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ELLISARIUS, a Greek by nationality and a patrician by birth, a general renowned for defeating three kings, flourished under the emperor Justinian. He was so well liked by his emperor that he minted a new coinage showing himself on one side, and the image of Bellisarius in full armor on the other, bearing the inscription BELLISARIUS, GLORY OF THE ROMANS. But such is human inconstancy that this ardor gradually cooled off. For certain noblemen infected with the plague of heresy, who (as such men do) were more prone to envy his virtue than to imitate it, lodged against him a false accusation of treason, which in truth was what they themselves had agreed to commit. Trusting in these deceptive slanders of the heretics, Justinian removed him from his erstwhile high rank and, himself blinded by rage, commanded that his eyes be put out. The sources of this play are Procopius, Zonaras, Nicephorus, Paul the Deacon, and Baronius.
ST. SYLVERIUS a pope
JUSTINIANUS the emperor
BELLISARIUS a patrician
NARSES a patrician
JUSTIN nephew of Justinian
SMARAGDUS, HYACINTHUS sons of Bellisarius
EUTYCHIUS the patriarch
THE GHOST OF VINTARITHUS king of the Vandals,
formerly killed in battle by Bellisarius
CLEANDER a tribune
EUSEBIUS, IOANNES, CLEOBULUS
MARCELLUS, ABLAVIUS, SERGIUS noblemen
PAULUS, VITUS, ISACIUS
WARDEN OF THE PRISON
Chorus of four boys, soldiers, young men
VICTORY, THE GHOST OF VINTARITHUS
After a trumpet call, Victory speaks. Honor and Glory stand on either side of her.
VICT. Oh sweet caressing sound! I like the noise of battle. Let the lyre yield to the bugle, and the viol to the trumpet. Aroused by its brazen call, Bellisarius, that champion of Mars, casts lightning with his sword, his ears delight in this music only. (She shows Bellisarius sleeping in full armor, wielding a bloody sword.) See how sleep binds his limbs in its sweet fetters, and yet the sword flashes in his hands. The dust upon his face is not unbecoming. Sweat mixed with blood remains upon his cheeks, Mars shines entire upon his royal brow. Thus, wearied by Bistonian bloodshed, he rests his warlike frame upon his couch. Go, Honor, you faithful companion in awarding the palm, you kinsman of the ruddy stars, and guard his side. Accompany your brother, Glory, and with equal care defend him against the black torches of the pallid Styx. (She crowns his head with laurel.) Delphic Daphne will better bind your locks, she is thd due reward of the trophies gained by your indomitable hand. Go forth happily, you great terror of the Huns and likewise their conqueror, go forth. Your sails are filled by the wafting of a favorable wind. The goddess will always be present as your patroness amidst your bloody sports, bearing victory-palms and death in the selfsame hand, but she will always attend you on friendly wings. (Terrible thunder.) Unfavorable thunder crashes, but heaven breathes on you with its favor.
GHOST What noise has roused me from the deep cavern of Dis? Is a bugle firing bloody captains? But where are battle-lines roaring with the discord of battle? What commander sets flourishing armies a-marching with his trumpet call? (He sees Bellisarius, lying in his bed.) I recognize the savage camp of Bellisarius, I recognize my death. And the lightning-bolt of his hand remains lodged deep in my heart.Soon I’ll repay him. Do you see? His sword-point is red, drunken with my blood, and yet he snores, lying carefree on Laconian purple. Alas, the wretch has no idea how great a companion stands at his hateful side. Come, you brood of Dis, tame this hateful son of the Styx. Dislike, you niece of the Acheron, lay low this fellow, swollen with excessive pride. Envy, you redouble the cares felt by that proud goddess. (Dislike replaces Honor, Envy replaces Glory, and they shoot arrows at them as they flee.) Good, I triumph. I see a pyramid. (She reads the pyramid’s description and pulls it down.) A TROPHY GAINED BY BELLISARIUS FOR DEFEATING THREE KINGS. Collapse, you haughty mass. Soon Bellisarius himself will suffer a worse downfall. Do his triumphs still assault my eyes? (On the other side of the stage she sees an equestrian statue of Bellisarius. She reads its inscription. FOR BELLISARIUS, WHO TRIUMPHED OVER EUROPE AND AFRICA. Why are you sluggishly asleep, Pluto? Let this colossus sink to deepest Tartarus. (The statue topples, along with its horse.) Erebus has heard my prayers. His pride has taken a Phaeton-like fall. (She espies his laurel wreath and rips it off.) What’s this? He binds his proud locks with Apollo’s leaf and arrogantly insults me? No more will well you wear tokens of my slaughter. This laurel will no longer shade your empty head, let a limit at last be set to your folly. Go now and strike heaven with your lofty head. In vain you threaten barbarians. A day is at hand, a bloody day, reddened by a fateful comet, when you shall be blinded of the light and inhabit a dark cave reserved for the guilty. Then you may mourn my killing. Savage Atropos is at hand to cut off your thread, and likewise your life. Blood seeks out blood. (Exit.)
