COMMENTARY NOTES

spacer8 This play contains a number of detailed stage directions that indicate how the physical resources of the St. Omers theater were to be used, and it will prove helpful to say a few words describing its arrangements(see the more detailed discussion of McCabe, pp. 125 - 127). There was a common forestage running the entire width of the visible acting area, used to represent street scenes, great halls of palaces, forests, gardens, military camp, and so forth. Behind it three alcoves, a wide central one flanked by to side ones, and each outfitted with its own curtain. The central one was used to represent a wide variety of buildings and, no doubt, to facilitate interior scenes, and all three were variously employed to stage tableaux vivantes, such as the ones in the present scene and at later points in the play, and to represent homes of minor characters, prison cells, places where characters could retire and hide, and other such convenient secondary locations.

spacer23 Castor and Pollux, protectors of sailors in distress.

spacer41f. I.e., evidently, harmful to those of Christ’s family.

spacer42ff. At first sight this looks like a gloriosly mixed metaphor, but probably it is not. The Cross is compared to a vine, with Jesus hanging from it as a blood-read closter of grapes. Then the grapes are trampled to produce the wine of salvation by the feet of the sinful Jews responsible for His crucifixion.

spacer47 The Tigris is imagined to be a river-nymph carrying an urn, as such riverine nymphs are frequently represented in art. The nymph must become a serving-wench and and her urn’s contents must be surrendered to the Roman Empire and its Church.

spacer97 Khosrau II was raised to the throne by the magnates who had rebelled against Hormizd IV who soon after had his father blinded and killed (the historian Theophylact blamed his killing on Khosrau himself). The playwright forbears to add the detail that, when he came to the throne, Hormizd himself had killed his brothers.
spacer Although no such feature is mentioned by McCabe in his description of the St. Omers stages, this scene, like the one at the beginning of the play Gemitus Columbae by P. Cuffaud and others (probably produced in 1650 or 1652), suggests that the St. Omers stage featured a trap-door from which such underworldly apparitions could arise.

spacer98 Catastae (ms. caetastae) does not seem the mot juste here: we would not expect to find slaves’ auction block senumerated in a list of instruments of torture or the traditional punishments of the classical Underworld. It may be suspected that this has replaced some other word, in all probability catenae.

spacer107ff. The prophetic accuracy of these predictions is underscored by several echoes of this passage later in the play: the idea that dying once fore all is preferable to dying repeatedly in one’s anticipation is repeated at 994ff. Chosroes is indeed represented as roasting in Hell at 1326f., and cf. pyropis ignitis at 1330 (where theyare tokens of celebration, not torment).

spacer119 In mythology the weight of Mt. Aetna was used to hold down the giants Enceladus and Typhoeus.

spacer139 I. e., the east: Memnon was the son of Aurora, goddess of the dawn.

spacer146 The helmsman of the Argo, proverbial for his skill.

spacer161 Castalia was a fountain at Delphi, sacred to Apollo (as is the laurel).

spacer174ff. Chosroes had campaigned successfully against Heraclius’ predecessor, the usurper Phocas. In 618 one of his generals captured Egypt.

spacer179 Chosroes had also added Carthage to his empire, in 217.

spacer180 By Marte Pergameo he means in the Trojan War.

spacer192 The stage direction at the end of the preceding scene, specifying that a curtain is to be drawn, shows that the ensuing banquet was intended to be performed as an interior scene.

spacer193 Weeping in distress over the death of her children, Niobe was transformed into stone.

spacer199 The Greeks and Romans did garland their wine-bowls with ivy at feasts.

spacerI.iv In the course of this scene Nicomachus describes Heraclius’ defeat of the Sassanid general Rhahzadh at the Battle of Nineveh, in 627.

spacer251f. He describes the shield as if it were one from the Iliad, constructed out of seven layers of ox-hide.

spacer255 His head hung from both his shoulders because it had been cut in half.

spacer276 At first sight, having Hermes address Chosroes as Caesar seems like a silly mistake on the author’s part, but the error is deliberately introduced: this slip of the tongue is the ill omen to which Chosroes reacts in the following line.

spacer277 He is figuratively represented as speaking prophetically while seated on a tripod, in the manner of Apollo’s priestess at the Oracle of Delphi.

spacer307 Irus was the beggar in the Odyssey, who became a proverbial representative of his kind.

spacer339 See the note on line 276 directly above. Again, this ill-omened slip of the tongue is not calculated to pacify Chosroes and obtain the soothsayers’ wish.

