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ACT II, SCENE i
Enter the Parcae, CLOTHO, LACHESIS, ATROPOS, busy at their work
CLO. How pretty are these threads! Have a look, sisters. My effort is not needed, my distaff is working by itself.
LACH. These threads belong to a blessed child, born for great things. He belongs to you, Clotho. Many honors await him, and much wealth. As a warrior fierce in battle, he will overcome peoples. He will experience some adversity, but ones that will render him much nobler in their overcoming. He will boldly travel to the ends of the earth, and whatever unknown region of the world Phoebus sees and possesses, he will visit as Phoebus’ companion. At last, as an elderly king, distinguished by his fame, he will die, his life not yet a burden. He will fall like ripe fruit from a tree, and will do so freely that there will scarcely be any need for Atropos.
ATR. Look here, this work is wearying me and I can scarcely draw this thread. Sister, what destiny do our efforts promise?
LACH. You are preparing the accursed thread of a savage tyrant. He threatens dire crimes, horrible to mention. Your baleful distaff shows murder, revenge, and whatever his evil mind is preparing.
CLO. Nature has shown what kind of child this will be. He has sprung forth from the womb bearded and having teeth.
LACH. His brow is careworn, as if in his mother’s womb he has brooded on what wrong to commit in this world. He himself was pregnant with evil, the father to a monstrosity, and as soon as he was born he gave birth to his felony.
ATR. This will be your mistake, sisters, and you yourselves will bear the guilt, if, deceived by our games, […] should kill this infant instead of an old man.
LACH. A happy deception!
CLO. Kill the monster.
ATR. So he who has lived by crime will die by crime. As is the usual death for a tyrant, let him die by the hand of a slave. It is fitting that a man who has enslaved his subjects should have slaves for his enemies.
LACH. Let it be agreed.
CLO. Let it be so.
ATR. Let the hateful fellow die. Continue.
LACH. But what are your hands producing?
CLO. He whom my distaff is creating is a priest of the Muses.
ATR. A good prediction. Tell us what end awaits him.
LACH. He will be blessed and […], a man such as we should favor. It will be thus. After his thirst for water has become hateful to the jealous Muses, his virtue will grow loathsome to those hostile goddesses. So they will exclude him from their rites, and Phoebus, encountering him after he has been abandoned, will raise him up to the sky.
CLO. Let it be so. Say it is agreed, sisters.
ATR. So shall a thirst for water end with nectar? The learned choir deserves less kindly fates from me!
LACH. For what crime?
ATR. Mankind is petulant, and will rashly confer immortality on men snatched out of my hand. But let’s not delay. I too say this is agreed. (Enter Mercury and Cupid. Cupid shoots his dart.)
CLO. Who’s he? Sisters, do you see?
LACH. Gods love me, how welcome is his appearance, how noble his carriage!
ATR. How Hermes has shaken us with just a glance from his eyes!
CLO. Why call them eyes, sister, when he has abandoned heaven after stealing a pair of stars?
LACH. How the merry thief bewitches us with the power within his eyes!
CLO. I could easily believe that Jove has thrust a masculine Venus upon the world without the knowledge of the Parcae.
ATR. Why do we foolishly do the business of Jove and the world, but neglect our own? Our fillets are unkempt, sister.
LACH. I don’t like them. Oh, if I would be given a mirror instead! 7
CLO. Hah! How my agile feet start to dance, against my will! (Exit Mercury and Cupid.)
ATR. Are you fleeing, lovers? Oh, stay! Oh, come back.!
CLO. Pick up your steps, we'll follow Mercury at a run.
LACH. A winged god is not so easily caught. But our love has wings too, it will make us know our way.
CLO. We are delaying.
LACH. May you foster our happy loves, you god. Grant us your indulgence.
ATR. Hasten elsewhere. I’ll give him the first kiss.
ACT II, SCENE ii
Abandoning my motionless marshes and empty pools, am here, the fearful ferryman of Jove of the Underworld, seeking the earth, where I am driven by hateful idleness and my hunger-hollowed guts. Alas, what lifeless torpor grips the world? What novel kind of death, sadder than protracted peace, or death-like quiet oppresses it, depriving Charon of his rewards and work? I am amazed at the way everything is standing still, although it is in a state of flux. Nature’s fidelity is neither broken nor observed. The world stands uncertain, doubtful what master it should please. It is awaiting its ruler’s commands. What’s happening? Oh, who benefits by this great business? How long will it please the daughter of Night to threaten the world with Chaos? What should such a great stupor portend? You Sisters must rule it, and dissolve it if you please. For my part, I fear that the evils of the First Age have come back, I believe the rule of Saturn has returned. No friendly plague, dripping with its snaky locks, bursts forth from the earth and fetches me back plentiful spoils, weighed down with which I formerly was wont to return, cleaving the Styx in my barque as a stern agent of death, calling on Dis for aid. Once upon a time war, brandishing its bloody face, fled me. Now there is no quarrel, no killing, but rather (and this grieves me) peace entirely reigns, or some evil worse than peace. But those things are trifles. Lest anything be missing from the harm I suffer, there is no death. What further evil awaits me? Riddled with holes, my raft lies on the sluggish bank. I have abandoned my oars, the stinking lake is stagnant. With his voting-urn, the Cnossian judge is seeking for defendants. Souls are lacking, and the threatening magistrate sits idle, all his cases tried. Now every day is one on which all business is forbidden, and all Orcus is on holiday. Those treacherous wives are free of their punishment and are tripping happy measures. Sisyphus is reclining on his rock, counting up his punishments, and spinning Ixion has ceased his savage revolutions. The bird has ceased to peck at Tityus’ rotten liver, and, now gentle, flies above and is amazed at the wound he has made, at his full meals. This is intolerable. There I shall summon home the wandering Parcae. The world scarce allows women to roam about, the world will not allow the mothers of the Styx to become vagabonds. Orcus will collapse, as will the sky itself.