Eutychius bewails the corrupt manners of his age to Eusebius, who cunningly pretends to share his distress.
EUT. That’s the way it is. Let the ruler of the stars hurl forked missiles from His ruddy hand and all the heaven dissolve in flame, and yet nobody fears the strike of His lightning. Although the west wind blows hard, nobody reefs his sails.
EUS. You must be a second Tiphys and steer Christ’s ship, and the fraternal warfare of Aeolus’ winds will set aside their threats. The sea will obey its prudent master.
EUT. I struggle, I fight back, and yet I am bested by the storm. Thetis strikes the heaven, mixing water with its fires. My wounded hand grows weary steering this groaning ship. Art itself succumbs, bested by such great evils.
EUS. Oh the homes of our nation! How you torment me, sweet soil of Byzantium! I pity you, ah, I pity you. But why has such a great storm beset our city, father?
EUT. Vices, if you are unaware, are provoking our city’s great storms. The thirst for gold, filth of lust, the bloodshed of innocent men. And the beast — chill stupor makes me tongue-tied — the hundred-headed beast of Avernus, heresy, with her hair full of black snakes has enveloped this city’s beauty with her pitch-dark whirlwind.
EUS. Oh too fertile nurse of evils! Will this brood of Lerna affect our lands? Will its viper-strikes infect Christ’s fair flock? I shall not allow it. This hand of mine will cut back that teeming Hydra’s head. But tell me, great bishop, has this plague reached into the sacred corridors of our empire?
EUT. Alas, this bane is greatly spreading, it besets Caesar’s very palace with its Hellish poison. This cancer is raging through the homes of our noblemen.
EUS. And yet Caesar remains immune to its contagion?
EUT. God make it so! Clean waters flow from a pure fountain, but turbid streams issuing from an equally turbid source bear mud along with themselves.
EUS. If a fever strikes the head with such great heat, no wonder if the limbs suffer from the same pestilence. You must find a new Achilles, bishop: let that Thessalian hero yield to him as a model for men’s manners, and also Alexander, the son of Philip. Warn our noblemen that this plague is spreading farther every day, breathing its contagion.
EUT. I’ll go and disclose the dire ulcer, even if it bursts. But if it is hardened and scorns my art, unable to tolerate a friendly physician’s lance, henceforth let it blame its own madness for its destruction. Meanwhile you beset the King of Heaven with your prayer, begging and groaning, so that a gentle breeze will blow for our ship.
EUS. I’ll load down heaven with my prayers — (Exit Eutychius. Eusebius discards his mask.)
