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VITUS
OR CHRISTIAN FORTITUDE
A TRAGEDY

THE ARGUMENT

HE Emperor Diocletian’s son Valerius was possessed and terribly troubled by an evil spirit. When all manner of remedies had been attempted with no good results, by imperial command Vitus was fetched to Rome from Lucania, a Christian boy only fourteen years old, who at that time was famous for his miracles. Thanks to divine virtue, he expelled the evil spirit, and by this same miracle wonderfully entranced Diocletian. But when he could not be seduced away from Christ either by magnificent promises or by terrors, after having surmounted melted lead and a very fierce lion, it was commanded that he be tortured to death on the rack. But he was snatched from this by an angel and restored to the place whence he had come, and died a very sweet death. Surius, Baronius in his Martyrology, &c.

PERSONAE

VITUS a Christian boy of fourteen years
MODESTUS, Vitus’ companion and tutor
HYLAS a Sicilian nobleman, Vitus’ father
RAPINUS servant to Hylas
DIOCLETIANUS the emperor
VALERIUS Diocletian’s son
URBANUS high priest
LUPUS, FIRMUS courtier
VARRO a military tribune blue
OTHO, PULCHERELLUS young men
THE WARDEN OF THE PRISON
TWO JAILORS

CHRIST appearing to be twelve years old
CHOIR OF ANGELS
BAILIFFS

<A HERALD>
<A CHRISTIAN>

THE THEATRICAL TROUPE

GENESIUS an actor
PROLOGUE
MERCURY
APOLLO
AESCULAPIUS
MACHAON
PAEON
CHEIRON
MELAMPUS
A PRETENDED
CHRISTIAN PRIEST

TWO GENUINE ANGELS

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ACT I, SCENE i
HYLAS alone

Vitus’ father Hylas, having traveled all over the world in seach of his long-missing son, is finally brought to Rome.

spacerHYL. Wearied by my never-ending journey, Phoebus, how long must I follow your horses? Does my aimless roaming have no limit? Must I, his father, always be in search of my lost son? Must I always tread the stony ground of foreign lands in my quest? Will no place, no quiet, ever receive me, once my boy has been found? Oh, my bitter lot! Bright Cynthia has endured twelve struggles, marking out the passage of a year, since, misled by an old man’s deceit, blue my runaway son escaped his father and abandoned the dear climate of his native land. A runaway himself, his father has long been hunting after him in all manner of places: thus that crop-inventing goddess once scoured the world, bluecarrying a bright torch in her trembling hand, searching for her daughter, abducted by the Jove of the Styx. How lucky was Ceres! She did not have to wander far to find her child. But constant effort and constant grief prod me along in my roaming. Although all things flow along taking their varied courses and the weather does not refuse to undergo its changing seasons, the same sorrow always grips this unlucky father. Whether Aurora brings her ruddy light or night covers the world with its darkness, my care continues to gnaw at me: my nights ruin my days, and my nights my days. What fates beset me? What ill-omened Hymen led my unwary self to marry? Whoever has the unhappy title of father has abandoned himself. A father lives and dies in his son, as often as he dreads his children’s death. From the day on which unkind Nature grants him even a single child, sorrow grips him forever. Cares have entered in: hope, fear, tears, pain. There is no end to his troubles. Oh, that foul sect! The dire plague of those Christians! A savage crew, schooled to employ their witchcraft in depriving fathers of their sons! My son, what place, what corner of the world now holds you, torn from the bosom of your father? Are you lurking in a dark cavern, terrified of being put to death? Or has a vengeful Caesar entertained himself with your blood? Dread has taken over my body. Perhaps he lies dead because of some bloodthirsty edict. To you gods, set on that ancient rock and worshiped by Rome, the world’s mistress, andto you, Juno, mighty in the realms of starry Olympus, you who preside over the marriage bed, and to you too, you fostering sower of the earth, Mother Ceres, I offer up my humble prayers. Be friendly and favorable. Let safety preserve my son.

