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OR STEADFAST VIRTUE AT COURT
Repeatedly given during Carnival week of the year 1645, by the right noble youth of Italy belonging to the Seminarium Romanum.
HEOPHILUS, the Emperor of the East, departed this life leaving a son, Michael, too immature to govern, and so committed to the supervision of his uncle Bardas and the logothete Theoctistus. At this time, flagrant wantonnes had quite corrupted the court. Hence the adolescent Michael, in the company of very wicked lads, hurls himself into every manner of viciousness. He is egged on by his tutor Stilbo, a man devoted to the utmost criminality, whom nevertheless the boy adores to the point that he strives to enhance him, undeserving as he is, with the greatest honors. Meanwhile Theoctistus, a man of the most upright morals and of consummate steadfastness, devoted to the welfare of the empire, resists the boy’s attempts, in accordance with the will of the widowed empress Theodora. This is why nearly the whole court is secretly scheming against him. For Michael’s tutor, fired by the urging of Bardas, a highly ambitious fellow, and likewise that of Jannes, the false patriarch (recently deposed by Theoctistus, with Methodius restored to that office), and assisted by magical art, visits death on this most innocent man. And Michael paves the way for this crime all the more willingly, because he is convinced by Bardas that this one man, claiming to act in the empress’ name, is the single obstacle to his assumption of sole rule. The story is taken from histories of the Eastern Empire.
MICHAEL the emperor
BARDAS his uncle
THEOCTISTUS the logothete
BASILIUS a prostator
STILBO Michael’s tutor
IANNES the false patriarch
ARSAVERUS his brother
BERILLUS the young man most beloved to the emperor
METHODIUS the patriarch
MELINDUS a boy in the service of Theoctistus
SIX OTHER BOYS IN MICHAEL’S RETINUE
MANUEL master of the horse
EUBULUS a friend of Theoctistus
CREO, LYASTER two servants of Theoctistus
MISANDER a murderer
SIX APPARATIONS BELONGING TO THE COURT
ACT I, SCENE i
The boy Berillus rejoices in being given a jewel by the emperor, and rouses himself for idleness and games.
BER. Oh, happy me! My head is raised so high it strikes the heaven. Caesar burns for me. I alone am happily ensconced in his heart. I’m the single apple of his eye, nor is his favor a vain matter of empty talk: words have given way to deeds. Value shines forth in this braided gold, and his love shines forth in this gem. This is Caesar’s lasting pledge of his devotion, he’s given me a lovely image of his heart. (He kisses it.) Oh, what a sweet gift! (He fits it on his breast.) Oh this stone, worthy of Caesar’s hand, may it mark my breast with lasting good faith. May it bless his servant’s heart with a better heart. Let care remove its troubling arts far away. Let there be no effort in our empire. With his enduring decree, Caesar bids our welcome days to pass in games, though Theoctistus grumble and burst his sides. Golden tranquility and golden peace foster young men amidst laughter and jokes. Why should we be troubled? Why turn time’s wheel with such a burden? God plays wtih human affairs. He tosses the world about with His hand as if it were a ball, and with happy change He governs the world. Thus let kings’ lofty scepters be wielded at a far remove from the hubbub of concerns. Empires roll along of their own volition. Let play prevail for the present, let us fear nothing farther. What good does it do mankind’s rulers to govern far and wide with prosperity, if care besets sovereigns as well as their subjects? Let our court be free for amusement, farmers can worry about their fields. The stars enjoy their dances while the earth groans. Now the first beauty of Augustus’ age is in the bud, and, unless the flower opens to display its beauty and free its wealth, the bud perishes within its protective sheath. Only periods of idleness create noble youth. (Trumpets sound.) But see here, this brass announces formal games. A prize is put up for running, and Caesar is coming to the arena. Our boys are competing to see whose swift foot adores top honors, whose outstanding strength of legs will summon him to rewards as the well-deserving victor.
ACT I, SCENE ii
SIX BOYS, THE EMPEROR MICHAEL
With six boys ready for a footrace in the royal gardens, Michael (the sponsor of the contest) is present in a shaded porch, and when he claps his hands to signal its start, suddenly the day is overtaken by a tremendous storm, with lightning, thunder, crashes &c.
BOY 1 Come, let’s get running.
BOY 2 My mind is gripped by panic, I am so eager to gain praise. A great ardor for running urges on my feet. I shall leave the fleet winds behind me.
BOY 3 The victory’s olive awaits me. Camilla, skimming along the unharmed tips of cornstalks, could not be my rival. Let Atlas’ son, accustomed to flying along with those winged feet of his, defer to me.
BOY 4 I suppose the pokey tortoise will outstrip Achilles! With feet like yours, the victory-palm remains fresh and green. In my flight I shall outstrip whatever is light: the eagle, arrows, lightning.
BOY 5 Oh you sluggish beast! My flight outrun’s the mind’s imagination.
BOY 6 A moment’s time is quicker than the mind’s imagination. In my passage I shall outrun time. As a runner I shall surpass those nimble goddesses the Hours, and the very chariot of the winged sun. I am made of air, earth creates nothing of me. (The stage building is opened, and Caesar is seen on a somewhat elevated porch, looking down on the lawn beneath him.)
