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ACT II, SCENE i
When Jannes has vented his rage against Theoctistus, he leads Stilbo ,equally bent on revenge, to a magical shrine
JAN. I have avoided exile, a thing my mind has always dreaded. But I did so at great cost. I prostrated myself on the ground, touched his cheek with my hand, and humbly entreated my enemy. I groaned. With a frantic hand I beat my breast. My face even dissolved into unseemly tears. They all grieved. Only Theoctistus remained unbending with that stern face of his. Only he (oh, the hard heart!) trampled on my prayers with his insulting foot, saying, “Go, you plague, and seek out uncouth climes as an exile, places where no man breathes whom you can harm with your pestilence.” Is this how you send me packing? And yet, as long as you breathe there will be a man whom I can harm with my pestilence. You hold back, Jannes? Will today pass by fruitlessly, this day which you sought and gained with such great entreaties? Am I, an avenger, not being driven into helpless flames? Am I not foretelling terrible evils for our lands? There will be no need for the deceit of Dis, no need for Furies. I shall scrutinize myself. There in my heart I shall find a Chaos that is horrible and unclean enough. All monsters are hidden in this bosom. Here is the Erinnys, the Hydra, that fierce hound, and whatever other evil things lurk in the depths of night. I am well aware of my own monsters. So, savage to your adversary, prepare against him your Dirae, your fury, your forked lightning, death and destruction. But to what device shall I entrust the work of my malign mind? What way squares with my vengeful wrath? But see, here’s Stilbo, ripe to participate in my affairs. Stilbo, ready to work harm and an artist of crimes. Hence I’ll win over this man with my seductive art. (He pretends not to see Stilbo.)
STIL. Do I see Jannes? Heaven speed my wishes.
JAN. Where should I aim my weapons? What accomplice will lend me a ready hand?
STIL. Stilbo will always keep his hand ready for use against Theoctistus.
JAN. Come here, some fraudulent fellow, clever and two faced, a man Ulysses would agree to obey as his guide, when it came to fraudulence.
STIL. Given the means to avenge myself, I am that fraudulent fellow, I shall surpass shape-shifting Proteus with the expressions I wear on my false face.
JAN. Let this same man be the victim of an insatiable thirst for power.
STIL. No other flame or heat fires my heart.
JAN. Let him be dire, implacable, born of a crag
STIL. As long as I can hurl them at my foe, in my mind I shall carry the hard flints of the Caucasus.
JAN. Harmed by his foeman, let him be a man possessed of unbridled wrath, just as heat radiates from the cavity of Etna when its fire refuses to be quenched.
STIL. If I well understand my heart’s fury, Etna will go cold while Stilbo still belches forth his fire.
JAN. And likewise let him scorn the restraints of shame, piety, good faith, and all law, as long as he can gain his revenge.
STIL. I trample on the laws of heaven and earth. I loathe and abjure right, propriety, good faith and all ordinances as long as I can gain revenge.
JAN. And let him be hostile to Theoctistus alone.
STIL. It’s well. (He presents himself to Jannes.) You have the assistant in your affairs for whom you hope. If only you supply your loyal help in our undertakings, I by myself will vengefully go down to to the dungeons of Jove of the Night and put down Theoctistus.
JAN. You will go down to Orcus alive?
STIL. And by myself.
JAN. (He stamps the ground with his foot. The scene suddenly changes into a hideous grove, where can be seen the mouth of a dark cavern, looking as if it were an entrance to the Underworld.) Behold the gate of Dis, the threshold of his underworldly home. There the dark lake of the shades has its outlet, this is a highway for its ghosts. The vast maw of this immense cave gapes open, leading to the lowest basement of Tartarus. Enter by yourself, go down to Acheron while alive.
STIL Where am I?
JAN. At the opening of that pallid pond, in the very vestibule of the insatiable Styx. Do you see how how this great abyss summons you with its dark path?
STIL. My mind flinches. Against my will, I quake, all my breast is chilled by freezing blood. Where are you suddenly taking me, unaccustomed as I am?
JAN. To the shores of the Styx.
STIL. So that I might descend to gloomy Chaos?
JAN. I lay claim on the loyalty you pledged me.
STIL. First allow me to take revenge on Theoctistus.
JAN. Once Hercules’ effort broke into Tartarus.
