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ACT I
MINUTE

Minute enters in a hurry, covered with feathers from head to foot, almost panting.

MINUTE Oh me! Oh, oh me, worn out from this excessive running! How my heart beats from this panting! Gods of heaven! How many millions of miles I have covered in a single minute! Eternal fame will trumpet my carriages. (He strikes his legs.). Most respectable spectators, I suspect that you are secretly surmising who I may be, such, a monstrously feathered man. I understand that lofty wits have come a-flocking here. Come on, let one of you who is a cleverer augur than the rest have a guess at my name. (Cocks his ear at the audience.) Come on then, Mercury? You see no staff or wings at my ankles. (Does so again.) So Cupid? Get away — that naughty little rascal has no mind, that scoundrel has no eyes. Look at me, sober and more clear-sighted than Argos. (He sticks out his fingers.) For a third, do you want to play with our fingers? Dispassionate digits know no deceit and fraud. If I am defeated I will explain the whole thing, measured out to give you an earful. But if I win, for me you can — but I’ll tell you later. Let’s get started. Eight, four, six, five. Oh, hard luck! The lot has fallen to you, so listen. This place before your eyes is the palace of Saturn, of Saturn, that most ancient of the godlings, he whom the snooty philosophers insist on calling Time. And I myself, although I am beardless, am called Minute, Saturn’s firstborn son. Or at least I am the son of time. I always get a thrashing in the Schools, as I’m always imminent. Because of my superb speed Father has sent me to fetch the months, Saturn’s adoptive brood. If it please the gods, today all of them that feed upon time are within celebrating Plato’s Great Year. In accordance with your wish, they will tread this path three by three. And as they walk over it, you may laugh, for they are funny in their appearance if not their piercing wit. There is one thing of which I should forewarn you, that you guests will go home exhausted. He who has turned up with a full stomach is indeed wise, he may console his weary eyes by taking a nap. But if anybody’s empty belly growls, I indeed pity him, for his tummy and teeth will take a twelve months’ holiday. What’s this hubbub? (March beats the other months with a club.)
MARCH (Within.) You sluggards!
MINUTE I’ll take good care of my shoulderblades. [Exit Minutum. Enter January, February, March.]
MARCH (March angrily drives January and February before him with a club made out of leather and wool.) Hurry up, you sluggards. Run, you damned men. You’re a hypocrite, January, showing two characters with your double face. I fear lest you have a triple heart and quadruple hands. (He hits January.)
JANUARY Hey!
MARCH February, you monopod, you tripod, you club-foot, you no-foot, you chip off Vulcan’s block. (He strikes February.)
FEBRUARY Woe’s me!
JANUARY Oh March, how wretchedly you torment my Calends.
MARCH Hah.
FEBRUARY I think my Nones are half-dead.
MARCH Indeed, with this scepter of mine I’ll make your Calends and Nones, and also your Ides, so black and blue that you’ll remember this place and day forever.
JANUARY Woe’s me. Don’t be so cruel, oh great child of Romulus.
FEBRUARY Oh golden grandson of Mars!
MARCH Oh, sweet words! Oh features of flattery! A child of Mars! But why don’t you give me back my paternal right, you villains? I used to be first of the months, their unique glory, and I would sit on the tip-top of its head and by my self hold the reins of the whole year. But after old man Romulus gave up the ghost, while I was busied with the yearly Saturnalia, as was my desire, these three-penny buffoons stealthily kidnapped me on my throne.
JANUARY Thus it pleased Numa Pompilius, my father.
MARCH But it displeased me. (Attacks January.)
FEBRUARY Oh you worthy offspring of the gods, if you want the position. I hold, next to the first, as a favor I’ll gladly yield my right.
MARCH Beautiful, if I were minded to move upward rags to riches. Look at the man who brays in such a timely manner. Who are you, pray, who are such a confident speaker.
FEBRUARY I am one letter more than a medical man.
MARCH Ha, ha, ha. Amputate a letter and heal thyself, you useless fellow. But suppose you yield your place, what will become of you afterwards?
FEBRUARY Because I’m a mendical man, always precariously begging for a livelihood, it will be my pleasure to see foreign peoples. All the world is a beggar’s homeland.
