[38] Gaspari Stiblini In Hecabam Euripidis Praefatio.

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Haec fabula propter argumenti tum uarietatem, tum plus quam tragicam atrocitatem, iure principem locum tenet: habet enim Hecabam captiuam, Polyxenam mactatam, Polydorum crudeliter interfectum, Polymestorem exoculatum, liberosque eius misere laniatos atque occisos. In qua poeta primum lachrimosa illa Troianae gentis excidii deploratione, humanarum rerum inconstantiam ac imbecillitatem delineare uidetur, seruilisque uitae miserias et incommoda ob oculos ponere. Hecaba enim beatissimi quondam Priami coniunx Asiaeque regina, e summo dignitatis, opum ac potentiae fastigio, in profundum miseriarum deturbata: e rebus florentissimis ad calamitosam fortunam deiecta, quem non commoueret? Quae praeter alias innumeras infelicis seruitutis molestias, filiam, unicum aerumnarum solacium imbecillaeque aetatis baculum, e conspectu, e manibus ac complexu abripi ad caedem uidet. An non haec subita atroxque rerum commutatio? Quae nuper regina salutabatur, quam satrapae opulentissimi obsequiis captabant, cui incedenti uniuersi coetus uenerabundi assurgebant, cuius imperium terra marique latissime patebat, ad quam unam omnes respiciebant, cui filii domi militiaeque clarissimi erant, filiae in pul[39]cherrimam regiorum connubiorum spem nutriebantur: hanc Graeci uiduam, amicis et liberis orbam, Troia humi fumante, in externum abducunt orbem: et reginae titulo adsuetam, seruam appellant. Hi tam saeui fortunae ludi, flebilesque rerum uices, successu nimio elatos admonere debent, ut sese ad modestiam reuocent, nec propter opes et imperia animos attollant: cum eiusmodi res caecae fortunae arbitrio relictae, subito eripiantur, et ad alios transeant, nec ullo in loco fixae maneant. Vtilis admodum est harum imaginum contemplatio diligens et crebra, in quibus fortunae leuitatem non obscure cernere licet: quae quo tenerius blanditur, eo tristius inuidet. Hanc omnia inuertentem uim, quam nos diuinae prouidentiae tribuimus, ueteres non temere in rebus humanis dominari crediderunt. Deus enim, cui gratissima est modestia, et remissi animi puritas, fere hoc agit, ut sublimia caputque tollentia sternat, humilia autem erigat. Sed nunc ad Polydorum se referat oratio, qui Troia periclitante, cum magna auri ui in Thraciam ad Polymestorem Priami hospitem missus est, ea spe, ut si Troia in Graecorum potestatem ueniret pecunia satis grandi Priami genus et regnum instaurari posset. At fractis Phrygum opibus Graecisque rerum potitis, Polymestor auri depositi apud se cupiditate inflammatus, Polydorum ferro conscissum abiecit, ut aurum possideret. Quod illustrissimum exemplum nos ab insana illa habendi inexplebilitate deterret, quae semper immanium cladium causa extitit, atque ad impia bella excitauit mortales: imo ad quoduis facinus suscipiendum impellit, contemptisque naturae legibus summa beneficia crudeli latrocinio compensat. Ceterum licet dii nonnunquam tardius ad puniendum procedant, laneosque pedes (iuxta prouerbium)* habeant: tamen raro antecedentem deseruit pede poena claudo, sumuntque de malefactis aliquando supplicium. Vnde nec caedes illa Polydori inulta, quamuis caute egisse uideretur, mansit. nam eius cadauer, casu ab ancilla repertum, Polymestorem patratae caedis conuicit: qui sine mora erutis oculis amissisque liberis dignas facti poenas luit. Quo loco poeta obiter monere uidetur, esse mentem quandam aeternam, rerum gubernatricem, quae horrendis suppliciis atrocia scelera uindicet, honeste autem factorum munifica sit praemiatrix.