STIL. No effort brought Hercules down to the shades. Of what use are the dungeons of Dis and the monsters of Erebus when Jannes’ heart is afire? (He touches Jannes’ breast.) Here lurks Orcus, Here are the Styx and Acheron. Open up your heart, full of felonies and, by the avenue they are granted, as if from Avernus, plagues will pour forth, the goddesses of punishment will be present with their vengeful flail. I entrust myself to you, from whose heart I shall borrow fires, Furies, and all of vengeance’s arsenal.
JAN. Since you place yourself entirely in my care, let the play of my art become visible (A rock opens, and a sort of chapel can be seen, with an altar bearing a goat. Around it are walls and an assortment of human body parts, hung up as if they were votive offerings.) With the rock split apart, let this cave expand into the Styx’ holy shrine. The gates of night are thrown open. Here stands an altar to Jove the Goat. Votives of that Circe-race are hanging from its walls. If someone has stolen a child from its mother’s bosom and delivered it to a hideous death, its blood sprinkles this altar: in this chamber its limbs are hanging as offerings. These walls contain the head, those the liver ripped from his gaping side. One part holds the raw fibers of his heart, another his eyes.
JAN. Does no priest preside over these sacred precincts?
JAN. Come higher, Arsaverus, you man nearest to Dis, come hither, brother. Come forth from your infernal shrine. A new guest has come to the altar, to be initiated in accordance with the auspices of Dis. (Enter Arsaverus.)
ACT II, SCENE ii
JANNES, ARSAVERUS, STILBO
In the course of the magic rites, Stilbo consecrates himself to Jove the Goat. The spirits of the Underworld give a cheer. Soon a chest of poisons is opened and they attempt to harm Theoctistus by means of a wax doll.
ARS. Good health to Stilbo. No man more welcome than you comes a-knocking to our Stygian home. It is not only a throng of commoners which worships Cocytus. Our court also has its Thessalian lords. Come now, and learn the ABC’s of our magic art. Whatever of heaven you hold sacred must be kept at a far distance. (He casts away a reliquary, a cross, and a psalter.)
STIL. I abandon these relics, this cross, the psalms of David.
ARS. Now come to the door.
STIL. (As he seeks to enter the chapel, some hidden power restrains him.) What paralysis suddenly grips me, to my astonishment? I am frozen in my tracks.
JAN. Fear is holding you back, for you are unaccustomed. Move your feet, and experience will embolden you.
STIL. Some invisible power is forcing me backwards, struggle as I may.
ARS. Are you still carrying some token of heaven? Search yourself.
STIL. Having duly done so I find nothing sacred. (He catches sight of a jewel set in a ring, on which is inscribed MARY.)
ARS. Is that gem concealing anything holy?
STIL. The name of Mary.
JAN. By the ruler of the Styx! By the divine nature of Hecate! Bearing that horrible name you dared set your damnable foot on this ground? Remove that plague, take that hateful name far from here. (He throws the ring away.)
ARS. May this gem and its inscription, now discarded, pollute some ill-omened pyre.
STIL. Well then, I am totally free for Avernus’ rites. Possessed by Dis, I cross its threshold. (He enters the chapter.) Let the monstrosities of Phlegethon enter into my inmost being, let the Furies come. Tell me, what do you require?
ARS. Prostrate, you must worship the Goat with Panchaean incense.
STIL. Prostrate, I do worship the Goat with Panchaean incense.
ARS. You must abjure God and the hosts of heaven.
STIL. I do abjure God and the hosts of heaven.
ARS. Grasp the altar with your hands, and with an eternal pact vow yourself to Jove the Goat, the lord of the Acheron, the greatest god of the shadows, body and soul.
STIL. I grasp the altar with my hands, and with an eternal pact vow myself to Jove the Goat, the lord of the Acheron, the greatest god of the shadows, body and — (He stops, speechless.)
JAN. What’s this? Do you sacrilegiously hesitate in amazement during the rites?
STIL. My tongue has failed my mind. Against my will, this great thing makes me delay. By an eternal pact?
ARS. What a sin! (The goat shakes its head.) We’re all ruined. Jove’s fury is white-hot, finish your vows quickly.
STIL. By an eternal pact I make my vow. (A commotion occurs, like a roaring, or like thunder.)
JAN. The shades have given a cheer. Cocytus has given happy omens. The father of the Eumenides has thundered on the left. Lest any happiness be lacking to this festive day, I shall see that our monsters trip happy dances, the monsters of Phlegethon. Stop in your tracks, Stilbo. Buried Chaos of Tartarus and you, you realms of the dark region, bereft of the light, and you too, you dark ruler of the Styx, release your monsters from pale Orcus, the Centaurs, and the Hydrus.
