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ACT II, SCENE i
ANANIAS, AZARIAS, MIZAEL
AN. My brothers, we’re caught on the open sea. Our doubtful ship is storm-tossed, it wanders on a strait that threatens shipwreck. You see what a gale of evils threatens us on both sides. On the one is death, on the other sin. What is your intention? What are you minded to do?
MIZ. Do you think it’s such a wretched thing for us to die in our afflictions? Or can your mind cling so tightly to the light of life? Ah, my brother, I’m ashamed to entertain such thoughts. I swear by the heavens, nobody can tolerate hearing of such wrongdoing on our part.
AZ. I’m ashamed even to think of it. My virtue is not so degraded now that can bear a reputation for crime. I have no idea what your capabilities are, but I am able to suffer.
AN. Oh virtue worthy of our nation! This is how we should speak.
MIZ. This is how we should act.
AN. I have been thinking this. But I confess I was moved by your youth.
MIZ. God is greater than years, God who has breathed strength into my heart this day.
AZ. Oh how glorious it is to die for the sake of God! How sweet to protect our love’s faithfulness by shedding our blood! This is to live, not to die.
AN. When Jerusalem fell, shattered by a barbarian hand, mourning the sons who were sharing their father’s funeral pyres, all our hope and the glory of our home was destroyed. Oh you were blessed to whom it was granted to die before your nation’s conflagration, or to take part in it! We, made sorrowful by their deaths, drag out our life amidst the profane rites of a barbarian land and amidst the arrogance and sin of its court.
AZ. An exile’s soul, burdened with weariness of the light, hovers on his lips, as it lives on to its torment. And this is thought to be time, they call it life!
MIZ. What day has shone cloudless for me in my misery, after our holy things have been defiled by a profane hand, and with his accursed sinfulness Nebuchadnezzar has set himself up as a rival of God’s worship? Oh chaste Zion! Zion, the sum of my hopes, all my joys have perished with you, oh mother Zion!
AN. Zion’s walls remain built forever in heaven with living stone, and this is the way there. Unbending virtue, lifting up the souls of our fathers, has made them more powerful and borne them there in its fiery chariot. Let us traverse that path blazed by those good men, for we are not shabby or inglorious in our blood-line. The first day to take away our life on this earth will be the first day to convey our minds to heaven.
MIZ. Thus secure, my mind is eager to trample on the homes of the shades. There is no form of death that I refuse. Whatever sad thing fury can devise, steel, scaffolds, fire, will be roses, pleasure and joy for Mizael. Fearless of death, I shall provoke death. No day will witness me playing the coward.
AZ. So let us eagerly go where piety calls. Let thirsty Babylon drink all the blood it wants. Zion has minds willing to shed their blood.
AN. But the king is coming. (Enter Nebuchadnezzar &c.)
ACT II, SCENE ii
NEBUCHADNEZZAR, THE BOYS, SERESER, RABSARES, ASPHENES &c.
NEB. When I cast my lightning the world’s foundations shudder, the conquered world worships my divinity. Nineveh, that goddess of nations, succumbed and, humbly crouching before my knees, worships me as her conqueror, me, whom she previously disdained to consider her equal. Jerusalem has felt the torches of my blood-red hand, and, bound in iron, groaned at my triple thunder. Neither its thirteen years’ stubbornness, nor the favor of the god of the sea, nor its city-rivaling island, could rescue Tyre from our thunder. The Persian, the Mede, the Indian, the Hyrcanian, the Syrian, the Thracian and Iberian dread me as a unaccustomed divinity. Conquered Egypt, teeming with gods, acknowledges that Nebuchadnezzar is a more powerful divinity than its own. The shrub of Araby sweats its frankincense as a sacred tribute to me alone. All the world either regards me as its master or shudders at me as its foe. You are my equal, Phoebus, and whatever you see, whether you are decorating the world with fresh light, or hovering at mid-day, or plunging your veteran horses in the Iberian Sea, all this is mine. And yet little boys should dare to hold my commandments in scorn? Are they alone to refuse their sovereign his due honor? Him who they should have revered instead of that nation of theirs there. What madness could have so greatly bewitched you? I can scarcely believe the report that has come to my ears is true. Rather, malicious envy has invented this accusation against the unoffending lads. So come, my young men, openly clear yourselves of this accusation. Will you not do as I command?
