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ACT III, SCENE i
VITUS, DIOCLETIAN, URBANUS, HYLAS
With Diocletian and Urbanus secretly listening, Hylas vainly strives to turn Vitua away from Christ.
VIT. Almighty Father, and You, Christ, You living image of the Father, let strength from heaven be with me as I fight the fight, let it kindle a new fire in my heart, less no appearance of evils dislodge me from my path and break me. This royal court is holding me prisoner, like a dungeon. Bah, a royal court is worse than dungeons themselves! A place which is oppressed by the thick pall of light is rarely illuminated by the brilliance of truth. The lust for profit weighs these people down like an immense mass of iron. A thick mist lies over it: the obscene life of its lords. Its air has a foul stench, the well-known examples of sinning set by its leading lights This plague infects those who some within its touch. This royal court teaches manners: “An awe-inspiring judge is the ultimate misfortune for prisoners.“ “Kings have someone at whom they must tremble.“ “Lightening strikes high ridges.” “Heaven’s wrath falls on none more heavily than those whom power raises to the summit.” (Urbanus and Diocletian overhear them from concealment.)
URB. From here we may overhear the wiles of our new guest.
HYL. I walk along with both my steps and my mind in a state of suspense, My troubled mind is paralyzed, troubled by various impulses. It rejoices and grieves, it fears and hopes, it never remains the same. It grieves that the boy is in bondage, yet rejoices that he has been found. It fears that he will resist, but hopes that he may be controlled. May Fortune favor my undertakings. (In astonishment, he beholds Vitus.) Am I seeing his true face, or does some deceptive vision hang before my eyes? Ah, what brightness has drained out of his face? How much beauty has fled his countenance! The Vitus in Vitus is dead.
DIO. The man’s deluded. The boy shines with that august face of his.
HYL. But after so many months, I am delighted to have seen him, even in this condition. Oh dogs, I pray it may be allowed me to have rescued him, even as he is. Dress me with an appearance that matches my sorrow. If he disdains a father’s entreaties, with one that matches my anger. I want to talk to him at closer quarters. (He seizes Vitus and holds him tightly to his breast.) Oh my son, the single salvation of a dying father, lean on me and quench the fire in my thirsty heart. My son, seen again after so many struggles! My son, the fear and hope of your troubled sire!
VIT. Why this gloomy squalor of your face, father? Why does your unkempt hair fall down over your dark garments!
HYL. You ask the reason? You, you are creating this father’s grief you see. This squalor of my face, this hair falling down over my wearied neck, this costume that occupies the pitchiness of dark night, these sad marks on my countenance, these all speak of the crime of your ungrateful mind. From the time you quit your paternal home as a runaway, chasing after strange things, oh how many miseries I have wretchedly endured. No day has ever shone serene for me. Daytime is filled with groans, night with grief. While I followed your fugitive self by land and see, alas, many misfortunes drove this weary father through climes warmed by various kinds of climate. This Herculean task has worn me down. Indeed, the sleep which is accustomed to ease men’s sufferings is the father of mine. Oh, how often visions of you having a sordid appearance have broken off my troubled slumber! How often you have appeared before your father with a bloodstained face, run through by a sword or given over to the beasts! As many various forms of death humanity has suffered, so many images of you suffering these deaths have presented themselves to me, terrifying me and driving me from my cot — fearful, bloody, sad, and cheerless. It is for you to choose whether your father needs to fear genuine or imaginary forms of grief. Banish these deadly specters, and at last make an end to your father’s sorrow.
VIT. Only the man who feels the grief can ease it.
HYL. Only the man who creates the grief can ease it.
VIT. I abandoned my father obeying heaven’s commands.
HYL. Surely heaven’s commands do not forbid you to you honor your father?
VIT. I honored him in my absence.
HYL. Vexing your father with many evils in your absence — is this how a son honors his father?
DIO. He’s a father, what more do you want? Go, hurry, retain this man in the royal court. Overcome by this weapon, the boy will lean on me. The business of state summons me. (Exit.)
HYL. But I overlook your crime, nor do I call your flight back to mind. Whatever offense my son committed is finished and done. From this day forward, let your father and your piety return. Having worshiped almighty Jove with fragrant incense, escape the thunderbolt of our angry Augustus.
VIT. God Alone hurls the forked lightning.
HYL. Jupiter is god in heaven, and Caesar on earth.
