To see a commentary note, click on a blue square. To see the Latin text, click on a green square.
ACT IV, SCENE i
PELAGIUS, HIS SON, ANASTASIUS
Pelagius instructs his son Erastus in the best precepts for living, while Anastasia secretly overhears.
PEL. Go, my son, return to Pelagius’ sad household and console your mother. The palace calls me, in accordance with heaven’s bidding: the palace, where I would have done better never to have set foot, the palace, that home of the vices, that den of crimes, that house which nourishes deceits, assaulted with many a storm of the sky and quaking of the earth with their loud onslaughts, that fearful building. Climb up, and you fall all the harder when you slip and take a tumble. My son, you glory of your father, graced with the beauty of youth, mindfully store up in your heart what I am about to say, these life-lessons.
SON Speak, my heart is open.
PEL. Now the malleability of your youth pulls you in this direction and that. This requires an effort which surpasses that of Alcides. Your life must be placed on a firm foundation, for life makes its way by invisible steps and brings you to the finish-line before the starting-gate has opened Your mind, having a kinship with heaven wants to soar up to the region of the stars, but the vices hinder the working of its wings, planting and burying its spark deep within the ground. Hence you must make your way with care. There exists a route traveled by the crowded throng, which admires evil and despises rectitude, and their assured error drags them into calamity. The way of austere virtue is rarely taken, yet on it your footsteps are firm.
SON I understand the distinction, father.
PEL. Discern the genuine from the fruitless. A handsome glitter shines on every hand: the gleam of wealth flashes, a golden light adheres to gold, and a ruddy one to the purple. Gems seduce the eyes, the doorways of the mighty shine, marble rises up with a proud appearance. Courtyards are thrown open, which ebb and flow with a bevy of well-wishers. Why take more time in pursuing a thousand examples of what I mean? The court, the king, the throne, and the robe attract the awe-stricken, empty-headed common folk. Oh, this vain shadow of light!
AN. But how enticing its brilliance!
PEL. And it is always deceptive. Implacable Furies lurk within. Anxiety spatters you with blood, the anguish of a deranged mind rage. Chaos lives within this false light.
SON So many evils lie hidden behind such a fair appearance!
AN. Oh, the sweet Siren! What elegance in its persuasion!
PEL. Pursue moderate things, my son, and do not raise your hopes above your station in life. Place your riches in your mind, being blessed within. He who loves happiness, placed above happenstance and Fortune’s wheel, let him assume the government of the world within himself, let him find repose within himself, and let him not imagine anything belongs to himself save for that which is stored up in his mind and shuns Fortune. This is the highway that will bring you to a happy home.
SON These precepts must be heeded, father, I am determined to confirm my mind in these admonitions. No day will accuse me of failing. I despise the pointless wheel of Fortune, having embraced the glories of the mind. A sense of shame dwells in my heart, nourishing piety, a chaste manner of life, and the possession of a face that matches the contents of my mind, even if Avernus howls its objection.
PEL. I approve of your fine character. Having this hope, go home. Farewell until I return. (Exit the son, enter Anastasius.)
ACT IV, SCENE ii
At Anastasius’ urging, Pelagius decides to visit Zeno.
AN. The time is ripe to advance my scheme. I’ll approach him. Oh, you salvation of our tottering empire, you pillar of its affairs. Lend a hand to our pleading nation, Pelagius.
PEL. Tell me, what calamity is suddenly weighing down our contry?
AN. Justice is a dead thing.
PEL. That’s an ancient evil.
AN. Caesar has broken his word.
PEL. Old stuff.
AN. Candor has succumbed to canniness.
PEL. A customary wrong.
AN. We’re all being overwhelmed.
PEL. May God avert our destruction!
AN. The sword is ravaging its way among the heads of our nobility.
PEL. I feared this too.
AN. A foul bane destroyed Gazaeus when he drank poison.
PEL. Oh, the crime of our kings! Gazaeus, that light of our city?
AN. Mighty for his eloquence.
PEL. A champion of the downtrodden.
AN. A sweet bulwark for good men, a terror for the evil.
PEL. He’s dead?
AN. He’s gone forever. But we are complaining about trifles. A greater evil than these is threatening us right now. Bring us help in our extremities, Pelagius. Zeno (oh, that disgrace for the realm!) swore before the stars of our eternal home that he would give the scepter to a son and abide in peace with a father, and he has broken both oaths. Harmatius has been taken by treachery, and will lose his head thanks to a false accusation. For this reason the soldiers distributed through our countryside have sworn vengeful ruin for the city, conflagrations, balls of fire, and a vast slaughter, if Caesar executes their general. Come to the aid our our nation, free this innocent from death.
AN. Oh God, You Who have the power, mend these evils.
AN. Deception is close at hand. Sway Zeno by your entreaties. If his heart remains stubborn, frighten him with your threats. Break through this crag, tame this oak, this bronze, this steel. He has often held you in awe when you were giving advice, he’ll dread you when you threaten. These national misfortunes bid you approach the king.
PEL. I’ll be glad to speak to him.
