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Frequently performed at Rome, Naples, Bologna, Parma, Seville, St. Omers and elsewhere, to applause.
N the year after the Virgin Birth 491 Zeno, an Isaurian by birth, a man infamous for his luxuriousness and cruelty, ruled the Eastern Empire. Learning from astrologers that he was doomed to die a violent death, he strove to avoid his fate by the killing of various noblemen, or, as a second best expedient, to set his brother Longinus, likewise a monster of lust and savagery, on the throne. At this time there were at his court many men of various characters and aspirations, particularly his chief general Harmatius, famous for his feats at arms, a hot-headed man by whose aid Zeno had overcome the tyrant Basiliscus, and the patrician Pelagius, a man of consummate justice and constancy. At the urging of his brother, Zeno put to these and others. Only Anastasius, a sly and treacherous fellow, avoided all suspicion by his pretense of old-time simplicity. And so he, aiming at the throne and a special favorite of the Empress Ariadne, recruited Urbitius, a man of profligate evildoing, as a lieutenant in his schemes. And when, by Urbitius’ agency, he had done sundry things to put the royal court into confusion, he buried Zeno al e and, fetching Longinus back from flight, beheaded him. From the histories of Nicephorus, Procopius, Evagrius Scholasticus, Zonaras, and others.
THE GHOST OF THE TYRANT BASILISCUS
ZENO the Emperor
LONGINUS Zeno’s brother
HARMATIUS Prefect of the army
BASILISCUS Harmatius’ son
PELAGIUS a patrician
ERASTUS Pelagius’ brother
EUPHEMIUS the Patriarch
ANASTASIUS, URBITIUS, SEBASTIANUS, PROCLUS, PHILARGUS nobles
GAZAEUS an orator
EUPHEMIANUS a mage
CASTOR a military tribune
PHILARCHUS a centurion
ACT I, SCENE i
THE GHOST OF THE TYRANT BASILISCUS captured in war and put to death by Zeno
To the blare of trumpets and the beating of drums, the furniture for Longinus’ coronation is produced. On both sides of the stage, two tables with silken coverings are brought in, on which are the crown and scepter, a robe, a book, a sword, and the other symbols of rule.
GHOST Stifle the noise of your accursed brass, you trumpet. Let its music fall silent. Carry off these tokens of royalty. Remove this display of an accursed regime, young men. (He overturns the tables and scatters their ornaments.) Away with you, you reminders of a bloody household, you sad augury of my misfortune., consecrated to the Furies, thanks to which I earned the Styx. I did not break free of night-buried Chaos just to visit this court, for I recognize my realm full well, this theater of Hell. It would be a novelty for the rulers of the East to make their way to the scepter by a happy, peaceful ascent. The road to the lofty throne of the East goes through things mentionable and unmentionable, through a heap of crimes, the arts of deceit, the wiles of a perjured mind, hatreds, ill-willed snares, wars, arsons, woundings, bloodshed, and murders. This was the highway that led me to this proud palace, and, overthrown by this means, I was plunged into the deepest Styx. Thus, thus must the man who yearns for government’s glory be swept along. But you are not rushing along the usual route, Longinus. Megaera has not yet burst through the bonds of Nocturnal Jove, bringing along her troupe of Eumenides. Your household has not experienced those vengeful Furies, or fire, wrath, and the inescapable storm of destiny. First the earth must be soaked with innocent blood, wrath must heap up murders, the stars must be spattered with gore. Old Charon’s raft needs to groan under the vast weight of its load of shades. Then you may take the auspices for your scepter, then you may snatch at the purple. Come, trumpet, under altered influences you may sound your omen. Play a deadly tune. (The trumpet blows mournfully.) I am heard, it sounds. Now let the stage grow dark as night and deep blackness envelop this place. (As the appearance of the stage changes, everything darkens.) In the graveyard, let tombs stand empty under the sky, and funereal biers. (At this point are seen the graves of those put to death in the present tragedy, with the addition of their coats of arms and the instruments of their killing.) I congratulate my eyes on this triumph. This is the appearance of the court, these are the usual trappings of a man entering upon his reign, these are his auguries. Now pick up the pace. (Enter Zeno, furtively.) You are here. Let funerals be performed in undeserving households. Let the blood of innocent men flow and meet together. Let a rope kill this one, a dagger that one, and doctored wine a third. By Chaos of the Underworld, I swear that Phoebus will not start and end this day before you manage to fill each of these graves by a killing. Now go and fulfil your doom with that false face of yours.