BOY 5 Quiet, lads. Caesar has come to the games. Shine forth, you brilliance greater than Phoebus in the sky.
BOY 1 Oh, pour forth gentler rays, don’t be wholly afire! As a god, you surpass the human power of sight. Accustomed to shadow, our eyesight refuses to withstand your piercing rays.
BOY 2 Pay out the daylight to the undamaged world in measured doses, and while you gently shine for this unharmed world, let boys have leisure for games.
BOY 3 Oh sweet glory of kings and kingdoms! World’s high hope! Ornament of our eastern race! An offspring of the celestials, you are godlike in your breast, your countenance, your shoulders. All Olympus resides in your single appearance, a beauty worthy of the boundless world.
BOY 4 What brightness in his eyes! How much spirit in his face! Majesty gleams from his brow, and the heat of inspired Mars resides on his cheeks and lips. His hair outshines the tawny gold. Aurora should adore such locks with their ruddy tresses.
EMP. I feed on your friendly praise. I like the united ardor of your wishes. Nor am I ashamed to be a Phoebus, being surrounded by such a kindly bevy of stars. You are the supportive stars of my realm, the lights of my empire, the strength of flourishing Asia, the honor and pillar of your august rulers, the flowers of the Eastern world, and Caesar’s darlings, joys, triumphs, and favorites. But enough of serious matters. The time summons us to our footrace. (He displays rewards, in the form of gems, collars, and so forth.). Boys, do you see what great prizes await the victors, as well as praise? Nor shall I allow the vanquished to go without their gifts. Scepters create wealth. So eagerly place yourselves at the starting-line. When I clap my hands for the third time, race across the lawn. (When the boys have lined up, and when Caesar gives his third clap as a signal they should run, they are suddenly obscured by the intervention of clouds.)
BOY 1 We are lined up.
BOY 2 You gods that preserve us, where has Phoebus taken the daylight?
BOY 3 To the pools of Dis. From its bosom Orcus has breathed forth a terrible darkness. I am overcome by the night of Tartarus.
BOY 4 Oh, the gods’ cruel envy! To deny daylight to our harmless games! May Acheron’s everlasting horror and the disgraceful Chaos of darkness bury Jove of the Underworld. (Lightning.)
BOY 5 Fearful flashes of lightning! The angry sky is all afire, or Phlegethon is belching forth its fires from its deep maelstrom. Etna, having used up the Cyclopes’ fiery missiles, spews forth its liquid fire against the world. The heaven is transformed into the Styx. (Thunder.)
BOY 6 We’re killed. The globe is tottering, its pivot shattered. Olympus is bursting apart. With the world shattered, the sky is flying apart in pieces. The entire household of the heavenly citadel is falling, knocked down together with those who dwell within. (More thunder and lightning.)
BOY 1 Envy is making the savage gods frantic. Let those rascals suffer their downfall. Along those highways of monsters where the Bull snorts its fire, the Lion roars, the Hound barks, the Hydra gapes with its seven mouths, and the Dragon breathes its poisons against the stars, let them fall headlong into the deep dungeons of Erebus.
ACT I, SCENE iii
When they have all fled, each making his own way, Jannes suddenly springs forth from a cloud, holding a snake in ihs hand, and steels himself for suicide.
JAN. It is thus that I crave to die, amidst these alterations in an astonished world, amidst these conflagrations in heaven and pyres on earth, while Tartarus bellows and the sky is shattered. As long as I existed, so did the world, let it and I perish together. Even if against its will, let nature mourn my passing, its mass thrown into upheaval. Here let crashes and great roaring precede my death as a dirge. Even with an unwilling whimper, let the world mourn a man it would not mind seeing sent down to t0he Styx. Thus indeed it is. No man ever dies more easily than he who dies buried under nature’s downfall. Let universal chaos be the single urn for this dying man. But what monuments for your final fate do these things provide? This viper bears your death in its fork-tongued mouth. Your chest is bared for its bite. Orcus lies open, the Fury urges your on, the king of Erebus is calling. Oh, the crime of the royal court! Are these the only weapons remaining to me out of such great resources? I am that Jannes upon whom the Parca bestowed so many lofty ranks during my many years, whom she extolled with so many trophies of my great intellect. I have no pedigree derived from ancient ancestors, I am no idler appointed by his father as the heir to his wealthy household. Rather, the force of my mighty intellect and the great effort lavished on my art have granted me a name destined to endure for all the ages. As a lad I was applauded for my cultivation of Minerva’s learning, and I gained a worldwide reputation. Soon thereafter I was commanded to rule over a house dedicated to God, teeming with children, and I earned greater things. I caught the eye of Theophilus, a grandee of the Eastern court, and it was my hand that guided him through the singular ways of peace and war. I polished the man, revealed him to be the equal of the great Caesars, and bestowed on him the scepter. And I reaped my reward for this effort. Out of a thousand candidates, I was chosen as the worthiest shepherd of the flock. I fed my sheep