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ANANIAS, AZARIAS, MISAEL
THE TRIUMPH OF PIETY OVER IMPIETY
ACTUS I, SCENA i
DAN. Has Phoebus at last brought that sad day, and likewise a misfortune meddling with the destiny of the seed of Isaac? If any time has been fearful, sad, grievous, rough, and worthy of the Thunderer’s lightning, it has been this one. If, any day has seen me weary of the light of life and craving to die, I confess that it is this very day that has now dawned. Alas, Jerusalem, we have already seen your funeral-pyre, we have already lamented it. Given to gentiles as their prey, we have even learned to tolerate a foreign yoke, to be enslaved and placed on the auction-block by arrogant masters. But I am complaining of old evils. For us exiles, the road to Memphis, the road to Babylon is now safe, no quarter of the world is closed to us. Only Judea refuses us Jews a home. We have deserved this, I confess. By our faithlessness we, its children, have made heaven harmful. In our impiety, we at length provoked God to take grat revenge. But now we bewail other and worse evils. Our nation is given the single choice of perishing or of joining with impious men in being impious to God. Today the tyrant is playing his prelude with a trio of pious youths. The rest of us Jews will soon follow. This same choice will be presented to us all: to survive as traitors to God or to die as pious men. We must either become indebted to sin for the enjoyment of our brief span of life, or to earn death as the sure reward for our piety. But, alas, where has the strength of my unbroken mind gone? Daniel, you are a coward in wasting the day with your complaints. This fear does not befit a Hebrew, a son of Abraham. I want to resist my fate and present a fearless breast to these evils. Amidst adversities, noble virtue takes on strength. Men can live as cowards, if you remove hardships, but to keep an unbroken mind in difficult times, this is always the mark of brave men. Well then, I’ve made up my mind. I’ll go and join them as a comrade in their beautiful death. Perhaps God will be appeased by our sacrifices and will avert this impending evil. Moreover, Daniel can strengthen these boys with his words and his example, since blandishments and threats of suffering are easily wont to weaken young hearts and make their unschooled spirits downcast. Daniel’s presence will make them fearless and render them impervious to fraud and threats. I shall encourage them if they are timid, and be their comrade if they are pious. I shall die a fair death, as befits an offspring of Abraham. (Enter Asphenes.)
ACT I, SCENE ii
ASPH. Where are you going so anxiously this early in the morning, my friend?
DAN. I am going where glory, piety, faith and love summon me. I am going to those pious victims, consecrated to heaven. Daniel cannot desert his fellow-countrymen in hard times.
ASPH. So you want do this thing forbidden by the king? Nobody is permitted to visit the boys in prison.
DAN. It will be permitted to me.
ASPH. Something the king has forbidden by edict?
DAN. The king himself will readily forgive Daniel.
ASPH. But his august serenity does not yet allow visits. You should be more careful and go back. When the time to speak to them comes, I’ll faithfully advise you.
DAN. Asphenes, your faith and your devotion are welcome to Daniel. But right at the moment I’m determined not to follow my friend’s sincere advice. Daniel will not set foot outside the palace before he has seen the king or the boys. But meanwhile my mind can brood on its concerns. My friend, how truly the things stand revealed that my wise mind has already foreseen! You are seeing unjust things, as the hatreds of all the court are directed at Daniel. Now that hostile brood of noblemen, a race of men ill-disposed to us, are setting snares for me. The anger of the king himself is openly erupting. I see a thunderbolt being readied against my person.
ASPH. Why do you imagine the king’s mind is set against you? Are you convinced of this because of the favor he voluntarily shows to you, the titles, the honors, the wealth which his royal grace has heaped upon you with a bountiful hand? Your unfair suspicion is creating these vain fears. Everything goes to show that Daniel is safe and blessed.
DAN. This very high rank in which you see me renders me liable for a downfall. For this reason black envy takes fire. Men are reluctant to respect as their lord a man born on foreign soil, who disdains the empty monstrosities of their gods. This is why hostile malice suffuses the nobles’ minds. This pains Rabsares, who desires to do me harm and is always seeking new ways to inflict it. Sereser, a man of boundless ambition, grinds his teeth at having to be my subordinate, since he could not even tolerate me being his equal, and has decided to accuse me, so he might convict and destroy me. Thanks to the accursed wiles of these men, an impious law has been enacted by the king, knowing for sure that this would be a lightning-bolt for me. They see the loyalty our service to God requires. This is the particular reason why the boys, a part of myself, are consigned to death. The men think that thus the way to my doom is more safely being paved. They want to test the king’s mind, and thus gradually to create sad things for me. The king is too easily seduced by the flatteries of villains and, gnashing his teeth at having his will frustrated, impatiently complains of delay and is savagely hastening on their punishment.
ASPH. But his vengeance is not directed at you. Whatever your enemy might threaten, the king’s grace and assured favor will render you impervious.
DAN. Should I believe this, when I see those boys suffering their downfall, although I have always been their support and protection?
ASPH. Daniel a support for the boys?
