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When word of the plot reaches Byzantium, Bellisarius is moved by this development to commend loyalty to his son, and he advises him to be steadfast in his loyalty to his emperor.
SMAR. Father, does Thetis surround a single globe of earth in her glassy arms? Or does she cherish more at her liquid bosom?
BELL. She only clasps one globe to her breast.
SMAR. I regret that, Father.
BELL. Why trouble yourself with regret, son?
SMAR. Because the entire world acknowledges my father’s yoke, an no other remains from which fresh laurels can grow for Smaragdus.
BELL. Embrace your father’s neck, my son, with the knot of a Gordius. Mars-born offspring delight my heart. No single world contains your mind, Smaragdus. Come, soon you’ll be leading a squadron of horse, a two-colored steed will be offering you its flowing reins.
SMAR. When will the morning star bring that day? Phoebus’ car is traveling with very slow hoofbeats.
BELL. The hours are flying by as we speak, son, that day will come on a swift chariot. But before your devote yourself to the delightful dust of Mars, absorb what I say with a remembering mind.
SMAR. Speak, Father. I’ll hang from your lips.
BELL. He who likes the savage camp of Bellona walks a slippery path. There the arrows of Mars and also of Love come a-flying, both of which threaten a soldier with bloody death. The one pierces the body, the other the mind.
SMAR. So the shafts of Mars and Love cut to the quick with equal force? Does that treacherously smiling lad fighst in the camp of Mars? What breastplate will protect my body? Or what jacket of steel will ward off his fiery darts?
BELL. Fear of God Almighty will blunt its Idalian sharpness. Let Him be your shield, your helmet, and your protecting tunic. If you imbibe the nectar of nuturing virtue when the rose of your youth is in bloom, piety comes forth more welcome beginning in your early years, it is no precocious gem. Let this be your patrimony: it is better than silver, more important than a mine of gold. Everything else dies, but it disdains the funeral pyre, just as the higher a holm-oak reaches towards the stars, the more it groans at the wounding of an axe when it is being pruned. Remain loyal, my son, to God and your sovereign, and let not any amount of gold undermine your trustworthiness. And, if you believe your father, you should shudder even at the name of traitor, for every treasonous man inflicts great harm on himself. A squalid prison cell contains those guilty men who lately tried to harm our Augustus’ sacred person with their steel. Beware lest you besmirch your reputation with a similar stain.
SMAR. I shall beware, father. God forbid that an unjust blot stain my name. I am not tormented by thirst for the Tagus, nor does the rich Orient or the ocean’s treasury trouble my breast. I embrace my father’s heritage of loyalty, and I think myself wealthy enough if you make me your glory’s heir.
BELL. I like Smaragdus’ character. My son, renew your father’s fading laurels with your virtue. Let your father live in the trophies of his son. But now, my son, I shall return to the royal dwelling, and you seek out your mother’s home. (Exeunt.)
When Bellisarius does not admit his guilt, he is thrown in chains. Smaragdus and Hyacinthus come along and are deeply troubled by the strange development.
JUST. My mind is softening, it is being swayed. It cannot take on the aspect of a harsh judge. It prefers to assume the sweet role of a father and to bury the guilty man’s crime in the pool of Lethe.
NARS. So you spare the accused? Why are brazen chains confining the noblemen, if no punishments of the law befall their rebellion’s leader? Let them all experience your lightning.
JUST. Whoever wields the reins of state should be a king over himself as well. Does not the gem-studded purple so befit a prince that his mind should be able to be appeased, that he should be free of bile and in control of himself? Clemency sweetens the harshness of his rule, and this alone is fitting for a king of kings.
NARS. The fires of black Phlegethon also attest to God’s vengeful wrath. Heaven is armed with lightning, and the earth yawns open to received the guilty. You delay your strike too long, wield your missile while you can.
JUST. So I should stain my hand with the blood of a friend?
NARS. He’s no friend. His crime shows him to be an enemy.
JUST. Let that be so. But Christ cherishes even rebels in His paternal embrace, as long as a tear wash away their treachery with its waters. Perhaps Bellisarius will approach me on his knees, his eyes swimming in tears. If he comes to me as a suppliant, he will renew his good graces. But if with a traitor’s disposition he deny his guilt, a grim prison cell will tame his pride.