on holy fodder. On my august head I wore the tiara: the sun sees scarcely anything greater, wherever it strikes the twofold world with its fiery locks. The Eastern world learned to be ruled in accordance with my will. Alas, the inconstant changes in our affairs! Jannes’ mockeries! Why? Where are you spinning this world, headstrong Fortune? The iron peace of the grave lies on Theophilus. A boy, dreading the switch, rules the world under the thumb of his mother. But I’m wrong. That son of Tartarus’ Dis, that man suckled at the teats of the Furies, that bane of the Styx, that fellow deserving to be consigned to everlasting darkness — I shudder to mention the man’s name — Theoctistus, rules the royal court. It at his unspeakable instigation that the honor of the tiara was stolen from me and set on the head of Methodius, that exiled, feeble, unpopular, low-down old man. In result, instead of the tiara it is the winds that ruffle my hair. My breast is squalid, the purple having been stripped away, and this coiled snake serves as my bishop’s crook, giving me its gem. Oh, good. Whoever has rescued these gifts from his stolen wealth cannot be forever unhappy, if so he chooses. A man deserves to be wretched if he has lost his reason for living, yet seeks a longer life. (He addresses the snake.) Come, you serpent, you sole partner in my misfortune, if the stars of the decaying sky have nourished you with their droppings as you grew up deep in the forest, and if the chill earth has fed you with the poison of its plants, now you must transform yourself wholly into venom. Let whatever exists of death flow into that pestilent mouth of yours. Supply your virus. Powerful with your deadly fang, cast your eternal chill into my inmost fibers. If you cannot accomplish this with your tooth, let your tongue, bearing its unfailing plague, set a final freeze in my veins.
ACT I, SCENE iv
Arsaverus dissuades his brother from suicide by offering him the hope of revenge. Soon, while departing, they come across the corpse of Berlillus, half-burned by a stroke of lightning, and Jannes removes his ring.
ARS. What a horrible sight!
JAN. You gods, to whom is granted the power to hold sway over the houses of Erebus and the shades of the guilty, reveal the dark pools of the Underworld. Let the great earth yawn wide. I am traveling the road to the shores of Avernus. Let that whole crew of monstrosities, and the Furies, and all the Chaos of Dis come to greet me. A great guest is descending. This single shade will weigh down the raft of Tartarus’ ancient ferryman, no greater weight will have crossed the waters of the Styx. Jannes comes.
ARS. I am entirely a-tremble? Am I seeing my brother?
JAN. Farewell, everything. And you, Theoctistus, you darling of fortune, the spoiler of my destiny, farewell. But may you by yourself suffer punishments of Erebus that equal the crimes you have amassed during that long life of yours. Farewell. Having thus given my curse, I take this hideous viper — (He gradually moves the snake towards his breast.)
ARS. Oh, the crime! (He seizes Jannes’ hand.) What’s the madness that makes you summon death, brother?
JAN. Who turns aside this hand intended to end my life? Let me die.
ARS. Brother, be at peace and control your unbridled anger. Where are you rushing off to?
JAN. To the shades.
JAN. And happily.
ARS. What reason impels you?
ARS. Virtue creates a sense of shame.
JAN. And sometimes guilt.
ARS. It should shame you do have done wrong, then you will always avoid incurring guilt.
JAN. He who is thus ashamed of having done wrong will commit crime.
ARS. An innocent sense of shame will conquer crimes thanks to its virtue.
JAN. An impatient sense of shame will conquer life thanks to its virtue. Whether this is virtue, shame, or crime, my guardian spirit is summons me.
ARS. A good spirit or an evil one?
JAN. Evil, hellish, harmful.
ARS. Oh, check your furies, brother. Will you freely hurl yourself onto the pyres of the guilty?
JAN. When the hope of attaining the starry home is taken away. My mind refuses to endure these everlasting sorrows. To the world I am a joke, to the court an object of derision, of reproach to Theoctistus, of hatred to the world, of laughter to the stars. I am pawned to the Styx. Shall I wander all the worlds’ nooks and crannies as an exile? Alive, I prefer Orcus. Oh, allow me to die! (Arsaverus gives Jannes his dagger.)
ARS. If you swear that your doom is sealed, with this blade. you should first strike your brother’s guts. It is wrong to die without your brother. (Jannes casts aside the snake.)
JAN. You please me hugely, brother. Go far away, snakes, you slow means of dying. This blade will settle it with a single blow. A moment is sufficient even for Jannes’ soul. (Arsaverus checks Jannes’ hand once more.)
ARS. Oh, the crime! A brother die by his brother’s blade?
JAN. And his father’s. Release my hand. He who has decided to die is unconcerned about byu what knife he should die. We’ll die.
ARS. One death casts down two
JAN. Let it cast down even a thousand, so long as one falls by its sure blow. We are blessed if a single hour snuffs out the both of us, since a single hour bore us. If you are decided to join me in going down to the shades of Erebus, stand side to side with me as a brother. Fury will add strength to our wounding, so that a single knife-point will deal out a double death, and chill my inner being after passing through yours.