ACT I, SCENE ii
ZENO, EUPHEMIANUS THE MAGE
Wearing a disguise, Zeno consults Euphemianus, a mage and an astrologer, about his destiny.
ZENO (Having changed his costume.) Be silent, you gods, and you fires of the starry expanse, be still. Let be permitted me to hide the glory of an Augustus and my imperial countenance under this uncouth gown. A great matter is afoot. A mind raging with passion often forecasts the day of its threatened doom. I am alive but seem to be dying, yet I have no idea what to fear. Whether rosy dawn is bringing its light or the chariot of night drives through the darkness, my mind broods on troubling puzzles, and, slow to comprehend its fate, quakes with fear. This indeed is the case. God has granted me these two things at the same time, power and fear, fear not to be warded off by a company of armed guards, nor by a house fenced in by a Cyclopean wall. Lightning shakes towers built up to the sky, while the carefree shepherd lives a fearless life in his humble cottage. Hence my dread compels me to be wide-awake and watchful in all quarters. Hence, being a Caesar concealed beneath a stranger’s garb, I shall investigate my fate. Near at hand is a consummate judge of the stars, and likewise a well-schooled priest of Jove of the Darkness obeyed by Erebus, and a man whom they say is capable of conjuring up the spirits who shape human destiny — for a price. I have decided to visit this man, and I shall consult him incognito. Let him who cannot sway the gods above make an impression on the Styx. (He visits the astrologer. When the curtain is drawn, the mage’s studio is visible, hung with black cloth. There is a black table, on which is is a black writing-desk and a celestial sphere. Black candles are burning, and a shaggy dog is chained to a table-leg. Euphemianus is resting on a black chair, with a Negro boy sitting on the ground at his feet.)
Euphemianus, at whose incantations the throng of the silent dead, Orcus, the Furies, and Chaos all tremble, if my good-will and my gold have any power with you, conjure up a spirit from the bosom of Hell, a child of Hecate, whom I might follow as a guide through my doubtful distresses.
EUPH. You seek something great and lofty, a boon such as is usually granted only to those of imperial rank. (The mage stands up and, displaying a series of rings, offers evil spirits for sale.) But come now, who should this spirit be in its art? How great in its wit? What manner of character would you like him to have? Do you want to be overwhelmed by lust and that little boy of Venus? Here you have Ashmodaeus. He will be your professor of seductions, illicit amours, wantonness, lustful fires, and the sin of Gomorrah. Do you want to trample heaven with your proud disdain, and to soar aloft in the wind, far above God and mankind? Thanks to this one, you will become puffed-up. Do you wish to be inflamed by wrathful torches and the madness of a raging mind? Do you want to rage more wildly than a tiger, a bear, a Hydra, a hellhound? Do you want to have your household swim in blood? This spirit will supply you with anger. You see that every kind of Fury is up for sale. Take your pick.
ZENO You have listed trifles. I did those things in my youth, and I seek a monstrosity greater than them.
EUPH. What Stygian sister whelped a freak such as you? All those crimes as a lad? Hold on, I’ll quench your thirst. (He produces a ring from deeper within his writing-desk.) Here’s a spirit worse than the god of the shades, fertile in evils. Within his heart he has stored up a thousand forms of felony, a thousand harmful arts. By himself, he fills minds with every sin of the Furies and whatever monstrosity lies concealed by darkest night. With him as your guide, like a dire vapor, you will go about as a force of destruction, a bane on mankind. What more could you want? By himself he managed to fill Nero, that bane of his age, with evils from head to foot. You like?
