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ACTUS III, SCENA i
Having entered the city peacefully, Heraclius thanks God, and then his commanders. He is informed about the arrival of suppliant Siroes.
HER. (After a trumpet sounds.) At length Euphrates laments its blunted horns and unwillingly acknowledges the Tiber as its master, drowning itself in its own tears. At length this giant, which attempted to pull down heaven with its hands, has experienced heaven’s forked lightning. Alas, at what a blow has it fallen, prostrated! The son has aimed a bow at his father, a father who had previously given over his own father to a criminal death. Thus Themis decrees, thus a parricide dies by a parricides’ steel. (They kneel.) O great Ruler of heaven, from Whose hand the vanquished received cypress and the victor has his laurel, You Who tame arrogant pride and break proud spirits, I offer my victory-palm at Your feet. I acknowledge that heaven is waging this war, I acknowledge that it is the victor. (They arise.) You generals born of Mars, the glory is yours, second only to heaven. Theodorus, your trophies demand first place.
THEO. If my spear-point is achieved anything in a favorable battle, it was the brilliance of our Augustus that inspired my blow. When the fields are parched by the Dog Star’s baleful heat, Jupiter does not refresh the fields with the nectar of his rain as much as you refresh me in my passion, Caesar, and give new strength to my battle-weary hand. Water flows to the ocean, light to Phoebus, and strength to my hand, issuing from great Caesar’s hand.
HER. No passage of time will obliterate the memory of Cethegus’ wounds. As long as laurel wreaths the hair of brave captains, the Persian will acknowledge your thunderbolts, Camillus. On happy wings Cethegus’ glory will fly soar above forgetful men.
CLEAR. The supernals guide your hand, August. It is a small thing that the earth serves you with its subdued neck, heaven is eager to fight on your side. The north wind rushes forth from Aeolus’ prison, armed, and joins trumpet to tuneful trumpet. Though arrows fall like hail, it repels them with its blast and your enemies are pierced by their own shafts.
CAM. In vain Mimas and Briareus pile mountains atop mountains, in vain Erebus harries the ethereal home. Heaven’s shield protects a pious prince. With you, I will gladly face clouds of iron, with you I shall confront the thunder of cruel Mars. Whoever faithfully sides with our Augustus may scorn the massed forces of our enemies, being protected by the wings of heaven.
CETH. Ah, how often has your ardor inspired us! I perceive that the forces hostile to me cannot bear to look upon the sight of my sovereign, their battle-line has experienced the strength of your arm. Just as Jove’s indomitable servant follows Venus’ feeble birds, flying in a fearful flock, pursuing and buffeting them with the frequent strike of its curved beak, just so you harry the fearful camps of the Tigris. Even if all the forests of twin-peaked Parnassus were to weave a garland for your temples, unconquered prince, it will never weave one equal to the glories of Heraclius. (Enter Thrasybulus and Bonosus.)
BON. Augustus, in lieu of a great reward, Siroes craves to kiss your hand.
HER. Good. Farewell, you scions of heroes. Heal your bodies with vintage wine, Bacchus is wont to restore exhausted strength. (Exit the generals and soldiers.)
ACT III, SCENE ii
Thrasybulus urges Heraclius to depose Siroes. Bonosus argues that he should be confirmed on his throne, and Heraclius embraces his advice. Heraclius is seated on his throne.
HER. Should Siroes sit on his father’s throne? Tell me, I’ll weigh your advice in an just balance.
THRAS. What? Should a parricide control his ancestral scepter? Will a man who cannot spare his father’s blood be sparing to his subjects? If a Phaethon wields the reins in his arrogant hand, the world can expect conflagrations.
BON. Why did his father despoil him of royal brilliance, though he did not deserve it? Hands and feet bound in hard shackles, restless repose, sleepless sleep, oblivion as dark as the blackness of Acheron, hunger, thirst — are these a father’s gifts?
THRAS. He’s still alive, since he hard-heartedly did away with his father.
BON. The fear of death is worse than death itself. Siroes sent his father down to the Styx only once, hoping this would be welcome to Caesar. His father made Siroes die a thousand times.
THRAS. But what did the innocent boy Medarses deserve? Why did he nip that innocent rose in the bud?
BON., Didn’t Romulus, the father of the Romans, sully his rising citadels with the blood of Remus? But Remus had not despoiled Romulus of his purple. Heaven will not tolerate two sons, nor will the scepter allow a pair of kings.
THRAS. God made the bond of blood stronger than adamant, it is a sin to do violence to this tie. Just because your father and brother have been harsh to you, will you therefore trample upon God?
BON. I do not praise his deed, but it is nonetheless the mark of a mild nature to spare a suppliant. God protects suppliants with His kindly embrace.
HER. (Standing up.) I myself will imitate the merciful heart of the King of Heaven. But when will the great patriarch illuminate my house with the presence of his light? When will grant me a hoped-for embrace? Come, let him immediately enter the palace.
THRAS. I see seem to be winged, in compliance with my king’s will. See, the father is coming here of his own will. (Enter Zacharias. Exeunt Thrasybulus and Bononus.)
ACT III, SCENE iii
Having been received with kindness, Zacharias intercedes for Siroes. Siroes follows, and the scepter is given back to him on certain conditions.
HER. Am I truly looking on the venerable father’s face? Do you live, or is your shade deceiving me?
ZACH. I live, you salvation of Christian folk, and I gladly witness the laurels achieved by your hand.
