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ACT V, SCENE i (ACT I, SCENE i)
THE GHOST OF OCTAVIA
Sister of Nero, but not truly his sister, let alone his wife, bereft of father and mother, and long ago despoiled of a brother, the widow of a widow-making husband, I have ceased to long for heaven, for now I am enjoying heaven. Having been expelled, I yielded my place on the throne to a mistress. His mistress controls the empire, and I must seek heaven, though I myself am an Augusta, the short-lived daughter of an Augustus, who must atone for the guilt of her parents, though innocent. No other exile has filled our soldiers, citizens, and Senators with greater sorrow. But the people’s affection is unlucky and short-lived. They loved the Manlii and the Gracchi, then destroyed them. Likewise my uncle, my father Drusus, and my uncle’s consort experienced this, though scarcely deserving their downfall. The two Julias experienced this, though both of these wantons were deservedly repudiated and imprisoned on islands. But they had the vigor of their age. In their happiness they had experienced some joys, and they were able to diminish the present evil, whatever it was, by remembering the good. I have lived scarce twenty years, and out of a presentiment of evil I always bewailed the contents of my life, though not acquiescing in my death. From the time of my mother’s demise not a day passed that did not bring lamentations. Nor was I ever aware of the nature of happiness, except now, when I achieve oblivion in death, and am told to die. “I am a divorced woman,” I said, “but let me live as a sister.” They refused. I swore by my step-mother, uncle, brother, and father: let my step-mother spare, my brother help, my uncle protect, my father defend. But I prayed to deaf ears. I was bound, all my limbs’ veins were opened, but the blood flowed slowly, stopped by fear. So the steam from an overheated bath killed me when I was bloodless. Oh savage woman! Not yet had Poppaea quenched her thirst for blood, but - and this speaks much about her - she sent for my head and gazed at it. But this woman too will yield her place, in a way she scarce imagines. She murdered me, she will yield place so that Nero may marry another man. How much better for mankind if Nero’s father Domitius had married such a fellow! Oh the monstrosities! Even now Nero does not spare his citizens, nor his city, as he destroys his subjects and their homes with fires and ruinations in a general massacre. To remove this worst of men is the wish of the best of men: it is their destiny to be removed by Nero, this worst of men. Piety herself would die, if she could. Oh holy Piety! But does Nero still live? Do I see this parricide acting as his own murderer? Thus it is, and you could say about this your Oedipus, “my wife, mother, and father bid me die.”
ACT V, SCENE ii (ACT *, SCENE ii)
FOUR ROMAN CITIZENS, NERO’S CHAMBERLAIN, NERO
CIT. 1 Citizens, help your neighbors! fire is ranging through our houses! fire! Lo, fire rages, devastates, spreading hither and thither.
Enter Citizen 2. Citizens 1 and 3 look southward.
CIT. 2 Where?
CIT. 1 Look, look to the south.
CIT. 2 I’m running.
CIT. 3 Where are you running? Your house is afire.
CIT. 2 Where can I find help, alas? (Exit.)
CIT. 3 Speedy help will readily outstrip this catastrophe.
Enter Citizen 4.
CIT. 4 Oh help against our fellow citizens’ fires!
CIT. 3 Where?
Citizen 2 looks to the north.
CIT. 4 Look, the sparks are flying southwards. They are consuming, spreading.
CIT. 1 How do you think they arisen? Whence have they been aroused?
CIT. 4 Disaster piled on disaster, and neither this catastrophe’s beginning or end is visible. But this situation requires our aid.
CIT. 3 But our narrow streets and irregular, twisting alleys prevent us from bringing prompt aid. You can hear the shouting and wailing of women, boys, men, gaffers, doubtful what they should attempt or not attempt. This part of the populace hesitates, that part is hasty. This part pulls one way, that pulls in another. Does a man look over his shoulder? He is attacked from the side. He guards his sides? His back is ruined. To save his household, he flees from his house to a suburb. Then he returns to his house, so he might carry something to that hamlet. Unable to save his property, he goes to accompany his comrades. Houses near and far catch fire and collapse. The smoke keeps you from seeing, the shouts from hearing. Nothing can be seen but fire, fire, fire. Except for “Fire! Water! Water! Fire!” nothing can be heard (Citizen 2 returns with buckets.)