DAN. Ah, stop, Asphenes. I confess I have not been their support, but rather their ruin. To my unhappiness, I have destroyed them by loving them too much. For when Daniel supports them, they have a share of his wealth, but also of the envy earned by his honor. Ah, better that he had never pleased the prince, never attained to the arduous pinnacle of dignities.
ASPH. What’s the use in wasting the day with vain complaints, my friend? Rather, since these sinister fates are so a-boil and there’s no hope of mollify the king with entreaties, you should be mindful to act with good counsel amidst these doubtful affair. Be cautious and keep your head down while this storm blows, until the cruel fury of the raging sea subsides. He who entrusts his sails to the stormy sea dies a shipwreck in the story sea.
DAN. So I should tolerate such a great disgrace? Should Daniel choose to beat a retreat? No day will see him be such a coward. Let him follow the boys, or rather he will go to a fair death as their companion. That day will not behold them living, whom faith and the fostering piety of the true God have joined. I like this pious cause. Whatever the tyrant has decided I shall endure, free of fear. Everlasting glory will repay me for this brief struggle. Let him be bloodthirsty and drive an iron weapon through my side, or command my body to be burned on a pyre, I shall endure everything with a brave man. I shall go to the king and accuse him of unspeakable sin. Thus, perhaps, he will grow angry, grant my wish, and bless me with death.
ASPH. Oh, an atrocious act of daring! Beware, my friend, where your ill-advised frenzy is might carry you.
DAN. The hinges creaked. See, the opened door gives us a way. Let’s hurry. But who’s approaching. It’s Sereser himself. Oh gods!
ACT I, SCENE iii
DANIEL, ASPHENES, SERESER
SER. I bring you advice from the king, Daniel, advice which perhaps runs contrary to your wishes. Nevertheless, this is advice which the king’s provident care and zeal for your safety has elicited from his pious mind.
DAN. I am visiting the king myself. He can better explain his thinking in person.
SER. He forbids an audience. He is occupied by grave concerns.
DAN. I am scarcely interested in your concerns. For these are entertained by Sereser and Rabsarces. And I’d like to have a few words with you, Sereser, with no misrepresentation.
SER. Sereser always keeps base deceits and misrepresentations at arm’s length.
DAN. Oh, what a candid man, who knows nothing of misrepresentation! But do you expect to keep me away from the king for very long? Will I never again be allowed to enjoy an interview with him, since I have a reputation for being importunate and am regarded as unsafe for the royal court? Is this how you repay me for my merits? Now am I to fall out of the king’s good graces thanks to those who should thank for he for whatever royal favor they possess? To what a high station has your ambition grown accustomed that my favor ought not to have helped you back then when you were abject? I should not have previously opened the way for you to gain dignities, so as to expose myself to your blow, which I have made all the stronger. But I am complaining of small things. If your criminality were attacking Daniel alone, my downfall would not be so bitter. But to commit hellish wrong against heaven, and to attribute to Man worship appropriated from God by a dire sin — what Stygian madness of such great magnitude is inspiring my ruin? Cannot Daniel die without piety dying too, and all of Man’s holy religion for God? Is this indeed your piety, to employ accursed sins to encompass the downfall of my person? Is it a mark of virtue or an egregious crime to attack me first by the cowardly murder of helpless children? What do you say to these things, Sereser? Clear yourself of these accusations, if you can. Or if you cannot, then confess your mad crime, your treacherous and accursed crime.
SER. I came here for no reason than because I was bidden to convey the king’s commands to you, to advise you to keep away from the court for a single day. But since you are being ill-willed and have placed a sinister interpretation on this advice, and unreasonably insist on taking this matter amiss, I want to say a words with the frankness which befits a man, rather than allowing aspersions to be cast on my good name. I know full well who Daniel is, and Sereser too. I admit that I have attained to my rank with no little support from yourself. I shall always be mindful of this kindness, as I should, and I shall always strive to repay the favor. But I would not have you think I have accepted the yoke of a master for such a small price, and you should not regard me as a subordinate servant. Since I crossed the king’s threshold not long ago, I have not deferred to you or placed myself at your service. Sereser does not know how to serve two masters, and the king himself has beren a sufficient one for me, and it has been enough to be well-disposed towards Daniel. But we are too burdensone for the king, so frequent access to him is denied you. You say this is someone else’s fault but blame the king for this fault, if fault it is. He is the only guilty party. But perhaps it troubles you to suffer this at my hands. Sometimes you govern the king’s heart, and you can’t tolerate anyone else having a share of his favor. If I strike you as occupying an invidious position, the king himself has granted me this as the due for my merits, and he is a fair judge who is not unaware of where his favor should be bestowed. If he is now following my advice, this should not arouse your envy. Whatever I might urge is demanded by the security of the realm and the good repute of its sovereign. Furthermore, should the king wish something to happen in thus-and-such a way, his lords approve. Only Daniel disapproves, and that is of no great moment. But as far as your claim that I am arranging your death goes, I have nothing to answer. Let the suspicious mind which manufactures such fears for itself remove them itself. This false guilt has nothing to do with me.