*[The ancients themselves were unsure how to explain this proverb. Stiblinus is following the information in Porphyrius' comment on Horace, Odes 3.2.31-2 (raro antecedentem scelestum / deseruit pede Poena clauso: "even with its lame foot, Punishment rarely has left untouched a criminal who goes ahead of it"): hoc proximum est illi quod dicitur deos iratos pedes laneos habere, quia nonnumquam tarde veniunt nocentibus ("this statement of Horace is very similar to the saying that angered gods have woolen feet, because sometimes they come only late to those guilty of wrongdoing"). The proverb is also mentioned by Macrobius 1.8.5 (atque inde proverbium ductum, deos laneos pedes habere: significari vero decimo mense semen in utero animatum in vitam grandescere, quod, donec erumpat in lucem, mollibus naturae vinculis detinetur); compare Petronius, Satyricon 44.18 (Itaque dii pedes lanatos habent, quia nos religiosi non sumus).]

This story, both on account of the diversity of plot and on account of the more than tragic atrocity, rightly holds the first place: for it has Hecuba enslaved, Polyxena slain, Polydorus cruelly killed, Polymestor blinded, and his children miserably torn apart and struck down. In which first of all this poet, with a tearful lament of the destruction of the Trojan race, seems to delineate the inconstancy and feebleness of human affairs, and to place the miseries and misfortunes of the life of servitude before our eyes. For Hecuba, once the wife of the extremely blessed Priam and the queen of Asia, from the highest place of dignity, the summit of riches and power, is thrust down into the depths of misery: since she is cast down from the most prosperous circumstances into a disastrous fate, whom would she not move? She who, apart from other innumerable troubles of unhappy slavery, sees her daughter, her only comfort in troubles and support in her weak old age, torn away from her sight, from her hands and embrace, to death. Is this not a sudden and horrible change of circumstances? She who was recently hailed as queen, whom the most opulent governors sought to please with ready services, for whom as she arrived all assemblies used to rise up in reverence, whose empire used to extend far and wide on land and sea, to whom alone all used to turn their attention, whose sons were extremely distinguished at home and in war, whose daughters were raised in [39] most beautiful hope of royal marriages: this woman, widowed, bereaved of friends and children, with Troy smoldering to the ground, the Greeks lead to a foreign land: and her who was accustomed to the title of queen they address as a slave. These so savage games of fortune and lamentable changes of circumstances ought to warn those who are elated with too much success, so that they call themselves back to modesty, and do not on account of riches and power raise up their pride: since things of this kind, left to the judgment of blind fortune, are suddenly snatched away, and cross over to others, nor do they remain fixed in any location. Careful and repeated contemplation of these images is useful, in which it is permitted to perceive not unclearly the fickleness of fortune: which the more tenderly it coddles one, the more unhappily it begrudges one. This force that turns all things upside down, which we attribute to divine providence, the ancients not without reason believed to rule in human affairs. For God, to whom modesty is most pleasing, and purity of a yielding spirit, generally aims for this, that he may lay low things that are lofty and raising their head, but raise up humble things. But now let the discussion turn to Polydorus, who, with Troy in peril, was sent with a great quantity of gold to Polymestor in Thrace, a guest friend of Priam, with the hope that if Troy fell into the power of the Greeks, the family and kingdom of Priam would be able to be restored by this rather great fortune. But with the riches of the Phrygians destroyed, and with the Greeks having gained control of things, Polymestor, inflamed by the desire for the gold deposited with him, hacks Polydorus with a sword and tosses his corpse aside, in order to take possession of the gold. This most clear example deters us from that insane insatiability of possessing things, which has always been manifest as the cause of great misfortunes, and has incited mortals to impious wars: indeed it drives them to undertake any crime at all, and, defying the laws of nature, pays back the highest good deeds with cruel villainy. But although the gods sometimes proceed rather slowly to exacting punishment, for they have woolen feet (as the proverb says): nevertheless, rarely has punishment, even with its lame foot, abandoned the pursuit of the man who precedes it, and they at some time exact a penalty for bad deeds. Therefore neither did that murder of Polydorus remain unavenged, although it seemed to have been done cautiously. For his body, discovered by accident by the slave girl, convicted Polymestor of the murder he had committed, and he without delay suffered worthy punishments for his deed with his eyes plucked out and his children lost. In this place the poet seems to warn in passing that there is a certain eternal mind, a governor of affairs, which avenges horrible crimes with dreadful punishments, but rewards honorable deeds generously.

