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First the hunters cross the stage two by two, from the palace to Diana’s shrine. In their midst walks the soothsayer by himself, with all his sacrificial equipment and victims to be killed.
OENEUS, OLD MAN
OEN. I walk along, the equal of the prideful gods, and among other rulers I raise my lofty head to the sky. For what should I say of the yearly returns of my fruitful lands, about my supply of Bacchus’ liquor, my barns stuffed with Ceres’ gift, or my fat oil of divine Minerva? Why should I mention my thousand herds of sheep, my thousand herds of cattle in the fields? Add to these the throng of children swarming around my sides. By how many kisses am I exhausted, and by dividing my paternal attention among such a crew? What that I have attained the harbor of old age among the unbroken blessings of peace? Nor has any storm of illness or misfortune ever tossed me in my life’s voyage. What better fate could be hoped for than the one I have ever obtained, in accordance with my wish? Who could hurt me now? Whose hatred? Of course, that of Latona’s daughter Diana. This one has lately begun to carp at me, me whom the entire company of gods has agreed should always remain blessed, suffering no hurt. She mistakenly imagines my destiny can be overturned. Unfortunately, it is to be feared lest Diana decide something rather harsh in her rage. In fact, she has sent a boar as a terrible avenger of her rite and scorned honor. But let it rage is at it can, let Diana rage. Her furious wrath will turn out to my credit. Happily, I enjoy her hostility, and the vengeance I would wish awaits this avenger.
O. M. Great-hearted prince, master whom I must honor with all good deeds, I beg you restrain your feelings and consider whom you are insulting. You are spurning a goddess, a very powerful one, mighty in heaven, on earth, in Erebus, who has demonstrated her triple godhead among the nations to the ends of the earth. This goddess, present throughout the world, is worshipped everywhere. You are insulting her and, lest you think her easily placated, no goddess has demonstrated greater wrath. She is not accustomed to being sated by anything less than bloody death. She has been cruel even towards a slight mistake. Unoffending, lacerated Actaeon will attest to that. What will she to do to crime and an impious mind? She has already made a beginning, and I pray she does not continue.
OEN. Offer prayer to the god who requires prayer when you wish. But in my case your wish is groundless. I am called fortunate. Who denies this? Therefore I shall always remain fortunate. No day will ever see me wretched. Who doubts that too? My wealth blesses me. I sit so high that no mishap could harm me, if it wanted. If it should suddenly take much from me, it would yet leave me with more than it took. My prosperity has overcome every anxiety. For imagine this is possible (but who can do so?), still imagine that much is subtracted from my wealth. I shall still not be brought so low as to be unhappy.
O. M. The higher a proud man raises himself, the harder and more shamefully he falls.
OEN. Supreme good fortune will render him secure.
O. M. Supreme misfortunes are wont to oppress the secure.
OEN. What’s there to fear?
O. M. The fact that you fear nothing.
OEN. It is the mark of a timid man to fear everything.
O. M. And of a foolhardy man to fear nothing.
OEN. Fear is foolish, where there is no cause for alarm.
O. M. Whenever destiny can make you miserable, a cause is scarcely lacking.
OEN. I am superior to destiny.
O. M. And you remain among the living?
OEN. I am alive, a notable king.
O. M. Then feel fear because of this title. Lofty towers collapse with a steeper fall, lightning strikes high mountains more often, and huge frames suffer greater maladies.
OEN. My subjects’ loyalty has placed me in a safe position.
O. M. When heavenly wrath oppresses you, do you take refuge among mortals? Should subjects pay homage to a man who himself scorns a god? Piety towards the gods guarantees human veneration.
OEN. I display great devotion towards the gods. How often have I placed fat victims at the altars, how often have I heaped sacred incense on the fires? What about the fact that my table has held banquets for the gods, and they have often tasted my food?
O. M. Do you imagine the gods can be indebted to a mortal, that you can ingratiate yourself with a divinity by such ritual acts, or that you are gaining merit by receiving them as guests at your table? But imagine the gods are favorable. Diana, injured, can work more harm than ten well-disposed gods can help you, if ten are well disposed. A common bond of kinship links the gods, and the pain of one affects them all. For each of them fears lest something similar happen to him, thinks this ought to be forestalled by inflicting punishment, and approves Diana’s wrath. Nor is it lawful for one god to undo another’s deed. Jupiter forbids the gods to be scorned with impunity. Be warned by previous punishments: let Niobe alone provide ample warning, who was not inferior to you in rank or dignity. What price did she pay for scorning a god? And does not Oeneus occupy the same position from which she fell? I do not wish to play the prophet, and I pray the gods that a similar cause does not engender a similar outcome.
