OCTAVIA – Monologue (Octavia)

A monologue from the play by Seneca

NOTE: This monologue is reprinted from Seneca’s Tragedy, v. ii. Trans. Frank Justus Miller. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1917.


Though I should endure what must be borne, ne’er could my woes be ended, save by gloomy death. With my mother slain, my father by crime snatched from me, robbed of my brother,

by wretchedness and grief o’erwhelmed, by sorrow crushed, by my husband hated, and set beneath my slave, the sweet light brings no joy to me; for my heart is ever trembling,

not with the fear of death, but of crime — be crime but lacking to my misfortunes, death will be delight. For ’tis a punishment far worse than death to look in the tyrant’s face,

all swollen with rage ‘gainst wretched me, to kiss my foe, to fear his very nod, obedience to whom my smarting grief could not endure after my brother’s death, most sinfully destroyed,

whose throne he usurps, and rejoices in being the worker of a death unspeakable. How oft does my brother’s sad shade appear before my eyes when rest has relaxed my body, and sleep weighed down my eyes, weary with weeping.

Now with smoking torches he arms his feeble hands, and with deadly purpose aims at his brother’s eyes and face; and now in trembling fright takes refuge in my chamber;

his enemy pursues and, e’en while the lad clings in my embrace, savagely he thrusts his sword through both our bodies. Then trembling and mighty terror banish my slumbers, and bring back to my wretched heart its grief and fear.

Add to all this the proud concubine, bedecked with our house’s spoil, as gift for whom the son set his own mother on the Stygian bark; and, when she had o’ercome dread shipwreck and the sea, himself more pitiless than ocean’s waves, slew her with the sword.

What hope of safety, after crimes so great, have I? My victorious foe threatens my chamber, blazes with hate of me, and, as the reward of her adultery, demands of my husband his lawful consort’s head.

Arise thou, my father, from the shades and bring help to thy daughter who calls on thee; or else, rending the earth, lay bare the Stygian abyss, that I may plunge thither headlong.

Read the play here

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