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ACT II, SCENE i
Masquing is performed in the presence of Arcadius. As Sleep passes a branch over the eyes of the Tajo and the Ebro, he is driven off by Triton.
TRIT. Why is the poppy lashing their eyelids with a sluggish wave of sleep, you child of darkling night, you black brother of death? Go, return to the bedchamber of your silent mother. Ebro, arise, arise, and you too, bright-tressed Tagus, proud with your gold. Behold, while a new emperor eagerly takes up the reigns of Memnon’s realm, a man who rejoices in the affection shown his Iberian stock, the trembling earth groans in reaction to our tuneful measures, it groans under our handsome cities, the twisting of the Meander and the cheering of Carystus.
TAG. Let us join hands, brother, let us join legs, and let the west wind’s wings grant speed to our feet.
Vigorous dance of the Tajo and the Ebro. Then they retire to the rock and Prosperity, accompanied by Peace and Wealth, predicts a happy reign for Arcadius.
PROS. Enough. Let us too worship great Caesar, whose wealthy realm surpasses that of Saturn with a better omen.
Abandoning the golden halls of the beings of heaven, once more Prosperity dwells on earth. Behold, in her helping hand Peace bears the rich shade-giving olive-branch of Pallas.
For you, Pluto throws open a wealthy tract. In his arms he offers you whatever Hermus carries in its golden water and whatever the sea of the East conceals.
The sternness of the Age of Iron changes to a softer metal. Of their own volition happy crops flourish, the unpruned olive-branch thrives.
Amidst bold lions, goats expose their flanks in security. The wanton lamb frolics amidst Libyan bears.
Holm-oaks sweat balsam, unguent drips from stiff thorns, the winter-oak weeps myrrh, and nard flows from the friendly elm.
Streams of milk and honey babble through pleasant Tempe. Bacchus sports in fountains of Falernian wine, and joys overflow their happy banks.
Autumn, his brittle locks bound with purple, yearns to wed crimson dye to wool and humbly dab his mistresses, the plants. (He drops a cornucopia at Arcadius’ feet.)
PEACE At length let Mars’ uproar fall silent. Let the tuneful sound of the lyre conquer the bugle’s thunder, and let the laurel defer to the peaceful olive. (She drops an olive-branch at Arcadius’ feet.)
WEALTH Sweet governor of the eastern world, receive this casket, heavy with ruddy gold-bronze. Let all of this windfall be worn on one finger. (He drops a casket at Arcadius’ feet.)
AURORA As their mother, I had scarcely served as herald of royal Apollo and opened the lovely gates of the sky for his children when it became bright day, shining with a double sun.
But it was not a day born from the rosy sea. This light dwells in the cheeks of Caesar: Arcadius, set afire by his father’s beams, shines like a younger sun.
Henceforth, sun, you have no need to lift up your head from the Nereids’ sea-green couch. We have a better Phoebus, the world has no need of your rays.
To him, not to you, Aurora will give the dripping reins of the daylight. Tithon’s palace, too, will be at his service with its obedient towers. However much Atropos might rejoin again
The thread of my Memnon, Dawn, giving second place to him, her very own son, would appoint you heir of her rosy empire, pregnant with daylight,
And would exultantly open her court to you. Swan’s down has tainted the hair of the consort of my bedchamber, and at length the old man has succumbed to death’s blows.
But foul hoariness will not tinge your hair with its whiteness. Springtime will give you perpetual youth. Just as the blood of Venus’ plant lives on,
So that the vermilion remains fresh in each of its leaves, thus, greater than the grave, you will scorn the adamantine death-lists of the Fates, and the funeral-pyre will grudgingly beget life for you. (She drops roses.)
DAY If you look on the world with your peaceful light, even if the sun is hidden in his westerly home, the sweet flame of your brow will spread daylight even at midnight. (He drops a sun at Arcadius’ feet.)
NIGHT But if Arcadius should close his eyes, light too would closed by his snow-white eyelids, even if the sun brought back the happy day from Doris’ yellow home.
She drops a blue wand at his feet. Arion, riding astride a dolphin, sings to his lyre, flanked by Parthenope and Ligeia. Ganges, Hermus and Hydaspes lie on the ground asleep. Then the Sirens invite the Ganges and the others to join the western Triton, the Tajo and the Ebro in singing in Arcadius’ presence.
PARTH. Oh sweet tune! Oh pleasant plectrum! Wipe away your sleep, rivers, and honor the new Caesar. Clap with your hands, stamp with your feet. Tread a measure, swift Zephyr.
LIG. Oh sweet lyre! Oh wondrous hand! Wipe away your sleep, rivers, and honor the new Caesar. Clap with your hands, stamp with your feet. Tread a measure, swift Zephyr.
Dance of all the rivers. They all rise.
