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Given once, twice, and more at the English College at Rome during the Carnival season of the year 1645, always well-received.


EO the Armenian, Emperor of the East, was a very bitter foe of holy images, and after making great and protracted trouble for the Catholic cause, in the end he paid the penalties for his impiety. For Michael Balbus, the most preeminent of his nobility, condemned to death by burning after his conspiracy had been revealed, broke free of his bonds when Leo was assassinated by his friends on Christmas Eve itself, was created emperor, and banished Leo’s family. Baronius, vol. 9. blue


LEO the Emperor
MICHAEL BALBUS the leading man of the empire
THEOPHILUS son of Balbus
MOROCCHUS SARACENUS a bragging soldier
PHILAUTUS, THEONAS noblemen and familiars of Balbus
MICHAEL a servant
TARASIUS Patriarch of Constantinople, now deceased
PHILODUS a musician


STRATO King of Sidon
ABDOLOMINUS a gardener



Reclining on a couch and propped up by his elbow, the Emperor Leo inspects the Christians he has condemned to death for their worship of images. Then, for the sake of whiling away the evening, he proposes a question to his lords, whether a king, wine, or truth has the greatest influence over human life.

Balbus requests the king that he be allowed to display the power of wine in a stage-play.

spacerTRIB. Leo Augustus, ruler of the eastern world, the death-procession of those who sinfully worship saints’ images stands at your lofty gate.
spacerLEO Let them be dragged inside. I want to feed my eyes with the sight of them before sweet slumber binds my heart. (Six Catholics condemned to death for their worship of sacred images are led about the imperial chamber.) Go now, you rebel crew. In the time of your misery, call on those saints you bid be reborn in blocks of wood. How happy my eye, when it inspects this row of villains! Let my repose come quickly. But you, you glories of Leo, you purple-clad lords, while I drag out the slow watches of the night in my insomnia, you must conduct a vigorous debate, whether the power of Bacchus, a king, or the truth is the greatest.
spacerSAB. Can Bacchus or reliable truth surpass a king?
spacerBALB. Balbus will defend wine.
spacerPAP. Shall I speak for reliable truth?
spacerLEO Let each of you deliver a speech in support of his chosen cause.
spacerSAB. A king plies the reins of affairs and wields this earth’s scepters as a second god. Whatever Phoebus sees as he travels his course between his two houses obeys this man, be it heaven, earth, sea, or the power of the aether. A ruler scarce has to open this mouth for nature to obey his commands. Mortals tremble at his bidding. The sea is diminished when he casts great structures into its depth, and, when he subordinates it to the ocean, the land soon carries fleets. His roofs strike Olympus, his foundations the Styx. At a king’s bidding, cities are founded and cities meet their doom. What lately towered aloft is now ash-covered rubble, by his command. He gives laws and decrees ordinances, and, when he sees fit, he arbitrarily rewrites them. He is a judge who holds life and death equally balanced in his scales. Should he call for wars, the fury of Mars blazes forth. Or, if he wishes for the gifts of peacetime, fostering Peace returns herself to a troubled world. The king shapes human fortune, he makes men both blessed and wretched. He gives the word? Destines follow, whether he wishes to despoil the preeminent of their brilliance and return them to the common herd once they have been impoverished, or to uplift those oppressed by their misfortune and plant them in a lofty rank of government. It is sufficient for him to have willed it: a king can do as he wishes. His words are laws, his whim is government, his threats death, his smiles life, and his wrath the crash of thunder. Thus a sovereign presides as a god over this great world of ours.
spacer BALB. And yet, when Lyaeus gets the better of him, he is the greater god. He alone rules. Let Pluto govern the Underworld, Neptune the sea, and let the stars serve Jove, but the earth must bear the yoke of mighty Liber, blue whom no man has bested in battle. It matters not whether he is brave of timid, poor or rich, the ruler of a royal court or a common man: whoever attacks Lyaeus gets his comeuppance. Having previously been laid low by strong wine, cruel Holofernes blue lost his head by a woman’s blade. That royal citadel of Troy, the handiwork of the gods, blue which had not been broken by a thousand ships, ten years, or the hands of raging Achilles, took a fall when it was overcome by wine. blue Royal power has authority over our bodies, and this sluggish part of ourselves is subject to royal rule. But Bacchus holds sway within our minds, which it softens, sharpens, sways, inflames, and rules. It makes the slothful vigorous, it creates strength for the coward, and a happy heart for the gloomy. It brings light to the mind’s dark recesses and searches out its secrets. It playfully reveals the secrets which the judge extorts in cruel ways. Oh, mighty wine!
