘gainst me release from Aetna’s mount the burning Titans, who in their hands may heave Pindus up, or, Ossa, thee, and by the hurled mountain overwhelm me quite. Let Bellona burst the bars of Erebus and with drawn sword rush upon me; or send fierce Mars; let the dread god ‘gainst me be armed. He is my brother, true, but of my step-dame born. Thou too, Alcides’ sister, but by our sire alone, hurl thy spear, O Pallas, against thy brother hurl. And to thee, my step-dame, do I stretch suppliant hands; do thou at least, I pray, let fly thy bolt (I brook to perish by a woman’s hand); oh, at last yielding, at last glutted, why still feed thy vengeance? What seekest thou further? Thou seest Alcides suppliant; whereas no land, no monster has ever seen me begging thee for quarter. Now have I need of a wrathful, raging step-dame – now has thy passion cooled? Now dost lay by thy hate? Thou sparest me when my prayer is all for death. O earth and cities of the earth, have y none to bring torches ‘gainst your Hercules, none to bring arms? Do ye withhold weapons from me? So26 may no land produce savage monsters more when I am dead, and let the world ne’er ask for aid of mine; if any evils rise, let avenger rise as well. From every side crush out my luckless life with stones, o’erwhelm my woes. O ungrateful world, dost falter? Hast quite forgotten me? E’en now wouldst thou be prey to ills and savage beasts hadst thou not borne me. Then, O ye peoples, rescue your champion from his woes. This chance is given you to requite my services – death will be reward for all.

[Enter ALCMENA.]

[1337] What lands shall Alcides’ wretched mother seek? Where is my son, oh, where? If mine eyes see aright, yonder he lies, panting and fever-tossed; he groans, his life is at an end. In a last embrace let me enfold thee, O my son, and gather thy parting spirit in my mouth; take my embracing arms to thine – but where are thy limbs? Where is that star-bearing neck which propped the heavens up? Who is it has left to the but a shadow of thyself?

[1345] Hercules thou seest indeed, my mother, but ‘tis the shadow and the vile somewhat of myself. Behold me, mother – why dost thou turn thine eyes away and hide thy face? Art ashamed to have Hercules called thy son?

[1349] What world, what land has given birth to a fresh monster? What so dread horror is triumphing over thee? Who is a victor of Hercules?

[1352] By his wife’s wiles thou seest Alcides low.

[1353] What wile is great enough to worst Alcides?

[1354] Whatever, mother, suffices a woman’s wrath.

[1355] And how gained the pest entrance to thy joints and bones?

[1356] A robe, poisoned by woman’s hands, gave entrance to it.

[1357] Where is that robe? I see but naked limbs.

[1358] ‘Twas consumed with me.

[1358] Was so destructive pestilence ever found?

[1359] Believe me, mother, through my inmost parts the hydra is wandering and with the Lernaean one27 a thousand savage beasts. What flames28 as hot as these pierce the Sicilian clouds, what Lemnian fires, or heaven’s burning tract, within whose scorching zone29 the sun’s path may not lie? O comrades, throw me into the sea itself, into the river’s midst – alas! what Hister is enough for me? Though greater than all lands, the Ocean itself will not cool my burning pains; to ease my woe all water will dry up, all moisture fail. Why, ruler of Erebus, didst send me back to Jove? ‘Twere more seemly to have held me fast. To thy glooms restore me, and show such Hercules as this to the ghosts30 I conquered. Naught will I take away; why dost fear Hercules a second time? Assail me, Death, and fear not; now do I brook to die.

[1374] Restrain thy tears, at least, master thy pains; even to such woes show Hercules invincible; put death away; conquer the lords of hell as is thy wont.

[1377] If rugged Caucasus should offer me, bound by its chains, as a feast to greedy birds,31 while Scythia mourned around, no doleful cry would issue from my lips; should the wandering Symplegades crush me ‘twixt both their cliffs, their returning rushes would I bear, defiant; were Pindus lying on me, and Haemus, and Athos which resists the Thracian waves, and Mimas which welcomes the bolts of Jupiter; mother, if even this sky should fall upon my head, and over my shoulders the fiery car of Phoebus should go flaming, no coward cry would subdue Alcides’ soul. Though a thousand beasts at once should rush against me and rend me sore; though here from the skies Stymphalus’ bird, swooping with clangour wild, and there with full strength the threatening bull should push upon me, and whatever huge monster has sprung from earth; though Sinis’ groves should arise this side and that, and the rough giant shoot my limbs32 afar; rent limb from limb, still will I hold my peace – no beasts, no arms, naught that can be met and vanquished shall extort one groan from me.

[1396] Son, ‘tis no woman’s poison melts thy frame; but thy hard round of labours, thine unceasing toil, perchance has fed some deadly disease in thee.