VIT. They are both false gods. Only a single deity can preside over both heaven and earth with His truthful mind.
HYL. Give yourself back to your father.
VIT. I am yours.
HYL. Then adopt a submissive attitude towards me.
VIT. If the things you advise are just, I shall comply.
HYL. Then let Christ be banished and defer to Jove, embraced once more.
VIT. Christ clings to my inmost being.
HYL. My son, you must at length shun those magic spells. Thus far, it has been error that has deluded you made you guilty, and your youthful age has absolved you of guilt. You will be committing this crime wittingly for the first time, if you remain wild and scorn your father’s entreaty. Speak up. Do you yield to your father?
VIT. To my everlasting Father.
HYL. What father is that?
VIT. God the Father, coeval with Christ.
HYL. Oh the stubborn pestilence of a mulish mind! By the holy bonds of kinship, by the sacred titles of father and son, banish this from your heart.
VIT. I have never contracted any such plague.
HYL. In the name of your father’s long series of toils, the ones I endured in your infancy and that I suffered when searching for you as a runaway vagabond, being a vagabond myself, spare yourself for me, you pillar of our afflicted home, you sole support of my old age, and my glory and single spot of brightness amidst my weary affairs.
VIT. I remain alive, unless Caesar should forbid that.
HYL. If you take my advice, he will spare you.
VIT. Ah, God has forbidden that.
HYL. You’ll die.
VIT. So I hope.
HYL. You will be destroying your father with a matching death.
VIT. Heaven forfend!
HYL. Why should the Fates preserve a man who has no reason for living? Now you hold the power of life and death over me. You want your father to enjoy the light of day? Change your mind. You want him to die? Remain stubborn. Decide now.
VIT. I pray my father will see many more years. But I follow where heaven summons.
HYL. A chill horror pervades my benumbed limbs. With its incessant ebb and flow, the sea pounds on no deafer reef . What Fates drive me along under baleful stars? Did I create you? A Hyrcanian tiger whelped you on a Caucasian crag, or Stygian nurses fed you at their breasts. Where are you consigning me, you viper? To the realms of the night? I shall go, I shall go, but with you for a companion Let us together seek out the homes of the Furies. and the place were cruel Tisipone keeps those intoxicated by kindred blood and tames them with her punishments. It is there that we shall be borne. (He twists his silk sash so as to make a noose.) Behold this knot, offering you a foul death, a hideous bond. Either defer to your father or die. You keep your silence? You pale throng of guilty shades, and you, sower of insatiable death, you ruler of the black night, see how I sacrifice to you my son’s viper-like soul and follow him as his father. (He places the noose on his son’s neck.)
URB. You unclean priest of Christ, what trickery do you have concealed in that magical noose? (He tears off the sash.) Lictor, let this man be removed far away, let a vigilant watchman keep him alive in the royal house. Is this not deceit, to instill a young man belonging to Caesar with Christian rites?
VIT. If you consider this to be a crime, hurl your missiles at me with that threatening hand of yours. But let this man, a fine devotee of the gods, be spared,
URB. A fine devotee of the gods — on his lying exterior.
ACT III, SCENE ii
When he attempts to seduce Vitus to the gods with his vain promises, Valerius comes close to becoming a Christian himself.
VAL. You must yield, Vitus, and become a partner in my lot. Prostrate yourself and lift up your humble hands to Joves’ altars. Let Fortune unfurl a smiling face. Caesar is prepared to bless you with Attalid wealth, if you obey his commands. A crown, decorated with star-like gems, will grace your head, a golden scepter your hand, a gown twice-dyed in African purple your shoulders, red gold your fingers, many clients your sides, boots your feet, and columns your kingly house. Thus you will recline on your couch of bright ivory, wealthy in your fortune, and blessedly sweep the floor with the hem of your silken garment. And when time’s passage matures us and you have been undefeated in battle, let us grow together, equals in our way of life. As the three Sisters spin out the threads of our life, then by means of trophies, the noble arts of Roman virtue, Bellona, and bugles, we shall be carried along until snow-white peace grants a glory equal to the heavens.
