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ACT III, SCENE i
Arcadius, having been whipped by Arsenius, is contriving his death. He rejects Theodolus’ wholesome admonitions and adopts Ruffinus as the agent of his crime.
ARC. (Alone, wiping away his tears.) Why stain your cheeks with humid dew, Arcadius? Why are your eyelids wet against their will? How long will your tears keep flowing? Cease your headlong flow, oh cease your fall, you stream! Let my sorrow pull in the rein with its dripping hand. When Cancer’s sign is burning bright, waters scarcely manage to quench flaming pyres, nor does a tear quench my grief. You want to strike Arsenius with avenging fire? Put on a cheerful face, let happiness sit on your brow, kiss the hand you hate. Oh the dumb cattle! Madman, you have no idea how much fury sets dread Caesars afire. The anger of a stepped-on snake is less. A tigress does not rage so much when her cubs are taken away as do sovereigns when they are provoked. You attack the purple with your sacrilegious hand? Have you no shame to desecrate an august temple? I realize that my father’s asylum protects you. Let it do so. Although you sleep on my father’s bosom, nevertheless you should expect death’s iron slumber. (Enter Theodulus.)
THEOD. Kings should moderate the furious gales of their mad minds.
ARC. The humble common folk should obey the will of Caesar.
THEOD. A people is wont to have a regard for the will of princes, unless they break the laws of Themis.
ARC. Why speak of Themis? Themis is whatever kings want. They may do as they please. If I were to bid you bring me Arsenius’ proud head, ripped from his shoulders, what would you do?
THEOD. I would not cease trying to prevent you from committing that cruel crime, using both tongue and hand.
ARC. The blood around your heart runs too cold. If you follow my standard, you must dare it.
THEOD. I should stain my hand with his innocent blood?
ARC. I should stain his whip with my innocent blood? Go, I hate cowards worse than dog and snake.
THEOD. Let heaven smooth Caesar’s brow. (Exit Theodulus.)
ARC. Caucasian cold touches his bowels. Like a deer, Theodulus is afraid of his shadow. Oh if the better part of my soul, that fighter who has no qualms about taking lives, Ruffinus would direct his victorious steps to Arcadius! <Enter Ruffinus.>
RUF. Here I am.
ARC. You have fulfilled my wish. Thyme or the plant of Venus are no more welcome to the honeybee of Mt. Hybla as it plunders the ridges in springtime than is your arrival to me, my friend.
RUF. Just as the guardian of Jove’s forked lightning takes first place in the fair choir of birds, just as the queen of Paestum surpasses all of Chloris’ works with its short-lived fragrance, so you deserve first place among Caesars.
ARC. Do you see that whip, red with my blood?
RUF. I see your bloodied purple, Augustus, and I also see the hateful heart of Arsenius. Oh what tigress whelped you beneath some rough crag? I suffer because of your suffering, my prince. The spilt blood of an innocent man calls out for the blood of the guilty
ARC. When will I see his head, cut off from his body?
RUF. Better to undo Arsenius by hidden guile, so as not to arouse your father’s anger.
ARC. I’ll gladly let Father rage about his murder, as long as Arsenius falls.
RUF. A heavily armed soldier will stand at Arsenius side if you openly draw your sword. Beware, be silent, keep quite, hide your hatred behind a false face, and he’ll voluntarily enmesh himself in your treacherous traps.
ARC. Though he protect his feeble breast with a cloak of hardened steel, he will not be able to blunt the spear wielded by Arcadius. But if you prefer snares, describe your secret nets.
RUF. You know the cross, Caesar, with the hanging Jesus which Arsenius kisses a thousand times over. He worships at the altar of the Blessed Mother. (He opens a casket.) Smear that effigy with herbs more powerful than those which that disgrace of the house of Colchis once gave to Creusa. When he has planted his sweet kisses on the knees of his bloody Christ, death will come a-running for a final embrace. (He gives the casket to Arcadius.)
ARC. Oh treasure better than autumn’s Libra, better than the tribute of Araby! Who would believe it? Your hand brings my safety and Arsenius’ death. (Exeunt.)
ACT III, SCENE ii
Stilicho and Eutropius amuse themselves by encouraging Honorius, who aspires to gain his brother’s crown, with a vain hope of ruling.