[1399] Disease? Where is it? Where is it, pray? Is there still aught of evil in the world with me alive? Let it come on; let some one reach hither my bow to me – nay, my bare hands will be enough. Let it come on, I say. [He sinks into a deep, swoon-like slumber.]

[1402] Alas! the too great shock of agony hath reft e’en his sense away. [To attendants.] Remove his weapons, take these deadly shafts out of his reach, I pray you; his burning cheeks portend some violence. Where shall an old woman hide herself? That is the smart of madness; it alone masters Hercules. But why should I, foolish that I am, seek flight or hiding? By a brave hand Alcmena deserves to die; so let me perish even impiously, before some craven decree my death, or a base hand triumph over me.

[1412] But see, all spent with woe, his pain holds his worn heart fast bound in slumber, and his panting chest heaves with laboured breathing. Help him, ye gods! If to my misery ye have denied my glorious son, at least spare to the world, I pray, its champion. May his smart be driven quite away, and the body of Hercules renew its strength.

[Enter HYLLUS.]

[1419] A bitter light, O crime-filled day! Dead is the Thunderer’s daughter,33 his son lies dying, and I, his grandson, still survive. By my mother’s crime is he perishing, but she was by guile ensnared. What aged man, throughout his round of years, in his whole life, will be able to recount woes so great? Both parents has one day taken off; to say naught of other ills and to spare the fates,34 Hercules, my father, am I losing.

[1427] Restrain thy words, child of illustrious sire, wretched Alcmena’s grandson, like her in fate; perchance long slumber will o’ercome his pains. But see, repose is deserting his weary heart, and gives back his frame to suffering, me to grief.

[1432] [Awakening in delirium.] Why, what is this? Do I see Trachin midst her rugged hills, or have I, set ‘mongst the stars, at last left behind the race of men? Who opens heaven for me? Thee, thee, my father, now do I behold, and my step-dame also, at last appeased, I see. What heavenly sound strikes on mine ears? Juno calls me son! I see bright heaven’s gleaming palace, and the track worn by Phoebus’ burning wheels. I see Night’s couch; her shadows call me hence.

[1441] [Begins to come out of his delirium.] But what is this? Who shuts heaven’s gates to me, O father, and draws me down even from the stars? But now the care of Phoebus breathed hot upon my face, now was I near to heaven – but I see Trachin. Who has given me earth again? A moment since, and Oeta stood below me, and the whole world lay beneath my feet. How well, O pain, hadst thou fallen from me! Thou compellest me to confess – but stay, forestall that word.35

[1448] [To HYLLUS.] O Hyllus, this, this is thy mother’s boon, her gift to me. Would that with lifted club I might crush out her wicked life just as I smote down the Amazonian pest36 upon the slopes of snowy Caucasus. O well-loved Megara, wast thou wife37 to me when madness came upon me? Give me my club and bow, let my right hand be defiled, let me put stain upon my glory, and let a woman be chosen as the last toil of Hercules.

[1456] Check the dire threatenings of thy wrath, my father; she has it,38 ‘tis over, the penalty which thou desirest she has paid; slain by her own hand, my mother lies in death.

[1459] Treacherously has she fallen; by the hands of enraged Hercules should she have died; Lichas has lost a comrade. I am moved to rage e’en ‘gainst her lifeless body, and wrath impels me. Why is even her corpse safe from my assaults? Let the wild beasts make banquet on it.

[1464] The unhappy woman has suffered more than him she injured; somewhat still of this thou wouldst wish to lighten. By her own hand has she fallen, through grief for thee; more suffering than thou demandest has she borne. But ‘tis not by crimes of a murderous wife, nor by my mother’s guile, thou liest low; Nessus contrived this snare, who, by thine arrow smit, spewed out his life. Father, ‘twas in that half-beast’s gore the robe was dipped, and Nessus by these thy sufferings doth requite his own.

[1472] ‘Tis well, ‘tis over, my fate unfolds itself; this is my last day on earth. This oracle the prophetic oak39 once gave me, and the Parnassian grot,39 shaking the shrines of Cirrha with rumbling tones, declared: “By the hand of one whom, conquering, thou hast slain, Alcides, one day shalt thou lie low; this end, when thou hast traversed seas and lands and shades, awaits thee at the last.” We complain no more; such end was meet, that no living thing might conquer Hercules. Now let me choose a death glorious, renowned, illustrious, full worthy of myself. This day will I make famous. Go, cut down all the woods, heap Oeta’s grove together, that a mighty pyre may receive Hercules, and that before he dies. Thou, son40 of Poeas, dear youth, perform this sad office for me; set the whole sky aglow with the flames of Hercules.

