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ACT III, SCENE i
DAN. What outrage is newly set before my eyes? Oh the sad scandal of the Hebrew nation! The impious crime, accursed, the sacrilegious sin! And worse than this, if anything can be worse — Alas, for what miseries am I being reserved? Why am I still seeing the sad light of day? Why do I live on and breathe the hateful air? Great ruler of heaven, You Who by Yourself fill the immense tracts of the the sky and the starry spaces above, You Who alone are loftier than vast Olympus, do You see these sins, do You suffer them, yet are slow to act, forgetful of the holy Covenant and Your glory? Behold, Nebuchadnezzar, holding You in contempt, drunk with our blood, hubristic in his excessive good fortune, feeds on a cloud of incense. Grown fat on the smoke of the orient, he jealously shuts out Your divinity, confident that the race of Isaac will bend its chaste knee to himself. And You don’t yet wield the thunderbolt in Your hand, and wrap this great sin in a pitch-black whirlwind? Alas, grant death to wretched Daniel, God, or rise up at length and avenge this sin. Avenge Your altars, Your divinity, and Your nation. I beg You in the name of the faith of our Egyptian ancestor, the beloved name of Isaac, and Israel, twice-noble for his later progeny, be mindful of the Covenant You once granted our forefathers. Our hope looks to You alone. On behalf of Your beloved nation, wield a might worthy of the Thunderer. This is Your cause, so come forth as the champion of Your work. You are confronted with an enemy worthy of Your wrath. And yet there will be no need here to part a sea, this people people will remain reserved for a smaller reproach. For the gnat of the air will campaign on Your behalf, as will the talkative frog, emerging from its disgraceful mud. There is no need for your thunderbolt. For, stricken by the sound of raucous brass, the walls will collapse. By these means You should suppress the bestial barbarism of their leader against Your servants. By these means you should avenge his sin against Yourself. Or, if we have not yet atoned enough for our own sins, ah, be kind and seek another means of punishment. Envelop the remains of our nation in new conflagrations, overwhelm our wretched nation with a pestilent plague. Heap us with reproaches, decree new exiles. You may command our homeless tribes to wander through inhospitable lands, and, if there is anything else, load it onto us, impose any punishments you see fit. But do not remove Yourself from us, do not allow Your divinity to go neglected and Your worship to perish utterly. Rise up in all Your godhead, Lord, and act the part of God. Let Your enemies be taught by their own catastrophe how much greater the God of Israel is than the gods of other peoples. The hinges creak. The king has come. I will appear as if I do not yet believe this sin. Perhaps I’ll be given a chance to reproach the boys for their offenses (Enter the king &c.)
ACT III, SCENE ii
NEBUCHADNEZZAR, DANIEL, EVILMERODACH, SERESER, RABSARES
NEB. I hope Daniel finally returns to his senses, and decides to follow the boys’ better example.
DAN. What kind of example?
NEB. One you can easily see for yourself.
DAN. Whatever I may see, my prince, is of small importance. One cannot always trust one’s eyes. My doubtful mind is still seeking surer proofs, for something which might overcome my faith regarding this event.
NEB. What a careful man he is, refusing to trust his eyes!
DAN. In a matter where contrived fraud may lurk, this is the mark of a prudent man.
NEB So what more do you require?
DAN. To meet them.
NEB. So you may forestall their pious undertakings.
DAN. Oh, these are pious undertakings if they can be forestalled so easily! Have no fear, my prince, Daniel will rage with no fire, no cruel auction-block.
NEB. But he will rage with his baleful voice.
DAN. A voice is a slight evil. But what if they do recant? The noble glory of your achievement will endure, you will always be called the victor. What more should you desire?
NEB. Good, then. If you are given permission to see the boys, will you too accede to my wishes?
DAN. Nothing should be decided rashly and before the fact. But I admit that the boys’ example has moved me to no small extent.
NEB. I praise your wise counsel, my friend. Now you’re beginning to think with wisdom. Therefore your wish will soon be granted. Meanwhile you, my son, remain as Daniel’s companion. Sereser and Rabsares, you follow me. (Exit the king, Sereser, and Rabsarces.)
ACT III, SCENE iii
EV. Can you love me any more, Daniel, when my father is so hard on you?
DAN. And can you yourself love Daniel, my prince, not being taught to hate him by you father’s example.
EV. True love rejects those rules. It does not wish to obey them, and indeed it cannot, even if it wants to. Even if my father may be persecuting you now, I cannot help l0oving you. Ah, my friend, you have no idea how greatly my concern for you rends my heart, and how great a part of myself will be lost, should you perish. Live for me, Daniel, if you refuse to live for yourself.
