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MELEAGER, A NEW TRAGEDY
TWICE PUBLICLY ACTED AT
THE PROSPECT FOR A HAPPY AND PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR IS WISHED FOR THE MOST ILLUSTRIOUS ROBERT EARL OF ESSEX, MEMBER OF THE ORDER OF THE GARTER AND MASTER OF THE QUEEN’S HORSE
OW it is almost the eleventh year, most noble Earl, since Meleager came upon the stage, the eighth since he came again; at first he came freely of his own volition, and three years later, invited and summoned by the public, he came forward a second time. Present in the audience were the very distinguished Earls of Pembroke and Leicester (who was our Chancellor at the time), together with the most noble Philip Sidney and a number of illustrious gentlemen of the Court. I do not recall the approbation with which he was received, nor was I greatly concerned. It was sufficient praise for Meleager (if there is to be any praise) that he twice submitted to the judgment of our most discriminating hearers without incurring any mark of disgrace. And behold, he now makes his entry for a third time, not onto the stage, but into the light, that is, into your sight. He is going to undergo a greater risk, to the extent that the judgement of the day, of sunlight, and of the eye, is severer than that of the stage, of torchlight, and of the ear. He was long spurned by me, all but sentenced to exposure: I scarcely acknowledged him, let alone gave him the affection due a son. For some reason I do not understand, I always maintained a somewhat cold and unfriendly attitude toward him. But since Meleager was my firstborn, and many people urged that this child ought to be nurtured and not be abandoned as food for the bookworms and the moths, and they themselves, unbeknownst to me, falsely and wrongly brought him up, and did not cease praising his character to me, I confess that at length I took pity on my child, and little by little I ceased to be ashamed for him, since I had sired him in my youth. I fear lest he appear to be adopted in boyhood or to be disfigured by wearing rags, as urchins are wont to do, rather than to be my true offspring. Therefore, when I had decided to pick up this thing I had engendered, and acknowledge it as my own, I began to ponder to whom among the grandees I should ingratiate myself, on whom I should attend, on whose protection Meleager might rely, not only to become known, but also to thrive. Among them all, only your greatness satisfied me, dearest Robert, in view of your most excellent reputation, your illustrious pedigree, humanity, magnificence, wit, learning, magnanimity, military science, and every form of heroic virtue both private and public; and then in consideration of that most pleasant association in which your brother Walter was kind enough to include me while he was at Oxford; I cherished him as long as he lived, and now that he is dead I shall cherish his memory always. By his untimely passing, even more lamentable than that of Sidney, the nation has been deprived of a most valiant young man, you of a most flourishing and pleasant brother, and I of a very noble friend and patron. But I shall spare your eyes, let alone my own sorrow. Wherefore, most noble Lord, I give you my little boy, twelve years of age, a proof of my devotion to you and a small New Year’s gift, and dedicate him to you. I give you power and authority over him. I very humbly request that among all today’s magnificence of New Year’s presents, you not only condescend to notice him, but also to admit him into your company. He will come to you recommended, if by nothing else, by his loyalty and dutifulness towards you. For I convey and bequeath Meleager to live and die in your service. Farewell. Written at Christ Church, Oxford, January 1, 1593.
Most devoted to your honor,
DOMINUS RICHARD EEDES, CLERGYMAN AND CANON OF CHRIST CHURCH, ON WILLIAM GAGER’S MELEAGER
For many days Meleager was your care, and will bring you praise for many years. Am I wrong, or has he created the same fortune for your Muse which he is said to have miserably undergone? For the play expired in about the space of a single hour, just as he expired along with the burning brand. Now you are taking thought for your Muse, and also for Meleager. For although the both of them are extinguished, their light returns, which will not perish.
BY SIGNOR ALBERICO GENTILI
You, noble champion, whom a mother’s spite and hostile fate destroyed, and those cruel hands that dragged you to dreadful flames: whence do you come hither to view the light again?
Is Accius there? Or is it true that you have not crossed over the river of mourning, and remain there among the flitting shadows and unsubstantial bodies, ‘til my William reanimates and enlightens you?
You were born to die at a fated time, and then you died by a cruel and unhallowed death; and you are born again and die anew: alas, the fate! But be glad that this poet now with his verses assures you a living and powerful vigor, so that you have not to fear the angry world.