ZENO Very much. I shall revere this god both as my teacher of manners and as my guide in life. (He kisses the evil spirit in the ring.) One thing remains. Inasmuch as you understand the ways of the Fates and every man’s destined fortune, tell me what conjunction of the stars awaits this man. His natal place and day, and everything else the rule of your art bids be known, is set forth here. (The king produces his own horoscope, set forth on a piece of paper, and shows it to the mage. The mage, having scanned the horoscope, pronounces the king’s fortune.)
EUPH. He’s base-born.
ZENO Gold is taken out of the ground, but nevertheless glitters.
EUPH. He’s cruel of face, ugly to behold, and horrible.
ZENO And a scruffy shell contains a precious gem.
EUPH. He strives to make his way to high glory by martial force.
ZENO That man’s an ignoble sheep who feeds on the waxen images of his ancestors, a man of effete blood.
EUPH. He rises up against the robes of the powerful, and at length by the murder of a son (oh, the foul misdeed!) he grasps the pinnacle of power.
ZENO Right and wrong matter little to a man who seeks the scepter.
EUPH. With his bloody hand this man scourges his nation and destroys his kingdom.
ZENO In the same way, God thunders against the world He rules.
EUPH. But what is the heaven revealing with its threatening aspect? I shall say no more.
ZENO Speak. Why are you shivering, old man?
EUPH. Fear stifles eloquence.
ZENO Confidence encourages it.
EUPH. He who commands his destiny to be pronounced will wish it had gone unmentioned.
ZENO He who commands it to be pronounced will wish it to be heard.
EUPH. That which has long remained concealed will do better to continue in its concealment.
ZENO That which has long remained concealed will do better to be revealed.
EUPH. Let me keep my silence.
ZENO When the time bids you speak? By the Stygian swamp, I swear I’ll dash your brains upon the ground, and from those scattered brains I’ll read the fates you decline to reveal.
EUPH. Then I pray you’ll calmly hear this speech you compel.
ZENO Whoever has paid forfeits for saying something? (The mage forecasts the downfall of the king.)
EUPH. “Having been buried before his death, he’ll breathe out his life in his grave.”
ZENO (Losing control over himself.) Hah! What did you bawl out, old man? His grave? What? His soul? Repeat your fateful words.
EUPH. “Having been buried before —”
ZENO Are you sure you’re pronouncing my heaven-sent destiny?
EUPH. I have duly examined it.
ZENO Having explored heaven, earth, and the guts of the moon? Be quick and repeat that fatal oracle.
EUPH. “Having been buried before his death, he’ll breathe out his life in his grave.”
ZENO Oh, you owl with your accursed hooting! You wild echo! You trumpet of infernal Dis! (The king tries to choke the mage.) Let him spit out his tongue when his palate has been shattered.
EUPH. God’s faith, spare me! Oh, spare me in my old age.
ZENO You whose hideous lips spew forth such felonious words? (The king tears up the paper and crams it into the mage’s mouth. He leaves the mage half-strangled. Then, giving vent to his rage, he turns to the audience.) Take this, you hellish toad, eat my destiny along with these evil scraps of paper. Eat them, you herald of evils. Me be given to the Styx while living and seeing? I swear by the shallows of Avernus, if the grave consumes me, at the same time the world will be pulled down and fall to ruin. I shall bury cities in the soil together with their homes, I shall wreck kingdoms together with their peoples. I shall bring back ancient Chaos, with everything piled together in a single heap. I shudder to recall this. Alive in my grave? Oh, the crime! What wing will bear me high aloft, so that I might overwhelm those unkind stars with eternal night, rearrange the constellations, and wrench the fates of Caesar’s household out of the guts of these ill-omened stars? (He comes back to the mage.) Come, speak, you vulture, describe the man responsible for my murder.
EUPH. “A son of the court, with his face he feigns loyalty, with his words speaking of right and equity, while in his heart he schemes evil.”
ZENO His name?
ZENO You traitor, you three-headed dog, do you speak of things which ought to be kept silent, while holding your tongue about things it would be well to know? Is the stars’ reliability assured?
EUPH. Today will prove that.
ZENO And what misfortune will remove you from this life?
