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ERCURY, returning from killing Argus, fell in love with a certain sleeping girl along the way. At first she seemed to refuse him, but after a few skirmishes she was overcome by Mercury’s eloquence, and allowed him to have his way on condition that she might have a moderate drink of his father’s nectar. Mercury agreed and without delay obtained some nectar stolen from his friend Hebe, the cup-bearer. Jove found out about this — what can escape Jove’s notice? — and Mercury was banished from heaven. Afterwards Cupid found him wandering about on the earth and pondering his return, cannily but in vain. Having understood the entire business, he busily made the Parcae fall in love with Mercury so that he could more assuredly obtain his wish. Happy about this, Mercury snatched at the opportunity of such prosperous fortune so suddenly offered him, and pretended that he would requite the Fates’ love on this condition, if they would thrust down his father Jove, now his enemy, down to Tartarus under the pretext of punishment. They punctually did as he asked, and hustled Jove into the world below. But Mercury, having obtained what he wanted, was forgetful of this favored and jeered at those who had conferred it, attacking the Parcae with his laughter. In order to avenge this insult they sought to reverse the situation and cast Mercury into the Underworld, which was well-deserved but attempted in vain. For he, relying on the immortality of learning and indignant at the disgrace, overcame Charon and returned himself to heaven, the conqueror of the Fates. In the end the Parcae, abandoning all hope for revenge, conceded immortality to learning, but conjoined with poverty, and, content with this development, departed. Mercury rejoiced and delivered an apostrophe to our Founder.


MERC. Spare me, Father.
JUP. How long should I spare you, you rascal? Until your wanton impiety climbs up to high heaven? But see, now it’s climbed down. Shall I wretchedly wait until your wickedness springs against my face and your shameless boldness hand plucks the beard from the chin of Jove , showing the world that silly trophy as a sign of my disgrace? Until it has as many heirs of its evildoing as wily Prometheus has of his race? Until, as if the earth bore only a few sacrilegious fellows, I am attacked by my own blood and mankind has the patrons of its crime nursed at my bosom?
MERC. I was yielding to the deadly weapon of Necessity. A Nymph I adored asked a single fee for her love, a cup of your nectar. What was I to do? I was in love, and who has the strength to deny anything to his darling, once he has given something to her? You yourself have ample experience in love’s power. You should attribute to love whatever kind of crime this was, the fault was love’s, not mine.
JUP. Prometheus’ crime was love’s, when that Hell-born plague kindled his spark in that decorated mud of his and stole a portion of heaven’s fire. It was a crime of love which Ixion was convicted and lies whirling on his never-ceasing wheel: all he did was fall in love with Jove’s forbidden marriage-bed.
MERC. When it has offended, love has often got off scot-free.
JUP. You ask for mercy under the pretext of love? Will this therefore lessen the wrong of your theft, that her fee was my nectar of the gods? My decree about your punishment stands, indeed it will stand forever, let a god who profanes heaven leave heaven, and let him do so forthwith. Go away, any delay for talking is intolerable. Your feet pollute sacred heaven, your delay in departure profanes the Milky Way. Do you want my thunder to hurry up your sluggish pace?
MERC. Oh highest Jupiter —
JUP. Get going. If you are preparing to speak even one single little word, I’ll shut your mouth with my lightning. (Exit Mercury.) He’s gone. Jupiter, you should applaud your punishment. In fact, my revenge will empty heaven, so that I may drink the nectar by myself. Why should I share this juice with a mortal? I shall sit alone in an empty house, in the absence of my wife. Should I share the god’s celestial secrets with mortals and throw open my house to mankind? Rather, I should keep the lesser gods under control. Let them understand they are subjects, not kings of the sky. If he is not a monarch, Jupiter is no god at all.


I return, enhanced by my triumphs and a proud god, greater than Jove. The altars are burning for myself alone, and the earth knows there are only two gods, Venus and Love. How great you are, son of Venus! How many hurrahs, praises, rewards and embraces await me as I sweetly cling to the bosom of my sea-born mother, and she eagerly dotes on my every word, bent on hearing of my victories with her avid ears! But I shall recline here a little while, while easy peace refreshes my limbs, exhausted by my efforts. But what sound assaults my ears? (Enter Mercury.) What’s this business? That buffoon Mercury is responsible. I’ll observe him here where he’s alone, to see what he’s doing.
