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ACT V, SCENE iv [ACT II, SCENE i]
VOLUSIUS PROCULUS, EPICHARIS
PROCULUS It is decided, Epicharis. Thus may Nero pay his just deserts. I was scarcely the least important agent in his mother’s murder. I received no reward for him, have been neglected since. But you have no small support in the fleet. And it offers you frequent opportunities, which may help or harm our frequent guest. Nor shall I have no power, being a naval commander, and I am not alone. But if I can achieve something, henceforth I shall not sow vain seeds on sterile soil. Rather, I shall burn that field and shift my planting to another. I shall cut down the oak, so that the vigorous vine may grow.
EPICHARIS This, this is how to act, my Proculus. At length you become wise. What madness to love a hateful man! How much chagrin, for a grateful man to serve an ungrateful prince! To keep faith with a prince who has proven faithless to mother and wife! What crime is this, and that! Nero is wholly composed of crime. But he will pay the price for his crimes, as is fair, and as will happen soon. In his savagery he wants to destroy the knights and senators. But the knights will destroy him, the senators punish him. You just continue to dare what you are daring, and inflame your confederates. Gird yourself quickly, lest anyone anticipate you. For you will win no small reward for your services. I must arouse the minds and hands of more men. (Exit Epicharis.)
PRO. What are you doing, Volusius? Will you keep this crime concealed. He is an ingrate, I admit. But he is my prince, and a prince is to be venerated. Is it so? Am I to venerate an ingrate? But he can be grateful, when my merits warrant it. And I can add this, that I betray this evildoing. For Epicharis wrongly assumes I am hostile to Nero. But this betrayal will gratify his mind, and open the way for rewards. It is wrong for a son to feel anger towards his father, wrong for me to feel anger towards my prince. This would be like a man striking against his own hand, heart, or head. Does Epicharis’ love, or the hatred of the people and Senate count for so much that they should drag a guilty Proculus into an attempt on the prince’s life? Or should he do that which right and loyalty forbid? A thing surrounded front, back, on all sides by perils? This is a job full of risky throws of the dice. Though it may be criminal to have listened to this great evil, it would be more so to conceal it, and triply so to act. And I fear that, having knowledge, I am hiding it over-long. (Enter Nero, Epicharis, Flavius, Tigellinus.)
[ACT II, SCENE ii]
VOLUSIUS PROCULUS, NERO, EPICHARIS, FLAVIUS, TIGELLINUS
I shall approach Caesar as he comes out. [Aloud.] Oh Caesar, there is a conspiracy against your life.
NERO Where? When? By whom? Who reveals this conspiracy?
NERO So I see. But who besides you?
VOL Drag her here. Has she confessed to you?
VOL. Indeed, she wished to place herself at its head.
NERO So that you might kill me?
NERO By yourself?
VOL. With a number of confederates. (Epicharis is dragged onstage.)
NERO With whom?
PRO. She will tell you herself.
NERO Make your accusation.
PRO. You desired Caesar’s death, Epicharis.
EPIC. I had no such desire.
PRO. I swear by Jove.
EPIC. And so do I.
PRO. Admit your guilt.
EPIC. I refuse.
PRO. If refusal suffices, then who is guilty?
EPIC. If accusation suffices, then who is innocent?
EPIC. To falsehoods?
PRO. If there is any credence in a soldier —
EPIC. If there is any in a woman!
NERO There is scarce any in either of you.
EPIC. If his accusation is true, let him cite the means, let him adduce the reasons, let him list the accomplices and hangers-on, let him cite the passwords, places, things said, guilty parties, and witnesses.
PRO. I am a witness.
EPIC. And a participant?
NERO You both do a bad job of arguing your case. Was no eyewitness present as he acted?
EPIC. I was alone with him. [She collapses.]
NERO You are failing. For what reason?
EPIC. For none. I have no hope of good, nor fear of ill. And so I have no animus.
NERO How self-confident is the accused!
