THE RESCUED CROSS
Chosroes, the right puissant king of the Persians, ennobled by the slaughters he inflicted on the Roman Empire, after having added countless Christian cities to the empire of Persia, at length cast his upon Jerusalem, and captured and pillaged it. Among the other despoiled treasures he brought to Persia, two were most distinguished: Christ’s most august Cross and Zacharias, the bishop of the city. Excessively elated by this victory, the barbarian rejected the most honorable conditions for peace repeatedly offered by the Roman emperor Heraclius, not without arrogance. Trusting in God, Heraclius reassembled his scattered forces, and with the remainder of his men defeated three very powerful armies of Chosroes. In the final battle, after the Persian general Razates has died by his own hand, he takes his victorious army and marched on Seleucia, where Chosroes had fled. But before that Chosroes appoints Medarses his heir, passing over his elder son Siroes. Siroes, with the help of satraps, fetches back his father and brother from their flight, kills them, and returns the Cross to Heraclius.
ST. MICHAEL an archangel
HERACLIUS Roman emperor
THEODORUS his brother
CHOSROES king of the Persians
SIROES, MEDARSES his sons
PHILOTAS, governor of Seleucia
CONSTANTINUS, HERACLIUS sons of Heraclius
ZACHARIAS patriarch of Jerusalem
CLEARCHUS master of horse
BONOSSUS, THRASYBULUS councilors
CAMILLUS, CETHEGUS tribunes
MEMNON, ORONTAS satraps
PAMPHAGAS, OCNUS mages
GHOST OF HORMISDAS king of the Persians
AIGLE, ARETHUSA, HESPERETHUSA the Hesperides
IDOLATRY, ERROR, PRIDE
THE EUPHRATES, THE TIBER
THE SEVEN PLANETS
The Church, accompanied by Virtue and truth, is anxious about the Cross, but is encouraged by St. Michael, who shows her the future sequence of events and their appearance.
CHURCH When will that Tree with its golden foliage bless my bosom once more? Lately that greatest treasure of the world was willing to enjoy my embrace, but now (keen sorrow chokes my voice!) the profane fury of the all-destroying Persian robs me of its most sweet wood, leaving me only lamentations. (She shows children and captive Christians.) Behold the companions savage Chosroes has left me! This throng of orphaned children mourns their fathers, killed in battle, and their sobbing wrenches much weeping from me. On the other side, the noble race of Christians mourns its captivity. Some bewail their amputated legs, while the sword has lopped off the hands of some and the arms of others. (They carry hoes and implements.) And yet the tools of agriculture burden their hands. Comrades of my faith, tell me the sweet cure for this evil sorrow.
VIRT. Maiden beloved to the heavenly choir, use your thumb to wipe your wet cheeks, let this rain of grief grow dry. Even if a roiling sea is now tossing Peter’s barque, profound peace will swiftly still the warring floods, as soon as the the sweet light of the Tyndarids shines its friendly torches from their starry citadel, the waves subside, the battles of the winds fall silent, the foam breaks off, and the sea smiles all the more when the clouds are banished. Christ cannot be forgetful of his bride.
TRUTH Christ wants those He loves to be like Himself. Fire proves the ore of gold to be precious, and Christ tests the faith of His followers with adversities. Come, gird your heart with adamant. If the world’s shattered machinery suffers a collapse, you must fearlessly prop up its ruin. Assault the King of Heaven with your prayers, and perhaps He will return the Cross, overcome by your complaints, or he will eventually grant you to suffer with patience the Cross’ bold theft.
CHURCH I shall besiege heaven’s bright towers with prayers. (They kneel.) Christ, glory and darling of the supernal beings, turn no deaf ear to the lamentations I pour forth. Behold, Persia holds my dear folk captive. It tramples on me with its foot, harmful to Your blood. Let the vine return to its native soil, that vine on whose tendrils You hung as a blood-red cluster, and were trampled by Jerusalem’s criminal foot. Oh, may the anchor of my salvation return! Thus, I pray, may the Tigris submissively surrender its servile urn and learn to pay tribute to my Tiber.