THEO. The sun has shown with a thrice-auspicious halo. Keep your spirits manly, my son. Don’t let the brilliance of Tyrian purple dazzle your eyes: whoever masters youth’s high spirits is a king.
ARC. I chose to be a king over myself. Arsenius will govern this ship, since it is unaccustomed to the sea.
THEO. If Arsenius is at the helm, your boat will never be unequal to the waves and drink in the sea. (Exeunt.)
ACT II, SCENE ii
Honorius is outraged that only Arcadius is being proclaimed as Augustus, himself denied. Nebridius and Eucherius do much to soothe him.
HON. (Alone.) A deadly Fate and screech-owls lamented for our house the day that Lucina made an unfriendly cradle for me. Why did Arcadius see the light of day first? Why did he first receive our father’s kiss? Why did my unhappy mother not give birth to us both at once? Because a crown might wear down my head? It’s a light weight, easily born. Perhaps my touch would have been unsuitable for the royal scepter. So why does my brother’s hand suit it? He was first to apply his lips to our mother’s breast. That’s no great thing, this ancient mind of mine is thriving. Oh thrice, four time blessed stars of Leda! Both brothers burn with equal light, they harmoniously settle storms at sea with their brilliance, and Pollux happily takes his turn in granting power to Castor. Will my brother ever entrust me with alternating control over our Nabathian household? (Enter Nebridus and Eucherus.)
NEB. Splendor of Aurora, for you the bramble-bushes drip honey.
EUCH. Brilliance second only to Arcadius, may no cloud cover over the roses of your cheeks!
HON. Oh, the wound! “Brilliance second only to Arcadius?” Why pray does he outshine me?
EUCH. Lucina, life’s sweet gatekeeper, first opened the doors of daylight to him.
HON. Does the fleeting passage of years make a king? A king is made by virtue and the keen vigor of a lofty mind.
NEB. So why should your mind be troubled by your brother’s scepter, his robe that pretends to Assyrian display, and his crowd of servants? You should govern.
HON. My brother’s hauteur vexes, troubles, pierces me. I scarcely care for the throne. Oh, and yet —
EUCH. You like the deceptive glory of the fleeting scepter?
HON. I like it, I like it greatly. I’d plunge myself naked into the pool of Erebus, if I could find a scepter there.
NEB. Oh, what cares a crown begets! Fear is a king’s constant companion.
EUCH. It is a cruel form of repose, which always threatens your sleep, when a drawn sword is poised above your neck.
HON. Why remind me of that Sicilian tyrant’s banquet? There’s no steel hanging here.
EUCH. But care always pricks a sleepless king’s bowels, like the point of a sword. Even if he drinks from goblets finely wrought by Mentor’s chisel and by himself devours meals paid for by the tribute of entire nations, dread gives his dinner an unwelcome flavor. Just as if it were piercing the fearful breast of a woodland deer, this dart strikes his restless inner self.
HON. Nothing terrifies the heart of a man who cleaves to the right. Even if the walls of Olympus should collapse, he will gladly shoulder the ruins.
EUCH. When a little boat which loves riverbanks ventures to row out to sea, it is overcome by the fury of the gale. Let your oar safely cleave to a shore free of strong winds, lest your barque capsize.
HON. A feeble skiff cannot overcome the sea, but a man-o’-war goes flying along with safe sails.
NEB. Insatiable Nereus gobbles down even men-o’-war. Charybdis’ jaws are always agape. I like a safe harbor, far removed from the storm of the royal court, where my days sweetly glide by with no disturbance. Let Arcadius rule the world, let this new Atlas’ knee fail him, and let him succumb under the heavy weight of his cares. Gain control of your mind and you’ll be a king.
HON. Now I enjoy a double kingdom. Whoever clasps to his bosom two men privy to his secrets who are not disloyal, he is a king.
EUCH. Gnawing envy will never dissolve well-cemented friendships. (Exit.)
ACT II, SCENE iii
While Arsenius is standing, head uncovered, teaching Arcadius, who sits upon his throne, his father comes in, rebukes his son, and bids him stand and Arcadius sit. Arsenius is reciting from Horace.
ARS. “Silver is cheaper than gold, and gold is cheaper than virtue.” Here the poet teaches that the treasures of the Tagus and the Hermus are feeble in comparison with virtue. Just as the dewy mother of the day dazzles the chaste stars with her rosy cheeks and extinguishes their night-long gleam with the sun, thus when virtue spews forth bashful beams from her starry brow, the glory of the sovereign metal grows pale. When it still lay in the bosom of the earth, undiscovered, greed lay buried with it. Not yet did trumpets break short sweet sleep with their call to arms, not yet did the sailor entrust his life to a crude skiff. Polydorus was not yet laid low, stabbed by the Thracian. But after men began to excavate expensive ruination for themselves, a son would contrive his father’s downfall. Man, why hunt after this trifling plumage? This golden dust knows not how to quench thirst. Though huge crops burst your barns, although both of Phoebus’ homes are subject to you, nothing more than cypress will ornament your funeral, nothing can swim across those inexorable river-banks. Virtue is a better treasure than gold, it has no fear of robbers’ hands. It alone floats in mid-ocean, laughing at storms, it scorns the black threads of Lachesis. You must follow this guide for living, this teacher of morals.