VIT. Noble prince, even more welcome than such gifts is the disposition of the man who would offer them. And yet, were I decided to yield and comply with your request, the gifts of favorable fortune do not provoke my senses, nor does that fever of kings and captains stir my heart, the lust for power. That way of life is deceptive which is illuminated by vain splendor, making it shine far in wide. Inwardly it is vexed by the black night of a guilty mind, a terrible darkness of sins, gnawing care, and a band of the Dire Ones. Fear reigns within kingship. A royal court is a prison, luxury leads to lamentation, the crown is a care, the purple is the blood of innocent men, the collar a chain, and, if you do not rule justly, a scepter is the weapon of madman. The light of life is mud, the throne a scaffold, one’s servant is a hostile dependent. Honor is a burden, glory a mere breeze, and pleasure poisoned wine.
VAL. What are you going on about? I have experienced the royal court and I deny what you say.
VIT. Your early life still lays claim on serene days and pays an easy tax. Unfamiliar with evil and a beginner when it comes to smiling fortune, you are only seeing the outward glitter. Happy enough with this, you do not know what it is to be wretched. Soon, all too soon, driven by a turn in Fortune’s wheel, you will grow pale and lament the fickle good faith of a royal court. Just as a moth is captivated by the ruddy glow of a torch and flits about it, until it flies into the flame, scorches its wings, and brings itself down headlong, so he who is gripped by the specious beauty of kingship will someday be burned by bright fire and suffer his downfall.
VAL. You’reing the part of a Cato.
VIT. Cato had a reputation for being a just man.
VAL. Gentle sport befits our green years.
VIT. Noble virtue befits our impressionable minds.
VAL. This Christian sect —
VIT. The sect of virtue.
VAL. Forget its stern laws and submit yourself to the better rule of Jove. Why do you worship in vain a god to whom no previous time of the world has ascribed divinity?
VIT. A God to whom eternal time has ascribed divinity.
VAL. Previously unknown?
VIT. God has been known throughout the ages.
VAL. But Christ was a man.
VIT. And God.
VAL. Which first?
VAL. Who made God a man?
VIT. He made Himself.
VAL. God made Himself a man?
VIT. Without ceasing to be God.
VAL. And, having been born, what did he accomplish?
VIT. He died.
VAL. Succumbing to destiny?
VIT. He was put to death.
VAL. For what reason?
VAL. Who was the great sinner?
VIT. You and myself. Mankind’s salvation was dear to Him.
VIT. Bards sing fables, and for them it was a game to create an immense crowd of gods. What an obtuse idea! You believe that Jove presides over the universe, the son of Father Saturn and all but a parricide, and that Cupid touched him with his torch and drove him, frantic, through unlawful beds, guilty of adultery and incest. What blind man could believe such stuff? You worship someone as a god whom you would refuse to have as your father? A god whom, if human law were to hear of his horrible crimes, it would condemn to the stake, him you believe to be divine? Oh, this is an error never sufficiently to be abominated! Think better, prince. Imitate the beauty of your kinsmen’s virtue. Caius bore the torch high aloft, and led the way, setting a fine example for his age of the world. The virgin Susanna was a bright light of the Augustus’ race. Follow where they summon. Let Christ come into your heart, with Jove banished, and let it forever be open for God.
VAL. My heart lies open. But what madness impels me in my folly to expose myself to my father’s anger? How much destruction would come from this? I would lose my right to the throne, the lords’ friendship would fade, I would lose the good things of brilliant Rome. The soft beauty of my budding youth would wither, along with the noble hope of my character, like a bloom perishes when it falls under the influence of an unlucky star. What would I have to gain?
VIT. A life that flows on for a happy eternity, a destiny that offers blessed delights, untouched by evil, and the source of everlasting goodness.
VAL. I shall follow, Vitus, I shall follow your summons. But where shall I follow you?
VIT. To the stars.
VAL. But the law —
VIT. As long as the supreme law stands, these ones fall.
VAL. But edicts —
VIT. When they are impious, they can be repealed.
VAL. But my father —
VIT. When he denies God’s supremacy, he’s no father.
VAL. But his threats —
VIT. Our cause forbids us to fear his menace.
VAL. But tortures —
VIT. The brave man scorns them, when virtue commands.
VAL. But death —
VIT. We will be blessed if we die by the same sword. A quick death will procure us life everlasting.
VAL. Just as an oak tree with its foliage suffers the buffets of warring winds, and doubtfully shivers, hesitant whether to yield its ancient side to the north wind or to the south, so cross-currents shake my mind. Grant me a space, so that in solitude I might weigh in my far scales which god it is better to follow. Great matters require slow judgment.