ST. MICH. Virgin, heaven has agreed to your prayers. Lo, on your behalf my sword pours forth avenging fires. This steel smites the pride of barbarians. Do you see? (He shows angels clad in armor on either side.) The entire heavenly host fights beneath your standards. How it wields its swords! How it casts its spears in a fearful storm! (He brandishes a shield.) Blessed are you, for now you fight under the protection of the supernals’ shield, the conquering laurel will garland your hair. Come, direct your two eyes in this direction, raise up your countenance at the same time that you arise from your knees. (Idolatry embraces her sons.) Do you see how Superstition places herself on an arrogant throne. Do you see how she clasps to her bosom her disgraceful offspring on both sides? Error clings to her right side, Pride to her left. And over here the patriarch of Jerusalem lives on, plunged in a dark dungeon. (The clank of chains.) The chains are groaning within. Thus the Euphrates is insulting the Tiber, swollen with its insolent pride. Yet resume your good cheer, abandon your womanly fears. (He shows Heraclius’ threefold trophy of victory.) Do you see Heraclius’ trophies? His foreign spoils, taken from three generals? But the rest of his splendid booty, which dazzles the eye, rightfully claims the central position for its splendor. (Chosroes worships an idol of the sun with incense.) Chosroes, it is in vain that you worship a deaf god with your Arabian fumes. Put down your casket of incense, its tears cannot dry yours. (Siroes holds a bow, aimed at his father.) They cannot stay the hand of Siroes. This smoke of Sheba dissipates into thin air. (Heraclius carries the Cross to Mt. Calvary.) Here’s a scene worthy of new amazement! This man who bears the sweet weight of the Cross, dressed in a golden cloak, is Heraclius, that captain of captains, a source of terror to the Euphrates and the bulwark of your empire. He seeks the summit, not unlovely because of Christ’s blood. But see how his steps are hesitant! His knees, knowing not how to be moved, are paralyzed. Quickly shed that proud costume. (He sheds his purple cloak and dons one made of rags and patches.) The blood-red of the Cross does not love Tyrian dye. Put on a cloak woven by some unskilled Minerva, this dress is pleasing to the supernals. Go forward, and plant the new shoot of life there where its golden foliage first sprouted forth. (He plants the Cross on the mountain.) Well done, the plant revives on that sanctified hill. Now you may give free rein to your joy. You behold both the Cross and the Cross’ champion.
CHURCH I behold the tree of my salvation, the sweet glory of the forest. I behold the hero, greatly brilliant among warriors. (The curtains are drawn, [and Michael disappears from sight.]) I do not see him, the vision has suddenly passed. So has heaven fled, swift on its winged car? Yes, heaven has departed. But this makes up for its loss, that the wholesome plant of the Cross will return once more to the soil of the Jordan. (Exeunt.)
ACT I, SCENE i
The ghost of Hormisdas, murdered by his son Chosroes, demands vengeance this day. He emerges from a subterranean cave.
