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MOVED BY DIVINE INSPIRATION, ST. DAMIANUS,
BISHOP OF PAVIA,
PREDICTS TROUBLES IN ITALY
ANNO DOMINI 1626
St. IOANNES BABTISTA
DAM. So is this how matters continue, with no rest being given to weary Italy? See how headlong ruin is always borne along, tenacious with its stubborn pace, and how slaughter begets new slaughter, how one storm presses upon another, how care follows care. There is no end to wars, and the soldier, wielding eagles in his hostile hand, rends the enemy’s standards with his own. The soil is soaked with their mingled blood, and, having already been made drunken by their gore, is reluctantly compelled to drink new floods, so there is no place for proper graves. And after so many vicissitudes, a threateningly frowning heaven portends new catastrophes. A baleful torch, a comet with its blood-red tail presages deaths, destruction, ruin, steel, confusion, blood, death, and slaughter. Alas, Sedition, rages, and battles once more perpetually burden Ausonia with renewed fighting, consuming its very bowels with their dire woes. Oh supreme ruler of the universe, oh glory of heaven, merciful champion of Your people, oh at length put an end to these grave floods. Be kind and restrain the harsh lightning in Your pious hand. Oh, show Your mercy and with a kindly hand relieve us of our protracted troubles.
St. Michael, John the Baptist, and Peter appear.
St. MICH. Damianus, revenge has not yet completed its deadly course. As long as the Baptist’s shrines resounded with pious prayers and worship, as long as generous offering of incense were made at their pure altars, the ancient Lombard race flourished. When piety fell from its place, this provoked heaven’s slumbering wrath, and gradually Lombardy took a fall, afflicted by great slaughter, and it will collapse under its own weight.
DAM. Oh, heaven’s dire news, oh its doleful voice! But since this bane has spread abroad by command of the Thunderer, and is appointed by the celestial law of His intention, I shall go and sadly await forthcoming evils.
ACT I, SCENE i
Out of his hatred for Chunibert, Aldo plots dire things for King Luitpertus.
ALDO Come, Aldo, take bold steps to bring your undertaking to completion. At length the day your wishes have so long craved has dawned. Keep on, why lie idle? Why is your wrath asleep? Has Chunibert escaped your mind, the reproaches of the altar, his mockery, his act of banishment? Have you forgotten these things? Could he have condemned your person to an undeserved sword, could he have ungratefully sought to contrive your death, and hatch deep schemes in his madness, and you suffer this, Aldo? Sooner will a sedate Scylla tolerate ships, winter will suffer the lordship of the Dogstar, springtime will produce the gifts of Bacchus, and autumn bring snows, before an unavenged Aldus will tolerate Chunibert. I swear by heaven and earth, with my avenging hand I’ll wield torches and steel. I’ll fill our camps with the bugles of civil war, the court will flow with its own blood, gore will quench fire, and the cure for evil will be an evil yet worse. Thus I’ll finally make a sacrifice to you, my sorrow, my just anger will turn everything upside-down. Has he been fearful? Bring it about that he fears no empty source of dread. Where are you wandering, my anger? Eternal sleep overcomes Chunibert, that architect of crime is already dead. Subside, my ardor. Where the king lies entombed, there let my wrath also lie buried, enough is granted my will. But my heat will not thus lie quiet: reduced to those ashes, let it catch fire from his funeral pyre. He survives, as a father he lives on in his son. My wrath revives, let the son pay me back for the deceit of his traitor-father. Aim your darts here, my vengeful chagrin, let your weapons seek Luitpert. Let him perish, let him shed his hateful blood on his father’s ashes. His father drove Aldo to the altar, Aldo will drive his hateful spawn to [...], or rather will drag him to the sacred altar and butcher him as a sacrifice. Why am I pouring forth threatening words? My scheme is already in motion. Grauso has gone to Pavia, and put Regumbert in hope of the crown. This night is agreed upon for our act of deceit. [He hears Grauso approaching.] Oh, the happy word! I recognize the sign, heaven is blessing my desire. What news, brother? [Enter Grauso and Aripert.]
GRAUSO Duke Ragumbert speaks highly of your promises, and has made up his mind to perform everything immediately and with care. He has sent ahead his son Aripert, so that we shall have another companion in such great affairs, and so that, as an onlooker to our deeds, he might supervise everything. He himself is preparing to appear, armed with his soldiers.
ALDO You noble prince, upon whom Fortune looks with a smiling face, hasten where virtue summons, where your mind’s ardor elevates you, your popularity invites you. Mount to the summit, which brightens everything that lies in filth beneath the throne. Let your royal pedigree hunger for a glorious appearance, let the scepter gleam in your young hand. While the wind is favorable, happily set sail, let your ship happily navigate the strait, and receive all good fortune with full sails.