spacer PAP. But the glory of truth is greater than government, and greater than Bacchus, never tamed either by the great rage of a tyrant or by the power of Bacchus. Time, that father of the years, lays low trophies, towers, tombs, pyramids and temples, and is vested only by reliable truth. We all obey it. Whatever may be in dispute, we favor that which is true. Truth governs the courtroom.
spacerSAB. You award this the scepter, which the low-down common herd tramples under its profane feet, as it mendaciously proclaims falsehoods? How often unspeakable crime wraps itself in a parti-colored garment, while virtue undergoes harsh punishments! How often thefts, fraud, and murders lie hidden, while a good man is is dragged off to his appointed doom!
spacerPAP. Sometimes truth hides its golden gleam, just as Phoebus conceals his face so that his glory may shine all the brighter when the clouds are dispersed. Wrongdoing does not hide for long. Whether crime conceals itself in deepest night or lurks in a dark cavern, truth makes it known, and in the end will inflict well-deserved punishments on the malefactor.
spacerPRO. Let it be granted that truth brings hidden wrong to light. But when it has been revealed, it enters the courtroom of the king, and it is the ruler who mulcts the guilty and gives relief to the innocent.
spacerPAP. He mulcts the guilty when the laws advise him to do so, but it is truth that establishes the laws.
spacerPRO. Men in power spare those whom the laws condemn, and they put men to death whom the law spares.
spacerPAP. When they trample the laws under their hurtful feet.
spacerSAB. Law is what the king wills.
spacer PAP. God forbid! Permit me to speak on behalf of truth, Augustus. Truth, that queen of nature, derives its godlike divinity from heaven. Whatever sovereign reveres it wields his scepter with a happy domination. Athough he may preside over the boundless world, is an unhappy man, the one who scorns it will put a quick end to his reign.
spacerBALB. Is it the fair law of truth which should establish dominions over peoples and the households of their kings? You are mistaken. God has granted to kings their peoples, cities, and the wide expanses of their realms by land and by sea.
spacerPRO. Thus it indeed is. Just nature has created kings as gods on earth. Whatever the world contains within its bosom, whatever the elements cherish in their embrace, whatever the effort of their subjects produces by its sweat, these things are exclusively at their service. You may consider commoners to be their slaves.
spacerPAP. Truth knows not how to flatter. He loves kings who has marked out the rights of sovereigns and the rights of their subjects with their distinct limits. He adores kingships rather than kings who has allowed the world’s reigns to be wielded by the unbounded will of its rulers. Let law inspire kings, and lust inspire wild beasts. It is rarely permitted to do as one wills. There is a fixed limitation for rulers: law, reason, and God. The happy health of realms attends on those who heed this principle, but with sure steps sure destruction follows those who disdain it. A ruler should demand deference from his subjects, but not servitude. What is a happy royal court coupled with an unhappy people, but an unsightly monstrosity? Certainly, let good fortune first enter into royal gates. But let the common people gain a share in this blessed luck. Ruling does not consist of the enjoyment of wealth and luxury, in spending one’s nights at play and one’s days at the hunt (let these be the rewards of labor, the respite from cares). Not to oppress his subjects with a persistent yoke, or divert cities and fields into the royal barn, but rather to provide laws to his subjects, help to suppliants, relief to the suffering, and to keep the hardships of war far from his lands and bestow the benefits of golden peace on his nation, so that the farmer might live happily with his cow, the artisan with his art, the lawyer with his courtroom, the sailor with his ship, and so that every man might be happy in his condition: truth, greater than a sovereign, teaches these things to a king.
spacer SAB. Being superior to truth, the king tramples these things underfoot. Whoever is mad enough to mark his reign with these signs of yours governs by entreaty.
spacerPAP. Truth governs the governor.
spacerSAB. The governor governs truth.
spacerBALB. Bacchus governs them both.
spacerSAB. I deny that.
spacerBALB. No laws control strong wine.
spacerSAB. A small trickle of water makes it weak.
spacerBALB. A tiny knife-point sends kings to the Styx.
spacerPAP. But only the fair truth reveals the crime.
spacerLEO Enough has been said. The matter is under review, and the palm is still hanging in the wavering scales, to determine to whom it should go.
spacerBALB. If you permit, my prince, when Phoebus returns the daylight, a stage-play will prove that the strivings of kings are inferior to wine. Truth may cut off our quarrel.
spacerLEO I allow it.
spacerSAB. We approve.
spacerLEO Now, with its soporific art, this company of dancers will ease my heart’s cares. (A sleep-bringing dance of dreams. The king falls asleep, and when they observe this, the nobles quietly make their exit.)