EPIC Such a good case befits a stout defendant. Did I wish this? As somebody who dared such a thing? But did I dare it? Who am I that I could have? My situation, my age, my breeding deny that I could dare, wish, or be able.
PRO. But she spoke of her hatred.
EPIC. Hatred born of what disgrace?
PRO. The public one.
EPIC. But what’s that to me?
PRO. You are part of the republic.
EPIC. I am a private woman.
PRO. But an active one.
EPIC. For my own profit.
NERO But she mentioned others, Proculus.
NERO Knights and senators. Let their names be divulged.
PRO. You kept their names quiet.
EPIC. I wished to keep silent about guilty men? Did I not wish to publish such a serious business?
NERO You incited him.
EPIC. Let him confess his own misdeeds. I have naught to confess.
NERO Unless you are truly guilty, why has he denounced you in your innocence?
EPIC. So that he might make these insinuations to you, when all men’s ears are open to reports of your guilt.
PRO. If she were a man —
EPIC. But he would not attempt to bring forward an accused woman, as you are.
PRO. Are you not ashamed?
EPIC. You should be ashamed of yourself.
PRO. With what face do you say that?
EPIC. With a composed one.
PRO. With what mouth?
EPIC. With a truthful one. You should know that there is more truth in a woman than a man.
PRO. I know there is more craftiness. I deny there is more truth.
EPIC. I am true, though you accuse me of falsehood.
NERO Although these revelations are not somehow proven by witnesses, court-cases, or evidence, I have an intuition that they are not false. Sophonius, extract the truth from her in jail, which she will reveal when she has been bound, racked, roasted, and scourged.
TIGELLINUS When there’s a conspiracy afoot against our prince, better for her to be condemned in her innocence, than go unquestioned in her guilt. (Epicharis is dragged off by Tigellinus.)
NERO Now I summon my spies, those clever bloodhounds. Let them scrutinize everywhere, let them quickly sniff out what is in mouths and minds of this one and that. I am hated by the knights and senators I loathe. I am dreaded, and I dread them. There is something in this business, and this rumor does not arise rashly. Let my soldiers go flying though all homes, forums, and fields. Let them occupy the sea, the walls. Let a band of Germans guard my side. I trust you German more, for he is foreign.
[ACT II, SCENE iii]
NERO DELIBERATING, MILICHUS, HIS WIFE, EPAPHRODITUS, SOON JOINED BY SCEVINUS, ENIUS RUFUS
WIFE (Aside.) Much is fearful. If you are afraid, you are wholly ruined. For others have seen. If you alone keep silent, it will not profit you. But if you alone report it, future rewards will belong to you alone for being the first to betray the crime. Divulge it, delay no longer. Either report it or perish.
MILICHUS (Aside.) I am very doubtful. But I shall act without delay.
EPAPHRODITUS Why are you at the door, you common fellow?
MIL. I bring no common tidings, but great ones.
NERO What is your business?
MIL. O Caesar, a conspiracy has been entered into for your murder.
NERO Who has joined it?
MIL. My patron Scevinus.
NERO Let him be summoned (Scevinus is brought in so that he might hear.).
MIL. See the weapon, Caesar, that he gave me for the whetting, so that he might strike you. With this goal in mind, he set his seal to his tablets, manumitted his slaves, and gave them money. He ate a fine dinner and ordered me to ready salves for his wounds. Nor, in my view, can he deny these facts.
NERO What say you to these things, Scevinus?
SCEVINUS Not only a legal action, but even an inquisition, against the person of a master is forbidden.
NERO But he has been emancipated!
SCEV. He is my freedman.
NERO Since he is free, he is a competent accuser. Give your testimony.