CIT. 2 Let water flood it. (Enter Nero’s chamberlain, tossing torches.)
CHAMBERLAIN Get rid of that water, unless you wish to be drowned in water.
CIT. 2 Am I not to put out the fire?
CHAMB. Let them alone.
CIT. 2 The flames?
CHAMB. Or do you dare?
CIT. 2 I dare. But by what authority are you throwing those torches?
CHAMB. I have the authority.
CIT. 2 Who?
CHAMB. What business is it of yours? Hang and be damned. (Citizen 2 and the Chamberlain go flying off.)
CIT. Are these things permitted? Is Nero responsible for this catastrophe? Is this his evil order? Or was this gentleman taking liberties, claiming that orders had been given? Fires glitter throughout the city, like the campfires of an army. The citizenry are carrying off their goods, while the soldiers are plundering. People are dragging at people, causing disturbances and being disturbed, crushing and being crushed. Who chooses to flee is killed by someone else; who does not, kills himself. When a man has asked for help he encounters unexpected death. Death stretches open her greedy maw, and a new image of destruction appears, worse than destruction itself. Pain is added to pain, new grief to old. All ages and sexes rush to the same destruction. The child accompanies its parent in death, the young man his elder. There’s no lack of funeral pyres. Although there’s not an individual pyre for everybody, the city is a single pyre for all. (To Citizen 4.) In the midst of all this destruction, why are you silent, shuddering and amazed?
CIT. 4 I do not know what to say or do. Who is not amazed, like a shepherd when a new flood drowns his fields? Who can describe this night’s loss of life? Who can match his sufferings with tears? This fire, thus ultimate bane, has consumed all my tears. See how Rome is collapsing, the mistress of powerful cities for many years. Everywhere there is lamentation, everywhere there is panic and death. The people are being swept here and there. The wind drives the fire, and the fire rages against the winds. The conflagration banishes night by its light, day by its smoke. May the Tiber extinguish the fire, glowing in its light! But neither do the gods spare men, nor does the fire spare the gods, burning all our temples and the gods with them. Now let a single god rule the city, high Mulciber. Vulcan has never despoiled this city so much, save when once the Gauls, under the leadership of Brennus, captured and burnt it on this same day of the month. But Brennus was a lesser enemy than Nero is today. He spared part of the city, while Nero is burning it entirely. For Rome had fourteen districts, of which scarce a quarter go untouched. Three are burnt to the ground, and the buildings in seven others are half-consumed and damaged. Who would burn down his own house, unless diseased of mind? Who would kill his own subjects? Oh, may the man responsible for all this thus pay the price, just as we innocents are now paying it! (Nero is seen, overjoyed.)
But he, dressed in a tragic costume, looks out from a high tower, and I believe he is about to sing of our public miseries. (Nero on the tower of Maecenas, costumed as a lyre-player.)
NERO Oh prayers, fulfilled at last! Oh happy day! Oh Nero, now you stand above the gods! This was always in my mind, in my prayers, that in my lifetime I might destroy the city. I have fulfilled my desire, I have surpassed it. This alone is lacking, that I be a spectator to such a great good thing, nay, an actor. This day has dawned well: Priam strikes me as having been altogether blessed, losing his rule and his city on the selfsame day. I am his equal, in that I am blessed. But I am more than his equal, because he was wretched. I continue to enjoy my power, though I have ruined my city. O best of deeds! How pretty the fire is! I applaud my fortune. I seem to be witnessing the burning of Troy, and I crave to sing The Sack of Ilium, for it is fitting.
CIT. 1 As a daughter sings for her mother, so Rome sings for Troy.
NERO’S SONG, THE SACK
Sing, sing, Pierian Muses, of Troy, Danaan-burnt. Hecuba gave birth to these fires for Troy, Helen seduced these fires for Troy, the Judgment of Paris awarded these fires to Troy. Venus’ guardianship tried to ward off these fires, but rival Mulciber defeated Neptune, Juno got the best of Venus, and Pallas of Apollo. Fires range through Trojan houses, Pergamums come crashing down on Pergamum, dire calamity urges slaughter piled on slaughter. Ilium is ruins, crashes and ashes. Atreus’ warlord sons shout “Ho ho!” the homeward-bound Argives respond “Ho ho!” Oh happy Priam, subject for Trojan songs, who took with him his kingdom in death!