MARCH He reveals his nature by his own testimony, he speaks sententiously.
JANUARY Wherever it goes well for him is his homeland.
MARCH Ha, ha, you’re both rascals. But if I were to embrace your offer, where would you flee in your folly?
FEBRUARY To the last days of December, if I want, all the way to December 31st.
MARCH Betray your scurvy head and foot. So while you delight yourself with your travels, do you want me to replace you, begging at street-corners?
FEBRUARY Right, but only so you don’t starve for want.
MARCH By heavens, you have a bad character, turn around, you’re standing on wooden feet. Come on, tell me in what land your other foot is wandering by itself or, as I would prefer to suspect is your just deserts, you belong to the race of the monopods from faraway India, who, when they grow too warm, lie on their backs, block the sun with their upstretched foot, and make shade for themselves. You should give your response from the tripod.
FEBRUARY From the tripod I am giving my response to a quadruped.
MARCH Well said, the most evil unipod! Soon he’ll pay for it.
FEBRUARY But you should hear the thing with more kindly ears.
MARCH Continue
FEBRUARY Under heaven, in that crude and uncouth age of the world, there were only ten months, children of Romulus, and you outshone your brothers as their leader. But — oh cruel fate! — you all did not make up a full year, it was necessary to summon the aid of fifty-nine days (they were called intercalendary for doing this job). From which extra days Numa, who first equipped his city and the world with laws, finally formed us two elegant months which precede the rest in our place, as in our endowments.
MARCH Oh wonderful endowments! Continue with the rest, Greekling.
FEBRUARY Inasmuch as he stands in the year’s first rank, so that he could at the same time see the disappearing year’s end and the arriving one’s beginning, he created him with two faces, and so that he might do this artistically (which embarrasses me to recall), he attached so many days to him that only twenty-eight were left to create this mass. Why say more? (With his hands he lifts up his left leg.) None were left for my left foot, I swear by by eyes, since he had previously applied them as January’s rear face. So, my March, there’s no reason that this foot-loss should be held against me.
MARCH Is there anything left of this little tale, you nonsense-monger?
FEBRUARY After I had examined myself limb by limb and saw that I was like an abortive monster of the months, I immediately shouted “Father, I’m ruined. My other foot doesn’t appear anywhere in the world. Look at January, he has two faces, but February is a unipod.” Numa answered that this was done advisedly, for he wanted January to be sacred to Janus the sentinel, but me to Fever (a god I’ve never heard of), whom they say is Dis. For Hell thinks monsters are magnificently marvelous.
MARCH Get away from me, go to Hell, you whipping-stock (He beats February.)
JANUARY Ha, ha, ha.
FEBRUARY May the rascal go to perdition.
JANUARY By my two-tongued head, you have driven a fine bargain with with your tongue, you come back well laden down, but with blows.
FEBRUARY What new gadfly is exciting March?
JANUARY There’s no new gadfly, he’s excited by nothing but the usual. Or are you ignorant, you stupid fellow, that in the beginning Mars is savage because of the army of winds let loose from their pen, that at the outset he rages with the north wind’s roar, but that he quickly grows weak and mild?
FEBRUARY Good heavens, I’ve seen this with my own eyes. Look at him growing yellow with his head turned aside.
MARCH I have a fever.
JANUARY Hence it turns out as the common folk say, March comes in like a lion but goes out like a lamb.
FEBRUARY As far as I am concerned, he can go through the whole month unharmed. But wherever I come across a lamb, I never lack an appetite for revenge.
JANUARY You have a good grasp of the thing.
FEBRUARY But a bad grasp of beatings.
JANUARY Ha, ha, ha.
MARCH How my strength is gradually ebbing away!
JANUARY Don’t speak inclemently to March.
FEBRUARY But how does it happen that the rascal so suddenly grows sluggish?
JANUARY This happens since fortune has joined to him a companion who suppresses his fury when his first passion has blown itself out.
FEBRUARY What companion?
JANUARY His particular companion, Lent.
FEBRUARY I like that.
