[This is an article published in CQ 54 (2004), 311-2. The published version may differ slightly.]

A Note on Seneca, Quaestiones Naturales 6.1.5

Seneca discusses the peculiar terror of earthquakes: what hiding place can we hope for, if the earth itself is not secure?

quam latebram prospicimus, quod auxilium, si orbis ipse rimas agitat, si hoc, quod nos tuetur ac sustinet …, quod fundamentum quidam mundi esse dixerunt, discedit ac titubat?

rimas Z: ruinas Ψ agitat ρ: agitet Zδθυ si2 Ψ: om. Z

This is the text and apparatus of Hine’s edition.1 The manuscript tradition has two branches; at this point in the text Z is the only representative of one, while the families δ, θ and π (of which ρ and υ are descendants) make up the other (Ψ). Previous editors had preferred ruinas agitat, which Hine rejects;2 he compares the well attested phrase rimas agere (‘to crack, to form cracks’), which Seneca himself uses at Benef. 6.15.7 agentem ex imo rimas insulam.3 But agitat is now a puzzle. An indicative is certainly necessary; but this one has to be fished up from the depths of the stemma. Clearly the archetype had agitet. Secondly although rimas agitare might be a legitimate variation on rimas agere (it does not in fact seem to occur elsewhere), why should Seneca have preferred it? It cannot be a dislike for rimas agere (see above); and a frequentative verb does not seem to improve the sense. As to rhythm, writing agitat here costs him the double cretic clausula ipse rimas agit. Perhaps we should give Z even more credit: si orbis ipse rimas agit, et hoc …


1. L. Annaeus Seneca, Naturalium Quaestionum librosi, ed. H. M. Hine (Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1996).

2. H. M. Hine, Studies in the Text of Seneca’s Naturales Quaestiones (Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1996), 91-2. To Hine’s doubts about the latinity of the phrase, one might add that ruina occurs a few lines earlier in the text, so that it would be in the mind of the copyist.

3. The insula in this case is a block of flats; but the phrase occurs several times of cracks in the earth, Ov. Met. 2.211 tellus fissa … agit rimas (from heat, as at Priap. 63.2 agente terra per caniculam rimas) and Lucan 6.725-9 Erictho … per … cavas terrae, quas egit carmine, rimas manibus illatrat. The subject of egit in the last example is not certain; but it seems more likely that it is the earth (see e. g. Oudendorp and Housman ad loc.), than that it is Erichtho (so TLL I 1376, 67-8, the only example of a person causing cracks in something else that it has to offer).

Nigel Holmes, Thesaurus Linguae Latinae.