TO THAT MOST ILLUSTRIOUS GENTLEMAN DOMINUS JACQUES AUGUSTE DE THOU, SENATOR OF THE PRIVY COUNCIL, PRESIDENT OF THE SUPREME PARLEMENT DE FRANCE &c.
N a recent competition conducted as a leisure exercise, illustrious sir, I employed some young noblemen, my students, to stage this dramatization of ancient history in a production that lasted two full days. This was attended by a throng of leading parliamentarians, councillors, and doctors such as has scarcely been seen in the university at any other time, and appeared to give pleasure, judging by the commendation given its noble actors (many of whom were high-born and comported themselves on the stage just as they subsequently will when they take their places in the bright light of our commonwealth), the incredible applause of the spectators. But, by the advice of the most elegant and illustrious Arnauds (you recognize those names, noble and necessary for both the realm and belles lettres) that, however its œperformance in the theater was received by popular opinion, it ought to be submitted to you alone for your approval. For either your authority could either enhance its reputation or your censure could consign it to an eternity of oblivion, seeing you are an unshakable pillar of respublica literarum, upholding it like a second Atlas, and by your writings in each and every genre bequeath an immortal name to posterity, not only writing about what needs to be done, but also doing that which needs to be written about. Farewell. July 15, 1613
TO THE READER
ERE, reader, you have a tragedy, written in a disorderly way amidst the heat of my readings and performed lavishly, but in the ancient style (as befitted someone who writes and teaches about antiquity). But in individual scenes not only does “a fourth character struggle to speak,” but even a tenth. This was required by the number of noble actors at my disposal, so that the stage might be filled. But I performed it for two days, this was conceded to my friends’ judgment of myself. And I would plead guilty to the crime of not having a chorus were this my fault and not that of Fortune, who begrudged this most honorable enterprise from its very beginning and denied me youths from the lower schools who could perform choruses. Nor was it easy to find actors of my first rank whom I might demote to the humble station of the chorus. Nor did I wish to alter my play so that those who imagine that whatever accrues to another man’s glory is subtracted from their own reputation might accuse me of producing one version on the stage and submitting something else to the press.
After an unaccustomed vacation, after our idle Muse has had a rest, our smiling company treads Phoebus’ stage, disturbing its deadly silence with a cheerful song and putting on public display the fruits of its youthful effort. Our theater prays you to pay attention, from deep within its basement it greets you and yields up the young offerings of our nascent Muse, revealing an Aonian scene when its curtain is drawn.
With his great virtue and indomitable army a Tusculan routs the Latin battalions by inflicting shameful slaughter, threatening (alas) the astonished city with ultimate doom by fire and steel. Everything is full of panic, full of danger. Rumor comes a-flying, flapping its wings with a roar and marking the air with its fearful circling. It announces that cruel squadrons are arriving as the enemy army is on the march. Murders, arsons, battles and plundering will take place before their eyes, their daughters-in-law are about to suffer unspeakable things and their children are doomed to be put to the menacing sword. The Fathers man the walls, their hoary locks are covered by helmets, their ancient hands are wrapped around sword-hilts and seek to do youthful work.
Meanwhile severe famine oppresses their army’s rampart and long-desolated tents, and soon roiling sedition rends the camp, and the violence redoubles the outcries of the defeated army. They refuse to obey their officers’ commands any further, unless decrees of the senate command that grain speedily be brought to the camp. Fierce Virginius is sent to announce their common will, and explain the reasons for their actions to the Fathers.
Appius gradually grows hot with an invisible fire, vainly falling into a frenzy over a freeborn maiden. At first he is affable and resorts to blandishments, tempting her modest heart and striving to corrupt her with an offer of gold. Claudius acts as the agent of his daring deed and his crime, a poor impoverished dependent yet shrewd with an evil mind, adept in Venus’ furtive arts and schooled to scorn the presiding spirit of the sacred marriage-bed. But his campaign to win chaste Virginia with gifts and with gold comes to naught. Betrothed to Icilius by her father, she continues to await the mature ardors of that legitimate and chaste time when she will marry, so that Mother Pronuba can raise festive wedding-torches and whisk her away unwillingly to her husband’s house.
Therefore, when the decemvir sees that his desires are baffled, he grows harsher and more violently resorts to different devices. He hales her into the courtroom, and Claudius swears she was born of servile blood. Her kinsmen on the one side and her betrothed on the other take turns in striving to defend her, a great outcry arise from both quarters, one such as is wont to be heard far across the water of the Aegean Sea when a violent nor’westerly has raged agains the shore. On hasty feet a messenger is sent to her unsuspecting father. He hastens to the city, gasping for breath and all a-quiver on his panic-stricken horse. Now Claudius stakes his claim at law, yet more boldly intoning with his dreadful mouth, and his unbridled lust claims the girl as his prey. But her father draws her aside as if speaking something in her ear, and stabs her chaste breast. See how her bridegroom brings her, bloody, before his fellow citizens in the traditional way and displays her to their sight, sorrowfully muttering. Then his reaffirms his love for the liberty thay have lost and laments how the cruel tyrants are lording it over their free necks. Her father hastens to the camp and displays his daughter’s blood to them all. So the common folk grow angry and the army’s spirits become yet more ardent as they vow to use their vengeful weapons in support of the father and raise their hands, ready to do battle. They hurry along and pitch their tents on the Sacred Mount, and the frantic proletariat is no milder as it makes its rapid way. A pallid Lucretius shows her grieving face, and, recalled from Orcus, recounts Tarquin’s crime, vigorously provoking the citizenry by her example.
