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ACT I
MERCURY

MERCURY Be careful, Mercury, so your business will fare well. Look around lest some hunter be here with his eyes, or some predator with his ears. Congratulations, you’re safe. (He breaks his caduceus and puts it in his belt at the back in place of a dagger. He takes off his wings and puts them in a sack.) Farewell, supreme staff-bearer, great winged servant of Jove. You should fly inside to yourself. Look here, I’m for sale. How wearied I am of consorting with the gods! From the very day of my birth, when I was registered among the gods, I done no job but be a message-boy. If any little task at all cropped up, they immediately come running to Mercury so that he might carry a message. From now on I’ll make each of them be his own herald. I have decided to travel in the mortal realms, and there, since so many races of men worship me with their prayers, I promise myself great rewards. I’ll be ready for anything, and versatile, I’ll adapt my tongue to each man’s ways and, so that I might practice my wiles more cleverly, I will shrewdly change my name to Vulpinus. If anybody looks for me under the name of Mercury, he’s hiding under a fox-skin. You spectators may observe my fortunes, if you please, and wish me well, as I wish you well in your pursuits. Look here, some bit of good luck is coming out. (Enter Bellero.)
BEL. Why is the earth not trembling when Bellerophombombardipolemo-poberontarchillides comes marching along?
VULPINUS Here comes an earthquake, I find it fearful.
BEL. When I stride through towns, on every side I hear people exclaiming, “Behold the city-sacker, behold the giant-slayer, and the man who scatters legions by huffing and puffing at them.” (He draws his sword and kisses it.) I am grateful to you, Blood-drinker, you trusty partner of my labors, which so often have dazzled my enemies’ eyes like rays of the sun, and have borne me up to so great a height. (Sheathes his sword.)
VULPINUS But collect yourself, Vulpinus. No need to lose your courage. Either my eyes deceive me or this is some boastful boor.
BEL. Come, my good right hand, relax a whole, you tamer of monsters, you who know no limit in slaughter, and who have taught so many myriads of men how to die.
VULPINUS How I am minded to mock this toadstool!
BEL. Fables about Alcmena’s son Hercules tell how he overcame serpents before he was able to recognize them. But it is certain that while I was still hanging from my mother’s teats I both recognized a lion and strangled it with my embrace.
VULPINUS Ha, ha, a fine dream!
BEL. When I was a boy of seven and did not yet know how to handle arms, I challenged the well-known famous Polyphemus to a fight. We came together, and in the first encounter I put out his right eye with my fist. From that time he has been called Monocle, and he always hides in his cave out of fear, lest another fist put out his other eye.
VULPINUS A horrible monstrosity, shameful, a great lie!
BEL. And now, if I should chance to meet Mars, I’d esteem him so little that with a kick I’d send him to Pluto’s deepest realms!
VULPINUS I’ll approach him opportunely. Hey, soldier.
BEL. What one of the gods is this?
VULPINUS By Hercules, Mars would not dare compare his virtues to yours.
BEL. But how do you get that idea, you shieldless fellow?
VULPINUS Thus your Jove-like face (I mean the thundering Jove), thus your flashing eyes, your adamantine brow, your Medusa-like beard, your iron hands, thus each feature from the top of your head down to your feet proclaims.
BEL. These are all external features. If you could see what governs them within, you’d proclaim far loftier things.
VULPINUS But these external things are a clear enough sigh that the earth possesses you, unique for your virtue, beauty, and indomitable deeds.
BEL. Come, kiss Blood-drinker, since you understand me so well. (He kisses the tip of his sword.)
VULPINUS Ha, ha, Blood-drinker serves Wine-drinker.
BEL. Your wit pleases me greatly. Hey, little man.
VULPINUS At your service.
BEL. I want you to be my servant and to follow your god through every clime.
VULPINUS Most gladly. [Aside.] And I shall privately regard myself as lucky to have obtained such a disaster of a man.
BEL. What are you saying?
VULPINUS To have obtained such a master of a man to whom I may be a servant.
BEL. Yes, it will go well for you. For if you follow close in my footsteps, it will come to pass that all over the world you will be cheered as second to me.
VULPINUS Nothing truer has ever been spoken from the tripod. For if I stick close to your footsteps no space will be given to anybody else and it will be left to me to be second to you.