ARS. It will chill your inner being after passing through mine? Is this my brother Jannes, or a Fury concealed in human form?
JAN. You are losing your nerve, right before your brother’s face.
ARS. I disown this monster, this abominable breed. You entirely smack of Megaera. Black night whelped you as its hideous children, you are begotten of snake-venom. Go, you madness of Avernus, you offspring of Hell’s hound, you bestial monster. Snuff out your brutal life and stop your heart with a thousand blows, dripping with rabid gore, butcher yourself, rend yourself apart, cut yourself into pieces. (He hands the snake back to Jannes.) And so that you may not lack a means of certain death, take back this snake, a hideous image of yourself. If your dagger-point goes astray, its pestilential vapor will send you down to Orcus. Depart, flee your brother’s sight, since you are damned for all eternity.
JAN. Alas, Jannes’ savage stars! For him, God has made both life and death equally hateful. Oh that I could be dissolved into ancient chaos! My sick spirit is pining. And a man of my blood, my own brother, also shuns me in my extremity?
ARS. I am shunning a lunatic. Why resort to the savage killing of a man whom the Fates are not yet killing at his final appointed hour? Are you moaning because you are turned back in your path? Fortune has wonderful sport: those whom she has removed from their places, she returns to their old positions after she has reversed course. So rather you should live, watchful for a chance to take your revenge: if chance and your virtue offer one, you should put down Theoctistus.
JAN. With equal ridicule Fortune and virtue are making a mockery of me. I can attested this by having had my side torn open with the scourge, and my breast stricken by two hundred blows. When I had undertaken to scheme against Methodius’ hateful person, I was detected. My accusation of unclean corruption was turned against myself and I was condemned, sentenced to exile. Furthermore, the mutterings of my unholy imprecations have no effect, nor the virtue of my magical art, and whatever other evil thing my schoolmaster Orcus has revealed to me in the course of my long life. Everything is finished, my brother. Why prevent me from dying?
ARS. You will die unavenged?
JAN. My effort would go for nought, once what it cleverly attempted became a laughingstock. I’m ashamed to renew forms of fraud that have already been eluded.
ARS. Fraud often becomes a mockery, but often harms the one who does the mocking.
JAN. My first trick earned me jeers and exile, and my second gave me cause to fear chains, flames, and the gallows. Add to these the threats of Theodora, lest I withdraw from the city before tomorrow’s daylight shines upon the world.
ARS. Learn how you can cunningly postpone your exile. Soon a throng of lords will fill the throne-room. I shall make my entrance and, having been courteously extended the privilege of speech, I shall speak what your cause requires. I shall embrace Caesar’s knees, mixing my tears and entreaties, and I shall announce that you are grief-stricken over the the crime you committed, and have condemned yourself to everlasting lamentation. If they have any doubts, make your entry when I call for you, put on a false face, and summon up a groan from your breast. Fooled by this artifice, they will extend the time before you must go into exile. Then you will be allowed to use that hand of yours to hurl firebrands against your enemy Theoctistus. Delay, joined with shrewd planning, will exact revenge in the way that Fortune grants you. (Jannes throws away the snake, returns the dagger, and falls into his brother’s embrace.)
JAN. I’ve finally come back to life, brother. Receive my embrace. Oh advice worthy of Phoebus! I am determined sadly bear the weight of these concerns, so that a sad color disfigures my face, horror my hair, sobbing my sides, tears my cheeks, self–inflicted blows my arms, cheerless plaints my voice, and pretended grief-stricken squalor my limbs. If the blessing of pardon rewards these cheats, oh, what fury will inspire the wrath against my adversary! Not thus did the Hydra with its renewed heads spew venom against its adversary, although powerful with its plentiful poison, not thus does the savage lioness catch and destroy the thief when she regains her cub, not thus does angry Scylla swallow once more the ships she has just regurgitated, as I shall riot through my foemen’s ranks with my powers, my magic, my deceit. You will die, Theoctistus, if there is any strength in Jannes, if there is any in Acheron.
ARS. Enough of anger, brother. (They stumble across the corpse of Berillus, half-consumed by lightning.) Who’s this? Why is he lying face-down upon the ground? Is this a corpse or a ghost? The folds of his garments, stiff with golden decorations, proclaim he was someone of no mean degree.
JAN. His golden shirt proclaims his money, not his breeding. Often a spurious honor uses purple to shroud plebeian shoulders, while old-time virtue goes unobserved.
ARS. Is it the repose of death or of sleep that has laid him low? We must have a look. Lightning has scorched him with its dark fore.
JAN. A terrible sight! His midsection is toasted to a hideous black. Our wrath has amused itself here. It’s Berillus, I recognize him. That final firestorm we let loose has consigned him to the Styx. Now let our childish Caesar mourn his dead darling. You must go, hasten to the royal court lest you acquire any odor of guilt for his death. Pave the way for my arrival. I shall snatch a few pieces of booty to offer up to Dis. (He removes the gem given Berillus by Caesar.) Above all else, this gem, a gift of the king’s own hand. Our quarry will be caught in these nets. Let this gem shine, fatal to only to Theoctistus.