Now senatorial decrees are moved and their lost rights are restored to the tribunes, a protection for the plebeians. The holy priests announce elections, the defeated decemvir lays down his scepter, and in the middle of the Forum, in the sight of a packed throng, the lictor sets his aside his fasces and atop the decemvir’s discarded purple cloak lays down his axes, attached to them with silent menace. The yearly consul receives his customary vote and the discontinued honors of the Campus are revived.
Peace raises her head high aloft, and Concord returns with fully auspicious omens. Virginius prepares to appease the maidenly shades of his daughter, and appoints a day on which his fellow citizens are to assemble at the Rostrum: they should be willing to hear his chaste complaint and Claudius may defend himself with his lying mouth. Hence Caius bewails the ill repute of his great clan. But the father’s entreaties prevail, and, before the appointed day, the imprisoned Appius takes an evil cup in his hand and purges his guilt by suffering a just death. Claudius, his back flayed by a vengeful scourge and his head inserted in a fork in the sight of his fellow citizens, demonstrates the sacredness and inviolable right of chastity. Commanded to quit the city and endure perpetual exile he serves as a clear and memorable example for ages to come. These things are shown by our chorus and our drawn curtain.
The jurisconsult Thomas Dempster occupies the stage for two successive days
THE TRAGEDY DECEMVIRATUS ABROGATUS, WRITTEN IN THE ANCIENT STYLE
Sedition fills the camp and hunger oppresses it.
Overcome by blind love, Appius falls into a frenzy.
The maiden stands before the tribunal and her father kills her.
Tribunes are created, and full liberty returns.
In prison the decemvir dies by his own hand.
OUR MOST CHOICE AND NOBLE YOUNG PERFORMED THESE ROLES
MAMILIUS OF TUSCULUM the enemy general
LENTULUS a senior centurion
PULVILLUS leader of the Hernici
VENULEIUS the enemy’s standard-bearer
VOLSCIUS leader of the Aequi
SORANUS leader of the Volsci
ALGIDUS leader of the auxiliary forces
TITUS ANTONIUS MERENDA a decemvir, in command of the Roman army
VETURIUS a centurion
AULUS SICCIUS brother of the dead Lucius
LUCIUS VIRGINIUS tribune of the people and legate
SEMPRONIUS the Roman standard-bearer
APPIUS CLAUDIUS a decemvir
SPURIUS. TARPEIUS a consular
SPURIUS OPPIUS CORNICEN a decemvir
QUINTUS FURIUS the pontifex maximus
LUCIUS VALERIUS POTITUS consul
MARCUS HORATIUS BARBATUS a consul
PUBLIUS NUMITORIUS a tribune of the people
GAIUS SICINIUS a tribune of the people
ICILIUS a tribune of the people
BROTHER OF ICILIUS
MARCUS CLAUDIUS a freedman
THE GHOST OF LUCRETIA
SON OF NUMITORIUS
GAIUS JULIUS a consular
GAIUS. SULPITIUS a consular
GAIUS uncle of Appi
Diem priorem claudet Gallicis versibus Guido de Lopriac.. Secundum diem finiet Gallicis etiam versibus Ioannes Aubert.
EE here the mockery of Fortune in Mamilius of Tusculum and his followers, the power of love in Appius, steadfast devotion to chastity in Verginia, fatherly affection in Virginius, poor judgment in Claudus, resolution in braving dangers in Icilius, elderly prudence in Numitorius, devotion to right and justice in Valerius and Horatius, forgetfulness of insults in Appius’ uncle Caius, the easily aroused anger of military men in the Roman soldiers, devotion to religion in Furius, moderation in handling affairs in the Roman senate, excessively dangerous power in the Roman proletariat, and, in sum, a singular example of divine prudence and due vengeance on crimes in the abolition of the decemvirate and the punishment of Antonius, Spurius Oppius, Appius and Claudius. And, if I might also say so,
The world's a stage, and life's a toy:
dress up and play your part;
Put every serious thought away,
or risk a broken heart.
This play was begun on May 1 at noon, and on the following day at the same hour.
ACT I, SCENE i
MAMILIUS OF TUSCULUM
The enemy army.
MAM. I praise your bloodied hands, my spirited soldiers, I praise your threats. Thus far their rebel formations are broken and prostrated, thus far they have fled the field like fleet-foot goats, their standards left behind. This is the way that men of noble minds should comport themselves. This shield has repelled a decemvir still standing his ground, a praetor has collided with its boss and fallen. This sword has drunk the blood from the side of a Roman soldier, this spear has pierced their opposing squadrons. This fierce face has terrified their timid commanders, and this right hand has enchained on Latins, and that dart has pierced their base persons. This is good, this is plenty. My comrades, thanks to you our nation is safe and booty awaits the victors. A triumphant lasting glory awaits your deserving selves.
