Commentary notes can be accessed by clicking on a blue square. The Latin text can be accessed by clicking on a green square.
THE GOODLY TEACHER
Theodosius I, Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, fathered two sons, Arcadius and Honorius. He has entrusted them for their education in the Liberal Arts to Arsenius, a Roman by nationality and also a deacon in the Roman Church. As is characteristic of boys, Arsenius prefers the noxious impulses of nature to his tutor’s discipline. Having been justly chastised by Arsenius with both verbal reproaches and a whipping, so Arcadius impiously seeks to encompass his death. Arsenius, divining his student’s deceits, embraces with open arms the solitude he has long sought with all his heart.
THEODOSIUS the Emperor
ARCADIUS, HONORIUS his sons
EUCHERIUS son of Stilicho
STILICO commander of the army
RUFFINUS, CLEANTHES, CALIDORUS,
NEBRIDIUS friend of Eucherius
EUTROPIUS a eunuch
ARSENIUS, deacon and tutor of Arcadius
NECTARIUS the Patriarch
THEODULUS friend of Arsenius
NEGRO a soothsayer
TRITON, EBRO, TAJO
PROSPERITY, PEACE, WEALTH
AURORA, DAY, NIGHT
ARION, PARTHENOPE, LIGEIA, SIRENS
CHORUS OF FOUR RIVERS:
THE GANGES, THE HERMUS, THE PACTOLUS,
AND THE HYDASPES (non-speaking parts)
VIRTUE, MELISSA, EUPHROSYNE
Celebrating her victory over Rage and Pride, Virtue foreshadows Arsenius’ victory over Arcadius’ anger and haughtiness. Virtue sits aloft, flanked by Melissa and Euphrosyne. At her feet are Rage and Pride, bound to a rock.
VIRT. At length this rebellious crew of night humbly worships the day, Tartarus yields to heaven, and Virtue tramples on vice. Let your breast swell with joy, Euphrosyne, and let your name be reflected in your face. And you, Melissa, sweeter than the skillfully-wrought combs of bees, bid the cloudless days flow on.
EUPH. You goddess beloved to the King of heaven, you who set Erebus to quaking with your dread brow, whose temples are adorned with Daphne’s chaste laurel, today Pallas, fearful with her terrible shield, gladly surrenders her Gorgon to you.
MEL. As much as the blood of Venus surpass thorn-bushes, as much as the cyprus overtops viburnums, as much as the moon dims heaven’s lesser lights, so much do you outstrip the noble victories of Hercules. Let this victory be added to the gods’ calendar, something that Envy will fear to violate with that black tooth of hers. Rage has felt the thunderbolt of your death-dealing arm. Behold, he is humbly prostrate. (Rage tries to rise up.)
RAGE So I’m humbly prostrate? You’re wrong. Rage will never stretch out his suppliant hand to a girl. Fear of death, my companion, ignobly touches the marrow of heaven’s beings with chill dread, but this terror is unfitting for Avernus. If brazen shackles bind my body, my mind is still free. Why mention these shackles? Rage knows not how to be bound. If my wrath surpasses the adamant of Jove, can a weak encirclement of chains restrain me? I shall shatter these helpless restrains of steel. (He tries to break them). Is this futile handiwork of Brontes not yet creaking? Is this what we suffer, brother?
PRIDE I am burning with a similar ardor. The water of Phlegethon is not ablaze with a fire equal to what’s burning in my angry heart. (Stamps the ground with his foot.) Pluto, mighty king of the shades, angry ruler of the silent realm, pour forth all Chaos, let the bray of your gloomy trumpet call forth legions of snakes, let them follow me as their commander. Wherever I make my lordly way, let the earth tremble on its hinges.
VIRT. Why pour forth prayers to the helpless god of the shades? Tartarus’ gates remain locked tight, Acheron’s citizenry cannot behold the light of the sun. Therefore keep your proud flank joined tight to the flank of the brazen rock, for thus the Fates decree. It is well. (They both subside at the foot of the rock.) The punishment of the Caucasian bird awaits you both. Thus headstrong anger devoid of counsel suffers its downfall.