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ACT I, SCENE ii blue
THE SERVANT PAPINUS, HYLAS

It is reported to Hylas that Vitus has already been conveyed to Caesar.

spacerPAP. Oh, the commands I am given in my servitude, always happy ones! We are blessed, Hylas.
spacerHYL. He’s alive?
spacerPAP. And breathes the air of life, unharmed.
spacerHYL. Vitus?
spacerPAP. None other.
spacerHYL. Have you seen him?
spacerPAP. I’ve seen the boy with these very eyes, a boy breathing forth love from that divine mouth of his.
spacerHYL. Gods, what delight! What a feeling of joy flashes through my inmost senses. Tell me, what place, what fortune holds my son?
spacerPAP. Surrounded by a company of soldiers, at this very moment he is ascending to the proud home of our Augustus.
spacerHYL. He’ll die. The Augustus’ rage against Christians is well known.
spacerPAP. Caesar rage against a boy?
spacerHYL. No age in life that hates the gods escapes destruction, Vitus will die by his harsh hand. Alas, the very savage Fates! Alas, the heavy misfortune! Is this what a father’s hope comes to? Is this the result of all his toilsome wandering, that he should witness his son’s bloody ending?
spacerPAP. Have no fear. Beauty’s safety protects your boy. Even if Caesar carries all the fires of Dis in his heart, spews forth Furies from his mouth, and shoots death from his eyes, your boy will soften his anger with that starry faces of his.
spacerHYL. Whom will Caesar spare?
spacer PAP. A boy by whose face, youth, and suasion he cannot help but be captivated. Let his headstrong fortune drag him wherever it chooses, he will victoriously make his way, and, having obtained a favorable course of destiny, he will anchor his ship in harbor.
spacerHYL. The boy’s case is a bad one, since he hates the gods.
spacerPAP. His comeliness and the virtue that pours forth from his pretty mouth will turn it into a good one. Sweet prettiness in a boy obtains whatever it wants when it pleads its case.
spacerHYL. With this hope — But look here, Caesar’s herald is making a new announcement. Let’s listen.

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ACT I, SCENE iii
A HERALD, A CERTAIN CHRISTIAN, HYLAS, PAPINUS

As Hylas looks on, a Christian makes a public show of tearing up Diocletian’s edict against Christians.

spacerHER. Hear, you peoples, as many as Mistress Rome’s soil supports, and as many as the sun looks down on at its rising setting , wherever Rome dictates its laws. Our pious Caesar dictates this edict to the world. (He reads the edict from a piece of paper.) Unless whoever enters the shops or market-place to make a purchase sacrifices to the gods, let him take away nothing. Let him buy nothing with his money. Let savage hunger consume the Christians, banished from fire and likewise from water. Let no man shelter those enemies of the gods in his home, or help them in their need with his support and food. Let their churches and statuary be overthrown, let their altars be destroyed, let fire consume their books, heaped up on pyres. Let every priest of Christ be dragged to the sacred fires of our gods, his hands tied behind his back. Unless he worship Jove with incense, let him die by every manner of torture, and let perpetual servitude oppress his remaining flock. Pious Caesar dictates this edict to the world. He who disregards these commands, being guilty of treason against Caesar, will atone for his contempt by means of hideous reprisals.
spacerCHRISTIAN Bah, foul commands! A dire law! Brutal hatred! (He tears the edict into shreds and tramples them.) To Hell with this document. Let these pages, these cruel scribbles hateful to heaven, be torn into shreds. Go, you herald of Hell, report this crime to the Augustus. Tell that tyrant that, even after all the brutal commands of that great beast, after so many means of cruel death, scaffolds, lashes, racks, and crosses, there remains a man who tears up and tramples the edict of that bestial acolyte, and on bended knee worships the name and glory of Christ. (He kneels.)
spacerHER. He’s going off like a madman. But who does not know that a sovereign has a long reach? I am going to the Augustus. (Exit.)
spacerHYL. My hope’s undone. My dread grows along with my forebodings. Royal edicts, the herald, the Christian’s rage, these all frighten a father.
spacerPAP. He who loses hope fears in vain. Oppressed by great evils, let him resort to extremities. Often a man who hopes for nothing retrieves something that puts him in high hopes. If a storm befalls you unexpectedly, amidst your doubtful affairs you must bravely link your hand to your spirits, and the god will give you unsolicited good fortune. Having gone to the palace, let us first hunt down rumors: what god governs the boy, what things his mind pursues. If some stroke of good fortune permits you to meet him, speak to your son as his father. At the sight of a father, nature moves a son to adopt gentle manners.
spacerHYL. And see, the gates of the royal house are opening. Caesar is leaving his apartments. We HYL keep a far distance.