LENTULUS At last a happier fortune has dawned for our men and set for our enemies. See how every pathway is full of blood, how bodies lay strewn at the crossroads. We need to take careful precautions lest our enemy regain their spirits and, their strength revived, renew our war with a strengthened hand. Nothing is completely finished, man of Tusculum, unless we attack their city, level their houses to the ground, and make their entire territory crackle with fire. This is the single means that will bring us glory. The ashes of our forefathers who once died in bloody battle redouble their humble pleas and bid us avenge them with vigor. It is not fit for men to suffer great disgrace.
PULVILUS Why, Tusculan, is your will flagging? Why is our courage abating? We should be pressing these men who thirst for bloodshed and an empire gained by arms and fraud, these dire and criminal folk. while they are amazed, shattered with fear, and while they have thrown away their weapons and are seeking their safety in their footwork. You owe your nation this final effort, you should take advantage of this gift of friendly Fortune. This is a divinity which always favors the man who does not neglect her.
VENULEIUS Our banners are dyed with enemy blood. He has taken flight, but in my opinion this is not enough. Rome needs to be attacked, this sword will clear our way. The lofty Capitoline must be razed to the ground, Jove’s temple must be pulled down and the ashes of Romulus scattered to the winds. Whatever is held sacred in this nation must be destroyed. Let this one consolation be given to Porsena’s holy shade, to have seen this entire race put in chains.
VOLSCIUS. Why hesitate in doubt? Our enemy is within your grasp, and nobody remains to bear arms against us. All their strength has been destroyed in this one battle, their veterans have fallen in the fight and amidst their hard misfortune either new recruits must be enlisted or old men recalled to the service a grave necessity. Continue and use our eager and well-prepared army to assault their terrified walls. I will serve as your guide and companion. Why stumble? Press our enemy.
SORANUS I’ll plant my lance in the Suburra and drive those panic-stricken fellows, making those who offer resistance pass beneath the yoke. Let the exiled Tarquin rejoice that this is done under your command. Can ancient grandfathers, the untaught proletariat, and women withstand our strength, which armed men could not endure on the field of battle, men who walls could not protect when they fled the field? What are they seeking to accomplish? Now you have the power, press them no that they are defeated. The situation calls for readied strength and a strong hand.
ALGIDUS I’ll be first to force my way onto the Via Sacra. Over their ramparts at the Porta Capena I’ll attack the panicky Romans, this right hand of mine will open up a way. Neither fate, any force, or the gods themselves can help those wretches, no man will have the strength to come to their aid. Even if they shut themselves up in towers of adamant they will not escape my hand. Threatening something dire from afar, my splendor will dazzle their hostile eyes.
ALL TOGETHER Why hold back brave men? Allow us to enjoy the fruits of our victory.
MAM. I acknowledge these tokens of your virtue, my comrades, I hear you with no unfriendly ear. Let us avidly go forth. Enough of delay, use your eager hands to direct our banners against our enemies, my captains, so that this will be the final day for that Mars-born race just now inauspiciously laid low, and by an evil omen let it fall to your strength. Let their houses be razed, let their walls now tumble down, let their brave men flee. A small effort remains for us, and it will bless you and free you of your fear, making you masters of the land of Italy for a long time to come.
LENT. Let a ready hand pull down the Tarpeian Rock.
PULV. I’ll level the Rostra to the ground, that bulwark of the common man.
VEN. I’ll overthrow the tomb of Romulus, the founder of their city.
VOL. With my sword I’ll butcher their scurvy seniors.
SOR. With my spear I’ll run their helpless commoners through.
ALL I’ll set everything ablaze. As a conqueror, I’ll set their houses afire.
ALL TOGETHER Let all that accursed city come falling down.
MAM. Raise your standard with a ready hand, banner-bearer, which you will soon bear over their ramparts at Carinae. I’ll make their proud Fathers rue this day. Let the sound of the Etruscan trumpet fill the air. Fall upon these fearful folk, march on with your vengeful swords, and let not those dregs of Romulus triumph, those newcomers, abject and vile, who until lately was happy to grow in any manner of asylum as they established their precarious seat on our soil by means of impious licence.
ALL TOGETHER Give us our enemies, Mamilius. Our wrath brooks no delays.
MAM. Let us eagerly go forth in the direction where the gods summon our banners.
ACT I, SCENE ii
VETURIUS (A CENTURION)
The Roman army.
VET. And so, my soldier, will you always be involved with arms, weaponry, bugles, and hostile gods, having quite forgotten sweet peace? Meanwhile will the poor Roman be hearing trumpets? Hence our enemy despoils our camp, hunger oppresses us. Hence the victor displays his wrath and the haughty decemvir, seeking mastery with his uncontrollable mind, cruelly menaces us. Alas, our camp is full of danger, 0ur city is full of savagery. On the one hand we have an enemy out for our blood, and on the other our decemvir, hurtful and wasteful. It would be disgraceful to flee him, but more wretched to put him to flight. My comrades, let us immediately abandon this wall and these tents. We crave to return home at length, and at length to revisit our sweet wives.
SEMPRONIUS Oh Fortune, worse than the raging waves of the roiling sea, hostile, cruel, treacherous, loathing virtue and jealous of the brave, what has it availed us to have vainly preened ourselves on the glory of your favor and the dominion over our neighbors granted by your treacherous wheel for three continual centuries? Ah, it is a shameful disgrace to have surrendered our swords to savage races! Thus, thus the insolent Tusculan triumphs. Let the sword be shattered. Let the accursed sword be cast down and strike the helmet, thrown to the ground. Sempronius bids these things a long, sad, mournful farewell.