ACT I, SCENE ii blue

Tarasius, the Patriarch of the place, who had died eight years previously while in exile, appears to Leo in his sleep, announcing that he is destined to die for his sins at the hands of a certain Michael.

spacerTAR. Descended from my eternal golden home, on what land do I plant my feet? The region of the western world, or that which first bears witness to the reborn day? Is this the fruitful land of the Caesars’ dynasty? Is this the world’s mistress, the capital city of this earth, the new Rome? I am wrong, this part of the world is squalid. I am standing on realms inhabited by the savage Sauromatians. blue Is this the holy flock over which I presided as its shepherd? Oh, the sorry look of affairs! Good faith has departed, virtue is proscribed, and, having gained sway, madness triumphs far and wide. How much, ah how much innocent blood flows red? What plague has laid low my flock? Part has died by the fang, part has gone astray, wandering through a thick forest, and there is no place for repose. What tiger, what wolf with its cruel fang has done this? I am mistaken. That king of the beasts, Leo the Armenian, that brutal, bold, savage, pitiless lion, has accomplished these things by himself. These things convict you, you animal. And yet you enjoy your sleep? Oh, my mind’s amazement! That congregation so dear to heaven, that divine family, so devoted to the honorable, is dying in its numbers. The sword kills this man, that one is burned alive, another dies by the disgraceful noose, while a spear pierces the side of yet one more, and some perish by the club. But you, you architect of this unspeakable slaughter, lie here. Do you snore, breathing out from that unclean breast of yours? Soon I shall bring it about that an everlasting sleep overcomes you. For you, the day decreed by the Fates has dawned. Get up, you beast, and betake yourself to God’s dread tribunal, the ruler of the stars commands it. Your career of doing right and wrong is to be weighed, the scales are poised. You slumber, my lion? blue Michael, you heaven-sent scourge, hasten your step, draw your sword. Use all your strength and inflict an everlasting wound on Leo. (An avenging angel clad in red, with sword drawn, appears to stab the emperor.)



Most frightened by that vision, Leo decides to kill all of those named Michael. Michael Balbus clears himself all suspicion.