AN. We obey your commandments as we should, my prince.
NEB. So you worship that statue of me, as you ought to do?
AN. We worship the statue and our sovereign as we should.
NEB. You adore it with pious incense?
AN. We adore none but God with our incense.
NEB. Namely, the god you are looking at? The divinity of Nebuchadnezzar?
AN. I worship the single divinity who is mighty in heaven. I pay my obeisance to kings, as much as they deserve, with the honor that God commands. But when they demand worship due to God alone, this is an accursed sin. Better to suffer a thousand harsh deaths than to besmirch my chaste faith with abominable rites.
NEB. Are all your minds settled on death?
MIZ. They settled on observing their due faith to God.
AZ. When kings command just things, it is a crime to hold them in scorn. But when they lose control of their minds and, adjudging in their sinful pride that they are gods, command unclean rites, no man is permitted to give them any further obedience.
NEB . What Fury has raised its head from the Stygian darkness? Do you utter such a grave reproach against myself and my people? Am I thus a byword and a joke to the Sabbath-keepers? By my scepter, by the everlasting fire of the sun, unless you venerate that image of my countenance, immediately prostrating yourself and offering pious incense, you will feel all my divine power and vengeance.
AN. Tear me apart, rip me up, cut me into a thousand pieces, I shall never sacrifice to tyrants.
AZ. Nor will I betray God to please an impious sovereign.
MIZ. Nor will I be counted among disgraceful, unclean men.
NEB. Brave-hearted words! But the savage wheel and fires will soon break your stubborn spirits. Soldier, consign this dire criminality to the darkness of the dungeon. Then prepare the punishments I have in mind. Stay behind, Mizael.
MIZ. Alas, for what deceits am I being held back?
ACTUS II, SCENA iii
NEBUCHADNEZZAR, MIZAEL &c.
NEB. I see you are deluded by their empty fraud, my boy, and are unadvisedly rushing to your doom. Your misfortunes touch me, and your young age troubles my heart. So come, choose which side you wish to follow. Do you prefer to experience me as a kindly father or as a harsh judge?
MIZ. I’ve already made up my mind.
NEB. To die?
MIZ. To keep the faith.
NEB. The faith due me?
MIZ. The faith due you — and God.
RAB. So you choose to pray at our sovereign’s altar?
MIZ. This is forbidden by God and my nation’s laws.
SER. The sovereign ordains it, and he is higher than your laws.
MIZ. Does he also chance to be higher than God?
NEB. Why natter on about God, boy? If nature has any god hidden in her bosom, he has no care for human things. The ruler of the stars has the sky, and he may have it. It chances that rule is shared out between Jove and myself. You, my boy, have been driven out of your right mind by vain fear and old wives’ tales. Suppose there is a God in heaven and is as you would wish Him to be, to you imagine that He takes pleasure in human worship? Who taught you that our faith dictates laws to itself?
MIZ. Oh blind mind! Even when it holds its silence, all nature teaches this and proclaims it. Even a wild beast suffices to teach it. A cub recognizes its master and displays wonderful faith in exchange for a crust of bread. Are we to neglect God, Who has given us everything? A parent has rights over his sons. A son loves and adores his father, and He who has created everybody has bound us all to Himself. We are governed by no other law. We are born of God and our fathers, but more so of God.
NEB. I see you can prettily recite your lessons, my boy. But what argument prevents you from offering incense to a king? Why should God begrudge me this worship?
MIZ.Why would you refuse to let another man have that which is yours by right? Why would you not allow another’s hand to wield the scepter of Babylon and have a share of your royal glory?
NEB. Who do you suppose I am, boy, a king or a sophist? Reason, I see, is accomplishing nothing. You will die.
MIZ. I like you when you threaten thus.
NEB. So you like death?