spacer372ff. Direct audience address is a dramatic technique characteristic of comedy but considerably rarer in serious drama. It may strike the reader as strange that Philotas is providing a verbal description of Nicomachus’ physical appearance, which the audience is capable of seeing for themselves. But such verbal descriptions of visible characters is a feature repeatedly encountered in Senecan tragedy: Agamemnon 775ff., Hercules Furens 104ff., Phoenissae 583ff. and 704ff., Troades 945ff., and, most memorable of all, the sacrificial scene at Oedipus 306ff. This technique, to be sure, is not found in Greek tragedy, and Seneca may have appropriated it from Roman comedy (cf., e. g., Plautus, Miles Gloriosus 200ff.).

spacer409 A Roman proverb: cf. Erasmus, Adagiorum Chiliades III.iii.15.

spacer426 The Pactolus (the modern Turkish Sart Çayı) was a gold-bearing river of Asia Minor.

spacer504 The Cimmerians were a Central Asian people of antiquity who alleged lived so far north that (at least in winter) thay enjoyed no sunlight. Hence “Cimmerian darkness” became proverbial.

spacer507 Knowing her son was destined to die if he went to fight in the Trojan war, his mother, the sea nymph Thethis, disguised Achilles as a woman and entrusted him to King Lycomedes, in whose palace on the isle of Scyros he lived among the king’s daughters. The ruse, however, was detected by a Greek delegation headed by Odysseus. His chariot is described as a “Pelian axle” because he was the son of Peleus.

spacer526 The reference is to the prosperous kingdom of Pergamum established by Attalus I in the second century B. C. “Attalid” therefore became a synonym for “rich.”

spacer580 I. e., his praises, and more specifically the books destined to record them, are worthy of preservation (the ancients kept scrolls in cedar to protect them from moths: cf. Persius, Satire i.46, cedro digna locutus.) Cf. the 1651 St. Omers play Felix Concordia Fratrum by P. Cuffaud and others, line 663, Pugilum perenni laureas scribam cedro.

spacer608 Themis was the Greek goddess of justice. The court is described as “new” since Siroes intends to reinstitute rule of law in place of Chosroes’ tyranny.

spacer627ff. This expression of envy for the simple and wholesome life of a peasant is of course a stock literary topos, and it is found in at least one other St. Omers play, the 1614 Magister Bonus sive Arsenius, lines 625ff.

spacer643 Menalcas is a traditional name for a rustic character in bucolic poety, used by both Theocritus and Vergil.

spacer644 The Riphaean mountains constituted a more or less fictional mountain range of antiquity, possibly to be equated with the Urals, proverbial for their cold.spacer

spacer655 - 84 The meter shifts from iambic trimeters, standard for Latin drama, to iambic pentameters.

spacer665 As written in the ms., this is a quote of a Latin proverb, virtus stat in medio (“Virtue stands in the middle,” i. e. it is available for whoever chooses it, although these words could also be translated to mean “virtue exists in the Mean,” i. e., in moderation), quoted by such writers as Seneca, Dialogues XI.xvii.2, Epistulae Morales lxxxii.12, and Statius, Thebais VII.51f. It is not easy to see why this is an apposite thing for the Peasant to say in this context, but it would be very understandable for him to say, humorously, victus stat in medio, indicating that the food is available for all three of them. Could it be that this is what the playwright wrote, and that the copyist mistakenly altered the text back to the original proverb that supplied the pun?

spacer684 A deliberate echo of Vergil, Eclogue iii,101, idem amor exitium pecori pecorisque magistro.

spacer692 The inventor of the Trojan Horse.

spacer772 The “fatal urn” is the voting-urn in which Roman jurors cast their ballots, white for acquittal (as at 841), and black for condemnation.

spacer791 Cf. Seneca, Thyestes 199f.:

spacerspacerspacerspacerspacerspacerspacerspacerspacerspacernovi ego ingenium viri
indocile: flecti non potest – frangi potest.

spacer816 See the note on line 608.

spacer841 See the note on line 772 directly above.

spacer842 Homer’s King Nestor of Pylus was proverbial for his lengthy life.

spacer888 Busiris was a cruel wayfarer-molesting king of Egypt, killed by Hercules.

spacer922 The Sassanid Empire is compared to one of the mythological Giants who insolently attempted to climb up to Olympus and displace the gods.

spacer927 See the note on line 608.