STIL. Break off, Jannes. Horror shakes me in my astonishment. Break off, don’t intone such fearful mutters.
JAN. What are you shuddering at? These are the first formulae of a magician’s incantation.
STIL. The first ones are convincing enough, I don’t want to hear the final ones. (Here and there some monsters poke up their heads.) Apparitions of Tartarus’ pool! Dispel these monstrosities, Jannes. Why kill me in my unhappiness?
JAN. Bridle your fear, Stilbo. Are you that afraid of ghosts? It is necessary that he who has once enrolled himself as a servant of Avernus become accustomed to shades and make his way amidst terrible shapes.
JAN. Since you are ashamed to hear this roar, with which the crew of the Pit emerges into the airy regions, I shall sing in a gentler tone. And I shall allow you to inspect the throng of spirits flying about the royal court, without a fearful appearance.
Come hither, you noble young men of Dis, you who, distributed throughout Caesar’s house, craftily sway the minds of his lords, put off your hideous Stygian faces and those cruel eyes. Let the honors of your brows shine peacefully, and let the breast of each one of you proclaim his identity by the peculiar color of his costume. (A musical sound is heard, at which the spirits enter, dancing.) We are heard. A clamor rings out in the royal hall, and the first of you has kicked up his fleet feet. (The spirit of ambition.) This one sets lords’ hearts afire with a passion for honor, it teaches him to brood on scepters. (The spirit of envy.) This one applies the torches of envy, always hating the brightness of the next man’s light. (The spirit of perfidy.). Here we have one who breaks treaties with his deceitful guile, he soothes you with a smile on his face while he secretly kills you. (The spirit of cruelty.). With a furious blow this one strikes the man who cannot be destroyed by fraud. He stains his hand with kindred blood. (The spirit of fear.) This one assaults those who have gained the scepter with his constant dread, lest somebody snatch is ill-begotten realms out of his hands. (The spirit of despair.) Even if an adversary is lacking, nevertheless during happy times this tormentor wields his flails, again and again scourging the heart of a malefactor and a man with a guilty conscience.
STIL. This company of spirits makes a pretty sight.
JAN. Come, you crew teeming with treacherous crimes, whole we are humoring our friend, eagerly trip your steps to the sound of a lute. Let the earth tremble with your exertions. (They join in a dance. Each one is identifiable thanks to his ornaments and insignia.) Go, go, you fleet-foot throng. Enough time has been spent on dancing. Seek once again the familiar threshold of our royal house. (Here the scene changes to the royal court, into which the spirits enter.) I shall ask only one thing, if I act worthily of the Stygian tyrant. Let Theoctistus, that bane of mankind, that firebrand for the earth, that man bereft of mind (you understand the fellow, he’s my enemy, I tell you) be troubled, let him be overwhelmed, mangle the gentleman with your horrible monsters. Let him enjoy no tranquil minute in his life until he spews forth his hateful soul, bound for the home of Dis. I have given my command. Go where my orders bid you. Here, here your gang besieges the proud home, here they infect our lords and masters with their plague. Let my pain employ these agents as well. (Here the scene becomes an uncouth solitude, as it was before.) Come then, to you want to torment Theoctistus with a cruel death, such as will slowly eat away his life by its guile?
STIL. Oh, if this could be done! (From the aforesaid chapel Arsaverus produces a wax image of Theoctistus.)
ARS. Take this image of the unspeakable man. Whatever evil thing you do to this will be suffered by Theoctistus himself. This is given to the servants of Dis, so that when it is impermissible to lay an adversary low by a close encounter, they might overcome him at a distance by means of his effigy.
STIL. So explain what great pestilences Orcus contains. I would destroy this monster by a deadly plague. (The chapel is transformed into an apothecary’s shop.)
ARS. The shop is open for business.
STIL. Display its deadly wares.
ARS. (He shows him different poisons contained in various vials, with which an effigy is anointed.) Here we have the Hydra’s blood.
STIL. Let it pour its plague into his veins.
ARS. And the juice of Stygian hemlock.
STIL. Let it pass within his jaws and inflame his throat.
ARS. The foam of the three-headed hound.
STIL. Let it bury its rabies in his marrow.
ARS. And Harpy’s gore.