NARS. Pride never kneels in humility.
JUST. Fortune breaks the high spirits of generals, if she covers the brightness of her face behind a lowering cloud. Has Bellisarius returned home?
NARS. He’s coming to the palace this very day. He strides along with insolence.
JUST. My unclouded face will give signs of happiness. (Enter Bellisarius.) Come, may all the world’s pleasure be yours, Bellisarius, child of indomitable Mars.
NARS. (Aside.) Oh, how sweetly the words flow from Caesar’s mouth! The Siren is singing to the shipwrecked man.
BELL. Augustus, master of the world, it pains me that Thrace nourishes so many black vipers. Thus do traitors scheme ruin for their nation? Who was the man responsible for such a great crime?
JUST. You have touched the wound right to its quick, Bellisarius. Perhaps you know who was responsible.
BELL. Would that I did! I swear by Persephone’s realm and the awful ponds of the Styx, I’d warm my sword with his blood.
JUST. You condemn yourself out of your own mouth. You were the architect of this crime, the man responsible for this crime. You suborned those noblemen.
BELL. What malign Fury has bewitched your mind, Caesar?
JUST. In vain you hide your guilt behind your false face. Your treachery is all to clear.
BELL. Thetis will sooner entomb the stars and this ball of earth will stand hanging above the sky, than I’ll break you laws, my faith.
JUST. Dispense with those lying words. Unless bend your knee and extend a suppliant hand, the squalofr of a dark cell awaits you.
BELL. What’s this? Shall I confess my guilt when I am fault-free? When I am a man uncondemned by any jury? If I am guilty, produce your witnesses, let your two-tongued Sinon come forward, let him cast aside his shame, he will not withstand the savage threats of my fiery countenance.
JUST. [He produces the emerald ring.] This witness is not blushing. Look, it’s smiling! Do you recognize your emerald, you traitor, the one that used to be mine? This jewel was adorning the impious hand of Sergius. So does this gem enrich the world with itsONE HEART, when your duplicitous heart nurses the fires of rebellion?
BELL. [Aside.] The chill blood freezes in my veins, my marrow turns to the stone of Tantalus. Why are you amazed, my mind? Do you fear the darts of envy? Fear does not befit a champion of Mars. [Aloud.] Caesar, I swear by heaven’s lofty choirs, Sergius’ envy forged these sly darts against me. He wore this ring relying on the poisons of Thessaly.
JUST. You still retain your lofty spirits, proud man? You’re still ashamed to admit your guilt? Take away this plague, you iron martial company. (Enter soldiers.) First strip his side of his disloyal steel.
BELL. Let your cohort stand and watch, I’ll strip myself. (He kisses his sword.) Trusty steel of Bellisarius, never disloyal to Caesar, farewell forever.
JUST. Now let a sordid shirt cover over his purple.
BELL. I’m made to look sordid, but am still not guilty. My costume becomes as dark as night, but heaven enjoys the sunny brightness of my mind. Oh shirt, how you are of a different color than my disposition!
JUST. Buried in a disgraceful cell with his hands tied behind his back by a hundred knots, let him groan until he pleads his case in the court of Mars. (Exit. Enter Bellisarius’ sons.)
SMAR. Is this truly the sight of our father, or are apparitions deceiving his son? I’m looking at my father.
BELL. Smaragdus, your father’s jewel, farewell forever. Hyacinthus, your father’s flower, why are your cheeks wet?
SMAR. Oh father? Why does this shirt as black as night cover your frame?
HYA. Why are my father’s limbs bound with the chains they use to restrain felons? Where are you going, father?
BELL. My sacred soul is going to the dark prison of the guilty, the house of punishment. Who would believe it? My emerald has cut the thread of my life.
SMAR. I cut it, father? Sooner Smaragdus would give his father his own thread.
BELL. I mean that emerald which glow green, surrounded by the ore of the Tagus.
HYA. Caesar’s gift was able to harm you?
BELL. His gift was my destruction.
FIRST SOLDIER Go away, boys, Leave your father.
SMAR. Let’s go together, your cell can hold three.
BELL. My harmless offspring will go to the dungeon?
HYA. Why not? The prison holds our harmless father.
SECOND SOLDIER We’re delaying too long.