ACT V, SCENE v
THE EMPEROR MICHAEL, THE PATRIARCH METHODIUS, THEOCTISTUS, MANUEL, BARDAS, BASILIUS, EUBULUS, ARSAVERUS, IANNES
Over Theoctistus’ objections the emperor Michael delays Jannes’ exile for two days, and at the same time is irritated that honors are refused to his tutor Stilbo.
EMP. Reverend prelate, God, Who steers this world, has granted every man vacations from his cares. At length your virtue is taken into consideration by the stars with their proud halos and your virtue is renewed, a virtue that could not be suppressed by libel for unclean corruption or by the slander of poisonous Jannes. Rather, it has spiritedly driven off the clouds that hung over you, and revealed the brightness of your pure face. I rejoice that evil has been sent packing, and congratulate you on your triumph. Now, raised above the stormy winds, you may enjoy tranquil days, and join me in happily ruling the nations, but with better law. Feed your flock on the food of heaven. If some wolf in sheep’s clothing should steal in among your congregation, warn your Augustus. I invite the reverend emblems of my head and hand to bear witness, and also my empire, that with my hounds I shall drive off the beast and expel it from the sacred forest, I shall overcome it with my spears.
METH. August prince, you whom the East reveres as a ruler in the first flower of his youth, I admit that the libel of my corruption has been removed. Heaven’s better favor has granted Methodius to be free of this blot. But my mind has a greater concern, which is how I can bear this heavy weight on my shoulders. On every side, a gang of robbers besets my flock, and (what wounds me to mention) they are wholly removing the statues placed around our altars, and the lords of heaven either painted with colors or sculpted in bronze. This crew follows that wizard Jannes, is raging, and not yet forgetful of its cause, overturns the sacred icons of our saints.
THE. When Jannes, the head of that band of robbers, has been driven out of the city and seeks out lands warmed by another sun, the fury of that profane sect will subside.
EMP. Has that pest not yet taken to his heels?
THE. The final day on which he is permitted to go into exile has arrived.
EMP. Let him make haste, relieving his land of fear, his fellow-citizens of contagion, and our churches of sins. (Enter Arsaverus, dressed in mourning.)
ARS. (Kneeling.) Oh, suspend your decree, Caesar! Oh, remand his exile! I fall at your knees as his brother. Groveling, I beg for your hand, I beg for your trust. Grant, oh grant me to enjoy my brother’s embrace for all my life. This Arsaverus requests out of piety towards his brother. This Jannes himself begs with a brother’s words. By now that bold face of his is forgotten, his sense of shame has improved him. Guilty of a great crime, he dreads the tribunal of his own mind. He pleads for pardon he complains, he besieges God with his constant tears, he scourges his own heart, being unequal to his chagrin. Be merciful, Caesar, and grant a delay for his exile. Thus may you blessedly rule until hoary old age, amidst abounding peace.
EMP. Does your hateful brother lament the life he has led?
ARS. He does so, profoundly.
METH. Words do not create trust.
MAN. Sooner will the east wind abandon its gales, the ocean its threats, Charybdis her racing tide, Chaos its horror, than Jannes will quit committing crime.
THE. Sooner will steel turn into wax, a reef into water, sky into earth, than he will ever change into a man steadfast in maintaining an innocent mind.
ARS. Let the example he sets establish his good word. (Enter Jannes, wearing an ankle-length black garment, his head sprinkled with ashes, and entirely presenting a picture of penitence.) Come forth, my pitiful brother, show us your sad face. Speak up, let your sorrow be evident to this royal theater. Display your heart by your speech. Why shake your sides with uncontrolled sobbing? Control your sorrow, brother.
IAN. Oh heaven! Oh earth! I have profanely damaged heaven with my sins, and earth with my Circe’s corruption. No ocean of boundless water can wash away the stains which mark every nook and cranny of my soul. Oh, the pangs! Oh my heart, convulsed with chagrin! I have stripped you of your rank, reverend prelate. I have removed the glory of your tiara-wearing head. For you I have created tortures, chains, exile in abandoned shores. Oh my crime, never to be sufficiently expiated by any grief! Inventing false accusations while being uncleaned myself, I have slandered an innocent man by calling him impure. I am ashamed of my unspeakable attitude. Oh spare me, spare me, prelate, and forgive the transgression of a confessing sinner. Caesar, if any favor should be available for an unjust man, grant me to suffer my punishment here in the city, so that, inasmuch as my fury raged through the city and cruelly harmed it, my repentance, displayed in the city, might undo the damage, and so that, just as I attacked Methodius with a hostile tooth, so I might piously offer him relief from the damaging wounds I inflicted on his reputation.
EMP. Speak up, prelate. Do you grant him a place in the city to endure his punishment?
METH. Your mother the empress appointed the place for his exile. Decide, Caesar. The nature of this case prevents me from speaking.
EMP Tell me, my lords, should he go into exile or remain a citizen?