SCEV. My sense of religion has cherished this dagger which he is carrying. I keep it in my bedchamber, but it has been stolen by the deceit of my naughty freedman. My tablets are often sealed against undetermined days. I have given my slaves their freedom, and also a bequest, because a creditor is now hounding me regarding a huge debt, and I will not be able to repay him. I always eat lavish banquets, and lead a luxurious life, of which a grave censor would disapprove. Thus far am I from favoring a revolution! No medications have been prepared at my order. This rascal has cast vain accusations at me, and comes both as accuser and witness, to manufacture a false case. Are freedmen thus allowed to betray their blameless patrons?
NERO A carefree statement, and the accused has an untroubled countenance. The accuser is wavering. What should I think? What do you claim?
MIL. (Aside.) Unless these charges stick, I don’t know what will happen to me.
WIFE He and Natalis held lengthy confabulations in secret. Both are intimates of Piso.
NERO She offers good advice. Unless they are guilty, they will say the same thing. Let Natalis be produced. In the meantime tell me truly, what did you speak about?
SCEV. What new play should be acted on the stage. (Natalis is dragged in.)
NERO You say plays. Here’s Natalis. Question him apart, Rufus.
RUFUS What did you and Scevinus talk about, so seriously, solitary, and at length?
NAT. As I recall —
RUF. You hesitate? Why hunt for words?
NAT. You press me so cruelly.
RUF. Go on, unless you wish me to be crueller.
NAT. There’s no need.
RUF. Since your confederate has opened up, there’s no need for your concealment. He has confessed.
NAT. And what does he say?
RUF. See what yourself. What do you say?
NAT. What he does.
RUF. You are playing with me. But in your play you will pay, unless you speak out forthwith. What were you talking about?
NAT. I think about what was lately done in the Senate, about Corbulo, about the recent prodigies, about the buildings being demolished at Rome. (Rufus catches the hand of Flavius as he draws his sword.)
NERO Silence. This one talks about the Senate, that one about the stage. Both are caught out.
RUF. Not yet, Flavius.
NERO What’s this?
RUF. He shouldn’t kill a defendant unless he confesses.
NERO Rather you should drag him, bound, to the question, so that he will name his allies. Torture him, burn him. (Scevinus and Natalis are taken off by Epaphroditus and Rufus. Enter Tigellinus.)
How fares Epicharis now? What does she at length reveal? I should imagine a woman’s body is not equal to the pain.
TIGELLINUS But we have found a poor little woman to whom the pain is not equal! She has worn me out, I know, and the racks and the torturers. We tormented her more, lest we be disdained by a woman. But the woman disdained us all the more. She did not shudder at our fires, tortures, scourgings, or woundings. She recanted her sayings, and denied her doings. Let me torment men whom reason can bend. A woman, once she has denied, always denies.
NERO I should like to see such a stubborn little lady. Let her be brought here.
TIG. You will think it’s smoke that’s brought. (Epicharis is brought in, carried in a chair, bound and tortured.)
EPICHARIS Whither has Nature retreated? Where does Piety dwell? There is no humane mind in mankind. They are wolves, tigers, snakes, vipers, who once were men. What is this Gehenna? What is this delay in my dying, worse than death? In comparison these evils with Acheron’s urn, wheel, rock, starvation, the Sicilian torments are all trifles. For these are all light if long, or brief if grave. But mine are without end or limit. Oh let me die!
TIG. You would be allowed to die, if you did not pray for death. You should want to confess your crime.
EPI. No guilt adheres to me, but something worse than all guilt.
EPI. Your savagery.
TIG. But unless you confess —
TIG. You will call me more savage.
EPI. I say you are more savage than any beast.
TIG. So come, renew the whipping.
EPI. With the result that I shall betray nothing.
TIG. Come now, since she persists in her shamelessness, peel off the impudent whore’s face.
EPI. Still, I’ll betray nothing.
TIG. You will betray, when forced.
EPI. I wish to die a free woman.
TIG. Your wish is forbidden.
EPI. I die. See. Ah. (She fastens her breast-band in a sort of a noose to the canopy of the chair, inserts her neck, throws her weight on it, and strangles herself.)
