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ACT IV, SCENE i
PULCHERELLUS, OTHO, YOUNG MEN
Pulcherellus and Otho, leading young men of the court, are bursting with envy that Caesar values Vitus so highly.
PUL. I’m quote sick, I’m bursting, an unseen bird is feeding on my vitals. Great pain torments me.
OTHO What concern, what evil is troubling Pulcherellus?
PUL. Does this concern, which troubles us all, escape you alone? We are banished. The former favor of the Augustus has forsaken all us young men.
OTHO A breeze may flit away where it chooses. Good fortune has wings.
PUL. A single schoolboy has entranced Caesar with his poison, and as the sole victor he possess the god entire.
OTHO He’s bound to give way to another any day now. The favor of great men is transitory. Nobody at court keeps his place.
PUL. Alas, Otho, we are finished, we are finished! Under an unlucky star, this newcomer has stolen our place. Now our charm, our youthful beauty, our young age are of no avail. Bah, great men’s minds are so fickle, it is difficult for them to remain in the same state, but easy to change.
OTHO The splendor of a new face seduces wandering affection from one boy to the next.
PUL. Vitus had scarcely come into the royal court and into Caesar’s sight when Caesar grew ardent with love and, forgetting himself and us, opened all his heart to the boy, and his new affection completely drove out his former ones.
OTHO Thus the west wind drives off the south wind, and the north the south.
PUL. And we always tolerate this? We tolerate it, and this shining newcomer triumphs over our spoils? Oh our minds, so slow to anger, and our hands, even slower to strike! Who will fetch me the avenging Sisters from the Tartarus? Who will fetch me the entire army of Dis? I am being driven wild. Is a single boy, born of the Cyclopes’ smoke, a child of Etna, a charred son of Enceladus, to surpass me, Pulcherellus, equal to the sun in my brightness, in beauty, and also you, the equal of the stars? Is he to expel us all from the royal heart, gain all the applause, and win over the entire court to himself? A dire frenzy is gnawing at me. Otho, I’m being torn apart. Envy is gnawing at my heart. While I am alive I shall never be able to tolerate having Caesar’s love stolen from me. Unless the Fates provide a speedy remedy for this evil, I shall forestall disgrace by suicide.
OTHO Ending your life is a medicine worse than the malady.
PUL. Better to die once than always to be dying.
OTHO Both of these options are the ultimate evil amidst your unhappiness.
PUL. But not the utmost one.
OTHO. Can nothing worse than death befall a young man?
PUL. A life, rent by sorrow.
OTHO Sorrows befit an old man, a happy face a youth.
PUL. My face refuses to be happy while my heart feels pain.
OTHO A face often hides concern buried deep within.
PUL. Envy does not know how to keep hidden.
OTHO Let your mind, being greater than your pain, suppress it.
PUL. Though the mind may hide other forms of grief, nobody conceals envy. At first it feeds on itself, a fierce self-tormentor, and ravages the marrows, bones, and veins within. Next, albeit unwillingly, it finds its way into the open. Pallor steals over the cheeks, the face grows emaciated. The more envy conceals itself, the more it remains in the countenance. This goddess is tormenting me with her malign assault. I see and I pine. No other fate awaits Pulcherellus than to perish by this slow-acting plague.
OTHO Have no fear. We can lay Vitus low by many methods. He is a Christian. With his incantations and the juice of a magical root, he has won a member of the imperial family over to Christ. This can be the source of his father’s wrath. Hence he will cast his lightning and torches against the architect of that scheme.
Diocletian pursues Valerius with a weapon and employs fear to recall him from Christ to his gods, while the young men vainly lodge accusations against Vitus.
Diocletian chases Valerius with a dagger or a staff. He hides himself behind the young men.
VAL. Gods’ faith, spare me! Oh spare me, father
DIO. Die, you hateful person!
PUL. Oh, hold your hand, Caesar.
DIO. Let the villain die.
The young men interpose, falling on their knees.