BARD. What nation, what harsh Gete of the north country would break the bonds of brotherhood? Who would disdain a guilty man thus bewailing his crime and admitting his felony with much complaint? This makes the rulers of our kingdom equal to the stars, to come to the aid of suppliants, to raise up the fallen, to protect fugitives at our hearth. Why should we kick this man when he is down? Is it no small thing that he suffers, for a man to have been commanded to step down from his lofty rank, and who has left behind without a backward glance the tiara of his consecrated brow and his vast wealth, and still have to flee his paternal home? What of the fact that he steered your father through the excellent arts as his tutor, and redeemed his exile by his great merits? Forbid his banishment, Caesar.
THE. Oh great gullibility concerning doubtful matters! Beware, my lords, lest this Sinon’s made-up story lead you astray. A sorrowful face is an actor which captivates the theater, while plague lurks in the heart. I swear, fire burns hot beneath his fraudulent ashes. Must we believe he feels sorrow for the crime he has committed just because tears are squeezed out of his eyes and he thumps his breast? Sometimes rock floats on water, and yet it does not grow soft. Intent on its prey, the rapacious hyena mimics a human lament. Criminality sports itself in grieving, and hides its bloodthirsty heart beneath a black grown.
MAN. How hard it is for a man who has once consecrated himself to the Acheron to pursue the beauties of the virtues and loathe vices is attested by this crew of magicians. It is a rare dabbler in magic who turns his back on Dis and thinks better about it. He hopes for a home in the city, for this is a theater of deceit in which he can spread the contagion of his erstwhile sin and drag Christ’s flock down to the Styx by means both fair and foul.
THE. Go, you plague, and seek out uncouth climes as an exile, places where no man breathes whom you can harm with your pestilence. This, Caesar, was the intention of the Augusta your mother, when she ordered him swiftly to depart our our realm. He should have left long ago.
EMP. I have no interest in my mother’s commands. Governments do not accept two bridles.
BARD. Caesar has the power to soften his mother’s edict.
MAN. Let him be granted a place of exile nearby our walls.
JAN. Rather a remote one, so I may not enjoy the city.
THE. A forest is preferable for lamentation.
ARS. In the city he’s better made an example to the common folk.
EMP. Proceed. I delay his exile until Phoebus has completed two circuits. When that day is completed, the sequel will be decided.
ARS. Spend those days happily, the cloud is dispelled.
JAN. You will make your government extend as far as the world, your name as far as heaven.
EMP. An omen I embrace. You loyal band of leaders, Stilbo, the guide and tutor of my youth, has no share in honor, and yet continues to increase his merits at a steady place. I should seem to be committing the crime of forgetfulness, were I not to reward him for his pains. If honor’s law and the good will of my lords demands this let him be preeminent among our purple-clad Fathers, a bright light of our senate.
BARD. This is the least we could do to thank him for his good services. It is for the sake of the praises it garners that virtue spurs us on to fine accomplishments, and yet, even if inspired by rewards, it flies up to heaven all the swifter.
BAS. Never does any man adequately repay his preceptor. As sired by our fathers, we are uncouth and ignorant, and it is the tutor of our youth that makes us upright, truth-loving, and knowledgeable about affairs.
THE. I admit it is the glory of a realm when virtue and honor shine on the same footing. Nevertheless the high honors of the kingdom ought to be conferred on mature sensibility. No toadstool ever lifts up its head amidst the lofty cypresses. The husband who allows a tare to rule amidst Ceres’ corn paves the way for the destruction of his harvest. Once it is acquired, nobody regards as magnificent and great that which was come by easily. Who would campaign for the honor of the purple toga, having suffered the exertions of Mars and cultivating Themis, it a low-born man undeservedly mingles with nobles in their robes of state? You are selling the senate cheap, Caesar. Your mother the Augusta is saying these things through my mouth. She forbids Stilbo to wear the purple.
THE. Are you always quoting the edicts of my hateful mother? I reject her government. Pay attention: I call you to bear witness, you everlasting sparks of heaven that I desire to rule alone, to enjoy government alone, to be worshipped worldwide as the only ruler, alone by myself.
ACT I, SCENE vi
THE PRECEDING, JOINED BY A MESSENGER
When Berillus’ death is announced, Michael is infuriated and hurls imprecations against God and Theoctistus.
MESS. Oh, the cruel catastrophe! Caesar, alas, your Berillus is dead.
EMP. You kill me horribly. Who was responsible for his death?
MESS. The sky, because of its lightning.
EMP. Bah, the rage of Olympus! Bah, the gods’ great crime! Heaven ought to be ablaze, dissolved in avenging flame. Let that lofty crew of gods suffer their downfall, together with their high tower. Has Berillus, that star of my court, that darling of the Augustus, died by the Thunderer’s ravening fire? Cruel heaven! Where is the corpse lying?
MESS. It has been brought to the court and your household is keeping it nearby. (The stage building is opened and Berillus’ body is seen lying on a bier, surrounded by burning candles.)
EMP. A terrible sight! Is this how you return to your Augustus, Berillus, you who once outshone the sun? Who will transform me into forked fire, so that I may requite heaven for its lightning? Has its envy brought my love to this? Oh, the gods’ crime! Come hither, you Furies, and bear me aloft in the sky on a snake-drawn chariot. I shall go to the place where the unjust sky disgorges its brutal fires, and wrench them away. I shall wrench the lightning away from God, Who hurls it so evilly, and with my better hand I shall vengefully make them rebound against Him.