ARIP. He who is incautious in unfurling his sails is exposed to storms. The raging sea rises up in swollen waves, and drives his errant ship through the floods until it runs it onto hidden sandbanks. Fortune’s narrows are always perilous.
ALDO Captain Aldo will easily steer your barque through all the floods, he has no fear of nor’westers, of sandbanks, of the dangers of blind Fortune, or of bad faith. Give your sails to the winds, I shall not rest until I bring your ship to its desired harbor.
ARIP. Great promises, Aldo. But how do you seal your faith?
ALDO By my own faith, I ensure yours.
ARIP. Bribery frequently has a way of dissolving faith.
ALDO By my boldness.
ARIP. The very name of king subdues this. Palaces or scepters restrain even keen-spirited men.
ALDO By my love.
ARIP. Love suffers various ebbs and flows.
ALDO By my steel.
ARIP. Nor will the king lack for steel.
ALDO By my fury.
ARIP. Blind fury will go astray.
ALDO My faith, my fury, my steel, Chunibert’s reproach, my hatred of his dire family, his vain attempt against me, my rancor, the Furies, Dis, and thirst for revenge — these are Aldo’s soldiers, you must think them strong.
ARIP. Well said! Sufficient testimony in favor of Aldo! But tell me, what means will bring your intentions to fruition?
ALDO When Phoebus has brought the empurpled day to a close, revisiting the dark world on the chariot he will ride tomorrow, then you, sad, groaning, and wearing a different costume, must come to the king’s home. Say that dire things are being schemed against your unoffending self. I shall have gone into the palace beforehand, spreading a useful rumor which will ease your way. And you, Grauso, must hurry to Ragumbert. Bid him hide his forces in remote hills until black night has buried the day in dark shadows. Then tell him to come out of concealment with stealth, and approach the city. Without fear, he may leave the rest to my care.
ARIP. If Aldo’s promises turn out well, his loyalty may expect greater prizes. Meanwhile you may have this token of my affection. [Hands him a gift.]
ALDO I swear by the stars, Aripert, either Aldo will either crown your head or lose his own.
ARIP. May kindly heaven prosper our undertakings!
ACT I, SCENA ii
Terrified by the sight of the comet, the king is misled by Aldo.
ALDO It’s well, I triumph. My scheme is hot in its course, I’m borne above the stars. What tricks you will play, my anger! You may revel in anticipation of your deeds, my spirit. It pleases me to feed my mind even just by looking on. I seem to see the ground overflowing with blood, and flame spreading its sparks over the high rooftops, giving free rein to Vulcan as it flies about the city. Blood flows free, the city is overwhelmed. The court falls into the twisting flames. Let its ruins crush Aldo too, as long as they crush the king. Let his dire race be destroyed, his dynasty overthrown. But behold, he makes a gloomy approach with silent steps. Having tracked him a little while with my ear, I’ll do a better job of ensnaring my unwitting quarry in the nets I have spread.
KING What slaughters, what monstrosities for the earth does the angry heaven portend? I look at this sad star glowing with its blood-red tail, and its baleful torch. Dragging along its lengthy fire, it threateningly glitters with its terrible flame. What troubles me more, it lethally marks out Italy with its menacing aspect. My mind augurs doom, it fears I know not what, but fear it does, oppressing my heart with doubtful palpitation, and assails it with wild storms, albeit against its will. You loyal company of lords, tell me what evil this unlucky star brings, and free my mind from its cares.
ALDO He who searches for the cause of his fear fuels the danger lurking in the ashes by adding fire to fires, firebrands to flames.
KING I am seeking relief from my doubt, not the cause of my fear.
ALDO There’s less fear where the evil is always kept hidden.
KING Whoever finds a reason for fear is frightened by one thing, but when the evil lies hidden he is afraid of everything. Fear parceled out among various things does less to vex the mind. But tell me what kind of repose this for a man whom all things terrify, so that, if this fear that shakes my being is a vain one, I might banish it, but if it is genuine, my sagacious mind might frustrate its doubtful outcome. Tell me what this star means with its menacing nimbus.
ALDO As often as heaven displays such prodigies for a trembling world, it breathes forth blood, murder, slaughter, and arms. Plagues and famines assail the land. The crops are withered by war’s battles, and the widowed earth bewails its children. Horrid slaughter besets us with its foul evils. The air grows foul, the cattle fail in the fields, and men, loathing the dire light, give up the ghost with a death that puts an end to their weary lingering on this earth. Comets mean storms for ships and catastrophe for cities. More often, however, they bring ill fortune to those in power, begrudging rulers long life and always assault the persons of sovereigns, always fatal in threatening our flocks, always glowing with a light unfriendly to kings.