ZENO What? Will sleep remove you, when you stand so near to Charon, while the earth will swallow me alive, the head of this empire? The stars are mistaken, I’ll prove you are a liar. (The king stabs the mage within the stage-building.) Go ahead and die, you plague, let this sleep of steel remove you.
EUPH. Have pity, Caesar.
ZENO I’m killing an artist of deceit.
EUPH. Oh, the blow! I perish. Bring help, fellow citizens.
ZENO Go, and learn to speak more truthfully to Rhadamanthus.
EUPH. The throng of the silent! Oh!
ACT I, SCENE iii
Longinus unwittingly tries to kill Zeno.
Longinus retrieves the fleeing Zeno. They engage in a sword-fight.
LONG. Stand still and surrender your hands, you murderer.
ZENO He wounds me? Oh the great crime! Let my sword point pierce to his marrow.
LONG. Ply your lightning-like steel, Longinus. Let this damned fellow perish.
ZENO Let my enemy be slaughtered.
LONG. My fury breathes forth death. Yield, monster.
ZENO Oh, the tongue of Cerebus the dog!
LONG. Yield, or I’ll put you down with a permanent wound. (Longinus knocks Zeno to the ground and aims a lethal blow at him.)
ZENO Oh, spare me, brother!
LONG. Horror makes me quake in astonishment. Does my brother’s outcry strike my ears? Augustus!
LONG. Why indulge in this wild sport? Why make me a sinner by committing an unclean act of murder?
ZENO Your headstrong fury distorted your brotherly looks.
LONG. I swear by Orcus that I laid hands on you unwittingly, but nevertheless I disown the passion of my fury. I am ashamed to have made my sword guilty of impiety. If you doubt me, you may strike. My bosom is bared. (He offers Zeno a dagger and exposes his breast.)
ZENO Your good faith and chaste mistake makes your breast guilt-free and your hand unoffending.
LONG. But why hide your splendor under this concealing costume? Why are you alone? And why is Euphemianus soaked with his own blood?
ZENO The time rules out a discussion. The sky is growing bright. If the stars can be trusted, my destiny is preparing for me a fearful calamity.
LONG. I shudder at the omen.
ZENO So, after Phoebus has begun to broadcast his daylight, I shall convene a senate at court and despoil Harmatius’ household of its royal splendor. Soon the crown will be pressing down your hair. Joined to me as a companion in government, you may ease the darts of my savage misfortune. Let us have a meeting of minds, brother. (Clinging to his brother’s embrace, Longinus professes all these things.)
LONG. Receive my embrace. I invoke all the world’s justice and you too, rosy-faced Aurora, to you, alone, brother, I gladly consecrate this soul of mine, and whatever other sweet thing Nature has ever granted a mortal, my hand, my blood, my life, and my death. I am determined to expose my person to fearful risks. I am determined to enter Chaos, the world thrust aside, as long as I can piously protect my brother.
ZENO We’ve said enough. Phoebus is raising his locks. (Exit Zeno.)
ACT I, SCENE iv
Excited by hope of gaining the throne, Longinus rejoices.