VIT. You are looking for a means of escape, my prince. Just now the light of truth shone before your eyes, and yet you demand a space of time, so that you might avoid the light by a delay for deliberation?
VAL. I yield. God takes me against my will.
ACT III, SCENE iii
URBANUS, VALERIUS, YOUNG MAN
Valerius reproaches Urbanus for his cruelty towards Christians and other misdeeds, which he obliges him to hear about unwillingly.
URB. Go back, Vitus. Caesar wishes to speak with you. (Exit.) Has he yielded the palm in defeat, or has he gained it as the victor?
VAL. He has both yielded and gained it, he was both the victor and the vanquished.
URB. You speak in riddles.
VAL. It pleases me to speak in riddles, when my inward thoughts are being probed.
URB. My prince, my concern for you and your father’s commands impel me.
VAL. To pry into my secrets?
URB. To learn what impulse shines forth in Vitus, what love for the supernals touches his mind.
VAL. No greater love has ever existed.
URB. So he has been convinced and worships Jove?
VAL. A victor, he has forsworn that unclean Jove.
URB. Oh, the rebellious boy! Scourges will tame the sacrilegious fellow. And you allow the gods to be defamed by his biting tongue without taking revenge?
VAL. I allow the gods to be the targets of his truth-telling tongue without taking revenge. The boy is raging against a tree-trunk.
URB. An unexpected shudder shakes my bones and limbs. Has Vitus abducted you too with his poison’s taint? Have you no fear of your fulminating father’s weapons?
VAL. Being a second Vulcan, it is you who forge the weapons, the threats, lightning, and torches for my father. The fact that the empire is soaked through with its own blood is your doing. As a Fury, you make my father bloodthirsty with your provocation.
URB. My rage forbids me to tolerate your bold self, the swelling bursts my heart. I am going far away from here. (Valerius holds him back unwillingly, aiming a dagger at his heart.)
VAL. Stop in your criminal tracks. You see this steel? I swear by Caesar’s head, pierced through by this you will die if you move a foot before I finish what I began to say. You acolyte of Dis, nursed by a tigress, blood delights you, the blood of innocents. Alas, my kinsman Caius discovered that you were the black-hearted architect of his death. Susanna discovered this. Someday a river of blood flowing from her harmless neck will vengefully fall on your inmost marrow and plunge you in the Styx. In these fibers of yours —
URB. I’m being torn apart.
VAL. Listen, rascal. In these fibers of yours madness has set up its workshop, madness, that executioner with its dire cruelty. Here, in this recess of your restless heart are manufactured a thousand means of bestiality: furnaces, wheels, the gridiron the forceps, the rake, the rack, gallows, led-tipped scourges, clubs, hooks, hurdles, beasts, the horrid apparatus of your cruelty. You say your love of the gods led you to these concerns? You lie. Accursed thirst for gold gnaws at you. The splendor of the royal court, the aroma of freshly-cooked dinners, the passion of Venus, and Bacchus’ dire thirst impel and inspire you. The gods are your mask of piety, your belly is your teacher, and your support of the Augustus a clever guise. You worship no other god’s divinity or royal glory but yourself, Now go, and boast that you are the personage closest to the Thunderer, fill the royal court with fury, the empire with blood. In the end your pride will bring a vengeful downfall.
Y. M. Urbanus, Caesar invites you to watch the masquing.
URB. I’ll forego the masques. I have had enough of amusements. When wrath sets its whirlwind a-spinning, it cannot be suppressed. And yet it must be, tomorrow will give me my revenge.
ACT III, SCENE iv
Diocletian disguises himself and attempts to bring Vitus around to the Augustus’ pint of view, but is repelled by the boy’s wonderful constancy and freedom of speech.