DAN. You eloquent orator! How prettily you plead your pious cause! But now, since you are so pleased with yourself and boast that the sovereign’s councils are governed by your well-considered advice, tell me what crime could have consigned those Hebrew boys to such an atrocious punishment.
SER. Their crimes cannot be unknown to Daniel, since their deeds are obvious to all men’s eyes and are on everybody’s lips.
DAN. You mean that they are foolishly refusing to offer a pious sacrifice to the mighty godhead of Nebuchadnezzar.
SER. Surely you can invent no crime worse than this one? Whoever refuses the command to worship the king must suffer the king’s vengeful justice.
DAN. Even when he would arrogate to himself the worship owed to God alone?
SER. Of what God are you boasting? Nebuchadnezzar is the sole god on this earth. Let that One of yours, set apart in His starry citadel, lord it in the sky, and be content in demanding the worship of his heaven. But He must yield His rights to the Joves of earth.
DAN. Oh, supreme Father of rulers, do You hear this unspeakable sin yet are slow with your thunderbolts? Oh speech worthy of Avernus! You impious, sacrilegious man! Is this how you spew your venom against heaven from your accursed throat? You should shudder at the avenging fires of heaven. You ought to dread the angry nemesis of an offended God.
SER. You fear-mongering hero! Surely you don’t hope to frighten me with the empty sound of your words? Silly Sabbath-keepers may be able to fear figments devoid of truth, foolish trifles, old wive’s tales to scare children, but men know how to scorn vain bugaboos.
DAN. Does the earth stand still? Has not it not yet yawned to wide to swallow this impious fellow down to the Styx, while angrily belching forth flames?
SER. Presumably the earth approves me for speaking the truth.
DAN. I’ve heard too much of this sacrilegious sin. Now I myself am all but a sinner, for standing near to this outrage in my innocene. Continue provoking heaven’s vengeance to arms, you lord of the Phlegraean Fields. But just Themis, that punisher of crime, will soon follow you. I wish a few words with you, Asphenes. (Exit Daniel and Asphenes.)
ACT I, SCENE iv
SER. I’m undertaking perilous work, I fear. A storm is besetting my heart with its various gusts. I scarce know what to fear, yet I am afraid. Although I may strike others as daring, I do not seem fearless to myself. Blind terror shakes my heart, against its will. A limit on unspeakable sin is constantly being imposed on me in my fearfulness, and busy Nemesis threatens me with her unpleasant scourge. Oh, the shame of my great heart! Thus, my mind, you are overcome and abandon your beautiful ardor! Is this how the keen strength of your fearless mind has failed you? Shall a base-born freedman dictate law for me? Shall Daniel alone possess the king’s heart? Shall he vaunt himself at the royal court, and rule the ruler? Alas, he has been the cancer of his unclean race, so let his entire race perish and suffer a downfall. It scarcely matters whether this is accomplished by right or wrong. Let the boys pave the way. Have no fear, Daniel will soon follow. But I fear lest the king be swayed by his humble entreaty, and the sins rebound on the heads of the sinners. The man has great merits, he is protected by the favor of the court and the king’s great love. But Rabsares makes a timely arrival for me as I waver. [Enter Rabsarces.]
ACT I, SCENE v
RAB. How does the matter stand, my friend? With what expression did Daniel receive the king’s mandate?
SER. With the same savage expression with which a tigress is wont to rage after her cubs have been stolen. He roars his complain that God’s holy rights are being scorned, and he reproaches both of us for our perfidy. He vaunts of God’s quick threats and wrath. I was careful to do as much as I could to increase his anger with my insults. He has gone off, bent, I imagine on an interview with the king. I fear this one thing that, the king has grateful memories of his former merits and his mind may be mollified by Daniel’s humble entreaties.
RAB. That’s a vain fear. Have no fear, our quarry will enter the nets of its own free will. He will hasten the doom of both himself and the boys. His uncontrolled frenzy and the blind religion of his patriarchs’ laws will bring him down. A greater passion of pain will flood the king’s heart than can endure any check, or be turned aside by any man’s prayers. Oh would that he would now seek an audience with the king! His effort would combine with mine to produce a result which would endure for many a day, a diverse catastrophe which would endure. Thus he would create this combination himself. He’s bound to take a fall.
SER. So the moment is upon us when the supreme effort is required and the final die of our danger is cast, so I want to be careful in advancing our enterprise, by supplying new fire for the king’s anger and new food for his anger.
RAB. This, I think, it behooves us to do. Let us provoke the old man to wrath. In any event, a small suspicion will light the fire. If crimes are absent, we must invent them. Let him be innocent, let him be upright, holy, and pious, it is sufficient to feign that he is prone to wrongdoing.
SER. He alone makes the boys scorn the king’s edicts. He alone provokes their contumacy. This single consideration will convict and overturn him. Thus he is sure to be overwhelmed. Even though the king loves him and favors the man, his fury will overcome his love.
RAB. So let’s go to him.
SER. Use your tongue to speak wily words. I want the king to be enflamed.
Go to Act II