spacerspacerLEO (He suddenly springs up from his bed and clutches his breast to see if he is wounded.) I’m killed, I’m butchered! My belly’s been run through and the blood is gushing out. Oh, the dire crime! What’s this? He’s gone, he’s fled? I dread the man. (Feeling that is breast is unharmed, he pauses in amazement.) My breast is unwounded, and the flitting shade has fled my sight? Has that brutal shade, that baleful shade, that shade, so bestial to me, flown away? The afterimage of that cruel vision remains. The blade, the wounding hand, and Michael, the man responsible for the crime, trouble my mind. My prophetic sleep has foreshadowed my death. I, Leo, am being marked down for death at Michael’s instigation. Oh, how I shudder! Michael? The name inspires me with doubtful horror. Is Balbus responsible for this felony? His good faith, tenacious in high matters of state, cries out to the contrary. Michael the boy? His tender young age speaks against such a dire crime. So is this outrage being plotted by my company of servants? Leo, it is in vain that you fear your servants. Am I to imagine that lowborn men devoid of any hope are plotting to gain power? I, feared by all things, must fear all men. In doubtful times, one should fear even the innocent. I swear by the Thunderer, whatever person named Michael haunts the Augustus’ household will pay for his crime with blood. My enemy will not escape my clutches, scot-free. Let him seek the stars, in the manner of the Titans I shall vengefully climb up to the stars. Let him burst into the homes of Dis, I shall visit the court of Pluto, a genuine Alcides. blue Slave or boy, servant or the first of my nobility, let them all be stricken. Loyalty rarely attends on good fortune and a royal court. You are sparing? You foster your destruction. Come hither, my lords. (Enter Sabatius.)
spacer SAB. What misfortune assaults my father?
spacerLEO I am dying, Sabatius, I am being killed.
spacerSAB. May heaven disprove this unlucky omen.
spacerLEO The dagger, the terrors, the blood, Michael!
spacerSAB. Horror shakes my astonished heart.
spacerLEO Let whatever Michael dwells in my lofty home be fetched here.
spacerSAB. What enemy does my father fear? I shall defend my father.
spacerLEO Hurry, cut short your delays. Who in the world would encompass the doom of his ruler Leo? Before that, let the universe collapse, I shall lay low all things and overthrow them. Let my court be burned, let my home be heaped with noblemen’s corpses. By fair means and foul, and by the use of steel, I shall defend my throat. If heaven should arm rebel bands, let this hand ravage the stars in Giant-like warfare, it will not let me go unavenged.
spacerSERV. I am here, as I was summoned.
spacerLEO What’s your name?
spacerSERV. Michael.
spacerLEO You’re guilty of having a hateful name. Head for the Styx. (Behind the curtain he kills his servant because his name is Michael.) blue
spacerBOY I, Michael, am here. May good health preserve the Augustus.
spacerLEO The good health of the Augustus is endangered, unless you are killed. Go now, and wish good health to Jove of the Underworld. (He likewise deals with Michael the boy. Enter Michael Balbus. )
spacerBALB. What does the king’s command bid Michael do? (Panic-stricken at the sight of Balbus, Leo shrinks back.)
spacerLEO Your king and his command fear you, Michael. Keep away, Michael, I’m being killed.
spacerBALB. What fear has invaded your sacred mind?
spacer LEO At the sight of you my blood runs cold and chills my bones. The auguries of this dire night are assaulting my person. Walk away, Balbus.
spacerBALB. Is Caesar averting his face and shunning Balbus?
spacerLEO It is not Balbus whom Caesar is shunning with an averted face, but rather Michael. Get rid of that dreadful name.
spacerBALB. Whatever kind of ill omen does that name bear? Both Michael and Balbus pledge their friendly loyalty.
spacerLEO Oh, Balbus! Against my will, my amazement prevents me from speaking. Is Balbus too a rebel?
spacerBALB. I abjure that crime. What villain has proclaimed this with his disloyal whispering?
spacerLEO My mind has a foreboding.
spacerBALB. It is a deluded interpreter of myself. But how did this vain terror infect your mind?
spacerLEO I shudder to say.
spacerBALB. Let me be permitted to learn the reason I must perish. You are persecuting a friend ignorant of his crime.
spacerLEO This night’s augury was deadly and unmentionable. Shall I speak or keep my silence? What signs of cruel aspect I seem to have beheld! Bloodstained hands, threatening eyes, a dagger, terrors, gore, and a man who would have inflicted a terrible death with his blade, heaven-sent Michael (even now the hateful sound of that unfriendly name assaults my ears). A certain Michael is striving to encompass the bloody assassination of the Augustus.
spacer BALB. Christ, Ruler of this world, You may burn me as a rebel with Your forked lightning, if Yyou convict me of harboring such crimes in the recesses of my mind. Forestall my hand. But if heaven refuses to consume me with its flashing fire, proving me to be innocent, you may plunge into my guts this steel I am drawing. (With bared breast he offers his dagger to the emperor, who is compelled by his fear to take a step backwards.) If this blood and this dagger have made me suspect, they will soon clear my name. Would I thus expose myself to a well-deserved death? Rather let me be borne through the battle-lines of armed Mars, where a thickly-packed throng bristles with its hedge of weaponry. At Caesars’ command, I shall submit to a thousand deaths, offering up my breasts. Does such great faith agree with the fancies of your dream? Sleep is deceptive. You should scorn, Leo, you should scorn the blind visions of dark night. Summon up your erstwhile strength, with which you have often trampled on even frightful dangers.
spacerLEO Good. Your long–tried loyalty holds steady on its course, Balbus. I am too fearful of vain things. Go, continue where your promised undertaking calls you. Prepare a stage-play about a king and Bacchus, so that I might relieve the woes of my troubled mind.
spacerBALB. (Aside.) What a great evil I have removed with this lying face of mine!



