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Bellisarius’ victories are acted out by noble young men of the court. The chorus comes onstage.
IUST. Young man, let Justin send his little chorus onto the stage.
JUSTIN I’m here.
Justin gives each performer his instructions.
THE ARGUMENT OF THE GAMES
King Gelimer of the Vandals suffers, having been defeated by Bellisarius. A chorus of four boys assembled from four conquered provinces are protected by the Brigada, the Euphrates, the Tiber, and the Arethusa, rivers of Africa, Italy, and Sicily. Mars introduces them to add dignity to the triumph of Bellisarius. Bellisarius enters, riding on a triumphal car drawn by three kings and three generals. He is escorted by Mars and Pallas, and preceded by the protective genius of the Huns, who extol Bellisarius with laurels. Enter Gelimer, holding a sponge in one hand and a lyre in the other.
GEL. What Pegasus bears me through the sky on its back? I shall make my way through the wanton winds on winged foot. Are you halting at a king’s command? A new Bellerophon, I shall dig my iron spur into your bloody side. Give me your ruddy rains, Phoebus. Will the stars bury my ashes again, will Phaeton once more fall out of the sky? I’ll gladly have the universe for a tomb. What am I saying? Where am I? There’s no hope for escape. My enemy presses me from behind. Shall I plunge my sword-point in his breast? But, alas, Bellisarius’ wrath wrenches the steel from my hand. [Addresses his lyre and sponge.] Greetings, companion of my grief. Only you, my lyre, will know my sorrows and bewail them, let the sound of your springs imitate my heart’s sad mutter. While drops pour down my cheeks, you sponge, you may drink from my fountain. (Enter a chorus of boys from four different nations.)
AFRICAN Ah, the sorrow! Great Carthage smokes, having been overcome by fire. Like a thunderbolt of Mars, this Greekish Scipio hastens to Libya.
PERSIAN The Euphrates mourns, in a sad vein it quietly pours forth its abundant tears. It indignantly mourns submitting its servile neck to bondage.
ITALIAN You towers of Romulus, you waters of the Tiber, and you, you Roman lords of the earth, join me in using your fair hands to beat your sad breasts.
SICILIAN Hybla, decked out in the jewelry of Vertumnus, you who paint your fragrant bosom with thyme, henceforth banish the honey-making race from your proud green lawns. (Enter four rivers, who protect their four wards.)
BRAGADA Greetings, noble scion of Bragada. Where are you fleeing? You will hide in my shade, my gown will serve as an awning to protect us both with its friendly shroud. (Covers the African with its gown.)
EUPHRATES Why do the two stars of your face glisten with tears? Cease your sobbing, boy, and shine once more. If Euphrates’ streams, with their many hiding-places, have any power, you will prevail (Covers the Persian.)
TIBER And you, you darling of the golden Tiber, what avails it to disfigure your cheeks with salt rain? Enjoy honeyed peace, reclining in my arms. (Covers the Italian.)
ARETHUSA Smooth your starry brow, love of my life. Arethusa spreads her watery gown so that you might hide under her outspread garment, safe from your foe. (Covers the Sicilian. Enter Justin, costumed as Mars.)
MARS Why are these captive boys mourning on this festive day? Come, let the welkin ring with joy alone. Let the sound of Mars’ trumpet fire your minds. I like such a sound.
A song and dance.
A second Macedonian has conquered the Euphrates, a new Scipio has mastered Africa. Thus with festive voice I shall hymn the victor’s elegance. Oh fetters of flowers, bondage of affection, glorious captivity! Oh light yoke, sweet chains, our general’s kindness! Sing ho the triumph, sing ho &c.
A second Hannibal, fearful to the Romans, has taken Italy. A new Marcellus has taken Sicily , but one beloved to all. Oh light yoke, sweet chains, our general’s kindness! Sing ho the triumph, sing ho &c.
They all stand up.
JUST. I like this band of youths. But nobody can justly describe your trophies with words.
BELL. Whoever attempts to equal the fire of your love for your war-leaders, Caesar, fcleaves the sky’s treacherous clouds while foolishly relying on the wings of an Icarus.
JUST. Let the finest wine speed the lingering day, let it fly onward2 on its cloudless chariot. (Exeunt. Narses remains.)