SMAR. Let me, oh let me cling to my father’s bosom.
HYA. Let me lose my life on your breast. (They both tightly embrace their father.)
BELL. You sweet protection of our tottering house, you ruddy sprouts of springtime, you pair of roses, you vain hope of your father, what should I pray for you? I pray that you have your father’s loyalty, but that both of you enjoy a better fate.
THIRD SOLDIER Break up your embrace, the day is hurrying along.
SMAR. Father, we’ll both boldly go to the palace threshold. Perhaps our salt tears will prevail on the Augustus’ adamant-bound heart.
BELL. I hope your tears learn to be eloquent. Let the sons plead the father’s case. (Exeunt.)
CHORUS OF TWO
1. Oh slippery wheel of the fickle goddess. A prince’s favor creates fragile treasures of springtime which are cut down by the winter’s fury.
2. Parthian arrows do not cleaveh the clouds with such a headlong storm as the favor of an offended prince flies away, this as fast as the flight of the winged east wind.
Bellisarius pleads his case in chains, but is bested by false witnesses. Eutychius and Cleobulus are only commanded to be whipped. The conspirators are condemned to exile, and Bellisarius to blinding. His sons plead for him but are rejected.
JUST. [Addressing the jury.] The great Colossus, which reached up to the stars, felt heaven’s vengeful hand, fell to the ground in a great collapse, and groaned. Whoever arouses Caesar’s ire foolishly disturbs a ravening lioness’ cubs. Recently, Bellisarius’ threatening head scraped the sky in his lofty position, but now, like a comet balefully glittering with its blood-red tail, he has suffered his fall. Let empty-headed Icaruses learn to shun the clouds, unless they are eager to be buried in a watery grave. If my court still nourishes any insolent Phaetons, let them learn wisdom from Bellisarius’ downfall. Nevertheless, since it is the duty of kings to preserve Themis’ holy voice safe and sound, I shall weigh the accused’s guilt in a fair balance. I shall not stain my hands with blood. Your evaluation will weave together the black and the white threads on a spindle. Do you want to give the accused a hearing?
ALL We very much do.
JUST. Let the accused stand forth. Behold, Bellisarius, the platform is yours. (Enter Bellisarius, bound.) You may plead your case, you see these judges are fair-minded.
BELL. Even if I hold my silence, my scars are eloquent enough. I wish to settle this quarrel by steel, not by words, Caesar. Let my sword be my attorney, let me be acquitted with steel judging the case. So I am accused of treason? I, bound with a triple laurel for having sent three kings beneath the yoke? Would that those noble gentlemen could speak from the cavern of Dis! My enemies would be my advocates. Tigris, you great master of the Persian expanse, you worship my trophies with your servile water. And you, you Tiber who roll along in your bloody chariot, you bear witness to how many Gothic victims my hand has sent to the Styx. Oh you desert wastes of Libya, you harsh rocks, you deserts far too close to Phoebus’ car, where the blood I have caused to be shed fructifies your sterile soil, is Bellisarius a rebel? How often did the commander of the heaven leave his cohorts to his sister when he was exhausted and and obliged to stay with me in my camp! Ah, how often did I stand alone against hostile ranks when a cloud of iron thundered against me, my cheeks adorned by an honorable wound! Alas, Caesar, this hand created your scepter.
JUST. It is not fitting to fill this court with empty words. Either expunge the blot of this accusation, or you will lose your case, overcome by the number of witnesses against you.
BELL. He who lives with heaven as his witness has no fear of witnesses. Let this many-headed leech come forward, let these wolves fall upon the fold with their cruel jaws, a guilt-free mind fears nothing.
JUST. Let the witnesses come forth. (Enter the conspirators, bound.) Sergius, who have you that green-glowing emerald?
SERG. I swear by the palace of buried Night, by its banks glowing with pitch and fire, things my disposition has merited, the disloyal hand of Bellisarius corrupted Sergius’ faith with this gold and its gemstone.
BELL. Oh, You Who shake the heaven with Your mighty nod, You ruler of the world, sink this lying fellow beneath the deepest shades of Tartarus. Why does heaven’s wrath idly sleep? Do You see? Envy has kindled its torches for Sergius’ eyes. Did I not give you this gem, you perjurer, when my victorious foot was planted on your servile neck? My enemies are not to be trusted, Caesar. He’s ill-disposed towards me because I remained loyal to you.