[1488] And now to thee, Hyllus, I bring my latest prayer. Among the captives is a beauteous maid, in feature revealing her race and royal state, Iole, daughter of king Eurytus. Lead her to thy chamber with wedding torch. Victorious, blood-stained, I robbed her of her fatherland and home, and to the wretched girl gave naught except Alcides; and now e’en he is reft from her. Let her find recompense for her sorrows, and cherish Jove’s grandson and the son of Hercules; to thee be born whatever seed she has conceived by me.

[1497] [To ALCMENA.] Do thou thyself cease thy death-wails for me, I pray, illustrious mother; thy Alcides lives; by my heroic deeds have I made my step-dame seem but the concubine.41 Whether the tale of the night of Hercules’ begetting be the truth, or whether my sire be mortal42 – though I be falsely called the son of Jove, I have deserved to be his son; glory on heaven have I conferred, and to Jove’s glory did my mother bring me forth. Nay, he himself, though he be Jupiter, is glad to be believed my sire. Dry now thy tears, my mother; proud ‘mongst the Grecian mothers shalt thou be. What son like thine has Juno borne, though she wield the sceptre of the skies, and be the Thunderer’s bride? Still, though queen of heaven, she envied a mortal woman, and wished that Alcides might be called her own.

[1512] Now, O sun, must thou speed thy course alone, for I, who have been thy companion everywhere, am bound for Tartarus and the land of shades. Yet to the depths shall I bear this glorious fame, that no pest openly has laid Alcides low, and that all pests openly has Alcides slain.
[He goes out toward the pyre which has been prepared for him.]

[1518] O glory of the world, O ray-girt Sun, at whose first warmth Hecate loosens the bits from the weary steeds of her nocturnal car, tell the Sabaeans who lie beneath the dawn, tell the Iberians who lie beneath thy setting, tell those who suffer ‘neath the Wagon of the Bear,43 and those who pant beneath thy burning car: Hercules is hasting to the endless shades, to the realm of sleepless Cerberus, whence he will never more return. Let thy bright rays be overcast with clouds; gaze on the grieving world with pallid face and let disfiguring mists roam o’er thy head. When, O Titan, where, beneath what sky wilt thou follow another Hercules on the earth? To whose aid will the wretched world appeal if within Lerna’s swamp some many-headed pest in a hundred snakes shall spread its poisonous rage; if for the ancient tribes of Arcady some boar shall disturb the quiet of the woods; if some son44 of Thracian Rhodope, harder than the ground of snow-clad Helice, shall spatter his stalls with the blood of men? Who to the trembling nations will give peace, if the angry gods shall raise up new monsters o’er the world? Level with all men he lies,45 whom earth produced level with the Thunderer. Through countless cities let cries of brief resound; let women with streaming hair smite their bare arms; let the temples of all gods be closed save his step-dame’s only, for she only is free from care.

[1550] Thou farest to Lethe and the Stygian shore whence no keel will ever bring thee back; thou farest, lamented one, unto the ghosts whence, overcoming Death, thou didst once return in triumph, now but a shade, with fleshless arms, wan face and drooping neck; nor will that skiff, which once bore thee alone and feared ‘twould be plunged beneath the waves,46 bear thee alone. And yet thou shalt not dwell midst common shades; midst Aeacus and the two Cretans47 shalt thou be, sitting in judgment on men’s deeds, scouring tyrannic kings. Spare, O ye mighty, restrain your hands. ‘Tis thy praise to have kept the sword unstained and that, what time thou didst bear sway, fate midst its storms had less power against thy cities.

[1564] But now has thy manhood place amongst the stars. Wilt occupy the spaces of the north, or where Titan sends forth his oppressive rays? Or in the warm western sky wilt shine, where thou wilt hear Calpe resound with the charging sea? What region of the cloudless heavens wilt thou weigh down? What place, when Alcides comes, will be safe amidst the stars? Only may Jove give thee thy seat far from the dread Lion and the burning Crab, lest at sight of thee the affrighted stars make turmoil of their laws and Titan tremble. While flowers shall bloom as the spring days grow warm; while winter shall strip the foliage from the trees, and summer to the trees recall their foliage; while fruits shall fall as autumn takes his flight, no lapse of time shall snatch thee from the world; comrade of Phoebus, comrade of the stars, shalt thou pass on. Sooner shall wheat sprout from the surface of the deep; sooner the roaring waves of the sea be sweet; sooner shall the icy Bear come down and enjoy the forbidden waters, than shall the nations be silent of thy praise.

[1587] To thee, father of all, in wretchedness we pray: let no dread beast be born, no pest; from the fear of savage kings keep this poor world free; let no one lord it in palace hall who deems it the sole glory of his realm to have held the sword e’er threatening. If some dread thing should come again to earth, oh, give to forsaken earth a champion.