Narses is offended by Bellisarius’ glory, but is somewhat placated by Cleobulus.
NARS. Oh the harsh fates! The iron distaff of Lachesis! Does the conqueror of Totila, the terror of the Goths, the avenger of Italy’s downfall, the light who so often shone forth for Caesar with his friendly nimbus at a time when the damaged ship of his state was creaking, now lie prostrate? Is the reputation of proud Bellisarius soaring on snow-white wings, as our boulevards resound with cheers, with games and triumphs? My bright victory-palm is languishing in dark forgetfulness. Who can bear this unkind wound of misfortune? (Enter Cleobulus.)
CLEO. Why is your color changing so uncertainly? Why has a pale white taken over your cheeks? Tell me, what sorrow troubles you?
NARS. Greetings, Cleobulus, my second half.
CLEO. Where are you going?
NARS. Lofty hiding-places on crags, the green homes of forests, summon me to their hospitable bosom. I’m going there.
CLEO. Perhaps you want to surround your quarry’s lairs with keen-scented hounds?
NARS. My chagrin does not permit me to shoot fleet game with my sluggish arrow, since I myself am shot and have a constant wound. I am hunting out forest-caves, and the cliffs will resound with my complaints, so that my sorrow might unbridle my watery tears, so that I might hide in safety, far from the whirlwind of the court.
CLEO. So you are weary of the court?
NARS. I’m weary.
CLEO. Caesar’s favor has ebbed, perhaps?
NARS. Ah, you’re chafing my wound!
CLEO. Possibly you’re stung by Bellisarius’ celebration.
NARS. What’s the point of poking at the scar? If you are unable to mollify the wound, at least let your hand not make it worse.
CLEO. When it’s been opened, it’s easily healed. When one probes it blindly, even a fine physician’s art is useless.
NARS. The wound is too widely agape. So how will you apply your healing to this great blow?
CLEO. A medicine for your disease is ready at hand.
NARS. Produce it, why keep it hidden?
CLEO. Trust me, it’s love that will heal you.
NARS. Love is in the habit of being armed with those arrows which the boy sharpens on his most bloody whetstone. It wounds, it cuts you to the quick. Why do you bid me love?
CLEO. If its chaste arrow pierces your marrow, you will receive a harmless injury. If you chose to love warlike Bellisarius, what a sweet wound you’ll feel!
NARS. I Love the general. But why is golden Smaragdus riding along in his ivory car? Why do the stars resound with triumphal shouts? Surely his steel has not been reddened with blood more than mine?
CLEO. The empire has felt both your hands, Caesar acknowledges that his collapsing nation had a double support. He has not yet forgotten that you overcame the fury of Totila. Monuments to your handiwork still live. Bellisarius’ victory palm is fresh, but Narses’ laurel has had no reason to fear envy’s black blow. It grows, and with its foliage it threatens to strike the ruddy stars. You both smust upport your tottering nation. Thrace, lately on the verge of collapse, now remains supported by your shoulders. Baleful heresy sets the camp of Hell to marching. Who will stand in its way, if you are chasing after shadows in a forest?
NARS. I defer to you, my friend, And yet I swear by heaven’s everlasting fires that it is the safety of our nation that keeps Narses at court. If the legions of Hell wage war against the beings of heaven, they will fall by my steel. (Exeunt.)
Marcellus and Ablavius conspire together about assassinating Justinian. Eusebius and John decide to denounce this suspicious thing.
MAR. Shall I always drag out my baleful days under a sad sun, my friend? Shall my sword always exert itself for an ungrateful Caesar? The crop of Libya thrives thanks to our blood’s rain, the water of the Euphrates runs red, dyed by the slaughter of our nobility. The Bosphorus overflows for being choked with our citizens, and likewise the Tiber still runs sluggish in its bed, vainly striving to find surcease from its grief in the bosom of Thetis. We have conquered, although the heaps of our dead are scarcely less than those of the defeated. Where’s the reward for such great effort?
ALB. If you are unaware, the spoils are clothing whores, clowns, and buggers. They are elegant at the expense of our nobility’s bloodshed.
MAR. We tolerate this? It’s too harsh. Why not shake off these bonds of Morpheus? Should we not try to free our hearts of their idle chill?