JUST. Ablavius, did Bellisarius’ treasure also corrupt your heart?
ABL. The blood of my noble friend abundantly attests that Sergius is not speaking falsehood. Marcellus, the yellow weight of the Tagus sent your soul, careless of its welfare, to the court of Dis. The hunger of Midas corrupted both our hearts.
PAUL This golden lure greatly deceived us all.
VITUS He promised me the lordly fasces of a consul.
I|SAAC He promised me an ivory chair of office too. I would have been a praetor, Augustus, had Bellisarius’ treasonous hand planted his steel in your heart.
JUST. Good. Decide, my lords, in which direction Themis’ balance falls. (Enter Eutychius and Cleobulus.)
ALL He’s guilty.
EUS. Is envy to pull down the world’s pillar from its bloodied base? These sons of Lernaea have bewitched you, Caesar.
CLEO. Unsullied virtue falls thanks to an unjust verdict.
JUST. What’s this? So should an arrogant priest dictate my counsel? And stubborn Cleobulus? Let the both of them be reduced to poverty and till the soil. Let them both wander about, deprived of a fixed abode. Let their pestilent madness learn to hold its tongue. And let similar exile be inflicted on the rebels. A heavier punishment awaits Bellisarius, the punishment of bloodthirsty Polyphemus. When Phoebus sheds daylight from his celestial palace, dark night will remain upon your eyelids. (Bellisarius’ sons enter and kneel.)
BELL. When blind, I can better see your madness.
JUST. You’re still growling.
SMAR. Have mercy, Caesar.
HYAC. Caesar, I pray you have mercy on our harmless father.
JUST. Remove these headstrong fellows. Get going, you boys who deserve a better sire. (They are led out by soldiers.)
SMAR. We’ll follow Father.
HYAC. The prison will hold us all in its dark recesses.
JUST. Let whoever grasps at the scepter of power suffer such a punishment. (Exeunt.)
Eutychius and Cleobulus are departing. Sergius and Ablavius, about to depart into exile, insult Bellisarius. When the others have left, Eutychius and Cleobulus remain.
EUT. Indomitable champion of Christ, what laurel is worthy to garland your hair? Even if Christsthorn impedes your way with its bristling thorns, like the roses of ruddy Paestum, the hard ways will grow gentle if the land feels your footsteps.
CLEO. Reverend bishop, I shall gladly join you in passing through the roiling straights of Syrtis. Not even the ridges of Scythia, although that land suffers from an unfriendly sky, will slow my progress.
EUT. I like the ardor of your spirit, so much like mine. Let us offer up to God the censer of our hearts, let prayers be our incense, and love our fire. Howling wolves are besieging our sheepfolds.
CLEO. Pray that no wolf wastes our tender flock. (They kneel before an altar.)
EUT. Oh almighty Shepherd, Whose staff is revered by the innocent sheep, from Whose shoulders hangs the sick lamb as You wander the trackless ridges, behold a predator from Tartarus, a fearful wolf come from the cave of the Styx, rages, and drags down the flock of sheep, mute with fear, to join the helpless sinners of its cave. Make the threats of this ravager cease, make the hunger of its belly cease. I am summoned by a wholly distant part of the world. Meanwhile the forests will mourn, deprived of their master. (A song is heard.) Is sleep deceiving my mind, Cleobulus? What nightingale, what glory of the starlight, was warbling a tune in its breast?
CLEO. With his lyre the Thracian priest did not thus bewitch the listening rocks. This song fires my heart with new fire. Why delay? The rocks and the forests with their sighing foliage are summing to us. Farewell, Thracian land, sweet native soil of Cleobulus. If they banish me from my paternal home, I shall be enrolled as a better citizen of heaven.
EUT. It shall welcome us with all the more open arms, if the earth denies us its embrace (They leave. The prison is opened.)
WARDEN Get going, you guilty men. Your departure impends. Quickly shake off sleep’s god from your languid limbs.
SERG. [Waking up.] What owl is hooting with its inauspicious sound? Memnon’s mother, the author of the rosy light, has not yet left hers bed.
WARDEN Get up.
ABL. What noise of the Styx disturbs the peace of the night?