STIL. Smear it on the doll’s belly, so that dire famine may gnaw at it.
ARS. Ash from the Python’s dark pyre.
STIL. Let it sprinkle his hateful head with its savage pestilence.
ARS. A tooth of the dragon of Colchis.
STIL. May it pierce his side.
ARS. Sweat from the Gorgon’s cruel brow.
STIL. May it scarify the beast’s face.
ARS. Bile from a hellish screech-owl and a gloomy owl.
STIL. Let it suffuse his liver.
ARS. The heart of the blood-thirsty Sphinx.
STIL. Let this dire part make Theoctistus bestial heart bleed.
ARS. May this drop fallen from the eyes of a basilisk drip into his.
STIL. May the expanse of everlasting night deprive our foe of the light of day.
ARS. A throng of evils remains. Compounded in a single vial, you see all the evil you could hope to obtain. (The entire effigy is smeared.)
STIL. May this one bane lay low our enemy entirely. (The effigy is put back on the chapel altar.)
JAN. Let the altar protect our token. If these plagues should chance to refuse our desired outcome, let one scheme after another lay low our adversary. Brother, disguise your face, and artfully make yourself look like a holy forest-dwelling hermit in your look and your dress. Then, having gained the opportunity to speak with Michael, tell him that a savage evil is stalking his royal person: thus God warns and thus heaven indicated through no uncertain signs that Theoctistus is the architect of this impious murder. The crime should rebound on the very man responsible.
ARS. I understand. It’s done.
JAN. The royal court is calling for Stilbo.
ACT II, SCENE iii
STILBO, IANNES, ARSAVERUS, THEOCTISTUS, MELINDUS
When Theoctistus is thinking of solitude, the boy Melindus decides to cling to him and cannot be dissuaded.
They see Theoctistus approaching.
STIL. We’re dead men. Our adversary is coming to meet us.
JAN. I recognize that child of Dis.
STIL. Oh, the dire fellow!
JAN. Oh, the idle weight on this earth!
STIL. Oh, the bane of this world!
JAN. Oh, the three-headed Cerberus! How my breast is bursting with swollen hatred!
STIL. I can’t help being torn apart by the sight of him, my heart is a-boil within.
JAN. My wrath is continuing to swell.
STIL. Why not hurl myself against him? Why not tear apart this rabid-toothed dog, rip him to shreds, and scatter them?
JAN. Who will give me flames and torches? Who will give me fire and sulphur, so I might attack the monster?
STIL. Split apart, ground, and swallow this reproach to the earth.
JAN. Open your mouth, Orcus, and consume Theoctistus. (Exeunt.)
THE. I am leaving, Melindus. The court with its narrowed eyes drives me away I’m going where God dispenses to souls pure days with a better sunlight, I shall seek out secluded places. Now I am gripped with a doubtful concern to whom I should leave you. The faithful merits of your service deserve a luckier master.
MEL. Oh spare me! You are inflicting a wound with that harsh hand of yours. To whom should you leave me? Unhappy Melindus breathes through your mouth, with no other heart does he nurse the seeds of life-giving air. And yet you are determined to abandon this poor boy? If your court has experienced me as an ever-trusty servant to your command, let the countryside find me equally obedient. Who would do you loyal service when you dwelt in trackless wastes?
THE. A better opportunity awaits you at court, a better chance to serve. You could pursue a happy career while wearing lordly robes. You are aglow with the first flower of youth, and you have an ardent strength of wit for handling affairs. The lords give you a following wind, Caesar’s countenance shines bright upon you, you are popular throughout the court. Do you permit your heart to be deterred from such high hope?
MEL. These noble things you enumerate do not please me for any brilliance other than that they are praised by your words. Youth, alas, passes, quick wit fades, popularity disappears, a sovereigns face hardens, and fury often comes to replace favor. What’s the court? A stage for frauds. What’s royal favor? The fire of a setting sun. What’s the applause of lords? The plashing of a calm sea, but one pregnant with storms. Oh, how many floods and tempests does a royal court possess? What shallows, what reefs lie hidden in high estate? Here honesty is swallowed by the waves, here piety perishes. There one’s sense of shame runs into sharp rocks. Elsewhere decency is sunk, consumed when its ship goes down. Honesty grounds itself on those shallows. Moderation breaks its keel on sandbanks. Faith goes sailing off in a different direction. The ship of justice, raised up on the flood, becomes a plaything for the winds. In a troubled kingdom, shipwrecked peace goes swimming in the water, damaged. If virtue manages to escape from a royal court and makes its way to harbor, it arrives with its beauty destroyed. Among these storms, master, among these uncertain commotions of fickle fortune, will you flee and abandon your Melindus? Though you forbid me on pain on death, I shall follow you as you depart. No flight will steal Theoctistus from Melindus, no day will tear him away.