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ACT I, SCENE iv
DIOCLETIAN, URBANUS, LUPUS

Urbanus the high priest informs Diocletian about his son Valerius’ wretched state, since he is possessed by an evil spirit. He lashes out at the Christians as if they were responsible for this evil.

spacerDIO. Hasn’t that soldier returned yet to the palace at full speed? Hasn’t Vitus, that child famed throughout Italy, arrived yet at my royal home. He’s skilled at wholly purging a body of a raging pestilence?
spacerLUP. He has not yet crossed the threshold of Caesar’s house.
spacerDIO. Harsh realities have a way of hasting along, while one we hope for come limping. Tell me, priest, you whose artful hand has shaped my son in his youth, does the accustomed suffering of the hidden disease still weaken my son, or is it running its course and fading?
spacer URB. The cruel pain persists and his frenzy is increasing. Last night, the boy enjoyed spells of light sleep, but at the return of daylight his sleep was overcome and departed, flying away from his rosy cheeks on unwilling wings. Soon, wide awake, he rolled about his restless head, and thrashed his limbs upon his sheets. Now he lies on his left side, trying to rest, and now on his right. What baleful changes of chills and fevers he undergoes! This way and that, he unhappily tosses his limbs on his couch and, unable to tolerate himself, in this condition he snatches after sleep. But rest is denied to the exhausted boy. And then an intermittent sweat drenches his bones and limbs. Nor does he lie there, content with a single face. Varied colors come and go on his countenance. Now his cheeks are on fire, now pallor disfigures his appearance. Then a leaden bluish color holds the stage in the empty theater of his face, soon banished by a green tinge. Soon his face takes on all these hues, it is a veritable rainbow of a thousand changing hues. I stood by in amazement. With his expression he marshalled threats. Soon a frown furrowed his brow, and he fiercely wounded this onlooker by glaring out the corners of his eyes. My hair stood on end, and I shudder to recount it. A fearful swelling puffed up his cheeks, his deep-set eyes glowed like coals and flashed afar. His lips peeled back, giving his mouth a monstrous grin. No feature retained its usual appearance or kept steady. It was the face of somebody else, The boy was lurking within the boy.
spacerDIO. One of the Furies of Avernus was lurking there. Tell me the sympoms of his disturbed mind.
spacerURB. He waves his arms about, threatening heaven. Anger shakes him and drives him from his bed. Suddenly he shoots up into the air. Though it looks like he will suffer great harm from taking such a high fall, he comes down undamaged. I fearfully come a-running. He is agitated by a furious impulse, like a Maenad rages when stricken by a mad thyrus, or like a top which is lashed into a spin when a group of boys, bent on sport, play with it, sending it flying about in circles. By such wild motion he is pulled this way, then that, and the entire house is scarcely large enough to contain him. He unconsciously thumps his own body. I lay hands on him, but he casts them off. Swifty I summon his servants, but he dismisses them and, should they offer resistance, he strews them on the ground, as a savage lion does its whelps. Then the boy bellows with a terrible roar, like a bull amazed at having received a wound. Next, swollen with rage, by a wild impulse he turns his hands against himself and savagely rends his limbs. Then, contorting himself backward into a kind of a hoop, he plants his head between his feet, makes a tight knot with his hands, and rolls all over the building like a ball. Finally he is compelled to make a blazing pyre out of himself, fearlessly, and would burn himself up entirely, if his servants did not intervene. This great a frenzy drives him.
spacer DIO. Does Fortune turn her fragile wheel with such an unfriendly spin? Can no majesty escape her wanton sport? Ah, what an invidious lot! What good does it do me to have a fortune the same as the Thunderer’s? What good to lift my head up to the stars and be called a god throughout the world, if no faith can be placed on enduring prosperity? Lately, mighty in my armament, I scattered rebel bands who opposed me in battle, foes such as blessed Aemathia produced in the days of the Macedonian youth, or those whelped from Chaonian stock and nourished by the Achelous, or those whom the Pontic Sea embraces. I single-handedly cast them all down, and made them subjects. After all those nations had been conquered by land and sea, I victoriously returned to Rome, famed for its seven hills. Here Fortune set aside her pleasant face: this sad misfortune is ruining my celebration. My son, alas, that rosy replica of his father, is laid low by some unknown kind of frenzy.