[1595] But what is this? The universe resounds. Behold, he mourns, the father mourns Alcides; or is it the outcry of the gods or the voice of his frighted step-dame? At the sight of Hercules does Juno flee the stars? Under the mighty weight has Atlas staggered? Or is it that the awful ghosts have trembled and at sight of Hercules the hell-hound in affright has broken his chains and fled? No, we are wrong; behold with joyful face comes Poeas’ son and on his shoulders he bears the shafts and the quiver known to all, the heir of Hercules.

[1607] Speak out, good youth, and tell the end of Hercules, I pray, and with what countenance Alcides bore his death.

[1609] With such as none e'er bore his life.

[1609] So joyous did he mount his funeral pyre.

[1610] He showed that now flames were as naught to him. What 'neath the heavens has Hercules left by defeat unscathed? Lo, all things have been subdued.

[1613] Midst the hot flames what room was there for valour?

[1614] The one enemy on earth which he had not o’ercome, e’en fire, is vanquished; this also has been added to the beasts; fire has taken its place midst the toils of Hercules.

[1617] But tell us, in what wise were the flames o’ercome?

[1618] When the whole sorrowing band fell upon Oeta’s woods, by the hands of one the beech-tree lost its shade and lay full length, hewn to the ground; one fiercely felled a pine-tree, towering to the stars, and from the clouds’ midst he summoned it; in act to fall, it shook the rocky slope and with itself brought down the lesser woods. A huge oak stood, wide spreading, such as Chaonia’s oak48 of prophecy, excluding the light of day and stretching its branches far beyond all the grove. Threat’ning it groaned, by many a blow beset, and broke the wedges; back bounded the smiting steel; its edge was dulled, too soft for such a task. When the tree, at last dislodged, falling, brings widespread ruin down, straightway the place lets the sun’s full rays; the birds, driven from their perches, flit aimless through the day midst the felled grove, and, loudly complaining, with wearied wings seek for their nests. And now every tree resounded, and even the sacred oaks49 felt the dread steel-armed hand, and its ancient woods availed no holy grove.50 The whole forest was piled into a heap; and the logs, starward in layers rising, made all too small a pyre for Hercules – the pine-tree, quick to burn, the tough-fibred oak, the ilex of shorter trunk; but poplar wood, whose foliage adorns Alcides’ brow, filled out the pyre.

[1642] But he, like some huge, suffering lion, which, in Libyan forest lying, roars out his pain, hurried along, – who would suppose him hasting to the flames? His gaze was of one who seeks the stars, not fires of earth, when he set foot on Oeta and with his eyes surveyed the pyre complete. The great beams broke beneath him. Then for his shafts and bow he called, and said: “Take these, thou sons of Poeas, take them as Alcides’ gift and pledge of love. These did the Hydra feel; by these the Stymphalian birds lie low, and all other pests which at distance I overcame. O youth with valour blest, never in vain shalt thou send these ‘gainst a foe; or if birds from the very clouds thou wouldst fetch away, birds will fall down, and out of the sky will thy shafts, sure of their prey, come floating; and ne’er will this bow disappoint thy hand. Well has it learned to poise the feathered shafts and unerringly send them flying; while the shafts themselves, loosed from the string, fail never to find their mark. Only do thou, I pray, apply the fire and set the last torch for me. Let this club,” he said, “which no hand but mine has wielded, burn in the flames with me; this weapon alone shall follow Hercules. This also shouldst thou have,” said he, “if thou couldst wield it. Let it add fuel to its master’s pyre.” Then did he call for the Nemean monster’s shaggy skin to burn with him; ‘neath the skin the pyre was hidden.

[1667] The whole throng set up a lamentation, and sorrow filled the eyes of all with tears. His mother, passionate in grief, her eager bosom stript, and she smote her breasts, naked e’en to the waist, in endless lamentation; and with her cries assailing the gods and Jove himself, she filled all the region round with womanish bewailings. “Mother,” he said, “thou dost disgrace the death of Hercules; restrain thy tears and confine thy womanish grief within thy heart. Why for thy weeping should Juno count this day joyful? For she rejoices to see her rival’s tears. Curb thy faint heart, my mother; ‘tis a sin to tear the breasts and the womb that bore Alcides.” Then with dread mutterings, as when through Argive towns he dragged the dog, what time, triumphant over hell, in scorn of Dis and trembling death he returned to earth, so did he lay him down upon the pyre. What victor ever stood in his chariot so joyfully triumphant? What tyrant king with such a countenance ever gave laws to nations? How calmly he bore his fate! Even our tears were stayed, grief’s shock subsided, none grieves that he must perish. Now were we ‘shamed to weep; Alcmena, herself, whose sex impels to mourning, stood with dry cheeks, a mother now well-nigh equal to her son.

