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ACT IV, SCENE 1
I walk about above the earth, an equal to the stars, I tread the soft air with my proud foot. Lucky and prosperous, I hasten to fulfil my wishes, just as when snow melts a torrent is said to rush through the forests at an unstoppable pace. Why should I not be called a second Hercules, or greater than him? He conquered the earth with his hand, I conquered the stars and venture to call myself the greater victor. I defeated the Thunderer, the father of stout Hercules, I am the heir to his shattered realm and likewise its conqueror. Though Jove tried to prevent me, I have possession of his heavenly throne. The glittering skies begin to fear my will, dreading lest I bring back ancient Chaos. The Thunderer’s widowed consort bids me supplant her husband on his throne and in her bed. Europa, Semele, and all my father’s conquests open their tender bosoms for me, as once they did for Jove. I congratulate myself, lucky for having suffered my previous injuries. As a victor, I enter a house previously shut to my entreaties, I have accomplished things worthy of a god. I who was lately the servant of the gods am now called their king. Listen, you earth, or (and I like this more), listen, you shades of the Underworld, carry this message to banished Jove — the exile has conquered. But here come those hateful lovers, I must arrange my face. My wits and graces, provide me with some deception, and do so quickly. These plagues persistently chase me, even here. How sluggishly those hags creep along! I shall take care lest, having seen their awful appearance, I immediately seem a snooty god, blind to their love. (Enter the Parcae.)
CLO. You avert your eyes, Mercury? Why this bashfulness? Come, you lucky fellow, kiss your wives.
MERC. My wives?
ATR. We conquered your father for your benefit.
MERC. Get away.
LACH. Make your expression serene and befitting your good luck, if you receive us returning laden down with spoils.
MERC. You’re bringing me nothing new.
CLO. Why receive your darlings with that grim expression and give us no words?
MERC. I’ll give you words, but nothing else.
ATR. I think that the Thunderer can be laid low a thousand times sooner than he can be induced to say three words.
CLO. Why do you speak words to thin air, but refuse them to us?
LACH. Hermes, everything is accomplished.
ATR. Do you mistrust your dearies?
CLO. Jupiter has seen Acheron. Gather your wandering wits, at length come back to yourself and to your love.
MERC. Really? To my love? With whose fire am I ablaze? I’m a boy, I don’t know how to love.
LACH. He’s teasing.
ATR. He’s very like himself, as always.
CLO. Full of wit. How rightly he’s called the god of eloquence! I remember how he played as a pretty little boy sitting on Maia’s lap. Good gods, how I liked the little fellow’s face!
MERC. Now I shall hear the whole day wasted with talk of my birth. Lord, how many torments await me now?
CLO. Then, I recall, I felt love’s first fire.
ATR. His boyish beauty remains in my heart, pretty Venus sported in the boy’s face.
LACH. Perhaps foretelling our love, sister.
MERC. Oh, I understand.
ATR. How I love you, my darling!
MERC. And what was the appearance of your faces, pray tell? If I recall correctly, I often hid my head in my mother’s lap, terrified by your dire looks.
LACH. How he’s playing again! Good gods, he’s wit all over!
ATR. Come, come to my embrace, my honey.
CLO. Let’s all plant a kiss on his pretty little checks.
MERC. Get away, you foul, reeking, ancient, black, shameful, witchy, filthy stinking crones.
CLO. Get away, you clown.
ATR. You thief.
LACH. You debauchee.
CLO. You imposter, you rascal.
LACH. Ha, ha, ha. Do you think you can insult us without our retaliation?
ATR. You won’t get the best of three women, you god of speech.
MERC. Oh, how greatly the Fates believe my deceits! Is our quarrel that full of pleasantry?
CLO. Come kiss me, bashfulness does not befit enemies.
MERC. I’d prefer to kiss voracious Cerberus. Bah!
LACH. Pretty lover’s spats. What steadfast love this quarrel begets! An oak-tree is much stronger after you hit it, and our love will henceforth be all the sweeter.
MERC. How they turn my loathing into their consolation! What must I do to get rid of them?
CLO. I agree, sister, so far he has been wittily testing our faithfulness. But meanwhile this is a very long delay for us brides-to-be. I’d prefer for our joys to be hurried along, would that he would marry us quickly!
MERC. Hymen himself has never seen such a marriage. Ha, ha, a marriage! I’m crackling with laughter.
ATR. Why are you putting off our happiness? Impatient love knows not how to delay.
MERC. Stop. Where are you dragging me?
LACH. I know you like the word “marriage.”
MERC. By the gods in heaven, I do not like it.
ATR. This is the faithfulness of Hermes! Now all heaven has vowed a holiday in your honor. Apollo will strike his strings, Pallas has promised choruses, all the gods are awaiting our marriage.
LACH. A bevy of fountain nymphs are weaving garlands for you.
ATR. Jokes and games await, and your handmaids, the excellent Graces, will sing a sweet song about you.
CLO. Pan himself, giving delight with his flute, will teach the satyrs sprightly tunes, proclaiming your divinity.
ATR. And the patroness of the forests.
MERC. My goodness, how many gods they’re listing! I don’t want the gods to endure such efforts. Don’t let this concern for marriage weigh on you too heavily. I’ll lighten this load of yours. Forget marriage, goddesses, and quickly return to your proper work. I certainly don’t have the time to love. It disgusts and shames me.