VET. Is this the way it looks? Is weaponry no longer to your liking?
ALL TOGETHER. Weapons, adieu. We prefer the toga.
AULUS SICCIUS Who will grant me the bloody words and the fit eloquence to complain of my misfortunes? Oh dire defeat! Oh, you burdensome decemvirs, oh you who are too greedy for headstrong rule, too stained with blood! Come to my aid, comrades, for this grief touches you too. I indeed was the first to experience their fury but, beginning with my person, it will harm you all.
VET. My chaste city, tell me what catastrophe oppresses you, inflicted by your enemy? Is it that your Fathers have been thrust into prison? And that this fierce, puffed-up Sabine decemvir lords it with his uncontrolled mind, so that no misery is worse? Was it not enough for him to have gained a single victory?
SICC. That which heaps up my sorrows is a private matter. My brother, ah, my brother lies murdered, my brother, the anchor of his brother’s safety and repose!
VET. What was the reason for the murder? Who was the agent of this wicked, cruel crime?
SICC. Our sacred liberty sent this innocent man to his death. For while he was complaining that these brutal, men, puffed-up and bloodthirsty, were governing beyond their allotted time and were passing a third year in their tyranny, he was sent to spy on the enemy camp in the dead of night, so that there would be no witnesses and the crime could better be kept hidden — I am at once filled with grief and regret in telling this — and he died, shot by the hands of his comrades, by unparalleled treachery and unusual deceit.
VET. Alas the treacherous crime! Alas the bold ferocity!
ALL And one that requires vengeance. [Enter Antonius.]
ANTONIUS What mischief do my unwilling eyes behold? My comrades’ arms shamefully cast away? What mean these furious, truculent words? What’s this? Do our soldiers openly hold their officers in scorn?
ALL At length you will discover that we are men.
VET. Antonius, your blood will atone for the wrongs you have perpetrated unless you take flight. Look out for yourself.
SEMP. Die, coward, or take to your tent. Relieve our defeated soldiers of the evil sight of you.
ANT. You must regain the dutiful sentiments of a loyal mind and abandon these rebellious impulses. Soldiers, submit to the commands of your officers. Did you not promise these things to me when your warlike columns witnessed me brandishing weapons and the bright purple was bestowed on me as the senate looked on? Has some baleful thing befallen you?
SICC. Let the nation learn that we possess our weapons for its own benefit, lest hunger oppresses us, lest the stubborn gods persecute us with the hatred of our officers, and lest our sacred liberty go to ruin. [We refuse to be at your service] or be slaves to your whim. My brother lies dead in Sabine land, with his spilt blood bearing witness to the power of the decemvirs.
ANT. The stars and the gods shall bear me witness, Siccius, I have heard nothing about his murder. I lament the killing of a pious and grave man, and vow revenge.
SICC. Why conceal tyrants and their unholy deeds with your discourse? Ah, the bloodstained shades of innocent men, which hover over the tombs of the deserving demanding a blood atonement from you
ANT. Siccius, you should restrain your impassioned and grief-inspired spirits a little while, the just vengeance of the laws will be granted you.
SICC. You faithless fellow! Your share in our general condition, my comrades. This rage, commencing with my brother, is aimed at us all.
ALL Let the tyrant atone for his crime!
ANT. Siccius, forbid the soldiers from shedding my blood with their cruel swords, defiling their weapons with their commander’s gore.
SICC. Restrain your onslaught, spare our suppliant general.
ALL Provisions are lacking for us brave men.
ANT. I’ll give the command that they be fetched here posthaste. Virginius, hurry to the city and notify the Fathers that food is lacking for our soldiers. Go with speed.
VIRG. I shall obey your commands, may the gods attend me on my way! Comrades, I vow that all will turn out happily.
ANT. Reserve the noise of your hateful words for the enemy, and check these riotous impulses. Let the Sabine, the Aequian and the Volscian fall by this steel. Enough of threats, return to your abandoned posts and standards, soldiers, and once more obey your officers’ commands with a will. The gods will give victory and hoped-for glory to the brave. (Enter a messenger.)
MESS. You loiter here idly, your soldiers are grumbling, and all the camp is in an uproar. Not at all warlike, the common soldiers are cursing their general. But Mamilius is making a forced march towards the city, bent on overthrowing it in a set battle and reducing our national citadels to ashes. He breathes forth the furies of victory and threatens that Rome will be reduced to nothingness. You must make haste in coming to the aid of your collapsing nation. Let your defeated soldiers be braver in taking up their arms once more, since hostile banners are flying over all the field. To arms, soldiers, to arms.
ANT. So is that runaway Mamilius fleeing the field and attacking walls? Direct all your strength here, my fellow soldiers, so that you may keep our dread enemy at a far distance, let our matrons have their safety and our Fathers their dignity. Have you already caught sight of the enemy columns?
MESS. Their golden battles flutter over our open fields, just now their trumpets and bugles have assaulted our ears, and there’s no hope for our city save in arms. Go to meet them quickly.
ANT. To arms, soldiers, to arms. Let our enemy come to rue his insolent assault. Let our spirited courage exert itself with greater bravery. I shall be the first to expose myself to these perils.
ACT I, SCENE iii
The Roman Senate.