HORM. Rise up, Hormisdas. Leave the chaos of your tearful cave. Adieu to chains, red-hot plates of iron, wheels, the fiery streams of Dis, and whatever that unlovely region possesses, Gorgons, Furies, the three-throated dog.. But I’m mistaken. Avernus pursues Hormisdas on no slow foot. Though I may leave the caverns of the sinful, I cannot escape myself. All of Orcus is lodged in the breast of Hormisdas. Dark death, use your fatal hand to ply your spear, empty all your quiver into my breast. Better to lose your life a single time than to be forever a-dying. Look at my empty Avernus, Chosroes. Call on riverbanks heated by flaming pitch, boiling lakes of lead, the ghosts of children: these are the deluded dreams of a sick mind, manufactured fears. This day you will learn how much the furnace torments your sinful father, yourself roasting in a blazing oven. Megaera is readying a throne glowing with a fiery decoration of gold. You shall recline next to your father on a burning couch. We shall both toss and turn in the pit of Tartarus. But a weightier Aetna will rest on your shoulders. Shame has been trampled underfoot, the sacred bonds of wedlock have been violated, the shrines of the Saints leveled to the ground, their heaven-revered remains disturbed, the home of Jerusalem pulled down, the Cross, that jewel of heaven, stolen by your sacrilegious hand, and your father’s bloodshed, things that demand the Thunderer’s avenging lightning. Beware the wrathful weaponry of heaven, you spawn of vipers. For now that your father has been murdered, this is the only name that remains for you. (He shows the club with which he was killed.) Do you see this truncheon, smirched with my brains? Was it not enough to use the steel putting out my eyes, depriving your father of the light of day he had previously given to you? Why did it you please you to beat out his groaning soul with a club, heavy with knots? My grandson is sharpening his arrows on a bloody whetstone, and is destining you as the plaything and target of his fury. Siroes will not let his grandfather go unavenged. Blood seeks blood. (Exit.)
ACT I, SCENE ii
Chosroes insolently boasts of himself. Medarses vainly seeks to intervene on behalf of his brother, imprisoned because the soothsayers had predicted that his own reign would be unfortunate.
CHOS. I congratulate you, boy. Soon the world’s crown will sit on that head of yours. Whatever Phoebus sees from his celestial palace, whether he looks down on the regions of Memnon’s world or if he bathes the western realms with his setting light, all of this is yours. Seated in his gleaming citadel, a single ruler of the stars governs the lesser lights, let Medarses alone rule the world’s empire.
MED. My brother will steer the helm of empire with a happier hand, let him aboard your ship as its Tiphys. (He kneels.) Father, in the name of the martial lightning of your indomitable hand, and in the name of Medarses’ hopes, if you are determined to despoil my brother of his scepter, at least allow him to enjoy the free air, let him leave his prison’s dungeon.
CHOS. You beg on behalf of that plague on our nation, my son? Your foolish words go a-flying in the winds, when it comes to Phaethons my bridle will not be gentle. I swear by the homes of the supernals, soon the conquered world will worship my Medarses.
MED. We scarcely control a corner of the world, father, and yet you promise me the whole of it? The terror of arms is thundering, and increasingly Heraclius’ fearsome genius is putting our Persian gods to rout. Mars blesses Heraclius’ head with a Castalian laurel. How many warlike captains has he sent down to Orcus with his death-dealing sword? He is setting the Tigris afire with slaughters, nor are our fields as watered by Jove’s rain as they are by blood, a fine crop is flourishing thanks to these killings. Oh, would that I were a mistaken soothsayer, father! But I fear, ah I fear lest he despoil me of my thriving empire.
CHOS. Suppress your ill-boding fears, son. At the stamp of my foot, I shall make countless legions protect my Medarses with their shields. What? Heraclius defeat Chosroes when he is still suffering from his wound? Ask the dead Phocas, my boy, how greatly your father flashes amidst hostile battalions. I likewise call on the Nile, overflowing its banks because it is filled with barbarian blood, to bear witness how greatly this novel flood has ruined the efforts of its oxen. Once again, a leveled Carthage has experienced her Scipio. Let others waste ten years on their Pergamene War, by lashing out I have added Achilles’ palm to my laurel. If there were no monument to my achievements other than the seizure of the fatal wood of the Cross, would not this single plant recommend my martial prowess? Whoever possesses this Christian tree also holds captive the Christians’ destiny. For a long time Christ has submitted His arrogant neck to the Persian yoke. Let a bumper foaming with wine keep your gnawing cares at a far distance. (The curtains are opened.) Behold, the door is opening on its hinge. Your father’s table summons you. (He reclines with his son.)
ACT I, SCENE iii
Elated by vain pride, Chosroes’ court takes time for a banquet. As they are drinking the Euphrates summons the planets, so that they might congratulate the sun, the ruler of the planets and, as he imagines, the Persians. And, since this single star is Lucifer in the morning and Hesperus in the evening, in the present passage it therefore assumes a double identity.