ARC. This goddess dwells on a thorny ridge. Struggle, drenching her bosom with tears, wan Pallor, and sweat-dripping Effort have made their homes on her porch.
ARS. The ascent certainly bristles with thorns on all sides. But afterwards the forest, choked with brambles, grows gentle. Roses crown the summit. The grove of Delphi’s god shuts out the dogstar’s heat. Joy drives away grief, and gladdens the day with her cheerful face. Down below, Pallor and Effort wear out their feet, they never climb to the top of the ridge. Honor, as bright as the stars, and Glory, similar to his brother, sit on either side of the goddess’ throne. With proud feet she tramples the wheel of the treacherous goddess, and, looking downward, she beholds lightning, comets, hail, rain, snow, death, fury, wars, and the discordant battles of heaven and earth. (Enter Theodosius.)
THEO. What do I see? An unschooled boy sitting on a throne, and a professor, learned in eloquence, standing bareheaded?
ARS. It befits me to show reverence for the purple of your son the Augustus.
THEO. It befits my son to show reverence for Arsenius’ whip. What? You still aren’t yielding the throne to your father? Arsenius should be reclining on purple.
ARS. Purple dye makes my face look flushed. I prefer to recline on living turf. I scarcely think I am worthy of Tyrian vermilion.
THEO. The more you shun honors the more they chase after you. Mount the royal chair, royal father.
ARS. I do so at your command. The ground would make a better seat.
THEO. What? The crown still presses down your hair? Get rid of that badge of rule over the East. (Theodosius throws down Arcadius’ crown. Arcadius strips off his robe and indignantly puts down his scepter.) Your heart is swollen with pride. I perceive high spirits in that little body. It is your responsibility to tame your boyish pride. The scourge will teach meandering marks of a noble dark hue how to cover your legs. A nimble top goes spinning about a hall, if it is animated by a whiplash. Let there be no absence of the savage lash, if your spirit does not reduce itself. (He recites from Horace.)
“The beardless youth, free of tutors at last, delights
In horse and hound, and the turf of the sunlit Campus,
He’s wax malleable for sin, rude to his advisors,
Slow in making provision, lavish with money,
Spirited, passionate, and swift to change his whim.”
Store that up in your memory, boy. (Exit Theodosius. Arsenius stands up.)
ARS. I swear by the bevy of the stars, I occupied this chair against my will, only obeying your father’s will.
ARC. No need for words. Leave me to myself.
ARS. May God cover over this wound! (Exit.)
ACT II, SCENE iv
Ruffinus further alienates Arcadius’ aggrieved mind from Arsenius.
ARC. (Alone.) Whoever drinks flames from Phlegethon’s lakes would love his fires if he saw Arcadius’ conflagration. Aetna’s pyre is mild, if the Aetna of my chagrin is considered. Let my wrath burn, let it boil over. This passion cannot be contained within the banks of my heart. I have lost my scepter? That’s a small thing, as long as I retain my swordpoint. (He whirls his sword.). Now I wield a better scepter. My rapacious father’s hand left me this. You constant companion of my side, you sweet second self, I greet you. (He kisses it.) Always be my trusty comrade. You must forge for me a crown which my father cannot cast down again, nor can the whole world’s hand seize. My knees grow weak, my right hand grows chill. My scabbard hides my sword and likewise my anger. So does the fickle crown dislike my hair? Has it taken wing so quickly? I had scarcely touched my lips to the nectar of power when this cup of Tantalus mocked my thirst. Lying wheel of treacherous fortune, how long will you continue to sport with poor Arcadius? Will the same day that gave me the scepter rip it away? Is the rage of the mad south wind scorching the young plant of Paestum before it is born? Thus it is: the fleeting joys of my brief reign perish like the momentary glory of flowers. So am I to drag out inglorious years, bereft of royal insignia, bereft of a reputation? Shall I allow this? Let my father roar, foam, threaten, fulminate, the crown will encircle my locks even against his will. So will you assault your father with impious war? As hard as steel, he renounced his fatherly love, he is not my father. Forgive me, father, let the sire forgive the son. Your child did not say those things, they were only said by his fury. Would that Lachesis had spun me a shepherd’s thread! Would that the Fates had given me a crook for a scepter! Then I assuredly would have been king of an innocent flock! (Enter Ruffinus.)
RUF. Greetings you sweet star of a smiling sky. In your glory you surpass the morning star, Aurora’s harbinger.