LICT. The Fathers are here, assembled at your command.
APPIUS Doubtful concern torments me, Conscript Fathers, and tear me asunder with various emotions. The moon has run her course and grown new horns, but it I am unable to learn what our two armies are doing. My colleagues send me no dispatches, which I take as an evil omen. But omen absit. I am not shaken with trifling fear that this silence betokens something sinister.
TARPEIUS The gods often requite our neglect with a great catastrophe, but may they be favorable and forestall this dire omen. Appius, you should make happier forecasts lest you make the gods inauspicious with your vain fear. Jove’s protection will remain present and Father Mars will defend his citadels. Juno, Pallas and Venus will ward off calamities, and neither my shock nor the futile dreams I have had will move me. You should keep your eye on developments as they befall the camp.
OPPIUS And, my tranquility destroyed, a dream has terrified me, fearful in the glowing night. A bloody enemy seemed to burst into the shrine of Vesta and its holy hearth and steal its perpetual flame. The virgin maxima, vainly shouting for help, was dragged from the altar, dragged by her dishevelled hair and, laden down with chains, awarded to the victor as a prize. The shrine was defiled: may the gods of heaven forbid this sin! Soon our bold enemy came with armed hand to seek both my throat and yours. Ah, Appius, the gloomy gods are preparing something.
VALERIUS I too, badly passing last night abed, was terrified by sinister visions, and horrible apparitions. The gods seemed to take flight, abandoning their temples, nor was the goddess Rome able to hold them back as they disappeared. Covered with a sad-colored cloak, the statue of Brutus said with a sad murmur, “Beware, Porsenna’s fury is returning. The exile has come back and there is no salvation for us in our misery.” I am of the opinion that we must expiate these threats of hellish night and dark Dis. A heifer must be sacrificed to Proserpina. And you, you pontifex who presides over our sacred things, you reverend priest dear to the gods, make them favorable, let victims’ blood stain your knife at the altars.
FURIUS I shall make our temples shine bright with their ceremonies, but no prayers can appease the gods now, there is such a mass of evils.
HORATIUS . What menacing visions do the gods show you, or have shown you, to fill you with such anxious dread?
FUR. Lately a victim which had been stricken escaped from the altar, carrying off the axe in its wounded neck and leaving behind the sacrificial attendants as they quaked with fear. It ranged about the sanctuary, and soon, provoked by rage, attacked them, alas, with its golden horn as they sought to obstruct it.
OPP. You tell us of unspeakable things and of baleful gods.
FUR. Another victim’s liver lay diseased and rotten, terrifying the augurs. As it decayed, a fire took hold of it, suddenly blazing up and suddenly falling, and flames went a-flying in two directions, wrapping its sordid fire in a dense cloud of smoke.
OPP. The Fates never refuse men in their wretchedness.
FUR. Whatever the vengeful gods are threatening is a great thing. Let whatever evil exists in our rites fall upon our enemies!
HOR. Furius, using whatever knowledge has been granted you from on high as Apollo’s gift, speak up and be happy to spend it on your nation, averting these dire omens. For so you can. At the same time, tell us whether this savage lot will inflict a worse calamity on the city or on its enemies. Daily I hear the complaints of all our orders. The Patricians demand the return of our yearly rights, the equestrians demand the return of the courts, which have been stolen from them, and the mad threats of the plebeians resound with frantic talk of renewed voting in the Campus Martius, and of their traditional honors. Appius, disaster will befall you if you fail to exercise foresight. You should free our panic-stricken folk of their great fear.
FUR. The divided flame bespeaks sudden violent uprisings by our citizens, the strange color of that victim will entail slaughter and suffering inflicted by the enemy.
VAL. Furius, beg for peace and free us of sin. Bid a readied victim be led to the temple.
APP. There is need for preparation. Great sorrow oppresses me and my troubled heart quakes for no reason. You go to that house which Jupiter Tonans willed to be dedicated to himself.
FUR. I go. May the gods make things turn out well, and not refuse us their customary favors out of ill-will. I shall order a couch to be set with its high seat, the lofty throne and a gift of a hecatomb to be given, so that welcome smoke will ascend to heaven. (Enter a messenger.).
MESS. What whirlwind will snatch me up in mid-air and set me down in the city?
OPP. Am I mistaken, or does a grave messenger arrive on hasty feet? Come, hurry up and divulge what public events have occurred.
MESS. Fathers, what earth will yawn open and swallow me in its bosom so that I will not be compelled to announce our national misfortune?
HOR. You are keeping us in suspense. Whatever it is, entrust it to our ears.
MESS. I crave to speak, but as I brood on these great events pain and sorrow prevent me, enjoining silence. The thing that has happened with its strange events keeps my voice pent up in my sad breast.
VAL. Describe the slaughter, remedies will perhaps exist. Fortune is often wont to lift up defeated men.
MESS. Everything is gone to ruin, our ancient glory and Rome’s long-enduring splendor lie dead. The enemy has the mastery, our army has abandoned its standards in disgraceful flight, its weapons shamefully cast aside in the fields, and it maintains no order. The harsh Volscian has commandeered its provisions.
APP. This is what was promised by my dream in the dead of night. But tell us the rest.