ACT I, SCENE i
Theodosius, having praised Arsenius’ efforts in educating his sons, coopts him into the senatorial order and invites him to a feast.
THEO.As soon as Vertumnus pokes his head, adorned with roses, from the earth, the fields smile, as does the sky. The cattle frisk, the glades resound with the sweetly-singing choir of birds. In the same way, when Arsenius countenance shines on it once more, my court rejoices.
ARS. If my sovereign does not bid me return, I do not tread this Augustan threshold save by the eloquent will of Caesar.
THEO. I acknowledge the ready dutifulness of your mind. It is a pleasure to command when one’s commands are met by the swift ardor of an obedient man. (Enter Arcadius and Honorius.) You see this wealth of the East? This twin flower of the Empire? Thanks to your effort both have grown.
ARS. Farmers till their soil with the plough, with their hands they sow the kindly gifts of Triptolemus, but it is God Who summons forth the bristling grain from the soil with the dew of His rain and whistling zephyrs. In vain the feeble husbandman works his glebe, unless heaven vouchsafes a golden harvest.
THEO. Heaven often sends a divine crop, unless the plough should be working a sterile field.
ARS. A royal mind is a fruitful field, Caesar, which grows of its own volition even if it is not cultivated. Arcadius has a predilection for the inspired water of Helicon, his brother loves the learned meadows of Calliope.
ARC. Sooner will the girls of Hymettus shun their honey made of thyme than I shall come to dislike the liquor of Pindus. Let Bacchus defer to the pure, undiluted wine of the Muses.
HON. Let others catch beasts in their treacherous nets and scour the dewy glades with their keen-scented hounds, let them deceive Proteus’ mute race of fish with their deceitful bait, and wound lesser birds with the beak of their falcon; my preference is the school of learned Arsenius.
ARS. Do you see how these young sprouts are akin to the beings of heaven? Their father’s piety shines forth in both. An eagle cannot father ignoble doves, nor does virtue beget vices.
THEO. Henceforth the sweet name of father will better suit Arsenius. Sons, adore this father of yours on humbly-bent knee. Just as the elm-tree supports the drooping vines on its bosom, lest they go astray and chance to loose their clusters to soon, thus by his arts this sage preceptor of morals supports the springtime of your royal youth.
ARC. We are vines. Let him artfully prune our shoots with his sickle, lest our grapes grow in excessive profusion.
HON. I shall gladly suffer the wholesome wounding of learned Arsenius.
THEO. Good. Heaven looks with favor on docile minds, but vengefully strikes recalcitrants with its lightning. Be steeped in the odor of virtue from your early years, more than in the tears of Syrian nard, and as your age grows by imperceptible steps let your virtue grow apace, for your youth is still like wax, easily molded. But come now, lest your teacher’s effort perish, suffering a shipwreck in the slothful strait of Forgetfulness, I enroll you as a father of our purple-clad parliament, and today you will recline alone, the sole guest of my august couch.
ARS. The stars will come loose and abandon their heavenly climes before today will fade from my remembering mind.
THEO. Let Ceres and Bacchus revive our weary selves.
ARS. I follow the Augustus. (Exeunt.)
ACT I, SCENE ii
Nectarius and Stilicho congratulate themselves for having recently expelled the Arians from Byzantium.
NECT. The sky is calm, the winds are falling, peaceful quiet puts an end to the turbulent threats of the sea. The wounded ship of our groaning empire raises up its storm-damaged mast, our sails fly happily, made full-bellied by the west wind, and, the shore of its bay restored to its proper state, the sea sleeps soundly.
STIL. As long as you are powerful and wield the reins of this ship, it will never groan, being overmastered by Nereus. While an able Tiphys steers the vessel, the North wind howls in vain.
NECT. Although on his Thessalian ship Tiphys carried the Argonauts through treacherous Thetis’ realm, he did not grow rich by despoiling the sheep of its golden fleece. Jason alone was the one who conquered the sleepless dragon’s eyes with deep sleep, he alone gained the spoils of the fugitive Phryxus. Not otherwise did the menacing sword of Stilicho, the conqueror of the Styx, rescue Christ’s golden flock from the embrace of pestilential Cerberus
STIL. It was gentle crook of the shepherd that terrified the wolves of Avernus and tamed their rage.