DIO. Good, I’m in incognito. This costume makes me someone else, this wig gives my face a different appearance. This outward look matches my present frame of mind, and yet I recognize the form of my true self lurking within. From the moment this boy came into Caesar’s household with that starry face of his, the Caesar within Caesar died. My altered mind does not stay steady. It hates, and then, forgetting itself, it is ardent. I suffer, alas, I know I suffer. But, frantic as I am, I don’t know what it is I’m suffering. Some god has come down and entered my veins: I don’t know whether he’s a propitious one or an unpropitious. If this is the child of Venus, he’s waging war with a double-edged weapon, inflicting more than a single wound. I am stricken both by lead and by gold. I hate the boy for being hostile to the gods, as if he were a monster out of the pallid Styx, and I tremble at its very sight. But because of the the way serene brightness shines forth in his countenance, purple glows upon his lips, bashfulness in his eyes, snow on his brow, and considering how much eloquence thrives in his words, and how all the favor of the Graces have flowed into this lad, I am compelled to love Vitus against my will. Hence a new care troubles my mind: which approach I should first attempt, what effort will artfully win him over, who that he will requite his lover and likewise love the gods? But behold my quarry. As a falcon hovers aloft suspended by its wings, cleaving the lofty air while scanning the ground with an eager eye, or as a trusty hound starts a partridge hiding in a field, driving its prey with snout and claw, so I am, awaiting the boy here. Come hither, you power of polished speech and powerful persuasion, just as the sweet yet tricksy band of Sirens steer ships onto reefs. Let my large promises start making their blandishments. Will this star of youth, this delightful rose of boyhood, maintain a more sensible mind than usual?
VIT. Sound counsels tend to grow stronger over time, unsound ones to be abandoned.
DIO. Unless firmness heartens one.
VIT. Virtue is wont to stick to the rung of the ladder to which it has ascended.
DIO. If it stands firm. That which which stands in a precarious position is unable to stick. Enough of this word-trading. If you will permit, I will speak to you with no false tongue. Since some better god or some accident has brought you to lofty Rome, open your lap to good fortune and comply with the Fates. The palaces has received you into its home, and the Augustus into his mind. You are in a high position where you can seize in tour hand lofty honors, royal wealth, and the pinnacle of power. I alone of all his retinue know how much you are lodged deep within the Augustus’ marrow. Vitus is pleasing to Caesar, and I think that pleasing such a great divinity is no small thing. So take my wholesome advice, submit your mind and steer your barque wherever the breeze of Caesar’s favor directs you. You should prefer the august deities of Rome and the gods of Troy to Christ.
VIT. I’m killed. This viper’s bane has infected my ears and filled my head with its vapor. “Prefer to Christ?“ What a dire thing to say! A sin of the tongue! Is this where Caesar’s love leads? God forgive me for this sin. I have pleased a tyrant. Though I did not speak, with my hearing I took in a terrible wrong. Although no error inspired me willingly, I am all but guilty nevertheless, since sin came so close to me in my innocence. “Prefer to Christ!” Prefer what? Jove’s unclean alliances, Juno’s anger, the impure torches of Venus, mad Bacchus’ orgies, the bugles of Mars, or rest of that godly crew, the spawn of Hell, famous for their felonies? Oh, hearts devoid of life! Oh, the dullness of a mind able to prefer monsters to the One God! “Prefer to Christ?” Surely the proud wealth, the good-will of leading men, power, delights, banquets, and whatever else Caesar harvests from the conquered world is neither great nor valuable. It is the cheap product of perfidy. What is worldly pomp? What is the great splendor of kingship? It is dew, water, floods, foam, bubbles, clouds, rain, mud, dust, ashes and nothing. It is dew and, combined as water, flows into the sea. Let a storm brew up, a flood of water rage. What is foam? If the flood collides with an ash-tree it splashes up as foam. What’s foam? Something that swells into a bubble when full of air. Now suppose a bubble, drawn up by the sun, to be the mist of the sky. Oppressed by cold, this vapor condenses into cloud. A cloud falls down as rain. Frequently trodden underfoot, the rain changes itself into mud. Let the weather become dry and dust arises from the mud, becoming a plaything for the wanton winds., one part of which is scattered by the north wind, another by the south, while yet more falls prey to the west wind and part succumbs to the east. Thus it becomes like ash, scattered all over the world in the boundless sky and sea. When winds subside, they perish. What happens to the dust? It returns to its ancient nothing and never. Bah, the world’s vain glitter? Is this the purpose of the mind’s passion? Of constant toil? Does the mind, born for the stars, chase after this nothing? Should one prefer this slender, vain, empty, shadowy nothingness to Christ, in Whom the brilliance of goodness and virtue always shine forth? Heaven forfend! Rather, Christ, I prefer You to the household of the August, popularity with its lords, power, pleasures, wealth, and whatever grand thing lies hidden anywhere in all the Roman world.