HON. I pull down the stars from high heaven and, swelling with hope for gaining the kingdom, I am borne through the shining homes of heaven’s beings. So my brother’s crown will encircle my locks? His crown! The sweet weight, the easy burden! The crown? A pleasant word, how it refreshes my innermost being! Swell, my heart, my joy cannot be constrained within such narrow quarters. Today smiles on me, a day that deserves to be recorded on tablets of cedar.
STIL. Rather, a day that deserves to be recorded with a scepter.
EUT. And the throne of the realm.
HON. Arcadius’ grief gladdens my marrow. I like my father’s glowering expression and Arsenius’ threats, and I am delighted by that blood-stained whip.
STIL. The robe pulled off one brother will cover the other brother’s shoulders.
EUT. How the scepter suits your ivory-white hands!
HON. My skiff skims along, driven by the west wind’s breeze. The northerly which damages my brother’s craft is a zephyr for me, bringing my ship to a safe harbor. But what fear suddenly chills my heart? I have a fear, alas, lest the fickle royal favor breathe once more on my brother, lest my the fires of my father’s love be rekindled.
STIL. Have no fear, kings’ anger is cast in lead.
HON. But a father’s mind is easily appeased.
EUT. It will burn all the more if your brother does not wash away his guilt with a constant flow of tears, unless he wraps his arms around his father’s knees as if they were an altar. If the north wind’s fury blows down one plant it is nothing strange, another shoot grows up. His sire cherishes Honorius in his bosom and in his sight.
STIL. Your royal nature pleads your case well enough. With their artful hands Minerva created you a brain, Mars a strong right hand, Grace a tongue, and Piety pureness of heart.
EUT. A more welcome virtue sits on your face.
HON. Possibly Father will scorn my youthful years.
STIL. A grave mind, young though it may be, is mature enough for a scepter. Your youthful head has its sprinkling of gray hairs.
HON. My short stature interferes with the loftiness of my mind.
EUT. You deserve congratulations, you have a noble heart, larger than the world. It is more fitting to consider the fiery powers of the mind. A lion is smaller than an elephant, and yet the elephant shows deference to the lion’s mane. Now that the drone has been defeated, let the bee hold the helm of the waxen realm.
HON. Ceres does not grow so much when watered by Aurora’s dewy tears as I grow thanks to the nectar of your eloquence. I seem to myself to be greater than Atlas, I carry heaven’s fiery halls on my shoulders better than he does. Meanwhile, my friends, supreme rewards await you.
STIL. The supreme reward, your majesty, is to kiss your hand. (Exeunt.)
ACT III, SCENE iii
While Arsenius congratulates himself about Arcadius’ renewed affection, as he imagines, he is informed by Theodolus of this criminal scheme. Bidding farewell to the royal court, he retires to solitude. He speaks kneeling before an altar, holding Christ’s crucifix in his hand
ARS. (Alone.) Christ, you darling of heaven and King of kings, You Who teach hearts made of stern adamant gradually to take on the nature of soft wax, tame Arcadius’ hard character, let this flint be softened by a watering of blood. Let this lamb imitate the innocent Lamb and put aside his wolfish fury. Thus Hell’s lake will groan in defeat, and the choir of Saints will cheer. (He arises. Enter Arcadius, dressed in sad colors. He prostrates himself at Arsenius’ feet.)
ARC. Allow me to embrace your fatherly knees. You see that my eyes and hands are suppliant.
ARS. Arcadius, that morning star of the world, humbly prostrate? Has he destroyed his brilliance with that dark garment? Get up, bring on the day with that shining face of yours.
ARC. I repent my pride, I am ashamed of my uncontrolled anger. Allow me to plant ambrosial kisses on your holy hand.
ARS. Rather, let love unite our hands once more. (They clasp hands.)
ARC. This Gordian’s knot will outlive the changes of all-consuming time. Don’t break off your embrace, venerable father, God will grant me a more comfortable time for speaking with you. (Exit Arcadius.)