OEN. How timid old age, out of touch with the truth, drives you with its fear and worries! If this heaven you see everywhere were to fall, and I along with it, I confess I should fall gladly. He is scarcely wretched who falls from a high position, if the universe collapses with him. So Niobe creates great fearfulness. You don’t see Niobe here, do you? Is the reason the same? She went out of the way to attack the gods with imprecations, I complain that they have injured me. Do you think it sinful to complain of injuries?
O. M. By what evil has Diana harmed you?
OEN. Madman, do you not know? What that she sent this terrible pig against my land, unprovoked?
O. M. Unprovoked? Do you think it a trifling matter that when you were offering solemn sacrifice on that holiday, although you poured libations of his wine to Bacchus, her gifts to Ceres, and her oil to Pallas, and a festal thank-offering to each of the gods, only this goddess’ altar stood without honor or incense, and that, unavenged, she should tolerate the mark of contempt she received?
OEN. To be sure, this is a great sin that she lacked honor, to whom no part of the first-fruits is supposed to be allotted. She scarcely helps mortals by harming them, in the way of robbers. Who offers to Diana out of his harvest of oil, crops, wine, or wooly sheep? She who cultivates the forest is to be worshipped in the forest, with offerings of the beasts she hunts. She scarcely bestows life’s useful things.
But see, my wife makes her way here sadly, with a troubled countenance, and pain is in her every motion. [Enter Althaea.]
Beloved consort, why are your cheeks drenched with tears? What great thing has changed your countenance? Why this pallor? Tell me the meaning of these tears.
ALTH. Last night’s fear terrifies my mind, husband, and a vision. The moon now stood at mid-point in her wandering journey, when I saw my mother’s baleful shade enter my chamber. Twice, thrice striking her venerable head she said, “What dire catastrophe will soon torment you, daughter, your twin brothers who were formerly my sons, your husband, and you, Meleager! Horrible slaughter, dire ruin is at hand.” Then, making much complaint and groaning heavily, she said “The hidden Fates forbid that you learn more or that I speak further. But, in case they can be swayed, pacify Diana,” and left my chamber. Chill terror kept me from sleep, shuddering overcame my limbs, numbness my mind. Alas, with what calamity do the Fates threaten me, what great slaughter impends for my family?
OEN. This is the cause of your weeping? Alas, I can scarcely restrain my laughter. Could there be any premonition of evil so small, but that if you began to dread it in your misery, you should not immediately break out in tears and make it huge by weeping? Are you surprised that the things you fear awake, and timorously brood upon, should have occurred to you in a dream? The fearful things which freight your waking mind, a swift inner sense is accustomed to recall, and sleep doubles your dread. Foolishly you fear Diana’s anger inordinately. For this reason your mother’s image and sleep created all these portents for you. My mother-in-law lies at peace, and last night her blessed soul, which you thought you saw, kept to its hallowed field. So recover your usual good cheer, I beg you, with that fear banished which you so greatly imagine.
O. M. I hope she imagined it, but the dreams of rulers are wont to be weighty.
OEN. Equally tricksy dreams occur to the powerful and the poor, and possibly more so to royalty, since greater anxiety disturbs them in their sleep. As for me, how often have I experienced such portents in dreams, which the day proved to be foolish?
O. M. The gods’ anger is slow but certain, and, just as the farther back someone hauls and axe and the higher he hefts it in his slow hand, the worse the physical wound is inflicted, so the more divine wrath is delayed and the more ponderously its step is measured, the harsher and heavier it lowers its foot.
OEN. Lest perhaps the woman is not insufficiently afraid on her own, let this old man add to her terror. But suppose it happens. What can befalls us, what unhappy calamity might oppress me?
ALTH. Whatever it may have been, I do not rashly believe that it occurred. I have decided to seek out Diana’s altars, and with slaughtered victims to beseech her divinity to avert my dream’s menaces, now expiated.
OEN. What does this superstition mean? Why should fear drive the sailor into port?
ALTH. Do you believe our kingdom is now on a sound footing, even as this huge boar is devastating our ancestral territory, laying low the withered crops, causing flight through our fields?
OEN. Does anyone think something to be great that can be repelled or punished? Would that I were as able to rout old age from my limbs as this boar from my fields! But see, the throng returns from the completed sacrifice. It is a pleasure to look at the flower of the Aetolian nation. [Enter the soothsayer, Theseus, Meleager, Plexippus, Toxeus, and the other hunters.]
Noble-minded Theseus, and you, comrade of this high-minded man, and the rest of this band of youths, the hoped-for day is here, now there is need for your hands. But tell me, soothsayer, if at the rites the god gave us foreknowledge of something. Is everything happy?