NECT. Yet if you do not fortify your side with faithful steel and your hand with a slingshot, they hold that gentle crook in scorn. Force wards off force. You glory of Memnon’s world, continue wholly to eradicate this unspeakable race, born of the Hydra’s stock. Though a thousand snakes arm this viper’s head, let them die a thousand deaths, killed off by your sword.
STIL. He who washes his hair with the water of the Xanthian Sea did not shoot the Python, that noxious bane of the sea, with as many arrows as I shall use to strike at the head of this burgeoning monster.
NECT. What foulness has abandoned Byzantium’s bosom! Pride, intolerant of its yoke, Envy, troubled by prosperity, Lust, that attendant of Venus, blind Error, Impiety, Treachery, and savage Fury, fulminating in its battle-line, follow after Mistress Heresy.
STIL. Snow-white Astraea returns with her swans, a rare degree of fidelity will govern Caesar’s household, and, enthroned once more, Virtue will give laws to the peoples of the East. Oh that the Augustus’ home would always house such peace!
NECT. Bound by the chains of Lethe may Heresy always groan, may happy Peace always go a-flying on her white wings, may Tranquility always make this her home. In her hand Heresy holds war and death, in her discordant bosom she cherishes war, and wherever she reigns there is no place for sweet repose. The sky is made baleful by thunder, the air by a comet with its blood-red tail, winds roughen the sea. Leaving its prescribed enclosure, with a flood the sea destroys the work of cattle. By herself Heresy, fertile in vices, ruins cities.
STIL. With your pen and your tongue, Father, you must lay low this Python, for honey drips from your mouth. With my sure hand I’ll deal out death.
NECT. When you hurl your missiles may God improve your aim. (Exeunt.)
ACT I, SCENE iii
The sight of Arsenius, reclining above all the other lords at the imperial table, angers Ruffinus.
RUF. (Alone.) Does Arsenius alone get a taste of this ambrosial meal and drink the gods’ nectar. Does he alone sit at this celestial table? My liver swells with bile. A flush dispels my pallor, pallor kills off my flush. Why do these colors, having no certain dwelling-place, take turns in thus painting my trembling cheeks? Alas, my face speaks of my chagrin, this wounding I have received is plain to see on my brow with its sad tokens. Has the blood that flowed in my veins like a torrent as my sword cut down opposing captains deserved this? Why was I a fool, seeking out hunger, thirst, and the fair scars of battle? Why did I endure cold nights in the frigid open air? Why did I protect my homeland under the circle of my shield? Not so that Arsenius, that drone of the western world, might lie on his proud couch and insult me, so that he might squander a playful day with his sports, recline on Attalid purple, drink from jewel-encrusted goblets swimming with wine, and so that all Phasis might flow to his table, and a bird from Numidia might come a-flying to his plate. Don’t you see the drawn dagger of Damocles is threatening your throat? Soon I’ll bring it about that you’ll envy the fleeting meals of Tantalus. (Exit.)
ACT I, SCENE iv
Nebridius, wonderfully delighted by his association with Arsenius, urges Eucherius to become his student. But Eucherius prefers to follow in his father’s footsteps. He enters in a hunter’s costume, carrying a bow or a javelin.
EUCH. The glade resounds with the mournful horn, the foaming boar are planning their sidewise strike, and yet you aren’t wielding your lazy lance?
NEB. Arsenius’ learned shackles bind me. I’ve no time to scour remote mountains. Who has the time to look at goats hanging from the brow of a crag, to weary the hare which is protected by its flight, to shoot young deer, or to stop wild boar in their tracks with one’s bow? Rather, you should join the companions of our choir. Arsenius will reveal more pleasant crags, consecrated to Phoebus and beloved to the Muses.