CHOS. Take your seats, my satraps. Let this happy day pass by in a cloudless orbit. Let even stony Niobe suppress her tears. Let our happy shouting rise up to the stars. Come, let us drink goblets full of nectar, until Aurora rises out of Bacchus’ ruddy sea. Either this cup or the next will bring you health, my son. (He drinks.)
MED. Let this garland-crowned cup add to my father’s crowns. (He drinks.)
CHOS. Now let the earth groan, stricken by our dancing feet. I am minded to dedicate this day to my good genius. (Enter the Euphrates.)
Phoebus, abandon your shining home in heaven. Abandon the quill of your lyre, you ruler of the stars. Bring the Hours with you. Do not delay, you august king of lights.
Let the great genius of the Persians honor the father of the Muses. Be appeased, Saturn. The star Jupiter does not like wars, he is scarce ever angry. (The planets enter individually in the order that they are invoked.)
Abandon your fulminating threats, Mars, the quarrel is between lovers. Be friendly to Phoebus, Mercury. Come, Venus, nor let the light of serene Hesperus anticipate you. (A dance.)
ACT I, SCENE iv
Coming from the battlefield, Nicomachus interrupts the banquet to announce a catastrophe. First Chosroes rails at Nicomachus for delivering this news, and then he appoints Medarses heir to his kingdom. He ejects the magi who falsely predicted his victory. Enter Nicomachus.
NIC. Great brilliance of the Persians, give a patient hearing to Nicomachus’ words.
CHOS. What? Has Razartes taken Heraclius’ camp?
NIC. Would that Nicomachus’ tongue were speechless!
CHOS. Why weave these meanderings, worthy of Daedalus’ Labyrinth? You keep my mind in suspense overmuch. Speak, tell me how matters stand.
NIC. Alas! That pillar of our crumbling kingdom, that hero who rose up as high as heaven, has fallen.
CHOS. Has the better part of my mind, the sweet person of Razartes, fallen?
NIC. He has fallen, stricken in a lost battle. He was a mighty warrior. And yet he is the greater hero who conquered that indomitable man.
CHOS. Describe the manner of his death. Did one man do in that captain, or did an entire cloud of horsemen?
NIC. For a long time, hand was opposed to hand, foot to foot, men to men, and the battle hung in the balance. At length both generals grew impatient of delay and put spurs to their horses. As when thunderbolts create great crashes and the world shudders, so they both thundered with their hostile weapons. The fire shot forth by the commanders’ fierce eyes rivaled the sparks produced by their clashing steel. Why say much? The Persian sought his enemy’s face with the point of his wounding sword, but the Greek threw up his shield and avoided the sword’s onslaught, having only a small taste of the stroke. Then the enemy, his passion aroused by fury, grimly smiled and said, “Let’s see if this sword does a better job of piercing.” He spoke and, slicing through seven layers of ox-hide, drove the wound deep. The shield created no delay for the brazen spear-point’s blade, nor did his helmet protect his head. Behold, Razates’ head hung from both his shoulders! The huge man fell to the ground and the earth trembled. Perceiving that their ranks were bereft of their general, the Persian soldiers immediately turned tail in disgraceful flight. I alone stood against the undamaged Roman cohorts, holding myself steady by my bulk while a hail of missiles sought my breast, until I perceived that I was surrounded on all sides by a circle of enemies. I was straightway brought to Heraclius’ camp. He bade me bring you the news and also added something which which my chagrin scarcely allows me to say, that the final day for Chosroes and the Persians is now at hand.
CHOS. He lies. The stars protect Chosroes with their stout shield, all of heaven’s host will come at the sound of the Persian trumpet. It is not for nothing that the Persians worship the ruler of the starry sky. Let a herald come here immediately. (Enter Hermes.) Go and tell that the enemy that, if martial ardor is firing his heart, let him complete his new slaughters in single combat with myself.
