Saturday, June 19, 2021

Phaedra's Plan to "Convert" Asexual Hippolytus, Seneca, Phaedra 225-273

 Trigger Warning: "conversion" attempt; homophobia, self harm, suicide,

Unlike its predecessor by Euripides [Hippolytus], Seneca's version of the Hippolytus myth uses Phaedra as the protagonist. In this version, Hippolytus' behavior stems from misogyny, not asexuality, in order to amplify the reader's sympathy for Phaedra. In this passage, the desperate Phaedra is convinced that she can "cure" Hippolytus of his chastity with her love.

Ph. Veniam ille amori forsitan nostro dabit.                    

Nvt. Immitis etiam coniugi castae fuit:

experta saevam est barbara Antiope manum.

sed posse flecti coniugem iratum puta:

quis huius animum flectet intractabilem?

exosus omne feminae nomen fugit,                    

immitis annos caelibi vitae dicat,

conubia vitat: genus Amazonium scias.

Ph. Hunc in nivosi collis haerentem iugis,

et aspera agili saxa calcantem pede

sequi per alta nemora, per montes placet.                    

Nvt. Resistet ille seque mulcendum dabit

castosque ritus Venere non casta exuet?

tibi ponet odium, cuius odio forsitan

persequitur omnes? Ph. Precibus haud vinci potest?

Nvt. Ferus est. Ph. Amore didicimus vinci feros.                    

Nvt. Fugiet. Ph. Per ipsa maria si fugiat, sequar.

Nvt. Patris memento. Ph. Meminimus matris simul.

Nvt. Genus omne profugit. Ph. Paelicis careo metu.

Nvt. Aderit maritus. Ph. Nempe Pirithoi comes?

Nvt. Aderitque genitor. Ph. Mitis Ariadnae pater.                    

Nvt. Per has senectae splendidas supplex comas

fessumque curis pectus et cara ubera

precor, furorem siste teque ipsa adiuva:

pars sanitatis velle sanari fuit.

Ph. Non omnis animo cessit ingenuo pudor.                    

paremus, altrix. qui regi non vult amor,

vincatur. haud te, fama, maculari sinam.

haec sola ratio est, unicum effugium mali:

virum sequamur, morte praevertam nefas.

Nvt. Moderare, alumna, mentis effrenae impetus,                    

animos coerce. dignam ob hoc vita reor

quod esse temet autumas dignam nece.

Ph. Decreta mors est: quaeritur fati genus.

laqueone vitam finiam an ferro incubem?

an missa praeceps arce Palladia cadam?                   

Nvt. Sic te senectus nostra praecipiti sinat                    

perire leto? siste furibundum impetum.

[haud quisquam ad vitam facile revocari potest]

Ph. Prohibere nulla ratio periturum potest,                    

ubi qui mori constituit et debet mori.

proin castitatis vindicem armemus manum.                    

Nvt. Solamen annis unicum fessis, era,                    

si tam protervus incubat menti furor,

contemne famam: fama vix vero favet,

peius merenti melior et peior bono.                    

temptemus animum tristem et intractabilem.

meus iste labor est aggredi iuvenem ferum

mentemque saevam flectere immitis viri.

--Seneca the Younger, Phaedra 225 - 273

Phaedra: Perhaps [Theseus] will take mercy on my love!

Nurse: Your husband shows no mercy to even his chaste wife!

The foreigner Antiope [1] was no stranger to his violence.

But even if your wrathful husband can be convinced,

Who can change Hippolytus’ steadfast mind?

He hates the name of woman, avoids them,

Rigidly declares he’ll live a life of celibacy,

He spurns marriage: you know how Amazons are.

Phaedra: But I want to follow him

Through deep groves, through mountains,

As he wanders the snowy mountain tops,

And as he treads through rough places with on foot.

Nurse: You think he’ll change for you?

You think he will give himself to your charms,

And exchange his chaste lifestyle for an unchaste affair?

You think that he’ll put aside his hatred for you,

When you might be the reason

He hates all womankind?

Phaedra: So he can’t be overpowered by my begging?

Nurse: He’s untamed.

Phaedra: But I’ve learned that the untamed can be tamed with love.

Nurse: He’ll run away.

Phaedra: Even if he should escape over the oceans, I would follow him.

Nurse: Remember who his father is.

Phaedra: I also remember who my mother is [2].

Nurse: He isn’t attracted to women.

Phaedra: Cool, so I won’t need to get jealous about another girl.

Nurse: Your husband will come home soon.

Phaedra: Oh, you mean Pirithous’ “friend”? [3]

Nurse: …as well as your father.

Phaedra: So what? My father forgave Ariadne.

Nurse: I beg you, by my gray hair,

By my heart worn out by worry,

By my bosom that has nursed you,

Please, let this madness go,

Please, help yourself!

You have to want to be healed in order to heal.

Phaedra: My noble heart is not yet cowed by shame.

I’ll obey, nurse. Let the love which did not want to be controlled

Be overpowered. I won’t let my reputation be ruined.

This alone is my reason, this alone will keep me from evil:

I’ll follow my husband in death,

I’ll avoid this crime by dying.

Nurse: Whoa, there, darling, hold your horses on those untamed thoughts,

Calm down.

I reckon that you are worthy of living *because* of this:

Because you assert that you need to die.

Phaedra: I’ve decided on death: I just need to choose how.

Should I end my life with a noose or with a blade?

Or should I toss myself off of the Athenian citadel?

Nurse: You think I, in my old age, would allow you to die an unnatural death?

Stop this madness! You can’t just easily return to life.

Phaedra: You can’t stop a person who has made up their mind to die,

When someone has decided to die,

When someone *must* die.

So let me arm myself and defend my chastity.

Nurse: Lady, my only joy in my old age,

If this madness has really overwhelmed you,

Then stop worrying about your reputation:

Rumor rarely supports truth,

It favors those who deserve bad things,

And treats poorly those who deserve good things.

So, let’s try to change Hippolytus’ somber and stubborn ways:

I will approach the wild youth, and try to change his hard-hearted mind.

[1] Antiope: Theseus captured an Amazon [either named Hippolyta or Antiope] and she bore him Hippolytus. In some versions of this myth, Theseus slays her in anger; in other versions of the myth, she dies defending Athens when it is besieged by Amazons seeking revenge for her capture.

[2] Pasiphae: Phaedra's mother Pasiphae was the mother of the minotaur

[3] Pirithous: in many accounts, Theseus and Pirithous are lovers



Name:  Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Date:  4 BCE – 65 CE

Works:  Epistulae Morales*

               De Clementia

               Phaedra, etc.



Region 1: Peninsular Italy; Region 2: Western Europe; Region 3: Western Coast of Africa; Region 4: Egypt and Eastern Mediterranean; Region 5: Greece and the Balkans



 Originally from Corduba, Hispania, Seneca the Younger was a Roman statesman with a tumultuous career. First exiled to the island of Corsica by the emperor Claudius, he was later recalled and became the emperor Nero’s mentor and tutor. Seneca wrote prolifically in several genres, including Stoic philosophy and Roman tragedies. He was ultimately put to death by the emperor Nero for his participation in the Pisonian Conspiracy of 65 CE.


Early Roman Lit: through 2nd c BCE: Republican Rome: through 1st c. BCE; Golden Age: 70 BCE to 18 CE; Silver Age: 18 CE to 150 CE; Age of Conflict: 150 CE - 410 CE; Byzantine and Late Latin: after 410 CE

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