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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Wooing of Megara
By Seneca (c. 4 B.C.–65 A.D.)
 
From ‘Hercules Furens,’ Act II.: Translation of John William Cunliffe

[Enter Amphitryon and Megara, father and wife of Hercules, suppliants with his children at the altars of the gods.]

AMPHITRYON—Olympus’ ruler great and judge of earth
Now place at last a term to our distress
And make an end of sadness. Never dawn
Flashed on me free from care. One evil’s end
Ever begins a new one. Even now        5
For him returning a new foe’s prepared.
Before he gains his happy home he goes
Bidden to another war. Nor any rest
Nor any time of leisure is there granted
But he has some commands. From the very first        10
Juno pursues him hostile. Wherein was free
From care his infant years? Monsters he tamed
Ere he could even know them. Serpents twain
With crested heads threatened him open-mouthed
Whom boldly ran to meet the little child,        15
Seized, gazing on the serpents’ fiery looks
With undisturb’d, serene, and cheerful heart
[With quiet face he bore their knotted folds,]
Pressing with tender hands their swelling throats
He crushed to death and to the future dragon        20
Thus gave a prelude. Mænalus’ swift stag
Bearing aloft a head bright with much gold
He chased and caught. Nemea’s greatest fear,
The lion, groaned, crushed by his sinewy strength.
Why should I tell the Bistones’ dread stalls        25
And the king made a prey to his own herds?
The shaggy boar of Mænalus that used
To shake the Arcadian groves upon the heights
Of Erymanthus. Why should I also tell
The bull to hundred nations no light fear?
*        *        *        *        *
        30
Amid the far-off flocks of the western isle
The triple shepherd of the Tartesian shore
Was slain, the booty driven from utmost west.
Cithæron feared the beast known to the sea.
Bidden to explore the climes of summer sun,        35
The scorchèd realms where midday ever burns,
On either side he loosed the mountains, burst
The barrier, for the rushing mighty waves
Made a wide way. Arriving afterwards
At the abodes of the rich grove he bore        40
Away the dragon-guarded golden spoils.
Why should I tell of Lerna’s monsters fierce,
A numerous pest, whom he at last with fire
Conquered and taught to die. In the very clouds
He shoots the Stymphalian birds which hitherto        45
Were wont to veil the day with outspread wings.
He was not conquered by the widow queen
Of couch unspotted on the Thermodon,
Nor did the task of Augeas’ dirty stable
Dismay his hands, to every noble deed        50
Made bold. But what avails all this? He lacks
The world that he defended. All the lands
Have felt that he, the author of their peace,
Is far away. Lucky, successful crime
Is virtue called at Thebes. The good obey        55
The bad, and might is right, and slavish fear
Bears down the laws. Before my face I saw
With savage hand the royal princes slain,
Their father’s throne defending, and himself
A victim fall, the last of Cadmus’ stock.        60
I saw the crown that royal heads adorns
Torn off with the head itself. Who Thebes enough
Can pity? Land renowned for births of gods,
What master dost thou fear! Thou from whose fields,
A fertile womb indeed, a youthful band        65
Sprang with drawn swords, whose walls divine Amphion
Built with his lyre, whose strain the rocks obeyed,
Into whose city more than once the king
Of gods came down and left the sky. Which oft
Has been the host of gods, has made them too        70
And—be it right to say—perchance shall make them,
With sordid yoke is now this land oppressed.
[To what depths, sons of Cadmus and the state
Of great Amphion have ye fallen down?
Fear ye an unknown exile who has fled        75
His fatherland, and now oppresses ours?
And he who crime pursues by land and sea
And breaks with righteous hand the tyrants’ sway
Now serves, though absent, and endures himself
What he forbids to others.] Exiled Lycus        80
Reigns over Thebes, the Thebes of Hercules.
But reign he will not. He will come to seek
His vengeance due and suddenly emerge
From hell to light of day. He’ll find a way
Or make one. O, I pray, come safe and sound,        85
Return a victor to your vanquished home.
  Megara—Come forth, my spouse, and far asunder riven
Break through the darkness. If there’s no way back
And every path is closed, then cleave in twain
The earth, return, and whatsoe’er lies hid,        90
Bound with the bonds of night, bring with you forth.
