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TO THAT MOST DISTINGUISHED AND LEARNED GENTLEMAN, MASTER WILLIAM JUXON, DOCTOR OF LAWS AND RIGHT WORTHY PRESIDENT THE COLLEGE OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST
y Iphis has discarded his womanly fear along with his sex, and has taken himself this measure of novel audacity, that he dares offer himself to you, most distinguished patron of the Muses. Receive him with a kindly expression, and I pray that you will in some measure condescend to cast an eye on that which you did not disdain to hear. I admit my child is unpolished, not unlike his father Lygdus. He is born a commoner, whose estate is no greater than his birth. It is in your power to rescue him from his obscurity, when you make him more prosperous because he is pleasing to you.
Most devoted to your dignity,
LYGDUS the husband
TELETHUSA the wife
TELESTES Lygdus’ neighbor
IPHIS Lygdus’ daughter
IANTHE Telestes’ daughter
NISUS Ianthe’s suitor
ACT I, SCENE i
But I torture myself in vain. Perhaps the favorable gods will grant me a masculine child. And if they should refuse this (nor is this an empty care) a greater calamity will consume my frame. In addition to my countless daily and nightly cares, which have the power to exhaust the celestial gods, I will have to purchase a bridegroom with a huge dowry. For I cannot hope for a Danae, who may bring down Jove with longed-for gold. But by what means can I, helpless, get myself a dowry? I am not such a fool that Fortune should favor me, and baser fellows are wont to have money, for men enrich themselves by fraud. Should I destroy myself, so a daughter of a wretched man might live in wealth? Will she attack me with a snake-like bite? Let this evil take my enemies! Or will she herself live her life in wretchedness? Will she, having been mocked in her humble homestead, die of an empty gullet, after suffering insatiable hunger? It is shameful to have brought up a daughter for such ills. Before that this hand will lop off her trembling limbs. With my throat I’ll drink her warm blood. My eye will rejoice at these novel evils. [He pauses.] Lygdus, where are you rushing in your folly? Understand birth. If it should not be a good to have had a child, the gods, who always favor good men, would never have given it to you. For your own benefit, control yourself, and take whatever is given you with a peaceful hand, with that customary piety with which one should worship a divinity, that piety with which a daughter should obey a father. I, Lygdus, beg Lygdus that I may be permitted to favor my daughter. But why? I know not whether the celestials will give me a male child. Pray they will all favor the man who beseeches them, let this good thing come to Lygdus. But see, my mind is in upheaval, I am drawn in different directions. My ardent anguish bids me kill a girl-child, while piety forbids. The anguish drives away the piety, the piety drives away the anguish. Thus I am borne on a heaving ocean, and in my silliness I know not what I should do. If the architect has not yet laid out a wandering house with its doubtful turnings for Crete’s shameful monster, if with his art anybody will make a painting of the wandering Meander, by looking through my eyes let him scan my heart,
ACT I, SCENE ii
where by itself my disturbed, changeful mind runs along various paths, in its confusion abandoning the familiar ones, and, wandering in shadows, unhappily broods on the same cares, tracing circles around the open highway with its complex windings.
TELETH. What care disturbs his spirit? What great thing is he now brooding about in his mind?
LYG. Be brave, Lygdus. I have made up my mind. The examples are not rare: you see as many helpless children, Silvanus, as you have wild beasts in your hollow caves, nor does Charon transport fewer infants than Troy strewed men on its Phrygian fields.
TELETH. What monstrosities are you producing, Lygdus? What words are you thundering forth with your mouth so a-gape?
LYG. That which is wont to happen is a good thing. No man accuses one with respect to what all men do. Let her die.
TELETH. I am terrified. What an unwonted grief has invaded his mind!
TELETH. Lygdus, why are your cheeks drenched with profuse tears?
LYG. Alas, how it shames me to tell you! Telethusa, beloved wife, my eloquent expression shows that I am being swept along in varying, doubtful matters. Hear the things which you are able to be told. The celestials have blessed your womb with a new offspring. Give to the gods, who are exhausted by hearing my prayers. For I have given vows for two things, that your childbirth may lack protracted pain, and that you give birth to a male. For troublous care comes with a female, oppressing (and may this not happen!) my exhausted shoulders with a heavy burden, and capricious Fortune denies me strength though I ask for it. So what then? If an evil star should look upon your babe, Telethusa, and in your wretchedness you do not give birth to a male (forgive me, piety, a father orders this against his will), give aid to your girl-child, kill her lest she live in misery.
TELETH. Thus you test my faith, cruel husband? Though unarmed, piety can even carry blazing fire. I do not love you thus, Lygdus, that I can destroy what is yours, I love them because they are yours, and most of all your offspring, because it should be your image. I pray you should say your consort is obedient enough, when she refuses to obey her husband’s savage commandments.
LYG. I know that Telethusa is unwilling. Lygdus wants it, and therefore he orders that you kill your offspring. Nor does an empty cause compel him, but rather a grave reason. It must be done, and do not demand to know the cause, spare me your ineffectual prayers. A man who does not with to obey the laws cannot be governed by silly entreaties. See that what I command is put into effect, kill your daughter. [Exit Lygdus.]
TELETH. Lygdus my husband, hear my prayers. What Fury has invaded your mind, what bane burst forth from Styx’s waters? Lo, Piety has departed to heaven, never destined to return, having seen with her chaste eye (for shame!) my husband’s holy heart being corrupted by disgrace. Return, goddess, to dwell in the temple customary for a divinity, may my tender babe not pay the forfeit, undeserving, nor let my unborn child die by an over-hasty fate. Alas, the very wretched child of a wretched mother, the unhappy companion of your death, scarcely having been greeted in life (for you a short one), a child hateful to her father, dying when you can scarce be said to have been born!