CIT. 3 Let nobody begrudge you your joy. But those are throwing their torches at us are a worse bane, if worse can be possible, than that which afflicted Hecuba, Helen, and Priam. (Falling on his knees so that his prayer might be heard.)
We pray (and may the gods hear our prayers) let the evils heaped on evils for the dire architect of this conflagration leveled against innocent men, whoever he is, be equal to our misfortunes, to those of Hecuba, Helen, Paris, and Priam — even if these evil things be good, as he professes.
NERO Why are you pouring forth harsh curses out of your rabid mouth? Against whom you do not know.
CIT. 4 Whoever he is, Caesar, may he pay the price.
NERO He will pay it. Hence in earnest pursuing my investigations, I came across the Christians, a hateful, malevolent race of men, whose novel superstition has been repressed but has often broken forth, as palm-trees are wont to do. Judaea conceived this evil, Rome received it. Everything is shameful which flows from that notorious place. Some of them are confessing. Take these people, snatch them as you please. Cover them with the hides of beasts, let the dogs chew on them. Nail them to crosses, feed them to the flames. Let them burn for our convenience at night, after the daylight fails. I am hastening to my gardens to enjoy this spectacle, and I will gladly witness these punishments with your company.
NERO. 1 I do not know whether they have deserved this, or whether they are rather deserving of pity. Nor do these answers satisfy us, as they do you. We feel threatened by what was once sung in the Sibylline oracles: WHEN THRICE THREE HUNDRED YEARS HAVE PASSED, CIVIL STRIFE WILL DESTROY THE ROMANS. This moves us, terrifies us, grips us.
NERO You may discard this fear, for the prophecy you quote is not to be found in the Sibylline Books.
CIT. 4 But this one is: A MATRICIDE WILL REIGN AS LAST OF AENEAS’ LINE.
NERO Good words, citizens, if you consider their goodness. My care will rebuild the more cramped edifices which alien treachery has set afire. What I find made out of timber, I shall transform into marble, and my treasury will buy up your rubble-heaps, it will clear your ruined lots, your burnt-down buildings. Wide avenues, well-organized precincts, pools, fields, woods, porticoes, what will there not be? What nature would deny us, triumphant art will supply. And as repayment for my labor and expense, you must call this city, which was hitherto Rome, Neronia. Really, none of you should touch his own ruins, but apply himself to the paying of taxes. (The citizens steal away one by one.). Provincial, townsman, citizen, each man is to pay according to his levy. Let not only Greece and Asia contribute their shares, but also each of the gods contribute his statues. Let the wealthy gods yield us plunder, together with all the trophies and votive-offerings consecrated to them. But why am I talking? The commons has melted away and will not hear me. You act, my comrades, so that the people will feel me to be harsh in my actions. (Exit Nero with his retinue.)
ACT V, SCENE 3 [ACT I, SCENE iii]
SENECA, PAULINA, CLEONICUS
SENECA Can this be? Can anyone believe it? Does Nero order that this freedman of mine to bring me poison?
CLEONICUS But your freedman frees you from him.
PAULINA He loyally frees his own soul.
CLEO. My loyalty belongs primarily to my patron, less to the prince. My patron’s virtue surpasses my prince’s vice. Let this worst of men behave wretchedly, so that death might be brought to the best of men. Oh that I might die first!
PAUL. Piety abandons the arrogant, and comes to the humble.
SEN. To this have come his tokens of affection, his kisses, his embrace, his hand?
CLEO. His embrace is torture, his kiss infects you with its fumes. One hand offered bread, the other held a stone.
CLEO. Will he perish soon?
PAUL. May he perish in his guilt sooner than harm the guiltless!
SEN. This is love? This is loyalty?
PAUL. Can there be love or trust towards a man who does not love or trust a soul?
SEN. Nero is good to Seneca thus?