ATR. What? You’re teasing again?
LACH. Are you seriously refusing us?
MERC. A young man never approves of a love he cannot match.
CLO Is this how you keep your bargain, god of Cyllene?
MERC. What are love’s bargains when one is ashamed of the bargain? An inborn beauty of face, a handsomeness of form, a bodily refinement — these are the things which create enduring love.
ATR. Oh, this contriver of deceit, this artisan of crimes!
MERC. Venus readily smiles on lovers’ vows. What sane man would adore those lips, that face? On your brow sit shadows, sleep and torpor; diseases and deaths hang from your filthy cheeks. From your haggish mouth emanates a filthy vapor, such as the bird-killing fumes which issue from Avernus. Blight, emaciation, pallor, and baleful starvation, and whatever Tartarus keeps locked up in his bosom, this is all visible, shining forth in your face. If there was ever any beauty in your visage, it has been buried in wrinkles. Except for the fact that spiders have employed their weaving to make their webs handsome, your faces are like their webs.
ATR. Let these hands stifle your heavenly mouth.
MERC. Does the earth lack monsters, and thus ask for new ones to be born? Alas, what should your mindless love urge? Once upon a time the sick daughter of the sun
785 foolishly fell in love with a handsome young bullock — but it was handsome, nevertheless. That I should love these foul —
CLO. Let us use our feet to drive away this rascal.
LACH. This monster.
MERC. Farewell, you succubae. If unquenchable heat continues to eat away at your dried-out marrow, marry within your family, I mean marry those three judges. Or if the monstrous ardor of your love compels you three to love someone at the same time, let your three-necked neighbor suffice for each of you, he can kiss all three of you at once, a worthy bridegroom. If Hymen summons me to your marriage, I’ll happily make the experiment whether I can jump with my winged feet. (Exit.)
CLO. Where have our vain prayers gone? Where has the faith of our husband gone? See the rewards of our labors. Having gained heaven, he’s departed, happy with his tricks and our defeat. What great spoils he’s taken away!
ATR. But why delay, recounting our misfortunes? Talking of sorrow does nothing to relieve sorrows. Rather, we need our avenging hands to come to our aid. Come, sisters, let’s show ourselves to be both women and goddesses, by curing our ills. Our malice suits us as women, our strength befits us as goddesses.
LACH. Let the faith we have placed in that ingrate be transformed into wrath, and hatred take the place of scorned love. Now let the boy learn what the injured Fates can do.
CLO. Let the gods return to their former condition, let Saturn seek out the shadowy realm of Dis, and Jupiter regain his heaven.
ATR. Let Justice, improperly banished, return to Jove his lost realm, and let him who just now scorned the friendly Fates now have them angry at him, to his misfortune. Let our unfaithful bridegroom pay the penalty for our scorned love, and let him leave heaven, deserving his double exile.
LACH. Are our hatreds to end in this? We are gentle. A penalty lighter than the crime is no revenge. The insult itself is something: for in making him an exile we, being goddesses, are not yet imitating the hatred of a mortal woman. He was an exile before. That is Jove’s revenge, ours has not yet followed.
CLO. This will be our revenge. He often visited Orcus as his father’s messenger —
ATR Go on, sister.
LACH. Now he’ll visit it as a condemned felon and take his father’s place.
ATR. Now you are saying something worthwhile, let your words not be taken back.
CLO. Does no evil remain, worse than Tartarus? This is a gentler punishment than befits the Parcae.
ATR. As far as I’m concerned, I’d prefer to mete out a thousand Styxes for that wanton, faithless, savage god. Let something deal out furies equal to our love. We are being slothful, our hand’s not hot.
LACH. Punishments must be added in Orcus.
CLO. The wanton pimp deserves three hundred times more.
LACH. Let a maiden always be set before him, at whose fleeing embraces the wretch may always grasp, but grasp in vain, and thus the traitor will atone for our love.
ATR. What just advice!
CLO. I like it less, what she has proposed is not safe. We know he is the god of persuasion. What if our unhappy suitor, being bound, deals with the shades? His tongue is his helper. With it he will get the better of Orcus, with it he will get the better of Jove of the Styx. With an incantation he will dissolve his bonds, and as a rejoicing victor he will seek the daylight once more, as Destiny gnashes its teeth. He will compel the squalid shades to do his bidding, when he speaks they will quickly set aside their work. The three-headed beast of the Underworld will lay down his ears and meekly acknowledge the god, his tail a-wag. Just like Orpheus returning for his love, he’ll overcome his punishment and turn it to his credit. At length that girl, heedless of his treachery, will fall in love with him. The deceitful, impious music of his tongue will cheat our fury in a thousand ways. But if our punishment could make him humbly silent, then our revenge would be worthy of ourselves.
ATR. Our sister very cannily foresees our disgrace. We must beware of his tongue, an easy effort will accomplish this. A rapacious Harpy will sit and always eat out the tongue from his mouth.
CLO. Fair advice. Thus his penalty will resemble that of Titys, and for a similar offence.
LACH. Our revenge is a full one, let no delay slow our undertaking. Come, let us give the hateful fellow to Charon, that he may keep him and give him over to his punishment. That man is a faithful warden, and always has the guilty ready at hand. Hermes, your nimbleness will fail you, no man escapes his clutches. (Exeunt.)
Go to Act V