The seconde tragedie of Seneca entituled Thyestes faithfully Englished by Iasper Heywood fellowe of Alsolne College in Oxforde

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Introductory notes

This translation of Seneca’s Thyestes is by the Jesuit poet Jasper Heywood (1535-1598) who produced the first English translations of three Senecan tragedies, Troas, Thyestes, and Hercules furens. Heywood grew up at court, where his father (Thomas More’s protégé) was a playwright and music tutor. He went to Oxford in 1547, graduated BA in 1553, and was elected fellow of Merton College. Following a conflict with college authorities, he resigned and was elected to a fellowship at All Souls College in 1558. He was then exiled at Rome and Bavaria, where he studied theology and was ordained as a Jesuit priest in 1564. Heywood returned to England in 1581, after twenty years in exile, to lead the English Jesuit mission. In 1584, he was indicted for treason, tortured, and imprisoned in the Tower, where he was visited before his execution by his sister, young nephew (the future priest and poet John Donne), and his replacement on the Jesuit mission, William Weston. Seneca’s play itself is replete with images of food, famine, and sinful eating, morally allied to political intrigue. Heywood’s addition of a soliloquy by Thyestes (spoken after he returns from exile and unknowingly consumes his own children at his brother Atreus’ vengeful feast) intensifies these images, draws them into a single intense, tormented speech, written shortly before Heywood’s own exile.

Seneca entituled Thy-
estes faithfully Engli-
shed by Iasper Hey-
wood fellowe of
Alsolne Col-
in Oxforde.

London in Fletestrete
in the hous late
Thomas Ber-
Anno. 1560.
26. die Martii.

PUBLISHED BY Thomas Berthelettes


As to themselves: let Ire thinke nought unlawfull to be doon.
Let brother dreade the brothers wrathe, and father feare the soon,
And eke the soon his parent{is} powre. let babes be murdered yll,
But woorse begotte: her spouse betrapt in treasons trayne to kyll,
Let hatefull wyfe awayte. and let them beare through seas their warre,
Let blood shed lye the land{is} about and every feelde afarre:
And over conqueryng captaynes greate, of countreys farre to see,
Let luste tryumphe: in wycked house let whoordome coun [...]d be
The lightst offense: let trust that in the breast{is} of bre [...]hern breedes,
And truthe be gone: let not from sight of your so heynous deedes
The heavens be hyd, about the poale when shyne the startes on hye,
And flames with woonted beames oflight doe decke the paynted skye.
Let darkest night be made, and let the daye the heavens forsake.
Dysturbe the godd{is} of wycked house, hate, slaughter, murder make.
Fyll up the house of Tantalus with mischieves and debates.
Idorned be the pyllers hyghe, with baye and let the gates
Be garnysht greene: and woorthie there for thy returne to syght,
Be kyndled fyre: let myschiefe doone in Thracia onse, there lyght
More manyfolde. wherfore dothe yet the uncles hande delaie?
Dothe yet Tyestes not be wayle his childerns fatall daye?
Shall he not fynde them where with heate of fyres that under glowe
The cawdern boyles? their lymm{is} eche one a peeces let them goe
Dysperste: let fathers fires, with blood of childern fyled bee:
Let deynties suche be dreste: it is no myschiefe newe to thee,
To banquet so: beholde, this daie we have to the releaste,
And hunger starved wombe of thyne we sende to suche a feaste.
With fowlest foode thy famyne fyll, let bloode in wyne be drownde,
And droonke in syght of thee: loe nowe suche dyshes have I founde,


I followe thee: through all this house nowe rage and furie throwe.
Let them be dryven so, and so let eyther thyrst to see
Eche others blood. full well hathe [...]elte the cummyng in of thee
This house: and all with wycked touche of the begun to quake.
Enough it is. repayre agayne to denns and lothsome lake,
Of floode well knowne. the sadde [...]soyle with heavy foote of thyne
Agreeved is. seeste thou from spryngs howe waters doe decline
And inwarde synke? or howe the bankes lye voyde by droughtie heate?
And whotter blast of fyrie wynde the fewer cloudes dothe beate?
The treese be spoyllde, and naked stande to sight in withred woodds,
The barayne bowes whose frutes are fled: the lande betweene the floodds,
With surge of seas on either syd [...]that woonted to resounde,
And neerer foordes to separate somtime with lesser grounde,
Nowe broader spredde, it heareth howe aloofe the waters ryse.
Now Lerna turnes agaynst the streame, Phoronides lykewyse,
His poares be stopp [...]e. with customde course Alphéus drives not still,
His hollie wau [...]s. the tremblyng topps of highe Cithaeron hill,
They stande not sure: from height adowne they shake theyr sylver snowe,
And noble feeldes of Argos feare, theyr former drought to knowe.
Yea Titan doubtes him selfe, to rolle the worlde his woonted waye,
And drive by force to former course The backwarde drawyng daye.