ARS. May the stars accompany Caesar, may roses bloom wherever he goes. He shines once more, more than quickly, with the clouds overcome! They carried pitch-black night in their bosom, but I am protected under the shadow of the saving Cross. (He tries to kiss the crucifix.) What? My muscles are stiffened, a numbness binds my limbs. I’ll try again. (He tries again, but fails.) Are my kisses so displeasing? Are you shunning Arsenius? Does such a short distance separate me from this blessed embrace? Tell me what horrible crime I’ve committed. Why does your silent voice condemn me? It menacingly torments my bloodshot eyes. My blood flows, mingled with sweat. Alas, at length I confess my sin. I have entered the royal palace against God’s will. I will atone for this unspeakable felony with my tears, I shall employ deceit and flee this friendly home. (Enter Theodulus.)
THEOD. Haven’t you yet left this treacherous house? Arcadius is cutting off your life’s thread. Flee.
ARS. You are telling me strange things. Ivy does not cling to the holm-oak with such a loving hand as he clung to my arms just now.
THEOD. You still don’t understand Greek artfulness? Punic treachery? This hyena may drench your knees with tears from which you’ll scarcely swim away, being shipwrecked. Trust me, the prince thirsts for your blood. He wanted this hand of mine to be reddened by your blood.
ARS. So Arcadius would kill me with his treacherous embrace? He would kill me by denying me my usual kissing of Christ? What shall I do?
THEOD. You can’t join your lips to His? A treacherous snake lurks in the grass. (Theodulus takes the cross and studies it.) Possibly he has smeared it with Thessalian poison? (He takes out a stone from his bag.) If this stone sweats when rubbed against the cross, then a toxin from Colchis infects it. (He rubs the stone with the cross, which he shows to be sweating.) See how it grimly sweats. The stone is showing poison. (The rubs the cross with the stone, and then with a small headband. Arsenius kneels.)
ARS. Christ, Savior of kings, restrain Your lightning, I pray You, restrain Your avenging hand. Rather let heaven’s dire flame burn Arsenius than have Arcadius feel Your anger.
THEOD. The poison’s fled. This will readily obey your hand. (He kisses the cross and gives it back to Arsenius.) It is dangerous to create further delays. Let Arsenius bid adieu to fear, and likewise to his love of the Caesars.
ARS. Theodulus, you glory of heroes, you second Pylades, farewell forever. (Exit Theodulus.) So has the sleepless dragon of Avernus planted poison in Christ’s side? Has venom flowed from this sweet source of balsam? Have honeycombs produced a deadly bane, and life produced death? Has does his hatred return furtive blows for blows? Oh what starving lion, transfixed by a javelin, can match the savage anger of kings? When can I break the golden shackles of this royal court? (He kneels during the song.) @@@@@
An angel warns Arsenius to go into solitude. He informs him of the schemes of Arcadius and Ruffinus.
ANG. Break your handsome chains, this bondage to the Labyrinth, the world’s hidden hatreds and its treacherous embraces.
Flee this poisoned fraud, hiding under balsam, flee the angry minds of the prince and Ruffinus.
Both of them are contriving an early death for you. Thus roses and the pure lily are blasted by the south wind.
Flee, flee, seek the forest. Let Christ’s sweet tracts be the harbor of your peaceful life. (Arsenius arises.)
ARS. I follow Christ as He summons me. At last I have freed my neck from its handsome yoke, at last I breathe free air. You treacherous court abounding in delights, you seductive Siren, you house wrought by Daedalus, you Circe’s cup, you evil daughter of perfidy, farewell. And farewell to Arcadius too. You will contrive no more schemes against me. Sleep buried in your Tyrian crimson, I prefer roses dyed by their native purple. Let wine infused with poison quench your thirst, I shall drink handfuls of pure water. Load down your dinner-table with the plunder of land and sea, spice your food with the tears of entire provinces. Strawberries provide me with ready meals. I like this home, and I won’t regret going on day after day, month after month, as long as I may enjoy Christ as my companion. (Exit.)
ACT III, SCENE iv
Ruffinus tries to encourage Arcadius, troubled by the stings of his conscience. When they hear the news of Arcadius’ flight, they both decide to conceal their crime. The enter conversing.
RUF. Have no fear. This victim will be fall as a sacrifice to Jupiter of the Underworld.
ARC. Perhaps the fatal bane is creeping through his veins.
RUF. Perhaps? What? You’re still doubtful? He’s already rowing over the pallid gulf in Charon’s raft. The realm of unlovely Persephone already contains him. (Arcadius sighs.) What? Caesar is lamenting? Pray, why draw these deep sighs? Why are stones befouling your rosy cheeks?