Just as by torn-up ridges you once stood
And for the hurried river sought a way
Precipitous; riven with the mighty rush
Tempe lay wide revealed; driven by your breast        95
The mountains hither, thither fell, and, bursting
Its dykes, Peneus ran a course unknown—
So now in search of parents, children dear,
And fatherland, burst through the bonds of things,
Bring with you whatsoever greedy time        100
Has hidden in lapse of many years. Return
And drive before you nations lost to view,
Forgetful of themselves, afraid of day.
Unworthy are your spoils if you bring back
What is commanded only.—But too much        105
I boast, forgetting our sad lot. For whence
To me that day when I shall grasp your hand,
May kiss it, wail your slow return, unmindful
Of me and all my woes? To thee, O monarch
Of all the gods, a hundred untamed bulls        110
Shall bring their necks for slaughter. Queen of fruits,
I’ll pay thee secret rites. In silent faith
Shall mute Eleusis cast thee torches long.
Then I will own the life and breath restored
To my dead brothers and my father happy,        115
Ruling in his own realms. If greater power
Keeps you a prisoner, then we follow. All
Either defend returning safe, or all
Drag to a like destruction. You will drag
Us down and no god raise us up again.        120
  Amphitryon—O partner of our blood, faithful and chaste
Keeping the couch and sons of Hercules,
Take better hope and call your courage up.
Forthwith he will be here of greater might
Than ever, as his wont has been, each task        125
Accomplished.
  Megara—            What in grief too much we wish
We easily believe.
  Amphitryon—                Nay, what we fear
Too much, we think can never be removed.
Faith in the worst is ever prone to fear.
  Megara—Sunk, buried, weighted down with all the earth        130
Above him, what way can he find to light?
  Amphitryon—That which he found when through the parchèd waste
And billowy sands like ocean tempest-tossed
He traveled, twice the main he cleaved, and twice
Returned, when with abandoned barque embarrassed        135
He stuck in Syrtes’ shallows, and, the boat
Remaining fast, went o’er the sea on foot.
  Megara—The greatest virtue unfair fortune spares
But rarely. To so oft repeated dangers
Can no one long expose himself with safety.        140
Misfortune misses oft but hits at last.
But lol with fierce and threatening countenance
Comes Lycus, wielding sceptres not his own.
[Enter Lycus.]
  Lycus—The ruler of the wealthy realms of Thebes
And whatsoe’er contain with fertile soil        145
The slopes of Phocis that Ismenus waters,
[Whate’er Cithæron sees from his high top
And the thin isthmus cutting oceans twain]—
I do not hold a sire’s ancestral sway,
A slothful heir. I have no noble line        150
Of ancestors, no race of ancient fame,
But excellence distinguished. He who boasts
His noble birth, praises another’s deeds
And not his own. But sceptres won by force
Are held in fear. All safety lies in steel.        155
The unsheath’d sword guards what you know you hold
Against your subjects’ will. In foreign soil
No kingdom stands secure. But Megara
Can stay my power in royal wedlock joined.
Her noble birth to my obscurity        160
Will color give. I cannot think ’twill be
That she’ll refuse and spurn with scorn my couch.
But if persistently with violent mind
She should say no, one plan alone remains,
To overwhelm in one destruction all        165
The house of Hercules. The people’s voice
With hatred such a deed will follow close.
Well, rule’s first art is the ability
To suffer hatred. Therefore let us try,
Since chance has given us opportunity,        170
For she herself, her head in sorrow covered,
Stands veiled by the protecting deities,
And by her side clings Hercules’ true sire.
  Megara—What new plot plans that man, our race’s ruin?
What is he attempting?
  Lycus—                    O thou who drawest
        175
From royal stock a noble name, a little
Gracious with patient ear receive my words.
If mortals always wage eternal hatred,
If never from our minds madness departs
When once it’s made a home there, but the victor        180
Still carries arms, and fresh ones forge the vanquished,
War will leave nothing. With, wide fields the country
Will desert lie and squalid, burning dwellings
Will overwhelm the nations, in the ashes
Of their own houses buried. It befits        185
The conqueror to wish for peace. The vanquished
Must hold it a necessity. Come then
And share my realm. Be one with me in mind
And take this pledge of faith, touch my right hand.