EUCH. The water that flows thanks to Pegasus’ strike, the saddle of twin-peaked Parnassus, the unwarlike tune of a lyre, these things suit boys. The blare of the trumpet and bugle whet men for war.
NEB. Both the bugle and the lute befit a prince. You harm your enemy with sharp warfare, the welkin resounds with the fierce bray of trumpets. But suppose that Peace puts Mars to rout, her head garlanded with golden wheat? Let your hand ply the lute.
EUCH. A sword outshines a book.
NEB. Great commanders combine the two in a sweet union. Sleep never enfolded the bedchamber of the Aemathian king v without seeing his head propped up with similar furniture. Do you disapprove of Alexander’s relaxation?
EUCH. I do not disapprove of learned relaxation. Rather, I disapprove of the effort involved. The caverns of Mt. Pieria bristle with sharp thorns.
NEB. If you desire to pluck a rose, would you scorn to apply your bold hand to the thorns which encircle it every side?
EUCH. Grant that this is so, but the stinging-nettle never begets a rose. Perhaps a schoolmaster’s rod and his whistling lashes seem like roses to you.
NEB. Swords, spears, catapults, the iron-like god of war’s dark cloud of missiles, do these never inflict severer wounds?
EUCH. It befits a soldier to die, so that his nation may life. Eternal glory will stand in exchange for his brief life.
NEB. But who will employ an eloquent trumpet to sound the trophies he has gained?
EUCH. The full chorus of the Muses.
NEB. So why dislike the liquor of Delphi’s pool, if martial glory is immortalized by song?
EUCH. You like the feather of the Maeonian swan more than warlike Agamemnon’s plume? But I wholeheartedly want to follow in my father’s footsteps. Let Tartarus be armed against me. (A horn is heard.) But now Diana’s harmless sport summons me. This bow will deal out death to my quarry. Afterwards I’ll empty my quiver against captains of war.
NEB. I prefer the quiver of Phoebus. (Exeunt.)
ACT I, SCENE v
Having conquered his enemies and pacified his empire,Theodosius invites his lords to the games for Arcadius, who has newly received the title of Augustus.
THEO. You eastern glories of Memnon’s scepter, you sons of Mars, you champions, it is thanks to your steel that Byzantium has come back to life. See how she strikes the homes of the stars with her turreted head. Victorious, a fresh shoot dear to Phoebus, she sits youthfully among the hoary-headed nations. Father Don submits his watery urn, and the Danube weeps with tears, submerged beneath green seaweed. That the stubborn Getae have broken their bows, that the fulminating Sycthians lament the threats they made, that the Goths have extended to me the branch of Athens’ goddess and sued for peace, your hand has accomplished these things.
STILICHO Augustus, ruler of the eastern world, may Fortune always smile on your enterprises. It is a trifling thing that the earth serves you with its neck enslaved: heaven desires to fight on your behalf. The north-wind, armed, bursts forth from Aeolus’ prison and joins trumpet to resounding trumpet. Although arrows fly like hail, it repels them with its blast, and your enemy are wounded by their own shafts.
RUFFINUS In vain do Mimas and Briareus pile mountains atop mountains, in vain does Erebus lash out at God’s ethereal home.
EUTROPIUS Heaven’s shield protects the pious, impossible to overcome.
CLEANTHES Although you dare expose your unarmed side to drawn swords, their points fear to wound you.
CALIDORUS Though you cruise the treacherous waters of Malea, you will not encounter a troubled sea.
LEANDER I shall gladly join you in scaling the inhospitable snows of Caucasus, you are sheltered by heaven’s wings.
THEO. Let us all singlemindedly worship God, Who alone wreathes our locks with Castalian laurel. At will He lifts up commanders and casts them down again, in His hand he holds out victory-palms joined with funereal cypress. He had granted me this proud throne, and he has likewise decked out my son with the purple of the east, my son for whom we are today preparing games. If you entire bevy of lords adorn this display, the day will glide along cloudlessly.
STIL. Thus your court will be twice as bright, the day will smile with a more serene brightness.
RUF. Your double sun will better set afire us lesser torches.
ALL Let us go. (Exeunt.)
Go to Act II