Rise, you titan, and bathe me in the happier glow of your light. The happy day for which I have long sighed and constantly prayed has suddenly dawned on my affairs. Swell, my heart, and make room for joy. Let my mind, aware of its triumph, go soaring through countless rounds of applause. Now I rise up and touch the sky, I sweep the stars with the hem of my garment, I am a god. Why loiter in idleness, my mind? Why do you imitate the common folk by being content with second place? Aspire to loftier things, and raise up to their kindred heaven those sparks within you born of celestial seeds. See how the gentle breeze summons you with its sweet breath. It summons you, and the happy light of fortune encourages you as you make your way. If you are unaware, it is kingdoms that you seek. After all this time, should kingdoms not lie open for their seeker? Do you not yet feel your heart burning with ardent heat? I am afire: the frenzy for power prevails in my heart. The scepter overwhelms my passions. With this hope I shall pass through enemy armies unprotected, with this hope I shall suffer the thunderbolt of the threatening heaven, with this hope I shall visit the deep Styx while yet alive. It counts for nothing to you to be born of royal stock and to be the brother of a king, if you wear the yoke of servitude. You either rule or you’re a slave, at court there’s nothing in between. The rule of one brother over another is a heavy thing, since Nature created them equals on equal terms. I am ashamed to suffer this domination. But here I have an augury of the purple robe and the emblems of power. Being pious towards his brother, my brother shares the royal glory of an equal government. What man should refuse the gifts of smiling fortune? I, in fact, shall bear the rank and titles of kingship, but Zeno will control law and armaments. The universe does not tolerate two suns, nor will a realm accept two masters. I must rise higher. If one goes before mealong this path, even if he be heaven-born, he must be laid low. If someone tries to trip me up and slow me down, he must be laid low. If somebody should dare to match my pace, let my fury lash out at the fellow, he must be laid low. Steel greedy for lofty power knows no limit in shedding even kindred blood. But see, the palace door opens. I shall retire and observe the outcome of my fortune. (Hidden behind the curtain, Longinus observes what is said in the council.)
ACT V, SCENE v
ZENO, BASILISCUS, EUPHEMIUS THE PATRIARCH, PELAGIUS, URBITIUS, SEBASTIANUS, PHILARGUS, LONGINUS apart from the others
In violation of the pledge given his father, Zeno strips Harmatius’ son Basiliscus of his imperial emblems and banishes him the court. Finally, over the objections of Pelagius, he appoints Longinus as his heir-apparent.
ZENO Basiliscus, you must go away, far from the home of the Augustus, and by remaining standing in their presence you must learn to show reverence for great grandees, until that pride acquired from your position has ceased to puff you up. Forget your arrogance.,
LONG. Continue the way you are going.
ZENO You delay? Indeed, you must take your places a a man of the lowest station. (Basiliscus, who has been sitting at the emperor’s side, rises and stands lower than all the rest, like a man accused.) My lords, you see what a doubtful thing is the welfare of kings and kingdoms, how great a storm buffets proud homes that enjoy good fortune, how a brief day can steal away our life, flowing with the ongoing current of fleeting time. The weary toil of government has whirled me along in the revolving years of my government, bringing me to soft old age. My scepter requires a consort, who as his companion can lighten the Augustus’ burden of affairs, and who likewise can be his heir, the next in line to wield the reins of his vacant government. The huge prestige of Harmatius’ glory and his fidelity in great matters of state have given the scepter to Basiliscus. The boy, inflated and prideful beyond his lot in his Augustan mind, wearies the court. He is like a Phaeton plying his reins, My lords, you must fear a conflagration, if he drives the chariot.
BAS. Spare an innocent man, Caesar.
ZENO I forbid you to speak.
BAS. Grant me a trial.
ZENO By now, your case is clear enough.
BAS. Without a hearing?
ZENO Your arrogance has sufficiently pled your case. Servants, despoil him of his badges of office. (Basiliscus is deprived of his royal emblems and dressed in clerical garb.) Having been thus stripped and destined for consecration, let him wear a black cassock, as do priests. Let this base fellow tally his prayers and lift up his hands heavenward, since they are unfit for the scepter.
LONG. You have blessed me, brother. These spoils befit Longinus. The gown will hang better from these shoulders.
BAS. (To the audience.). Good. I am relieved. Depart, you crop of cares. Thus, happy with her insolent mockery, Fortune flaps her wings, and drags back down to the lowest position the man she has raised up on that lofty wheel of hers. Go now and, relying on the court, cast away your intellect, your good faith, your good name, your sense of shame and right, and your piety. Caesar, you have blessed me. I am relieved of a monstrous burden. I happily resign my lot in life. May God, Who steers the world, requite the man who engineered this.
ZENO Leave off, you plague, you exile from the Augustus’ court.
BAS. And a man nearer to heaven. (Exit.)
ZENO Decide, my lords, whose reign the Fates obey, who the world demands as the nearest personage to the throne. And yet, if you choose to weigh the matter in just scales, the royal pedigree devolves on Longinus.
