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ACT II, SCENE i
FLORUS THE PROCONSUL seated on his tribunal, JEHOCHANAN BAR SAKKAI
FLOR. This noble, stiff-necked Hebrew race tramples on our empire. The yoke cast off, it seeks revolution. Nor can the Jews tolerate the rein. Although Isaac’s seed is enslaved to Rome, in its courage it scarcely believes that it can be conquered. At length it promises itself its lost kingdom. But its drunken mind is swollen by excessive prosperity. City fathers, at my bidding you are now present so that I might pursue my just complaint. The insane mob seeks new upheaval. In its unbridled anger it never ceases to spew out arrogant insults against its Proconsul. Openly it wounds him with its harsh rebukes. Just as a horse goes wild and rebels against its master, if it has sensed that his control has slackened even a little, and, having had a taste of licentiousness, scarcely returns to orderliness once he is overpowered, nor obeys his master’s bloody spurs, so your people are swollen with new arrogance and rear up against your proud masters. As long as I kept my reproaches pent up in my silent heart, I swiftly became a bitter laughing-stock to your citizenry. As a joke, that man took pity on Florus the beggar. The rascal playfully asked his fellow for a mite for Florus, and many people raged at me in their foolish minds. Therefore, unless you immediately hand over to me the people responsible for this crime so that I can punish them, your heads will atone for their great guilt.
JEH. Exalted Procurator, illustrious Florus, it grieves me that my fellow citizens’; madness agitates your sad heart. A youthful mind rarely lacks faults, nor is that age able to govern its impulses. Why does the unleashed madness of this naive youth make your noble heart burn? Dismiss this misguided chagrin. Anger’s fire only burns for a little while. Then it suddenly dissipates and the angry man is ashamed of his impulse. Of his own free will he seeks out the person who cautioned him, nor is he long pleased with his wrath. Anger punishes itself. The will, captive, allows itself to be led. If you, as a harsh judge, demand the malefactors, who is able to separate the guilty from the rest? The evildoers are eager to conceal their act. It is not strange if, in the midst of such a public upheaval, a small minority slips and does something rash. But you would be more able to pacify this riotous situation, and you would better serve the Roman imperial interest, if you think it reasonable to spare a few guilty men out of so many innocent ones on your own initiative, rather than handle these people roughly and throw a scare into the multitude.
FLOR. An adult can admonish gentle children about many things, since at their tender age they are easily bent. But adult madness is not bent by any threats. The drawn sword restrains their fierce spirits. For a victor, the one means of salvation is to repress such an enemy. You do not know who the traitor is — until you find yourself betrayed. When is caught he is executed as a public enemy. In a matter of serious crime, cruelty is scarcely reprehensible. Because this person is not ashamed treasonably to insult his Proconsul and hide his wrongdoing behind a false front, my just punishment will avenge such a crime. Let swords be drawn. With its point let it rage through the city, killing whomever it meets. Let the marketplace overflow with Jewish blood [Exit everyone but Florus. Enter Salamuth, under military escort.]
FLOR. Beautiful Salamuth, beloved to the gods, let no chill fear torment your trembling heart, nor let this upheaval trouble your anxious mind. Your rare womanly beauty compels me to love you, as a rosy color paints your radiant face and your eyes shine like two stars in the heaven. So let me love you and all those wounds which your beauty inflicts on me daily. Do not let me die in vain. Make a Roman marriage.
SAL. Only a false beauty is pa9inted with such a color, and an abandoned sense of shame seeks praise for beauty. I shall remain a seemly consort for my husband, nor as a wife shall I pollute the faith of our marriage.
FLOR. So my ample dignity strikes you as disgraceful?
SAL. Why does a disgraceful love make your heart burn?
FLOR. Jupiter on high burned with the fire of love and in his majesty he experienced only pleasurable torches. And, once, not even heaven sufficed for his desire.
SAL. Base Venus created this pretext for vice, and pretended that the gods were partners in her crime. Impudent love makes heaven its accomplice and does not fear making a bad joke out of God.
FLOR. Impudent Jewess, you spurn my offer of marriage.
SAL. The threatened penalty for adultery is death by stoning.
FLOR. Before that, your husband would suffer death by the sword.
SAL. Would you, a cruel judge, kill an innocent man?