THE. God divides our lifetime and has command that each part should have its own ways. The court and the forum support legions of young men, but humble forest huts the elderly. Where are you banishing yourself, killing that fine talent of yours? Will you allow your youth to be buried away among mists and forest brambles? Rather, mindful of your years, you should rise by means of Mars’ lofty glories. Thanks to triumphs, your virtue will find a way, your handiwork will find glory.
MEL. I used to imagine it would be an immensely praiseworthy glory if I should wage war against crimes and vices, and, overcoming my mind in no idle battle ,emerge the victor, triumphant over myself first of all. The clash of arms, the thirst for blood and killing preserve harmful passions, untamed. That is how tigers fight their battles. Hence, in accordance with your guidance, I have believed the shortest route to heaven is to restrain my hopes and fears and remain unimpressed by the splendor of things, to scorn human wealth, the braying bugles of reputation with their lying brass, and whatever effort makes the court sweat with vain exertion.
ACT II, SCENE iv
THE SIX BOYS , THEOCTISTUS, MELINDUS
Theoctistus sharply upbraids the boys for devoting themselves to pernicious games and snatches away their playthings. A grimoire is commanded to be burned.
The stage-building opens to show the six boys at court, idly whiling away their time in various games.
BOY 1 Come here, my mates, if you want to share my enjoyment in this sweet madness. Let today pass happily. Some concern calls Theoctistus elsewhere and keeps him preoccupied.
THE. What noise strikes my ears?
BOY 2 (Dice.) Shake the ivory out of the box. It’s the Dog, put back the dice.
BOY 3 (Chess.) Some wild rabies is troubling the little puppies
BOY 4 Game over. My piece has your king in checkmate.
BOY 5 I swear by Hell, you’re wrong. This is how we escape.
BOY 6 (Cards.) Deal out the cards. Bad luck will surely give me whatever misfortune lurks in a hand.
BOY 3 Now, Mother Venus, show me your all-conquering countenance. Goddess, hear me as I pray. Venus has popped up. Give me the entire ante.
BOY 2 Heaven always gives me unlucky tosses, to my ruin.
BOY 1 Why spend our leisure in dryness? Let’s consecrate a flood to Father Lyaeus. (He takes a glass full of red wine and drains it.) Bacchus, you supplier of happiness, you most sweet divinity, you pleasant repose from cares, you darling of the young, you first favorite among the gods, contribute your gentle torture to my pursuits. I gladly toast the downfall of my enemy Theoctistus.
BOY 3 I’ll drink to that. Perish the austere fellow. (He reads from a book he holds in his hand.) THE ART OF CONJURING IMPS FROM THE REALM OF DIS. Want me to fetch you a profitable demon from Tartarus? “From the depths —”
BOY 2 Stop fooling, you are killing me.
THE. (He addresses the audience.) This is a sample of the royal court. Unbridled youth whiles away the day. Wantonness, dice, wine, and Venus are the ABC’s of their manners. When the first strength of their young years has been squandered by these forbidden arts, they attain to honors. Gaining a share in privileges, they preside over the forum and the battlefield, bereft of any illumination by facts. (Turning to the boys.) Oh, you lazy gang! You vile breed of drones! You crew of Epicureans! Is this how you like to waste away, playing enervating games? Is this the task of young boys? Are these your pursuits in life? Will the kingdom remain standing thanks to such gentlemen? Are these the hands to which Caesar will entrust his empire? Will he wage his wars relying on these commanders? Will he have his peace-treaties ratified by such a senate? Will he restrain his peoples by this loyalty? Oh, the disgraces of lazy idleness! Oh, the shamefulness of young men! (He overthrows all their tables and playthings.) Begone, wicked furniture, breeder of evils, fodder of crimes, cancer of the young, bane of morals, corrupter of youth, rout of the virtues. Begone, you plagues. Dice, cards, wine, and whatever damages the passages of fleet-passing youth. (He hands the book to Melindus for burning.) You, boy, give these hellish magical pages to the flames. But you (and this is my final warning) must turn your attention to other pursuits. Henceforth, he who idly sits in the shade, devoted to fooleries and sport, will be punished by a sterner hand.