OTHO Kill me, my prince. Strike me, but keep away from your son.
DIO. I am destroying an enemy of the gods.
PUL. Your progeny.
DIO. I disown his name, I disown his kind. Let this python-born boy bear nothing of me. Lerna and that seven-headed beast nourished you, and made you swell with their viper’s milk. Have a look at this monster of ingratitude. Shunning his father and the gods, he enlisted in the camp of those sons of Jesse. So you have drunk great bumpers of their Circe-like bane? You let yourself be captivated by the Christians’ infernal whispering? This growing plague which your father is readying to abolish by might and main, my son has accepted it and nourishes it at his bosom? You keep yourself clear of me, you traitor? Are you the single man who does not fear your father’s torches, dreadful for all the world? Or do you imagine that being a son of the Augustus makes you safe? By the Styx I swear that any man who has denied the gods’ divinity, be he born of Jove himself, nonetheless will die. If I myself were to imbibe Christ’s corruption, I should purge myself of the guilt by death, and with my fingernails I should rip open my breast and tear out my heart, drunken with the influence of that guilty god. Yet you, bearing the name of your father the Augustus although no resemblance to him, shun and avoid the gods of the Ausonian race, the household gods of Troy, to whom Rome, the mistress of the world and goddess of this earth, is indebted for her imperial glory and triumphs? Could your blind mind prefer a gallows-god to these divinities? Oh, the foul sin! Should I bequeath the scepter to those hands? Should I prepare the world’s summit and the reins that steer its affairs to you? Sooner I’d order an utter fool to be installed on the throne. Go, you bastard son, flee my royal sight. Abandoned, quit the palace, since you have quit the gods.
VAL. (On his knees.) Have mercy on me, father. The pain of having offended my father burns my heart.
DIO. The pain of having been offended burns your father’s heart.
VAL. I admit I have done wrong, and I abjectly beg my father to pardon my transgression. (Once more, Diocletian approaches Valerius and the young men interpose themselves)
DIO. Go far from here, you unspeakable defector from the gods, flee far from here. After committing such a great crime, you ask for pardon too late.
VAL. I shall worship all the gods with my humble prayers, disowning this new, lawless divinity.
PUL. (Kneeling.) Pardon the prostrate boy, my god.
OTHO Forgive him, my prince. A first mistake leaves a man blameless. His youth extenuates his guilt. If any crime has been committed, it is Vitus’ doing. This son of Circe spreads plague by his contagion, he is throwing the court into confusion.
PUL. I shudder to say this, but he attracts to Christ anybody he speaks to. This boy, Caesar, is the one who corrupted your son, who has dared nothing by himself.
DIO. What can a boy accomplish with incantations? What can he do by Thessalian art? (He addresses Valerius). The loose levity of your character and your affection for forbidden gods has swept you off your feet. Soon Vitus, won over to our altars, will be an ornament for my royal household, and, his glory combined with the Augustus’ son, he will shine forth like the moon among the lesser stars. But let that be. I should find a place for undeserved forgiveness. Get off your knees and quickly cleanse yourself of this hateful plague, over and over. Let a thousand beasts of our sacrificial flock be offered up at the altars, lest too little blood be shed in atonement for this sin. Go flying to the altars.
Pulcherellus and Otho use very provocative goads to incite Valerius against Vitus, as if he were aiming at the throne.
PUL. “His glory combined with the Augustus’ son, he will shine forth like the moon among the lesser stars?”I am swollen with rage, a vulture is chewing on my guts. This indeed is the thing I dreaded with all my mind, that the ruler of the sons of Aeneas is captured by the love of a captive. Let our young men protest, let our lords beat their breasts, let Valerius burst his guts, this Sicilian boy rules both his love and his empire. Although he’s a Christian, although he hates Jove bitterly, although he scorns anything having to do with the gods, in the eyes of the Augustus he nevertheless “shines forth like the moon among the lesser stars.”