— that you live out your days in a dark cell. Go to court. Wait for opportune occasions to speak. Gravely join threats to your entreaties. Being mighty in your eloquence, empty out your coffers of persuasion. Brandish the weaponry of great Cicero, thunder, you’ll be singing to the deaf. How happy I am to see a priest hastening to Hell! Have you no fear of Caesar’s angry face? Oh, you fool! You do not know how to climb the lofty peak of glory. You wretch! You don’t know the devices of a courtier. You are imprudently contriving your own downfall. Do you want to be a polished man of the court and bind the king to yourself by a close bond? Let nectar always flow from your mouth. Let the persuasion of your Attic tongue always surpass the honeycombs of Daedalus, and always keep your sting hidden in your breast. When the king seeks to relieve his heavy cares at the hunt, you must hunt after his favor with no less enthusiasm. If any dust befouls our Augustus’ breast or hair, brush it off. If a foaming boar grunts and attacks the king with his tusk, protect him by interposing your own undefended body, so your prince may kill it. If sad sorrow beclouds his brow, you must assume the color of night. He smiles? Like a golden-haloed Phoebus, banish the clouds far from the sky of your face. Thus a son of the court manages his eyes, his gestures, and the happy or sad sound of his voice by following the lead of his king. He is a son of Maia, the maker of his own destiny. These campaigns go well. I shall happily fight under your standards, Honor, until I am a retired veteran. To you I gladly consecrate my gray hairs. And I regard the man who knows not how to feign as unworthy of martial honors. Let Themis stay on my false face while Sinon lurks in my heart. The name Eusebius smacks of piety, but I myself loathe the path of that austere goddess, which bristles with pricking thorns, worse than a savage snake. All my religion worships with a cloud of Arabian incense the Minerva of the brain. With her my guide, I shall make my fortune’s wheel run serenely, no matter how much this may be against its will. If Maia’s son favors a man, he is the maker of his own fortune.
The emperor praises Bellisarius virtues. He has decided to celebrate a triumph in his honor.
JUST. At length troubled Pallas, wielding death with her terrible arm, desires to garland her aegis with her beloved leaf. Let the bray of trumpets fall silent, let no clash or arms assault the ears, let Ceres beat swords into sickles. Fostering Peace, leaving heaven’s bright expanses, returns to earth, and Chloris, that companion of happy Peace, kindly brings her cornucopia. With you our general, the Persian stifles his haughty threats. With you our general, the wrath of the savage Goth ceases to thunder and the Vandal, grown mild, has come to experience our yoke. Lately, alas, Hunnish steel ran red with the innocent blood of my subjects. But they have felt the avenging thunderbolt of your hand. What leaves of Delos will at length bind your locks, you glory of champions and bulwark of your nation?
BELL. You who are the terror of the world and likewise its darling, if my sword-point has achieved anything thanks to Mars’ favor, the glory of my Augustus has given strength to its blow. When the yellow dogstar ravages the fields with its baleful heat, and Jupiter drench the gaping earth with the nectar of his falling rain, this does not offer so much consolation as you console my heat, Caesar, and refresh my hand, weary from waging war. Let water fall from the ocean, and sunbeams from Phoebus, the strength of my hand derives from great Caesar’s sun.
JUST. (Embracing him.) Bacchus takes delight in the embrace of the loving elm-tree, ’ I delight in embracing Bellisarius’ neck, I delight in clasping his breast to mine. Pollux did not cling so tightly to his Castor as Bellisarius is held in my arms.
BELL. Just as Castor shines thanks to the light of Pollux, and, knowing not how to die, scorns the distaff of the three Sisters after being made his companion in their happy lot, so I disdain the dark cavern of Acheron, if Caesar, that glory of the stars, shines on me with his friendly countenance.
JUST. Let chattering antiquity hold its silence about Euryalus, joined to his Nisus. Let Rumor hymn our love with a truthful trumpet. Let this gem be a witness of the strange fire which always burns my heart. See, take this small emerald for your finger. And, if you will, read its inscription.
BELL. I shall. ONE HEART. How fine these words sound! So ONE HEART beats in two breasts? Caesar, you have blessed me. Oh, would that I could sacrifice my blood for you! May your blood outlive the age of that old man of Pylos, may it never run sluggish with old age’s chill.
JUST. Let a envious gang of noblemen cast their sinister torches at you, let them besmirch your name, sooner will the earth freeze when their Nemaean fire makes the sun’s chariot burn than my ardor will ever chill. This gem will provide you with weaponry of adamant, if envy should hurl its darts, and they will strike the man who does the hurling.