ARC. Regret suddenly touches my marrow. Alas, sadness suddenly oppresses my struggling inner self.
RUF. Let Falernian wine dissolve your bitter cares. Let the Bosporus drown the seeds of your sorrow. Your enemy is dead.
ARC. He has tainted my hands, alas, with his innocent blood.
RUF. The man who stained his arms with your blood strikes you as innocent? Arsenius innocent? Oh, the innocent wolf!
ARC. His just indignation set ablaze my liver, he tamed my rebellious nature. Although the physician might bloody the skin, his striking nevertheless speaks of his ardent love. How many nights, alas, does he spend sleepless, his eyes shedding tears because of the smoke of his lamp? I should have relieved his thirst with Apollo’s pure water. Did his constant effort deserve death?
RUF. Did Arcadius deserve to dye that cruel whip with his blood? Did he deserved to be shoved off his throne? Prince, you must remove the scruples which are piercing your tender heart with their prick. An unformed, friendly mind is readily troubled, whereas nothing torments an experienced nature.
ARC. What impiety to smear a sacred crucifix with poison, to taint those five fountains of nectar with a great venom, to trample God underfoot!
RUF. As long as your enemy is destroyed, everything is permissible. (Enter Negro.)
NEG. What dark-shadowed valley will hide me, what Tartarus will bury me?
RUF. What is it, Negro?
NEG. Arsenius has taken flight on winged feet.
RUF. So he’s fled?
RUF. You always sing me a fatal song. Go away, you monster. (Beats Negro with his staff.)
ARC. We’re ruined.
RUF. Let their customary ruddiness float on your cheeks. You want to avoid your father’s enflamed hand? Let a happy face conceal your hatred. Arsenius is upright, bashful, learned: by your doing, let Arsenius be added as a new star in the snow-white galaxy of heroes. While you celebrate his heart, dripping with Socratic nectar, let three thousand Graces dwell on your rosy lips, let Mt. Hybla envy the honey of your tongue. Keep quiet about the author of this deceit.
ARC. I shall heed your admonitions. But when the great reef protrudes above the sea, the scheme will emerge.
RUF. Arcadius’ faithful heart will smile. Achelous will sooner produce fire, and Aetna’s oven water, than my guilty heart will break its faith. (Exeunt. Enter Negro.)
NEG. You traitor, you two-faced child of the king of Ithaca! You hack at my side with your wooden club? Continue, contrive the deaths of powerful, make the house of Caesar collapse, pile new crimes on crimes. If you aren’t aware of it, soon a soldier will use his avenging sword to cut off the insolent hand which sought to beat me. Then a fearful tight-stringed reward will overtake you. (Exit.)
ACT III, SCENE v
Theodosius is distraught over Arsenius’ unexpected departure. Then, learning the whole story, he bitterly rails against Arcadius.
THEO. (Alone.) So Arsenius is a runaway? Arsenius, my fire, my delight, my joy, my strength, my love? You pursuing shades, you leafy homes of the Dryads, you caverns friendly to the Nymphs, you mossy pools, tell me if some recess of the silent forest shelters Arsenius, Why do I vainly weary the deaf stones with my doleful song? They refuse to reveal the hidden jewel. The homes of Byzantium need the father of their nation, the court needs its master, the people its leader, and Caesar mourns his constant companion, taken away. I swear by heaven’s citadels, I’ll visit the rough dens, neither Haemus’ hoary ridges nor Rhodopes’ shaggy uplands will hold me back. If you flee me as I follow, I’ll inscribe the name of Arsenius on the volumes of tender trees, and as much as the young forest grows, thus much will grow my letters on its bark, the tokens of my love. (Enter a young man, who gives Theodosius a letter. He reads the inscription, ARSENIUS TO THE UNCONQUERABLE EMPEROR THEODOSUS, GREETINGS.) Who brought this letter, Ephebus?
EPH. A pretty-cheeked young man.
THEO. Let him enter the palace.
Y. M. He’s gone.
THEO. Follow him, drag him back against his will. (He reads the letter.)