OTHO Love does not see the faults in things, nor their blemishes. Even if you are a snake, a dragon, or worse than the Styx, to your lover you are handsome. Venus’ boy is blind, and an inclination towards truth always rules out that god. Why hesitate, Valerius. Don’t you see your father’s favor is diminishing? Fickle Fortune is stretching her wings, perhaps bent on departure, unless you quickly use your hand to catch her as she flies away.
PUL. Now Vitus has gained possession of the Augustus’ heart, as someday he will his scepter, and you do not rouse your just fury to arms? Do you allow this secret enemy to grow at home, he who will someday defraud you of the court, your father, and the royal throne? Are you mad enough to allow these things, and are not yet readying your avenging hands and arts?
OTHO Trouble is more easily cured at its first beginnings. It is easy to quench a fire while it is still buried amidst ashes. When it reaches its head to heaven and has gained power by its theft, in vain you strive to put it out. This evil is at its outset, while Vitus is pleasing to the Augustus. Stop this, while time permits. If you are afraid to hurl your spears openly, secretly spread your plague through his veins. Heaven and earth offer poisons enough.
VAL. I am not afraid. The time scarcely requires such advise. Valerius’ destiny to rule remains unchanged. I know my father’s inner workings. He spared me when I was guilty, since his nature returns him as a father. He is sworn his eternal devotion to the gods, being fiercely hostile to Christ. But Vitus attacks the gods with great loathing and adheres to Christ, being determined to endure great butchery before violating his faith. Can love burst through these obstacles and solve these problems that stand in the way? Sure destruction is at hand for the boy.
OTHO My prince, you fail to understand the power or the devices of all-powerful love. Whatever is arduous, difficult, hard, problematic, and insoluble yields to love. Add to this the ways of witchcraft, this wizard’s spells, and the powers of deception with which Vitus has caught the Augustus and will lead him about, turning him in whatever direction his fraud dictates. And see the goal of this. This Sicilian boy will mount the throne, and, banished from the court, Valerius will endure exile.
VAL. This Sicilian boy will mount Charon’s skiff, he will meet his send torn to shreds and turned to ash. Come, my friends, let us join our minds and plan the death by which the Augustus’ sudden wrath may ruin the boy.
PUL. (Aside.) At last our goad has aroused the sleeping beast. Thus any man is terrified by an appropriate bugaboo.
Genesius, a very popular actor, hired to mock Christian sacraments on the stage in the presence of the emperor and Vitus, suddenly becomes a Christian.
The emperor and his retinue sit on the side of the stage..
PROLOGUE Prince Augustus, you greatest light of the world! We shall present a sick Genesius, cured by the Christians’ sacraments. Pray attend.
THE PROLOGUE. GENESIUS IS LYING ON A COUCH
Genesius is very bilious.
GEN. My belly is made of a great mass of meat. I am impeded by its bulk, like a Giant weighted down by the weight of great Etna. Wretchedly I toss and turn, and sleep does not refresh my eyes, nor welcome repose my mind. What man mighty with the medical art will lighten this monstrous mountain of my belly?
PRO. Beg the gods, bother Jove with your prayers. He will bring the longed-for help, he will shrink that meat-mountain.
GEN. (Raising his hands.) Father of the gods, and you divinities of the celestial abode, bring me a cure. Genesius lies, buried within himself, his belly has grown to become his tomb. His heap of guts hold him captive. Destroy its mass, level out this swelling. Let this Apennine subside, let health return.
He descends on a cloud.
MER. Sent from the starry citadel, I bring the mandates of Father Jove. Come, banish these gnawing concerns from your mind, a sure ending of your woes hastens from Olympus. A kinsman of your belly, a puffball, will collapse. Longed-for health will return to your body. The swelling will quit your distended frame, and your body will recover its erstwhile honors, confined to its due limit. Meanwhile let sleep unfold its dewy wings, and, hovering above you, stealthily shut your eyes. (He touches Genesius’ eyes with his sleep-bringing wand.) Come hither, oh pleasant peace. Come hither, oh trouble-taming sleep. Grasp the tip of my snake-bearing wand. Then enter this man’s weary limbs and eyes. (He touches them again.) Let sweet repose cherish Genesius, let not your wing remove you to Cimmerian climes before its proper measure confines his belly.