ARC. You call me a morning star when I am setting? Rather you should call me an evening star, the herald of black night.
RUF. You set the world afire with your rising.
ARC. No, I hide it with my setting.
RUF. You have scarcely closed those rosy doors.
ARC. Golden Lucifer dies and arises on the selfsame day.
RUF. But Clotho has spun you a prosperous thread. Her distaff guarantees you the long life of a Nestor.
ARC. How does Nestor’s thread help a wretched man? Would that Atropos would cut it short!
RUF. Are you so quickly turning your back on the joys of your new crown?
ARC. The crown abandoned me first. Behold the harvest of my grief, Ruffinus. (Shows him the crown and purple lying on the ground.)
RUF. Rather these things constitute a harvest of happiness.
ARC. They were, before my father’s fury stripped the purple from my shoulders, the scepter from my hand, the crown from my head, before proud Arsenius started to dictate laws to me, arrogantly sitting on my throne.
RUF. Are you sporting with your friend as a joke?
ARC. I’m being sported with, but not as a joke. Alas, the ridicule of the court, the mockery of Arsenius! Now Arcadius is the world’s laughing-stock.
RUF. Arsenius aspires to gain your throne? Oh the tremendous arrogance! How this bubble is swollen! He is the only guest on your father’s couch. He is the only man to overlook the presence of the leading men of this Empire with that proud eye of his. Now he is the only man who hungers for the sacred purple. Does Italy’s lowly shrub dare insult Aurora’s cedars? This humble sprout of tamarisk? Caesar, it needs to be pruned away with your sickle.
ARC. I am afraid to let my steel harm the fellow.
RUF. Why be afraid?
ARC. Because my father’s favor protects him with a harder breed of metal.
RUF. Hard metal is pierced by lightning, Caesar. This is what you should wield.
ARC. If the swelling of his proud boasting does not abate itself, he’ll feel the avenging lightning of my hand. (Enter Arsenius). Here comes that two-tongued Sinon. (Exeunt.)
ACT II, SCENE v
Having perceived Arcadius’ indignation, Arsenius begs Theodosius for permission to depart the court. This permission is refused.
ARS. (Along.) Just as a bird, encaged in its splendid prison, sighs for its forest home, once its kingdom, with a mournful song, so I wish to avoid the bondage of the court, seeking a hospitable home of peace, striking up a sad tune. Who will remove this yoke which I bear on my weary neck? A very heavy Aetna rests on my shoulders. Whoever teaches Caesar’s child enters by himself into the cave of a starving lioness, sails by himself alongside the greedy maelstrom of implacable Charybdis. You’ll sooner tame an unbroken horse than the wild mind of this lad. Hold the reins too loose, he runs wild. Pull them tight and he foams at the mouth and fire glows in his fierce eyes. Happy the man protected by a green forest! There no professors bray out their discourses, sowing wars with their speech, only the trees buzz with their raucous cicadas. Quarrels fall silent, save when the chorus of birds strives with their singing to surpass the sweet tune of the waters. Oh repose, welcome to the beings of heaven! Oh sweet quiet! Oh the hospitable bosom of the innocent countryside! (Enter Theodosius.)
THEO. Has Arcadius’ passion cooled down yet?
ARS. He’s seething like a restless sea.
THEO. Oh the impulsive boy! You must be a second Tiphys and curb the passion of his volatile youth.
ARS. Other men do a better job of managing the tiller of youth. Let Arsenius lie hidden in the shadow of a humble cottage.
THEO. A precious pearl of the Red Sea does not adore the hiding-place of a hut, but rather desires to adorn an august brow.
ARS. And yet it hides in Doris’ embrace before sitting on a regal brow.
THEO. Alas, night’s darkness has concealed you far too long. What would a sailor do, sitting in his treacherous craft as the wrath of the mad sea whirls it about, if the North Star hid its light behind a pitch-black cloud? You alone can calm the world’s surging waves, a lighthouse for this uneasy age.
ARS. The sailor storm-tossed on the high seas prefers a secure harbor. My ship has exposed itself to the stormy gales quite enough. Let the hospitable shore protect my damaged barque in its recessed bay.
THEO. You reverend leading man of this world, you goodly shepherd, the Pope with his triple crown bids the eastern world shine with the light of Arsenius, so don’t fight against God. I would refuse to trade a single hair of Arsenius for the wealthy homes of the Arabs and the treasuries of Croesus. Take the reins of the boy’s young age. A boy’s hot-headedness is as pliant as a twig.
ARS. It would be a crime to go against your august wish. I gladly accept the helm of his impressionable youth.
THEO. Perhaps Arcadius will grow gentle and imbibe the words you pour forth with a thirsty ear. A day mitigates his anger. But if the wound putrefies in his ulcerated fiber, you’ll lance his boil with your schoolmaster’s rod. (Exeunt.)
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