[1691] Sent he no supplications, heavenward to the gods e’er the fire was lit? Looked he not to Jove to hear his prayers?

[1693] Careless of self he lay and, gazing at heaven, quested with his eyes whether from any quarter his sire looked down at him. Then, with hands outstretched, he spoke: “O father, from what quarter soe’er thou lookest on thy son, (he truly is my father, for whose sake night joined with day and one day ceased to be,) if both the bounds of Phoebus sing my praise, the tribes of Scythia and every burning strand which daylight parches; if peace fills all the earth; if no cities groan and no man stains with sin his altar-fires; if crimes have ceased, admit this soul, I pray thee, to the stars. I have no fear of the infernal realm of death, nor do the sad realms of dusky Jove51 affright me; but to go, naught but a shade, to those gods I overcame, O sire, I am ashamed. Dispel the clouds, spread wide the day, that the eyes of gods may gaze on burning Hercules. Though thou deny me stars and a place in heaven, O sire, thou shalt even be compelled – ah! if pain will excuse any words52 of mine, then open the Stygian pools and give me to death again; but prove me first thy son. This day will make me seem worthy of the stars. Worthless is all that has been done; this day, my father, will bring Hercules to light or doom him.”

[1715] When he had thus said, he called for fire. “Up now, Alcides’ willing friend,” said he, “catch up the Oetaean torch; let my step-dame see how I can bear the flames. Why did thy right hand tremble? Did thy hand shrink timid from such unholy deed? Then give me my quiver back, thou undaring, unskilled, unwarlike – that the hand to bend my bow! Why do thy cheeks grow pale? Come, seize on the torch with courage, with face thou seest on prone Alcides. Poor soul, have some regard for him who soon will burn.

[1725] “But lo! now doth my father call me and he opens heaven. I come, O sire.” Then was his face no more the same. With trembling hand I applied the blazing pine; the flames shrunk back, the torch resisted and would not touch his limbs; but Hercules followed up the shrinking flames. Thou wouldst suppose that Caucasus or Pindus or Athos was ablaze; no sound burst forth, save that the fire seemed groaning. O stubborn heart! Had huge Typhon been lying on that pyre, he would have groaned aloud, and fierce Enceladus who upon his shoulders bore Ossa, uptorn from earth.

[1736] But Hercules, midst roaring flames upstarting, all charred and mangled, gazed dauntless round and cried: “Now art thou parent true of Hercules; thus ‘tis meet that thou shouldst stand, my mother, beside the pyre, and thus ‘tis meet that Hercules be mourned.” Midst scorching heat and threat’ning flames, unmoved, unshaken, to neither side turning his tortured limbs, he encourages, advises, is active still, though all aflame. To all his ministrants stoutness of soul he gives; you would deem him all on fire to burn. The whole crowd stand in speechless wonder and the flames have scarce belief,53 so calm his brow, the hero so majestic. Nor does he speed his burning; but when now he deemed that courage enough had been shown in death, from every side he dragged the burning logs which the fire least fed upon, and into that blazing mass he strode and sought where the flames leaped highest, all unafraid, defiant. Awhile he feasted his eyes upon the fires. But now his heavy beard burned bright; and even when threat’ning fire assailed his face and the hot tongues licked about his head, he did not close his eyes. – But what is this? I see the sad mother bearing in her bosom the remains of great Alcides, and Alcmena, tossing her squalid locks, bewails her son.
[Enter ALCMENA, carrying in her bosom a funeral urn.]

[1758] Fear ye the fates, O powers above! [Holding up the urn.] See the scant dust of Hercules – to this, to this has that mighty body shrunk! O Sun, how great a mass has passed away to nothingness! Ah me, this aged breast can hold Alcides, this is a tomb for him. See, Hercules has scarce filled all the urn; how light for me his weight upon whose shoulders the whole heavens as a light weight rested. Once to the farthest realms of Tartarus, O son, didst thou go but to return – Oh, when from infernal Styx wilt thou come again? Not in such wise as to bring e’en spoil with thee, nor that Theseus again may owe thee the light of day, – but when, though all alone? Will the whole world, heaped on thee, hold thy shade, on the hell-hound avail to keep thee back? When wilt thou batter down the Taenarian54 gates, or to what yawning jaws shall my mother betake herself, where is the approach to death? Thou takest thy journey to the dead, and ‘twill be thy only one. Why do I waste time in wailing? Why dost endure, O wretched life? Why clingest to the light? What Hercules can I again bring forth to Jove? What son so great will call me mother, will call me his Alcmena? Oh, too, too happy thou, my Theban husband,55 for thou to the realms of Tartarus didst descend, thy son still living; at thy approach the infernal ones, perchance, were filled with fear, merely because thou wast the sire of Hercules, even though falsely called. – What lands shall an aged woman seek, hated by savage kigns, if spite of all any savage king is left alive? Oh, woe is me! All sons56 who lament their murdered sires will seek revenge from me; they all will overwhelm me. If any young Busiris or if any young Antaeus terrifies the region of the burning zone,57 I shall be led off as booty; if any Ismarian58 seeks revenge for the herds of the bloody king59 of Thrace, upon my limbs will his horrid herds be fed. Juno, perchance, in anger will seek revenge; against me will the whole force of her wrath incline; though her soul is more disturbed by Alcides, o’ercome at last, I, the concubine, am left – ah! what punishments will she inflict, lest I be again a mother! This son has made my womb a thing of fear.