“I am happily hiding myself in the noble concealment of solitude, since I can live no longer at court thanks to the deceits of Arcadius and Ruffinus, who sought to encompass my death by a poisoned cross. May God forgive them both, as I assuredly do. Further, I hope that for my sake you completely abandon the remains of your sorrow, if any such remain, and pardon the crime. Farewell, August 12th, from Eutropea.”
A sweet letter! You couldn’t purchase it with the spoils of the Red Sea. My son! Why call him my son? Rather, let the unhappy boy be called a Nero, the ultimate plague of his schoolmaster and at the same time the destruction of his father. Let him rather be called a new burning of Troy, more fearful than Priam’s conflagration. This viper of his family, who gnaws at my guts with his bloody fang! Why did I dandle you, laughing, on my paternal knee? Why did you hang from my neck with a languid hand? Why did you plant fragrant doves’ kisses on my cheeks? You’re no son of mine, Megaera’s dugs wet your infant lips. And Ruffinus, that pillar of the Empire, that captain of captains, a son of Mars, does he burn with hatred? He does. Wherever virtue goes, envy picks up its following pace. (Enter Arcadius. Aside.) Watch how my secret sorrow will put on the cloudless aspect of a sunny day.
ARC. Will Arsenius come riding back to Arcadius? This delay troubles, torments and tortures me.
THEO. Why did he put wings on his feat?
ARC. Perhaps, fearing transitory wealth and the slippery pinnacle occupied by men in power, he is dwelling in a forest hut roofed with branches.
THEO. Perhaps, like an African lion, he has broken out of an ill-made trap.
ARC. Does one set a snare for the leg of an innocent dove?
THEO. Arcadius, you impudent, wild, savage boy.
ARC. Me enmesh my teacher in nets, a man in whose face shines sanctity, a man whose lips pour forth fragrant honey? I abominate the crime.
THEO. Oh you architect of fraud, you artist of murder! Do you mock your father? Who infected that cross with noxious Thessalian plants?
ARC. I’m no Oedipus, without that Cretan girl’s thread how could I can solve the Daedalus-wrought riddles of your sayings?
THEO. Are you familiar with your teacher’s handwriting? Read this document. (He gives the letter to Arcadius, who reads it in silence. Then he falls prostrate at his father’s feet.)
ARC. Forgive your son, Father. I admit I set snares for that innocent lamb.
THEO. Why grasp my knees, you liar? You are pouring forth your prayers to deaf ears. (Exit.)
ARC. Father, for the sake of these cheeks, forever drenched with tears, for the sake of Arsenius’ gentle heart, halt your steps, I pray. He’s flying off like a windstorm. What should I first lament, to the tune of my mournful lyre? That hero, free of blemishes, equal to the beings of heaven, how close I came to plunging him in the pool of the Styx with my poison! I’m wrong: this just man is taking his repose in the blessed bosom of the King of Heaven, far higher than envy’s black arrows can shoot. What madness enchained your mind, Arcadius? Did you wish to kill two fathers at once, you savage man? The liver within you will be plucked at by a thousand vultures, the very fruitful food of your pain. I am determined to visit Father once more. Again my shipwrecked eyes will swim in their own stream. My tears will overcome his rigid adamant. (Exit.)
ACT III, SCENE vi
Ruffinus is indignant that his scheme has been detected. But, after the intervention of Nectarius the peacemaker, he joins with Arcadius in eventually regaining the emperor’s favor.
RUF. (Sitting in a chair.) Is Arsenius drinking the streams of the fertile Nile?
NECT. If you want, you can immediately see his mountain, his hut, and the disheveled hair tumbling over his furrowed brow. (He makes some passes over his magic mirror and gives it to Ruffinus.)
RUF. Yes, yes, I see his shabby hood! He’s muttering prayers. Wear your rough cloak, you fool. I prefer an Attalid garment.
NECT. (Takes back the mirror.) Perhaps the bright glass will also show Arcadius humbly propped up by his trembling knee, moving his father’s bowels with his tears. (Again he makes some passes and gives Ruffinus the mirror.)
RUF. So he’s broken his word?
NECT. The truthful mirror shows he is a liar.
RUF. Arcadius’ faith is as fragile as glass! The mirror goes to show that his heart is made of glass.
NECT. Do you want to hear the suppliant’s words? The glass speaks quite clearly. (He makes some passes and gives it to Ruffinus, who applies his ear to it. Arcadius speaks behind the curtain.)