BEL. Second, I tell you, boy, in my deeds and exploits.
VULPINUS Really? Behold your most serving servant.
BEL. Well said, and you should study my ways thoughtfully.
VULPINUS I’ll study nothing more carefully.
BEL. Let your eyes learn what my countenance commands, and you must hasten to do my bidding swifter than the eagles.
VULPINUS [Aside.] Bah, “swifter than the eagles.”
BEL. You understand me correctly. Now I’m going to name you Mercury, for, since I equal Jove in my accomplishments, it is reasonable for me to have a Mercury to proclaim my deeds.
VULPINUS [Aside.] I’m very afraid lest he has smelled me out and the whole business will turn out badly.
BEL. What are you muttering? What is making you so anxious? Do you like the name?
VULPINUS Not at all.
BEL. Why not?
VULPINUS They say that once upon a time, when Jupiter was very enamored of Europa, for the sake of possessing her he transformed himself into a bull. I’m afraid lest, while you are calling me Mercury, the people will imagine you’re a bull rather than Jove.
BEL. You’re being foolish, you little rascal. I’m not Jupiter, I tell you, but rather Jupiter’s rival.
VULPINUS And you want a rival Mercury?
BEL. You grasp the thing.
VULPINUS I like that.
BEL. To speak modestly, you should understand that I’m such a rival that, had my mother given birth to me on the day Jupiter was born from Wealth, I would have been the one to upset Saturn, thanks to my strength I would have occupied his throne.
VULPINUS And I would have been the one to give Mercury a broken neck, who would have been your servant.
BEL. Congratulations for this frame of mind, Mercury.
VULPINUS But since it does not please you to become Jove, tell me what name you would bear among mortals?
BEL. Ah, you imprudent man, you are not looking out for your own self if when you ask this.
VULPINUS Why so?
BEL. Come, plant your foot firmly on the ground.
VULPINUS What’s the matter?
BEL. Lest my name carry you off into the air.
VULPINUS Do you imagine I’m a bubble?
BEL. Do it, I say. Firmly.
VULPINUS (He gathers himself like a gladiator and holds up his helmet like a shield.)
Ha, ha, go on. Tell me, I’m protected enough.
BEL. Thus, thus. Very fine. Now regard your master Bellerophombombardi-polemopoberontachillides.
VULPINUS I’m ruined!
BEL. I predicted this misery.
VULPINUS Woe for my ears!
BEL. Why your ears?
VULPINUS They’re too narrow to offer their hospitality to that name. I need the ears of a donkey.
BEL. (Raising his arms.) Are you making fun of me? You crumb of a man, I swear by these Pillars of Hercules, by these legs of the Colossus, by these shoulders of Atlas, by this spear of Mars, by these Torpeian thunderbolts, if I get my hands on you I’ll spin you a thousand times and, like a catapult, I’ll throw you up in the stars so high that, if you don’t take a snack with you, you’ll die of starvation before you come back to earth.
VULPINUS Hurray! So in what part of the earth to you predict I’ll fall?
BEL. In the Orkney Islands, beneath the North Pole, beyond the Garamuntans and the Indians.
VULPINUS So if I don’t die of starvation, an opportunity of freezing to death will be offered.
BEL. Whatever earth, sea, air, and Underworld possess will succumb to this my right hand.
VULPINUS But, my Jupiter. —
BEL. Why Jupiter?
VULPINUS Stop thundering lest the whole world be turned to ash.
BEL. Let forked flames go a-flying hither and thither, I’ll thunder from ever part.
VULPINUS Ah, summon up your kindly nature, my Mars.
BEL. I’m Etna, I’ll spew forth balls of fire in every direction.
VULPINUS By those Pillars of Hercules, I beg you —
BEL. The world will feel how much strength I have in my wrath.
VULPINUS By that hundred-foot earth-creeping name of yours —
BEL. If I brandish my arm, there is no place for safety.
VULPINUS I beg you by gleaming Blood-drinker —
BEL. Ha, by Blood-drinker?
VULPINUS By Blood-drinker.
BEL. You have overcome me, return into my favor.
VULPINUS Had I not returned into your favor, I would have been wholly ruined.
BEL. (He mounts a heroic throne.) Mercury?