URB. The man is ennobled by his lofty mind, his distinguished energy in undefeated war, his glory gained in triumphs, the conduct of his justice, and his peaceful arts.
SEB. And (which I consider the principal point), as your brother he alone can shore up the tottering dynasty of your Augustan race, and in future times can present it with blessed progeny.
PRO. Those whom Nature bade be equal in their birthright will be made alike by their splendid honor.
PHIL. Noble blood thrives in high government. Driven from its perch, it grows stale and chills within the veins. (In his notebook Longinus jots down the names of his supporters.)
LONG. I recognize my friends, I shall note them with golden letters.
ZENO Speak up, Patriarch. Tell us what you think.
EUPH. August sovereign, see how Christ’s ship is tossed about on the sea, buffeted by the threats of the warring winds! How storm-tossed the sea! The north wind, the ruler of the waters, presses us, bringing its whirlwind and floods. Now our ship is agape, all but overwhelmed by the sport of the raging sea. Many a tempest oppresses us, and its might overmasters our art. Sitting at the helm I struggle, but by myself I can scarce resist the gales. Caesar, either you must calm the parlous condition of the empire by your self, as long as the Fates permit you your life, or, if you choose to enlist a partner to relieve you amidst these laborious affairs, a man of great heart, summon him to the scepter as a support for our tottering empire.
LONG. You deceitful old man —
ZENO You utter the riddles of a Sphinx? What storms and floods will this going astray provoke? So am I being accused of having a slothful mind? I swear by heaven, a greater peace has scarce ever opened her bosom to the world, handsomely driving her triumphal car.
PEL. While wars deeply wound the fibers of our realm, every confusion of the vices, the plagues of Hell, Aegisthus’ great lust and the heat of Phaedra. Violence, craft, murder, and wrongdoing rage within. Your royal court spreads its evil through all ranks of society, widely spewing its mischievous bane. Today demands a great hero, Caesar, whose effort will set an example for the realm by his effort, for the common people by his care, for the great by his life, for good faith by his piety, to the guilty by his punishment, and to the well-deserving by his bestowal of honor. (Longinus writes down these words in his notebook.) The brilliance of the stars sheds their wholesome light on the world, but if a comet prevails, dragging its menacing tail of blood-red fire, alas, how much evil it betokened for the earth! Be careful to whom you entrust your scepter. A noble life makes men kings, not their blood. (In his anger, Longinus loses his patience, springs forth from concealment, and launches himself at Pelagius with drawn dagger.)
LONG. Oh, the tongue of this pestilential thief! My wrath, my wrath should condemn your bold-faced self to Jove of the Underworld.
URB. Put up your weapon, my prince!
LONG. Oh, the lying slander! I’m a comet aglow with blood-red fire? Take revenge, brother! You stand there. I shall nurse eternal fires in my vengeful mind. I have marked this man down for death. Enough. (Exit, furiously.)
PEL. Thus it is. The holy majesty of the reverend courtroom is a dead thing. Dread of the senate and our previously famous freedom of speech are dead things. Oh, heaven’s faith! Prince, you must defend the rights of the purple toga.
ZENO And you must learn to do a better job of moderating the heated slander of your words. The bold chatter of your uncouth mouth has wounded the leading men of the empire.
PEL. Deceit begets affection, truth creates hatred.
ZENO At the moment I am not concerned about men like Solon or Aristippus. Do you promote my brother to the scepter?
PEL. Madness undermines the realm when it advances a pair of such minds to the scepter.
ZENO Is this how one governs? Does this toadstool of a man deny to the Augustus the power to compel a recalcitrant man, such as violence can achieve? I swear by the shades of Tartarus’ lake, Longinus will rule. Let him be worse than Orcus, let him be a son of the Styx and the Furies, he will rule. The ruler of this great world commands it, even though the senate may grumble. Private citizens are governed by laws, kings by their will. A prince may go where he wishes. If any man objects, let that stubborn fellow gain control of the scepter. (As the furious Zeno exits, he throws the scepter at Pelagius’ feet. He picks it up from the ground, kisses it, and places its back on the imperial throne.)