spacer930 The laurel, a symbol of victory, is contrasted with the cypress, which had funereal associations for the Romans.

spacer955 The wind is imagining as breaking free of imprisonment in the cave of Father Aeolus, as described in the first Book of the Aeneid.

spacer959 Two of the heaven-storming giants of mythology (see the note on line 922 directly above), who piled Pelion on top of Ossa in their attempt to ascend to Olympus.

spacer969 The picture is of an eagle assaulting a flock of doves in mid-air.

spacer1030 The playwright was thinking of the phrase Ilias malorum (Cicero, Epistulae ad Atticum VIII.xi.3), which had become proverbial.

spacer1033 Also proverbial was the notoriously luxurious life-style of the Salii, a Roman religious fraternity.

spacer1068 In mythology, Telephus’s wound needed to be healed by the same spear of Achilles that had originally inflicted it.

spacer1124f. If Chosroes is dead and cannot be exhibited in a triumphal procession, at least let a painted representation of him be put on display.

spacer1146 The Roman death-goddess.

spacer1150 The Scythians were a nomadic people of central Asia in antiquity, proverbial (no matter how unfairly) for their cruelty and barbarism.

spacer1177 It is not wholly clear why this horse is an animal of two colors: perhaps the idea is that Constantine is destined to rule over both the East and the West.

spacer1202f. The plain of Phlegra was the site of the decive battle between the gods and the giants, one of whom was Enceladus.

spacer1211 Presumably he means the eagles which served as badges of imperial power.

spacer1214 The actors playing Heraclius’ sons exit so they can reappear in the ensuing masqueing, costumed differently. This is confirmed for the actor playing Constantinus by the stage direction following 1269.

spacer1216 - 31 Meter: Sapphic stanzas.

spacer1220 I. e., Hercules.

spacer1230 It unusual to see pono employed as an intransitive verb.

spacer1232 - 69 Meter: Anacreontics, mostly acephalic.

spacer1249 Evidently a picture of the dead dragon was displayed as one of the visual elements of the celebration (see the note on 1124f.).

spacer1280 It is difficult to understand why Heraclius would say that to him the Crossis a jewel “more valuable than rosy Thetis” or “more valuable than the rosy sea,” and it is strongly to be suspected that Thetidos has displaced some other word.

spacerIII.vi To make a beginning toward what the playwright means by “types” in the initial stage direction for this scene,the reader might care to read the article “Types in Scripture” in the Ca tholic Encyclopedia here. The general idea is, allegorically speaking, “ type is a person or thing prefiguring a future person or thing,” i. e., of somebody or something in the Old Testament prefiguring something in the New Testament, and so, in a sense, being coopted into performing the function of an emblem. An example provided in the Wikipedia article “Typology” happens to be especially apposite for our present purposes:

While in the wilderness, Moses put a brazen serpent (a symbol of evil) on a pole which would heal anyone bitten by a snake who looked at it (Numbers 21:8). Jesus proclaimed that the serpent, was a type of Himself, since “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up” (John 3:14) and “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Cor. 5:21)

The reader interested in pursuing this matter more deeply might care to read the 1607 Wittemberg treatise Typus aenei serpentis in deserto exaltati, Num. 21. Historiam cruciatuum et acerbissimae mortis Domini nostri Jesu Christi, Dei aeterni & Mariae aeipas ieus filii; eiusdemque fructum complectens salutarem by Urban Timaeus.

spacer1295ff. St. Helen and her son Constantine warrant a place in this scene because of because (in a story first recorded by Rufinus and given great circulation in the thirteenth century by Jacopo de Voragine in his Golden Legend) Helen was responsible for the discovery of the True Cross.

spacer1310 An obvious echo of Isaiah 2:4, “and they shall beat their swords into plowshares” (cf. also Micah 4:3, and, in an inverted quotation, Joel 3:10, who urges the necessity of beating plowshares into swords).

spacer1330ff. It was an old error that the Jordan had its sources at the foot of Mount Lebanon (encountered as late as Charles Estienne’s 1596 Dictionarium historicum, geographicum, poeticum fol. 253). The immediate juxtaposition of the Jordan and Mount Lebanon in this passage might make it appear that that our playwright suffered from the same misapprehension, but it is likeler that the juxtaposition is inadvertent, and that “the father of the Jordan” is Mount Hermon, its true source.

spacer1339 The words dura gens are probably directed to the Persians, represented in the play as a nation of sun-worshipping pagans.

 

 

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