Quis hic locus, Quae regio, Quae mundi plaga?

“What place is this, what kingdom, what wounded world?”

I was re-watching the movie “Girl, Interrupted” when I noticed that Vanessa Redgrave was playing the role of Dr. Wick. Unbelievably, I had never noticed this in any of the previous viewings!

When she quotes the Latin words “quis hic locus..”  in her gravelly and measured voice, it is the voice of a thespian- it surpassed everything else in the movie. That’s what happens when a true craftsman works, all the other show-biz and “now trending” scales fall off, and what remains, is the blazing rarity of genius.

The quotation is from TS Eliot’s poem “Marina“. But that itself is a quotation taken from an older work “Hercules Furens (The Mad Hercules)” by Seneca. In this Latin work, Seneca describes a hero coming back to a world that he is deeply estranged from (what modern-day would call PTSD perhaps!?). 

In Eliot’s work, the quotation is just an introduction to signify a similar dislocation experienced by a Shakespearean character- Pericles. This king of Tyre has just recognised a young woman as his long-lost daughter. In that moment he experiences sadness at the years lost and the challenges he went through. Later the poem settles, like a boat reaching the quiet shores, into a place of recognition and comfort.

On the other hand, I find Seneca’s original quotation a much more savage and strong edict on the sense of disembodiment from our present.  This is an interpretation I personally prefer, and so here we stop with the quote in full… 

Quis hic locus, Quae regio, Quae mundi plaga? Ubi sum? Sub ortu solis, an sub cardine glacialis ursae” (Hercules Furens, Seneca, Act 5, Line 1138)

What place is this, what region, what shores of the world? Where am I? Under the rising sun or beneath the wheeling course of the frozen bear?

The Latin quote and translations are from this website.

[this post has been re-edited because it seems to draw a lot of traffic. So I thought I should make it worth your while! Thanks for the visit!]

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