ACT II, SCENE iii
Enter CLOTHO, LACHESIS, ATROPOS, MERCURY
CLO. Beloved husband (for such is your name), open your closed heart. Why stay my hand?
MERC. Pray don’t mock your suppliant. My love is not the match of yours.
LACH. See how this eloquent man takes pleasure in making us increase our entreaties.
ATR. There’s hope sisters, he rejects our pleas. All lovers have the habit of refusing at first.
MERC. [Aside.] Cruel love, alas what traps you set for me! Was I in vain in trying to escape my father’s threats, so as to die by these hands?
CLO. Hah? What to these words mean?
LACH. Why do tears stain your snow-white face?
ATR. Silly woman, why do you prevent this cold snow from being melted? It will be melted when your sister learns to love.
CLO. Hey, kiss me. Why delay, Hermes?
MERC. Pray show favor to this suppliant, goddesses. Be favorable, Parcae, let your name teach you to hear my prayers.
CLO. He’s afraid in earnest. How long will it take you to understand? This which you in your ignorance call hidden deceit truly is love.
ATR. We love you.
LACH. We adore you.
MERC. By the gods! It’s beyond belief that the Parcae love me.
ATR. But it’s true.
MERC. But your age persuades me otherwise, this snow-white beauty of yours. These aren’t signs of love, but more likely of death.
CLO. You see these wrinkles on my forehead and perhaps you’re afraid.
MERC. So you’re a forehead all over.
LACH. Don’t you remember his wit, sister?
ATR. Be that as it may.
CLO. I admit our hair is white. We have wrinkles, Mercury, but not old age. Cares and efforts sit on our brows, but we are always young. Is this old age? L0ok at these supple limbs.
MERC. I believe that you’re in love.
CLO. By your embraces, that’s so. Return to yourself, do away with your delays.
MERC. But how should I love you?
LACH. What are you saying? Are you wavering again?
MERC. I fear your venerable divinities, I’m all a-tremble. Silent majesty sits on your holy face. I cling to your knees as a suppliant, and, in place of sacred incense, I kiss these hands of yours.
LACH. We’re quite familiar with your eloquence. Why do you rejoice in giving us words? Rush to our embrace.
CLO. Banish your vain fears, why are you afraid to no good purpose? So, Mercury, are you willing to trust our tears?
MERC. Tears are just as treacherous as words.
ATR. Whom do you trust? Do you want the gods as witnesses? We are superior to the gods of heaven, I swear by my divinity.
CLO. Are you still cruel and cloud over your stars? Why plunge into darkness those who eagerly favor your desires? Now sweetly shine your brightness, our light is failing.
LACH. And our soul.
ATR. We live by you.
LACH. We labor as your servants.
CLO. Take up your work. It is not ours, take it.
ATR. Take this knife of yours, destroy whomever you want.
CLO. You may witness the sky falling, safe and sound.
LACH. Impose on the world whatever new laws you wish.
ATR. Dissolve, rebuild, destroy again.
MERC. I leave these things to you, they aren’t suitable for my hands.
CLO. How will you allow us to earn them?
LACH. Do you want the bright sun’s light to be returned, and Phoebus, locked in Thetis’ embrace, to be fetched back? Even this will be done.
CLO. Do you want the entire world to go to ruin, for me to produce blind Chaos as you watch? This hand of mine will do it, this hand will thus lay low the world.
ATR. Then, should you want the world to be restored, I’ll repair this Chaos as you watch. Nothing is difficult for us except this single thing — to gain your love. That is very hard.
MERC. You’ve blessed me exceedingly, I would not ask such great things for myself. But, Sisters, henceforth my wives, let your hands hold these threads, as they should. Let the world stand safe on its foundations, I am not worthy of being honored with such great evils. But, if I may ask, I have this one request. I have a certain father (my memory is not very good), Jove. There are certain small quarrels between Jove and myself, punish him.
CLO. What a modest request! Our punishment is unworthy of us if it is not grave.
LACH. Dear husband, name the kind of penalty. Moderation in chastisement is deemed nearly as bad as moderation in revenge.
MERC. I think you, to whom he will pay the forfeits, understand the punishment.
CLO. So let’s go, Jupiter will suffer his penalty.
ATR. And likewise all the other gods of heaven, as long as you command it.
MERC. Let him pay a visit to his brother Pluto, that would not be inappropriate.
CLO. It will be done, darling husband. (Exeunt Parcae.)
MERC. Ha, ha. ha. So, Cupid, I thank you, and then I thank myself. Oh blessed, lucky me! What should I call myself? See howI, a young man, have deceived these three ancient goddesses. Should I love these bent, foul hags? Get away. While I was speaking to them their mouths reeked. I’d rather see the sky fall down, that would be a lesser evil. But there’s no need: I’ll shed myself of them, yet enjoy those things. What will they not faithfully provide for Mercury’s treachery? You are doing a fine job of pursuing your revenge, and at a happy pace. That’s good, that’s enough, that's all I need. Fear for yourself, Thunderer, fear the man you conquer, Father. See here, I’ll go back to enjoy my stars. When you are setting aside your love, Jupiter, your son will divest himself of his, and since you bequeath me nothing else, my crimes and parricide will prove you to be my father. You who gained the throne at the expense of your father’s neck, you may now serve as your son’s footstool, while I happily employ crime to mount up to the sky I left because of crime.
Go to Act III