ACT II, SCENE v
MANUEL, THEOCTISTUS, EUBULUS
Manuel and Eubulus, both upright men, dissuade Theoctistus from his purpose.
MAN. Theoctistus, may your situation show a favorable aspect. What are you meditating by yourself in that deep mind of yours?
THE. Making my escape.
EU. Having dared what crime?
THE. So far as I can recall, no blot of crime does taints me.
EU. Yet it will taint you.
THE. I confess I am lingering.
EU. There’s a greater crime in flight.
THE. I am fleeing this very thing, lest a crime occur spontaneously.
EU. When a soldier deserts his post and runs away, if he is caught he is tried for his life.
THE. There are times when a soldier may break ranks and flee without incurring blame.
EU. When he is held back by a wound and cannot follow the drum or stand his ground.
THE. Or when some captain chances to be given control of a battle and is helplessly captivated by the clash of arms and swept away, being a youth not in control of his mind and ignorant of the rules of war, and therefore endangers his men. He who abandons such a commander in battle and takes to his heels is prudently favoring his nation.
MAN. The less a captain knows of the rules of war, being witless the more it is right for a veteran to stand by him.
THE. My lordly friends, long joined to me by hoary good faith and the chaste tenor of your blameless lives, I shall speak to you candidly. Theodora, that fine ornament of our empire and pillar of our government, beautified the empire in tranquil times, when it was granted her to rule in accordance with law and by a mere nod. Now this stiff-necked boy scorns his mother’s rule, and is foolishly in love with a scepter he is unable to wield with that childish arm of his. You perceive what heavy fates overhang our affairs, what furor threatens our unhappy royal court, what a great catastrophe is inviting our downfall. With virtue banished, crime is on the rise. Envy, ambition, and treachery are celebrating their triumphs, and they will drive out God with their proud daring. Who can accept these insults with a dry eye? Who can witness these plagues, born in Erebus? Better, oh better for me to flee to a place where, mindful of heaven, I might have the leisure to harvest the fruits of a peaceful mind.
MAN. Theoctistus, what sorrow, what passion has stolen you away, forgetful of your nation? You brood on an easy glade, while the safety of our reeling empire requires you? Why imitate that fabled mistake of the sun? Are you entrusting the reins of our shining chariot to a boy? If his hand cannot manage the world’s bridle, what conflagration will there be, how much of the world will collapse on its pyre, consumed? Will you, will you be able even to think of today without a sad mind and a reluctant heart? Go ahead now, seek your hiding-place.
THE. Were it permitted me to expose my neck to headlong collapse, if that would be of any help in these doubtful times, if any better hope would show itself to my sight, I would dwell in the royal household forever. No way out, no hope can forestall such a great catastrophe. By fair means and foul, the boy is demanding the scepter. Bardas leads the parade and Stilbo brings up the rear, pushing the emperor from behind, and in these these men alone empty-headed Caesar places his trust. This is the essence of the evil. Who could heal such great wounds, supposing he cared to do so? The power of this evil gets the best of my art and baffles it.
EU. Though baffled once, art often supplies a cure.
MAN. Nobody prepares a nostrum for a patient who refuses it.
EU. Whoever as played a trick on him has often given a nostrum to a recalcitrant patient.
THE. That recalcitrant patient has no trust in you.
MAN. When a potion disguises its bitterness with an added sweetener, it entices him, even if he is reluctant.
THE. Then tricks have their place, when a patient entrusts himself to a physician.
MAN. Caesar entrusts himself to you alone.
THE. He would desire the exile of this one person, even purchased at a great price.
EU. It would have behooved a brave man to stand up against this, rather than turning tail on adversity. Where are you taking your timid feet? The public safety is crumbling, and you flee into seclusion? Virtue rejoices in the bitter, with a calm face it observes from afar its adversary flying against itself, and it voluntarily takes manly steps to meet him. When the sea is raging, what helmsman removes his hand from the rudder? What charioteer gives his wild horses a free rein and allows them to race where they frenzy takes them? This single reason recommends a just delay, so that you might alleviate our impending national collapse, so that you employ your art to moderate the boy’s undertakings, defeat those bad men by your virtue, observe the laws of piety, and teach that they must be observed. Nor should you allow failed hope to deter you from your path. God, God Himself Who in heaven favors pure undertakings, will be present to aid you, and He will carry you where you wish to go.