TIG. How her frail soul expires by this light band!
NERO Remove this self-strangler. Thus let my enemies perish.
FLAVIUS A steadfast heroine. If the men had remained as firm in their loyalty, Nero would have died by their treachery. (She is borne off by Flavius and Asper, who soon return.)
NERO So much for the freedwoman. What about the man? (Reenter Rufus and Epaphroditus with Natalis.)
EPAPH. As soon as Natalis had a glimpse of our fires and cruel hooks, he could not stand it. He preferred to confess, but only to you.
NATALIS Forgive me, Caesar. I confess (and oh, let it not work to my harm to be the first to confess) that I have always been a partner of to all of Piso’s secrets. The favor of many people towards him attracted mine also. We wished rule for him, death for you. Lateranus was designated to attack you first, while you were sitting publicly in the Circus. And Scevinus was to strike the first blow. The others had sworn to imitate these beginnings.
NERO This is love of Caesar? This is the senators’ loyalty? Sabinus, under your command let some recruit put down Piso, let him be put him down unawares, since the veterans support him. (Exit Nymphidius Sabinus to Piso). Let Lateranus be cut down by the tribune Statius, so quickly that he cannot first say farewell even to his children. (Standing next to Lateranus and Epaphroditus.) But who of my marines in the fleet leans towards Piso?
NAT. I am sent by him. I wished to greet Seneca at his home, and I sought to converse with his friend. Seneca answered that conversation would profit neither of us, and that his own safety depended on that of Piso. (Scevinus is brought in.)
TIG. Didn’t I warn you how loyal and good Seneca is?
NERO (Calling out Poppaea.) Poppaea, do you hear? Seneca also subscribed to the conspiracy. [Enter Poppaea.]
POPPAEA Can I believe this? Can a good man repay your favor so badly? Press the matter.
NERO Report to me, Granius, Seneca’s statements and replies about these things you have heard. (Exit Granius Silvanus to Seneca.) Does Scevinus now deny that he was a conspirator?
SCEV. Now denial will not profit me. What is not revealed? I do not deny it.
NERO But tell me who else was privy to the plot.
NERO Him? That rival for my glory? He used to boast of his verses, since I write them.
SCEV. And Quinctianus.
NERO Infamous for his body, made notorious by my lampoon, he covets revenge.
NERO I believe that this friend conceived a mislike for me because he was not my sole and dearest friend. Let three tribunes, one apiece, first deliver threats to them, so that they might reveal further conspirators - but let the tribunes soon bring death. (Exit three tribunes to them, with Epaphroditus. Reenter Granius Silvanus.)
GRANIUS Seneca says that Natalis was sent to him, but was prohibited from his presence because peace was dear to his heart; and there is no reason why any private citizen’s safety should be dearer to him than his own, nor is his nature prone to flattery. And nobody is more familiar with this fact than yourself, since you have found him to be frank with you, scarcely servile. (Reenter Flavius and Asper.)
NERO And those words are exceedingly frank! But isn’t he making ready to commit suicide?
GRAN. Whether I studied his words or his expression, I detected nothing sorrowful, no indication of panic.
POP. But so that he can prepare nothing violent, he must prepare this.
NERO Go back, tribune. Tell him you bring death from Caesar.
GRAN. (Secretly turning to Rufus.) Rufus, should I kill Seneca?
RUF. You must obey.
NERO What is it? What is Granius dithering about?
RUF. Whether he should kill Seneca or let him decide how he prefers to die.
NERO As long as he dies, let him decide the manner of his death (Exit Granius to Seneca.) Thus I am accustomed to being merciful. But Scevinus adds to the number of the guilty. Rufus, ask him how many more there are.
RUF. Come, betray more lives, lest you lose your own.
SCEV. Who could name more than yourself, since nobody knows? Now you are serving our excellent prince.
TIG. Ha! Rufus!
NERO Rufus, you also wished death for Caesar.
