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THE FALL OF THE SULTANATE EMPIRE IN EGYPT
A New Tragedy
By George Salterne of Bristol
Year of Salvation [...]
TO THE MOST HIGH
O whether He is light deeper than night,
Or night more glittering than light;
O more beautiful than every part of heaven,
O sun more powerful than every sun;
O prior to all eternal beginnings,
More enduring than the ends of all things;
Architect of the world, maker of light,
He who lights the golden lamps,
Creator and awe and salvation of men,
Eye of the mind, mind and strength of the soul,
Lamp of life, and life of the heart;
Both defendant and Judge of the law,
O king of rulers, Father of the poor,
At once yourself simple, one, and all;
You who cannot be understood by words of the tongue,
Nor with thoughts of the mind:. O God,
That I live and thrive on, all I keep silent and speak,
That I see the nourishing light; all this is yours.
Therefore, before the sad silence of the voracious tomb closes my eyes,
And shuts the gates of my mouth in slow night,
Let it tell forth the praises of your justice
And the noble victory of your holy glory.
Give to my youth what it in no wise deserves:
So that barbarian peoples who dwell at earth’s end
Will withhold no honor from your name;
Grant, then, that I may so sing your sweet song
In this late evening hour
With winged words, so that the daystar will hear.
Young virgins, tell forth Eliza;
Boys, announce the untouched virgin:
Our queen, most deeply beloved
of God on High. O blessed Lady of heavenly birth,
The Nymphs glorify you: The Nymphs of the delightful countryside
glorify you near wandering streams,
with a Chorus of wild Satyrs.
Let neither you nor your fragile heart leap with fear,
Even if it seem to you that with tragic thunderbolt,
I rattle the oppressive pride of a haughty Empire.
For the founder of the stars of the ethereal sphere,
He who gave the light of the Sun to the skies,
Has given holy protection and honor to Britain’s realms.
Therefore, may he, softened by your prayers,
divert the plagues of tearful war and parching hunger.
And swiftly inflict them upon impious nations.
Fierce Selimus the Ottoman, having taken his Turkish father’s throne, fell upon Persia with arms: a harsh, savage, impious Turk. Weaker than Selimus in forces, strong Gaurius the Sultan of the Nile opposed him nonetheless, but was bested. After his death, the Mamlukes chose Tomumbeius. Having been routed twice in battle, they abandoned the palace of Alcairo to the enemy and sought out Seiectica. Albuchomar, exarch of that place, thought in his wickedness that this had reduced his own power. Therefore he was prepared to share plots with Selimus, once he had counseled his own prince for war: a deceitful traitor to both. During that time, the Mamlukes killed a messenger of peace sent by the Turkish leader, who was now exhausted by the war. Anger flared on both sides. The Turks rushed to arms, as did Egypt. The prince of Pharos, having fled, was discovered in a marsh, dragged out, and wretchedly killed, his neck broken as a warning. With this death came the death of the kingdom of the Nile, as well as of its sultanate.
ASTRAEA or Divine Justice
CALIPH priest and counsellor of the Sultan
ALBUCHOMAR Prince of Seiectica
SELIMUS Emperor of the Turks
ACT I, SCENE i
I beloved daughter of the great Thunderer, have at last left heaven and come down to the lands of the impious. I am she who provides justice for injured uprightness; she who weighs the crimes of the just and unjust alike with steady hand. It is I who establish and hand over kingdoms, I who bestow them and take them away. After seventy-five revolutions of the spheres, I return to Pharos and the kingdoms of the Nile: an ancient kingdom, the ancient house of Pharaoh once drowned for her crimes of old and the crimes of her king; a symbol chosen by the heavenly Father for first having tested His avenging hand. She suffered under the weight of the mighty Empire of Persia, and later humbly endured the Macedonians and Caesar. Here was the altar of peace, here its port, and here shaken ships found surety, while the outpost held fast. But the human mind, ever unmindful of a good gift, threatens its own future prosperity, being more eager for new things rather than good. Having long abandoned the only source of salvation and the heaven-sent Word, sent down like a shower of gold, the unhappy yoke exerted its attraction on the sons of Hagar. The land was conquered first by the Caliphs, and then when broken in strength and mind endured the impious Mamlukes. Because of these crimes, her brutal sufferings will speak for themselves. Destroyed by their own wretched deeds and the Turkish horde, the Egyptians will teach their descendants to keep the laws and to honor the justice of the gods.
ACT I, SCENE ii
TOM. Are there none who now trust in the kingdom? Oh, how deservedly wretched we are! Fear goes forth wreathed in the gold of the nations, cowing great empires with her mighty hand: An angry god reeks on the howling wind, and when that wind blows again, we will not be able to change our fate. Do not trust to good fortune: God will overturn it. Do not trust to poor fortune: it will fall even farther.
