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OENEUS, OLD MAN
OEN. That misfortune which I never before thought could exist in my affairs, and which I still can scarcely believe has dared happen to me, I have now fully borne in my misery. Fortune, is this how it is? Is such a tyranny over me allowed you? Has it been your pleasure to overturn a blessed house? Are you equally pleased to begin and complete the ultimate slaughter with a single catastrophe? Once roused, goddess, do you mindlessly hurl yourself at us? What portion of all this evil is it for my son to have died? Is it nothing to have taken him, unless he died suddenly in the first flower of youth, the good time of life, in the very triumph of praise and victory? Wicked goddess, are you thus wont to take your victims by this singular means of piteous death, worse than death?
O. M. Poor prince, I beg that you hear a few words of your faithful servant with a calm mind. Because your son died quickly, he scarcely died a bad death. For he did not experience death’s shameful lingering. Because he perished in his youth, he assuredly received this boon, that he escaped the misery of sluggish old age. Because he was a victor, for my part I think him happy in death. When better to pass away than in glory’s very chariot, celebrating a triumph with spoils, bearing off the palm in the eyes of Greece? He was equal to the gods, for whom the day of death was the day of glory. And the manner of his dying of which you complain you should rather rejoice in, for this new title of victor came to him. Lo, he lies, a genuine victor over the boar and over death. Nor should these evils be imputed to Fortune. Human ignorance has made Fortune a goddess in heaven, and error has invented her as a divinity. If some reversal oppresses a man who has not foreseen it, this is all ascribed to the false goddess Fortune. There is no Fortune, unless fostering Providence is an empty word. If Providence exists, and is a heavenly divinity, nothing occurs to us at random. Whatever fates oppress us poor mortals, you must believe occur by divine will and judgement.
OEN. Then it is proper to direct my complaints against the gods themselves. I want to protest their ungrateful wrongdoing. Gods, is this how my offerings are repaid? Is this your concern for my victims, for my altar, choked with incense? My table received you, and this is my reward for hospitality? Thankless Pallas, Ceres, mistress of crops, mighty Bacchus, and you gods, the more powerful you are than others, the guiltier you are of crime. Did you see, were you able to prevent this wrong? Or did you not wish to? Or is this crime more your work? He who does not prevent an injury when he is able, works an injury.
O. M. What? You accuse the blameless gods of crime? Restrain your grief. Do you count it as nothing that they have freed our nation from such terror? Do you credit this to your son’s prowess? You are mistaken. The beast fell by the gods’ power.
OEN. Did they drive out a lesser evil in order to give us a greater? Did they do away with the boar so that my son might die? Is the rule by which men are to pray to the gods? Is this their condition for granting our prayers? Is this the gods’ custom? Are they thus wont to aid us? They are always evil, when savaging us and when helping us, but more in the helping. Bah, great ruler of heaven, does any mortal see me bewailing fate, wretched and in mourning? Certainly this day has seen it first and (what galls me more) Diana has seen.
O. M. At length master your heart. Your household has already been oppressed by the gods’ heavy wrath. Why prolong their fixed inclination, whetting their anger?
OEN. Whose misfortunes can flow no greater, reaches the haven in security. With things thus decided, what further calamity can befall? Why should he fear the gods, or why worship them? It is a waste of effort, the sign of an over-anxious spirit. Harsh Fate has done all she can against me. What arrogant divinity can add a jot to my misfortunes? Now neither can you, Diana, add what you can to my grief. With my son dead, the light of day is unwelcome to me. For why do I survive him? When a man’s reason for living perishes, so does he, and for him death comes as a boon.
O. M. Why do you yourself aggravate your misfortune, making it heavier? Your house, receiving a blow, is reeling, but still it stands. Wife, household gods, children remain for you, your kingdom remains. What should I believe is lacking for you, unless you yourself? This is a small thing I ask: remain prosperous. Who refuses prosperity? What’s this? Why invite death? This which you now lament, how bad is it? So far Fate has taken away nothing at all, in comparison with the good things you still possess.
OEN. Have the Fates taken away nothing? Is it nothing I bewail? This sorrow is a small thing, for it is more reasonable for me to feel outrage. As far as I am concerned, my wife, household gods, children, and kingdom can go to blazes. For the reason why they should remain died together with Meleager. I want to heap wife, children, nation, household gods, everything, on his pyre. I, his father and a king, ought to be giving these things to my son, and all fail to please me. Meleager, I desire to give you a royal funeral, nothing is enough. Your life was more valuable than any offering, your death more catastrophic than the ruination of all. Without you, my child, nothing of mine is sweet. Am I to enjoy all the kingdom’s goods as your survivor, who should have preceded you in death? Do I live on, an old man? Meleager, are you, a youth, seeking a home among the shades and ghosts, miserable, forlorn, squalid, naked, wretched, hateful to your uncles, bereft of this life and its joys, which as the royal heir you were entitled to enjoy for many years? Do I myself receive them and you go lacking? Shouldn’t I make ready to consign my hateful life to Tartarus?