PAUL. Can a man be good to others who is not good to himself? Does Seneca thus know Nero, or Nero Seneca? Does he not hate him? Does he hate him and think him good? But even if Nero is a good man, Tigellinus is bad. This evil man urges, presses, envies, blames, oppresses. How boldly he proclaims that you are too rich, that you are too good!
SEN. I have chosen the shore, folded my sail, abandoned the sea, but now I am grounded and sunk in this very shallows. I am rarely seen in the city, rarely at home. I shun companions, saying that my constitution is bad, that I suffer from neuralgia. What more could Tigellinus or Caesar desire?
CLEO. He desires the death of a wealthy man, so that he can enjoy deceased’s wealth.
SEN. Oh useless wealth, heaped up by great care, retained by greater! Mother of misery, guarantee of slavery, burden, peril. Booty summons the looter, and the robber sends you away defenseless. But the defenseless man is not attacked out of greed, and he who has less loss feels less pain. He who has more suffers more. Shall I lose all these goods? Why do you foolishly call them goods, which ruin their owner in the worst of ways? He is harmed because of his wealth, though riches do not harm their master. But what manner of poison does he wish offered to me?
CLEO. However you wish.
SEN. Let him be thanked. I prefer hemlock. I have wanted to live like Socrates, and thus to die, upright, philosophical, innocent, happy - and elderly. Socrates triumphed over his poison, I shall triumph over mine. The evil man imbibes a portion of his own venom.
PAUL. Let him imbibe the whole. You are able to win, to gain revenge. You are able to live in opulence. Or is it better to die, to be defeated, murdered, a timid, disgraced wretch, than to be a brave avenger, a safe victor, to enjoy yourself, me, your friends? Surely Seneca, because he would kill you, is not to be called by an ill-omened name? Oh, be prudent and avert this evil omen. Live for me, if not for yourself. Bear in mind that my life depends on yours. You do not live or die for one. I, the younger, am spared in you, the elder. Or in one person poison would harm two, harming your spirit. Humor me, beloved, and live for me.
SEN. Paulina, I guard myself so that I may guard you. Because I am dear to you, I am made dearer to myself. This love is at once my joy and my reward. Your fear both fortifies and refreshes my security. Shall I seek to make you love me more?
PAUL. Can I love you more?
SEN. Lo, you are asking that I love myself more, even demanding it. You are making me responsible for your fear and love - and ours. But if it is necessary for me to die, surely you will die too?
PAUL. I shall die.
PAUL. But I shall die.
SEN. Together with me?
PAUL. If it should be necessary.
SEN. For you?
PAUL. For me.
SEN. But if it were necessary for me?
PAUL. And if for you.
SEN. Why are you shivering?
PAUL. I am terrified of your death.
SEN. It should not terrify you, for either there is nothing beyond it, or if there is, it is something better than the best of lives. Death is a remedy, a harbor, a goal, a refuge from ills. A remedy heals. Surely disease is not better? The harbor beckons. Surely you do not prefer the wave-tossed sea? The goal approaches. Do you wish to run backwards? The refuge is open. Being a refugee, why not seek your native land? The way, life, heaven, our fatherland: death is the journey there. Life is a treadmill, death the way out. To me the body is like a punishment, a weight, a prison, a hostel, a chore. It is a small thing, my soul; my contempt for my soul a great thing. Dismissed, let it depart, at liberty to enjoy the free heaven. Though it be base to live by theft, it is a fair thing to die. And because at length death is a necessity, may this soon please us.