CAL. O hope of the Syenans, powerful ruler of Pharos, this affair is not from some divinity on high; it is not God’s way to rejoice in the cares of men, nor in their sorrows. He who inhabits the temples of Heaven lives free from malice. But our crimes lie ever heavy upon us. Our impotent pride, our overwhelming indulgence, our insatiable thirst for gold, lust for evil and jealousy, the unjust companion of great virtue (I curse this omen, my nation, but I fear it nonetheless): every day create harsher punishments for the Nile. Drive sin away from your kingdom, please the gods! Please the gods, and you keep your kingdom inoffensively.
TOM. Oh Caliph, we are like toys, lying motionless, which the Judge of the world easily picks up and throws in His strength. The deeds of the Most High are wreathed in justice and power. If we wing on high to heaven, we soon fall. Wretched men are like the dry sands of the desert when the winds blow up to the starry heavens, and the rain casts down. I take you as witness, O Cairo, and the holy splendour of Egypt, which the Turkish royal invader dreaded when Caitbeius held the conquered lands of Cilicia and twice put to rout. But God forbids a good and favourable fate to each. And now again Selimus, sprung from the wicked blood of Ottoman, thunders threats upon us. No greater in strength than us, he does not rouse up war because of his superior forces, nor by the art of trickery, nor yet by well-turned plots, but good fortune attends the affairs of the Turks, and a hard end pulls at our kingdom. Alas, dear fatherland, how greatly I fear for you!
CAL. If any gods rule in the heavens, avert this omen! But what hard thing makes you speak? The walls of Cairo are destroyed? The Turk cannot enjoy this. The conquering Turkish force has been so reduced by battles that he will scarcely be able to withstand the Mamlukes; even now Gazelles will persuade the forces of Arabia to join us. All Egypt will bring swift help, both from where the setting day-star shines upon Syene, or divides the Red Sea’s shore as it rises; from where the south encircles it with its mountains, or the north with the sea. There is here a citizen from the city of Alcairo, who will tell everything to you alone with open mouth. Just defend your city from the tyrant.
TOM. Why do you recall these things? Should I be pleased that my forces equal or exceed those of the Turks? Shall I then suppose that I can snatch the prize away from those harpies? Is the decree of the gods decided by my strength? As to awarding and securing thrones, this is hardly a feat achieved by human endeavours: rather, only great God allots great things. Therefore Gaurius, slain, first drew down the curse, and inflicted a grave wound upon us. If only he had not stirred up foreign wars, after he had received the help sent by faithless Persia! But what was not necessary became so through evil. Because of this, Gaza saw panicked flight, and Sinan-Bassa shattered the failed assault. Oh wretched condition of mortal men! O hard fate of Memphis! Unhappy day when Selimus himself paled, astounded even in victory, when the light and honor of all of Egypt sent down funeral-offerings with unforeseen rage, slaughtering Sinan-Bassa and the remaining Turks, when Asian Libya was awash with European blood. Although diminished by so many battles that they could scarcely stand even one, finally they conquered. Are we, not diminished but almost completely overthrown, to prepare and wage a new battle? The houses of royal Cairo are toppled to the ground, the Nile flows, tainted with black blood, and the earth is made ugly by filthy gore. The darkened sky has veiled its head with smoke. Through every house — if any remain — rape and slaughter hold sway. Now the bitter victor threatens Seiectica here, the only free portion of Egypt that remains to us.
CAL. Your pardon, o great king. It is not the duty of a strong and wise man to fear oppression or to weep over deaths, but to care for the future with foresight. Protect your fatherland, do not yield to our evils. Our fortune has received a blow to its breast, but a day that starts as stepmother often becomes a mother. You should risk Mar’s uncertain throw of the dice once more. .
TOM. With only a third of our men remaining, will we be the equals of those who defeated us when we were full in our numbers?
CAL. You must seek help from foreign princes.
TOM. But from where? From whom? With what prayers or promises would I obtain it?
CAL. Do what Scipio once did when he drew a hated leader away from Rome: take the war to their borders!
TOM. Here the war must be waged in many places alike, not in the one place to which Scipio withdrew.
CAL. And so, what will happen? Which way do we take? A peace treaty? To make one with the Turk would be the utmost wrong.
TOM. . First we must find out whether we have come to the utmost point. Yet they are to be feared. But you see that our strategy does not depend on my personal fear. What is the will of the Mamlukes, in whose hands rest all the power and rule of Pharos? Behold! Albuchomar comes, wearing his usual expression. I will ask of him what he thinks we should do. In any event, I am afraid he is angry with me. If it profits a man to listen to everybody, but I shall follow only men of proven worth. [Enter Albuchomar.]