JANUARY For she pinches his cheeks, enervates his arms, weakens his sides, enfeebles his legs, checks his feet. What has Lent failed to threaten?
FEBRUARY Good heavens, Lent is a blessed tamer of the unbridled months!
JANUARY So see, March is rendered sedate. Now let’s deal seriously with the reason why we have come. Let us address and treat him gently. March.
MARCH I am feverish.
FEBRUARY Stop, January. He suffers from black bile, perhaps you will turn him from an insane man into a raging one.
JANUARY Let’s find out what he has on his mind. March, we have need of your brain. Can you give us some advice by which Saturn can be calmed down and rendered better disposed toward our affairs?
MARCH What does March have to do with advice?
FEBRUARY What does February have to do with a beating? (At the same time, February snatches the club from his hand and with its blows beats March out of his chair.)
MARCH Oh kindest of months, I acted against my will, driven by dire whirlwinds.
FEBRUARY And against my will I suffered dire whirlwinds.
MARCH Spare me, oh Numa-born.
FEBRUARY Oh, sweet words! Look at your patrimony, which I have stolen from you by fraud! (February chases March with the club.)
JANUARY What intemperance has you in your grip, you whipping-stock? (January snatches the club from February and beats him).
FEBRUARY I wanted to drive out his Lenten fever.
JANUARY I’ll pound a fever into your shoulderblades.
MARCH By heavens, he has inspired an emotion of fear in me!
JANUARY Now at last pay attention, you wretches. (He speaks in a tremulous voice.) Counsel bids us consult with ourselves. Saturn, the father of times, has stirred us up with the news that our poverty is a joke to one and all. He is a blind man who does not see what a threadbare life we lead, I can’t describe it with dry eyes. [He weeps.] We are the very beggars of the months.
FEBRUARY Stop crying.
MARCH You’re hard-hearted.
FEBRUARY I’m a man, not a crocodile.
JANUARY For us the earth is a barren stepmother, although she’s fertile and laden down with fruit for the other months. Tender shoots arise for some, crops for others. These ones pledge figs and pumpkins, those ones grapes and the dainty delicacies of autumn. But for us nature begets nothing except lettuce, cabbage, and other dry vegetables of that sort.
MARCH Oh cruel fate!
FEBRUARY Heavens, he’s justified in complaining. He who supports four rows of teeth, two tongues and two bellies has need of Ceres and Bacchus for his guests. And I, who always eat other men’s food like a timid little mouse, have cabbages instead of Sybaritic feasts. But control your weeping, January, and masculize your mind.
JANUARY Is he supplying anything for you to consider?
FEBRUARY A man who’s poor and lacking in counsel is altogether useless.
JANUARY Fetch it forth, my sweet talker.
FEBRUARY You are a man possessed of a duple head but of a simple wit.
MARCH This man is useless regarding his feet, but possessed of a sound head.
FEBRUARY We must hunt for his head with mountebank-like tricks. Come then, whirl yourself about in a violent vortex, at first rather slowly, then spin yourself in circles, so that our eyes won’t know whether they are looking at your front face or your back one.
JANUARY Excellent advice.
MARCH February is an academy of clever ideas!
JANUARY Watch me. (He stands with his arms outstretched and afterwards often spins himself about. Finally he looks backward at the audience.)
FEBRUARY Go ahead, front face. Go ahead, back face. Front face, back face, front face. Excellent!
JANUARY The eyes on the back of my head can’t see for dizziness. I’m very afraid they’ll go blind.
FEBRUARY Abandon your fear, they couldn’t become any more obtuse. (February inspects him and wipes his eyes with a towel.)
JANUARY Sweet words!
FEBRUARY Let’s invent another scheme.
JANUARY Just give me your orders.
FEBRUARY Bend your chest downward. (January stands with his chest bent.) Thus, thus, you understand me perfectly. Now with a single glance you can stare upwards, downwards, and see the sky and earth.
JANUARY Ye gods! What am I seeing?
FEBRUARY You tell us, you most perceptive man.
JANUARY At one and the same time I’m looking at the North Pole and the South.
MARCH Bravo.
FEBRUARY Continue.
JANUARY And the Little Bear is doing a jolly dance so she won’t freeze with cold.