FLOR. As long as the threat of stoning would not apply to a widow.
SAL. Can my husband’s unjust death please you?
FLOR. If I could freely enjoy your embrace.
SAL. Then, I suppose, I could caress my new husband’s bloodstained face.
FLOR. Why do you insist on rejecting your fair beauty’s reward?
SAL. Beauty is a squalid things when virtue is lost.
FLOR. So God enjoins lovemaking only for the virtuous?
SAL. Even the beasts of the field are wont to have a faithful consort.
FLOR. Because they are beasts.
SAL. Which preserve the fidelity of marriage.
SAL. Because they do not know what’s good for themselves.
SAL. Rather because they know what’s bad for themselves.
FLOR. So you want me to imitate the beasts?
SAL. So that you will feel greater shame.
FLOR. Are you so demented as to reject my love?
SAL. Were you expecting that my sense of shame could tolerate such a stain?
FLOR. So that you would be protected, being Florus’ mistress.
SAL. A woman is protected as long as her modesty is safe. If her modesty is not preserved, what security will she have?
FLOR. There’s no point in verbal fencing. My stubborn love can tolerate no rebuff. You will remain in my home as my mistress. The raging fumes of love course through my veins, nor does this sweet ill know any limit. Jupiter’s sister, expelled from heaven, gave her place to a mistress and heaven’s palace was thrown open for women. [Exit Salamuth, leaving Florus alone.]
Those men you hold to be rebels, scourge their backs immediately with heavy whips. When their bodies are sufficiently swollen with great welts, let this treatment break the bonds of their life. Whatever rebel attacks the law by guile asks in vain for the law’s sacred trust. I do not care if these men are Roman citizens or equestrians: take an axe and cut off their heads.
But Beronice, that admirable woman, approaches, sister to King Agrippa. Her cheeks are wet with tears. She walks barefoot, with shorn hair, so that she might fulfil the vows of fasting she had made to God. [Enter Beronice, with a companion.]
BER. Great-hearted Procurator, illustrious Florus, kindly receive the loyal complaints of a race which has long been oppressed. Put an end to our great calamities. How long does it please you to nurse an angry heart? Roman honor is satisfied, because this holy city, the capital of nations, obeys Rome, and the yoke of servitude, long unfamiliar to us, presses on Jewish necks. See how the walls are wet with our citizens’ blood. Sons mourn for fathers killed by the sword, and fathers for sons. It is scarcely possible for these people to mourn their own. Lust snatches sad virgins from their mothers’ embraces as they vainly cry out to God. Nor is anyone safe in his own home. See, the bawling infant is killed in his cradle. Can madness do worse? But an even more serious wrong has been done. Loyal citizens are strangled before the very altars: the murder openly make God a witness to their crime. The noble parti-colored columns of the holy Temple flow with the foul blood shed by our citizens. Rage fears no crime. Have mercy on the house of Abraham, storm-tossed so long. Let your exhausted sword at length set aside its menace. Now enough has already been given to ruination. Six hundred and thirty citizens lie in the forum, killed by steel. The marketplace is stained with fresh gore. Maidens are slaughtered in their parents’ arms. Let the Romans rule happily — just permit the Jews to obey. As long as your mind craves victory, let the swords be drawn and let the hoarse bugle give the signal for war. When you emerge the victor, quiet peace is more suitable. In the shedding of blood, that which is necessary suffices.
FLOR. Great Beronice, sister of the King, Fortune often prevents one from doing that which he piously wishes, nor can true praise come to the man in power. It is possible to urge just behavior on private citizens, whom no fear ever makes anxious. Against his will, the victor learns to act unjustly. A sense of shame is a poor servant of the law, and what is just is not always useful. An over-sanctimonious man governs his people badly. It is the mark of a lazy man not to know what is possible for himself. There is no small praise in destroying an arrogant enemy: if your sword is despised, this invites further war. Death delights in blood. Irate arms respect no limit, nor do the sword’s menaces cease immediately. Likewise the Jews’ fury kindles a fire in their angry soldiers. They refuse to pay tribute, and even in their abject condition they issue ferocious threats. Why should the altars not be spattered with pious bloodshed? It is proper to sacrifice traitors’ blood to Jupiter, and no offering more justly stains the altar than the head of a rebel. Nor does an evil readily abate, even if you strike at it vigorously. A fire badly extinguished regains its strength and a little seed produces a great growth. My soldiers are exhausted and fear a new slaughter. Blind resentment is an unjust judge of things, and is prone to make complaints, no matter how unwarranted. Nor does headstrong anger respect the limits imposed by justice. When it comes to the shedding of bloody, my fear teaches me what is sufficient.