But why with countenance fierce do you keep silence?        190
  Megara—Am I to touch a hand stained with the blood
Of my own father, and my brothers’ slaughter?
First shall the morning see the sun go down
And eve bring back the day. ’Twixt snow and flame
First shall be faithful peace, and Scylla join        195
Sicily’s shore to Italy [and first
Shall the Euboic wave of Euripus,
With changeful swiftness flying, stand unmoved.]
You robbed me of my native land, my home,
My sire, my brothers. What remains to me?        200
One thing is left, dearer than sire or brother,
Than native land, than hearth and home, my hatred
Of thee, which I but mourn because I share it
With all the people. But how great a portion
Of hate is mine? Rule, swol’n with pride. Display        205
Your haughty spirit. The avenging god
Pursues the proud behind. The realms of Thebes
I know of old. Why should I tell the wrongs
That mothers dared and bore? The double crime
And mingled name of spouse and child and sire?        210
Why the twin camps of hostile brothers, why
So many funeral piles? Now stiff with grief
Stands the proud mother, Tantalus’ fair daughter,
And weeps the rock in Phrygian Sipylus.
[Cadmus himself, lifting a serpent’s head,        215
Crested and threatening, the Illyrian kingdoms
Measured in flight from end to end, and left
The long marks of his dragging steps behind.]
These instances await you. As you will,
Rule till our realm’s accustomed fates shall call.        220
  Lycus—Come, mad one, lay aside these savage words
And learn from Hercules, your spouse, to bear
A king’s commands. Although with conquering hand
I wield a sceptre won with violence,
And all things rule without a fear of laws,        225
Which arms have conquered, I will speak a little
In my own cause. In bloody war your father
Fell with your brothers. Arms observe no bounds,
Nor is it easy to restrain or rule
The anger of the unsheath’d sword. In gore        230
War takes delight—he in his realm’s defense,
We urged by wicked lust—war’s end is sought
And not its cause. But let all memory
Now perish from our minds. For since his arms
The victor has laid down, the vanquished too        235
To lay aside his hatred it behoves.
Not that on bended knee you should adore
Us reigning do we seek. But this doth please us
That you accept your ruin with great mind.
You are a lady worthy of a king,        240
A queenly wife. Then come and share my couch.
  Megara—A chilling tremor strikes my bloodless limbs.
What crime has reached my ears? I did not tremble
When peace was broken and the crash of war
Sounded about the rampart. Fearlessly        245
I bore all terrors. From your nuptial couch
Trembling I shrink. Now first of all I feel
Myself a prisoner. Now let heavy chains
Weigh down my body and with hunger slow
Let death be long drawn out. No force shall break        250
My constancy. I’ll die, Alcides, thine.
  Lycus—Your spouse inspires your heart in depths of hell?
  Megara—He sank to hell that he might rise to heaven.
  Lycus—The earth’s unmeasured weight now keeps him down.
  Megara—No weight keeps that man down who bore the sky.        255
  Lycus—You will be forced.
  Megara—                What force can o’ercome death?
  Lycus—Confess what royal gift could I prepare
Equal to marriage bonds?
  Megara—                        Your death or mine.
  Lycus—Mad, will you die?
  Megara—                I’ll run to meet my spouse.
  Lycus—Do you prefer a slave to me, a monarch?        260
  Megara—How many monarchs has that slave destroyed?
  Lycus—Then why serves he a king and bears the yoke?
  Megara—Take hard commands away, and where is virtue?
  Lycus—You think it virtue to meet beasts and monsters?
  Megara—’Tis virtue’s part to vanquish what all fear.        265
  Lycus—Now the Tartarean shades oppress the boaster.
  Megara—It is no easy path from earth to heaven.
  Lycus—Born of what father does he hope for heaven?
  Amphitryon—Now list, Alcides’ miserable spouse.
My part it is to give to Hercules        270
His sire and true extraction. Do but think on
So many famous deeds of our great hero,
Whatever Titan rising, setting, sees,
Tamed by his hand, so many monsters vanquished
And Phlegra’s land scattered with gore rebellious        275
Against the gods, the gods themselves defended.