[1796] Whither shall Alcmena flee? What place, what region, what quarter of the world will take my part, or to what hiding-place shall thy mother betake herself, know everywhere though thee? Shall I seek my fatherland and my wretched home? Eurystheus is king at Argos. Shall I seek Thebes, my husband’s kingdom, the Ismenus and my bridal chamber, where once, greatly beloved by him, I looked on Jove? Oh, happy, far too happy had I been, if I myself, too,60 had know Jove’s thunderbolt! Oh, would that from my womb the infant Alcides had been ripped! But now was the chance given me, yea ‘twas given to see my son vying in praise with Jove, that this, too, might be given me – to know of how much fate had power to rob me.

[1809] What people will live mindful of thee, O son? Now is the whole race ungrateful. Shall I seek Cleonae? seek the Arcadian tribes and hunt out the lands made famous by thy righteous toils? Here61 fell the serpent dire, here the bird-monster,62 here63 fell a bloody king, and here64 by thy hand subdued, the lion fell, who, while thou liest buried here, holds a place in heaven. If earth is grateful, let every people shield thine Alcmena. Shall I go to the Thracian peoples, and to Hebrus’ tribes? for this land, too, was defended by thy toils; low do the stables65 with the kingdom lie. Here peace was granted when the bloody king was overthrown; for where has it not been granted?

[1821] What tomb for thee shall a luckless old woman seek? Let the whole world contend for thy remains. The ashes of mighty Hercules, what people or what temples, what races desire to have? Who then, who seeks, who demands Alcmena’s burden?66 What sepulchre, O son, what tomb is great enough for thee? Thy tomb is the whole wide world, and fame shall be thine epitaph. Why, soul of mine, art fearful? Thou holdst the dust of Hercules; embrace his bones; his mere dust will bring thee aid, will be defence enough; even thy ghost will cause kings to tremble.

[Who seems to have been present during the preceding scene.]
[1831] Though truly they are due thy son, restrain thy tears, mother of Alcides the illustrious. He is neither to be mourned nor pursued with grievous prayers, whoe’er by his valour hath halted the march of fate; his deathless valour forbids to weep for Hercules. Brave men forbid to mourn, cowards command.

[1837] When her deliverer is lost, shall a mother abate her grief?

[1838] Both land and sea and where the shining sun from his bright car looks down upon both oceans, (not thou alone dost grieve) all mourn for their lost deliverer.67

[1840] How many sons has his wretched mother buried in him alone! Kingdom I lacked, yet kingdoms could I give. I only, midst all the mothers whom the earth contains, refrained from prayer; naught from the gods I asked, while my son remained; for what could the love of Hercules not grant to me? What god could deny me aught? In my own hands were the answers to my prayers: whatever Jove denied, Hercules could bestow. What son like this has a mortal mother borne? Once a mother68 stiffened into stone when, stripped of her whole brood, she stood and, one alone, lamented her twice seven children; but to how many broods like hers could my son be compared? Till now for mother’s grief a measure vast enough was lacking – Alcmena will furnish it. Then cease, ye mothers, whom persistent woe still bids to mourn, whom crushing sorrow has transformed to stone; yield ye, yea, all of you, to these my woes. Then come, beat on this aged breast, O wretched hands, – and canst thou alone suffice for loss so vast, an aged spent old woman? Soon will the whole world unite to mourn with thee.69 Yet raise thy arms, however weary, in lamentation; that by thy grief thou mayst stir envy in the gods, summon the whole race of men unto thy mourning.