BER. I am well aware how much pleasure warfare takes in bloodshed. However, we are not concerned about the cause of war, but about it is outcome. Let it be allowed to heal war’s harsh wounds. Let the Romans rule. It is fitting for us to obey. Let longed-for peace prevail, with war extinguished. This is safe for the Jews, safer for the Romans. What kind of fears does Jewish courage inspire in you? Or what yoke threatens you? The victor dares everything. Is he afraid — or can a victor fear anything? Mercy is the only remedy for fear. Rulers are preserved by the support of their subjects. The altar is a refuge for those in distress, not a source of horror for our citizens or something to be tainted by human blood. If some recalcitrant citizen commits a crime, why do you not grant imperial trials for the accused? Our holy city entrusts its inhabitants to you. If blind anger knows no limits, why has your wrath imposed new penalties on our citizens and raged, headstrong, against our backs?
FLOR. No man can govern well according to fixed laws.
BER. What kind of law has abandoned the restraints on its fury?
FLOR. Regrettable necessity gives what commands it pleases.
BER. The Nemean Lion took pleasure in sparing a suppliant.
FLOR. No lion has had cause to fear a helpless animal.
BER. Does victorious Rome fear the conquered Jews?
FLOR. Rome should have to defeat her enemies only once.
BER. Will such timid fear procure anything better for your empire?
FLOR. Your harsh race can be broken, even if it cannot be bent.
BER. A gentle disposition can “break” this barbaric people.
FLOR. As long as it remains inert, ignorant of how to employ its strength.
BER. Kindness extended to them will render them safer.
FLOR. The only thing which protects a leader is the loyalty of his soldiers.
BER. So the sorry misfortune of my people fails to move you?
FLOR. A base traitor practices faithfulness in trivial matters, so that he can deceive you when the stakes are high. Nor does fawning evil lack a false appearance. These things escape a tender woman, who ought to tend her distaff and work the thread with her rosy hand. Cruel steel, whose master’s exhausted voice can scarcely govern, does not know how to spare anyone. If you wish to avoid my soldiers’ bloodstained weapons and the citizens’ shields, smeared with gore, leave soon.
BER. [To herself.] Why is he nodding to his henchmen? Is he preparing violence? My trusty companion urges me to flee. I shall not delay. [Exeunt.]
ACT II, SCENE ii
ARSIMON, A CITIZEN
CIT. Where are you taking me, dripping with blood from the wound you have inflicted?
ARS. So that you will quickly hang from a Temple beam.
CIT. What crime have I been so unlucky as to commit?
ARS. You declined to take my sword into your breast.
CIT. You will not heed a suppliant’s prayers?
ARS. Only the prayer that you be the first one to die.
ACT II, SCENE iii
THE WOMAN CHANNA, JEHUDA
CHAN. By the holy godhead, I beg you, by our children, dear to me, by your wife’s chaste fidelity, do not snatch our only daughter from her mother’s embrace.
JEH. It suffices that the conquerer loves your daughter, which is no small honor for her vanquished father.
CHAN. Our ancestral law forbids blood-mixture, and Moses forbids us to contract marriages with gentiles.
JEH. Do the victor’s angry threats fail to move you? Love’s stubborn madness courses through his veins. Such torches scarcely know anything about the Law.
The souldiers carry over the stage Jewes tyed in ropes to their deathes.
FLOR. Can the seed of Abraham tolerate such a slaughter?
ST. The authority of their leaders forces them to, against their will.
FLOR. Describe to me the state of the afflicted city .