spacerLUP. My august sovereign, whose praises are sung by the rising and the setting day, and whose fame, lifted up above the earth, spreads to both the poles, Fortune loves Caesar’s sacred brilliance, and sets her swift wheel beneath your feet. She does this for others, so that she might whirl them on her shifting wheel, but she has learned to keep steady for you, making regular progress
spacerURB. While the blind goddess sports with human affairs, swapping the lowest and the highest, she always obeys Jove’s command. For her wheel depends on heaven.
spacerDIO. I can attest that Jove is an ingrate and his command unfair Tell me, my prominent friend, who throughout the procession of the years and during all his lifetime has observed the gods’ rites with equal honors? I have wholly exterminated those guilty of disloyalty to the divine and the enemies of the gods, by a thousand manners of death. What a sea of blood! What slaughter everywhere! Suffering a thousand kinds of punishment, that unclean sect has gone down to Phlegethon. I sacrifice these victims to a listless Jove, and this is his repayment? My sweet image, my son, the consolation of his father and the noble heir of his father’s virtue, is dying from an unseen plague, which neither a hand trained in Phoebus’ arts nor any draught concocted from a healing root can ward off. Bah, fruitless piety! Vain religion! Who now would offer up to the gods even a single grain of incense? Where is the profit in this sad work? Out of control, heaven has raged against the boy.
spacerLUP. Caesar, you should regulate your mind’s government. Restrain your chagrin. Whatever you piously lavish on the gods, Jupiter will repay with a bountiful hand. This is why your enemy has been laid low, why you have had a career of being undefeated in battle and gained glory in war, and why you have acquired fame. The goddess Peace has been given back to the world, and quiet to your empire.
spacerURB. This dire disease has befallen your boy from some other source. Heaven is immune. You seek the one responsible for this evil? It is the Christian sect, powerful with Circe’s art. Fearing its final end, it is turning everywhere, and, aware of the source of its final, dreaded downfall, it summoned its arts in that direction. I speak whereof I know. With its cruel mind it plots death for Caesar. It chose to make a beginning with his boy, which it is oppressing with the poisoned roots of a mighty herb.
spacerDIO. Why was the palace door left open for these impious folk?
spacerLUP. By the command of their voices, they can vex with the pestilence whomever they desire, even at a distance.
spacerDIO. Isn’t it right to exterminate that criminal breed by a massive slaughter?
spacerLUP. They have surpassed whatever hideous thing stepmother earth creates, whatever the ocean has brought forth, and whatever sad, poisonous, unhappy thing the air contains. This sect grows greater thanks to our misfortunes.
spacerDIO. But suppose that is so. Let them pile up mountains, let them expose the world to their ancient evil and challenge Jove with that sin of the Giants, blue heaven will oppose them. I shall blunt their darts with my lightning-hurling hand, and scorch them all with my flaming weaponry.
spacerURB. Thus Alcides, blue the son of the Thunderer, once shattered that fertile monster of the serpent-race. That beast felt the weight of his club, and gathered strength from its blow, mighty with its seven heads although having lost one, until the son of Alcmena, after making trial of its craftiness, used fire to prevent it from being reborn and taught it how to die by fire. Let the Christian sect perish, consumed by flames.
spacerDIO. There will be no lack of fire. If the earth denies me sufficient flames, I shall seek my armaments from the fiery sky. I shall pull down the comets that glow in the murk of clouds, and those wisps of fire which burn red with their deadly fire. Indeed, all the doom of dire Jove with its thunderbolts will come down on them out of the sky. But why speak of heaven’s fires? Angry Avernus will send up its own tempests from the deep. Phlegethon will roll its pyres here, and whatever Pluto an accomplish with his black whirlpools: these things I shall deploy against the god-hating Christians.