And now you who have of old been made famous by your understanding of the power of herbs and by the virtue of your healing art, whether heaven keeps you among the company of the gods, or the happy ridges of the Elysian glade, whichever of these realms you inhabit, come hither quickly. Jove’s command insists.
APOLLO, AESCULAPIUS, MACHAEON, PAEON, CHEIRON, MELAMPUS, GENESIUS
They enter individually, dancing.
MER. Next Phoebus, inventory of the art, leads the dance. then his son Phoebus, taking his name from a flowering tree. Then comes Machaeon, no whit inferior to his father and grandfather, with Paeon at this side. Cheiron, together with Melampus, brings up the rear. Do the Thunderer’s bidding, and first encourage Genesius. Let the earth shake from your frequent cheers, and let the lyre set you a-dancing.
Music sounds and they dance. Afterwards they approach the patient.
Enough of the dance, now something else requires your attention. This patient requires a cure.
AP. Tell me what troubles you.
GEN. You healing gods, behold. My hunchback-like hump sticks out eighteen inches in front. I bear an immense weight, I’m a huge gut-sausage. (He points to a crutch.) I am obliged to prop up my troublesome mass with this stick. Oh, if some god would relieve me and slenderize me by flensing my blubber!
AP . Let hard work reduce your girth with regular exercise.
AESC. Combine dieting with exercise. Nothing shrinks a swollen belly quicker than fasting and a frugal diet.
MAC. And let thirst be the constant companion of hunger.
PAE. Water from a clean source is always to be consumed, but in moderation.
CHIER. You must take care that not a single drop of Bacchus touches your parched palate.
MEL. Curtail your sleep. Spend wakeful nights and don’t deep, death-like slumber overcome you. Sure health will come to you from these remedies.
AP. That great abyss of yours will will be dried up when its moisture has been long removed.
AESC. When your gut’s nourishment has been taken away, it will collapse.
GEN. These things are the cure for my evils? Regular exercise, thirst and hunger? Water from a clean source with Bacchus banished? Wakeful nights? You people are the founders of the art and famed for your medical virtue? Heroes from the Elysian Fields? Gods from the heavenly citadel? (He springs up from his bed and uses his stick to drive them away.) Rather you are spectres out of Phlegethon. Go far away to your Stygian homes. Go, you hobgoblins of the Furies’ realm, and take with you your medicine of Jove of the Avernus. Let a hungry belly feed shades and ghosts. Another hope has shone for me. A greater god promises the health I seek. The Christians’ sacraments will provide the good fortune I need and restore me to myself. What priest will use holy water to remove the sins that encrust my life? (Kneeling, he raises his eyes and hands heavenward.) God of the Christians, to You I humbly lift up my submissive hands. If what I ask for is just, send me a man to sprinkle my head with holy water. I am Yours, no matter whichever of the gods Remus’ blind race worships may protest. I am Christ’s recruit. (One of the troupe pretends to be a Christian priest, garbed in a surplice and stole.)
PRIEST Behold, my son, Christ freely grants what you ask with such earnest prayers.
GEN. (Begging on his knees.) Pray well, father, and sprinkle the water for which I have waited so long. My supreme wish is to add to the number of Christ’s flock.
PRIEST Do you believe that the Son is coeval with the Father, that God proceeds from God Almighty, and that Their divinity is equal, ardent with everlasting love?
GEN. I believe in whatever mystery is hidden in every page of your arcane Law.
PRIEST Do you abjure the gods and goddesses of the Latin nation?
GEN. I do abjure them.
PRIEST Are you ashamed and repentant about your life, weighed down by many a sin?