O. M. Moderate at last the impulse of a wild heart, control yourself. It is not piety, as you imagine, to throw away your life for the sake of your son. Rather, consider it pious to do your duty by your son and give him burial.
OEN. Why admonish me, who am making ready to do that which you mention? I would at once burn the pyre of my son and this palace. Do you think that sufficient? I would construct a pyre for this city, for the world, I would burn everything as Meleager’s pyre. Son, I am able to hope that everything would perish along with you, that the whole mass would be consumed at your funeral, so that with them I could console your shade. For he is less unhappy who is given over to a funeral and the flames, if his nation and the entire universe are likewise ablaze on the pyre. Meleager, you deserve such rites. [Enter Althaea.]
ALTH. Let the young men of Greece seek me, me, with their weapons. This higher step in their effort remains, more serious than the first. A boar survives worse than the slain one, a more savage beast remains, born from the blood of the first. why does your hand hesitate? Gather the citizens. Let the whole throng, the Aetolian race, hurl rocks and kindled torches. Snatch up your weapons, gather whatever your legitimate fury supplies, destroy this dire person. Now let great boars be born with impunity, with impunity may they ravage. But do you stand there, ungrateful?
O. M. My spirit shudders all the more at this unknown evil.
ALTH. But you, father, destroy this wicked mother with the glittering spear of your lightning; shoot not your smallest, with which you strike houses and innocent cottages, but that with which you smite cypress trees and mountain-tops, or that by which the Giants, huger than mountains, once perished. Let this lightning fly from your hand. Novel crime demands novel punishment, avenge this strange misdeed. So sluggishly you hesitate? Do you hear me, father? Does any concern about things exist for you in your leisure? Or do you take pleasure in evildoing? Cleanse this stain on your reputation.
O. M. My heart trembles within, fearing where all this is going.
ALTH. But whence comes this threatening throng? Or whom does it menace? My whole nation hastens into my sight, on this side and that the citizenry mutters, and all Calydon demands its avenger, demands punishment. Father seeks me with cold steel, son seeks me, mother arms her hand, sister curses me, brother abhors my crime. Now spare me, nation, for soon I shall pay the penalty to you.
OEN. Althaea, what criminal madness goads you on? What’s this dagger? What’s this outcry? What’s the meaning of all these imprecations?
ALTH. [Brandishing a paper.] Read these unspeakable things, citizens, and you, father more wretched than the rest. Learn this astounding misfortune from your wife, a marvel more than my misdeed. I dread to speak out. You read, you will recognize my hand-writing. Lest you be doubtful or disbelieving, my hand will sign this in my blood, and this dagger will perform the office of a seal, the dagger which killed brothers, a sister, and a wicked mother. [She throws down the paper and] exits into the palace in a frenzy, the men remaining. The old man picks it up and hands it to Oeneus as matrons stand by.]
OEN. Gape open, earth, and you, mighty lord of the court of darkness, open Tartarus’ cavern. Plunge me, criminal husband of a baneful wife, into empty Chaos, down to the infernal Styx. My child, I killed you; because I gave you a mother who murdered you, you have died because of my wrongdoing. I still can scarcely believe such evil. Could Althaea do this? Could a mother do such a crime? But reread it: ALTHAEA KILLED HER SON MELEAGER. Could anyone believe this? My mind, why are you amazed at this deed? Poor man, you see she did, why are you lacking in tears? Why does no river of tears water your cheeks? Why not weep? What’s this? Surely you cannot bear these ills dry-eyed? Now I am wholly unable to cry, for sorrow has consumed all my tears. What a great evil, not to be able to weep when you wish! Now I seem to be ruined, oppressed, unfortunate, surrounded now by killing on all sides. Now I have received a deep wound, now in my misery I am truly stricken. This is the evil my mother-in-law’s ghost lamented, the evil at which the soothsayer shuddered, that the old man dreaded. And what portion of the killing is it of which I have just learned? My desire was for less than that. I had believed no misfortune could be worse than Meleager’s death, but there is a further step. I believe it to be the pinnacle of my woes that Fortune made me the abominable instrument of his killing. Why not despatch myself to the eternal halls of pallid Erebus? Surely no greater evil is still to be accomplished? Is there a further step?
O. M. Abandon these bombastic threats of your savage heart, banish this impious thought of death.
OEN. Why waste words? I am determined on this, which I should have done already. Have I outlived my destiny, but am still alive, not yet abandoning daylight and mankind? But I shall depart presently. However, among these ills I take this consolation, that now I am free to despise all the gods.