[Here follows ALCMENA’s formal song of mourning accompanied by the usual Oriental gestures of lamentation.]
[1863] Come ye, bewail Alcmena’s son and mighty Jove’s, for whose conception one day was lost and lingering dawn joined two nights in one; something greater than the day itself is lost. Together lament, ye nations all, whose cruel tyrants he bade descend to the abodes of Styx and lay down the sword, reeking with blood of peoples. To such deserts pay tribute of your tears; let all, yea all the world echo to your laments. Alcides let sea-girt Crete bewail, land to the great Thunderer dear; let its hundred peoples beat upon their arms. Now Cretans, now priests of Cybele, with your hands clash Ida’s cymbals; ‘tis meet that with arms ye mourn him. Now, now make him just funeral; low lies Alcides, equal, O Crete, to the Thunderer himself. Weep for Alcides’ passing, O Arcadians, who were a people ere yet the moon was born; let Parthenius’ heights and Nemea’s hills resound and Maenalus smite heavy blows of grief. The bristly boar, within your fields laid low, demands lament for great Alcides, and the huge bird whose wings hid all the sky, challenged70 to meet his shafts. Weep, Argive Cleonae, weep; here long ago the lion who kept your walls in fear my son’s right hand destroyed. Ye Bistonian dames, beat your breasts, and let cold Hebrus resound to your beatings; weep for Alcides, for no more are your children born for the stalls,71 nor your offspring as food for the herds. Weep thou, O land from Antaeus delivered, ye regions from fierce Geryon saved; yea, with me, ye unhappy nations, lament; let both seas72 re-echo your beatings.

[1903] You too, ye thronging deities of the whirling heavens, bewail Hercules’ fate; for my Alcides bore your heavens upon his shoulders, your sky, ye gods above, when Atlas, starry Olympus’ prop, was eased of his load awhile. Where now are thy heights, O Jove? Where is the promised73 palace in the sky? Alcides, mortal, is dead! mortal, is buried! How oft did he save thee thy lightnings, how seldom thy fire needed hurling!74 Against me at least brandish thy lightning, and deem me Semele.

[1916] And now, O son, holdst thou the Elysian seats, holdst now the shore whither nature calls all peoples? Or after the dog was stolen has the dark Styx barred thy way, and on the very threshold of Dis do the fates delay thee? What confusion now, my son, seizes the shadowy spirits? Does the boatman draw away his skiff in flight? Do Thessalian Centaurs with flying hoofs smite the affrighted ghosts? Does the hydra in terror plunge his snaky heads beneath the waves and do thy toils all fear thee, O my son? Fooled, fooled am I, distracted, mad! Nor ghosts nor shadows are afraid of thee; the fearsome pelt, stripped from the Argolic lion, with its tawny mane shields thy left arm no more, and its savage teeth hedge not thy temples; thy quiver thou hast given away and now a lesser hand will aim thy shafts. Unarmed, my son, thou farest through the shades, and with them forever shalt thou abide.


[1940] [From above.] Why, since I hold the realms of starry heaven and at last have attained the skies, dost by lamentation bid me taste of death? Give o’er; for now has my valour borne me to the stars and to the gods themselves.

[1944] [Bewildered.] Whence, oh, whence falls that sound upon my startled ears? Whence do the thunderous tones bid check my weeping? Now know I that chaos has been o’ercome.

[1947] From the Styx, O son, art come again to me? Broken a second time is the power of grisly death? Hast escaped once more death’s stronghold and the infernal skiff’s dark pools? Is Acheron’s wan stream retraceable and mayst thou alone recross it? And after thy death do the fates hold thee no more? Has Pluto barred thy way, and trembling for his own sovereignty? Surely upon the blazing logs I saw thee laid, when the vast, fearful flames raged to the sky. Thou wast consumed – why, why did the bottomless abyss not gain thy shade? What part of thee did the ghosts fear, I pray? Is e’en thy shade to terrible for Dis”

[His form now taking shape in the air above.]
[1963] The pools of groaning Cocytus hold me not, nor has the dark skiff borne o’er my shade; then cease thy laments, my mother; once and for all have I seen the shadowy ghosts. Whate’er in me was mortal and of thee, the vanquished flame has borne away75 my father’s part to heaven, thy part to the flames has been consigned. Cease then thy lamentations which to a worthless son might well be given. Let tears for the inglorious flow; valour fares starward, fear, to the realm of death. In living presence, mother, from the stars Alcides speaks; soon shall bloody Eurystheus make thee full recompense; o’er his proud head shalt thou in triumph ride. But now ‘tis meet that I pass to the realm above; Alcides once again has conquered hell.
[He vanishes from sight.]

[1977] Stay but a little! – he has banished from my sight, is gone, to the stars faring. Am I deceived or do my eyes but deem they saw my son? My soul for very grief cannot believe it. – But no! thou art divine, and deathless the heavens possess thee. In thy triumphant entrance I believe.

[1981] Now will I take me to the realm of Thebes and there proclaim the new god added to their temples. [Exit.]

[1983] Never to Stygian shades is glorious valour borne. The brave live on, nor shall the cruel fates bear you o’er Lethe’s waters; but when the last day shall bring the final hour, glory will open wide the path to heaven.