J. C. GREETS HIS DEAR FRIEND WILLIAM GAGER
Not without reason, Gager, is tragedy dear to your heart, whose heart has been most grieved by Fortune’s ills. Albeit tragedy herself is suitable for a learned man, she grips you with a more particular concern. For just as Polus the actor mourned his own son while playing the role of Sophocles’ Electra, so do you bewail your fate while wearing another man’s buskin, lamenting real injuries under an artificial name. Thus you make a personal plaint under a fictitious guise, and while a play seems to be performed reality is being enacted. Now I should imagine that this lethal song you sing agrees wonderfully with your own story. How nearly Meleager touches you, in name and in significance! You almost have his name, and nearly share his fate. He was injured by the criminal invidiousness of his family, and you by yours, and by the wickedness of family ties scorned. For your youths were both ruined unjustly, and a horrible woman visited destruction on the both of you. His mother took away his life — how a woman who was almost your mother took away your reason for living! He died because of hidden hatreds, you were secretly ruined. He was laid low by poisons and incantations, you by a poisonous woman, her fraud and deceit, her arts, wiles, and malice. For life does not exist without the means of living, and she took your life when your fortune was destroyed. But the situation is not lost, and perhaps the both of you will live, not by a magical incantation, but by the song of tragedy.
TO THE ACADEMIC READER
Meleager, whom you once witnessed by nocturnal illumination, and who twice received applause as you granted it, I now provide to be read by you in the bright light, here to be seen in the middle of the day. How much will you think that you read differs from what you saw? You will say that my larva has produced a drone, that Meleager is scarcely what he used to be, you will condemn yourself and your previous opinion. But he is the same, though possibly the years have changed him. You saw him as an infant, now he can be regarded as a boy.
This story is very ancient and pertains to that epoch which immediately follows upon the expedition of the Argonauts (in which our Meleager was included); indeed, it antedated the Trojan War by almost a full generation. For the expedition was undertaken by just about the same heroes who are the hunters here, and the War by their sons. However, in this business of the hunt, Meleager easily stood out as the leader, he whom an ancient poet (whoever he was) did not hesitate to call “the famous son of Greece,” and Homer called him “beloved of Ares.” Antiphon, indeed, praised him to the extent that he said that the remaining band of princes had gathered “not so that they might kill the beast, but so that they could attest to Meleager’s virtue in the eyes of Greece.”
Now, there are two elements in this tragedy which, wrapped in the guise of myth, lack the true illumination of history: the boar and the fatal brand. For some say that the Calydonian boar was a notable robber, the son of some feral Corinthian woman named by the poets the Chrommyonian Sow, killed by Theseus, from whom the “Calydonian Boar” was born according to Strabo. And if somebody should think it strange that so many Greek princes came together to suppress a robber, if he were to reflect on Viriatus of Lusitania, the gladiator Spartacus, the first Ottoman, Tamburlane the Scythian, and other notorious bandits, he would immediately cease to be amazed. It is plausible that the fatal brand was a poison, or magical arts by which Althaea encompassed Meleager’s death, with which Homer appears to agree. For by him the whole story is told very differently than by Ovid, and by Ovid very differently than by others, according to each writer’s judgment. Nor do I doubt that it was told still otherwise by Antiphon, and that it was yet differently arranged and handled by Euripides, and perhaps by Accius. Wherefore I determined all the more to introduce Atalanta (whatever she may have been) averse to marriage, and Oeneus arrogant and scornful of the gods and rashly ending his life, so that the tragedy’s plot might be embroidered with greater variety and horror. And for the same reason I excluded the transformation of Meleager’s sisters into birds, the Meleagrides, lest this play end with a miraculous turn of events rather than a conclusion having a genuinely tragic feeling, like a fish which “trails off into a loathsome bird, being a beautiful woman above.”