MESS. Now the trumpets brayed, our soldiers burst out of their their wall and were ordered to form ranks. In this place our cavalry came to a halt. This field was occupied by our riders, while that place was held near and far by our infantry. Our banners were held high aloft, our unsheathed swords glittered, and we had a certain hope of victory. Our enemy feigned fear and pretended a helpless flight, and now their standard-bearer fell back as if compelled. But crafty Mamilius launched thick bands of enemy troops and pressed us from behind. In the face of this doubtful and uncertain evil our soldiers wavered and our army fell back.
OPP. Wicked stratagems! But describe the rest, and be quick in telling us the condition in which Roman affairs now stand.
MESS. I am ashamed to describe the disgraces and the crime we committed. As the enemy legion assaulted our backs, we all yielded with quick steps. The Aequian ripped up our tents while the insolent Etruscan was placing heavy chains on our captive hands.
VAL. Elated by his new victory, did Mamilius attack our camp itself and its rampart?
MESS. Why speak of the camp? Behold, he has now advanced his van to the city’s outer limit. Roman banners shine forth mingled with enemy ones, and there is no source of salvation, Fathers, unless it is thanks to your care, intelligence, and prudence. May this drive their unspeakable firebrands from our citadels. For that victor, eager in his wrath, is preparing our downfall and threatening our final end.
APP. What speedy remedy can be found for so great an evil, Fathers? What thing can rescue our state’s safety while it hangs in the balance?
FUR. I’ll appease the offended gods with welcome offerings, perhaps making Jove well-disposed. This is the single way to avert the impending storm.
OPP. Let all lads, dependants, gaffers and children who have any care for Rome’s welfare or love for her take off their togas and take up spears. Let an armed throng surround our walls. Go, lictor, plant a red flag atop a high tower, this the last hope for our afflicted city.
APP. I like this. Hurry, go. A great reward awaits you.
LICT. I shall hasten, our enemy shall not sense any delay on our part. To arms, to arms, our city is all but taken.
VIRGINIUS Everything is in turmoil. Great fear lies upon s, and something worse than terror is shaking our cit .
HOR. Wearing a worried look on his face, sad Virginius swiftly approaches the senate house.
VAL. Has some further disaster been inflicted on us, Virginius?
VIRG. I am here as a legate, bringing a message sent by us all. I am lodging a complaint about the dire calamity of our need and our soldiers’ harsh lot. At last, Fathers, you must consult and apply your healing hands to men freshly oppressed by harsh Fortune with her wheel. The enemy wrath has raged against us with full force, nor have provisions, cut off by battle and by base deceit, arrived to support the army, so that the Roman soldier no longer possesses even his rucksack. Everything has been seized and stolen away. And behold another disaster: a new plague has befallen us and our soldiers have turned the fury they should be directing at the enemy towards their own commanders.
APP. So sedition is blazing forth. Oh the harsh gods! Oh the hard Fates!
VIRG. This is no occasion or fit time for complaints. First and foremost, care must be taken for the food supply, this is the single thing that can subdue our soldiers, who disdain commands, promises, threats and entreaties when hunger oppresses them. By the gods I swear, Fathers, they are cursing their fortifications, unless you give your help.
OPP . Rather you should be quick in keeping your audacious words pent up in a silent breast, or you will learn obedience to your great cost. In this city there’s a lictor, there are fasces to restrain rioters, and the court has at its disposal a prison, built by our forefathers to contain rascals. We have manacles ready for hands. There’s danger enough, the situation does not call for more. Are you so audacious in your pride as to issue threats in the middle of the senate?
VIRG. Fathers, am I, a brave man, thus to hear the words issuing from your ungrateful mouths, I who exposed my breast to the enemy bands, generous in spilling my blood, so that you evil, cowardly, idle rascals, unacquainted with arms, might live the safer thanks to our sweat?
APP. Put a limit on your blazing fury, Virginius. The senate will grant you whatever you wish. Spare our ears and check your anger. Now our graneries will be thrown open and your soldiers will receive whatever rations they seek.
TARP. Oppius, a double defeat and their have enraged our exhausted soldiers. A braver man must be pardoned if his pain speaks out. Virginius, forgive Oppius, elevated by his decemvir’s authority. Provisions will be granted, and your legation is not in vain.
VIRG. Let it be so. Let Oppius spew forth his annoying words as long as he issues no threats. For my hand is poised over the hilt of my sword, and protracted wars have made us fierce. From me you will learn what soldiers and brave men refuse to tolerate.
VAL. Let this be the limit imposed by peace, the condition of our afflicted city summons us to other things. Settle this upheaval and we shall attend to the rest.
VIRG. Farewell, Fathers, I return bringing plenty of hope. I shall settle these commotions and return our soldiers to the good discipline they have long since abandoned, so they will rejoin their ranks.
VAL. A great matte ris at stake. Both our enemy and our fellow citizens must be overcome, this is no slight concern.
APP. No greater one has ever troubled us, fathers, we must confront it with a more steadfast heart. You look after this one matter, and I shall energetically attend to the other. And you tend to our sacred things, pontifex.
FUR. It shall be done to your satisfaction.
ACT I, SCENE iv
Virginius with his household.
VIRG. Enough for public business and our national affair. Now I must act as a father. Domestic affairs perhaps require my paternal attention. I shall go and visit my house and ancestral home.