VULPINUS Jupiter.
BEL. When I initiated you into my secrets you placed your ears at my disposal. I want you to learn some military aphorisms.
VULPINUS To you I give, donate and dedicate my ears, auricles and audition.
BEL. I commend you. But first it is my pleasure to be educated in the great deeds of former ages. You may sound your bugle among the ancient heroes. Whom do you think to be their leader and standard-bearer.
VULPINUS Bah, in all the roster of the gods none is your equal, none comes second.
BEL. I know.
VULPINUS But in comparison to the others, Hercules shines in the first rank.
BEL. Hercules? To tell the truth, while he was bashing the Hydra’s sprouting heads he showed himself a warlike enough fellow. But in his final struggles he very much failed, when he dealt with Cerberus in a cowardly and childish way. (Comes down from the throne.) If this business fell to me now, I should hasten straightway to the jaws of Erebus, snatch the barking, struggling hound, and immediately sacrifice his three growling necks to Dis with a single blow.
VULPINUS Ah, master, if you love me you’ll leave that journey to be chosen by raw recruits.
BEL. Be of good cheer, I don’t have time for such trifles at the moment. Continue. Who do you think holds second place?
VULPINUS Everywhere men sing of Achilles, that lightning-bolt of the Greeks.
BEL. Ha, ha, ha, that lightning-bolt. Rather let him get used to a spindle and distaff. Dressed as a woman let him babble old wives’ tales, as he once did among the daughters of Lycomedes. I swear by Jove that because of that crime he is unworthy ever to have borne arms. But he got a good punishment when the shepherd shot the fleeing boor in his heel, ha. ha. On to the third, Mercury.
VULPINUS If you scorn Hector, that champion of the Trojans, there is nobody at all who offers anything you can imitate.
BEL. Why shouldn’t I scorn him and trample him underfoot for allowing himself to be tied to a chariot and be dragged naked around the walls?
VULPINUS But he was dead then.
BEL. But what afterwards? No, boy, I tell you, if I had been present at the Trojan war even as a dead man, Ilium would have flourished to this very day.
VULPINUS You sing of wonders. How could this be possible after you were dead?
BEL. Lend me your ear, fool. Have you heard how in a previous age Pallas came forth from Jove’s split head?
VULPINUS So the story goes.
BEL. And do you remember how battalions of men were born to Deucalion from the bones of our great mother?
VULPINUS That’s another poetical fiction.
BEL. But seriously, when this body shall have given up the ghost, from its shattered head a fiercer Pallas will spring forth, shaking her aegis, carrying terror in her eyes, and likewise from each of these broken bones squads of fierce soldiers will arise.
VULPINUS Wow! And what offspring will you produce from your skin?
BEL. Of its own volition, my skin will set itself up as a tent.
VULPINUS If you take my advice, better for it to become a drum.
BEL. In place of a drum there will be a great roaring, and the raucous clangor of arms.
VULPINUS Oh, a metamorphosis more than Ovidian! But, master mine, in such a great transformation of things, what should I dream will become of me?
BEL. You will be the chief shield-bearer for my Pallas.
VULPINUS Ha. I’ll serve a fine service. Oh, it will be wonderful thing to put myself up for auction, the flower of my youth having been consumed, in order to become a solder’s servant. Jupiter!
BEL. Hoh.
VULPINUS Goodbye.
BEL. Why goodbye?
VULPINUS I don’t like the salary.
BEL. What are you saying, whipping-stock? Come here, pay the penalty to me.
VULPINUS I’ll look for a place I can invest my efforts more profitably.
BEL. Come back, I say. Do you want me to dissolve into rage?
VULPINUS It’s wise advice that I should look out for myself, who am nearest to myself.
BEL. Fly away from here quickly, or I swear by the Styx I’ll blow you to the Antipodes with a single huff.
VULPINUS With your good leave, now I’ll spread my sails to the wind. Goodby. (When he is near to the door, Beller. puffs out his cheeks and blows, making him reel until he exits. Exit Vulpinus.) Woe’s me, whither, whither am I being borne? Oh wretched me, what is it? Woe’s me.
BEL Victory, victory, victory! Hail the triumph! Victory, victory! (Bel. exits with drawn sword.)

Go to Act II