PROLOGUE FOR ACADEMICS
A poet is like a swan, good schoolmen: both are pale, both are good at singing, both rejoice in streams and pleasant places, both are dear to Phoebus. But they say that the swan sings when the West wind blows. Why shouldn’t our poet (and I beg that you lend me the use of this word) sing when the favor of your attention wafts on him from all sides, a gentle breath of favor, gentler than the mild Zephyr? About to die, the swan sings a doleful song, and our poet, as if moribund himself, sings a dying swan-song: funereal, tragic, as if it were his last. Pray pardon a novice poet. For the first time he glides through the air, the vast sky, trusting in his wings, from which the black color has scarcely departed. For the first time he has taken wing from his little nest and raised his voice, of a kind that does not reach the nearby sea or all the parts of his own river. It is enough if the neighboring bank echoes his noise. Now hear the gist of his novel song.
THE ARGUMENT OF THE TRAGEDY
See lofty Calydon, capital of the Aetolian race, and the royal palace. Here distinguished king Oeneus holds sway. While he was joyously sacrificing the year’s firstfruits to the heavenly gods, they say that only Diana’s altar stood bereft of incense. Whether this was a crime or a mistake, it aroused the goddess’ terrible wrath. And now, behold, she sends a boar against the fields, an avenger of her scorned cult. Fiercely he metes out slaughter, nor does all Calydon suffice for his great bane. Oeneus is peevish, and in his folly he does not trouble himself to propitiate the goddess by prayers. He begs Greece’s champions. They appear, together with Atalanta, daughter of Schoeneus, king of the Arcadians. Young Meleager (he is Oeneus’ son) immediately burns for her. Next they go off on the hunt, having first agreed that the victor willcarry off the spoils of the bristling boar. The hunt takes place. Behold, Atalanta is the first to strike it from afar with her dart, and Meleager draws near and kills the beast. He, the victor, yields his glory to Atalanta. His uncles Plexippus and Toxeus begrudge this gesture. Immediately a quarrel arises, they snatch the spoils from the maiden, and Meleager, incensed with anger, stabs both in the side with his dagger. His mother Althaea discovers this crime when he admits to it. She burns, complains, rages, and prepares death for her son to avenge her brothers . An altar is built, a log is laid on the pyre, in which the life of Meleager himself lies concealed. When the log is consumed, Meleager dies. Having confessed her crime, the queen stabs herself in the breast. A dire madness overcomes the haughty king, and he throws himself headlong from the high citadel. All Calydon is laid low in miserable squalor and mothers’ lamentations, and pride has this outcome.
PROLOGUE FOR THE ILLUSTRIOUS EARLS OF PEMBROKE AND LEICESTER
Poets beginning their works are accustomed beforehand to invoke some divinity, either father Phoebus, learned Minerva, or some sister from the Muses’ choir, by whose auspices the work, properly begun, may have the desired outcome. Distinguished sir, light of your Pembroke, and you, his companion, star of your Leicester, at once the mainstay and the glory of our University, our chorus implores only your divinity. Your are our Muse, our Minerva, our father Phoebus. Let your hand direct my hesitant step, and your staff make ill-wishers keep their distance. Let your dragon protect our poet, and your cygnet direct the course of our play, two signs conjoined in heaven but even more so on earth. And let Sidney, that shining star of our firmament, choose to present a friendly countenance. But you gentlemen, since this has been acted once three years ago, I ask that now you give it a second kindly hearing.
Leaving the vast expanse of everlasting night, the home of Erebus and the sad shades, I, Megaera, have come to the upper regions. Lo, my heart seethes with hatred, madness floods it, and my insanity grows greater at the sight of this place. Here dwells Oeneus who, swollen with prosperity and mighty with his scepter, governs the Aetolian race with his arrogant hand. His consort is Althaea, and Meleager the unworthy offspring of his father, but nevertheless his offspring. Against these people I have loosened the restraints of Jupiter of the Dark, favoring Diana’s legitimate requests, her wrath. This house is presently to fall by mutual woundings: a nephew will kill his wicked uncles, a sister will kill a nephew, a mother her son, a better sister than mother, but still an evil sister. Now these crimes are at hand, now at hand are menaces, murder, madness. The fire is being made ready. The causes of your death impend, Meleager. The log is being brought forth, to be burned again on your enraged mother’s pyre. I see it burning, and you ablaze also. The day and hour have come, on which, Althaea, you will open your side with steel, on which, Oeneus, you will pay your penalty to Diana, plunging headlong off the citadel in foulest death. I shall drive you, goaded by Furies. I shall throw everything into confusion. Why is Althaea still free of crime? How long is this household to remain innocent? Why does all Calydon not yet ring with lamentations? Now it will resound. I shall go, overturning everything. [Exit. Enter Philemon and Meleager.]