FEBRUARY Hey January, have a look at Cassiopia, look around for that new star they’re talking about.
JANUARY I found it, I found it! I see shining on the right elbow, being of the fourth magnitude.
MARCH The bright, tricksy little shaft! Don’t prize it for the future. January, look behind you.
FEBRUARY What’s going on in the middle of the earth towards the South Pole?
JANUARY Oh the poor people! All over the place they’re on fire. Terra del Fuego lies in the middle.
FEBRUARY Look in another direction, lest here we go to perdition with our eyeballs scorched. (February twists January’s head around.)
MARCH Oh keener of sight than Lynceus himself!
JANUARY Good, now I am looking at the sunrise and sunset.
FEBRUARY Excellent.
MARCH Keep turning around, January, and give the moon careful scrutiny
JANUARY Hey, I’ve got it. It’s almost flying toward its setting .
MARCH Inspect it and describe the blotches with which it is marked.
JANUARY What blotches are you babbling about, you fool? Either these are mountains, rivers, cities and towns, or the eyes of my back face have no sight.
FEBRUARY It is indeed as he says, lift up your front eyes. Let me embrace you. May Satiation favor me, I wouldn’t give a penny for Aristotle. Compared to this man’s genius, he was a great trifler. O happy day, how I’m dreaming of mountains made of gold!
MARCH And so do I, but I only dream.
FEBRUARY By my crutches, in today’s investigation I invented eagle eyes and theatrical gestures.
JANUARY But to what advantage?
FEBRUARY To what advantage, idiot? By Aesop’s cock, you in your ignorance will do more good than a learned man. This all will fall out to our advantage. For when Saturn has witnessed our witticisms, in our a very cheerful and jocular frame of mind he’ll immediately give us a bounty to eat, so much so that the fertile streets and crossroads will yield the rich harvest which the earth denies us. Trust me, January, he whose coins germinate reaps a fruitful harvest during any month at all.
MARCH These tasks you are setting him are nonsense and pure tricks.
FEBRUARY You whipping block, you should mention other things, not nonsense. I’ll make your stony head itch atop a wooden foot.
MARCH During a worse age of the world, Romulus’ nation worshiped his front and back faces as companions of divinity, because they could foretell the future long in advance.
FEBRUARY What am I hearing?
JANUARY The truth: I am equally skilled regarding future and present things.
FEBRUARY [Aside.] If he is not pouring forth false lunar information and I am getting a whiff of a month-by-month almanac. I’ll make a little first experiment. [Aloud.] Come, what kind of beginning to you predict for this year, my prophet, rainy or clear?
JANUARY Receive this oracle, if you wish: I announce in advance a clear day with bright sunshine.
FEBRUARY Ah.
JANUARY If the clouds should gather, rain will soon follow.
FEBRUARY The sarcastic fellow!
JANUARY Hence there will be a great scarcity of grain for the poor.
MARCH What eclipses do you forecast?
JANUARY This year there will be no total eclipse of the sun, but there will be one of the moon.
FEBRUARY Ah.
JANUARY If the earth should happen to cover it with its shadow.
MARCH True.
FEBRUARY What diseases to you predict?
JANUARY Oh, deadly ones.
FEBRUARY You may confidently predict the disease of lunacy.
JANUARY Each and every person who is feverish this year will suffer from a headache.
MARCH Oh woe is me!
JANUARY And as for victims of gout, their feet will hurt.
FEBRUARY Ah.
JANUARY The blind won’t see anything. Those who run out of breath will die on the spot.
FEBRUARY Enough. Oh, thanks to my clever devices, we will soon be transformed from beggars into princes of the blood, and now I have an excellent presentiment of what we must do. You, March, must put on a play in the streets every day, and soon you will be wearing lunar wares on your breast.
MARCH Oh me, a moon-monger!
FEBRUARY January must happily perform games at street-corners, and meanwhile I’ll carry a pot and collect coins from the bystanders.
JANUARY You inventor of clever tricks!
FEBRUARY Come then, let’s hurry so that others don’t anticipate us with their trickery.
JANUARY A fine idea. ( Exeunt.)

Go to Act II