DIO. Dangerous decisions of an undisciplined mind, Vitus. The Augustus’ favor, if you disdain it, is the same thing as his fury.
VIT. If you scorn it, the Augustus’ fury is the same thing as a favor.
DIO. They are the same thing in the eyes of the inexperienced, my boy. Pain follows hard on the heels of royal fury.
VIT. So it is. Pain will prick the Augustus for his fury.
DIO. It will prick rebels.
VIT. Caesar is challenging God Almighty to a great war.
DIO. When he wages war on Christ.
VIT. When he wages war on Christ and Christians. Should I chase after the good-will of a monstrous beast, who has steel in his heart, and fire, and the butchery of dire death? A man rendered abominable by the blood of innocents, of a world swimming in the blood of innocents?
DIO. I swear by heaven’s eternal fires, no love of bloodshed holds Caesar within its grip. The only thing that concerns him is the religion of the gods, the ancient glory of the Ausonian nation, and piety towards Jove, whom Rome, grateful for having triumphed over the world, always worships as her protector. Hence is compelled to loose his lightning against the gods’ enemies, and you could avoid its vengeful flight, if you would humbly venerate Jove with a pinch of incense. Obey, and you will shape your destiny however you desire.
VIT. He Who has shaped everything will shape it in accordance with His will. But you should not imagine that Rome’s triumphs are the gifts of the gods. It is He Whom Christ acknowledges to be His Father, a God equal in His divinity, God, Who guides royal scepters and sets bounds and limits on kingdoms. He did not grant the Teucrians power over the earth so that deluded Rome might fashion gods out of wood. Oh minds, so bent on vain thoughts! Christ Alone governs heaven and earth. To Him I offer all the incense the Arab harvests, and not a grain to Jove, not even if the wealthy Tagus should pour its glittering sands into my lap, not if I were a Caesar and held in my proud hand the palaces of the rising and the setting sun, not if every kind of torture should be deployed against my mangled limbs, not if all the thunder of your empire should roar at me alone. Why does poor Caesar strive to remove Christ? Why persecute His flock with steel? Let Avernus grumble, our love will grow from our losses. The Christian race grows, fed by the very evils inflicted by your executioners. It thrives amidst weaponry and fires, just as a tree that has felt the pruning knife bursts forth with foliage, and produces the increase of many a leaf. And meanwhile, what fortune befalls tyrants? Bear witness, Rome. Nero, the first to wax fierce against Christ, spewed out his life’s breath when hunted down for the killing. furtive dagger dispatched Domitian to the Styx, and care deprived Trajan of his right senses. Cruel thirst and dire dropsy tortured Hadrian to death, and he did not die bravely. Self-imposed famine took off Marcus Aurelius when he was obsessed by his own death and weighed down by cares. A killing gout and grief combined with sorrow wrenched the life from Severus’ inner fibers. Decius, that monster among tyrants, was drowned by the vengeful waters of a marsh, so that he was repaid for the shedding of human blood. Valerius fell into enemy hands and finished his unhappy days as a lowly slave. Thus harsh fate overtakes tyrants who war against Christ. After so many instances of God’s vengeance, Diocletian persists in devising artful acts of cruelty against Christ’s flock, soaking heaven and earth with human blood and savage killing. God follows behind, as a yet more powerful avenger of Diocletian’s more brutal evil.
DIO. The stars’ favor preserve Diocletian. You must change your opinion, boy, lest you perish.
VIT. If I change it, I die. Christ is forever my delight.
ACT III, SCENE v
Lupus persuades Hylas’ servant Papinus to make a public accusation that he is secretly both a Christian and priest, and that he is dissuading Vitus from the gods by his magical devices.
LUP. Come now, Papinus. The Fates are inviting us to commit a pretty misdeed. You can happily fill your pocket with a great sum of gold, rescue yourself from the average run of mankind, and raise yourself to a better station in life.
PAP. Explain what fortune you are inviting me to acquire with your great promises.
LUP. I ask your complete confidence regarding these secrets.
PAP. I promise.
LUP And swear?
PAP. Upon my oath.