MIZ. I like whatever God’s law demands.
NEB. You’ll squander your life?
MIZ. I shall return to God that which He has given me.
NEB. In the first flower of your youth.
MIZ. God will pluck my flower.
NEB. But before your time?
MIZ. Whoever dies thus is quite mature.
NEB. To be burned on a fiery pyre?
MIZ. I should admit this is a bitter evil, and yet it is a happy one.
NEB. Your wish will be granted. Soldier, let him immediately join the others as their companion. My boy, you’ll soon learn the difference between my divinity and that of that God of yours. (Exit Mizael.) Let me be alone. Sereser, Rabsares.
ACT II, SCENE iv
NEBUCHADNEZZAR, SERESER, RABSARES
NEB. What ebbs and flows threaten royal glory! I am driven by the constant storms of my mind. A crop of pain is never wanting. You who imagine I enjoy a happy lot are wrong. Let a single pang trouble my heart, and all my sense of happiness is destroyed. Should Nebuchadnezzar, that fierce king who has conquered and triumphed over kings, be defeated by a helpless child and come off the lesser in their combat? Alas, what good has it done me to conquer nations and dictate laws to the world, if I am unequal to such a small foeman? If I cannot tame the stubbornness of a low-down nation? At this crisis of affairs, my friends, what manner of advice do you give me? Now I hang on the words of your mouth. I am determined either to bend or to break this stiff-necked people, but I’d prefer to bend them. This would be more honorable and royal.
SER. Do I dare state my opinion? Ah, I’m afraid, I dread to do it. But since you command me to speak, I shall frankly state all of what I know for certain. Your attempt to induce the boys to follow your orders is fruitless. Another force is pulling them in the opposite direction, and for them it is a more powerful one. One man will baffle all your attempts.
NEB. Who is he? Tell me.
SER. Ah, my mind shrinks. Sereser is reluctant to accuse a powerful man.
NEB. So what am I to imagine? That he is my son? Explain the crime, I command you. I swear by heaven, if he’s my very son, he’ll pay the due price.
SER. Heaven forbid that the father harbor any dire suspicion concerning his best of sons. Nor should you imagine Babylon has tolerated so great a crime. It uniquely befalls the Hebrew nation to hold kings in contempt. That man whom you fancy to be so loyal to yourself, such a friend to your advantage, Daniel, is the single man who nurses and animates this rebelliousness.
NEB. Could such criminality taint a man who is so indebted to my favor? Has Daniel forgotten me and himself?
SER. For a long time, great king, you’ve been nursing this snake’s egg at your bosom. I for my part have long been suspecting this, now this man’s counsels are plain to see and prove I was no false prophet. He alone is encouraging the stubborn spirits of the race of Isaac. Its madness grows daily thanks to his virus. They are unmoved by piety and the sacred rights of kings. He acts as a prophet and pillar for his people, and teaches that the edicts which you yourself have promulgated are not lawful, and he himself contumaciously scorns them, and is responsible for the rest to be doing the same. He calls them criminal and sinful. You vainly strive to tame the Hebrew nation’s rebelliousness, if Daniel can continue to perpetrate his crimes with impunity.
NAB. Alas, how rare and deceptive is faith among mankind! How kings can place no value on it! I command the man to appear before me. Meanwhile leave me alone. (Exit Sereser &c.)
ACT II, SCENA v
NAB. So Daniel too is placing his life at risk? Is he too guilty of scorning his king? Ah, I confess that I regret this, and at the same time that I feel pity, since the man’s virtue and erstwhile merits render him worthy of my genuine grate. But, having been scorned, I cannot save him while keeping my dignity attack, unless he is willing to make up for his present crime with new acts of obeisance. If Daniel’s mind can be changed, the common run of Isaac’s sons will soon follow. Therefore I shall approach the man with all the art at my disposal, and perhaps my threats or blandishments will tame his spirits. But if I fail in these intentions I shall resort to deceptions, and perhaps these can achieve that which words cannot. But see, he’s approaching. (Enter Daniel.)