DAN. Why continue wounding my heart with new pain, prince? Why do you wish me to live on as a sinner against God, so that I may be pious to yourself? Rather, allow me to die piously for both of you.
EV. Rather you should live piously for both.
DAN. That’s not your father’s wish.
EV. My father may want you to live.
DAN. But as an impious man towards God.
EV. Why impious?
DAN. Because for a long time he has been commanding me to me offer incense to a statue.
EV. Would it cost you so much to pay this honor to my father?
DAN. It costs so much to detract from God’s honor.
EV. At least let your hand give this much honor, while your chaste mind is devoted to your supreme God.
DAN. Such pretense means holding God in contempt, my prince.
EV. It is the mark of a sensible man to pretend when grave fear threatens. You may do those things out of fear. Whatever is extorted by intimidation is pardonable.
DAN. Whatever fear is greater than the dread of God is always a sin.
EV. So am I to think that your God is so cruel as to punish such light offenses with such great evils?
DAN. It is no small thing to rank our supreme God lower than fragile Man.
EV. So you’ll die, Daniel? Are you untouched by my love or pain? By whatever was once sweet and loyal between us, my friend, and by the charity of your nation, I pray that you take pity on me, on your nation, and on your life.
DAN. Ah cease, my prince, cease this cruel request. I continue in blessedness, I continue where the Lord summons me, by the road where the eternal lights of the stars glitter, free in my servitude and like to God. At this point, may your mind have a better memory of me, and when I am dead let my ashes feed your love. (Enter the king and the boys.)
ACT III, SCENE iv
DANIEL, EVILMERODACH, NEBUCHADNEZZAR, THE BOYS
NAB. Look here, my boys, you must obey my commands. I swear by the stars that it is not only your safety that is at stake. If they are neglected, this will also cost Daniel his head. Whatever the man says, you must receive in silence. By only a little bit of silence you’ll redeem yourselves from the king’s anger and your deaths. While Daniel is meeting with the boys, my son, I desire us to rest our bodies on this bench.
DAN. Greetings, lads. At length do I see you to be the subduers of the cruel tyrant, the conquerors of the Styx and the pillars of our sacred law? Oh the glory and strength of your nation! You are worthy examples of piety at which heaven may marvel and all humankind stand amazed, worthy examples of our forefather’s noble religion. Your glory will endure, to be cherished by posterity down through the ages. But take care you don’t remain silent. It is not fitting for your tongues to be idle in hymning such great victories. Or does my presence excite your bashfulness? God creates no such bashfulness or shame in you.
AN. What am I to imagine? What mysteries lie hidden here?
DAN. Why do your blushes and pallor take turns upon your faces, my boys?
AZ. Ah, we fear for you.
DAN. Bah, such pious people! So you fear for me?. But you have no fear for yourselves, you noble hearts. For I am a traitor, I am a coward. Daniel alone is guilty of scorning the Thunderer. He alone has deserved our dread God’s vengeance. Let you be considered pious, chaste, and golden.
MIZ. Oh, hard words!
AZ. What a savage passion roils your heart!
AN. Does he imagine we have betrayed God?
DAN. He, he. Go and seek your royal gifts, your promised wealth, and the high pinnacles of honors, now you have been overcome by the pious tyrant, since you are debarred from the good things of heaven.
AN. What are we to do? In my doubt, I’m carried hither and thither.
DAN. [Aside.] But why am I being unreasonable and railing against gifts offered to innocents and their vain hope of gaining a fortune? Dire misconduct has elicited this fear from the little boys, and something must be conceded to their terror. Youthful hearts dread death, and little boys are afraid to die. The bugle has barely sounded and apprehension has invaded their tender young limbs. [Aloud.] From what source do you hope to gain good things? Look here, the tyrant hates you for being disloyal to God, and his court despises you for your timidity. The citizens accurse you for your origins and for being a plague on their own glory. The god of the Styx condemns you as rebels. The servants of heaven are arming themselves for your punishment. So, being refugees from heaven and earth, you are come to drag me into similar fear.
MIZ. Oh God, what monstrosities he speaks! What fear Daniel. But, oh —
DAN. Bah, you traitors to God. You plague of your nation, persons consigned to Hell. Henceforth you and I have nothing in common. You are shifty, untrustworthy, fickle, changeable Proteuses. Can you stand there fearlessly? Have you no concern that the earth might gape open its bosom and swallow your impious selves? The sun himself veils his bright head in darkness, for he looks upon your unspeakable sin and waxes indignant, and with his fleeing chariot he hastens to hide you turncoats in shameful concealment. Can you still show your faces to heaven? Do you feel no shame?
