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ACT V, SCENE viii [Act III, SCENEi ]
THE GHOST OF AGRIPPINA, POPPAEA PREGNANT, NERO COMING FROM THE THEATER, EPAPHRODITUS, TIGELLINUS, CAPITO COSSUTIANUS
POPPAEA Who calls me?
NERO What is it?
POP. I am here.
NERO I am coming out.
POP. Who is disturbing me in my illness?
NERO Who interrupts Nero’s jolly theatrics?
POP. Ah, Nero, do you at last return, worn out, unmanned, drained dry? Do you thus pleasure yourself by planting these agonies in this body of mine, gravid and swelling? Do you abandon me and pursue your jolly theatrics - or other women? Perhaps Statilia delights you? Is she prettier than me? Or is she more fertile by you? Or are you an errant lover, careening hither and thither, without faith, reason, or limit? Surely my beauty has not faded? O may I die before I grow old, lest my beauty fade! Has my unborn child, your first child, already deserved it that you play the fickle debaucher and hunt other mistresses? Has your wife been murdered, your mother slain, so that there would be a place for Poppaea - or perhaps for others? Perhaps Poppaea will gain the reputation, but others will reap the fruit. But if I exist, they will not, no, they will not. My irate affection pours forth, as does my swollen dejection. My Jupiter, my Jason, my Hercules, may you come back to me, or I shall be your Juno, your Medea…
NERO What are you saying in your madness? Does it befit Caesar to hear this stuff, any woman to speak it? Off with you, you foul-mouthed creature.
POP. Alas, Nero.
NERO Alas, wife. What is it? (He lays her low with a kick.)
POP. Am I perished?
NERO It is I who am perished. Or I have sent us both to perdition at once!
POP. You sent hope, faith, your own life to perdition, when you killed a mother with her child, a child within his mother. Does any wild wolf render himself thus bereft?
NERO Has such a light blow harmed you?
POP. It was fatally heavy, but it did not harm me, freeing from such an evil master.
NERO Does it hurt so?
POP. Yes. Not to die — but to die at your hands!
NERO The pain will quickly abate.
POP. Quickly, when I am dead.
NERO Oh live, my Poppaea! Live for me and for yourself.
POP. You kill me, tyrant, and command me to live? Come, I refuse, I am unable. But God will wreak vengeance on you. Ah. (Poppaea dies.)
NERO Can you endure, my harsh, inhuman, savage eyes, to look? Do you not dissolve in tears? Or is does this sorrow transcend tears, and become a kind of numbness? She truly called me a Hercules, for he killed Megara. I killed her in her madness, but I was not mad, unless anger is a short-lived madness. Anger is a madness, and what is worse than insanity? Oh may it persevere, may it hasten, may it overwhelm this Athamas! Only madness can render me guiltless. I cannot ignore this. But I did not want — But I committed this crime. Commanded agents did not commit it, as the other things. This crime, this accursed crime is my own. And because I did it, I shall loathe myself, as Phoebus loathed himself, his hand, his breezes, his bow, his arts, his bird, by which Coronis perished. So has she died? Have Venus, Minerva, Juno, grace, pleasure, and love died in her? Have they perished, the star of my extinguished eye? And so in her let all eternal light go out. May this foot rot, having dared such a great evil. Earth, will you support this foot, which trampled her, so that it may trample you? Yawn and devour both foot and footed man!
EPAPHRODITUS Unconquered Caesar, summon unconquerable Caesar. Do not wish for yourself more ill than any man can support. Brave Nero, transcend your sorrow. Thus the Sabine tongue advises with your Sabine name. This was a mistake, not a crime. The blow was accidental, not purposeful: your mind was innocent, your heel spontaneously harmed her, fated to die. You have previously borne the loss of a wife and mother. Bear this too, as is your wont. A new wife will make good the loss of your consort. If you make her your bride, Antonia can stabilize your reign, for she bears the double name of her father Claudius. Except that her beauty served as a love-philtre, Poppaea was savage, wanton, and unworthy of Caesar’s bed. But even for her you must make ready proper funeral rites.
NERO Go, find out of Antonia wishes to enter my bedchamber, whether she desires the title of Augusta. (Epaphroditus departs to Antonia.)