PAUL. Hear, philosopher, what I have somehow heard, even from you. Let it be base to fear death, because it is no bad thing. Let it also be base to hope for death, because it is no good thing. The timid man craves death when there is no need, and refuses it when he should die. Such a wretch readily condemns life. That man is stronger who is able to live in misery. There is scarcely any virtue in your rejection of life. It is more virtuous to suffer life’s injuries without casting off this yoke. Unless a better and greater ruler should command, do not desert your post. Do not sit out the winters like a sluggish shunner of the light. He is a naughty servant who flees a bad master. Are you fleeing an excellent master, runaway slave? Life is a burden? So set it aside when you are exhausted. Do not toss it away by mistake. It is a prison, a home? You may be destined to migrate elsewhere, but you should not break out of a genuine prison and you would not, like Nero, burn down your neighbor’s house with your own. Await the end decreed by Nature. You wish a thing unworthy of philosophy; do not summon death, just welcome it when it comes. Even if you do not love life, do not hate it. Nor is your soul a trifling thing, unless your mind is also. There is nothing in this world greater than Man, nor nothing in Man greater than Mind. And what God is in the world, such is the soul in Man. Nor is your contempt for your soul a great thing, unless you account men great who know not the value of the soul, the lowest dregs. No beast is so savage as to rage against itself. Our parricide (too light a word for him) perhaps wants to be deified, because he does not wish to be a man! Who kills another man is a thief. Surely a man who kills himself is not good. If someone else kills you, I shall curse him as a murder. But if you kill yourself and me, am I to love you? God grants us to exist - do not reject God’s gift, nor give Him back his loan unless He asks. Neither your life nor you death is to be borne for yourself alone: you live and die for others and in order to please our supreme Judge. The greatest sorrow awaits suicide souls. And finally think how terrible it would be for a woman to die, the most terrible thing imaginable, even if she is old, even if she is compelled - and you would have to compel me. Free the both of us from death and fear. Attack Nero before Nero attacks you, free the both of us from death and dread. He has attacked you. Imitate him. Do you lack the courage? Does terror forbid? What kind of fear? Of death. So the fear of death overcomes Seneca too, but nevertheless drives him to die. It is as if a captain were to sink his ship willingly, fearing the storm, so dangerous for ships!
SEN. You fill my mind with scruples, and a check on my zeal. But I see the men I had hoped for are at hand. (He dismisses his wife and freedman. Enter Faenius Rufus the prefect, Subrius Flavius, a tribune, and Sulpicius Asper, a centurion.)
[ACT I, SCENE iv]
RUFUS How long, Seneca, should we be patient about controlling our fate? We complain: should we devote ourselves to our studies? Invent pious prayers? Ask the heavens for better things? Or do nothing? We should act, not pray. Because it is disgraceful for men, because it is the mark of an effeminate, because it is shameful for soldiers, we are dying unavenged - or rather are we living, helpless? Are we burying men before their deaths? We have souls, but no courage. I deny that we are courageous. We are being shamefully oppressed, offering our heads as Tigellinus strikes at our submissive necks. As you are upright, wealthy, powerful, he slanders you. He hates me equally, because my life and reputation are better than his. With accusations he wears me out, though I am blameless. He makes me dread him - whom I dread because he is evil. He alleges that I have debauched murdered Julia, saying he wants to avenge her even though she has been removed. By his accusations he creates hatred for me - and death. How long, Seneca, should we be patient about controlling our fate?
SEN. Rufus, to whom virtue and virtue’s exercise are dear, to whom the responsibility is charged, why do you complain so much about your private misfortunes? Forget mine, forget even yours. The misfortunes of two men are trifling things. The evil touches us all. Would that it could all fall on Seneca’s head, not others’! I subdued my calamities, sending them beneath the yoke. How gladly I would drink poison mixed for me alone! I would gladly suffer wrong, but I would not gladly do it.
FLAVIUS A statement worthy of an emperor, but how unlike our present emperor! Would that such a man would rule, albeit he makes himself a lamb, prey for the wolf! Unless we act harshly, we shall suffer hardships. We must be daring. Our activities have a head, from their head they will take their happy outcome. Let something be done.
SEN. And what?
SEN. Are you not afraid?
FLAV. There is nothing fearful in these things, save fear itself. I fear him for my sake and also for yours. But fear banishes my fear, and will remove him to remove my dread. (Flavius draws his sword.)
SEN. What hope have you?
FLAV. My hope resides in this.
SEN. Against our prince?
FLAV. A monstrous evil.
SEN. Evil, but to be tolerated.
FLAV. If he would tolerate other good men.
SEN. Can you, one single tribune, achieve this?
FLAV. Chaerea, weak and ancient, was able to overcome Caius. Here is a double Brutus, you must believe that in me reside a double Cassius. A single tribune is enough.