AZ. Surely it is not right to continue our silence?
DAN. Now it remains for your noble deeds be published as a powerful inducement for our fellow-countrymen to remain constant in the future.
AN. To continue our silence is a sinful crime. Being cruel to yourself and your own executioner, Daniel, you make us break our silence. Dire necessity compels us to be cruel as well, lest we be impious to God. I swear by the lights of the sky and by God in heaven that we are innocent. Our rites are fictitious, and the lying misrepresentations of the sly tyrant. Thus far we have kept our hands untainted by sacrilegious incense, and forever —
NEB. Is this how you carry out my commands? Do you think my anger is a joke? Am I joke for you Sabbath-keepers? A laughing-stock? The outrage!
DAN. Doubtful numbness paralyzes my astonished mind.
NEB. Here, here, my henchmen. I’m weary of having the sunlight defiled by these monstrosities. Take them straight to their death. Let the pyre that has been prepared crackle with flaming wood, and let the conflagration surge up seven times greater than usual. Let all of Phlegethon rage with his burning stream.
AN. The ever-living God governs fire, tyrant. His hand will easily rescue us, if He chooses.
NEB. Let your God in heaven rescue you, whoever He is. Take them away, snatch them, burn them, consume them. (Exeunt.) Stay, Daniel.
SER. Why is that man not yet dead? Oh vain hopes!
DAN. Why do you refuse me the death for which I hope, my prince?
NEB. I am not refusing you death, you ingrate, you traitor. Have to fear, your wish will be granted. But you deserve to die a manifold death. The architect and ringleader of these crimes should not simply die. Let’s go inside, my son, where I can freely indulge my wrath and devise my means of inflicting a worthy punishment, while he may be tormented by the stings of a bad conscience and ponder in his mind the baleful image of his coming death. (Exeunt.)
ACT V, SCENE v
DAN. Is this how You play cruel jokes on those who love You? Was it not enough for me to die by myself without being the cause of death for others? I am not now complaining about death and gaining the palm of martyrdom it offers, or having had the firstfruits of this noble contest taken from me (although [...]). Let those have this whose virtue has granted them to deserve such great grace. I admit I was unworthy of such great favor. But for me to be a second executioner for these young children? They have fallen victim to my anger before dying by the hand of the executioner, and this is something I have deserved thanks to my sins. Is this how You reproach Your own followers, God? Is it not enough to have them thrashed by a hostile hand, unless they suffer the scourge of a friendly one as well? But I know that You permit these punishments to be heaped on them, so that they may gain the stars as all more beautiful victors.
ACT V, SCENE vi
NEBUCHADNEZZAR, EVILMERODACH, DANIEL, MESSENGERS
NEB. What you tell me is stupendous. You say the boys are safe?
MESS. 1 They live and thrive. And at the same time, in the middle of the fire they are sing music with their sweet-sounding voices. The swirling fire licks at their innocent skin, but fears to touch it. The coals seem to have changed into roses, and you would imagine the flames were light breezes. Although you had commanded three to be burned on the cruel pyre, a fourth seemed to be present, shining with a celestial face.
DAN. Oh God’s great and just disposition towards his saints! (Enter another messenger.)
MESS. 2 I bring news that is deadly, sad, dire, and grievous.
NEB. Horror pervades my limbs. Come, tell me the monstrosities you have to report. Is the kindled flame still sparing the boys?
MESS. 2 It is. But it rages against others. Sereser is dead, as is Rabsares.
NEB. Oh gods!
EV. Oh terrible Nemesis!
DAN. Oh just God!
NEB. Continue. Tell me the nature of their dire death.
MESS. 2 Seeing the executioner grow so faint at the sight of these strange miracles, Sereser himself furiously took the fork in his hand, and with his cruel voice he cried out, “Are the dire wizards still alive? Do they live?” And at the same time he made ready to run the two-pronged iron through their guts, when the furnace suddenly roared with a savage blast and belched forth a pitch-black ball, shot forth by its flaming storm, which came a-flying at the wretch. With its fiery gust it surrounded him as he vainly tried to step backwards and beat off the fire pursuing his body. Immediately Rabsares ran up, and the Hellish fire took hold of him too, catching them in same death. With his sacrilegious mouth he uttered a thousand curses against God, as well as a thousand prayers. I saw them spewing forth their accursed souls while hurling imprecations against the Styx, and I saw their limbs burned off and their blackened trunks lying, gasping out their lives. A large crowd gathered to see the novel thing and bade the boys leave the deadly furnace. But they refused, unless you so commanded.
DAN. Oh, their holy piety!