ST. After the baleful sword performed its savagery in the city, and Jerusalem was flooded with crimson blood, the night we had long desired put an end to the slaughter. Beronice barely escaped death by flight. Anxious men stayed awake to guard their homes, lest some soldier would happen to break in during the night. When the dawn painted the sky purple, chill fear shot through the citizens’ limbs. They turned ashen, they averted their faces, gave no response, and a great turmoil upset their hearts. They were greatly ashamed of themselves, and their hidden chagrin found no outlet. They were afraid that their wits were insufficient, mistrusted their own right hands. A large portion of them flocked to a prominent place used for giving speeches. Frequently, with loud shouts, they complained about the slaughter of their people, and they wounded Florus with vehement denunciations. Soon the priests dashed in and, together with the leading Jews, they plunged into the throng. Taking individual men by their garments, they besought them by the inner sanctuary of the Temple, by the sacred altars, not to scourge the Procurator with their bitter words and so kindle the torches of Florus’ anger all the more, since those had been the cause of so much grief for our citizens. The people, moved by the prestige of the leading Jews, quieted down — and because the menace of the raging Proconsul intimidated them.
FLOR. Shameful offspring of Abraham, you cowardly people, are you able just to look on the unavenged slaughter of so many fellow citizens? Is no madness of my harsh henchmen able to excite you to the point that, after so many murders, you will rebel and harm Caesar in war? [Aside, to a follower.] Servant, hear me obediently. Two cohorts are hurrying here to the city. Meet them and transmit my words, that if the populace fawns on the cohorts with public acclaim, they must keep their expressions blank and stay frozen in silence like mutes. If the Jews take it ill that the army does not return their greetings, as if they were so many men who have had their tongues cut out, each man should immediately draw his sword and attack them so that the entire road is littered with corpses. But the priests are making their way here. [Enter priests and citizenry.]
The fact that the blind rashness of your citizens agitates my soldiers’ inflamed minds, and that the captive virtue of this city has not tolerated our empire, has inflicted serious wounds on the peace. Your own loyalty towards the Romans will shine sufficiently, since it plans no revolutionary acts. Soon two cohorts will be arriving at the city. If the people go out to greet them in a friendly manner and think it proper to pay public honors to them, they will have given sufficient proof of their devotion to the Romans, nor need they fear the threats of a hostile sword. [The Jews exit, leaving Florus alone on the stage.]
Now, Florus, gather all your wits. If the city refuses to shake off Nero’s fasces, if the afflicted people accept their bridle, soon they will report your evildoings to Caesar and you will pay the penalties for your dire crime. But if the irate populace should bear arms against Caesar and you adroitly direct Roman weapons against these rebellious Jews, your affairs will be on a safe footing. And, in a position of security, you can avenge yourself on these citizens. I shall try by all means to throw everything into chaos, so that the rebels will be forced to take up arms.
The King’s steward approaches. [To Agrippa’s steward.] Quickly, tell me what disturbances are occurring in the city.
ST. In the Temple the holy fathers, surrounded by a throng of citizens, argued that the people should go out and greet the soldiers before the Romans inflict worse injuries, and that the Jews should soften their angry minds with kind words. At first the leaders of the anti-Roman faction refused to do such a duty. The people readily adopted their opinion, since they were afflicted with sorrow about the massacre. So the city fathers are in anguish, as are the chief priests and accompanying Levites, their heads strewn with ashes and with their garments rent. The leaders took each man by the hand in a friendly way, they brought forth the sacred vessels and everything precious which the Temple contained. They asked most particularly that the people pay heed to maintaining the Temple’s honor, lest the holy vessels be betrayed to the enemy while the people were hurling insults at the Roman soldiers. A citharist preceded the people, as well as a singer of good reputation, somebody who struck the drums with a trained hand, and a skilful artist pleasantly strumming a lyre. The priests cautioned the people lest even the slightest of offenses be turned into a grave misfortune for David’s city: rather, the people should go out and formally greet the soldiers. Thus no excuse for battle would exist for the Procurator, the city would retain its accustomed dignity, and not be forced to suffer any more. The mob was pacified by the fathers’ admonitions, and the factious (who were very few) were likewise swayed by their authority. The venerable company of the priesthood approaches. [Exeunt.]
Let the Priests accompanied with the cheifs of the people with singers and other musicians playing upon instruments and the people also following them after, <go> to meet the two Cohorts comming to Jerusalem.
Now let a skilled hand beat the drum. Now let the melodious cymbal ring. Let the flutes sing with sweet song. A glad people meets its returning governor. Happy Florus holds the reins of our city. With Florus its Procurator, each citizen rejoices. Both are blessed by the same happy lot. A glad people meets its returning governor.