ARC. Father, Arcadius’ salvation, I swear by the silent choir of conspiring night, Ruffinus gave the noxious herbs with his impious hand. (Ruffinus jumps up and throws away the mirror.)
RUF. This screech-owl’s song offends my ears.
NECT. (Aside.) This is good, the thing’s heating up. (Exit Nectarius.)
RUF. The blabbermouth boy! Where’s his hand, the pledge of his faith? Where’s his heart, that was bound together with mine? I trusted his honeyed appearance, I trusted his tearstained cheeks. Do your eyelids produce false showers so easily? Because of you, the glory of my reputation lies hidden under a shroud of black night. Because of you, Caesar has appointed my final hour. Come in your dark car, Libitina: as a new guest, I shall enter your lightless hall. Bring your Stygian raft, Charon, I come. Are you going down to Tartarus’ halls unavenged? Your sword is not yet dyed with Arcadius blood. The house of the Caesars is not yet buried under its own ashes. I want wholly to destroy the sons, the father, and the entire family of this unclean race, and sacrifice myself atop this bloody slaughter. Stop, Ruffinus, where are you going with your headlong rush? Restrain your surging reins, my sorrow. When the eye is bloodshot it sees nothing, and petty rage likewise obscures the keenness of the mind. Let this foam dissolve itself, let this heaving passion subside. Perhaps it is best to hide these blazing sparks in a treacherous breast, sparks with which the Caesars may be consumed hereafter. (He stands, plunged in thought.). I’ll go. Seemliness will compose my eyes, modesty will restrain my words, grace will temper my carriage, tears will drench my cheeks and bosom. But in my heart a thirst for revenge will glow like Aetna. (The curtains are opened. Ruffinus prostrates himself at Theodosius’ feet.)
ARC. Father, spare Ruffinus.
RUF. Should he spare a guilty man? Rather, ah rather let Ruffinus spew forth his soul! (He draws a dagger and offers it to Theodosius.) Break off the tedium of this hateful life, Caesar, with this steel. My breast yearns to be stricken by your royal hand. The holy spirits of your household still bemoan Ruffinus’ crimes, they mourn that he has not yet atoned for this horrendous crime with his blood. I was the deviser of this scheme, the inventor of this deceit, the disrupter of tranquility, the torch to set afire our nation. Arcadius’ calm mind could not disturb the peace.
ARC. I polluted the cross with poison.
RUF. Which I mixed with my unspeakable hand.
ARC. I befouled my father with grief, my people with squalor, our court with groaning, my inner being with crime.
ARC. But at my instigation. (Nectarius arises.)
NECT. You see them both your suppliants, Caesar. Although their chagrin supplies them with expressive words, their tears are more eloquent. Do you see? Both of them are dissolving into liquid pools. It has always been the hereditary glory of the Caesars to put down rebels and spare the afflicted. Let your anger cultivate piety. Clemency always shines the most when it sits alongside the gold on a royal brow. (Theodosius arises.)
THEO. It is necessary that whoever guides the world’s reins must first master himself. Arise. The both of you must set heavy restraints on your fury: let it be cast aside, for it is terrible and more savage than a Hydra. My son, take care lest a similar flame set your mind afire. Lion does not kill lion, tiger does not kill tiger, but mankind engages in civil wars. Our harsh race! Boy of my blood, let your heart be honey-dipped. Adore the careful guides of your flourishing young age. And you, Ruffinus, who like the bugle’s blare, you should never hurl missiles which envy has smeared with its viper’s bile, but rather with mutual embrace cherish those men devoted to Apollo.
ARC. Sooner will the grape-vine’s tendrils abandon the welcome bosom of elm trees than I shall leave the side of a learned teacher.
RUF. Sweet Arsenius! What north-wind will bear me off, traversing through unfamiliar clouds, so I might hang by my accursed neck? I am ashamed to have besmirched my heart with such a hideous blot.
THEO. Shame, Ruffinus, follows after a crime, as do agonies, fear, and a thousand pricks to the heart. The attendants on virtue are peace and quiet, borne aloft on her white wing. Whoever is ardent for her will drink the nectar of heroes, as he reclines among the lofty citizens of heaven.