But remove her, whom I myself shall lift to the high heavens with lofty praises from the rostrum, how she was the personification of highest beauty, how she was the divine mother of a divine little girl. Nor do I desire her to be cremated in the usual Roman fashion, like other women. Neither let Venus yield to Vulcan, nor let his fires consume mine. But I desire her to be stuffed with spices, like a king, though no spice which Araby produces as its annual harvest will smell so sweet as she. Thus let her obtain a place in the tomb of the Julians. But even though my tears are in no way drying, and Poppaea has not faded from mind, I wish to castrate Sporus, and make him resemble her as much as a boy can, and then marry him. I shall also submit to my Pythagoras as his wife. Both will fulfil their required functions. (Epaphroditus returns from Antonia.)
Epaphroditus, what does Antonia respond to us?
EPA. She refuses Nero’s inauspicious and incestuous offer of marriage. It is forbidden for a sister to marry an adoptive brother, and dangerous to marry a savage murderer. So she says your proposal is neither pleasing nor legal.
NERO Did the widows of Sulla and Pompey thus despise marriage to Caesar? I perceive trickery. She is striving to encompass a revolution and my death. She had wanted to belong to Piso. Come, let her seek a marriage to Piso - or rather, let her seek a marriage to Pluto. (Epaphroditus returns to the same woman.)
Let her, who refuses to belong to me, belong to precisely nobody. Statilia is familiar to me. Nor, I think, will she refuse me. But, with that Hydra of Piso’s cut back, does it still rebel against me? Oh my hands, too gentle! So come, Caius Cassius maintains an effigy of his ancestor, inscribed DEDICATED TO THE LEADER OF HIS FACTION. Deprive him, previously deprived of his eyes, of his nation. Denounce his long-standing wealth, his grave morals. With that name of his he threatens to dare and to act. Let Sillanus be his comrade in death, a youth to accompany an old man. (Exit centurions to kill him.)
And because Mella, Lucan’s rich father, claims his son’s fortune, having gone through his own, let him, scarcely unlike his son, find a like demise.
TIGELLINUS But Arbiter, so learned in luxury, the idle, obscene Father of Elegance, does Caesar consider that alone to be diverting, to be pleasant which he deems to be diverting, to be pleasant? A friend of Scevinus, spreading deliberate deceptions, as his slave has accused. So are you going to deliver yourself over to him because you consult him first, because this rival of mine Petronius is preferred to me as a scientist of the pleasures, so that he may basely deliver you up?
NERO. Indeed, he betrays and destroys himself, and he deservedly dies because he is the kind of man who, beloved by Nero, loves others more. (Exit a centurion to Petronius.)
CAPITO COSSUTIANUS And so does Soranus love Caesar, or Thrasea? When Soranus governed Asia, he supported seditions and won these over to himself and Plautus for the purpose of fomenting revolution. At Pergamum he allowed your freedman to be rebuffed with violence, unavenged, out of great enthusiasm for Plautus. But these are old things. Now Servilia is complicit with her father, and in her anxiety I fear she is giving money to magicians to kill you. The philosopher Celer can bear witness to this accusation, a Stoic, a client of Soranus, and a man of honest heart. But Thrasea is doleful with a sullen expression.
NERO What a just fellow! May Thrasea love Caesar so greatly!
CAP. But that man avoids taking the annual oath to support Caesar’s actions, or rather refuses! He does not join in the prayer for your safety, although he is a priest. Nor does he sacrifice for the welfare of your celestial voice, nor could he bear to listen to the indictment of your mother, but left the Senate building beforehand. He is devoted to his private cares, and rarely has time for public affairs. In his hostility, he is creating schism and factions, or indeed civil war if enough men dare the same thing. Rome once was riven and prattled about those rivals for power, Cato and Caesar, as it now discordantly prates of Thrasea and Nero. He lauds Cato in his writing, imitates him in his life. Both he and his rigid, austere followers (or should I say henchmen?) employ their expressions and carriage to denounce you for your wanton mode of life. To him alone Caesar’s safety and sacred artistry are subjects for criticism, lacking honor. If anything goes prosperously for you, he spurns it, but feels no pain should you feel pain. Not to believe in Poppaea’s divinity bespeaks the same attitude as refusal to swear by the acts of the deified Caesars. Thus he neglects the rites and abrogates the laws. Does he perceive better things than we do? Ought we eagerly to follow the new doctrines he teaches? Remove this teacher, this leader. This Stoic sect is always inimical to the public interest. So that they might gain the government, fair Liberty is always on their lips, but when they have taken power, they will destroy it. Let this priest, this upright senator, visit the Senate house to subscribe to its prayers, and if Thrasea does not swear, he will openly brand himself a traitor and an enemy. You can more easily tolerate him present in the Senate and railing against individual measures than absent, condemning everything with his hostile silence. Let him not be exiled (for he gloomily seeks this for the public good, by threatening the nation with the prospect of his exile), but let him end the life he hates away from the city, when he has abandoned its love and its sight. You removed Cassius in vain, if now you permit these would-be Brutuses to prosper, to thrive, to press their case.