BELL. As this emerald pours forth its green light, as it laughs at the wings of the north wind and the threats of its cold, so, my prince, my heart will never experience a wintertime of its love.
JUST. ’Tis well. In my mind I am thinking of a triumph. Pyroeis will not quench his thirst with the ocean’s dew before the houses of both the rising and the setting sun applaud at the sight of your trophies.
BELL. I shall not behold my celebration, but rather that of my sovereign. (Exeunt.)
Justin and Smaragdus divert Hyacinthus, a bookworm, from his reading to the pursuits of the forest.
JUSTIN. Are you always caught up in your books? Will green Chloris’ multi-colored gown never refresh your eyes? Look here. The roses are shining with the redness of Paestum. The earth, no stepmother, is giving birth to her native riches, the fields are smiling, and the forest sweetly resounds with the song of chattering birds.
HYA. Thalia’s lyre and the sweet tune of Castalia, give the Sisters of Pindus more delight, and myself as well. Here I harvest a teeming meadow of its fresh wealth, I pick flowers undamaged by the wrath of the cruel north wind. Here I gaze on towers rising as high as the stars with their mass, and on the threats of Mars and mortality. Here, remote and safe, I traverse distant regions, although shut up in my closet.
SMAR. Go and cling to the cowardly tune of the lyre. The bugle’s martial music summons me, I like the camp of brass-bound Mars. Helmets delight my eyes when they are red-topped with their crests. I like it when a shield gleams like a savage comet. Our father’s trophies, gained in battle, bid me shake off my lazy idleness. Oh, when will my sword reap Mars’ harvest? When will I drive a swift chariot as a victor, my head bound with proud laurel?
JUSTIN. You see how the fire hidden in his breast bursts forth? I like his character, so similar to that of his great father. The eagle, that royal bird, never grows degenerate and sires doves. What do you say? Are you so silly as to remain a camp-follower of idle Calliope?
HYA. I profit from learned leisure. Let that god of war, protected by his indomitable adamant, choose other men. Let his blood-soaked steel feed other men’s eyes. I take pleasure in Apollo’s harmless fountains. I like twin-peaked Pindus, holding up Olympus in its lap. Oh, what a zephyr’s wing will bear me aloft!
SMAR. Our citizen of Delphi is wearing down his strength. Perhaps he’s leafing through a prophetic book. I give up.
HYA. [Showing him a copy of Vergil.] Here’s the tuneful swan of Mantua, the glory and Phoebus of bards.
SMAR. (Takes it and reads.) They wake before the day to range the wood,
Kill ere they eat, nor taste unconquer'd food.
No sports, but what belong to war, they know:
To break the stubborn colt, to bend the bow.
Don’t you now see you fail to make your case. You are defeated by Vergil’s testimony.
HYA. Vergil urges us to surround a glade with keen-scented hounds? You’re teasing me.
SMAR. Here are the words. Read, if you doubt me.
HYA. They wake before the day to range the wood,
Kill ere they eat, nor taste unconquer'd food.
No sports, but what belong to war, they know:
To break the stubborn colt, to bend the bow.
If Vergil urges us to range high mountain ridges, I shall be the first to attack savage beasts. Let’s go, the breezes, the glade, and the game summon.
JUSTIN. You far surpass what I hoped for, Hyacinthus. This attitude befits young men thriving in the flower of their youth. The day slips by on its fleet foot, never to return. Enjoy it while you may. Quickly snatch up the tricksy snares, setting traps for rabbits is a harmless deception. But look here, it’s a young man of Caesar. [Enter a young man.]
Y. M. Our sovereign Caesar has dedicated this day to our unconquered general. Dressed in costume, the young men of his court are representing great Bellisarius’ great trophies. Caesar commands that band of youths to be enhanced by a new bevy of the Graces.
JUSTIN. Our threefold company will not be lacking. Come, my friends.
SMAR. Let an unclouded Phoebus be present with his bright locks. My father’s celebration summons us.