MAN. Theoctistus, in the name of our nation’s afflicted wealth, the hope of our reeling empire, and (unless you keep him under control) our Caesar’s doubtful, safety, I beg you to abandon your unreasonable intentions.
THE. I am inclining in your direction. My friends, you prevail. And you, Ruler of the winds, You Who calm the realms of the stormy sea while being tranquil Yourself, with Your voice abate the rising storms of our kingdom. But if You refuse my prayers, sink me, let the storm tear me away and bear me off, as long as happy salvation returns to our unhappy empire. (Exit Theoctistus, as Bardas arives.).
ACT II, SCENE vi
BARDAS, MANUEL, EUBULUS, BASILIUS
Bardas accuses Theoctistus of ambition, and Basilius supports him.
BARD. Theoctistus! What now? Does he walk away when Bardas is looking for him? Is the sight of me ill-omened? Is my face rigid with the horror of a Medusa? I would like to know, if I may. My lords, why is Theoctistus stalking away from his friend?
MAN. He went away without seeing you, Bardas.
BARD. I must say so. He went away without seeing me, but I am complaining about the degree of his unseeing hatred.
MAN. Resentment is a bad interpreter of a friend’s mind. He had turned his back away, and didn’t see you behind him.
BARD. Theoctistus turned his back on me, that I know. His sense of shame prevented him from looking me in the face, as didi his affection, damaged by the kindled torches of malice against myself. Oh, the signs of a false face! Alas, the empty faith of his handclasp! Is this the candor of his holy office? Is he schooled in open displays of good will, while nursing hatred in his breast? Tell me, you knowing bright lights of the stars, tell me by what misdeed Bardas has earned such a misdeed. Caesar rages with uncontrollable thirst to govern, and covets the Odrysian scepter for himself. “Bardas leads the parade.”Oh, the slander! Am I to stoke mad Michael’s fire? Am I to lead him where he is inclined to go of his own volition, where his own naive youth is driving him? Is Bardas contriving that this child should shoulder the burden of government, his mother held in scorn? What lying Sinon has ever concocted these things? Is this how you deceitfully attack an undeserving friend with your biting tooth?
EU. You should go easier on Theoctistus in his absence. Improve your fair-minded pronouncements. Theoctistus is complaining that the boy is aiming at the scepter with a mad passion. Let the mature Bardas tame this passion. He who refuses to bridle crimes while he can opens the way to wrongdoing.
BARD. Bardas declines to restrain his crimes, since he cannot.
MAN. Fear of a man’s government restrains a boy.
BARD. No fear sways this imperious boy.
EU. Prevent this imperiousness.
BARD. The scepter belongs —
MAN. To a man.
BARD. The boy yearns to play a man’s part on the throne.
MAN. No boy has ever performed a man’s government.
BARD. Often a man lies concealed in a boyish character.
MAN. Nature provides proper stations for each age of our lives. Boys are empty-headed, whereas men are firm of mind.
BARD. Let an elder hand control his childish mind.
EU. I press this point, Bardas. Let an old man prescribe laws to a boy, and control Michael. Let him piously control his youthful years in accordance with the will of his mother until his hand is fit for the scepter and the proper day for vast government comes along.
BARD. So am I accused of having played the part of a negligent guide? Has my continual effort, the concern that kept me awake at nights, and the grave nature of my management earned me nothing? Oh the crime of jealous envy! You may bear witness, Manuel: where else did that prideful boy acquire signs of a noble character, if not under the guidance of Bardas? Bardas has made Caesar equal to this great world. Let him govern, he is able. Under my guidance, let this boy wield the reins of even the etherial sphere. But Theoctistus is troubled by an entirely different care. He has no concern about the empire’s fate or the boy’s condition. He is aiming for exclusive control within this great court. I swear he is passionately focusing all his concerns on this. This is why he, a man, chafes at seeing a boy governing. This is why he says that a great passion for the scepter is sweeping the Augustus off his feet. This is why Bardas is being accused of such a great mistake. White I mean is that, unless Bardas compels the boy to waste away, far from the scepter, Theoctistus is afraid lest he lose the reins of this world.
MAN. Theoctistus is afraid lest the reins of the world go to ruin.
EU. You should refrain from accusing an innocent man of crime and dire malfeasance.
BARD. I am justly pinning the blame on a guilty man.