ALB. My great wrath thirsts for vengeance, my marrow is afire. But who will clear the way for this noble deed?
MAR. You’ll follow my sword, if you are wise.
ALB. Even if it climbs the inhospitable summit of the Causcasus, even if it enters Daedalus’ tricksy labyrinth with its thousand deceptions, its thousand meandering twists and turns, Pasiphae’s bull-shaped whelp will not basely frighten me with its appearance. Even if it must make its way through a thousand wedges of fighting men, let it attack haughty Caesar’s cowardly person. I shall follow it through a thousand deaths, using it as my trusty guide.
MAR. Oh heart worthy of Mars! Let’s clasp hands and join in an eternal alliance. Let this bond scorn your sickle, Libitina.
ALB. Do you want to recruit other confederates for our enterprise?
MAR. I prefer few.
ALB. Nets catch a helpless quarry more quickly, if many hounds bark with their trusty voices.
MAR. The forest echoes when many voices bark. We must act with silent dogs, shrill ones are harmful. This will be my care. (Exeunt. Enter Eusebius and John.)
EUS. He’s gone? Good. “We must act with silent dogs, shrill ones are harmful?” That’s true. They will be harmful, we’ll be shrill dogs.
JOHN What, do you want to betray a friend?
EUS. And my father too, if I could rise up thanks to his downfall. You see my friend? If you’re not aware, it’s my sword-point. It’s my Pylades, my Orestes, my Nisus and Euryalus, the good Achates at my side.
JOHN Hail, sweet comrade! You deserve to have me as your comrade. Now I like you. So why don’t we immediately denounce them both to Caesar?
EUS. That grape is not yet ripe. Wait, and you’ll harvest the purple cluster soon enough. Perhaps my friend Ablavius (as he imagines) will reveal to me the names of courtiers infected by a similar malady. Then, with my Greek faith, I’ll reveal this diseased crew to Caesar, clearer than glass. But look here, the hinge of the royal palace door is creaking. (Enter Justinian and Eutychius.) The defenseless shepherd approaches the bloody-thirsty wolf.
Eutychius complains about the courtiers’ corrupt manners and the spreading heresy, but does not receive a friendly hearing from the emperor. They enter conversing.
JUST. Why are you always assaulting my ears? I think you are very tiresome.
EUT. Have pity on your afflicted ship. The gale, hurling its artillery, is battering its sides, and, is already drinking in the sea through its gaping planks. It’s a shipwreck if you don’t show the brilliance of your countenance, like the twin fires born of snow-white Leda.
JUST. What gale is raging on black wings“ Or what fury, let loose from its black cave, is vexing our ship of state?
EUT. Heresy, that child of Avernus, is the gale troubling your barque.
JUST. You’re dreaming. Thus far I see no storms.
EUT. If you look at your noblemen, you will see the like number of whirlwinds in your court.
JUST. The company of nobles is loyal to me.
EUT. Whoever is prepared to wage war against God does not long remain a trusty Achates to sovereigns.
JUST. Is anybody harming heaven’s gift with impious warfare? What child of Aloeus is piling Pelion on top of Ossa?
EUT. Whoever dares enlist in the army of the Styx is striving to pull down heaven’s citadels with his Giant-like hand.
JUST. Your blood runs sluggish, your temples bristle with white hair. When the discolored skin sags with old age and the knees wobble, the mind also totters under its own weight. Don’t fear this plague, I swear by Cynthia’s ruddy choir, that plague of Lernaea has never infected me.
EUT. Would that in the future it will fear to infect you! But I am afraid fear lest this cancer creep along on silent foot. This ugly bane, this herald of impending death, has no fear of kings. What robe, dyed with the juice of Sidon, wards off an army of fevers? Are not Croesus and Irus cocomade of the same clay?
JUST. You’re troubled by excessive concern for me. Banish pale fear far away. When Phoebus, armed with his golden bow, shoots his shafts of light and the heaven opens its dark bosom, it is eager to strike the earth with its sweet wounding. Immediately its baneful humor rises up to the clouds as a vapor. But the pure beacon of Phoebus does not receive any blemish to its clear light from such filth. Thus when Caesar’s countenance shines and looks upon the company of his nobility, infected by a noxious bane, this plague will never contaminate the royal brilliance of their Augustus.