RUF. But you will not display your daring as a single man. The prefect whom Nero appointed is with us, as is Sulpicius the centurion. Granius and Statius support you, as do their equals Scaurus and Paulus. But when you have put down Nero, who will be his heir?
ASPER Nero is hated, but Piso is popular. He has already been stirring up the soldiers, the knights, the senators.
FLAV. An fine heir! How little it matters to an honest man if a zither-player is removed from this place of shame, so that a tragic actor may rule the stage as his successor! He is approved by no virtue, save for a certain appearance. Wantonness and pleasure-seeking incline him towards crime. But come, let Piso put down Nero, then we will put him down, so that Seneca might rule the empire, a man who is wise, modest, popular, wealthy, and powerful. (Natalis bursts in.)
ASPER See, Natalis comes, who has appointed himself Piso’s representative to Seneca.
SEN. Keep him from my presence. My safety and love of tranquillity are more valuable to me. Conversations would help neither of us.
RUF. You go to them, Flavius. I shall be left behind as Seneca’s companion (Exit Seneca and Rufus.)
[ACT V, SCENE v]
SULPICIUS ASPER, ANTONIUS NATALIS, SUBRIUS FLAVIUS
ASPER Natalis, has everything been made ready for Piso?
ASPER Let him make his preparations quickly, let him cast aside delays. It would harm him to put it off — does he hesitate? The work is afoot, there is need for action. But perhaps he broods, puts off the day, hesitates. He is betraying and destroying his followers. Speed is a good, delay an evil. He must banish delay. How many of you have joined in?
FLAV. Too many! There is not much loyalty in so many men.
NAT. Men are compelled and incited to subscribe to the conspiracy, are joined and held together: some by reproaches and injuries they have received, some by love of revolution, some by fear, some because they have gone through their fortunes, some by hope of better days, others because Piso seems a good, substantial and decent man, and all by hatred of Nero: all these evils on combination urge, incite, join and grip them to subscribe. Why say more? Many scarcely keep it concealed, but few hardly have strength.
FLAV. You must act. What one cannot accomplish, many can. Nero has one neck, a number of men have numerous hands. No sacrificial offering is more welcome than a slain tyrant, no liquor sweeter than tyrant’s blood. This thing by itself sets everything else aright. Would that it would begin!
NAT. Piso looks to you to choose a suitable place and time, and now he asks this in person. (Enter Piso with his retinue.)
[ACT V, SCENE vi]
C. PISO, PLAUTIUS LATERANUS, FLAVIUS SCEVINUS, SUBURIUS FLAVIUS, ANTONIUS NATALIS, SULPICIUS ASPER, EPICHARIS, OTHERS
PISO There I nothing I can add about your loyalty, brave, faithful men. See, as far as you and I are concerned good and evil are the same - and come from the same source. As befits friends, we like and dislike the same things. On the one hand good-will, power, reputation, freedom, and wealth offer themselves. On the other hand, poverty, judgment, death, and dread. These words speak for themselves, and the latter ones are terrifying. It is preferable to risk death with honor than to live on, plucked clean and swindled. Otherwise, what is left for us but misery of soul - and in such fright? So let our souls dare something, and deprive our enemy Nero of his soul. You pick the time and place.
LATERANUS The time cannot be put off, when our misdeed is well known. Your villa, Piso, is suitable for the killing. Caesar visits frequently for baths and feasting. As a carefree guest, he dismisses his bodyguard, and sets aside the burden of his cares. Let him also set aside his damnable life.
PISO May Jupiter, God of Hospitality, forbid! May my household gods forbid that I desecrate the rites of the table! Hence Syllanus and Vestinus will do this foul deed, and will anticipate me. It is better for my cause that you do this in the city, in that house he built by despoiling his citizens, in broad daylight, or in the very Forum, which will make it a public matter.
FLAV. So is he to be slain in the presence of other men? Let him be murdered while singing on the stage. Or if he is alone, burn down his house by night as he rushes hither and thither as a fugitive. Our honor recommends that he be attacked in public, but our safety suggests that he be alone.