NERO In his native town he himself acted in a tragedy during public games. But let him not be deemed worthy to hear, not as I sing to my lyre or act on the stage. So let him not be given a hearing, nor let him hear henceforth. And so let Soranus, his daughter, and Thrasea fall. In them I want to behead the virtues. But it is better to do these things with the consent of the Senate. (Exit Nero with the rest.).
ACT V, SCENE ix (ACT III, SCENE ii )
PETRONIUS ARBITER COVERED WITH BLOOD, HIS SINGING-BOYS
PETRONIUS Why these delays, when I am beyond all hope or fear, when these evils bring nothing more of either? Fortune and to hope, farewell! The harbor lies open for me. I am opening my veins, through them flow Styx’ fountains. Our tyrant orders Arbiter to die (oh the savagery!), Caesar orders him to die undeservingly (oh the monster!). I perceive the necessity of dying within the hour, as he has bidden. As the hour is measured by the dripping of the water-clock, thus my blood drips, and my life gradually fades with the flow of the blood. But first I have written down, in the manner of a testament, an elegantly composed catalogue of Nero’s sins and debauches under the headings of WOMEN and BUM-BOYS, offering no flattery either to him or Tigellinus, as many condemned are wont to do. About these things his partner Silia has scarcely kept silent from me. (He signs his testaments, then breaks his seal).
I seal these for Nero’s benefit. Now I am breaking my signet ring, lest it create peril for others. Come, lad, sing something from my works.
BOY Unlucky fellow, lately you were more splendid with your locks than Phoebus or Phoebus’ sister. But now you are balder than bronze or a round mushroom, sprung up in a garden after the rain. You shun and fear the mocking girls. So that you may believe death to be imminent, you should know that part of your head has already died.
PETR. Oh the cheating nature of you gods: the first things you give us in our lives are the first you take away. Alas, alas, us wretches! How a poor little man is nothing! How fragile our life’s thread! Thus will we all be, after Hades takes us off.
(He gives the boys as a reward 1. necklaces, 2. coins, 3. a beating.)
Receive this reward, boy, for singing well. And you this. But you I shall punish for singing out of tune. Let nobody assert to me that the mind is immortal, nor let the austere philosophers try to prove such. My immortality is my polished songs, my light verse. Thus it pleases the Arbiter of Pleasure to live and thus to die. May the brother join me to his sister, sleep to death. I lived by night and slept by day. Now let night and day dissolve into a single whirl. (Exit with his boys.)
ACT V, SCENE x (ACT III, SCENE iii )
THRASEA PAETUS, HELVIDIUS PRISCUS, PACONIUS AGRIPPINUS, RUSTICUS ARULENUS, PAETUS’ WIFE ARRIA, DEMETRIUS PAETUS, DOMITIUS CAECILIANUS, A CONSULAR QUAESTOR
HELVIDIUS And so, Paetus, they are debating your case in the Senate. Have you no interest in your defense? I know you will be constant and choose nothing except what befits a man, and by this you enlarge your glory, wash away all infamy. Let the coward retreat, the helpless hide himself in concealment. Let Rome see you playing the man in the face of death. Let the Senate hear your speech, a superhuman oration. Nero will even be moved the miracle of your oracular utterances. But if he perseveres in his savagery, posterity will be able to recall the man who displayed honesty in his life, rather than he who died in sloth, silence, and ignominy.
AGRIPPA Goodness is suspect, Thrasea, a good man is suspect, a good man living under the reign of evil Nero, in evil times. Now accusations, reproaches, and slanders impend. Give no heed to maledictions, you who are unaccustomed to speak or hear any libels. Nor will Capito be the one man responsible for these woundings, nor will Eprius alone hasten along this crime, but perhaps there will be others present who are preparing violence and blows. Even those who are good will imitate Caesar’s cruelty out of fear, for nowadays goodness is grounds for anxiety. Are always an ornament to the Senate, you must spare it the shame of such a crime. Leave it in doubt what the Fathers would have voted, had they seen you on trial. There is no hope that Nero will be overtaken by shame for his misdeeds. There is much reason for fearing lest he destroy your family, children, wife along with you. Therefore seek an end while you are still unpolluted and untouched, by an end equal to that of those men after whose pursuits and examples you have modeled your life.