ACT I, SCENE iii
ALBUCHOMAR, TOMUMBEIUS, CALIPH
ALB. O highest leader of us all, o salvation of your people, permit me to tell you what your fatherland requires for safety. Why do our arms falter? Why do our swords lie hidden, when our affairs and the very times urge war? We anticipate an unfavourable war, dire battles, fire over Pharos, the funeral-pyre of the empire. Shall accursed Selimus be granted these things without an answer in bronze? As if it were nothing for the Turk to have mastered our soil, he attempts to shackle our rivers and binds the Nile, which until lately no banks could contain! But he has stopped up the Nile with a bridge of rafts, over which he will be able to move all his armies and pour them forth far into the Seiectican lands. Shall we stand here idle, shall we do nothing, while our poor country succumbs to the cruel Turk? Oh hallowed lights, ancient masters of the Nile, by whose strength an empire was won with the defeat of Asia, Panchaea, Syria, and Cilicia, let there never be such great dishonor upon us – drive away all such sin! For a long time our spirited horsemen have prayed for the call of the bugle, but their unconquered Sultan, bested, refuses to grant their prayer. What hope is being cut off from us, while Selimus attacks our listless forces again? Until he comes raging? And what refuge exists for us here in our defeat, unless perhaps our victorious Sultan begs the Turk for peace and Selimus holds forth an olive-branch to his suppliant? Has it ever been heard that human blood drunk down by a thirsting mouth softened the drinker’s heart? Rather, it enrages him in his inhuman heart, and his thirst for our blood knows not how to be diminished: the cruel snake of Libyan sands with its heat and poison both, doubly dangerous, does not rage thus. Why do our arms hesitate to drive this poison back to the Don whence it came, back to the Scythian ice?
TOM. An unjust peace is better than the best war.
CAL. Now that both conquered and conqueror desire peace, if they put down arms and obey each other, peace from war will be granted, security from deceptions. Go where your prince summons you, go on happy feet, for a good god breathes a calming wind over us.
ALB. Once a river flowed passed, it can never be recalled. Who can bring back the hour once it is passed? How long will you wait? Will you wait for peace while the Turkish dog finishes off those of us who remain?
TOM. I swear by our adverse fate and by the wrathful god that I shall try everything else before waging a war and seeking the destruction of my fatherland while I still live and look upon the light. [Exeunt Tomumbeius, Caliph.]
ACT I, SCENE iv
ALB. When one who deceives the flocks of the ocean with a hidden hook catches a trusting little fish in his net, what more could he wish for than for rain to stir up the sea and roil its pellucid wellsprings? While hatred swells and fury blazes, this is the time, Albuchomar, for you to serve your own interest, now crime is hidden or can be committed in safety, when punishment can be avoided, or at least delayed. But how? Ambition, refusing to settle for second place, has infected the souls of princes with its black poison. They dread peace, and only seek for what can do harm. They cannot stop oppressing their own people, waging eternal war, banishing peace utterly. What must be done? The enemy increases his might; the fame of Turkey swells while Egypt dies. The very thing you would wish for, what you would obtain draws near; everything you need is at hand, you who had no hopes at all. What must be done? What else but the obvious? It is foolish to die when safety lies in your grasp. Shall I allow myself to be pushed from my own rule? The Thracian attendants have already been bought; their wretched horde has snatched away the reign of the Caliphs, whose arrogant tyrannies were to be envied, but who could find no help for their noble houses. Their cruelty, tolerable to no man, drank an elixir of gold from the guts of their subjects, like leech which (if the story is true) that does not shed its skin unless it is filled with blood. Since (shame!) they are not able to defend that which they have gained with their strength, they have take others’, and they occupy Seiectica — which belongs to me by the ancient right of my forefathers. Others may suffer, but not I. But my oath has been given; I have sworn fealty to the mighty scepter of Memphis. And yet his scepter need not be feared, he does not possess Memphis. Let the Turk, who holds both scepter and city, avenge me. But I must approach the Mamlukes first, so that they may persuade the king to take up arms and become his followers, lest, if peace is made, punishment follow on my crime as its rightful attendant, or vengeance be my fate.
An adverse spite settles over the lands of light,
Which neither the Sun with his golden eye,
Nor Zephyr with his warm wings,
Nor joyful springtime can pass through.
O hateful curse, why have you swooped down in savage force,
Why do you harm the peaceful kingdom of Pharos?
Winter cold, darkness, and sin-devising cleverness are pleasing to you;
Yours is a plotting mind, eager for outrage;
Yours is a poisoned face, your right hand bent on blood.
The first of your companions is lust, and next the hellish Furies:
Darkness of the mind, unjust hatred, and malice.
Vengeance follows in the wake of these evils.
Fierce treason, fierce treason!
You spurn reverence for a father’s holy heart,
You break the sweet breast of a gentle wife.
Do you really believe that impious oppression
Will hold sway over a peaceful land?
You have raged against our native land with your accursed crime.
Kings, would you be counted kind?
Would you obtain riches and abound in goods
Hate, then, the power of the unjust whenever it procures crimes.
Can the crowd of the wicked,
Spattered with sin,
Enter the temples of the gods,
Temples shining with holy light?
When an unholy people contrived
To unseal the holy shrines of heaven with their hands,
They drew down darkness upon the morning star,
And summoned up a shadow from the Stygian night,
Riding upon nightmares.
Their crimes did not go unpunished, nor shall they,
Monstrous penalties in eternal darkness
Will keep their malevolent minds from evil deeds.
Go to Act II