AN. I’ll enter the king’s private chamber first so that you will have an easy chance to address him.
ACT IV, SCENE iii
Before meeting with Zeno, Pelagius first commends the matter to God by praying in the royal chapel.
PEL. What makes you fearful, my mind? What dread pushes me backwards? Arise and assume the noble fires of strength, intention this honorable intention you have formed. Zeno must be addressed. What is he? The head of government. What’s a king? Take away his honors and he’s a man like all the rest. What is Man? Add becoming virtue and he’s a god. Add wrongdoing, and he is worse than wild beasts. If sin is piled on sin and crime upon crime, and a man is untouched by any shameful sense of law, either that of mankind or of the Thunderer, he will also be worse than the monsters of Hell. Should you dread such a wild beast, such a monster? I shall go where the welfare of my nation and heaven’s just cause summon me in my haste. (The royal chapel is opened at center stage. Pelagius takes a crucifix from its altar and prays, kneeling.) And behold, the doors open and the altar stands revealed. Christ, ruler of this world, judge of kingdoms and terror of kings, favor my undertakings. Grant strength to my mind, thunder to my eloquence, and a moderation that suits my cause. Grant me to shatter the proud arrogance of our rulers, and the ability to return to a course of peace. If someone unable to manage his anger should violate this body with his steel, grant me to end my life in an exalted state of mind. Let the shedding of my blood avert whatever evil threatens this frail world of ours.
ACT IV, SCENE iv
TWO ANGELS , PELAGIUS
While at his prayers, Pelagius enters a state of ecstasy and is fortified by divine intervention.
On either side of the altar, two angels appear on cranes, as if hovering in mid-air. They sing, and then they speak as follows.
ANG 1 Great warrior, you champion equal to the stars, your prayers have resounded in heaven. The glory of the victory-palm is yours. You are sponsoring the Thunderer’s cause when you attempt to sway the royal court, steadfast in the right. Crueller than a savage beast, the tyrant will brandish his weapons, hurl his threats, and burst with hatred. Nevertheless you must enter the royal household as a figure of menace, and, mighty with your rhetoric, you must thunder up its lofty turrets with your fiery eloquence. Your voice will shake the tyrants to the very core of their being, it will cut them to the quick.
ANG. 2 Soon you, the accused, will come before a dreadful tribunal. Walk without alarm. Have no fear, God will inspire you with strength. Virtue marches through woes with footsteps not unbecoming. She is greater when she confronts punishments, and she rejoices amidst hardships. Like flint when stricken, when she is assaulted in a conflict she scatters fiery sparks. Whatever transitory thing this earth may steal away, heaven will restore as a permanent one. Behold the the temple of the radiant sky. There you will be borne, enriched by your triumph and the spoils gained by your death. Let the chorus cheer this prediction in song. (An offstage chorus sings. Pelagius remains in ecstacy until he is placed under arrest.).Longinus, baffled in his rage, turns Pelagius into an object of hatred.
ACT IV, SCENE v
ANASTASIUS, LONGINUS, PELAGIUS
AN. Oh, what rare piety! Do you see how he assaults heaven with his prayers, prostrate before the altar? His quietude has driven him out of his distracted mind. He is cold with the chill of death, and his chest scarcely rises to show he’s still breathing (Anastasius retires.)
LONG. Go away, you blockhead. The place is free of witnesses. You have blessed me, Clotho, the beast continues to hunt its prey. Oh, you worthless weight on the earth! Oh, you disgrace to the world! You shapeless specter, you person consigned to Tartarus! Pray, plead, break your ribs with sobbing, bother the Saints, break down their doors, assault the Thunderer’s ears. No god will rescue you from me, assuming any would want to. You are an easy target for my deceits. But why is there any need for misrepresentation? I am only putting off my hoped-for revenge. Fortune herself has created an opportunity for my requiting hand. Only a thief will provoke and challenge hands bent on bloodshed. Hatred rules out delay, hatred of this damned person. Go ahead and commit a happy crime, Caesar. Fly at your enemy’s throat, ravage his guts. Let him be torn limb from limb into a thousand parts. Strip his bosom of its flesh. Let his eyeballs be gouged out, let his throat gurgle while he’s being throttled. Let him be altogether torn apart. Just as that dog used its rabid maw to rip Actaeon into a thousand shreds, so you must do: snatch him, rend him, chew him, slash him. Let your anger not relax until his heart, his hateful heart, has been ripped from its moorings, is crunching beneath your harsh teeth, chewed, then chewed again. (He draws his dagger and speaks to it.)
My dagger, my dagger drunken with liquid blood, you dagger mindful of revenge, you servant of my savage mind, wont to inspect the inmost guts of innocent men, here you must gather strength. See, you have a noble quarry. (With his finger he tests the sharpness of its point.) The tip of this blade is accustomed to being sharp when it pierces hearts. Faithful blade, wreak death within his guts. Get going. (He is pushed back by some unseen power.)