ARULENUS And I pray that Thrasea live forever, a man worth scarce ever to die. Indeed, unless the Fathers pass on him mildly, I shall intercede as a Tribune, and ward off this wrong. Hence I shall be protecting a good man and increasing my own glory.
THRASEA Restrain your spirit, Tribune. Begin no novel enterprise, which will harm you, profit me nothing. My manner of life, observed these many years, must not be abandoned. But you are a newly-created magistrate, and your future is uncompromised. You must first ponder what path you mean to tread in this so sullied age. In this age it is unsafe not to be a rogue, and to be blameless is blameworthy. And in this age, whoever hates vice will despise mankind. You must protect yourself. Leave me to myself, and beware. I shall see whether I am to visit the Senate or no. (Enter Domitius Caecilianus, a senator.)
CAECILIUS Oh Paetus, would you had appeared late! For the Senate bids you die, and a consul’s quaestor is coming to enforce this.
THRAS. Let him come. I do not care, nor do I complain. Does he punish me for my guilt? I yield to justice, for I have the duty. Does he oppress an innocent? I yield to Fortune, for she has the right. Why do I say “has the right.” I could more truthfully say she has the power. Let this thing break my soul’s vessel, it cannot break my soul, it has not the power.
AGRIP. How cheerfully he has heard this sad news!
THRAS. About to be killed, I prefer to kill myself today. I prefer to be brief about it, rather than be put off against another day.
ARUL. But are these things tolerable?
THRAS. Have no fear, I shall tolerate it unbudgingly.
ARUL. Do the gods suffer this? Nero commands it. Do the fathers permit it? The gods are careless. Play the savage, Nero: the Fathers are playing the slaves.
THRAS. Let these curses cease, tears scarcely befit a brave man. Do not weep, my friends. flee me, who am not weeping, nor share my dangers. Let me suffice for the killing.
ARRIA And so, Paetus, can I, the image of my mother Arria, both the wife of Paetus and Arria, not dare follow you? I shall follow, and I shall lead the way. I shall go before you, and follow her. I shall lead the way with more faith than did Paulina.
THRAS. But you will not go before me if my prayers count for anything. I beg you by my affections and yours, cling to life, nor, to the best of your ability, deprive your daughter and mine of her single support. Death is commanded me. But what about my father-in-law Helvidius?
CAEC. He is banished from Italy.
THRAS. I am glad.
AGRIP. And what about me? For me my father’s harsh lot awaits, if not a burial plot itself.
CAEC. You are banished from Italy.
AGRIP. I rejoice. But what about my goods?
CAEC. They are not confiscated.
AGRIPP. And so let’s visit the hills of Arcinum, Priscus, there to dine. We shall have the money to pay the bill. It is no great thing to move one’s paternal soil, nor shall I detain myself. Farewell, Thrasea.
THRAS. Farewell, the rest of you. Let only Helvidius remain as my companion, and Demetrius, until the quaestor comes. I shall learn something in the very act of dying. Why are you sad, father-in-law? (He slits his veins.)
HELVIDIUS I grieve that such a man has lived, that such is dying.
THRAS. You should rejoice that such a man has lived, that such is dying.
HELV. I think that Justice herself is grieving, and goes off with you.
THRAS. Justice never goes.
HELV. But she shuns the lands.
THRAS. As you must.
HELV. And seeks the stars.
THRAS. As I do eagerly. Philosopher, do I die? Or does my mind never die? And is that my better part?
CAEC. Nature threatens Caesar with death, just as Caesar does you. Though she be death to him, you should consider this your life. For the ever-living mind forbids a just man to perish.
THRAS. Whether my mind is eternal is for you to inquire. But the quaestor is here. I shall find out quite soon. (Enter the quaestor.)
QUAESTOR It is well that you do what you must, that you do so gladly. You act as you should, Paetus.
HELV. What is the mind, my son-in-law?
THRAS. She observes, to see if she can feel herself dying. If anything troublesome or sad occurs, I shall tell you. But I pour this libation to Jove the Liberator.
Pay attention, quaestor. Pay attention, young man, and watch. May the gods’ power avert the omen, but it behooves a man born in these times to shape his mind, untouched by evil, by good examples. (Turning to Demetrius.)
Philosopher, my mind will fly away, as is from a prison. But so that it might be washed of its stains the quicker, and set down its burden, it craves to be carried to the bath. There will be some avenger of this public evil. (Exeunt omnes.)
Go to Act V, part 4