NUMITORIUS An uncertain rumor has come to my ears that my brother Virginius has arrived from the army, bringing news of a new disaster.
VIRGINIA There he his himself, my father.
NURSE Control your steps, child, and remember your modesty as you greet your father.
VIRG. My sweet daughter, your father’s hope, the repose of my elderly years, and my consolation in my broken-down old age, it is worth so much to have fathered you on your mother, taken away from me, and you, my beloved brother Numitorius, and your dear self, Icilius, greeting to you all, may the god grant you your prayers. Are you faring well? Are your affairs and mine safe and sound?
VA. Venerable father, for a long time a doubtful hope has held me in sick suspension. After you happily departed to join the camp, a great dread has gripped your people when we heard of the ill-starred evil of your defeat.
NUM. How much provisions, commander, has this day provided you on which our shattered Roman affairs are tottering? What reason has compelled you to leave the camp? Speak up, brother, and free your kinsmen of their fear.
ICILIUS Father, will that happy wedding-night never befall me, will I never gain my chaste wishes? Do you want to advance that longed-for day? Are you piercing and wounding my unhappy heart, when I see the hoped-for torches and their light removed from my nuptial threshold? Fulfil your promise, confirmed by a solemn contract. Holy right requires this, unless you choose to violate the laws of the Romans. This maiden is mine, give me my hoped-for day, and do not prevent us from joining together in matrimony.
VIRG. Icilius, I acknowledge that this maiden is legitimately yours, guaranteed by my solemn pledge.
VA. Woe’s me, my harsh father is speaking of marriage. I do not want a bridegroom, for me chastity is preferable.
NURSE Quiet, you naive girl, a sense of modesty befits a maiden. Your age demands this bashfulness, and it behooves a maiden to heed her father’s admonitions.
IC. Virginia, you better part of my heart, set aside these vain fears, abandon this pointless anxiety. You are destined to enter your master’s bedchamber. You are my mistress Tanaquil. But when, father, will you permit me to gain my holy wishes, so that my mistress will change her household, being destined to enter her marital home?
VIRG. I would have hoped that the wedding torches would have been raised aloft already, I would have hoped that you had already celebrated your long-for wedding day in joy. But the public catastrophe rules that out, as does the collapse of your nation, and Fortune, bringing ruination thick and fast. When our fearful enemy has departed our land, the Etruscan has received chains for his rebellious neck, and the Aequian has quit his camp, at long last I shall fulfill your chaste and long hoped-for desires.
VA. Father, ah father, spare my chastity so that I won’t leave your hearth, let no bridegroom stake his claim on me. Oh Numitoria, my holy mother, if you have any surviving care for me in the Elysian Fields and you remember your daughter, come to my aid if Father wants to hand me over to any man against my will, so that my virginity might enter its tomb untouched. Father, my greatest wish is that I might be allowed to live out a chaste life.
VIRG. Daughter, when I am a helpless old man you owe me a grandson who might take up the burden of my household, and, being a better man than myself, relieve me my failing powers, and prevent my heritage from coming to naught. There is holy chastity in a marriage-bed, and those who abstain from marriage are scofflaws, celibacy always being an object of great scorn. The censor hurls his fearful thunderbolts at such women as deny children to their nation.
NURSE Virginius, my responsibility demands that she be ruled by my guidance, and that I render obedient a girl who formerly was stubborn in her refusal, so that she will willingly submit.
VA. Have mercy on your daughter, and do not thus abandon your girl.
NUM. Imagine, Virginia, that all girls of your age should want to refrain from marriage. The entire human race would quickly perish, and our old stock would dissolve into chaos. Or are you holier than the gods? They have felt the darts of love and chosen to submit to the yoke of marriage. His sister Juno possesses the bed of Jove, and Pluto pursues his Prosperina. Neptune possesses his wife amidst the waves, ardent Vulcan reclines in Venus’ lap, and at this point dread Mars sets aside his brutal wrath, so you should refuse the consecrated bed no longer.
IC. Virginia, the half of my heart, the future partner of my bedchamber, set aside your empty fears. This is urged by your friends, your uncle, and reason. Your nation deserves this, its laws require it, and your father commands it. But when will longed-for Hymen raise up his festive torches in the gleaming, holy night? You must carry the light before us, the light by which I can fulfill my wishes, though slow to do so.
VIRG. The camp summons me, filled with our soldiers’ insulting threats. When the moon with her golden horns shines full, I shall return to the city so that you pledged bride may become your own. (Enter a lictor from the senate.)
LICT. Why are you lingering so sluggishly, Virginia? The Fathers command that you head for the camp with speed, settle the grave commotions, and make these announcements to the mutinous army. No provisions are on hand, but the Fathers have high hopes there will be after the third day, when our barns yield new supplies.
VIRG. Oh you gentlemen consecrated to Dis, you treacherous crew, Fathers in specious name alone, do you thus dare mock armed men? Have you no respect for the right? Is this how you provide for the public peril? By myself I shall heal this imminent evil. You maiden, if at home you have any gleaming goods, produce them. Free your breast of its necklace, your heavy rings of their gold. At your father’s request hand these things over, not given you by your mother for such uses as these. Perhaps the day will come when happy Rome thanks its maiden.
VA. I shall hurry indoors and bring out whatever is stored within.
VIRG. You greedy tribe of Fathers, you wicked old men.