MAN. His flawless life proclaims his innocence.
BARD. His face feigns his innocence, his guile shows he is guilty.
EU. His proven good faith shines forth in great matters.
BARD. In its greed for supreme power, good faith is deceptive. (enter Basilius.) Tell us, Basilius, since you come as the patron of a wavering cause. To what course of action does Theoctistus devote his time?
BAS. He is piling Pelion atop Olympus, boldly mounting heavenward so that he may rule the universe, with the Titan ejected.
EU. With what evidence do you support your word? (He draws his sword.)
BAS. With the evidence with which I am wont to support my right hand, the evidence of steel.
EU. Put way your sword, come forth from its peaceful sheath. I am asking for your evidence.
BAS. Is there no trust in Basilius. Let my sword beat it out of you. (He attacks Eubulus, but Bardas interposes himself.)
BARD. Where are you rushing? Hold your hand.
BAS. Let go of it.
EU. Let it go, I am unconcerned about your furies. I want to use my sword to defend the honor of an innocent man.
BARD. Basilius, the both of you are violating the rules of Caesar’s household. (They fight fiercely. Enter the emperor, in his shirtsleeves and carrying a tennis racket.)
EMP. Hey, naked steel is gleaming! Stop it! Is it fitting to interrupt our easy sports with an ill-omened duel? Bardas, what resentment has brought these savage souls to the point of a fight? What’s the reason for this armed madness?
BARD. An exchange of words has brought them to a fight.
EMP. Step backwards. If someone should start a mad fight while I’m at my play, he will pay no small price afterwards. go, my entertainment summons me.
BARD. Caesar, I revere your mind’s decision.
ACT II, SCENE vii
THE EMPEROR, BASILIUS
In the imperial presence, Basilius rails against Theoctistus’ excessive authority.
EMP. Stay, Basilius, you great glory of Mars, you son of Hercules. What firebrand set you ablaze with that gigantic wrath?
BAS. Caesar, you of the Augustan race, I swear by the Thunderer that it was for your sake that I raised my hand with martial threats. Why hesitate to tell you? Eubulus, that son of the sod, who has much belligerence in his mouth but terror in his hand, dared refuse to believe me when I swore the truth. Caesar, Theoctistus flies too high, albeit it is your hand that holds him up. He seeks to equal lofty Jove, and he uses your mother’s name to support his ambition. To you he relegates the empty name of ruler and a transitory brilliance, while appropriating for himself decrees, powers, and rights. Why do you languish so long on your throne, Caesar, held down by other men’s strength, will, and hand? Come, come. Show us proof of your proud character. Allow the glories of your royal spirit, hidden in your heart, to be displayed in the open. You are killing the lively nature of your mind by keeping it repressed. Scarce does the oak, that queen of the forest, raise her head aloft unless, surpassing the common run of trees, she frees her foliage from the lowly forest. Do you fear Theoctistus? Who fears whom? Caesar his servant? Or his mother? Let women ply their shuttle and loom, while men attend to government.
EMP. You offer advice filled with danger, Basilius. I shiver at the word “mother.”
BAS. If you are wise, Caesar, it is she who will shiver at yours.
EMP. My youth prevents the scepter of the court to be entrusted to me.
BAS. It is virtue that is wont to earn honor, not age.
EMP. No man is willing to obey a beardless boy.
BAS. If a beard makes men kings, then a goat would rule. Let the ruler of the world be mature in his wit, not his whiskers.
EMP. They call me a child both in wit and whiskers.
BAS. Let your anger and your steel prove your manhood.
EMP. In what spirit do you imagine the commoners would accept me as their ruler?
BAS. Where Caesar points the way the obedient commons inclines.
EMP. I fear the lords.
BAS. Let anybody who stands in your way suffer his downfall.
EMP. What about Bardas?
BAS. He’s a trimmer.
EMP. He resists me?
BAS. He supports you.
EMP. I feared only him.
BAS. Freedom alone makes a man an object of fear. You must grasp the reins of state.
BAS. He bends with every change of fortune. And Theoctistus, propped up only by your mother’s hand, will sink of his own accord when that prop is removed.
EMP. Good. The sun is alone in the sky, let Michael be alone on this earth. You, trusty Basilius, whom I choose as the single assistant in my affairs, continue as you are going. Keep this enterprise secret. There awaits you a reward that matches your loyalty. (Chorus or interlude.)
Go to Act III.