Porro Vlysses popularis et insidiosae facundiae typum exhibet: quae magis fauorem multitudinis eblandiri et ab omnibus inire gratiam conatur, quam quid iustum, quid Reipublicae salutare sit, disserere. Polyxena uero mactata in honorem et memoriam uiri strenui deque uniuerso exercitu optime meriti docet, ut ciuitates praestantium uirorum memoriam ceu sacrosanctam colant: ut et alii praemiorum spe accensi, ad claritatem aspirent. Ad interitum respublicae uergunt, in quibus bene meritis nulla gratia refertur: praesertim iis qui pro patria occubuere, quibus solis Lycurgus statuas fieri permisit.** Promptitudo autem et alacritas moriendi in eadem puella indicium est generosae indolis magnique animi, quae uiraginem illam nobilem in hoc acerbissimo fortunae casu sustinet, nec malis succumbere sinit. Ita ubique uirtus intaminatis fulget honoribus, ac seruitutem mauult morte excutere quam cum probro aerumnosam exigere uitam.

**[The source of this claim is not yet traced; Plutarch, Life of Lycurgus 27.2 mentions that Lycurgus allowed the name of the deceased to be placed on the tomb only if a man died in war or a woman were a priestess.]

Moreover, Ulysses exhibits the very image of popular and cunning eloquence: which attempts to obtain by flattery the favor of the people and to earn the esteem of all, rather than to discuss what is just and what would preserve the Republic. The killing of Polyxena, however, in honor and remembrance of a mighty man, and one who had served the entire army extremely well, teaches that states ought to honor the memory of outstanding men as if sacred: in order that others too, inflamed by hopes of reward, may aspire to splendor. Republics decline toward ruin, in which no gratitude is paid back for men who do good service, in particular, for those who have died for their fatherland, to whom alone Lycurgus allowed statues to be made. Furthermore, promptitude and eagerness for death as seen in this same girl is evidence of a noble character and a great heart, which sustains that noble maiden in this most bitter stroke of fortune, and does not allow her to submit to misfortunes. In this way virtue shines everywhere with unsullied honors and prefers to shake off servitude by dying rather than to lead a wretched life in shame.

Maturum et callidum consilium Hecabae super ulciscendo Polymestore, quo non praecipitat uindictam, nec ira ablata in ipsum uiolenter ruit, (quod haud caruisset periculo) sed praemeditate reque cum Agamemnone communicata, ipsum aggreditur: iubet nos in arduis rebus esse tardos, circumspectos, cautos: praecipitantia enim in omni negotio periculosa est, tuta uero mora. Quae adhuc plura huius farinae huc adferri poterant, ea suis locis breuiter in Annotationibus admonebo.

The plan of Hecuba for taking revenge on Polymestor is timely and clever, in which she does not precipitate vengeance, nor carried off in anger does she rush violently into it (which by no means would have lacked danger), but with careful planning and having spoken with Agamemnon, she attacks the man himself: this urges us to be slow, attentive, and cautious in difficult circumstances: for in every affair rashness is dangerous, but delay is safe. And those further points of the same nature which could be adduced here, I will briefly bring to mind in their proper place in the Annotations.

Argumentum Actus Primi.

Polydori umbrae misera querela de excidio Troiano, de suo lamentabili fato, de Hecabae calamitosa fortuna, quae conspectura erat geminum liberorum funus uno die. 2 Hecaba expergefecta, dirisque insomniis ac nocturnis spectris territa, praesagit cladem liberorum: deprecansque a suis triste omen, terriculamenta sibi a Cassandra interpretari quaerit. 3 Chorus perturbatus ad Hecabam uenit, nuntians Polyxenam Graecorum sententiis uictimae destinatam: idque potissimum Vlyssis, hominis popularis et gratiosi, suasu: monetque, ut supplicatum eat Agamemnoni, si forte rem in melius uertat. 4 Hecaba attonita tristissimo nuntio in luctus et lamenta soluitur, nec Polyxenam celat de decreto exercitus: quam adeo non exanimat ea res, ut non suam, sed matris uicem potius deploret, quae se amissa omnino orba sit futura.

Argument of the First Act

Here we have the wretched lament of Polydorus concerning the ruin of Troy, his lamentable fate, and the unhappy fortunes of Hecuba, who was going see the deaths of two children in the same day. 2 Hecuba, having awakened, and frightened by awful dreams and by nocturnal visitations, has a premonition of the misfortune of her children: and trying to avert the unhappy omen from her loved ones, she seeks to have the terrifying things interpreted for her by Cassandra. 3 The Chorus, thoroughly disturbed, came to Hecuba, announcing that Polyxena had been chosen for sacrifice by the decision of the Greeks: and that this was mostly because of the advice of Ulysses, a man beloved of the common people: and so they advise her to go to supplicate Agamemnon, if by chance he might turn the situation toward a better end. 4 Hecuba, shocked by the extremely sorrowful message, is dissolved into grief and lamentations, and does not hide the decision of the army from Polyxena: these things are so far from disheartening her that she laments not her own fate, but that of her mother, who, once she herself is lost, would be completely bereaved.