ACT I, SCENE iii
Let my womb be your sad tomb, thus the supernal gods will be guilty of your death. Now they will all of them bear the responsibility of having stolen her brief life, which they all granted her.
TELEST. My neighbor Telethusa, you are lamenting? Can tears befoul these cheeks? Leave off. Be of good cheer, gladden your mind. It is unbefitting for such a countenance to be oppressed with sorrow. You should rejoice that you are going to bear a child for your Lygdus.
TELETH. A sad consolation! I was happy, Telestes, the cause of my sadness was once my delight. Lygdus, you have perished.
TELEST. What dire things are you speaking of? What new things are you telling me?
TELETH. Not even Scythian nomads drink men’s blood, though they drink the blood of horses. Does Lygdus surpass the Scythians? That he could bear this in his mind! Driven by Aeolus’ winds, the seas do not howl thus, nor does the savage Adriatic smash the errant ships with such a roar. And I myself seem to be seized upon by a similar storm. Unless the supernal gods will give me a male one, he has bidden me kill the babe, a father unworthy of a child.
TELEST. This all is nothing. You lament these things? Tears indeed befit a woman — how trifling things befit trifling people! There is nothing more common in the world than to kill a child. But this thing is greatly novel, that Lygdus himself (a man whose distinguished piety has shone forth) would dare this crime, savage though common. Perhaps he desired to test your mind: yield a little while, he will change his intention. He ordered it in earnest? Take care lest, while you are imagining you can bend the stiff-necked man, he has determined on something more cruel, killing the mother together with the daughter.
TELETH. I shall be happy Telethusa, if such a thing occurs. I wholeheartedly hope for death, lest I become guilty.
ACT I, SCENE iv
TELETHUSA, TELESTES, LYGDUS
With what a hasty step Lygdus approaches!
TELEST. He is borne along as if he were wearing buskins.
TELETH. He’s raging. Approach him with your entreaties, I pray. Persuade him not to be bloody to himself.
TELEST. Lygdus, what tragic thing does your mind offer up to you? Lo, hellish horror sits upon your brows. Thus Tantalus once frowned when set his son’s tender limbs as a meal, the gods being avengers of his black evil.
LYG. What? You say that it was a evil for him to slay his child? Does concern for such a trifling thing arouse the gods?
TELEST. Let Acheron attest that I am telling you true things, whose waters the unhappy man sought though denied him by destiny, although they were afire. The father who drank his son’s forbidden blood thirsts for forbidden water.
LYG. Let the father of the gods hurl his horrid lightning upon my head, let the earth open its jaws so that I may seek the Styx, falling headlong. Lygdus, hateful to the gods! Dire Acheron will see him wretched if his daughter should die, earth, if she should live a vagabond. Father Jupiter who bears a grudge against me, why do the stars not fall, heaven’s pivot broken? But what ? Telestes, the mad tyrant laid low his son while the boy now flourished. But I will kill my daughter, a female, by a peaceful death before she may live.
TELETH. In this you are more impious, who, when the gods have granted her life, do not allow her to enjoy it.
LYG. And thus her friend, who, when Jupiter bids her be wretched, does not allow it.
TELETH. What help do you bring her? You destroy her so she will not perish, and atrociously make her miserable because she must die, more savage than the death you bring.
LYG. I should be cruel if I let her live, a future subject of hunger, mockery, want, insults, the winds, and thirst, as long as she should be lacking in resources.
TELEST. Do you imagine the gods would refuse to pay you back with evils equal to so great crimes?
LYG. This common stain has besmirched the gods themselves, Saturn himself devoured his children. You think it not permitted to do that which such a reverend, such a sacred divinity has done. He did it, and by his action he has ordained that I should do it. Kill her. [Exit Lygdus.]
TELEST. You see he cannot be swayed. You must cheerfully submit: it is a virtue to endure whatever you lack the power to avoid. [Exit Telestes.]
TELETH. How brutal, mindless, how unlike himself any man becomes who errs and departs from piety’s holy paths! How fierce, how barbarous is he who, gentle once, now surpasses the wild tigers, and does what the Libyan bear dares not! That thing is true love with which every living being cherish its tender young. This hisband, wise in other ways, is devoid of reason. But why fill the void with my empty sounds? My tongue fails me, my cheeks are soaked with hot tears, my eyes are red, and my unhappy offspring senselessly rends my womb with its frequent kicks, ignorant that the fostering light it craves is being snatched away. [She lies down.] Now it is my pleasure to prop up my wearied limbs on a peaceful cot. A pillow can bear my head and my cares, no matter of what feather it is made. [She sleeps.].
ACT I, SCENE v
ISIS How deep slumber possesses her wearied eyes. Telethusa, dear to heaven, greatly to be envied on earth and by mankind, whose notable piety has filled the sky, the greatest of my devotees, set aside your vain cares, eagerly seek your kindred Olympus. You must mingle your mind with blessed heaven, leave fear for earthly beings. Place no weight on your husband’s evil instructions, a care for you scarce idle torments even the gods themselves. When friendly Juno has relieved your gravid womb by an easy birth, you should cheerfully accept this welcome pledge of the gods, nor with impious face disdain this gift sent from the favoring sky. Nor should you fear: a goddess, I bring nuturing aid to unhappy suppliants. Nor will you be able to complain that you have worshiped a heedless goddess, if you do what you are bidden. [Exit Isis.]
TELETH. Oh auspicious goddess! Oh omen, welcome to Telethusa although without meaning! How my heart dances! Oh happy me! I pray that the ending be like the blessed beginning. And you, queen of the heavenly choir, bring to pass whatever you speak. [Exit Telethusa.]
Go to Act II