PHIL. Noble-minded Meleager, born of Jove’s distinguished stock, our greatest glory after your father, why is it that for about this past week, while all happy Calydon has been holding holiday with its new victims, the court has been rejoicing in its noble assembly, having no time for anything but dancing, merrymaking, and feasting, you are gloomy amidst the public joy? Why do you openly appear serene, but frown in private, scarcely mindful of the nation’s dignity or your own, sad, confused, and downcast? Why do you brood alone, take walks by yourself, denying your eyes sleep and your body sustenance? Even against your will, your sadness betrays itself. Why not share your trouble with me, whatever it is? Tell me, what matter disturbs you?
MEL. I beg you, Philemon, let me remain unhappy, as I am.
PHIL. Unhappy? What’s this? Whence this doleful statement? Surely both your parents are safe, your entire household flourishes. No misfortune is making you miserable. Whoever is unhappy of his own free will suffers deservedly.
MEL. To tell the truth, much of what you say is valid, but a greater anxiety is troubling me, because of the raging boar who rampages strangely, a savage plague which does his plundering unusually close to home. I am fearful in my perplexity about what this evil will portend.
PHIL. This is the cause of your groaning? Dismiss your ignoble fears, summon your old courage, give yourself back the entire Meleager. Dispel this cloud from your brow, assume that usual happy look which so becomes you. Our nation’s new wound will be healed. This boar will be driven from your fields, and will perhaps give you new glory. Look, I hope there awaits you the proud trophy of his head, the glory of his hide.
MEL. Would that it were so, Philemon! Meanwhile, this victorious boar celebrates new triumphs, despoiling us.
PHIL. Meleager, whence has such great fears invaded your stalwart mind? By what mishap has your courage departed, the ardent strength of your heart? I suspect that some further cause for such great sorrow lies hidden, for surely this small one is shameful. But suppose this is the case (although I doubt it), you see what a chosen band of youths has gathered. Present are those brothers born of Tyndarus, Castor, skilled at horsemanship, and Pollux, valiant at boxing, and Theseus, accompanied by his loyal friend. Present too is Lycaeus’ daughter Atalanta, glory of the forest, and the splendor of all Greece, the strength of our land. If I know Theseus and the other champions, that ravager, though he be arrogant with his crest, will soon pay a fitting penalty to you, Calydon.
MEL. You are mistaken, Philemon. The boar whom you think to be single is double. Indeed, the bow-wielding goddess sent one from the perilous ridge of Mt. Oetea. No kinder than she, the quiver-bearing god sent another, no less savage, from Arcadia. That one rages through the fields and gladsome crops, he presses close. This one is inside, inside he rages unconquered, ardent. And, more marvellous, he is of a sort that no prince’s hand will ever suffice to quell.
PHIL. Who is this other boar of whom you speak? Dispense with your riddles. Whatever it is, I shall keep the secret.
MEL. Forgive me, I beg you. Who is impatient with himself is even more so with others.
PHIL. What new insult have I deserved? What deceit has come to light, what suspicion of deceit, to diminish my trustworthiness? What sort of crime has Philemon committed in your presence, that some pain vexes your mind, and you want to conceal this thing from my notice? This heart of mine was once safe enough, well tested both in its play and its seriousness, and now it remains the same as it has always been.
MEL. At length, leave off — what’s the help in knowing the reason? It is more than enough for you to know that I am perishing miserably. Don’t wish to pursue the great sorrows I endure.
PHIL. You persist in silence? By my entreaties and your father’s command I shall force you to admit what you refuse to say here. I myself shall go to the palace and bring your father, whose authority will drag out your mind’s secrets. Shall I permit you to perish by silent cares?
MEL. Wait, I shall explain now.
PHIL. At last, speak out.
MEL. An unwonted warmth and love burn my breast, and like a savage boar scorch my marrow. Rushing through my veins it harries my vitals, devastating all my limbs and ravishing my entrails below. I am ashamed to admit that I cannot endure this yoke, this is is a young man’s first bashful blush. Now, if ever you wish to do something to gain my favor, exert your strength. The matter is worthy of your loyalty. Atalanta is the girl, she tortures me savagely.