[40] Argumentum Actus Secundi.

Venit Vlysses ad Hecabam, auctoritate exercitus Polyxenam ad caedem abducturus. Hecaba neque iustum, neque fas, neque etiam decorum aut necessarium esse, immerentem puellam mactare crudeliter, graui oratione ostendere conatur: admonens interim Vlyssem beneficiorum et clementiae quam olim in Troia apud se expertus sit: quibus ut nunc respondeat, ipsa aequitas postulet. 2 Vlysses contra decere ait, nempe insigni impendio benemeritos uiros post funera ornandos esse: quod horum neglectus saepe damno soleat esse Rebuspublicis. 3 Hecaba desperans Vlyssem exorari aut flecti posse, filiam, ut supplex ad genua accidat Vlyssi, monet: quod se ita indignum haec iudicat, ut ultro nece calamitosum serui[41]tutis iugum excutere cupiat: tantum abest, ut se turpiter abiiciat, aut demittat seruiliter. Committit autem incommoda et pudorem secuturae uitae, cum anteacta uita, quae plena splendore et dignitate fuerit. 4 Hecaba desperata filiae salute, tantum hoc impetrare contendit, ut simul liceat mori cum filia. negante id Vlysse, Polyxena extremos complexus paulo post moritura carissimae matri dat, ac triste uale dicit: in qua re mira uis exprimitur ἐμπαθείας καὶ ἠθοποιΐας. Tam ardet affectibus unicae filiae et grandaeuae matris acerba diuulsio. 5 Ducitur filia: plorat Hecaba, et prae dolore collabitur. Chorus incertam futurae uitae seruilis conditionem, qua scilicet in terra, aut qua ratione sit obeunda, tristis secum agitat.

[40] Argument of the Second Act

Ulysses comes to Hecuba in order to lead Polyxena away to her death, by the authority of the army. Hecuba tries to show with a weighty speech that it was neither just, nor right, nor even fitting or necessary, to cruelly sacrifice an innocent girl: meanwhile, reminding Ulysses of the kindnesses and mercy which once he had experienced from her in Troy, she says that justice itself would demand that he now match those things. 2 Ulysses says, on the other side, that it is fitting, namely that well-deserving men should be distinguished with a remarkable payment after death, because the neglect of these things often is wont to be ruinous for the Republic. 3 Hecuba, losing hope that Ulysses could be persuaded or swayed, advises her daughter to fall in supplication at his knees: which action she judges to be so unworthy of herself that she voluntarily desires to cast off the wretched yoke of servitude by her death: it is so far from the case that she shamefully lowers herself or humbles herself as a slave. Moreover, she compares the misfortunes and the shame of her future life with the life she led before, which was full with splendor and dignity. 4 Hecuba, having lost all hope for the safety of her daughter, strives to accomplish just this much, that she be permitted to die at the same time with her daughter. When Ulysses denies this, Polyxena, soon about to die, gives her last embraces to her most dear mother and speaks her sad farewell: in which action a wondrous power of affection and character drawing is expressed. The harsh separation of the only daughter and the aged mother burns with so much love. 5 The daughter is led away: Hecuba wails and collapses because of her pain. The Chorus in sadness contemplates the uncertain condition of future life as a slave, wondering in what land, or in what manner it must be endured.

[42] Actus Tertii Argumentum.

Actus tertius historiam de immolata Polyxena continet, in qua eius magnus animus puellarisque uerecundia in primis commendatur. Miro autem artificio per totam narrationem affectus sparguntur. 2 Hecabae lamentabilis querela, de amissa filia, patria, regno: in qua mira expressio imbecillitatis rerum humanarum et fortunae inconstantiae, cuius non poterat euidentior imago adumbrari, quam in hac sic misere affecta, quae olim totius Asiae imperatrix salutabatur. 3 Excidium regni Troiani iam olim in fatis fuisse: sic tamen peractum bellum esse, ut non minus lugeant Graeci quam barbari, Chorus canit.