GEN. I am ashamed and repentant. The boundless pain of my crimes burns my inmost being, and scourges my heart with constant wounds. (He beats his breast, weeps &c.) Grant me your saving shower, father. On my knees, I ask for this rain from heaven.
PRIEST Since you ask this while eager for eternal salvation, I baptize you. I moisten you with this water’s blessed dew. (He splashes a great deal of water over Genesius’ face and head. Two angels appear and stand on his either side.).
GEN. (He falls silent.) My limbs thrill with terror.My spirit fails me. This cloud extends a hand. ·(Above Genesius, a hand stretches down from a cloud.) A starry-faced boy stands on either side of me. Where am I?
ANG. 1 You see the deeds of naughty Genesius. (He displays an open book full of blots.). Here you see his life, written with plenty of blots. Every page is smudged. But God has forgiven your sins because your mind’s sorrow is unfeigned.
ANG. 2 Although this water has been sprinkled in jest, it will nevertheless wash away every stain of your impure heart. This book bears witness, being transformed into snowy whiteness. (He displays the same book, very clean with its blots removed.) None of the black remains, whiteness shines forth from its pages. Thus you must blessedly continue, the victory-palm awaits your striving.
PRIEST Why are you amazed? Haven’t I poured enough water on your face? (He tries to splash more water, but is stopped by Genesius.)
GEN. Hold your hand, you priest from Hell. Until now, an accursed scoffer at Christian sacraments, I held them up for mockery and Rome’s amusement. My humor jested about Christ, our mimes were in jest. It is time to abandon these most unholy sports. Genesius must play a different role. A better God dwells in his heart. Forgive me, Caesar, with Jove banished and the gods exiled, Christ owns me, single-minded. I am a Christian.
DIO. You want to bring Caesar onstage? Deal with your little folk, mime.
GEN. Enough for mimes, serious things rule me. Farewell, you Roman stage. I am a Christian.
DIO. You continue to jest with the Augustus?
GEN. I am making an end to joking and its playfulness. I testify to this theater that I am what Christ granted me to be by His secret admonition. Enlisted in His flock, I am wholeheartedly swept to Christ. No rewards, no royal favor, no force or threats, not even death after protracted tortures will alter me. Let your savage wrath threaten whatever evil thing it can devise, I am a Christian.
DIO. Does madness seriously agitate this fellow? Or is he joking with his usual cleverness?
VIT. Augustus, he speaks in earnest. He has suddenly come over to our side. This is the power of our Law that, even if they are hardened, even if they are averse or impregnable, God subdues hearts, even in a single moment.
GEN. Let my actions convince you, since my words cannot. (He lifts a statue of Venus from its base in order to throw it to the ground.) Fall down, you whore, the death of the world, fall down. Fall down, you base slut!
DIO. Alas, the sin! The dire sin! Die, villain. (The emperor’s blow is checked by the interposed statue, so that its head is shattered by Caesars’s staff.)
GEN. He has broken the head of unclean Venus, his rage is driven by blind passion. (Genesius throws the statue to the ground.) Go, fall headlong and with your face strike the earth you befoul.
DIO. My heart is swollen with fury. Some god is driving me mad, with my cruel teeth I shall rend a living tiger. Has Genesius’ trick defiled my weapons? Has this snake, relying on a horrid act of daring, made me the executioner of the goddess to whom Rome is indebted for her scepter and glory? Oh, the crime! Come, tribune, weigh down this guilty fellow in a hundred wraps of chain. Let a fearful dungeon hold him. while I consider by what devices, or by what dire torments he should spew forth his life.
GEN. You have blessed me, Caesar. Happily, I begin my journey. (He is dragged off to prison.)
VIT. You will be yet more blessed as you approach your journey’s goal.