PHIL. So this is the boar? Has your great fear come down to this? I was wondering where such pain would dash itself. But I must confess that this Arcadian girl is in truth savage, whom a woman of Mount Oete would scarcely surpass in uncouth wildness. Who should ever win her unconquered heart? Hating even the word “husband,” she shudders, shuns marriage, vows a chaste bed. So spurn this marriage denied to you, and govern your youthful impulse by reason. When the Fates refuse what you want, you must desire that which you can achieve.
MEL. This is the cause of my sorrows, find me a medicine. Hence my pallor, hence this great frenzy has been torturing me, because this hard, spirited, forest-dwelling girl does not know how to love. But I have decided to join her to my marriage-chamber by any means at all.
PHIL. Who might sway her?
MEL. Let her be hard. Whoever wins her will be all the more distinguished for his victory. One wants to fell an oak, for any light breeze can move a frail reed. As wax assumes any shape but quickly loses it, while marble grudgingly accepts any sculptor’s mark, as a straw swiftly catches fire and is extinguished, but iron is not readily melted nor easily cooled, so too since she is more resolute, perhaps for this reason she will burn with a hotter fire. Her conquest would not be equalled by the taking of the Golden Fleece, by the killing of our boar, or by any labor of Hercules. This one matter for victory is worthy of me.
PHIL. Will she, who loathes all men alike, change her mind for your sake?
MEL. Can’t she be swayed by entreaties?
PHIL. She is wild.
MEL. Affection and time have tamed wild beasts.
PHIL. She shuns the whole race of men.
MEL. Because of the fear she inspires, I lack rivals.
PHIL. Has all Calydon no girl who might please you?
MEL. Calydon is not to my taste.
PHIL. What about your native land?
MEL. She is far more fit for bearing brave men than girls.
PHIL. She’s uncouth.
MEL. But this uncouthness befits the girl, as it does Diana. Thus a handsome brooch-pin clasps her outer garment, thus she binds her simple locks in a knot, thus a quiver hangs from her shoulder, thus she wields a bow in her left hand. What a girlish face you’d think she has, how child-like you’d think her! So cease giving me advice. I could sooner do without this light of day. Either she’ll be my wife, or my death will put the capstone on my sad rebuff.
PHIL. If such obdurate madness falls forcibly on your heart, let us put the savage girl’s harsh soul to the test. And see, I believe she’s returning alone from the hunt. Here she comes, it’s she. Chance has given us a beginning, and let Venus then provide a happy end. [Enter Atalanta.]
AT. Meleager, see how this time and place offer my desired opportunity.
MEL. And your arrival, Atalanta, is much more welcome to me. But what’s the matter. What’s the reason for your desire?
AT. At. So that I can accuse you about the slothful delay of the Court. More than enough time has been spent on feasting and sport. With what excessive luxury was I myself entertained! Therefore it remains for me to express my gratitude with my good right hand. I feel shame and regret at this wantonness, while the boar is devastating the fields of Aetolia, raging against the crops and cattle.
MEL. Noble-minded girl, royal-born Atalanta, your good deeds have more than repaid ours, because you were the first to bring us aid and because our ills are of so great concern to you. Dismiss your concern, tomorrow will end these delays. But why go in this forest alone, so full of terror, full of beasts? The woods has fierce wolves and lions, huge boars and bears, and anything that rages worse than these.
AT. Accustomed to the forest, I am less afraid of its denizens than a source of fear for them. And now I seem to have been away from it a long time. So at first light, bored with inactivity and sleep, I decided to try my bow against your game and indulge my enthusiasm for the hunt, too long interrupted. Nor was my effort fruitless. I laid low a tawny lion wandering beneath the high mountain crest, not that an Aetolian lion seems such a great thing as an Arcadian one.
MEL. Whew! A girl lion-slayer to do the shooting? If you are gripped by such a desire for the hunt, you should chase rabbits, gentle deer, and agile stags, or at most the dire wolf when your noble zeal craves a greater feat. Be prudent and avoid those dangerous animals nature has armed for our destruction. That beauty of yours, which so moves men and gods, makes no impression on them. Girl, hunt the beasts that flee, shun the bold ones, lest perhaps the praise you win cost too great a price.