EUT. How often does that sad vapor hide Phoebus’ bright nimbus in its darkness? (He bares his head.) I beg You, by the bloody side of our ever-lasting King, by His wounds and His same number of fountains of nectar, the world’s red jewels, let this plague depart your court. What advantage is there, Caesar, in nursing vipers at your bosom?
IUST. It is your duty to devote yourself to pious pray, leave government to me. (Exit.)
EUT. (He kneels.) So I shall pour forth my prayers to the supernals. Oh chaste Mother, surrounded by a blessed choir of saints, you harbor for the shipwrecked barque, you guiding star of the sea, shine your sweet light on this ship as it sails, and guide his trembling hand with your own as he steers his rudder. Bid the storms fall asleep, both the storms of the ocean and of Caesar’s wrath. Thus let virgins bring you the tribute of springtime, let your shrines be fragrant with garlands, you Mother of our ever-living Flower.
The conspirators convene a council in which they encourage each other to commit such a great deed and deliberate what is to be done.
MARCELLUS It’s decided. The tyrant will fall. Let the ferry of the Styx look forward to its guest. Even if he covers his head with a helmet of adamant, although a breastplate protects his heart with its faithful scales a hundred times over, nevertheless our lightning-like sword-point will find an easy way. But why is our loyal band of confederates delaying? (Enter Sergius.) Greetings, Sergius, what delay holds our companions?
SERG. I have no idea. Perhaps they are indulging in slumber. Bacchus customarily makes his friends sleep. I’d like set their beds afire. (Enter Ablavius, Paul, Vitus, and Isaac.)
MARC. You’re too eager. See, they are hurrying, clustered together. You hearts devoted to Mars, Cynthius’ nimbus has never illuminated a better day. At length banished Liberty has returned to her native soil. She drives her bright chariot and removes the iron yoke from our necks. Come, you champions of Mars, let this god never elude your grasp. Does Sergius promise a steady mind?
SERG. Let the world topple from its broken pivot, in its collapse it will fall on a fearless Sergius.
ABL. Although Olympus itself shake with its lightning, I’ll kiss Jove’s ruddy hand.
VIT. Let Medea sow war once more, let the angry earth pour forth a iron-clad band of fighting men, let this brass-bound crop bend under the weight of its many weapons, let a thousand legions spring forth from Erebus’ Styx, I’ll make dark Dis’ army return to Avernus in fearful flight.
PAUL. Why waste time with speech? My steel yearns to drink the bloody wine from Caesar’s heart. Let’s go.
IS. Cease the threats of your raging mind. The fierce quarry has not yet come in to our nets.
MARC. But he’ll come. Today Melampo is preparing to encircle the forest dens, Caesar is hedging about the fleet young deer’s glade with his netting. What if we catch up Caesar himself in our snares?
ABL. He’d be a fine prize for us.
PAUL. No herd of deer, no matter how much they shade themselves with their branching horns, would equal this royal prey.
VIT. Although I yearn to strike the savage boar with his lightning-like trust, I prefer the hunt of Caesar.
IS. Even if the lion with his bristling mane offer us his undefended side, I prefer the proud trophy of a king to that of a lion.
SERG. We’re creating delay with our talk. We should already have started the quarry from its lair, we’re all asleep.
MARC. Caesar has not armed his side with his Cretan quiver, he has not yet shot his hostile missiles at the wild goat. When he’s outstretched on his cot, resting his weary limbs, the chattering shade of the forest will urge him to enjoy his repose. Then I will lead a chorus out of the bosom of the greeny forest, and it will weave its circles in the dance, shaking the earth with its unshod feet. And when we reach out our hands to offer the king deceptive gifts, a sword-point will tell no lie in delivering a deadly wound.
ALL We like the scheme.
SERG. Bellisarius should also come into our snare. He’s over-proud.
MARC. I admit he’s possessed of high-flying spirits, and so he will perhaps join us as a friendly companion in our enterprise. You’ll test his mind, set afire by the praise he receives.
SERG. I’ll make trial of the vein in which he shines.
MARC. May our sails be speeded by a friendly wind. (Exeunt.)