RUF. What can I say? I am not eager to speak to these those things, nor yet to keep silent.
NERO No doubt you are ashamed to talk, but scared to stay silent. On both counts your guilty mind oppresses you. So, Cassius, seize him, and bind him tightly. As is the custom, decapitate him outside the city walls. (The soldier Cassius seizes and binds Rufus.)
NAT. And, among others, Flavius subscribed.
FLAV. I among those men? That I, a soldier, should side with civilians, that I should ally myself with effeminates, and in such a wicked enterprise?
SCEV. Don’t deny it.
FLAV. I deny it boldly, and I shall persist in my denial.
NERO But you deny in vain.
FLAV. Well then, I do not deny it. The glory of confession is welcome to me.
NERO What reason, or what hope of glory have you, that you break your oath, after you have sworn that my security would be dearer to you than your own?
FLAV. Because I despise you. But once, when you were deserving, when you were a good man, I loved you above all others, and nobody was more devoted to you. I began to despise you when you killed your wife and mother, when you became a matricide, a chariot-driver, a lyre-player, a baneful champion of arsonists - and a weak-voiced singer.
NERO In this conspiracy I have suffered nothing worse than listening to such reproaches, having been accustomed to hear praises. Did you people thus aspire to put down your prince by word and deed? Alas that a single death is the penalty for all these offenses, and that punishment ends with death. Come, tribune Niger, remove the head of tribune Flavius. I grant this much honor to an enemy.
NIGER Tribune, extend your neck bravely, as befits you.
FLAV. Would that you would strike Nero so stoutly! (Flavius is taken away by Niger.)
NAT. Sulpicius Asper stands by. But he was involved.
NERO Why, Asper, did you rush at my killing like a wild boar?
ASPER Because it is impossible to cure your evil save by your killing.
NERO A medical centurion mispleases me. Let the man who severs your neck demonstrate how rough is surgery. (Asper is taken away.)
NAT. And these people were confederates of Flavius: Scaurus, Paulus, Granius, and Statius.
NERO And so punishment awaits them. But I pardon the latter two, if they crave pardon, because the one is killing Seneca, and the other Lateranus. (Epaphroditus returns with the tribunes.)
EPAPH. For a long while they made their denials. But in the end, when hope of immunity had been offered, Senecio and Quinctianus admitted their involvement and that of their friends. The one denounced Pollio, the other Gallus, both dearest friends. Lucan added that his mother was privy to the plot.
POP. Epicharis was nobler, maintaining silence about herself and her associates.
NERO So let them die. (The same people go off on the same mission. Scevinus is taken.)
They have begotten exile for their friends. And let Scevinus die a similar death. Let Natalis go with immunity, but let Milichus be called my savior. Let this dagger be consecrated to Jove the Avenger. But had Vestinus the Consul no complicity?
NAT. As far as I can tell, none.
NERO But I want something to be added. A bitter memory of me lingers, because he lampooned me in his bitter jokes.
POP. But his wife is Statilia, whom you, Nero, have frequently debauched - how much loyalty towards you does this permit?
NERO Therefore, Gerelanus, overwhelm the consul unawares. I have anticipated whatever crime he is doing, or may do. (Exit Gerelanus the tribune to Vestinus. Veianus Niger returns from Flavius.)
NIGER How Flavius died, in accordance with your command! When I ordered a grave dug in a nearby field, he sneered at it for being mean and narrow. Said it wasn’t dug according to military specifications. You would think he was issuing the orders. Soon, however, he was hacked down, though it took six blows. Thus I kill your enemies.
NERO Thus you should. My friends, seek out further guilty parties, whose talk, nods, joy, sadness, fear, or any other slight symptoms make suspect. Accuse, seize, drag: let the convicted die so that they feel they are dying, so that they think death’s postponement worse than death. Tigellinus, I grant you triumphal honors. You protect me, so that I may safely enjoy leisure for my games. (Exeunt omnes.)