URB. Allow me to speak a few truthful words, Caesar. I admit that a great, foul, sad, hellish wrong has been committed. The divine mother of Romulus’ race, the pillar of our affairs, lies with her head shattered. The scorned majesty of our Latin Jove is prostrate. Rome has been mocked, And yet scarcely any guilt attaches to Genesius. The frenzy of his distraught mind, maddened by Thessalian art, has brought him to commit this crime, even against his will. You seek the one responsible for this trick? He’s standing next you, and, if you are not on your guard, Caesar, he’ll overcome you with the same mania. Behold the person responsible for such a great misdeed. Behold the person who, with his plague and with the incantations of his dire voice, stole the mime for Christ. Rome ought to blame Vitus for Genesius’ defection.
DIO. Where and when did the boy sing his incantation and spread his plague?
URB. A time and place is never wanting for his misdeeds. Augustus, Genesius has scarcely appeared onstage when Vitus began to mutter and murmur his magic spells. Next he cast his evil eye on the mime. I immediately saw it, I saw Genesius showing on his face the signs of mindlessness.
PUL. I likewise saw the man go out of his wits from the moment he absorbed the malign fires of the boy’s eyes.
OTHO I bear witness that by his glance and his charms this wizard robbed the stage of the actor’s witticisms. With a glance, he unhinged Genesius’ mind.
DIO. Why prate these falsehoods? With these eyes of his, could this boy have shot forth darts and poisons? A witch’s incantation with this mouth? Spread a plague abroad with these lips? His beauty goes to show you are liars, as does his age, impervious to such great crimes. An even prettier turn of mind lies concealed behind that pretty face.
PUL. (Aside.) The Thracian is still delirious, captivated by Vitus.
URB. Caesar, neither his face nor his age can exempt a Hebrew boy. He drinks that pestilence along with his mother’s milk, and. while time’s passage strengthens his budding youth, from his early years he makes bold trial of his art, discharging onto Remus’ race whatever Medea’s plague has to teach. Look at him with an attentive eye. Don’t you see how poison lurks in those eyes of his, at which you stand amazed? These cheeks, this brow intend our downfall. This hair, tied in magic knots, will overthrow the House of Assaricus.
VIT. Beware the omen, my lords. Vergil sang that pnce upon a time Jupiter gave the Romans empire without end” And yet this empire depends on my head of hair, the fates of Rome hang by a hair of a single person. If the priest spoke the truth, the “father of men and of gods“ was mistaken, deluded by my coiffure. If he spoke falsely, Caesar, then you should learn all the means of sinfulness from this one mistake.
DIO. Cleverly argued! You win your case. The safety of the Eternal City scarcely depends on your hair. Do you want to know what pole the empire circles around, the power by which Rome endures? (Here the his household shrine is opened.) Enter this inner sanctum with me. Open your home, my household gods. (Each of these Roman household gods stands in its own recess,) Behold the hope of the Roman nation! These gods of my household, these divinities, protect us. Relying on them, the great empire of the Dardanian house endures forever.
VIT. Desist, my prince. Error is leading you astray. (He addresses the statues.) Come, you household gods. If Rome endures defended by your divinity, keep standing where you are. If unspeakable error has invented you as gods and one divinity presides over human affairs, by order of Christ you must topple headlong. They fall. (All these idols fall face-down on the ground.) Behold the hope of the Latin nation! The preserving gods of the empire lie on the floor. Has the empire endured and grown thanks to their guidance? Can a god keep another’s stance upright when he has toppled from his own? Go now and place your faith in these divinities.
URB. Caesar, was a false prophet or a true? Together with these gods, the fortune of ruling Rome is conquered, and the entire empire has fallen together with these gods.
DIO. (Furious.) Alas, the monstrosities! Alas, the hideous sin of this wizard! He has cast down my imperial household gods. Oh, a crime never to be sufficiently expiated in Hell! Give us a hand, lictor. (A soldier runs up and lays a hand on Vitus.) Seize the accursed boy. Sink him down into an infernal dungeon, flay his back with whips, his breast with combs, his sides with scourges. Let him become one single welt, let blood turn this monster wholly red.
VIT. Discarding your art, now you are playing your own role. You return to your innate madness, you beast. Diocletian, I like you with your deception abandoned.