WARDEN Long ago Aurora’s glow has put Cynthia to rout. Break the bonds of Morpheus, and likewise those of your feet. Your friends are awaiting their comrades. (He removes their fetters and exits.)
SERG. We should abandon our delay. Do you see him on his knees? (He points out Bellisarius on his knees in the same prison, holding up a crucifix.) What a pious expression Bellisarius wears!
ABL. How well his lips mutter prayers!
SERG. Didn’t your arrow once wound Sergius? That wound remains stored up in my mind forever. I shall not leave my nation’s bosom unavenged, I have satisfied my thirst for vengeance.
ABL. Oh bright brilliance of the Parca! Oh happy day. Marcellus, if your soul survives the greedy pyre, rejoice, we have drunk our enemy’s blood. We are glad to have felt the wound of the winged flame, as long as Bellisarius feels it too.
SERG. We are glad to travel to totally different climes of the world, when a cell contains you, condemned to the Chaos of everlasting night.
ABL. Go now with self-important step and lord it over the nobility with a proud foot. With a bold hand drive your car above heaven and its stars. The fate of tearful Phaeton awaits you.
SERG. Our band of friends is delaying. Farewell, Bellisarius.
ABL. Bellisarius, you vile plaything of the world, farewell. (They depart.)
When Smaragdus and Hyacinthus receive their father’s eyes they bitterly lament. When the soldiers come along they are dragged off to prison together with their father.
SMAR. (Alone.) Just as fair Astyanax, his hair unkempt, once groaned at his father’s noble pyre alongside the river Scamander, where his tears increased the volume of its bloody streams, where water swelled by this addition of water and wave begat wave, thus I mourn my father’s funeral while he still lives. Let the mournful turtle-dove mourn along with me. Let her sister, the nightingale, issue forth her ancient plaint. Let the sad choir of the forest only bewail the bitter fate of Bellisarius. Oh pestilent envy, you worst daughter of Jove of the Underworld! You whose darts drip with the bile of Lerna, why is a forest of your arrows destroying a son and his father? Why do your missiles drip with innocent blood? (Enter Hyacinthus.)
HYAC. Oh brother, let’s both mount our funeral-pyre. Brother, I bring you sad, cruel, horrendous news.
SMAR. Father has died?
HYAC. He’s alive, Smaragdus, but he does not enjoy the light of day.
SMAR. Has the executioner’s dire hand dug out his eyes?
HYAC. Alas (sorrow obstructs my words), the executioner’s dire hand has dug out his eyes.
SMAR. Oh the savage tiger! Caesar, the Hyrcanian beasts defer to you. The hard flint of the Caucasus touches your marrow. (Enter Justin.)
IUSTIN Let Smaragdus wipe his cheeks with his snow-white hand, and let Hyacinthus also restrain his plentiful rain of tears. The Augustus shows us his favor. See, this coffer encloses gems of the orient in its embrace, tawny gold will shine on your fingers. This is Caesar’s mandate, let this letter warrant what I say.
SMAR. Justin, I fear the gifts of a crafty prince. Perhaps this false coffer conceals poison.
IUSTIN God forbid that I’d bring death to my Smaragdus. Rather, these letters send you greetings.
HYAC. Read it brother.
SMAR. I’ll do so, since you bid me. (He takes the coffer, and also the letter, which he reads.) Take your father’s eyes, but take them with happy face. Behold the eyes that used to delight your own. You’re giving me Father’s eyes, Justin?
IUSTIN When you open the lid you’ll see a treasure of ruby wares.
SMAR. (Opening the coffer.) Oh your deceptive hand! I’m looking at Father’s eyes.
HYAC. Hold up my fainting brother, Justin. The blood’s freezing in his veins. (Smaragdus regains consciousness.)
IUSTIN Why are you lying with your lolling head? Why do you seek the refuge of my breast? I confess I am guilty of this fault. This hand will willingly burn in Scaevola’s fire. Although I was deceived by my imprudent error, I’ll suffer the punishment due a guilty man.
SMAR. Your error proves your innocence. Caesar is the sole man responsible for this bloodthirsty joke.
IUSTIN I’ll go straightway to the threshold of the palace, that blood-stained threshold, where care shakes the edifice with its troubled wings, a home which plays host to deceptions. I shall openly rail against the tyrant’s deeds with an Attic tongue. (Exit.)