O. M. Leave off at length. I beg you suppress your mind’s arrogant impulses, and begin to cultivate piety.
OEN. This is the fruit my piety has borne, that I do not care to be pious amidst such hardship. Piety, quickly leave my heart, go away at last. Harsh, unhappy, fruitless and servile, go, but let the piety of a father for his son remain. I want to be called impious towards the gods. Should I worship them in my misery, old man? Surely an old man does not fear Jove?
O. M. I think first or all we ought to worship the god.
OEN. Now my misery overcomes all fears, and what a tiny respite is on our old age! And this of I shall rid myself, lest some savage power snatch it. For why delay my shade here any longer, or what pleasure is there for me in life? Therefore I offer no prayers to the gods in heaven, and even if they should wish to harm me to the extent they can, they do not have them. Now the throng of gods have exhausted all their powers against me. Why should I allow my prayers to fail in vain? Why should the gods go without reproof? I loathe them all and you, daughter of Latona, far above the rest. Thus you hear, gods, the prayers I have to offer. But what’s this? A crowd of Furies departs Erebus. Tisiphone thrusts her torches in my face, nearer and nearer, whirling her stakes in a circle, and thrusts her smooth snakes, drawn from her tresses, deep within my bosom, scattering her vipers. But the earth quakes, the palace roof creaks, and suddenly the house goes dizzily a-dancing: it shivers, wandering, shaken from its foundations: see how it wavers with menace. Go, flee, run, remain — where should I go in my unhappiness? Now it is falling in ruins and, after a hesitant pause, is overthrown and tumbles headlong to the ground. Hear the noise, as now the entire mass falls about my shoulders, burying my head.
O. M. Dispel this empty fear of your deluded heart, for your home stands solidly, shored up by its might.
OEN. Behold another catastrophe. A golden tribunal is established in heaven, a crowded assembly of gods is sitting for my punishment, demanding my trial. Diana convenes the court and by her complaints she is whetting their powerful wrath. The case has now been tried, and I, guilty, am bound over for punishment as the means of penalty is decided. Various motions are made. One faction urges Thracian Ixion’s dizzy wheel; another Sisyphus’ rock or the hunger and thirst of old man Tantalus. This one wants Tityus’ everlasting bird and the fruitless toil of the Danaides. Diana exhorts them, calling these single punishments mild, demands them all, alone is insatiable.
O. M. How his mind shudders at the gods, conscious of his crimes, and imagines itself to be suffering the ills it deserves!
OEN. But see, a double sun shines in the sky, and a twin Calydon has produced two palaces. Where am I? What is this? Lo, the suns are moving backwards, they hide their faces, dark night raises her head, blind Chaos is added to our miseries. The winds wage horrendous wars against the clouds, and in every direction Jupiter thunders terribly. He hurls his fires, and whatever she can accomplish with her bow or her father’s fire, Phoebus’ sister attempts, and her brother provides her with arrows, aiding her hand.
O. M. See how an avenging god pursues the arrogant, and how excessive pride ends in madness!
OEN. Now be persevering, my mind. Now, now let the raging Titans bear arms. With me as captain, let them wage a successful war against the gods. Madness, wrath, grief, and miseries will supply us with strength. Only Typhoeus has driven the gods from heaven when, panic-stricken, they changed themselves into strange shapes. Jupiter himself assumed the appearance of a shepherd, Bacchus hid under the guise of a goat, and your brother, Diana, in the form of a crow. You yourself shamefully hid as a cat, Juno as a snow-white heifer, Venus trembled as a fish, ibis feathers disguised a god as a bird, each poor god feared for himself. Now see how they are fleeing. I shall seek this mountain-top, as high as the sky, I shall pull down the gods from heaven. [Exit.]
CALYDONIAN MATRONS Piteous father, what god pursues you with Furies, harsh towards you and your house? Meleager, my sacred desire is to lament you always, you are a perennial cause for weeping; let there never be a limit to mourning, since your killing exceeded all limits. Meanwhile, death would be a boon. Mourn, mothers.
Thus we have constantly consumed our hours, spending all our nights and days in weeping, since the time he was laid out cold in the gloomy hall. Now even our regular lament is not ensorrow redoubles our anguish. It is proper to go through the city on frenzied foot, wailing with unbound hair.
The great glory of the Aetolian nation, pillar of our fortunes, Calydon’s hope, the glory, flower, and light of her youth, this conqueror of the savage boar has fallen. Alas, rend your garments, beat your breasts with clenched fists. Never has Fortune given us worse. For him let rightful blows resound with wailing, tear your hear, disfigure your faces with busy nails. Bewail the catastrophe of our city, of the world. Meleager, glory of Oeneus’ household, where is your noble ardor, the outstanding beauty of your face? They are perished. Nothing is left but mourning and great tears. Lo, this pious throng of mourning mothers pours them forth for you in full flood. But where is the distraught nurse rushing? [Enter Nurse.]
