Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Seneca: a furious woman.

It is little known that Seneca adapted Greek tragedies into Latin – of course Latin scholars know, but students doing courses Latin hardly if ever get to read them. The reason is that often we have the Greek original and to be honest, Seneca was not a great dramaturge: his treatment of the material is more based on the sensational aspects of a tragedy, than on psychological insights about the motives of a character.  I can feel sympathy for Euripides’ Medea, as he delves into her psychology and makes her choices understandable for the public – at least I do, but maybe I should consult a psychiatrist - but these psychological investigations are foreign to Seneca’s Medea.
In the following passage, the choir comments on Medea’s spells and invocation of the gods during the night to help her to fulfil her revenge on her former husband Jason: the destruction of the two children she has with him and of his new bride – and of Creon, king of Corinth.

Seneca, Medea, 849-878
Meter: irregular iambic

Quonam cruenta maenas
praeceps amore saevo                              850
rapitur? quod impotenti
facinus parat furore?
vultus citatus ira
riget et caput feroci
quatiens superba motu                              855
regi minatur ultro.
     quis credat exulem?
Flagrant genae rubentes,
pallor fugat ruborem.
nullum vagante forma                              860
servat diu colorem.
huc fert pedes et illuc,
ut tigris orba natis
cursu furente lustrat
     Gangeticum nemus.                              865
Frenare nescit iras
Medea, non amores;
nunc ira amorque causam
iunxere: quid sequetur?
quando efferet Pelasgis                              870
nefanda Colchis arvis
gressum metuque solvet
regnum simulque reges?
Nunc, Phoebe, mitte currus
nullo morante loro,                              875
nox condat alma lucem,
mergat diem timendum
     dux noctis Hesperus.

cruentus: bloody
maenas maenadis (f.): maenad (priestess of Bacchus, alleged to behave frantic when in ecstasy)
praeceps: headlong
amore saevo: by wild passion
parat: subject Medea
impotenti furore: The prefix `in' in Latin is in this case related to English `un' and not to `in'. Like in English `un' is only used as a prefix, but for reasons of historical phonology it became homologous with `in’. The compound impotentia can be resolved as `having no (un) power’ or `in power’. In this case the latter meaning is intended
citatus: roused
rigeo: to stiffen
quatio: to shake
superbus: haughty
minor (often with dat.): to threaten
exulem: Medea came as a foreigner to Corinth
flagro: to glow
pallor palloris (m.): paleness
nullum vagante forma servat diu colorem: because of her changing form, she preserves no colour for long
huc…illuc: hither…tither
orba natis: bereaved of her cubs
lustro: to go around
Gangeticus: of the Ganges
freno: to check, control
causam iunxere (= iunxerunt): have joined a (common) cause
quando efferet Pelasgis nefanda Colchis arvis gressum metuque solvet
regnum simulque reges?: when will the impious woman from Colchis bring her step away from the Pelasgian fields (ex arvis Pelasgis) and free at the same time the kingdom the kingdom and the royal family (reges) from fear?
mitte currus: send out your chariot (currus: poetic plural), i.e. the chariot of the sun
moror: to delay
lorum: rein
condo condidi conditum: to hide
almus: nourishing, `kind’
mergat diem: may you merge into the day (i.e. go asap away)
Hesperus: the evening star

Translation by F.J. Miller (1917)

[849] Whither is this blood-stained maenad borne headlong by mad passion? What crime with reckless fury is she preparing? Her distraught face is hard set in anger, and with fierce tossings of her head she haughtily threatens e’en the king. Who would think her an exile.

[858] Her cheeks blaze red, pallor puts red to flight; no colour in her changing aspect does she keep long. Hither and thither she wanders, as a tigress, robbed of her cubs, ranges in mad course through the jungles of Ganges.

[866] How to curb her anger Medea knows not, nor yet her love; now that anger and love have joined cause, what will the outcome be? When will the wicked Colchian be gone from the Pelasgian borders and free from terror at once our kingdom and our kings? Now, O Phoebus, speed thy chariot with no check of rein; let friendly darkness veil the light and let Hesperus, vanguard of the night, plunge deep this fearful day.

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