METH. Oh prince, refrain. Refrain from outraging God with your sacrilegious complaint.
EMP. What vengeful God arranged such a sight for my eyes? Oh perish the hand which laid low my Berillus with this savage conflagration.
THE. My hair has been standing on end. Be sane, Caesar, and stifle these unworthy complaints. Rage hurled against heaven has a way of falling back down on the man who hurls it.
EMP. Oh, the muttering of a damned screech-owl! You see the god’s crime, how Berillus, Michael’s sweet glory, has been given over to an ugly death. Look at his bier, behold the dreadful sight. And yet you set a limit on my passionate grief? (He erupts furiously.) May heaven’s forked fire, its evil stench, its fiery maelstrom laden with sulphurous flame, envelop you. May it scorch you, disfigure you, set you alight, and may it be the death of you.
ACT I, SCENE vii
Seeing Caesar’s indignation, Bardas begins entertaining hopes for gaining the throne, once Theoctistus is removed.
BARD. At last the flint has struck the longed-for spark, giving favorable auspices for starting a conflagration. The royal court has caught it first fires, and I shall add its final ones. Caesar has acquired a ferocious dislike of Theoctistus. An avenger will soon cast those final fires, this is a job for Bardas. I am closing in. Let the universe and its charred world take a tumble, as long as its ruins lift me up to Jove. For in this way I shall make my way to the summit, along which, by methods fair and foul, a throng of sovereigns have preceded me, where words coated with deceit and acts of misrepresentation have made their hidden homes, where envy sets its traps, where deadly hatreds make their way, where rage has marshalled its bloodthirsty legion, and inhuman crime runs red with blood. Evil-minded joys stand there, accompanied by vengeful cares. There baleful suspicion dwells, and two-faced perfidy forever lurks. Our court has set up housekeeping amidst these monsters, as if camping out on the threshold of Jove of the Underworld. Although a Gorgon stands there with its Medusa-neck and Cerberus guard its gates with its triple maw, although Hydrus disgorges its destruction, the Chimaera its flames, the crew of Furies their threats, and although whatever fearful thing lies hidden by black night lurks at its very porch, shades, snakes, monsters, the Judge, and fires, I shall go to encounter it. Scepters are well-purchased, no matter what their price. And, so that no error will lead me into trackless wastes, uncertain of my way, signposts are present. Every way leading to the throne is still sodden with fresh blood. How mistaken I am, if Theoctistus will not oppose my sword! For this bright light of Theodora, this titan of our court, is brighter than the throng of stars with his mighty daylight. Michael, a boy installed on his father’s throne, bears the empty title of a king, but he trembles at his mother’s whim. Shall I therefore bear the yoke of a woman’s rule? And tolerate a child? Oh, the disgrace! Oh, the blot upon my reputation! Sooner will Syrtis suffer ships to sail its harmless current, sooner will Etna’s oven tolerate cold, than I shall cravenly obey the bridle of a child or of a woman. Bardas, you should love to be called a god of this earth. You can be such, the scepter lies there for the first taker. Destiny and the times invite you. Let Caesar fall headlong, along the path he has already started to travel. Let him think it disgraceful to tolerate his mother’s rule. Let him boil with anger, until he drives his mother out of the royal household. One man stands in his way, I am aware — Theoctistus. Let him continue to stand in his way, under my guidance, until he dies, bringing destruction on himself and the throne for me. Youth has mad impulses, and is dragged headlong wherever it is carried by lust for power. And it chases after whatever it wants, even by means of bloodshed. Hence Theoctistus is bound to incur Caesar’s wrath, and his own death. And what about Stilbo, afire with the thirst for glory? A Hyrcanian lion is less consumed with anger when it discovers its cubs have been stolen than will be Stilbo when he discovers his aspirations for the purple have been baffled. Hence I’ll make him an accomplice in my crime, albeit an unwitting one. This is the trick of kings, they feed on other men’s crimes while hiding their own. When Theoctistus pays the forfeits for them both, what part will remain? Even a light blow will remove the Augustus’ head, a little boy does not require the use of steel. Then I shall strut about the royal court as the Caesar, clad in billowing robes, mighty in my government. (Enter Stilbo.)
ACT I, SCENE viii
BARDAS,THE EMPEROR’S TUTOR STILBO
With his lies, Bardas kindles Stilbo’s anger against Theoctistus
BARD. (To himself.) Come, Bardas, be canny now that you have entered on your deceptive path. Fill the man with fury. (Aloud.) Where are you going, Stilbo?
STIL. I was hunting for Bardas.
BARD. Bound to you in undying affection, Bardas has anticipated you. Ask away.
STIL. What hope for my honor?
STIL. Then I have no remaining hope for life.
BARD. Oh envy, always injurious to outstanding merits.! The dire hand of jealousy!
STIL. Is it raging even through my praises with its claws?
BARD. Indeed it is.