ACT V, SCENE v (ACT II, SCENE iv)
C. PISO, THE EQUESTRIAN MARTIUS FESTUS
FESTUS Piso, you cannot fail to know that everything is known. While Caesar is conducting his investigation, if you have any invigoration in you, come to the camp. Make trial of the arms and the zeal of the soldiers, people, and senators. If the conspirators side with you, they will follow in safety. Word of an enterprise begun will count for much in a revolution. Nero done naught to resist such endeavors. Even brave men would be frightened by them; much less will a tragic actor take up arms, and his allies are his comrade Tigellinus and his whores. Many things are accomplished by boldness, which seem arduous to the slothful and unenterprising. It is a vain hope that true faith or silence can be maintained among so many conspirators. Everything is creating a way either to the cross or to a reward. So come, summon everything in yourself. For you, either the summit is at hand - or a downfall. There is no middle course for the man seeking the heights. If you follow such a middle course, you will take a fall. You are not brave enough, neither do you see. There is no room for hesitation, in a situation where what is done is not praiseworthy unless it is carried to completion. Look, they are coming, to bind you as you hide, to strike, to kill. So if you must die, die with honor, while you are reaching to clasp the Republic in your embrace, while you are summoning help, so that it might be free, while the soldiers and people are deserting you, rather than you them, and while you are honoring your ancestors, and indeed also your posterity, by the manner of your death.
PISO Now there is no safe course, unless my sole salvation is to hope for none. Now there is no escape for virtue, scarcely any for an honorable death. I would seek this harbor, and not attempt new waters, this stormy sea, when bereft of oar and sail. When Troy had been burnt, the gods deserted her. Why should Priam take up arms while standing at the gods’ altar for the slaughtering? Does anybody escape Caesar when he is enraged? If I make a move, I do not protect myself, and I pull down my allies. If I yield, I alone perish. Thus let me fall by myself. I do not want to share in this slaughter. Rather I shall pray that, if there be any piety in him, he spare my wife. (A tumult of soldiers is heard.)
This is what I seek. But listen. A band of soldiers has come. I open my veins. This liquor is pleasing to Caesar. (Exit with opened veins.)
ACT V, SCENE vi (ACT II, SCENE v)
SENECA, A CENTURION, PAULINA, STATILIUS ANNAEUS, JUNIUS GALLIO, NOVIUS GALLIO, LUCILIUS, CLEONICUS, GRANIUS SILVANUS
SENECA And so you announce the ultimate necessity. I meet it boldly. But first I shall break my testimentary tablets.
CENTURION I forbid that, at Caesar’s command.
SEN. And so I shall scarcely be allowed to thank my friends. I bequeath them my single possession, my greatest glory - my model for living. (Turning to his friends.)
For I am mindful that, since my life has always been led according to sound principles, it will bring me a reputation for firm friendship. Good doctor Annaeus, Gallio my brother, what is it? What is it, Priscus, what, Lucilius, my best of friends? Why so many groans in your hearts, why do so many tears flow down your faces, when for all these years we have studied reason, we have digested it, as a bulwark against impending storms? Where are all my precepts about prudence? Has Nero’s wild savagery escaped anyone’s notice? For him, after his mother, brother, and wife have been murdered, there is nothing left but to give instructions in how to accumulate massacres. (To Paulina.)
But you who have embraced me, Paulina, the greater part of my soul, how your sight softens me! But does my affection not harden you in your sorrow? I beg you, moderate your grief. Leave complaints to base women. By weeping you will debase my death.
PAULINA But can I, Seneca? Seneca, can I, your wife, not complain of your demise, and of my misery? As I love you, can I bear it that they are taking you from me? Can I not be wretched, since you are a wretch? Can I abstain from weeping, since I am wretched, since you are a wretch? O might I dissolve into a fountain, to weep forever!