Horror makes my indomitable heart quake. Great horror attaches itself to my strivings as their companion. But once my undertakings are set in motion, they are woven well. Let me return to my plot’s beginnings. And yet panic frightens me once more. How timid is a guilty mind! I’m surely mistaken. He who commits trifling wrongs is timid, but you should call a man who commits every manner of felony bold. My enemy won’t get off this way. Summon up unaccustomed fury, Longinus, call upon your old-time spirit. If your anger’s edge is blunted, sharpen it on this whetstone. Does he breathe, does this man breathe who struggles to steal away your spirit, and yet you lie idle? Does he lord it from the highest summit, he who kicks you after you have been banished from your rank, and yet you stay your hand? Does he happily enjoy a good reputation, while besmirching a man who deserves the glory of rule with his lying slander? Longinus is a comet, spreading his tail of hateful fire? He said this, and yet he’s alive? Come, take a good look at him — and he’s alive? O swell up, my grief! You must act with all your fury and all your strength. (He hurls himself at Pelagius, but is suddenly laid prostrate.)
PEL. Jesus, lend Your hand to our collapsing nation.
LONG. Lord of Avernus, lend Longinus a hand. What a man his feeble muttering defeats! Violence is bested, heaven is obstructing my endeavors. I see I must act by craft, enough has been conceded to wrath. (He looks about in every direction. Soon he produces an effigy of Jove attached to a hollow rod. In the hollow space within the rod he places a letter, looking as if it were written to Harmatius. He removes the crucifix and places this in Pelagius hand. Then he quickly summons Zeno and his entire court.) My mind is ready, my scheme is prepared, the place is opportune, my enemy is exposed, and there is no witness. Good, then. I’ll put an image of Jove here, and let a letter from General Harmatius be placed inside it. Christ will yield this hand to Jove. Does this man worship gods reborn from tree-trunks?
ACT IV, SCENE vi
LONGINUS, PELAGIUS, ZENO, SEBASTIANUS, TWO SOLDIERS
Subjected to false accusations, Pelagius is imprisoned. Urbitius brings good news from the army.
LONG. Fetch the court, Caesar. Come hither, you lords. Do you see how he worships Jove with a bowed head?
ZENO By the Styx, he’s adoring an image of rotten wood.
SEB. Is this a bold-faced trick? (Pelagius remains ecstatic.)
ZENO God almighty! Am I deceived or am I seeing properly? Faith, hating this earth, has retreated to heaven. Pelagius?
PEL. Oh, You salvation of our reeling state, restrain your thunderbolt!
ZENO Is this how you dread Jove’s fire? You’ll have reason to fear another kind of flame, you plague on our empire.
PEL. Restrain those brothers.
LONG. The prayers of an ill-omened screech-owl! He lives?
SEB. And breathes?
ZENO And lives out happy, cloudless days? A hand, soldier, quickly. (Returning to himself, Pelagius throws away the Jove.)
PEL. Who has awakened me from my mind’s peaceful excursion? What a bestial sight! Christ, who has substituted this effigy of abominable Jove for Yourself?
ZENO Oh you fraud! I’ve found out your tricks. This is the way that you worship your accursed god with your kneelings and prayers, you sacrilegious fellow.
PEL. I abhor this great sin.
ZENO Your cheating is detected. Take him to the dungeon, soldier.
PEL. Hold your hand. I’ll go, there’s no need for manacles. Lead me to the tribunal, I appeal for a courtroom trial where, with heaven called to witness, it may be allowed me to purge myself of this accusation of fraud.
ZENO A trial will be granted to this petitioner. But first you must plan your defense while pent up in a stony cell. (The image of Jove is returned to Longinus. As if by accident, he comes across Harmatius’ letter and reads out its address in a loud voice.)
LONG. What’s this? HARMATIUS TO PELAGIUS, GREETINGS. Oh, supreme Lord above!
ZENO A crime, a terrible crime! A plot against the Augustus’ life. Oh, the traitor? Do you recognize Harmatius’ handwriting? Sebastianus, surround the accused with a guard. Let our soldiers keep a vigilant watch and protect the entrance to my royal house with their steel. (Pelagius is taken off in chains. Exeunt omnes except Zeno and Longinus.)
ZENO A blessed wind has brought our efforts to port.
LONG. With a fair whirlwind Fortune has spun her golden wheel in accordance with our will.
ZENO You may burst your guts, Envy. Longinus gets the scepter.
LONG. While matters are at the crisis-point, brother, push farther. I am afraid lest the the favor of the riotous common folk rescue our enemy, unless he dies a speedy death. Press on with his trial. Choose suborned witnesses.
ZENO I understand, I shall not delay. (Enter Urbitius, returned from the camp.) I hoped you would return. Tell me, how does the matter stand?
URB. Appeased by your gold, the soldiers pray you live forever. They damn Harmatius to Tartarus and its Furies. Then, at my command, they have grounded arms, setting their hearts on the idleness of summertime peace. Five cohorts, gleaming in armor, have set up their standards along the walls, intent on staging a show of mock-battle when your brother is inaugurated and mounts his new throne.
ZENO Take my hand, Urbitius, as a token of my favor.
CHORUS OF MUSICIANS OR INTERLUDE
Go to Act V