THis Argos towne if any God be founde, and Pisey bowres that famous yet remaine,
Or kyngdomes els to love of Corinth{is} grounde, the double havens, or soondred seas in twayne,
If any love Taygetus his snowes, (by winter whiche when they on hill{is} be cast,
By Boreas blasts that from Sarmatia blowes, with yerely breathe the sommer melts as fast,)
Where cleere Alphéus roons, with floude so colde, By plaies well knowne that there olimpik{is} hight:
Let pleasant powre of his from hense withholde suche turnes of strife, that here they may not light:
Nor nephew woorse then grandsier spryng from us, or dyrer deedes delight the yonger age.
Let wicked stocke of thyrstie Tantalus, at lengthe leave of, and wery be of rage.
Enoughe is doone, and nought prevailde the just, or wrong: b [...]trayde is Myrtilus and drownde,
That did betray his dame: and with lyke trust borne as he bare, himselfe hath made renounde
With changed name the sea: and better knowne to mariners therof no fable is.
On wicked swoorde the litle infant throwne, as ran the childe to take his fathers his,
[...]nripe for thaulters offryng fell downe deade: and with thy hand (o Tantalus) was rent,
With suche a meate for gods thy boordes to spreade. eternall famine for suche foode is sent,
And thyrst: nor for those deyntie meates unmilde, might meeter p [...]ne apoynted ever bee.
With emptie throate stands Tantalus beguilde, above thy wicked hed there leanes to thee,
Then Phineys fowles in flight a swifter praie. with burdned bowes declinde on every syde,
And of his fruites all bent to beare the swaie, the tree deludes the gapes of hunger wyde.
Though he full greedie, feede theron woulde faine, so ofte disceyude neglects to touche them yet:
He turn [...]s his eyes, his jawes he doth refrayne, and famine fi [...] in closed gumms doth shet.
But then eche branche his plenteous ritches all, letts lower downe: and apples from on hie
With lyther leaves they flatter like to fall, and famine styrre: in vayne that bidds to trie
His hands: whiche when he hathe rought foorthe anone to be beguilde, in higher ayre agayne
The harvest hangs, and fickle fruite is gone. then thirst him greeves no lesse then hungers payne:
Wherwith when kindled is his boylyng blood lyke fyre, the wretche the waves to him dothe call,
That meete his mouthe: whiche straight the fleeyng flood withdrawes, and from the dried foorde doth fall:
And him forsakes that followes them. He drinkes the duste so deepe of gulphe that from him shrinkes.

4. The seconde Acte.

O Dastarde, cowrde, o wretche, and (whiche the greatest yet of all
To tyrants checke, I counte that maye in waightie thyngs befall,)
O unrevenged: after gilts so greate, and brothers guyle,
And truthe tr [...]de downe, dooste
thou provoke with vayne complaynts the whyle
Thy wrathe? alredie nowe to rage all Argos towne through out
In armour ought of thine, and all the double seas about
Thy fleete to ryde: nowe all the feeldes with fervent flames of thyne,
And townes to flasshe it well beseemde: and every where to shyne,
The bright drawne sworde: all under foote of horse let everie syde
Of Argos land [...] resounde: and let the woods not serve to hyde
Our foes, nor yet in haughtie toppe of hills and mountaynes hie,
The builded towres. The people all let them to battayle crie,
And cleere forsake Mycenas towne. who so his hatefull hed
Hydes and defends, with slaughter dyre let bloud of him be shed.
This pryncely Pelops palaice provde and bowres of highe renowne,
On me so on my brother too, let them be beaten downe.
Goe to, do that whiche never shall no after age allowe,
Nor none it whisht: some mischefe greate there must be ventred nowe,
Bothe fierce and bloudie: suche as wolde my brother rather long
To have byn his. Thou never dooste enoughe revenge the wrong,
Except thou passe. And feercer facte what may be doone so dyre,
That his exceedes? doothe ever he lay downe his hatefull yre?
Doothe ever he the modest meane in tyme of welthe regarde?
Or quiet in adversitee? I knowe his nature harde


And turne to bloud: and twyse or thryse that tyre fell from his hed,
The Juerie bright in Temples seemde to weepe and teares to shed.
The sights amasde all other men, but stedfast yet alway
Of mynde, unmoved Atreus stands, and even the godds dothe fray
That threaten him, and all delay forsaken by and bye
To thaulters turnes, and therwithall a syde he lookes awrye.
As hungrie tygre woonts that dothe in gangey woods remayne
With doubtfull pace to range and roame betweene the bullocks twayne,
Of eyther praye full covetous, and yet uncertayne where
She fyrst may bite, and roryng throate now turnes the tone to teare
And then to [...]hother straight returnes,
and doubtfull famine holdes:
So Atreus dire, betwene the babes dothe stand and them beholdes
On whome he poyntes to slake his yre: fyrst slaughter where to make,
He doubtes: or whome he shoulde agayne for seconde offryng take,
Yet skylls it nought, but yet he doubtes, and suche a crueltie
It him deligths to order well.
Whome take he fyrst to die?
First place, least in him thinke ye might no piete to remayne
To grandsier dedicated is, fyrst Tantalus is slayne.
With what a minde and countnaunce, coulde the boye his death sustayne?
All careles of him selfe he stoode, nor once he woulde in vayne
His prayers leese. But Atreus fierce the swoorde in him at last
In deepe and deadly wounde dothe hide to hilts, and gripyng fast
His throate in hand, he thrust him throughe. The swoorde then drawne awaye
When long the body had uphelde it selfe in doubtfull staye,
Whiche way to fall, at lengthe uppon the unkle downe it falles.
And then to thaulters cruellie Philisthenes he tralles,
And on his brother throwes: and straygh [...] his necke of cutteth hee.
The carcase hedlong falles to grounde: apite [...]us thyng to see,