SEN. A degenerate endures in grief, a brave man chooses to die. Even if wailing befits a woman, it does not behoove the wife of Seneca to wail. Having a wretch for a husband is a unique subject for glory in your sex. You loved me when I was prosperous. Love me now that I am wretched. But I am not wretched, for an avenue to enduring bliss lies open. My mind is set on eternity. The last day of my previous life is the first of a new one. My dying-day is also my birthday. Thus life follows death, as death life - and a better life, that Nero will not steal. It is wrong to bewail a man who is not wailing. Nothing is new for Seneca, whose life has been a stadium for death, or rather a study. Let this unweeping man dry your tears. He who weeps for himself is unworthy of your tears. You, dear wife, recall how in my life virtue, dearer to me than living, took first place, and humor your longed-for husband, as is right, by consoling your widowed household gods with an honest mind. Doleful death causes pain in this single way, if it causes any at all, that it steals a beloved husband from his beloved wife.
PAUL. And so, my Seneca, shall I, your wife, live without you? And so, my Seneca, will you, my husband, die without me? Is this the pledge we exchanged? Am I without a heart, because I am a wife? Having been thus advised, am I thus to remember you? This life only pleased me from the time I married you, because I was pleasing to you. Let me be nothing, if I am not yours. I have always wished to live with you, die with you. Thus it has been destined, that a single death will take us both. You are able to die with me, you cannot die without me. Let the assassin strike me first. We have earned it equally. I shall retain within my right the wealth after which Nero hungers, if I live longer. Come then, strike. Portia will die by fire, if you deny her the steel.
SEN. O wonderful womanly virtue! Can Seneca resist your glory? Can he leave her alone to confront these wild beasts adamantly? I have advised you what things befit you in life. Death’s glory is better, so that thus you may take the good but avoid the bad. I do not begrudge such an excellent example. Go before me. Let our minds be equally set on this departure, but in death your fame will be greater. (Paulina cuts her wrists.)
PAUL. Thus may a stroke quickly sever all these veins at once. Ah. What about you, Seneca?
SEN. Does it hurt, Paulina?
PAUL. Seneca, my wound does not hurt, but I am hurt by the wound that will destroy Seneca. Your blood flows for me much more than my own, and the same flow simultaneously destroys both our souls. (Seneca cuts his veins.)
SEN. Nature, how you shatter me, also unwilling! Ah. How you destroy a philosopher! Ah death, how I disdained you in your absence, how I shudder at you as you approach! Is a sailor arrogant on a calm sea, but timid when it thunders? A philosopher is more than a man, but he puts off his manhood with difficulty. We say superhuman things, but we are human. My ancient body, fed on slender diets, sheds its blood slowly. Good, you torment me, so that I may confess you are an evil.
PAUL. Ah, don’t confess it.
SEN. But I feel it so.
PAUL. But the senses are a bad judge of things, soft and pleasant to themselves. Has any gladiator ever fallen more bravely than you? To the contrary, do not abandon your weapons, do not throw yourself from your high position. Die as it befits Seneca to die. You will have this refuge from evils.
SEN. But I must reach it by undergoing evils.
PAUL. You should say by undergoing unpleasantnesses, by which salvation is attained. Now I think we are consecrated victims, standing before the altars, like a bull and the heifer offering themselves to the steel. Let us be slaughtered and fall piously, as is reasonable, peacefully, innocent suppliants, pleasing in the sight of God. Deem it a sin, if the victim, consecrated to the expiation of crimes, struggles against death. If the colt drags against the bit, let the noose strangle it, let the flame consume it. Let heavy steel cut limb from limb. What will Seneca do, if he is too soft and bewails his death because the blood flows slower? If such a man, distinguished for his virtue, scarcely shows himself a man, is at any wonder if I, a weaker woman, lose my nerve?
SEN. Exhausted by bearing this, I fail. But let not my pain break your spirit, nor yours mine. Nor, if in this single death, which oppresses me like a twofold one when I witness your torments, Paulina, I fail out of impatience, must you shrink back. But first you may receive my final breath on your lips. At least we are permitted to say a final farewell.