In his father’s presence, Leo’s eldest son Sabatius accuses Balbus of aiming at the throne.

spacerLEO But you, Sabatius, next in line to the scepter, carefully determine if within the expanse of my realm there dwells some Michael who is powerful in armed resources or wealth.
spacerSAB. My august sovereign, he chooses vain protections who, holding local wars in low esteem, goes in search of an enemy elsewhere. You nurse a viper at your breast.
spacerLEO Not yet put to death? Has my handiwork accomplished nothing?
spacerSAB. It has accomplished too much. It has executed innocent men but spared the guilty.
spacerLEO If you have any concern for your father’s welfare, reveal the guilty party.
spacerSAB. You will condemn my loyalty.
spacerLEO By what trick have I been caught?
spacerSAB. By the one which usually catches kings, by your affection.
spacerLEO When the laws of remaining alive require, every rule of affection falls silent. If anything remains hidden, reveal it.
spacerSAB. Balbus, a great part of your government, is fiercely pressing for your downfall.
spacerLEO His words have confirmed his good faith.
spacerSAB. Words, Caesar. He conceals his hatred in the recesses of his secret mind.
spacerLEO When his virtue has given him the opportunity, his affection has equally been demonstrated by his effort and his accomplishments.
spacerSAB. Affection suffers its ebbs, and often a deceitful man hastens its retrograde motion.
spacerLEO His zeal for cultivating peace recommends the man.
spacerSAB. His zeal for gaining the scepter condemns the man.
spacerLEO See who you are condemning.
spacer SAB. A man whom your favor makes proud, whom his reputation makes arrogant, whose speech makes innocent, and whose hidden guile makes innocent.
spacerLEO But by what artifice did you hunt down his wiles?
spacerSAB. By the way they betray themselves. His rancor does not bridle what he says. He has often been heard to utter these ambiguous words: “Whatever fool appointed the lion the king of beasts made a mistake. For the fierce lion has no concern for his realm except to put it to flight. He savagely kills those he rules.” Saying this, he shut is mouth. Then, sighing deeply, he opened it again: “You feeble tribe of beasts! If the bloodthirsty lion does a bad job of wielding the reins, will you tolerate its yoke? Albeit the lion is the mighty ruler of the forest and terrifies all the beasts with its glance, the animal which frightens them individually with its face dreads them collectively. Even a legion of united rabbits will lay low a lion.”
spacerLEO Oh, the bold fellow! Oh, the infamy of his evil tongue! Has nobody closed the mouth of this insolent fellow? Do I, bold, savage, horrendous, fierce, thirst for blood? And yet I am slow, I have not yet sported with yours. And yet I should have soaked my guilty hands in your gore, if I am bloodthirsty. Why are you slow to act, my fury? I’ll destroy him, I swear by the Thunderer. The titan will not sink his chariot in today’s sea before he will soak the earth with a rain of red. I’ll make him suffer the rule of a mere lion. Let the lion hold sway in the forest, I, the ruler of the world, will wield the reins of this earth.