ACT I, SCENE vi
PELAGIUS, EUPHEMIUS, TWO MESSENGERS, GAZAEUS, CHORUS OF BOYS
In the presence of the Patriarch, Pelagius complains about the morals of the royal court. The orator Gazaeus, presents the Patriarch with boys orphaned by Longinus.
PEL. Like a lioness furiously rushing through the vast expanses of fiery Libya after her cubs have been taken away, he persists. What rebellious emotions are possessed by uncontrolled anger! Oh, the plague of our times! Into what monstrosities do our days grow as they roll by! What a confusion of affairs! What a spectacle of vices prevails in all quarters! Madness is bringing down our realms. Good order does not control the courtroom, or fear of the law;, a pure mind does not govern our senate, Themis does not rule it. Here Orcus witnesses a sample of its horror. Right is a matter of arms, and agreements are broken at whim. Malice overturns good counsels. Ambition issues commands, violence carries them out, and the result matches those commands. Piety is banished, candor is abolished and is a dead thing. Astraea has broken her scales, and Shame her restraints. Honesty is held up for mockery, love has vanished into thin air. Envy tramples on peace, errors on good faith. All law has yielded place, every manner of wrongdoing has replaced it. What a savage fate for our affairs! How I see headstrong evil looming!
EUPH. Threats of a great catastrophe, I admit. When vapor is confined within a heavy cloud, it yields mists and fires. But is there no hope for a healing hand?
PEL. As far as I can see, there is no salvation. What can the stars hope for, when the sun’s brightness goes amiss? Zeno is drenching this realm with blood, that father of the vices, scorched by Venus’ flame, rotten with incest, soaked with gore, adept at the arts of a Circe. Longinus rages worse than his criminal brother and demands rule with his uncontrolled striving. Zeno supports him in his ambition. We openly resist and what do we gain? Weapons, violence, doomful threats. (Two messengers report to Pelagius that his country manor has been set afire and his fields burned by Longinus’ henchmen.)
MESS. 1 Woe! Fire, fire, fire! Bring help, my fellow citizens. Hurry, Pelagius, Longinus’ gang is ruining your fields, fires are racing through the happy works of your oxen.
PEL. God save me from this act of revenge.
MESS. 2 Woe! Fire!. The victorious blaze is raging within your orchards. We fear for your house.
PEL. The fire is doing nothing to devastate me. Whoever steals the spoils of fragile fortune is carrying off something not my own. No force of flame, no deceit will deprive me of the wealth stored up in my mind.
EUPH. Thus, thus you should oppose your heart to the threatening gale, you must stand upright by means of your own weight, calm in your attitude, and steadfast in maintaining your fearless mind. (Enter a chorus of boys, together with the orator Gazaeus.)
CHOR. Pity us, Metropolitan.
EUPH. Whence comes this chorus of boys, sad with their dirty faces? What news do you bring?
GAZ. This crew you see, dressed in squalid mourning weeds, have been deprived of their parents by the Augustus’ fury, with the help of his brother. The reason for such violent murder was either the comeliness of their mother, the prosperity of their happy home, or their father’s noble virtue.
EUPH. Oh, what a state of affairs! (They all kneel.) Oh You, the sole salvation of tottering kingdoms, you who shape the hearts of kings with Your craftsman’s hand and vengefully prosecute sins, oh put an end to this outrage. Oh, at length impose a limit on our topsy-turvy affairs. Look down on these evils suffered by these harmless children, on their pleading orisons to the Saints. And you, you champion of heaven, must indomitably interpose yourself. If a better fortune offers itself, seize the opportunity. Make haste, Gazaeus, but be cautious in entering the royal court. Then stand this innocent choir before the Caesars, let them behold this sad crew and read their own guilt in these boys’ glum faces. Overcome by these evil sights, perhaps they will break through the insensitivity of their own minds.
BOTH It is yours to command, and ours to obey.
EUPH. Meanwhile I shall abase myself and tally out my chaste prayers before the altars. May heaven favor our undertakings.
CHORUS OF MUSICIANS OR INTERLUDE
Go to Act II