AT. Leave me to myself, I alone know myself, Meleager. Thus I am, thus the manner of my life ordains. I think that whatever risk is subtracted from my deeds diminishes my praise and glory.
PHIL. But you expose yourself to effort beyond a woman’s capacity. Rather, you should be mindful of your age and sex, and dispel this rigid attitude with playfulness. Relax your mind, for the god has set forth our proper duties. Wicker baskets, spindles, the distaff, and looms befit a woman, not Pallas’ weapons. Arrows, javelins, bows, wounds, perspiration, danger, hard effort, and dust suit a man. Do you think it a duty enjoined on a girl that she must endure hardships, leading a life in the mountains as a boorish woodland creature, ignorant of what is proper? Mistress Nature creates habits appropriate for each age, guiding us along at her own pace. A matron wears a morose, sad, severe face, a girl a serene, noble, happy one. Beauty itself never endures, it is a transitory good, the gift of a brief moment. It is prey to disease, and no day will pass but that does not somewhat despoil the beauty of a face.
AT. Pray abandon this concern for me. I myself do not risk my head in great undertakings more than is reasonable, nor am I ashamed of my strength. Whoever feels my arms denies that they are weak, nor are my feet unsuited for running. Blood flows when I strike. Threaten those girls who are impressed by beauty’s charm, talk to the tender maids who are harmed by the loss of a pretty neck. These things are less important to vigorous women. For myself, even if I belong to the dainty assembly of maidens and am said to be pretty, I take more pleasure in being called stout-hearted. And this ability to please, which people call a gift, I think to be criminal, and I am ashamed of my physical charm. My neck is sunburnt by Phoebus; now my unbound hair flows in the wind, now it is bound with a simple knot. High sandals bind my ankles, a quiver resounds on my back, my left hand clasps a powerful bow. My pleasure is hunting the menacing beast on foot, to withstand the harsh winter, dust, sun, hunger, and savage thirst, and to banish leisure, the mother of evil. As the quiver-bearing Amazon rages in battle, thus am I borne to the forest.
PHIL. What is the advantage of all this? Surely you don’t think these insubstantial weapons can rout Love, the god who subdues the seas, earth, heaven, and the Styx? Every one of the gods, of the race of men, of the beasts, burns with his sacred fire.
AT. Who is this god Love you speak about? For you people are accustomed to talk of the reign of some child I know nothing of, harsh to gods and mortals. For me, as for Diana, chastity alone is divine.
MEL. But this chastity is not exclusively yours. One part belongs to your father, a second to your mother, a third to your husband, a fourth to your country, and only a fifth is yours. Pay the parts due your father, mother, husband, and nation. I beg you, Atalanta, do not struggle against everyone. Be conquered, for there is no disgrace in being overcome by the whole world. Nobody permits a noble stock to die out. Your stock is noble, and a large brood awaits you. The tree delights in its flower, but even more in its fruit. Unless your mother’s flower had fallen, what would have become of yours, which you value so highly? And reflect, as a wife you would produce many little flowers, and many virginities are acquired at the cost of one.
AT. A hidden rose blooms within a walled garden, far from the herd, exposed to no plough, caressed by the breeze, nutured by the sun, watered by the rains. Many girls and boys seek it. But when it has been plucked by someone’s fingers and has lost its flower, then no boys or girls look for it. Thus as long as a virgin remains untouched, she is a delight to her companions. But when the rose of her body’s chastity has been sullied, when she has lost the flower of her virginity, she is dear to the girls and boys no more.
MEL. A widowed vine lies alone in a barren field, scarcely ever raising itself, or bearing a single mellow grape-cluster in the woodland, but remains bowed by its own weight, entangling its topmost tendril in its own root, untended by any farmer, by no hand. But when the same vine is wedded to its own elm, many farmers, many hands tend it. In the same way, as long as a maiden is untouched and uncultivated, she quickly grows old. But when she is joined to a husband in a marriage of equality, she shine forth, much dearer to her father, and shows herself better to everyone. And I imagine that a rose is surely happier which droops because of handling, but which in the meantime pleases the nose and eye, than a rose which withers on the bush. For there too it quickly fades on its own, giving pleasure to nobody.