EV. Oh, their loyalty!
NEB. Oh me, for being impious, brutal, criminal, and barbarous! I want to inspect such marvels more closely. Stay here and keep Daniel company, son. But why should I wretchedly hasten to my destruction? Cease your daring impulse. I shudder, I tremble. Guilty dread suffuses my mind. My blood stands still in my veins. Ah, Daniel, I fear lest the fires of the avenging pyre swallow me for deserving the same.
DAN. Have no fear, my prince. That punishment does not await you.
NEB. So I may continue?
DAN. Continue with assurance.
NEB. I’m going, Daniel, relying on your words. My friend, pray appease God towards me. (Exit.)
ACT III, SCENE vii
DAN. Wipe away your tears, Jerusalem. Crown your unkempt hair with green foliage. God has not yet abandoned you. You are a captive exile, and yet you triumph. What a great victory-palm a tiny hand has won for you! You blessed boys, a pillar of your afflicted house! Thanks to you, [...] piety lifts up its afflicted head. Thanks to you, holy religion triumphs over the Styx. And thanks to you, honor returns to our ancestral laws.
EV. Daniel my friend, permit me to have a share in your rejoicing. I swear by heaven, nothing more welcome could happen than for you to have gained your salvation so wonderfully, after all those storms. Oh what a gale of evil recently threatened you! But how it was warded off by a powerful hand, and by a better stroke of fortune rebounded against its authors! My heart is heaped with unexpected joy.
DAN. I gratefully acknowledge your zeal and loyalty. But let my rescue be the least part of our rejoicing, my prince. Indeed, I would have accounted dying as one of my goods. Now we have another cause for celebration, greater and more worthy. You ought rejoice that the divinity of our supreme God has been freed from such reproaches, and that piety’s enemies have been defeated and triumphed over in such wonderful ways. But see, the king approaches, returning with that noble trio of champions. (Enter the king and the boys.)
ACT III, FINAL SCENE
NEB. Let me remove the shackles from Daniel’s hands, and let the former glory be returned to his person. Venerable Daniel, let me enjoy my friend’s embrace, undeserved though it is.
DAN. Am I seeing you boys, noble champions of Abraham’s race and beloved God, once more returned to me? Rush into my pious embrace, so that I may happily hold you in my arms and kiss your laurel-crowned hair. By your doing, fierce Babylon is overcome and falls. By your doing, my rescued Jerusalem thrives once more. By your doing, the sky shines brighter.
AN. Oh the single goal of my desires, oh God! Just now, when I was hoping to come to You through he fire, why did my vain hope deceive me? My soul within struggles, impatient of delay, as it is eager to break free of the breast that shuts it in. Hating this earth, it yearns for its heavenly home, and whatever it sees it thinks to be mortal. It holds as cheap the glory of the scepter, honor, the court, and wealth. Life is a vain hope, everything is a mockery, is nothing. Death is my supreme desire, the price of God’s cause.
AZ. I shall gratefully sing God’s praises forever. No day will convict me of forgetting His great favor, no day will find me a coward. I admit that thus far I have been slothful in my love, and this earth has held too great sway in my heart. Henceforth, God, You will be my earth, my heaven, my all.
MIZ. Daniel, a new fire burns my marrow. Although the bestial fire of the pyre spared me, this celestial one has not. My heart melts and glows, and my narrow breast cannot contain its fires. Oh God, you sum of my love, oh God!
NEB. Oh you blessed boys, whose fostering piety has made a subject of concern for God almighty! But what chagrin, what Tethys of tears will atone for my sin?
DAN. Kindly God alone can wash away your guilt. Worship Him, obey His divine will. Abjure the vain portents which a silly age consecrated as its rites. Let Chaldea adore this God alone, Who has alone deserved adoration.
NEB. Oh the great One! Only the God of the children of Isaac is to be feared. Prostrate, I worship at your altars. For you I doff my crown, my royal glory. To you I dedicate my tiaras and my scepter. Hear me, my lords, and you highest in the land must receive this law. Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges and worships the single God worshiped by the children of Isaac. And he commands that all the widespread nation of Assyria must worship and bow down to Him.
DAN. You mortals must learn from this catastrophe that God does not go unavenged when He is held in contempt. Chastisement awaits sinners: late though it often may be, it is sure and it is heavy. Learn from God’s wonderful mercy towards His own that His protection of the pious never goes neglected. Although in this night of darkness His counsels are perhaps invisible to us, nevertheless someday the daylight will come, an inevitable day of judgment, destined clearly to bring accusations to the world, a day destined to give the palm of victory to the pious, and due punishments to the impious.