SMAR. God grant you eloquence!. Meanwhile, Hyacinthus, take turns with me in lamenting the blindness of our unhappy father, let your sorrow pour forth its tears.
HYAC. Hand me the sorrowful lute, it will echo my brother’s lyre. Take the lead and I shall follow.
SMAR. Hail, gems of Caesar, gems of our father. Hail, you who were once stars like the morning star, when the heaven of his face contained you both. But after our sovereign’s blind rage made you separate, you will be heralds of enduring night, you will be my twin evening stars.
HYAC. Let me look on this sweet gift, brother, let me see my father’s setting suns. Alas, rosy glow, why are you plunging them both in the ocean? When will you bring day to the world again? Dark night will cover the world with its mantle, unless you show a ruddy glow from the east.
SMAR. The earth shakes with the sound of footsteps.
HYAC. It grows louder as it approaches. (Cleander bursts in with soldiers.)
SMAR. Behold, wolves are hunting after lambs.
CLE. Shackle them, prison awaits these guilty boys.
SMAR. Hyacinthus, let fresh charm sit on your face. Father’s prison will receive us all.
HYAC. Oh, my wedding-day! I’ll enjoy Father’s embrace.
SMAR. King’s homes with their elegant ceilings do not match Father’s humble darkness.
CLE. Take them. We have no time to spend whole days, the hour flees by as we speak. (They are dragged away.)
Justin praises the faithful work of his followers. Bellisarius begs for an obol as he is led about the theater, but maintains that he has suffered this undeservedly. From heaven St. Sylverius denies this and warns him that he should mourn his [...]
JUST. The warring brothers have returned to the teeming prison of the winds’ commander, and the Bosphorus does not roar with the upheaval of the northwest wind. The north wind falls silent, and the blue waters roll along with peaceful waves. It is your achievement that light has returned to heaven and sleep to the sea, with fury banished to distant climes.
NARS. Caesar’s countenance calms the heaven, and he soothes the sea like Jove’s golden offspring.
EUS. As long as the spirit is strong in my body, let my steel savage rebels.
NARS. As long as the laurel garlands warlike brows, as long as the bright tract of heroes shines as snow-white as milk, so long, my generals, will your honor will perpetually flourish. (Enter Bellisarius, his eyes covered by a bloody rag. Smaragdus leads him, and Hyacinthus follows. They are all costumed as beggars.)
SMAR. Follow me as I lead, father.
JUST. (Quietly.) See how blind Bellisarius is begging for coins.
BELL. Give great Bellisarius an obol, you kindly throng.
HYA. Aren’t your hearts, carved out of flint, moved by my father’s blindness? Give him an obol.
BELL. Whoever is intoxicated and hunts after the unpleasant shadow of fleeting glory should look at the ruin of my face and quickly learn what a fragile prize he seeks with such a rush.
JUST. Go, Bellisarius, return to the narrow confines of your dark lair. A bountiful table and its abundant wine summons my noblemen. (Exit with his nobles.)
BELL. Rather a table with its abundant Circe’s poison. A table which is set by the perennial fear of Damocles. I return to my Cimmerian cell of black night. I am condemned by your scales, but I am not convicted by by heaven’s vote. (Exeunt. St. Sylverius appears in heaven, with angels.)
ST. SYLV. “But I am not convicted by heaven’s vote?” You’re wrong. Heaven’s vote declares you guilty. But let that be. Yet why did eagles encircle heaven with their rebellious wings? And why did the upheaval of Phlegra, which had been well settled, boil up again?. Why were hands reddened by my blood? After I had been driven from the hills of Romulus, a dire wasting disease has been consuming me with its slow rot. It was the rage of Theodora, savage Bellisarius, which aroused your frenzy. But now the flaming waters of Avernus are burning that proud woman’s soul. The wretched woman! How she’d like to trade her lot for mine! How she’d like to swim back over the Styx! But the labyrinth of that dark court prevents her. You, Bellisarius, will join her as a companion in that sluggish river unless your weeping appeases God’s wrath. Beg, groan, and as an old man wash away the blemishes your youthful ardor acquired. Beware lest eternal imprisonment replace the brief delay of your imprisonment on earth.