AT. What night can descend in the sky worse than that which gives over a chaste girl to a harsh man, tearing a gentle maiden from her mother’s lap, tearing a frightened girl from her mother’s embrace? What fouler deed can enemies commit during the sack of a city? What worse thing can a maiden undergo at the hands of a foeman?
PHIL. What night can descend in the sky better than that which joins souls, making one out of two? Can it snatch a girl from her mother’s lap and abduct a timid girl from her mother’s embrace? What happier thing can the gods grant than this hour? Atalanta, you are ignorant of the superiority of this chaste Venus. Ask your parents. Lest you be deceived, ask your mother, if she is living. She has already given ample proof, since she gave birth to you. If she had stayed a virgin, what would have become of your life? Consider, even if you are fresh and untouched, how sweet is the name of a parent, how pleasant would it be if some tiny Atalanta were giggling at your bosom, having your face, or some nursling boy, to whom you would soothingly say “oh, how your valiant father is in you” (although part of him is his valiant mother, and their glory is blended equally), and to whom you could recount your deeds when he grows up.
AT. Why are you smoothly urging me to marry? A wise girl avoids the sorry yoke. Men, for the most part, are jealous, dissolute, or harsh taskmasters. Then what is it worth to obey them? I shudder even at the word. And so I have decided to flee by myself. The sun will sooner sunk at its rising, rise at its setting, there will sooner be a deep peace between dogs and deer, than I shall be conquered and offer an agreeable attitude towards a husband. But lest you mistrust my words, I shall cut this short. I have already made myself unusually agreeable. [Exit into the palace, slightly annoyed.]
MEL. [To himself.] As a sturdy hunting-net, impenetrable in every part, withstands javelins and, with a loud twang, makes them rebound a goodly distance, so she rejects our words. She will scarcely escape thus. In the meantime, hope her to be yours.
PHIL. Ah, why invent this empty hope? You’ll never get your way.
MEL. I’ll get it, and Venus will make me the master. I’ll try her more closely, press her with entreaties. And when Phoebus brings the new day I shall seek a way by my courage, by shedding the boar’s blood, and I shall handle myself worthily of her. If perchance she spurns my bed, I have decided to detain her and, if anybody seeks her, to hold her captive in my grasp.
PHIL. In your madness will you violate hospitality?
MEL. Does he violate hospitality, who adores his guest?
PHIL. Jupiter, god of hospitality, forbids all kidnapping.
MEL. How often has Jupiter approved such a kidnapping?
PHIL. She came to bring us aid.
MEL. But also my death.
PHIL. And to repel the beast.
MEL. For me she’s the greater beast.
PHIL. You see what heavy things there will be to fear, if you abduct her.
MEL. I know what heavy things I shall have to bear, if I do not have her.
PHIL. She is distinguished by royal paternity.
MEL. My father is also a king, very excellent in power, wealth, and arms. There is one Meleager for his father, and another Meleager who burns wholly by love’s fire, filled with the god. But cease giving advice and trying to fill me with meaningless scruples. Either she’ll be my partner in marriage, or my hope is to be dashed from its lofty perch. Now the time and my sense of modesty forbid more talk. A mighty combat awaits us. Meanwhile I shall put on a false face, and govern my hope by good counsel. [Exeunt.]
Oh, how this ferocious raging boar roam freely in our fields, unpunished! He breathes lightning from his rabid mouth, his breath kindles the very leaves. Now he tramples the rising corn of our early crop, now he lays low the mature hope of our farmers, destined to weep, ravaging the wheat in its mature ears, and in vain our barns await the grain. Now he lays low the swollen clusters together with the long stem, now the fruit of the ever-verdant olive, along with their branches. The uprooted vine lies with its shoots. He savages the cattle. Neither the herdsman nor the faithful dog serve to defend them, nor the bulls to save the herd. The people flee, scarce thinking themselves safe behind the very walls, in the city. You, Meleager, you, Theseus and Atalanta, and all you choice band of princes, drive the fierce boar out of Calydon. Now death awaits you, bristly one. Now you will grant Meleager the distinguished honor of your killing, the glory of your head and hide.