Seneca, Suasoria 3

Translated by by W.A. Edward (Cambridge, 1928). Click on the L symbols to go to the Latin text of each chapter.   

"Agamemnon deliberates whether he should sacrifice Iphigenia since Calchas declares that otherwise it is a sin to sail"


When God spread out the waters of the sea, he did not ordain that at all times they should be obedient to our prayers: nor is it so only with the sea. Observe the sky: are not the stars governed by the same conditions? At one time they withhold the rain, and parch the ground, and poor farmers mourn the destruction of their seeds (these conditions sometimes prevail for a year). At another time the clear blue is hidden, and every day sees the sky heavy with cloud : the soil sinks down, and the earth does not retain what has been entrusted to it. Again the stars become inconstant in their motions, the conditions keep changing: the sun's heat is not too oppressive, nor fall the rains beyond what is due: whatever harshness the heat has caused, whatever excess of moisture the streaming rains have brought, the one is tempered by the other. Whether such is the order of nature, or, as men say, these changes are controlled by the course of the moon - which if its light is undimmed and its brilliant crescent steadily waxing, keeps away the rains, or if cloud obscures it, and its circle is duller, makes no end of rain until it regains its light - or, whether the moon has no such influence, but it is the winds that seize and dominate the season; no matter which of these causes is the true one, it was no order of a god that made the sea safe for an adulterer. Even if you urge that I cannot punish the adulteress (unless I offer this sacrifice), surely the chaste maiden has the prior claim. I pursued the adulterer to safeguard her purity. If I conquer Troy I shall spare the maidens of the enemy. As yet Priam's virgin daughter has nothing to fear.


For these reasons I appeal to the immortal gods. Are these the terms on which you will open the seas? Nay close them rather. Even Priam's children you do not mean to sacrifice. (Describe now the storm): we have shed no kindred blood yet these are our sufferings. Is it an appropriate sacrifice to slay a virgin in the temple of a virgin goddess? She will receive her more gladly as priestess than as victim.


 Against us, he cries, fierce are the storms and the seas rage and yet up till now I have shed no kindred blood. Those seas if the will of God controlled them would be closed to adulterers


If our path to the war is blocked, let us go home to our children.


For the second time an evil fate descends upon our house. For the sake of an adulteress a brother's children perish. At such a price I would not wish her back. But Priam, you tell me, wages war to defend an adulterous son.


This is the analysis of the argument adopted by Fuscus. He said, the maiden must not be sacrificed even if otherwise they could not sail. It must not be done, because it was a shedding of blood, because it was a shedding of kindred blood, because they were losing more than they gained; losing Iphigenia to gain Helen. They were punishing adultery by shedding kindred blood. He added that he would sail even without that sacrifice: the delay was natural, due to the sea and the winds. The will of the gods was hidden from men. This last point was carefully analysed by Cestius. He said: the gods do not interpose their will in human affairs: even if they do interpose it their will is not known to man: granting that it is known what is once decreed cannot be altered : if there is no such thing as fate the future is unknown : if there is, it cannot be changed. [4] L   Silo Pompeius said that even if there were some means of knowing the future, still augury was unworthy of belief. "You may ask in reply, 'why does Calchas claim to know if he is ignorant?'" To which I answer, "Firstly, he thinks he knows" - here he handled the stock argument against all who claimed this knowledge - then he said, "He is angry with you : he is averse to the war:  he wants to win the confidence of the world by a proof so convincing . In the description which I placed first in this suasoria Fuscus Arellius wished to imitate some lines of Vergil. The passage is far-fetched, and he inserted it although the matter is almost irrelevant and certainly unnecessary. He speaks of the moon "which, if its light is undimmed, and its brilliant crescent steadily waxing, keeps away the rains, or if a cloud obscures it, and its circle is duller, makes no end of rain until it regains its light". [5] L   How much more simply and happily has Vergil expressed this: "When first the moon's light returns and gathers strength, if the points of the crescent are dull and dark with mist, rain and storm are threatening on land and sea" { Georg. 1.427-9 }. And again, "But if at her fourth rising (and this is the surest sign), she sails through the heavens with crescent bright and clear" { Georg. 1.432-3 }. Fuscus used often to borrow ideas from Vergil to win the approval of Maecenas; he was so given to claiming credit for having succeeded in some description modelled on Vergil. For example in this suasoria he said: "Why was Calchas the favoured interpreter of the gods? Why did the god choose him as his mouthpiece? Why did the god choose this man's heart to fill with his divine inspiration?" In this he said he had imitated Vergil's well-known phrase, plena deo (full of divine frenzy). [6] L   My friend Gallio has a habit of quoting this phrase just in the right place. I remember our going together to the house of Messala, after listening to Nicetes. The latter's fiery delivery had greatly pleased the Greeks. Messala asked Gallio what he thought of Nicetes to which Gallio replied: "O, he's full of divine frenzy". As often as he heard one of these rhetoricians whom the students of rhetoric call "impassioned", he immediately said, "He's full of divine frenzy ". Whenever Gallio came from hearing a new rhetorician Messala always used the same form of question: "Is he full of divine frenzy?" This phrase became so common with Gallio that it often slipped from him involuntarily. [7] L   Once in Caesar's presence when the genius of Haterius was mentioned, dropping into his usual habit he said: "He too was full of divine frenzy ". When the Emperor asked what he meant, he quoted the line of Vergil, and told how he had once let fall the phrase in the presence of Messala, and could never after prevent its slipping out. Tiberius, being a pupil of Theodorus, didn't like Nicetes' style, and was charmed with this story of Gallio's. The latter used to tell how his friend Ovid was greatly pleased with this story and, as he had done with many other lines of Vergil, borrowed the idea, not desiring to deceive people but to have it openly recognised as borrowed. He said it could be found in one of Ovid's tragedies : "Alas, I am driven hither and thither, full of divine frenzy." Now, if you like, I shall return to Fuscus, and I will at once glut you with descriptive passages of his and especially with those which he put in his treatment of the Probable, when he maintained that a knowledge of the future was absolutely impossible.

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