MERC. Really? “Go away, any delay for talking is intolerable?” You won’t defeat the god of speech that way, Father. Neither you nor your lightning will prevail. I’ll counter your paternal thunder with my own horrible lightning-bolts, my words. Confronted with these your thunder will fall complete silence, your bellowing will develop a sore throat. I have words which, as soon as they enter one’s ears, make his whole body shiver. But you sit, deaf to just complaints — you need to be addressed by deeds, and by my revenge. Yet I must first greet my new homeland. An exile from my father’s hospitality (if he indeed remains a father, rather than a tyrant), I am seeking that of my mother, so that I needn’t fall further downwards to the dark Styx. Kindly earth, let me rest upon you. Let that bosom of your that nourished the Giants, a band that threw a scare into that ingrate Jove, also nourish me. Let your womb swell with me, may you give birth to me a second time as an agent of your revenge against heaven. I have no need to pile Ossa upon Pelion and another mountain atop Ossa, by himself Atlas will suffice for me, I myself shall be sufficient. The huge Giants tried to drive Jove from heaven with their strength, Hermes will achieve this with his wily words. Why do I vainly possess wings and fail to mount up to the sky? Come hither, you fraud s, always ready to do Jove’s bidding, now come hither against Jove. Produce schemes, you sluggish spirits, produce them. Will my often-smitten brow give birth to no Minerva?
CUP. How the villain tortures his sick head!
MERC. Ha, it’s given birth, that’s good. That’s it, that’s it, yes, yes, yes, that’s the way it will be. I have often played the pimp for his shabby amours, now I’ll be his betrayer. Let jealous Juno learn of her husband’s peccadilloes. She’ll abandon her marriage-bed, often sullied by unclean love-affairs, and her vindictive tongue will join me in attacking Jove with threatening reproaches. A woman’s weapon is her tongue. and I fear she chance to turn her fury against me rather than Jove, so that the fickle mob should vengefully attack his messenger, thus wounded by the King. Or, even if I could hope that the goddess would be favorable to me, I am still afraid to approach the queen of high heaven. Being weak, I still dread attacking lofty Jove with my vengeance, I am compelled to suffer as a slave and and exile. I am thinking of an unequal combat, and he who possesses a sure and stable kingdom in heaven is laughing at my threats. But that lord ought to fear my slavish schemes. He can’t fall out of heaven? Then let him fall together with heaven. I’ll appeal to my grandfather, whose ancient neck holds up the treacherous gods: let him bow his head and cheat the sky that weighs him down, let him drop his load. Thus I want to do: I’ll save myself a lengthy journey and effort. Since I can’t go to heaven, now it will come to me.
CUP. What savage threats! I’ll wait until the sky falls on his head.
MERC. Rather, I myself shall use my feet to thrust the humbled gods down to dire Orcus, thus I’ll be above the heavens which are now denied to me.
CUP. Good gods, what commotions he’s stirring up in that troubled mind of his! Gods, you ought to thank me for your safety. I’ll quickly urge this god to adopt gentler counsels.
MERC. But if Hercules places his neck beneath the falling stars again and, as once he did, keeps the gods aloft —
CUP. Hermes, pray where are your feet taking you, or rather your wings?
MERC. That’s an idle question, you see me standing still.
CUP. In your body, yes, but where are the ankle-wings of your thoughts carrying your wandering mind? What is your head, that factory of crimes, manufacturing? Thus far, Jupiter possess few girls. What nymph is being sought? Tell me in full confidence, you’ll keep your silence to no good purpose. For your wings are of no avail in this kind of business, unless a feather plucked from mine helps along your cause.
MERC. What are girls to me?
CUP. If your wandering eye has not landed on someone, and you have not found one of sufficient beauty for your father, hey, rely on my judgment. I know a girl you can take away, if you want, very worthy of Jove, her rosy cheeks shine sweetly. You can announce to that whoremonger father of yours that she has been marked by myself.