Is not his father clear? Do we wrong Jove?
Trust Juno’s hatred.
  Lycus—                But why slander Jove?
The mortal race cannot be joined with heaven.
  Amphitryon—Many gods had this common origin.        280
  Lycus—And were they slaves before they reached the sky?
  Amphitryon—The Delian shepherd fed Admetus’ flocks.
  Lycus—But wandered not an exile through all lands.
  Amphitryon—On wandering isle of exiled mother born.
  Lycus—Did Phœbus fear fierce monsters or wild beasts?        285
  Amphitryon—The dragon dyed his arrows with its blood.
Do you not know what ills the baby bore
Cast by the thunder from his mother’s womb?
[He soon stood boldly by his thundering sire.]
And did not he, who rules the sky and shakes        290
The clouds, lie hid an infant in a cave
On Ida’s mount. Such high nativities
Are paid with anxious care. The cost is great,
Both is and has been, to be born a god.
  Lycus—Whomever you see luckless, know a man.        295
  Amphitryon—Whomever you see valiant, call not luckless.
  Lycus—Are we to call him valiant from whose shoulders
The lion’s skin and club fell, to be made
A wench’s gift, whose side shone clothed in purple?
Are we to call him valiant whose stiff hair        300
Was wet with ointment, whose renownèd hands
Moved to the unheroic timbrel’s sound?
  Amphitryon—With barbarous coif his savage forehead binding
Young Bacchus did not blush his locks to spread
Wide to the breeze, or with soft hand to wield        305
The thyrsus light, when with unmartial step
He wore a robe bright with barbaric gold.
Virtue relaxes after many toils.
  Lycus—The house of o’erwhelmed Teuthras speaks to that
And flocks of virgins pure oppressed like cattle.        310
This did not Juno, nor Eurystheus bid.
These are his own achievements.
  Amphitryon—                            You know not all.
His own achievement was it to beat Eryx
With his own gloves, yea and to Eryx joined
Libyan Antæus. And the bloody hearths,        315
Stained with the gore of guests, were made to drink
The righteous blood of wicked Busiris.
His own achievement was it to slay Cycnus,
As yet untamed, who ran upon the sword,
And Geryon, more than one, by one hand vanquished.        320
But you, no doubt, are one of those good people
Who by no shameful deed have injured wedlock
Of marriage-bed inviolate.
  Lycus—                    What Jove may do,
A king may. A wife to Jove you gave, a wife you’ll give
To me, a king. And by your tutorship        325
Your daughter here will learn this old, old lesson,
Which e’en her spouse approves, the better man
To follow. If she steadfastly refuses
To join with me in marriage, from her body,
Ravished by force, a noble stock I’ll raise.        330
  Megara—Ye shades of Creon and the household gods
Of Labdacus and the dread nuptial torch
Of Œdipus, give your accustomed fates
To your communion. Now ye cruel daughters
Of King Egyptus come with blood-dyed hands.        335
One of their number lack the Danaïdes.
I will fill up the place, complete the crime.
  Lycus—Since stubbornly you spurn with scorn our union
And terrify a king, you now shall know
The power of a king’s sceptre. You will cling        340
Fast to the altars, but no god shall save you
Not if, the world removed, Alcides came
Victorious, to the gods in triumph borne.
Heap up the wood. Let the fire blaze and fall
In on the suppliants. Apply the torch        345
And let one pyre burn wife and all the flock.
  Amphitryon—This boon I pray from thee, Alcides’ sire,
Which be it fit to ask, that first I fall.
  Lycus—Who bids one punishment slay all together
Knows not to be a tyrant. Ask again        350
And something different. The unhappy man
Forbid to die, the happy bid destroy.
I, while with faggots grows the funeral pile
Will sacrifice to Neptune, ocean’s lord.
  Amphitryon—O highest power of deities on high,        355
Ruler omnipotent, at whose weapons tremble
All human things, this wicked king’s right hand
Smite and restrain! Why vainly pray to gods?
Where’er thou art, my son, O hear!—Why totter
The temples tossed with sudden motion? Why        360
Groans loud the ground? From lowest depths of hell
A crash infernal thundered. We are heard.
It is, it is the step of Hercules.
 
 
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