AM. The city pours forth to wish you a happy return — by what’s this? He remains silent, shaking his head. I fear some evil.
MET. Up to now you have been unashamed to play tricks on Florus with your wiles. Is this tolerable, my victorious soldiers? Are you not moved by the citizen’s rebellious utterances? Draw your swords, sow ruin everywhere. Let the Souldiers set upon the Citizens and drive them awaye. [To himself.] Florus, I execute your orders, a faithful servant. As commander, I shall force these people to take up arms and wage war against Caesar. I shall follow my men. [Exit. Enter Florus, alone.]
FLOR. Fear besets my anxious mind, lest the city fathers dispel the impetus of their raging people and skillfully strive to contain the riot or ruin our scheme. If the rebellious citizens rush to arms and in their uproar attack our standards, since our Roman soldiers cannot tolerate such an outrage, they will use force to resist this violence. They will not be concerned about identifying the guilty, but only crave revenge. Robbery, plunder, sexual corruption, murder — fear nothing. By this plan you are able to conceal your misdeeds. The people will pay the penalty for their headstrong act. So I have decided to come here under military escort, to find out if the citizens are taking up arms in their fury. A messenger hastens here. [Enter Agrippa’s steward, and also the priest Alkim.]
ST. Florus, you must hasten to bring aid to your cohorts, since your swarming troopers are using clubs to kill our citizens in the narrow streets. The conquering Romans eagerly fell on their enemies’ backs and both sides fell to hand-to-hand combat. A large number of men were suffocated. Jewish and Roman bodies lay mixed together: even their close relatives would not be able to identify the mangled corpses. The Romans pressed forward furiously: whoever they encountered was given over to death. Narrow Bezetha scarcely provided access to the Temple. Here the Roman cohort sought to force an entrance so that it could occupy the Temple, passing through the Antonia, since their greedy minds were set on capturing the sacred treasury. The Jews, fighting in the narrow passageways, fended off the enemy, and the fleeing citizens regrouped and resisted in a dense throng. With a shout they summoned others to join them. [He suddenly dashes off.]
ALK. He’s fleeing! He’s fleeing!
FLOR. What’s this? He’s fleeing. Soldiers, follow your leader. Let Florus with the Souldiers about him runn into the Citty.
ST. [Alone.] Oh, the great power of God! While He governs men’s secret hearts and infuses us with a holy awe of His rite, […]. After the Romans forced their way to the citadel Antonia to loot the treasury, the angry Jews hurled themselves at them. Their wrath supplied everything. They hurled their unprotected bodies against their enemies’ weapons. Some climbed atop the roofs. Stones hurled from above crushed the Romans and thickly-flying arrows did not fail to work considerable destruction. The rest thrust their weapons at their enemies’ faces. Zeal kindled fierce torches in their spirits, as did the thought of the Lord’s Temple, a thing such as no other nation knows. But Florus approaches. [Enter Florus.]
FLOR. [To himself.] The bugle has blown the retreat, since their pious rage has inflamed our enemies, and in their need they did not lack weapons. The Romans scarcely dare look their furious enemies in the face, and have been quickly routed. The portico of the Antonia has been razed in order to deny the Romans access to the Temple. Now I should pretend peace for the benefit of these leading citizens, and pleasantly deceive the flower of the city, [Enter priests and leading citizens, with Amittai their spokesman. Florus addresses them.]
I have abandoned the city in time. Previously I have thought of garrisoning it, but I will consult the city’s will in framing my plan, as I want to restore a sacred truce of peace.
AM. If you leave a single cohort for the city, all anxiety about revolution will be eliminated. But the populace cannot tolerate the presence of that cohort which has been responsible for the great slaughter of our citizens. It is proper to show consideration towards the people’s legitimate grievance.
FLOR. That cohort will trouble you no more. I desire to confirm a truce. Let everyone in the city keep the peace. [Exeunt the Jews, leaving Florus alone.]
Now, alone, I shall make my way to Caesarea. There I shall write letters to Cestius accusing the Jews of having committed the very outrages which we have inflicted on them. Then Cestius will relate these matters to Nero in his dispatches, and Caesar will overpower the people’s contumacious spirits by force of arms. Thus you may disguise your crimes.