Leo’s second son Basil terrifies him with a Sibylline oracular leaf. blue As a precaution against any eventuality, Leo confirms Sabatius in his succession.

spacerBAS. Oh, Caesar!
spacerLEO Your tone of voice makes me shudder.
spacerBAS. Oh, the safety of the Augustus’ person is never assured.
spacerLEO Come to my assistance, my son. The Augustus’ welfare is under attack.
spacerBAS. Oh, my father’s fate!
spacerLEO Who is arranging your father’s fate?
spacerBAS. The Fates themselves.
spacerLEO I scorn the savage turns and twists of the Fates. Who created the Fates?
spacerBAS. He Who it is sinful to deceive, God.
spacerLEO I’ll make Him capable of being deceived. Tell me the way of it.
spacerBAS. While the night was measuring out its quiet spaces in its car, burning with cares I thrashed about in bed, nor did sweet repose answer me when I sought it. Therefore, to pass the time on that restless night I quickly arose and, silently and with an attentive mind, read the first book to offer itself. The Erythrean prophetess had stored up the oracles of antiquity there, and while I read and reread her divine forecasts — Shall I tell you? (He displays an image drawn on a page.) Here there appears an image with a frightful face. Take a look. The lion, that ruler of the woodlands, bearing the cross-shaped initial of Christ, is fleeing. A hunter pierces this sacred letter X on the lion’s side, casting his darts with a furious impulse.
spacerSAB. What’s to fear from this?
spacerBAS. My mind’s foreboding. I have understood this to forecast the doom of the house of the Caesars. Oh how I fear the verses of that subtle prophetess! Thanks to some urgent instinct this fear is fixed in me, a fear which cannot be argued away, that your fate is hidden here, and that while you celebrate the newborn Christ at the altars — heaven forefend! — you will be attacked with steel, just as is this lion. This dread disrupts the sleep I have lost. This opinion hounds me, although I try to dismiss it. Father, I am compelled to fear.
spacerLEO Oh, our invidious lot! I dread this omen. The Fates are making haste. All the world is entering into a conspiracy, everything is seeking my death, heaven and earth. I can feel the royal emblem being torn from my head. This careless lion is being oppressed. (He tears the paper and its image to shreds, and stamps upon them.) But he will not be oppressed. I refuse to trust the Fates. The Sybil is mistaken, heaven’s auguries are misleading. Come here, my sons. If our destiny is wavering in a fragile condition, it nevertheless remains unharmed, as long as of each of us carefully keeps watch. You, dear Basilius, test the loyalty of my soldiers, and you keep an eye out for Balbus’ secret schemes. Plumb his mind. If he prepares some unspeakable deed, warn your father. Punishment will put down the villain. These are my injunctions. Go. Yet who escapes his end? (He recalls the departing Sabatius and, by means of Basilius, has the royal insignia fetched.) Wait, Sabatius. My son, have servants bring the badges of kingship. Let whatever members of the nobility are still awake immediately come here.
spacerBAS. Yes.
spacerLEO No man has sufficient foreknowledge of what he ought to avoid. Fortune rolls scepters about as a wanton game. Let it be so: though we be wakeful, he has a means to strike. The way to a tyrant’s throat is always open. Hence I chose to place our royal fortune and the destinies of our house on a firm foundation. Let me be put to death, once I have confirmed sure rule for my race. Come, you lords, and with your deeds display the loyalty your sovereign requires. I appoint Sabatius my heir-apparent. Do you approve?
spacerNOBLES We consent.
spacerLEO That is good. (He crowns Sabatius as his successor.) Let this crown adorn his brow, the scepter his hand, the robe his shoulders, and royal strength his proud mind. That suffice. Nobody should ask the reason for this hasty honor. A king may do as he pleases.

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