KING Let it glow, and if this star seeks my throat, I expose it. Let it strike me with its vengeful fire, I shall freely offer up my scepter, if the heavens command. Should they command, my hand is eager to set it down. To you, supreme ruler of heaven, I entrust this badge of office I wear on my brow, these fine emblems of kingship, my government, my throne, and myself. If it pleases You to draw on my life’s thread, I shall live; if You choose to cut it short with Your harsh knife. I offer my person for the wounding. I shall live, die, and rule in accordance with heaven’s will.
ALDO Why does this dark cloud sit on your face, noble prince?
KING If a cloud sits on my face, let it pour forth rain and quench heaven’s flames with its water. Why rebuke me when I groan? Allow me my tears, Aldo. I stand convicted in heaven’s eyes, see how heaven is seeking me out.
ALDO What threats does heaven hurl?
KING That long-tailed comet in the sky portends downfall for my person.
ALDO Why yours?
KING This star always scourges royal palaces with its sinister light.
ALDO Not those of innocent kings.
KING What king combines all thins in himself without a fault, and always is so tenacious of the right that he always leads a spotless life, with no misfortune?
ALDO The course of his early life shows he was not a sinner, his sanctity proves he is pious. But dismiss your grief, this savage comet is not seeking your realm, with its blood-red tail it vexes nearby regions. Nor have our neighboring lands given vain credit to what I say. The bugle of civil war rouses the citizens of Turin. The furious father takes up arms against his son, and the son, equally relying on warfare, resorts to violence to fend off violence, and on both sides the land, torn asunder, groans under their twofold walls. Anger rouses them all, and the heat of battle inspires the divided common folk to mutual slaughter. With its doomful fire, this star portends nothing sinister for you. You may be carefree in carrying your scepter in your hand and wear on your brow the crown that binds your royal l;ocks. But who approaches with a gloomy step? [Enter Aripert.]
ACT, SCENE iii
Aripert comes to King Luitpert.
ARIP. Noble prince, on whose royal brow sits bright piety, you who are made famous by your reputation, and powerful by your virtue, behold a man whom cruel Fate has crushed with a great downfall, and insultingly kicks with her malign foot as he lies on the swelling ground. Behold Aripert, left to his misery, an exile from his homeland. His father’s wrath drives him to search for unknown places to lurk, a vagabond. Be true to yourself, prince, and offer him a pious hand. Be his peace, be the harbor for his shattered barque, be the ending of his woes. Either rescue him from his father’s fury, or put an end to this wretch’s evils by cutting off his unhappy head with your vengeful steel.
KING My breast is not hardened by adamant mixed with flint, nor is harshness stored up in my heart, or arctic ice in my bowels. I do not sit on a powerful throne, or wield a golden scepter in my royal, or enjoy the sweet uplift of fickle Fortune, to the point that I may proudly keep my head upraised and scorn those whom savage Fortune has laid low with her malign gust of wind. I know enough to flourish in my happiness, and yet extend the hand of equity to those in affliction. Fetch purple-dyed garments embroidered with the brass of Sidon, fetch a necklace shining with gems in their golden mountings. Let a royal robe replace your ragged cloak, let your soldier’s tunic yield to purple. Dismiss your cares, Aripert, forget that you are an exile. Have no fear, take this hand a a pledge of love. Stop your grieving, be as a brother to me.
ARIP. My mind is amazed and can scarce contain itself, dazzled by such a sudden blaze of light. Oh day worthy of being marked with a white stone, because you shed your holy light on me! For my star to bless me with such a serene countenance! Luitpert, sooner will Phoebus cleave the sky with a backward-moving chariot, raising his shining head from the western water and ending the day in the est, before Aripert will permit allow any day to pass on which such great merits are consigned to oblivion. [Exit Luitpert and Aripert.]
ACT I, SCENE iv
Aldo congratulates himself.
ALDO How fair Fortune smiles on my endeavors with an auspicious omen! Everything goes rolling along in accordance with my will. Earth, Fortune, sky, land, heaven, my cleverness and my arts, these all kindly favor my wishes. The sun, shedding darts from the locks on his bright brow, shines brighter as he makes my days happier. The stars circle around my head with their snow-white and rose-red light, second my enterprise with a their propitious omen. With their secret auspices these heavenly spheres nod their approval and favor my undertakings. Everything wants me to be successful, everything wants me to be successful and avenged. Let the earth quake and fall back on its own roots, let heaven collapse, as long as that unspeakable dynasty suffers a similar downfall.
Go to Act II