SCEVINUS Indeed, there that place which Caesar haunts, in the Circus; while the Games of Ceres are being held, here there will be ready access to him. Let Lateranus, a stout-hearted, strong-armed man, rush up to him as if pleading for assistance in his affairs, and strike him unawares, laying him low. When Nero is thus caught up, let each man be daring, attack, strike, slaughter. This dagger, taken from the temple of Salvation, consecrated to this mighty effort, claims for itself the first blows. May it be dyed in Caesar’s blood! (Scevinus draws the dagger.)
NAT. After the first, who will not strike the second blow, the third? “Remember the tyrannicide!” was in the mouth’s of Caesar’s assassins. Shall our watchword be “Salvation” or “Faith?” Or shall each man cry “Strike!” as our swords compete against each other?
ASPER Come, come, let each man strike, but say nothing. It betrays us, and the very act of speaking impedes us in the striking. Where will Piso be?
PISO I shall await in Ceres’ temple. After the killing is accomplished let Rufus fetch me, bear me to the Camp, so that my popularity with the soldiers and citizens might be the greater. I wish to have Claudius’ daughter Antonia as my consort. Go, go, brave fellows. Go with good fortune. (Exit Piso with Lateranus and the rest.)
SCEV. Hail Caesar - for a short time!
FLAV. Or nobody - within a short time!
EPICHARIS, SUBURIUS FLAVIUS, SULPICIUS ASPER, SCEVINUS
EPICHARIS Oh men — if you are men — spend but a short time on this grave business. Abandon hope and fear. Do what you are doing. Let the business itself incite the tardy. Let the thought that he is a man incite the timid. Let your loyalty incite you all. Because Caesar often enjoys the sea, I shall suborn certain captains of the fleet. To the best of my ability (and I do have some ability) I shall offer assistance. (Exit Epicharis.)
ASPER I think it wonderful that equal loyalty can be found in unequal ages, sexes, families, fortunes, classes, among women, soldiers, equestrians, senators. Remember, Scevinus, that you strike the first blows. (Exit Asper and Flavius.)
[ACT I, SCENE vii]
SCEVINUS, HIS FREEDMAN MILICHUS
SCEVINUS Remember, Milichus. You know how much I love you.
MILICHUS I know.
SCEV. You have been manumitted by me.
MIL. I know.
SCEV. I am your patron.
MIL. I know.
SCEV. You are indebted to me.
MIL. I know I am.
SCEV. But do you know what I am now doing?
MIL. I am able to learn.
SCEV. Such loyalty —
MIL. Loyalty towards you.
SCEV. — you know how I have displayed towards you.
MIL. I know. We must be careful.
SCEV. Then bring out the ledgers. (Exit Milichus.) Shall I strike first? My unruly mind, my languid and slugabed way of life deny this, so my reputation will render me less suspect. So Chaerea seemed to Caligula, and Brutus impressed Superbus. Now, thanks to the Fates, my virtue has long been concealed. I shall give the lie to my reputation, and be bold. (Milichus reenters, bringing Scevinus’ testamentary tablets.)
But Milichus returns. I affix my seal. Now sufficient precautions have been taken. If any slave is dear to me, I am manumitting him. Let others have my coins - feasting awaits me. (Handing Milichus a dagger.)
Milichus, this dagger is blunt from disuse. Let it be whetted on the stone, let its blade shine. Milichus, make ready ointments and styptics such as are used to bind wounds and stanch the flow of blood. Whatever the morrow may be, I shall spend this day in pleasure. (Exit Scevinus.)
MIL. (Alone.) He is happy of countenance, but sad of spirit. What does this joy mean? His wandering discourse? This dagger that must be sharpened? The signed tablets? This feasting? His bequests? Salves for wounds? What’s this? He is making an assault on somebody. But on whom? Caesar. That’s it. Could he contemplate such a foul deed? He will do it. Do I conceal the crime? I should have lesser loyalty towards my patron, greater towards my prince. I should win more rewards from Caesar by disloyalty to Scevinus than I would from him by remaining loyal. Such is right and loyal, and, as I think of my children, let my mind free itself of my patron. But I shall take counsel with my wife whether to betray or conceal him.
Go to Act V, part 2