HERM. I obey your orders, Caesar. (Exit.)
CHOS. Gods above! From his tripod he is predicting my final day. Heaven will not see me perish, unless the world perishes with me. Did your blade only spare the enemy, Nicomachus, so that he might spew forth evil from his arrogant mouth?
NIC. This sword does not know how to be plunged in a king’s breast, unless he is fighting in armor in a hostile battle-line.
CHOS. Wasn’t he fighting? So why was your sword quiet then?
NIC. I call on the god of battles, and on you souls beneath Avernus, to bear witness how many victims I offered up to that bloodthirsty, iron god.
CHOS. Your hand meted out death with impunity? No wound is visible on the front of your body. You timidly took to your heels.
NIC. [Bares his breast.] Behold my breast, blooded by a scarce-unbecoming wound.
CHOS. That’s a trifle. You ought to have purchased my palm by death in battle.
NIC. And yet if no opportunity for death were offered, would you bid me die by my own hand?
PHIL. August sovereign, it is relying on your goodness that I shall utter what I am about to say. Your royal safety is at stake, the enemy approaches. Countless cities to which you can retire offer themselves. The interior of Persia opens its friendly bosom. Sometimes it is good to yield in the face of a storm. Your enemy cannot entrust the glory of winning the palm to the throw of a dice involved in single combat, and you must place the fate of the kingdom on a safe foundation. By my own intervention I shall ward off whatever threatens.
CHOS. I praise Philotas’ loyalty amidst fearful circumstances. But I am resolved to make trial of the shifting fortunes of war. And yet, inasmuch as the dark Parcae weave threads for kings and Irus that are scarce unalike, before Lachesis breaks off my years with her cruel thumb, I appoint Medarses heir to his father. Mars gave him is strong right hand, Minerva his brain, Faith created his heart, and the whole choir of the Graces shaped his lips.
MED. The band that encircles royal hair better suits my brother’s locks. He was the first to apply his lips to our mother’s breast. Should a younger brother dare steal a scepter from an elder one? Piety objects, nature’s laws forbid.
CHOS. Nature’s laws bid us punish the guilty. You are beating your fists against adamant. I swear by the bevy of the stars and my own divinity that, even if your brother bursts with envy, your father’s purple will shine on your shoulders, my son. Applaud Medarses with voice and heart, you satraps.
PHIL. An eagle never begets doves, and a brave father never sires a son of a different stripe. Long live Medarses, let him steer the reins of empire.
ALL Long live Medarses, let him steer the reins of empire. (Enter the mages.)
PAMPH. Flee, flee, my prince. The blare of the hostile trumpet pierces my ears.
CHOS. Let the trumpet split its sides, and likewise you mages. Go, you liars, you crew consecrated to black Dis. Pick up your steps and never again set foot in the court of Chosroes.
OCNUS What fault condemns us?
CHOS. Innocent Ocnus asks what fault condemns them. Where are my laurels, you blockhead? Where are my trophies, set up over conquered heaps of dead? Do you always manufacture a lying tongue for heaven? Do the sinister entrails of animals always portend favorable things? (They kneel.) Speak no more words to me.
PAMPH. Caesar, in the name of the hope you place in Medarses, I beg you, let us live under the shade of your sacred name.
CHOS. Rather you should live under the shade of the Styx. I have no time to listen to the empty trifles of a mage.
PAMPH. Great father of the hosts of heaven, set the whole sky afire with your avenging fire.
CHOS. Depart, you plagues. (They arise and exit.) Perhaps the ruler of the starry court will give a propitious hearing to those exiles. Time is flying by on its winged car, our enemies are at hand. I have entrusted the city to you, Philotas. Crown its walls with a new rampart, and if time does not permit you to dig ditches, you yourself must be its wall. And while you dirty your cheeks with your nation’s beautiful dust and pour forth your soul on her bosom, let Nicomachus have a great care for his own parcel of land. (Exeunt omnes except for Nicomachus.)