NURSE Alas, once the god has begun to oppress the happy, he continues. One evil grows out of another, always increasing. What outcome will these great things have? Oh, what authority the gods have on earth! What power they have, whether spurned and ready to exact punishment, or placated and eager to please the pious! How often do they seem to give us cures worse than our predicaments! Alas, what did it cost us to kill the boar? The end of our evil was a step towards a future one, and a great bane grew out of our salvation. See how many killings a boar-hide provoked! Can anyone believe this and still doubt there are gods in heaven? Long-lived old age, why do you always preserve me for new sorrows? Poor band of women, why spend your tears on one evil? Is there no limit to your bewailing the dead son? He has enough. You should transfer your mourning to the mother and father.
MATRONS Tell us, nurse, what news you bring.
NURSE Piteous, miserable things have occurred within.
MATRONS Has anything more pitiful occurred than Meleager’s death, or his mother’s crime?
NURSE Crime is piled on crime. The queen entered her chamber at a furious rush and with a blade stabbed herself in the breast.
MATRONS Oh the sad misdeed!
NURSE But the evil does not end here.
MATRONS What? Has Oeneus, driven insane, died by the steel, or has the wretched fallen from his high citadel?
NURSE There is a lofty battlement, and from its pinnacle the way to heaven seems shortest. It looks down on every part of the palace. In his insanity he climbed this and, as if he were grasping at the stars, thence to lash out at the gods, he leapt dementedly, and his mangled corpse lies, dashed to pieces by its own weight. But why betray these evils by weeping? Great sorrow such as ours cannot truly be expressed by tears. It is better perceived in our amazement, let amazement silence our piteous voices. Love this doomed household.
CHORUS Princes, fear the gods, take care not to scorn them. The gods in heaven have never given us better examples of what great punishments threaten the arrogant. Divine vengeance destroys the impious, schooled in such evildoing. Learn to fear the gods. Towers reaching to the stars with lofty pinnacles are left as prey to the harsh northerly winds, and the savage storms of the South wind. Mountain-ashes are laid low, the very mountains tumble. Jupiter strikes at lesser targets with a lesser bolt, at humble ones with a small. The lowly valley is more rarely touched.
EPILOGUE FOR ACADEMICS
This was the mournful song of our swan, all the more swanlike because it is his last tune, if he should sense that it has displeased you. It is sufficient if even a single tear has been provoked by his singing. One small tasteful tear is sufficient for his praise. Now I would request that you perform Meleager’s funeral rites with your usual sound of applause, save that Atalanta, albeit born of royal stock, has advised me of a better Atalanta, our very own, whom the nymph Syrinx has borne to the famous god Pan by the waters of the Thames. To her Arcadian Atalanta has yielded place, just as Arcadia herself has yielded to famous England. How harsh our Atalanta has always been to her Meleagers! Ah so harsh, more than her suitors would have wished! Thus unbending majesty shines in her pleasing countenance, because of which the hopeful suitor is all the more ardent and loving. Thus is Diana’s majestic beauty supposed to be, when she seeks the forest. She has brought back the spoils of a huge boar, a greater boar than yours was, Calydon. He only reddened his bristles with a bit of blood. But our Atalanta laid low a beast and, as victress, bore off the spoils without bloodshed, a marvellous virgin whether waging harsh battles or plying the arts of peace. But is a poet lacking to recount such deeds? Is her virtue hidden from foreign men because she lacks a sacred bard? So let applause resound for our Atlanta. Then give Meleager his just deserts with your hands.
EPILOGUE FOR THE MOST DISTINGUISHED EARLS OF PEMBROKE AND LEICESTER
Whoever, relying on his scepter and, gilded, swells because of his ancestral throne, arrogant in spirit and overconfident, scorning the gods, let him see you, Oeneus, let him see your overthrown house, lately all-powerful, the glory of the Aetolian race. It is fair for every man to take this as an example for himself, let every one ponder this as a lesson for his own house.
There is no need for us to ask how this play pleases you, since it has pleased you once before. We think it has been enacted well enough if it pleases you, Earls, if it pleases the Earl’s companion and this noble gathering of grandees, and if that hope of ours, Philip Sidney, approves, wherever he is seated. He alone bestows favor on novice poets, being himself an excellent bard, being himself our own Meleager. But let there be no sad omen in my words, and I trust Meleager’s regrettable end will not be his destiny.
And you who have previously applauded me and these noblemen here, grant your distinguished applause.