Seneca: Troades 371-408 "Death Has No Terror" (From Latin)

This is the second choral ode from Seneca's Troades "The Trojan Women" whose underlying theme, that of death as a haven and release from suffering, grows out of the titular women's experience of life as unspeakable brutality, having been taken captive by the Greek coalition that has just sacked Troy. The idea of death as a release does not necessarily imply the non-existence of an afterlife, however. The first choral ode, for example, depicts the dead Priam happily wandering in Elysium. Both belief and non-belief in an afterlife were current in Seneca's milieu (the latter position is also evinced in the Greek epitaphs which I translate here from two centuries or so after Seneca's death) and both find expression and examination in his prose works, as in De Consolatione ad Polybium. It would, however, be incorrect to suggest that he believed that places like Elysium or beings like Cerberus might be real in any literal sense. Seneca himself believed in one omnipresent God known by many names, including that of Nature. He is decidedly non-committal about whether there is anything beyond death in the works that have come down to us, and does not present a single coherent view on the matter anymore than his Stoic predecessors. Not even in a single work, where he can claim in one chapter that death is equivalent to non-existence, and in another give an elaborate depiction of a deceased man's soul rising to meet his ancestors.  "Skeptical but hopeful" might be the only apposite generalization. What really matters for Seneca, though, is not what if anything happens after death but that, either way, it means an end to suffering.                 

Death Has No Terror (From "Trojan Women" 371-408)
By Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 BC - 65 AD)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original in Latin

Is it the truth that souls live on    
  beyond the buried flesh? 
Or just a myth to drug weak hearts  
  with hope for something else?  
When fingers of the one we love  
  ease our eyes shut forever,
when our last day blots out the light  
  of days that lay ahead, 
and the grim urn has sealed away  
  the ash that was our self,
can we not give our being up    
  in the grave's gift of death? 
Are we, poor things, condemned to live  
  through more existence yet?  
Or is death something absolute,  
  no fraction of us left 
when our soul, like a burst of air  
  commingling overhead
with vaporous and fleeting clouds,    

  flees with our last gasped breath
and the cremation torches' tongues  
  have licked our naked flesh?

All that the Sun sees on its rise  
  or in its setting glow,
all that the Sea's blue billows wash  
  with global ebb and flow,
is pulled by Pegasus-swift Time  
  doomward. All things must go. 

As the cyclonic cosmos' whirl  
  the Zodiac we see,   
and Sun, the Lord of Stars, spins out  
  the roll of centuries,  
and Moon in witching orbit's arc   
  speeds to Her destiny,  
as all things extant go the way  
  they must go, so do we.
He who has reached the stagnant waves  
  of Styx, the Netherstream          
where gods are sworn to ceaseless truth,  
  has simply ceased to be.  
As smoke from sputtering fire, we soil   
  the atmosphere, then fade.
As the rain-pregnant clouds you see  
  first darken the blue day 
are scattered by the sudden Northwind's   
  chill blasts, then dissipate,
the souls that rule our flesh will flow  
  apart without a trace.
For there is nothing after death  
  and death is not a state
only the finish line of this  
  swift existential race. 
Lay down your greed for a reward,  
  your fears of punishment.
When greedy Time and gnashing Chaos  
  devour us, we just end. 
For death can be no partial thing.  
  When it destroys the flesh
it nullifies the soul. There is  
  no afterlife, no Hell,
no hellhound guardian at the gates   
  to block escape attempts,  
no savage tyrant Lord who rules  
  the kingdom of the dead.
These are no more than hollow folktales  
  unworthy of attention,
fragments of fantasy and myth   
  turned nightmare and deception.   
You ask "where will we go when we 
  are dead forevermore?"
    You'll be with the unborn.   

The Original:

Vērum est an timidōs fābula dēcipit
umbrās corporibus vīvere conditīs,
cum coniūnx oculīs imposuit manum
suprēmusque diēs sōlibus obstitit
et trīstis cinerēs urna coercuit,
Nōn prōdest animam trādere fūnerī,
sed restat miserīs vīvere longius?
An tōtī morimur nūllaque pars manet
nostrī, cum profugō spīritus hālitū
Immixtus nebulīs cessit in āerā
et nūdum tetigit subdita fax latus?

Quidquid sōl oriēns, quidquid et occidēns
nōvit, caeruleīs Ōceanus fretīs
quidquid bis veniēns et fugiēns lavat,
aetās Pēgaseō corripiet gradū.
Quō bis sēna volant sīdera turbine,
quō cursū properat volvere saecula
astrōrum dominus, quō properat modo
oblīquīs Hecatē currere flexibus:
hōc omnēs petimus fāta, nec amplius,
iūrātōs superīs quī tetigit lacūs,
usquam est. Ut calidīs fūmus ab ignibus
vānēscit, spatium per breve sordidus;
ut nūbēs, gravidās quās modo vīdimus,
arctōī Boreae dissicit impetus:
sīc hic, quō regimur, spīritus effluet.

Post mortem nihil est ipsaque mors nihil,
vēlōcis spatiī mēta novissima.
Spem pōnant avidī, sollicitī metum:
Tempus nōs avidum dēvorat et Chaos.
Mors indīvidua est, noxia corporī
nec parcēns animae. Taenara et asperō
rēgnum sub dominō līmen et obsidēns
custōs nōn facilī Cerberus ōstiō
rūmōrēs vacuī verbaque inānia
et pār sollicitō fābula somniō.
Quaeris quō iaceās post obitum locō?
Quō nōn nāta iacent.

No comments:

Post a Comment