[1989] But do thou, O mighty conqueror of beasts, peace-bringer to the world, be with us yet; still as of old regard this earth of ours; and if some strange-visaged monster cause us with dire fear to tremble, do thou o’ercome him with the forked thunderbolts – yea, more mightily than thy father’s self the thunders hurl.


1. On which Ixion was bound.
2. Which Sisyphus was rolling.
3. Tantalus.
4. Charon.
5. i.e. the fatal sisters, the Parcae.
6. Reading according to the arrangement of Richter.
7. Let the world be shrouded in darkness, that Juno may not see the death of Hercules.
8. The reference is to the former battle of the Giants against Jupiter.
9. Saturn.
10. Beneath which he is buried.

11. i.e. Jupiter is falling and his kingdom with him.
12. Cerberus.
13. He is thinking of the many monsters, beasts, tyrants, whom he has slain, he who must now die by a woman’s hand.
14. i.e. than for me.
15. He counts Deïaneira as worse than all monsters Juno has sent against him. She has outdone even Juno’s hate. Hence Juno is put to shame.
16. Cerberus.
17. Geryon.
18. Which Juno sent against him in his infancy.
19. Pesilent creatures from among the constellations of the zodiac (fervida plaga).
20. The Arcadian stag.

21. When Hercules rent the cliffs of Calpe and Abyla (the pillars of Hercules) asunder and gave outlet to the Mediterranean Sea.
22. The hydra.
23. Addressed to the hidden pest.
24. Think of me as one of the old giants storming heaven, and hurl a bolt at me.
25. i.e. of killing Hercules ere Juno can do so.
26. i.e. according as ye grant my prayer.
27. i.e. the hydra.
28. He compares these flames with the fires of Aetna.
29. i.e. the space between the ecliptic and the celestial equator.
30. All the creatures he conquered on earth are now ghosts in the lower world.

31. He is thinking of the sufferings of Prometheus.
32. Sinis, giant robber of the Isthmus of Corinth, who bent down tree-tops and, fixing his victims to these, shot them through the air; was slain by Theseus.
33. Deïanira, who has just killed herself off stage.
34. i.e. not to speak too hardly of them by recounting all their cruelty.
35. He thus checks himself on the brink of an unmanly confession of his weakness.
36. i.e. the Amazons themselves.
37. It should have been Deïanira.
38. The formula of the gladiatorial contest when one of the contestants has received his death stroke.
39. The oracle of the talking oaks, sacred to Jupiter, was at Dodona, in Epirus; the oracle of Apollo at Delphi was in Phocis, on Mount Parnassus. The poet either means that two oracles foretold the same fate, or simply mingles the two references by way of emphasis on the oracular utterance itself.
40. Philoctetes.

41. By bearing such a son to Jove, Alcmena is proved to be real wife, and Juno the mistress.
42. i.e. Amphitryon.
43. This northern constellation is either the Wain (wagon) or the Bear. The poet confuses the two conceptions.
44. Like Diomedes, the bloody tyrant of Thrace.
45. i.e. brought to the common level by death.
46. Translating Leo’s suggested line.
47. Minos and Rhadamanthus.
48. Chaonian oaks, sacred gorve in Chaonia of Epirus containing a temple and oracle of Jupiter, said to be the oldest oracle in Greece; oracles supposed to be given out by the oaks themselves, endowed with speech, or by the doves which resorted there.
49. Oak-trees were especially sacred to Jove.
50. A deep, primeval forest, for ages left untouched, had acquired a special sanctity.

51. Pluto.
52. i.e. the latest defiant word, “compelled.”
53. The people hardly believed that the fire was real.
54. Taenarus, promontory on the southernmost point of the Peloponnesus, near which was a cave, said to be entrance to the lower world.
55. Amphitryon.
56. i.e. whose fathers Hercules has slain.
57. Both these enemies of Hercules had lived in Africa.
58. i.e. Thracian.
59. Diomedes.
60. She is thinking of the experience of Semele.

61. Lerna
62. The Stymphalian bird.
63. Egypt, Thrace, or Libya, according as Busiris, Diomedes, or Antaeus is in her mind.
64. Nemea.
65. i.e. of Diomedes.
66. i.e. the urn containing the ashes of Hercules.
67. Translating Leo’s conjecture.
68. Niobe.
69. Translating Leo’s conjecture.
70. Hercules roused the bird from its Stymphalian lair by the noise of a great rattle.

71. i.e. of Diomedes.
72. i.e. the eastern and western limits of the sea.
73. Jove had promised Hercules a place in heaven.
74. i.e. Hercules had taken upon himself the punishment of sinful men.
75. Both text and meaning are doubtful here. The sense seems to be that though the mortal part of Hercules has been consumed by the flames, they have in reality been vanquished by his spirit.