I counte, and now of brydebed cha [...]e the fayth I do repeate.
In what offended have my soons?
In that, that thyne they weare.
Setst thou the soons for fathers foode?
I doe, and (whiche is best
The certayne soons.
the gods that guyde a [...]infantes, I protest.
what wedlocke god{is}?
who wolde the gylt with gylt so [...]yght agayne?
I knowe thy greefe prevented now with wrong, thou dooste complayne:
Nor this thee yrkes, that fedde thou arte with foode of cursed kynde,
But that thou hadst not it preparde: for so it was thy mynde,
Suche meates as these to [...]ette before thy brother wo [...]yng naught,
And by the mothers helpe, to have lykewyse my children caught,
And them with suche lyke deathe to slaye: this one thing l [...]tted thee,
Thou thoughtst them thyne.
the gods shall all of this revenge [...]s bee:
[...]nd unto them for vengeance due, my vowes thee render shall.
But vext to be I thee the whyle, [...]eeve to thy children all.

7. The fourth Sceane, Added to the Tragedy by the Translatour.

Thyestes alone.
O Kyng of Dytis dungeon darke, and grysly ghosts of hell,
That in the deepe and dredfull [illeg.] denns , of blackest Tartare dwell,
Where leane and pale diseases lye where feare and famyne are,
Where discorde stands with bleedyng browes, where every kynde of care,
Where furies fight in bedds of steele, and heares of crallyng snakes,
Where Gorgon grymme, where Harpies are, and lothsome Lymbo lakes,
Where most prodigious uglye thynges, the hollowe hell dothe hyde,
If yet a monster more myschapte then all that there doe byde,
That makes his broode his cursed foode, ye all abhorre to see,
Nor yet the deepe Averne it selfe, may byde to cover me,
Nor grysly gates of Plutoes place, yet dare themselves to spredde,
Nor gapyng grounde to swallowe him, whome godds and day have fledde:
Yet breake ye out from cursed seates, and here remayne with me,
Ye neede not now to be affrayde, the ayre and heaven to se.
Nor tryple headid Cerberus, thou needst not be affright,
The day unknowne to thee to see, or els the lothsome light.
They bothe be fledde: and now dothe dwell none oth [...]r countnaunce heere,
Then dothe beneathe the fowlest face, of hatefull hell appeere.
Come see a meetest matche for thee, a more then monstrous wombe,
That is of his unhappie broode, become a cursed tombe.
Flocke here ye fowlest feendes of hell, and thou O grandsier greate,
Come see the glutted gutts of mine, with suche a kynde of meate,
As thou didst once for godds prepare let torments all of hell
Now fall uppon this hatefull hed, that hathe deserude them well.
Ye all be plagued wrongfully, your gylts be small, in sight
Of myne, and meete it were your pangs on me alone should light.
Now thou O grandsier giltles arte, and meeter were for me,
With fleeyng floud to be beguilde, and frute of fickle tree.
Thou slewst thy son, but I my sons, alas have made my meate.
I coulde thy famyne better beare, my panche is now repleate
With foode: and with my children three, my belly is extent.
O filthy fowles and gnawyng gripes, that Tityus bosome reut
Beholde a fitter pray for you, to fill your selves uppone
Then are the growyng gutts of him: foure wombes enwrapt in one.
This panche at ones shall fill you all: yfye abhorre the foode,
Nor may your selves abide to bathe, in suche a cursed bloode:
Yet lend to me your clinchyng clawes, your pray a while forbeare,
And with your tallons suffer me, this monstrous mawe to teare.
This is a selection from the original text


curse, drink, food, foul, monstrous, suffering, water

Source text

Title: THE SECONDE TRAGEDIE OF Seneca entituled Thy estes faithfully Engli shed by Iasper Hey wood fellowe of Alsolne Col lege in Oxforde. IMPRINTED AT London in Fletestrete in the hous late Thomas Ber thelettes. Anno. 1560. 26. die Martii.

Author: Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Publisher: Thomas Berthelettes

Publication date: 1560

Place of publication: London

Provenance/location: This text was transcribed from images available at Early English Books Online: Bib name / number: STC (2nd ed.) / 22226 Bib name / number: Greg, I, 29(a). / Physical description: [112] p. Copy from: Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery

Digital edition

Original author(s): Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Language: English

Selection used:

  • 1 ) tp, images: 19, 21, 22-3, 40, 52-3


Texts collected by: Ayesha Mukherjee, Amlan Das Gupta, Azarmi Dukht Safavi

Texts transcribed by: Muhammad Irshad Alam, Bonisha Bhattacharya, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Muhammad Ehteshamuddin, Kahkashan Khalil, Sarbajit Mitra

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Genre: Britain > plays

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