ACT II, SCENE vi
NEB. Come closer, Daniel. Join me, you man beloved to our martial race, this day is running onwards, blessed for its bountiful jewel. You will join me in my car and ride with me to our rites.
DAN. If you are preparing rites, my sovereign, I suppose you will see a victim which the priest’s sword sacrifices at the altar.
NEB. Why wrack my heart? Speak better words, I pray you.
DAN. I swear by heaven, I’d rather die at your altar a thousand times rather than profane myself with an impious sacrilege.
NEB. When my happy court blooms on this festive day, Daniel, you speak of sad deaths and killings?
DAN. To pursue our afflicted tribes to the very altars, to insult the piety of their great [...], you really believe these things are happy? Do you perceive the humor in all these victims, with whom your armed rage is practicing its craft for the benefit of Hell?
NEB. Daniel, you’re not seriously angry. Calm yourself. Come, take this pledge of my love. Add this to your other gifts. Let this ring secure you in your loyalty. Take it, Daniel.
DAN. Do you hope Daniel can be caught so easily? The little fish refuses the trifle of bait on the hook when it has caught sight of the boat. There’s no deed for games. My sovereign, you ought to press me with your sword, not your words. Draw your steel. I have a heart ready for wounding and eager to die. You should strike it. Thus, thus you should act. Winds snatch away words, I’d do better to pledge my faith with a stream of blood.
NEB. What tedium of the light grips you, my friend? While your age swiftly hot-foots itself along and your handsome youth is still in full flower, you should snatch at the gods’ gifts. You should drown your mad anxieties in forgetful wine. The lads have already admitted their guilt and yielded, and you continue attempting to shake the yoke from your angry neck. You should rather imitate the example they set.
DAN. What crime do I hear? You young boys are betraying God. Surely I am not to think you are involved in such a sin? Where has your old virtue gone, the strength of your intrepid minds? What has happened to your character, as good as gold? Go, titan, hide your light, being party to this crime. Envelop this sad day in a blood-red cloud, let your chariot quickly turn back in its course. Nature is turning everything topsy-turvy: see how Hebrews have betrayed God! But am I to believe this? Some deception is hidden here: my sovereign, you are misleading me. By no means shall I bring myself to believe that the boys have committed such a foul outrage. And yet, if they have, would that they would feel the hand of our mighty God! And you, you tyrant, you cause of all these crimes, you’ll soon pay the forfeits owed to our supreme Judge, you’ll be transformed from a great king into a disgraceful ox. On your hands and knees you’ll munch on grass. As a bull lowing fearsomely in the forests you’ll terrify those vast places, until you come to know God, Who is terrible to kings.
NEB. My mind should tolerate no more of your pert tongue’s insults. Is this how you mock Jove? You prophetic hero! But you must sing these songs to others. Gods and prophets pose no threat to me, for I shall overthrow gods and priests along with their temples, should anyone dare oppose my will. Await my orders here, soldier. Daniel, enough time has been granted to the foolishness of your wrath, and enough to my own. Now it is my turn to be insulting. Thus far I have been gentle and put up with reproaches intolerable for a king, I suffered these things out of my concern for your welfare. But since my erstwhile favor for you and my present concern leave you unmoved, you shall learn in your turn that my own godhead can also be provoked to wrath. Soon you will groan thanks to the avenger whom you now disdain as a friend.
DAN. God will easily take me out of range of your revenge.
NEB. To what God can you look for such great help?
DAN. To that God at Whose nod the waters of the Read Sea once stood still and rose up into liquid walls on either side, when Thetis opened a way through its dry places for my people as they left their homes in Egypt, fearful to rejoin except against our enemies. The God Who used a fiery cloud to show them the way through the desert places, and so often warded off the threatening squadrons of their enemies. The God who fed His starving people by raining down food on the fields, and when the inhospitable land refused to give the drink, He made a fountain come forth from rock when it was squeezed. Next He laid low our enemies by the brightness of the sun, turned back in mid-course by His powerful hand. He leveled the citadels of Jericho, overturned not by the strength of a battering-ram or with hurled stones, but by a light sound, and at length settled His people in their homes, foretold in His thousand promises. I myself am safe thanks to His auspices, and shall fear no threats.