ACT I, SCENE v
Nicomachus plots revenge with Philotas, who decides to release Siroes from his chains.
NIC. “Let Nicomachus have a great care for his own parcel of land?” Fine advice! I am bloodied by a double wound. The one bit into my breast with harmless steel, but the other lays my heart bare. This wound remains deeply fixed in my mind, this wound ought to be healed with your blood: thus you have given me a blow in my very marrow. Oh tongue worthy of that three-throated dog! Will fear stigmatize me as a coward? Me, who stood alone atop a heap of the dead? Me, who as a mere boy waged wars worthy of being hymned by the Muses? Me, who by myself withstood the indomitable wrath of Mars, when Persia turned tail? But why sing my be-laureled triumphs on a pointless lyre? This cause has no need of words. Even if I myself am silent, my scars are eloquent enough. Would that the noble shades would speak from the wan lake of Dis, that my enemies would be my spokesmen! (Enter Philotas.)
PHIL. (To the audience.) He walks at a troubled pace, his brow is beclouded. He stops, he falls silent, he indignantly tosses his arms about, he groans, he issues threats, against their will his eyes brim with tears. He is hatching something. I shall approach. (Nicomachus draws his sword and places it to his breast.)
NIC. So shall you fall, unavenged? Better, ah better, my wrath! (Philotas checks his hand.)
PHIL. Nicomachus, what are you doing?
NIC. My sweet other half, let me lose the hateful light of day. I have lived more than enough.
PHIL. Do not destroy two men with a single death. If I’m your sweet other half, the same fates needs must drag us both down, the same manner of death. If you breathe, I shall breathe too, but if you die, I shall likewise. Settle your mind, let your sword love its peaceful hiding-place once more.
NIC. You win, oh loyal fellow. Philotas, you win. (Sheathes his sword.) I shall continue to look at the light of the hateful sun, I shall live on, disgraced, wretched, isolated from the world, a butt of laughter for heaven and earth, rather than use my steel to cut off the life-thread of my Philotas. You are the witness of my secret mind, you know what thorn pricks my heart. Does nothing occur to you that might ease my wound?
PHIL. Time’s passage soothes the bitterness of grief.
NIC. My mind loathes delays. Sharp pain knows no slow remedies.
PHIL. You want a swift cure?
NIC. Salvation never arrives on too-swift wings.
PHIL. The father has wounded you, but perhaps the son can land a blow. You are not unaware of indignant Siroes’ spirits, let him wield an avenging thunderbolt on behalf of himself and you.
NIC. He languishes buried in a dungeon.
PHIL. He can be released. The soldiers will obey my will.
NIC. But if the boy submits his throat to his bloodthirsty father once more, we are ruined.
PHIL. Let prison’s dark cell protect the son until his father takes to disgraceful flight. When the father abandons his subjects to the enemy’s fury, let the son emerge from his shady dungeon. The people worship a rising sun, but reject a setting one.
NIC. But if Chosroes returns, swollen with his enemy’s spoils, he will never resort to dishonorable flight.
PHIL. Will our enemy allow the laurel to elude his grasp? Will the conqueror offer his throat to the conquered? Nobody but a moon-struck man would wish to side with a stricken captive. Let the winds carry off your vain fears, it is sufficient for our enemies if the Persians die a single time.
NIC. I like this furtive means of revenge. Soon Siroes will be staining his hand with his father’s blood, and if any unpopularity for the deed follows his death, let it all fall on Siroes. We are innocent. I adore the inventiveness of your brain, you are the architect of our destiny. Come, let us clasp hands, I like this sweet bond of affection more than if the Pactolus were to drench my hand with its gold-bearing water. Chosroes, your disgraceful freedom of speech is your downfall. With how much blood will you atone for your tongue’s baleful scourge?
PHIL. He’ll pay forfeits to us both. May heaven be favorable. (Exeunt.)
Go to Act II