PAUL. We shall say our greetings in the Elysian fields. (Paulina leaves for her chamber.)
SEN. How a woman, dedicated to something she wants or does not want, sees no less clearly than a man, and is more constant! It is scarcely decorous to die with her as a guide, or pleasant to die with her as a companion. How slow is dying for someone willing but elderly! With what difficulty even an ounce of blood flows! Annaeus, your skill makes you my doctor, your loyalty my friend. Come now, give me the poison I have prepared, by which Socrates once perished, and I shall die by it, either like Cato, a living image of virtue, or like Canius, the best man of our time. (The doctor offers a cup of hemlock. Seneca drinks it down.)
I must drink it all, for it is a sufficient dose. Then I must walk. From this will come my salvation, and so let a cock be offered up to Aesclepius. Let this migration be a lucky, be a happy one for me. I pray for that frame of mind that I have recommended for the ignorant. Seek me out, Nature. I return myself to you gratefully and gladly. But I am praying in vain. My body is shut up, my pores obstructed, and my frigid limbs impede the poison’s progress. What is to be done now?
PAUL. (Offstage.) Ah.
SEN. What is it? Does my Paulina expire?
CLEONICUS She has not expired, but has fallen into a faint, and lies not far from death.
SEN. I am coming, Paulina. O, I am seeking the bath set here, in which I might pour a blood-libation to Jove the Liberator. (He is carried into the bath. [Enter the Tribune Granius Silvanus with soldiers.])
GRANIUS But since Paulina was scarcely ordered to die by Nero, and he has felt no personal odium towards her, lest the unpopularity of his cruelty wax too great, you servants must stanch her blood, and forbid her departure. Let her live, like it or no, and bear her scars as tokens of her love. A sufficiency of virtue has died in Seneca. (Exit soldiers.)
ACT V, SCENE vii (ACT II, SCENE vi)
LUCAN with slit veins
Now, Lucan, gather yourself, unhinged by fear. Annihilate that one thing, that single thing (o gods, I pray!), that (oh the crime!) I betrayed my mother. Greed for life can achieve such a thing in men. It created hope, and an impious man deceived a tainted woman. But while your life runs out (and alas, life is short), remember, at least recite what was yours. Thus life will return. Think it base to abstain from this. Will Vulteius instruct you, or you Vulteius?
No life is short, which has the time for death’s seeking. It is an achievement of great virtue, to make Caesar call the loss of so few men out of so many thousands a loss and a catastrophe. The gods conceal from those fated to live on, so that they may have the courage to go on living, that death is a blessing.
Will Pompey instruct you, or you Pompey?
Either no sense is left to the soul by death, or death itself counts for nothing. Men do not know, if you do not prove yourself in death, whether you know how to bear misfortune. Do not yield to shame or lament the agent of your fate. But, oh gods, I am fortunate. No god’s power can rob me of this: for life alters our prosperity, but in death I am no wretch.
And will Cato instruct you, or you Cato?
The best fate for men is to know how to die, next best to be compelled. Virtue is happiest when it costs you the most. They are my comrades, who are led on by the very risks, who think it noble and Roman to suffer the even the worst, with me their witness.
For by my writings Cato is retrieved from the Styx.
He hastened to them and conferred on them a boon better than their salvation: fortitude in death’s face. They were ashamed to die a groaning death in his sight.
Indeed, as Tullus was killed by that serpent, so I am slain and die.
Blood was his tears; out of whatever orifices were known to the body’s humors came welling the thick gore. All his limbs were drenched with his veins’ contents, his whole body became a single wound.
Or rather I seem to die like Brutus’ Lycidas.
He was torn asunder, nor did the blood well up slowly, as from a wound. It gushed everywhere from his severed veins, and the life-force that had flowed through his frame was cut off by the water.
I can do no more. I am departing. [Dies.]
Go to Act V, part 3