Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Seneca, Medea 579-594: the psyche of a furious woman.

One of my favourite female characters in Greek drama is Medea: the mother who killed her two children and the new bride of her ex-husband Jason. Not that I approve of women doing that, but portrayed by such a great dramatist and psychologist as Euripides, one can fully understand her motives.
When in the third century BC Romans started to copy Greek literature, tragedies modelled on Greek examples were written too in the following two centuries, but nothing has survived, except some titles and single lines.  The only surviving tragedies have been written by Seneca and he did quite a good job by writing ten. Most scholars think they were not performed on stage, but were merely an attempt to cast philosophical ideas into drama. Amongst these tragedies is a Medea, but though based on Euripides, it is not an exact copy (see the link below). Euripides is by far the better playwright and his play has a power still appealing for a modern public, but Seneca has some forceful scenes too.
In the following section the choir is comparing the fury of an abandoned woman with the force (vis) of nature: nature loses… so, men, beware!

Seneca, Medea.
Metre: Sapphic  - u -  x  - u u -   u - - (3x)
  - u u - u


     Nulla vis flammae tumidive venti
tanta, nec teli metuenda torti,                              580
quanta cum coniunx viduata taedis
     ardet et odit;
non ubi hibernos nebulosus imbres
Auster advexit properatque torrens
Hister et iunctos vetat esse pontes                              585
     ac vagus errat;
non ubi impellit Rhodanus profundum,
aut ubi in rivos nivibus solutis
sole iam forti medioque vere
     tabuit Haemus.                              590
caecus est ignis stimulatus ira
nec regi curat patiturve frenos
aut timet mortem: cupit ire in ipsos
     obvius enses.

nulla vis...tanta metuenda, quanta
torqueo torti torsum: to hurl
viduo:  to bereave
taeda: nuptial torch, wedding
hibernos imbres: winter rains
Auster Austri: South-wind
advehi vexi vectum: to carry, bring
propero: to hasten, go quickly
Hister Histri: the lower Danube 
iunctos vetat esse pontes:  and forbids bridges to be connected (i.e. breaking them.)
vagus errat: wanders astray (= floods its banks.)
Rhodanus: Rhone (river in France.)
profundum: the deep sea (here the Atlantic Ocean.)
rivus: small stream, brook
nivibus solutis: when the snow (nix nivis, f.) has melted
tabescere tabui: to dwindle, melt
Haemus: a mountain in Thessaly
caecus: blind
ignis: the fury of an abandoned woman
regi: passive infinitive of rego, not  dative of rex!
patiturve frenos: or endures bridles
ire in ipsos obvius enses: to go against swords themselves  (Note that obvius is an adjective in Latin agreeing with ignis, whereas in English – lacking  a corresponding adjective  - it is translated as a preposition.)

Loeb translation by F.J. Miller (1917)

[579] No violence of fire or of swelling gale, no fearful force of hurtling spear, is as great as when a wife, robbed of her love, burns hot with hate; not when cloudy Auster has brought the winter’s rains, and Hister’s floods speeds on, wrecking bridges in its course, and wanders afield; not when the Rhone beats back the sea, or when the snows melt into streams beneath the sun’s strong rays and in mid-spring Haemus has dissolved. Blind is the fire of love when fanned by rage, cares not to be controlled, brooks no restraint, has no fear of death; ‘tis eager to advance even against the sword.

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