MERC. I am the grandson of Atlas (this is my single remaining claim to divinity), not the son of Jove.
CUP. Riddles! But there’s no need for the Sphinx, I easily interpret and understand them. I have often warned those thieving hands of yours. I’ve always been afraid of your long claws. Hm, what’s this? Venus’ stolen girdle? The sword of Mars? I know it’s some kind of theft.
MERC. I gave a tiny cup of nectar to my darling, but it amounts to scarcely a single drop per god.
CUP. My share is greater than one drop, but the loss was an easy one, as much as a heavenly gullet usually leaves in its cup after drinking a toast. The loss of a single dinner would have been sufficient punishment for Hermes.
MERC. Oh most just of gods! But my crime is banished from heaven (I dared call it my crime just now, since it left greater ones behind it, but far be it from a mortal mouth to speak of its crime against the gods). Nevertheless, our helpful father Jupiter could have been more reasonable and a fairer judge. To my misery, I have been driven out of the home of the gods’ and am surrounded on all sides by misfortune. Where shall I turn my eyes, where shall I turn my mind? I look up, and I see the sky I have left. I look down, and I see the Styx waiting for me. I look backwards, and I shudder as I think of my thoughtless love and offended Jove. But you, great god, if I can hope for any help and forgiveness, if affection and friendship have any power with your divinity, if it means anything that we often frolicked together in the great forests of Pindus, hunting down the hunting-goddess, and often welcomed the elder gods playfully with our pleasant smiles, if our previous games and my prayers today, have any power with you, help me.
CUP. Return to yourself and rearrange your face. You may take off that sorrowful mask, divine one. I saw you in your rage. Just now Mercury’s schemes, threats, and wiles came to my ears.
MERC. You really heard me?
CUP. Everything, Hermes, everything. And you are indeed nursing silly schemes. pray let’s see if you can perhaps do better.
MERC. Cupid is an evil that transcends my powers, I have striven by myself to no avail, so now you make the attempt. Unhappy men do a poor job of helping themselves. When it comes to assaulting Jove, human counsels fail. “Those he wants to destroy he first makes mad.”
CUP. The Fates must be swayed.
MERC. By how can those grim old dames be swayed? The Fates loathe me, and now I’m hateful to Jove.
CUP. Do you recognize these arrows?
MERC. Take away your hand! I would prefer that the plague-bearing arrows of Apollo and the sure and deadly darts of the hunting-goddess would strike me first! These arrows are the cause of my misery.
CUP. I’ll transform the cause of the evil into its remedy.
MERC. That’s very bitter medicine, to which I am afraid to entrust my heart.
CUP. But my medicine is helpful. Let it be administered to somebody else besides yourself.
MERC. So you’ll shoot at Jove?
CUP. Do you hope for Jove’s love, you new Ganymede?
MERC. I’d certainly prefer his friendship.
CUP. What if I cast him at your feet, fearful? Mercury, these arrows will bind the three Sisters to you in a bond of good faith. Those wrinkle-faced spinners will turn their friendly faces towards you, just as your Cupid is wont to do. They will become your wooers and dread you, the fear of the world and of the gods. The terrible hags will set aside their neglected work, and you yourself will ply the thread, the knife, and the distaff. Those old ladies who spare no man will be eager to spare you, and for your sake these ancient will crave youth for themselves.
MERC. I have to love these ancient, withered hags?
CUP. It is sweet to feign love, when love is loathsome.
MERC. Do you imagine it is easy for Mercury to feign love?
CUP. Make as if you are in love and you’ll make your fortune. You’ll sit as ruler of heaven, a god of gods, and with your tongue you’ll assign fates to me Fates. How reluctant you are to seize this opportunity for your happiness! I’m afraid to touch you with this light arrow, so that you will do a better job of pretending.
MERC. No, you don’t need to be afraid. Each of us will attend to his duty. Mine is to pretend love.
CUP. And mine is to create it. (Exeunt.)

Go to Act II