LUP Pay attention. A vain hope deceives the master you serve. He imagines he can deceive the court wearing a false costume, but he is transparent. The man’s name and family are known to Caesar. His home is known to the lords. Anybody can deceive individual men, but not everybody. Busy Rumor dwells in royal households, seeing everything with those countless eyes of hers. And whatever she takes in with her cocked ears, she is the first to publish throughout the court. Nothing escapes the notice of kings. Now she is reporting how Hylas has come from Etnas’s shores, a man noble in his estate and gold, and yet a Christian, one of their priestly tribe and a shepherd of his flock. He has furtively entered the palace in pursuit of Vitus, and now, adopting a false name and appearance, he is encouraging is son with secret exhortations, lest the sight of evils seduce the boy from the Christians’ company and return him to the gods.
PAP. Oh, the goddess’ poisonous mouth! She lies in every sound she makes. That dire harbinger of evil is misleading the royal court. With accusations full of falsehood Fame is attacking an innocent man, yet Rumor goes blameless. She mixes together things done and things undone, now clinging to the truth, now eager for falsehood. This is a crime: it is never truth that strides through lofty households, belief in falsehood is welcome to our highest lords. I swear by whatever has ever existed of the gods, by the sacred fires of heaven, this man Hylas of whom you speak is neither Sicily-born nor a Christian. Nobody curses this sacrilegious sect like he does, nobody so shuns this plague.
LUP. How long will you keep on toying with me by using your ambiguous tricks? You call on the supernals with a perjured voice.
PAP. If I swear to false things. May Tartartus sink me in its gaping bosom and require my punishment if I am swearing falsely.
LUP. What cause brought him to Rome, happenstance or his virtue?
PAP. His virtue. He was chasing after his son, the boy of his own pedigree, whom an old man, an old man equally adept at poison and magic, had kidnapped and enrolled among the Christians.
LUP. So this is where I am determined to focus my interest. The Augustus has promised a great sum of gold to whoever can return the boy to the rites of Aeneas’ sons and make him a friend of our Latin Jove. This is your task. Both of them will soon be dragged in chains to the Augustus’ forum. You must assail your master with false accusations. Swear on your oath that he makes a public show of offering incense to the gods, and yet is a secret adherent of Christ. Add that, whatever he says with that perjured mouth of his, he is a priest of that unclean sect. Add that by his treachery he has changed one person’s mind, and has wholly consecrated Vitus to the Christians’ God, and that he made a compact with Jove of the Styx, less fear of the man who holds the world’s reins subdue him, or gifts sway him. Overcome the man with accusations such as these. Let the Augustus, inflamed by these things, command them to be burned alive, unless the boy renounce his art, come to hate Christ, and return to the gods of Ausonia.
PAP. You are proposing this crime with your sinister suggestion?
LUP. You should call an action which enriches its perpetrator a source of profit, not a crime.
PAP. A guilty man destroy an innocent one?
LUP. The certain hope of great good absolves that guilty man.
PAP. And a servant his master?
LUP. Even his own father, when so great a reward beckons. A servant’s supreme responsibility is to serve his own interest.
PAP. And no piety —
LUP. I like the appearance of piety, but not the virtue itself.
PAP. And no sense of shame dissuades you?
LUP. Boldness should be appealing to a man, a sense of shame to a little girl.
PAP. Are we to think that a man is a person who fraudulently cheats the mankind and the gods, killing an undeserving victim?
LUP. Virtue takes its bright name from vir [“man”]. It is virtuous to profit yourself, when you can.
PAP. The laws of nature forbid us to destroy the innocent.
LUP. Nature bids you help yourself in any way you can.
PAP. The laws object.
LUP. The sum of the law is self-interest. Whatever you have made up your mind to do is just.
PAP. The ordinances of nations disapprove.
LUP. No nation forbids a man to look out for himself. Why are we wasting words, sending them scattering to the winds? Let Right, law and piety forbid. Nature cries out to the contrary: even if a sense of shame resists, men and gods protest, and Orcus cries out, for it is advantageous to enrich oneself. He who does not know how to promote his own interests when the time is ripe is a fool. But there’s no cause for fear. The Fates will save your master. Before he can be destroyed, the boy will changes his mind as Caesar urges, rather than allow his friend to be done in by a brutal death. Or if he persists, stiff-necked, I’ll prevent his death. I’ll untie these knots in Caesar’s presence, and proclaim the truth, that Hylas is faithful and his heart well-disposed to the gods.
PAP. You win, Lupus, you win. A convert, I adopt your arts. I shall take your attractive advice.
Go to Act IV