S. S. Thrice-great prince, pillar of our ancestral land, I scarcely know whether to grieve or rejoice, for happy things are mixed in with harsh in a perplexing way. I am glad that the bloody death of the boar is at hand, for thus the entrails proclaim. But still great horror makes my limbs shiver, and I fear what the gods may have in store.
OEN. Reveal what the ritual omens portend.
S. S. I beg, king, that you not take amiss the long delay of this timid man’s tongue. For it is customary to conceal the omens of Jupiter’s rites when the Fates forbid horrible things to be known by us, or when the offended gods give us some great sign.
OEN. What is this great thing? Tell me, even if it be obscure.
S. S. What can I say with certitude? What can I proclaim? For the order of things has been reversed. Nothing remains in its proper place, but everything is driven backwards. No sacred law governs the birthing of your cattle, and Nature has altered the usual entrails. A bloody brand blazed in the midst of the fire, the flame issued a doleful bellow, the altar shivered and moved from its place. I can divine no certain omen in the innards, but it is baleful, I am sure.
OEN. What is this which is feared by the soothsayer, my wife, this old man? It is mean-ingless. But if there be some evil, tomorrow I shall expiate the threats with bountiful offerings. Meanwhile, I pray, cheer up your brave minds. See, this work requires your hands, it deserves that this great band work up a sweat. Go, bring back the spoils, add new titles to your previous deeds. If only my blood were still fresh and warm, and my youth still what it was in my prime, my heavy limbs not retarded by the chill of old age! Go. I would say “come” if my sense of shame did not prevent me, and I would offer myself as the first to go. But my exhausted virtue lacks its old strength, my steps are halting. But someone who has the ability will go as your comrade, my image, my life, Meleager. I make him the leader of this venture, whatever it is.
THES. Venerable prince, whatever you entrust into our hands, I scarcely think will end in our deaths. If our arms, our spears, our minds have any power, and if the gods’ favor smiles on our endeavors, now the bristly one will give us a happy triumph.
OEN. Theseus, that speech is worthy of a man such as you. Be honored for your virtue, great glory of Greece. And the rest of you youths, be present, mindful of your fame. Nobody will return to his ancestral hearth having received no gift from me. But see, the moment summons you to the road, to the woods. I myself shall return to the palace.
ALTH. I pray, lads, that the gods aid your endeavors. If, Meleager, any piety remains in you towards your mother, if, brothers, any piety remains in you towards your loving sister, I beg you spare yourselves for the sake of your mother and sister. Virtue, spendthrift in its effort, often harms itself. Enter cautiously into this adventure’s uncertain chances. Without you I should have no life. If you perish, I shall die also.
MEL. Dear mother, let no concern for our safety trouble you. We are entering into no great struggle. Whatever Fortune has given you in the past, it will return to you now. PLEX. Sister, I beg you dismiss all your fear. Presently the god will return our whole company.
TOX. Sister, let no concern torture you in your anxiety. Today will soon see us returned, and you yourself will happily come out into the road to greet us.
ALTH. I hope and expect that this will come to pass, even if some vague dread struggles in my mind. [Exeunt all but the hunters.]
MEL. Comrades in this adventure, what manner of fighting pleases you? What way strikes your fancy? This appears to me the plan to follow. Let one portion scour the unexplored forest nooks, planting itself at every entrance. Let another part encircle thewood, and another climb the mountain crests and valleys. Others should make their way through caves and caverns. Then, when the dogs have given their shrill signal, let everybody run in the direction where the uproar summons, and join forces. If this scheme for hunting pleases you, signify by thumping your shields. [They do.] Good. But one thing remains, that the first person to deal the death-blow should bear off the proud boar’s trophy. If this hunting-rule pleases you also, give a clear indication by raising your spears. [They do.] Right, it’s done. Let each man choose himself a companion. Atalanta, if you please, be my partner and share my part of this struggle. But see here, we are wasting much of the day in speech. Let us go this way, where a shortcut reduces the long journey, for this path will lead us into the forest. [Exeunt.]
O nuturing Peace, daughter of great Jupiter, how you bless famous kingdoms with your gifts, if they know how to use them well! But how miserably you visit death upon them, if they begin to use them amiss! Her firstborn daughter is Abundance. But this is a headstrong daughter of her moderate mother, soft, smooth, lax, given to luxury. Unless governed by a strict hand, wantonly she plunges into all manner of wickedness. She in turn is followed by vain Arrogance, a lascivious child, more harmful than her mother, truculent, inflated, swollen, bestial, greedy. She is scornful, excessively prone to self-love, whom no reins can restrain. From this stock Impiety derives her pedigree, an offspring worse than her mother Arrogance, whose crest stands higher than her proud neck. She dares scorn the very gods in heaven, and she always comes to a tragic end.
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