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ACT I, SCENE v
MILITARY TRIBUNE, YOUNG MAN, DIOCLETIAN, URBANUS, LUPUS

It is reported to Caesar that Vitus, famed for his miracles, whom he fetched from Lucania, has not arrived.

spacerEPH. The tribune Varro craves audience with Caesar.
spacerDIO. Back at last? Go, bring him in. (Enter the tribune.)
spacerTRIB. Oh you divinity equal to the Thunderer, I have returned, bringing Vitus.
spacerDIO. You bless Caesar, granting him his wish. What’s the boy’s nation? Tell me, what’s the place where he lives?
spacerTRIB. Leaving the high peaks of our seven hills, I hastened along. My horse, spurred along and given free rein, went faster than the east wind. In my haste I enjoyed to rest until, following the whispers of that chatterbox goddess Rumor, I arrived at the ridges settled by the people of Lucania. Here, where the Silarus blue takes its peaceful course into the sea, forest-dwelling Vitus lived in a cavern. A companion clung to this exile, an elderly man oppressed by years and neglect, giving the boy an old man’s counsel. I dragged the both of them away from their sweet repose.
spacerDIO. Well done! A reward awaits you that matches your merits. What kind of life and manners did he observe?
spacerTRIB. He had no single concern, no single task. At one time he would pour forth orisons and appointed prayers to heaven, at another he would dictate ordinances of his secret law to the common folk. Now he would caress the heads of those who had been purged of their sins in lustral water, and now he would perform strange rites in the name of the cross. A throng of rustics came from fields on every sides: boy, youth, and old man. Here came a fellow with broken bones, another who was sightless, and still another who was dragging along his limbs, dripping pus. A fever was wasting this man with its heat, a sweaty pallor that one. One man had a rotten cancer in his side. There were a thousand kinds of malady, incurable by any art or potion.
spacerDIO. What did this ailing throng ask of Vitus?
spacerTRIB. Spread along the riverbank, they requested healing for their ailments.
spacerDIO. Did anybody obtain it?
spacerTRIB. I was a witness. With a touch, the boy commanded the plague to depart, taking its foul signs with it, so an old man stood free of its marks and its blemish.
spacerDIO. You are telling me what I hoped to hear. Now my son has gained salvation. Let the altars be decorated, I shall worship Jove with Panchaean incense, and let Rome do honor to her lesser gods.

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ACT I, SCENE vi
URBANUS THE HIGH PRIEST

Having delivered a bitter speech against Caesar, the high priest reproaches himself and vents his bile on the Christians.

spacerURB. Are you always idle, you great company of the gods? Are you always idle? Even though Caesar, that toadstool made arrogant by his power, has chosen to challenge you? Oh, the dire crime! Every time a tiny cloud sullies the brilliance of shining Phoebus, as often as a trifling storm covers the sky, he exclaims that the gods ought to be ashamed of their anger. If some pain pricks him, when frowning Fortune denies him some happy development, heaven is spattered by his reproaches and with that sacrilegious mouth of his he calls the gods guilty. You gods who hurl the lightning, you should be irate and hurl your avenging fire. And you, Jupiter, mighty with your forked weapon, you should put down this rebel. Let him discover that Jove rules in heaven, and that you have no slow hand for hurling missiles at his loathsome self. Not long ago this Bulgarian blue lived in taverns and a humble cottage; now that he has been allotted the lofty reins of the university, he says biting things against the gods if his wishes do not prevail. Indeed, he demands the reins of nature, and the right to rule heaven with his scepter. Oh the great madness of power! But where has my unbridled chagrin taken me in my headstrong passion? Where are you going, my mind? Are you condemning Caesar? Should Diocletian, the unique darling of the gods and their single supporter, fall by the fire of lightning? Perish the thought. Let all the unpopularity for this deed fall upon the Christians, you should call Caesar blameless. This, this sect brews up disproportionately large storms, throwing Rome into utter confusion, and by its magical incantation it drives gods away from their altars, not allowing any of them to remain in its temples, not even Jove. This is a source of great shame for their priests, while they cannot defend the gods, even when set in their own shrines, from this hateful pestilence. With its evil eye this sect plants the seeds of dark corruption in our bones, and a infects our peoples with a great plague, as it wishes. That glory of Ausonia, blue Diocletian’s son, bears witness to this. Hence pain justly scorches his father, hence he appeals to the gods with his prayers, complaining that he is going unheard. And so, Jove scorned, he is compelled to summon a low-down boy to overcome this evil with Thessalian art. If he is granted his wish, the disgrace of this deed will fall on me.. The common folk will make up songs that a priest was bested by a little boy, Rome will disapprove, and I shall gain ill repute in Caesar’s eyes. But let this be so, let him prevail. This triumph will cost the victor dear. I swear by the captain of the shades, the boy will atone for this disgrace by dying a bloody death. He’s a Christian, that’s enough. No need to hunt for no reason elsewhere. I understand Caesar’s inward thinking. I shall add the spur of rage, and I shall inflame his usual wrath with a new fire. Injury to king’s religions entails the downfall of kingdoms. Let honor to the gods endure, empires will remain standing. Take way belief in the gods and their worship, and everything everywhere will go to ruin.

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