VA. Behold, father, plate brighter than pure gold, and take whatever of my jewelry you desire. This ring was the first gift given my mother by her bridegroom. Take this clasp for my hair, which I cheerfully remove. For such purposes take this chain, formerly noble for its weight of gold and jewels, has been wont to encircle my neck, this gold-mounted pearl adorned my arm, this girdle which has habitually encircled my virginal waist, and these bejewelled bands which bound my breast. I consider myself happy enough if, being a girl, I am thought to have relieved the public distress. If I am able as a private citizen to avert the swelling storm which overhangs everybody’s head, I mean the criminal enterprises of our enemies, I shall appear decently clad no matter what I wear.
VIRG. Would that were possible that such pett ytreasures could put an end to our public need, that I by myself could shatter their fearful power and establish an enduring peace! But the legation entrusted to me requires that I share my personal wealth with our soldiers, so that, when those elderly gentlemen have quite denied us their assistance, my poverty might relieve whatever the weight of public affairs demands. I pray that a more favorable Jupiter bless you all, beloved brother, and you, daughter, the hope of my house. Farewell, Virginia, your father’s single solace, oh you glory of maidenly modesty.
NUM. You must go where public business calls you.
IC. Go, father, and may your return be a swift one, so that pledged girl may become mine on the promised day.
VA. Dear father, you dear part of my mind, go off to the camp, but fight with care.
VIRG. Farewell brother, son, and daughter, the hope of my life.
NURSE You fare well too. Let’s hurry home, daughter. Check your tears, do not drench your cheeks with weeping.
ACT I, SCENE v
VETURIUS (A CENTURION)
The Roman army.
VET. Now a fourth Phoebus has surveyed the world with his slanting light, and bright Phoebe has made four circles through the poles of heaven, from the time when Virginius went to the city to announce the evil which oppresses us, but we have received no reply from the Fathers, those ingrates. Famine weighs on us, dangers vex us. What are you doing in your laziness, you cowardly soldiers? Comfortable within the city, those old men will not give us provisions except under compulsion, and, enjoying its security, the unkind senate makes sport of the blood we shed. Stupid, unwarlike, fugitive, wallowing in torpor, wasting away in idleness, degenerate in its banqueting, addicted to sleep and gluttony, it bids us fight on, but without provisions.
SEMPRONIUS I would not imagine this thing to be tolerable for brave men, comrades: for all-devouring usury to stuff its coffers in the Forum, so that its heavy money-chests can scarce contain their gold, and for a drunken old man to slumber all night and day on a dainty featherbed, while poverty oppresses us as we sleep outdoors under in the freezing open air, our enemy hounds us he forces us out of our camp (the crime!), and we wretches are plagued by hunger, worse than our foe.
SICCIUS I admit that the senate is criminal, Veturius, nor is the brutality of your officers any better. Their guilt is no less, the safety of our soldiers is of no concern and our blood is held cheap, so that they can increase their own profit. What are you doing, soldiers? You are torpid in your idleness.
ALL Those old men should be put to death. [Enter their general, the decemvir Antonius.]
VET. Let this threatening rascal pay forfeits.
SICC. I shall take the lead in shedding the first blood of our leader. You hesitate, villain? You won’t confront this evil? Won’t you energetically relieve us of the double misfortune of the enemy and hunger?
ANTONIUS Spare me. Virginius will bring provisions. Soldier, remove your hand from my throat.
SICC. Sure death awaits you. You will die and Pluto will have your head as a sacrifice. My brother will slaughter you by this hand of mine.
ANT. Furious Siccius —
SICC. You’ll feel my fury.
VET. Do my eyes deceive me as I look, or is what they see true? It’s Virginius himself.
VIRGINIUS I am both regretful and embarrassed in deciding what words I should say first and where to make my beginning. What are these rioters roaring?
VET. Sheath your sword, Virginius, and report the Fathers’ commands. Will oppressive hunger continue to oppress us unhappy men? Will Fortune refuse to accept any limit and be more harmful in visiting her savage assaults on us?
ANT. How fare the decemvirs? Are my partners in power, Appius and Horatius, Valerius and Oppiu,s in a safe condition?
VIRGS. Here’s a letter written in Appius’ own hand. He greets the camp, the army and its officers. The senate is safe, and yet a great terror has filled the city. The Volscian, the Aequian, the Etruscan, and Mamilius, emboldened by his booty, fill everything with terror and shake our walls. There is no food.
VET. Let the treacherous senate hunt for arms, let it hunt for an army, since it can guard its rampart and pursue the enemy amidst hunger and thirst. The world possesses no greedier old men, the earth breeds no unworthier beasts. Can brave men tolerate these insults unavenged?
ALL The Fathers, that scurvy gang.
VIRG. Being cautious, I have taken care that you will have iron rations at my expense. I have industriously spent whatever gold and silver I possessed for these purposes. Let the bugler make his usual way through the ranks, assembling our soldiers that suffer from hunger. This bread used to be Virginia’s jewelry. Smile, comrades, and take what Virginius’ poverty has to offer, and may the gods provide the rest.
ANT. Smartly retake your stations, soldiers, and clear yourselves of the disgrace you have received. Let the victorious enemy feel your fury.
ALL Lead us against the enemy.
ANT. And I shall test their leaders’ powers.
Go to Act II