STIL. Tell me who’s responsible for this crime.
BARD. After Caesar had discoursed as best he could on the subtle beauty of your intellect, the treasures of your wisdom, the flow of your eloquence, your sense of justice and right, and the rest of your heart’s storehouse of treasures, I chanced to be the next to speak. I expounded on your merits, not to be adequately compensated by the gift of the purple toga. Then Theoctistus started in with that stern brow of his: “No toadstool ever lifts up its head amidst the lofty cypresses. You should be ashamed to bestow the ruddy toga on a low-down servant, Caesar. By edict, his mother forbids this.”
STIL “No toadstool ever lifts up its head amidst the lofty cypresses?” What Fury, what frenzy can drive me to dire anger? Sooner break open Tartarus’ Chaos, you ruler of Avernus, and disgorge your flames here. Disgorge a storm laden down with a sulphuric pestilence, I can cram down that speaker’s tongue and throat. Me a toadstool? Oh, the unclean growl of that three-headed hound!
BARD. You should manage your chagrin by counsel.
STIL. I want to hurl myself upon my adversary.
BARD. Your anger becomes fruitless, if you reveal your hatred.
STIL. A mild grudge can wear away while hidden within the heart, but a great one overflows.
BARD. A man who silently harbors his resentments and hides his hostility behind a smiling face lashes out at his adversary more safely.
STIL. I’ll suddenly attack the man while he’s defenseless.
BARD. This lacks the desired result, if your adversary’s fury happens to turn your weapons against your own throat. He who is openly angry gives warning of the danger. You need to fear a snake, Stilbo, when it injects its venom with a silent bite. Whoever hears it hissing befor hand makes his escape.
STIL. There would be no pleasure in taking silent revenge.
BARD. A secret death gratifies a vengeful mind.
STIL. Hatreds fade when postponed.
BARD. If you hate mildly. Great dislike of an adversary grows greater when postponed.
STIL. Let the man who insulted me with the whole world watching suffer a public punishment.
BARD. You are fighting an unequal battle.
STIL. What strength my virtue denies me will be made good by my wrath.
BARD. Unbridled wrath does not deliver a sure blow.
STIL. Enough if it delivers a great one. Megaera will make it accurate.
BARD. Your fury will miss its mark. Come, Stilbo, if the heat of dislike inflames you, adopt this course of action. Protected by the hand of the Augustus, you can accomplish the business safely and kill Theoctistus. Caesar himself is heated by the impulsiveness of youth and craves to wield the scepter by himself, his mother cast aside. Give him a push in the direction where he is leaning. Make him feel ashamed to be a man under the thumb of his helpless mother. Tell him that the government is being seized by Theoctistus’ guile. If he wants to rule by himself, this man must be brought down wholly. If only Caesar approves, you can easily have the man’s head.
STIL. Yes, yes, Bardas, that is how to act. You have a man eager to adopt your counsel. Let Pallas and Mars steer well clear of my words. Then, Caesar, I can whisper better things in your ears.
BARD. And do so without delay. Before Phoebus’ glow returns its shining light to the world, our adversary will step into our trap.
STIL. As long as our attempt lives up to our intentions.
BARD. Mind and heart, I am with you. Let heaven hear me. I am calling on a heart of unblemished good faith, one that has never been treacherous in doubtful times. Indignant over the opprobrium cast on your social standing, I am moved to equal fury and I am lending a hand to bring about his great downfall. Stilbo, however it is within my powers I shall stand by you, entirely dedicated to your cause.
STIL. May heaven prosper your wish, you descendant of heroes! What centuries brought forth such a man as you? What father ever gave such a man to the world? Bardas, I pray you live to an old man, surpass Cumaean years, and manage the world’s laws in accordance with your proud will. (Exit Bardas.)
ACT I, SCENE ix
Brooding on revenge, Stilbo decides to make Jannes a partner in his crime.
STIL. He who has cleverly arranged his enterprises to have an auspicious start can look forward to an end that matches their beginnings. Oh how my hopes for vengeance are freely borne forward on a happy course! Bardas has filled my sail with a following wind, Bardas, that glory of the Eastern court, the man who stands closest to the Augustus when it comes to rank. Today I shall play the toadstool’s partl. The toadstool conceals its body beneath a broad cap, wholly hiding within its head. I shall totally transform myself into a deceitful head, so as to catch the man by fraud whose head I intend to take. Admittedly, my house does not count the proud Atreids among its ancestors. He is a drone and a lazy beast who sucks out the honey from his ancestors’ waxen combs, stealing the glory of others. Let my own effort proclaim me, a fellow whose rare virtue removes from the common run of mankind and bears aloft through the world’s high regions. Theoctistus denies me the purple. I shall make him spew forth a purple flood, with which he will redden the white toga worn by Stilbo the candidate. Let Jannes join me as a partner in this murder, that pillar of Avernus and great son of Stygian Jove. But rumor has it that he has grown mindful of himself and is thinking clean thoughts, with crime abandoned. What are you chattering, reputation? I know the man’s mind. A devotee of Orcus, he is always brooding about doing wrong. (Chorus or Interlude.)
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