[42] Argument of the Third Act

The third act contains the account of the sacrifice of Polyxena, in which her great bravery and maidenly modesty are especially praised. Moreover, emotional effects are scattered throughout the whole narration with a marvelous skill. 2 Here we have the mournful lament of Hecuba over the loss of her daughter, her homeland, and her kingdom: in which there is an amazing representation of the helpless state of humanity and the fickleness of fortune, whose images could not have been sketched more clearly than with this woman so wretchedly afflicted, who was once greeted as the mistress of all Asia. 3 The Chorus sings that the destruction of the Trojan kingdom was long ago fated, and nevertheless that the war was carried out in such a way that the Greeks do not lament any less than the Trojans.

[43] In Actum Quartum Argumentum. [et Annotationes.]

Ancilla ab Hecaba missa, ut e mari aquam abluendae Polyxenae adferret, reperit trucidati Polydori cadauer, in litus eiectum. Hac immanitate rei attonita, propere se ac turbulento ore ad Hecabam proripit, corpusque filii lacerum ueste contectum ostendit. Quod ut agnouit, nouam calamitatem acerbissimo animo fert. 2. Agamemnon, quod negligeretur Polyxena, uenit accersitum Hecabam. Cui exponit ipsa crudelem filii necem: rogatque sibi ut auxilio esse uelit in uindicando Polymestore caedis auctore, et consilium super ea simul cum rege communicat. 3. Chorus Ilium omni ornatu ac dignitate spoliatum alloquitur, eiusque occasum miserabilem deplorat: quo ipsae matronae expulsae, uiduae omni felicita re ac fortunis exutae, in peregrinam abducantur terram. Deinde Paridis et Helenae funesta connubia, quae toti Phrygiae exitio fuerint, detestatur.

[43] Argument for the Fourth Act (and Annotations)

A slave girl has been sent by Hecuba to bear water from the sea for washing Polyxena. While doing this, she find the slain corpse of Polydorus, which was washed up on shore. Shocked by the monstrosity of this event, she hastens quickly to Hecuba with troubling words, and shows the mangled body of her son, covered up with a garment. As she recognized the body, she reacts to the new misfortune with a most bitter feeling. 2 Agamemnon, because Polyxena was neglected, then came to fetch Hecuba. She herself reveals to him the cruel death of her son, and she asks that he be willing to help her in taking revenge on the murderer Polymestor, and at the same time she shares with the king a plan about this. 3 The Chorus addresses Ilium, now despoiled of its embellishments and dignity, and laments its miserable destruction: because of this the women themselves were driven out, deprived of all happiness and stripped of wealth, and were being led away into foreign lands. Then they curse the fatal marriage of Paris and Helen, which was the ruin of all of Phrygia.

[44] Actus Quinti Argumentum.

Hecaba dissimulato animo, amice Polymestori colloquitur, sermones fingens de quibusdam thesauris apud Ilium defossis, quos gratos fore auaro tyranno bene norat: ac hoc pacto illum intra tecta ad secretius quoddam (ut credebat) colloquium inuitat. 2 Ingressus Polymestor, turba mulierum obruitur, [45] oculis priuatur, liberi in conspectu ipsius misere trucidantur: unde querelas et iras acerbissimas nequicquam miscet. 3 Agamemnon audito clamore accurrit, simulans se harum rerum ignarum: perceptisque et accusatione et defensione, pro Hecaba pronuntiat. Polymestor autem, desperata alia uindicta, conuiciis et maledictis Hecabam primum, deinde et Agamemnonem impetit. atque ita finis fabulae imponitur.

[44] Argument of the Fifth Act

Hecuba, with concealed intentions, speaks in a friendly way to Polymestor, making up a story of a certain treasure buried at Ilium, which she knew well would be pleasing for a greedy monarch: and in this way she invites him inside the tent to some private conversation (as he believed). 2 Polymestor, after he has entered, is attacked by the mob of women, [45] is deprived of his eyes, and his children are wretchedly slaughtered before his sight: at this he stirs up complaints and most bitter anger in vain. 3 Hearing this noise, Agamemnon runs to the scene, pretending that he is ignorant of these occurrences; and after both the accusation and the defense were heard, he decides in favor of Hecuba. Polymestor, however, with no hope of any other vengeance, attacks first Hecuba with insults and abuse, then also Agamemnon. And in this way an end is placed upon the story.

Translation by Erin Lam

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