NEB. How his frenzy has robbed him of his wits! Snatch him away, soldier, and remand him to a dungeon cell, laden down by many chains, while I devise a means of punishment, so that he may properly atone for his crimes. (Exit Daniel.)
ACT II, SCENE vii
NEB. After Jerusalem’s overthrow, can her circumcised children be so high-spirited? Is this stubborn nation not yet curbed? Oh the blind passion of this rebel race! Oh its stiff-necked recusancy! How its reborn house rises up again, stronger than Jerusalem! How this freedman grasps at a limit he does know! How this fool seeks his downfall! But why have I been so imprudent as thus far to nurse this treacherous, ungrateful race at my bosom, the remains of rebel kings? Was it not to be destroyed utterly? (Enter Evilmerodach.) For a neglected wound always suppurates.
ACT II, SCENE viii
NEBUCHADNEZZAR, HIS SON
EV. Reverend father, let be allowed for your afflicted son to grovel at your knees.
NEB. Arise. What are you asking for? A son ought to have more trust in his father. What reason makes you a suppliant? What care makes your heart anxious?
EV. I am made a suppliant by my pious love for a friend. My heart is uniquely tormented by concern for loyal Daniel. Spare him, drear father, unless you wish your son’s better half to die.
NEB. I am pleased, my son, that you make this request with so much zeal. This same concern troubles your father’s heart. I too would wish to consult for the man’s safety, but also to have a consideration for or my own dignity. I shall forgive him, if only he will be prompt in obeying my commands. If he obstinately refuses, I swear by heaven that he’ll succumb to my rage as a sad victim.
EV. Is there much hope of swaying the recalcitrant man?
NEB. I believe there’s scarcely any, my son. I supplied all the blandishments I could, and he rudely scorned them all. I savagely thundered threats, and he laughed at them. Putting on the look of a serious man, I turned to wiles, and affirmed that the boys have thrown up their hands and yielded to my will, hoping that when he learned of this reversal he’d be less recalcitrant. But either did not believe me, or refused to be seen to believe. I don’t know what further deception I could apply.
EV. Father, there appears to be only one excellent way of swaying the man’s high spirits. We must apply ourselves to this matter. Let his obedience be extorted by a new trick, for it can prove a happy one. In his prison there is a place from which the temple can be glimpsed. Shut up in that place, Daniel can see whatever is done there. Let the boys happily come out of the shrine while a bugle blares, and accompanied by festive noise let them make their way to the palace. Let the royal court give a cheer, and also the people. He may imagine that this is their reward for having changed their minds.
NEB. You have put your finger on it. I like the plan. I want to go inside and work out the details for managing this thing. (Exeunt. Enter Sereser.)
ACT II, SCENE ix
SER. Oh happy me! Oh day that is truly mine! Rise up, my spirit, my happy soul, to the glories of a new murder. A bloody wrong will be committed thanks to your testimony. But if, thanks to your testimony, there is to be any crime here, it will not be a single one. I am sowing a manifold misdeed, and my felony will pay a handsome interest. Now, I see, crimes mint great men. The highway to glory, to power, to heaven, is paved with crimes, and piety is an empty word. The only virtue is that which does not fear to strive to great things by means of daring crimes. There’s no difference between right and wrong, unless it’s that righteousness makes men wretched, whereas wrongdoing blesses them. I’ll soon be a witness to this thing. Daniel has now freely entered into my clutches. Nothing remains to be feared. Afterwards by what great steps I’ll be borne to glory! Rabsares alone can obstruct my wishes. I must still tolerate that good gentleman as the servant of my crime. My present need requires him. Afterwards the fool will easily fall to my blow. After that, the king will be my only concern. But why does the scheme I have begun loiter at the threshold? Continue, my mind, while my crime is borne along on a willing sea. The hour is favorable. Let us make careful use of the opportunity given us, and hasten the destruction of this fallen man.
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