HER. Grant me your embrace, venerable patriarch. Grant it. (He does so.) I like this embrace, like ivy clinging to a poplar. I like hanging on the great patriarch’s neck, I like having his breast sweetly pressed to mine. Emaciation has been consuming his cheeks in a protracted death. Has the Persian thus emaciated my father?
ZACH. It would be a lengthy business to describe Chosroes’ hate. Whoever has an interest in reading the annals of my sorrow would be asking for an entire Iliad, so I’ll only summarize its chapter-headings. My chamber was a dungeon, its floor my bed, and scraps of moldy bread served as my luxurios banquets. But Siroes, that worthy scion, took it upon himself to unlock my shackles, bidding me dine at his table and forget his father’s hatred, a man who should not have had Chosroes for a father. And it is on his behalf that I fall at your feet, Caesar. (He kneels.)
HER. A bishop humbly clasp my knees? What are you doing, father? Discard the graceful obsequiousness of the court. Ask, and consider whatever you request to be accomplished.
ZACH. Siroes has always been a friend of our empire. He removed the chains from my arms, and it was for your sake that he could not spare his father. He has bestowed on you this city and rule over the Persians, and not even reserved his own person. He is eager to plant a sacred kiss on your feet, he is eager to return the sacred wood of the Cross. If you would consent to return his father’s realm to the young man, you would be planting Minerva’s olive amidst the laurels of Mars.
HER. The special glory of Heraclius is to lay low rebels and spare the afflicted. I gladly restore his father’s realm to Siroes, as long as he returns to me the sacred Tree of salvation. (Enter a youth.)
YOUTH Caesar, Siroes is waiting at your royal threshold.
HER. Oh, well done! Let him be escorted inside. [Enter Siroes.]
SIR. Augustus, you are the first man to behold Siroes as a suppliant. And yet, as a suppliant he gladly creeps to your altar. (Kisses his hand.) I grasp a hand second only to that of Jove. We have experienced the thunderbolt of your hand more than enough. At length you should set aside your threatening steel. I pray, let the gentle nature of the kindly victor temper the general’s wrath. Whatever Tigris and the Euphrates iririgate with their friendly streams waters your laurels.
HER. Arise, prince. If my hand has wounded you, it will also give you an instant cure. This day my sword must imitate the spear of Achilles. The victory-palm which customarily makes commanders headstrong has the effect of curbing my proud spirits. My enemy terrifies me more in death than he did in life. Chosroes’ pyre teaches that be-laureled victors can die, and that I am standing in the same place from which he has fallen. Come, wield the scepter with a better hand, you must grasp the reins with adroitness if you are going to be king of your realm. Although Tartarus has never held a monster more savage than your father, it was nonetheless a sin to redden your arm with your father’s blood. But I forbear to reopen this wound with a sharp fingernail, lest the pain return. I shall give you your kingdom, if you give me the Cross, more valuable than kingdoms.
SIR. I shall give it up, undamaged.
HER. [To Zacharias.] Join your sacred step to mine, you great glory of the Jordan. This celestial plant requires consecrated hands.
ZACH. I seem to feel the wings of love attached to my feet.
SIR. If you permit, great victor, let the ashes of my father and brother be stored up in a single golden urn.
HER. Let their pyre rise up to high heaven, they are both kings.
SIR. As long as the bright blows of heroes places warlike captains amidst the stars, Caesar, your glory will enjoy perennial life.
HER. But I want to look on their royal faces before the parching fire consumes them.
SIR. You will perceive an image of unbridled cruelty. (Exeunt Siroes and Zacharias.)
ACT III, SCENE iv
Constantinus and the younger Heraclius request a triumphal procession. Heraclius refuses and, having looked upon the corpses of the dead, is even more confirmed in his opinion. Enter Heraclius’ sons.
CONST. Father, when are you going to drive us along on your triumphal chariot, in the sight of the people? Will never be allowed me to feed my eyes and mind with the sight of the world decorated in its finery? Will I never see my father’s jewel-encrusted car? When will the people sing a hymn of triumph with its tuneful voice?
Y. HER. I seem to see the Tigris mourning its Chosroes, its horns broken. Siroes hovers before my eyes, hideously grimacing, waxing menacingly indignant over his chains, golden though they be.
HER. Today I am thinking of the triumph of the Cross. This Tree has conquered entire legions of our enemies. By itself, the Cross has conquered the Styx, by itself it victoriously tramples the under its proud foot the person of Pluto and the swollen arrogance of Chosroes.
CONST. I pay first honors to the Cross, but second to my father.
Y. HER. If you drag the struggling Persians behind your chariot, the supernals will applaud my father, for this is the triumph of the Cross.
HER. The man who disdains a triumphal procession is more pleasing to the supernals . Love of the Cross rejects triumphs.
CONST. Who refuses the gifts of favorable fortune?
HER. Whoever is familiar with the unstable course of that strange goddess.
Y. HER. If no reward awaits so many labors, Chosroes has bit the dust in vain today.
HER. The tree of the Cross is the fruit of my fighting, and I do not regret it. For the Cross I shall take ship and cross the sea, for the Cross I shall enter a lioness’ cave unprotected, for the Cross I shall confront the buried throngs of Tartarus.
CONST. So will Chosroes depart unpunished? Let painted chains drag the tyrant, if he escaped genuine ones by death.
HER. My son, why are you hoping for the trifling little plumage of children? What is applause but the breath of a mouth, that in the same moment is born and dies? What is a chariot wholly encrusted with gold and gems but glittering bits of earth assembled by an artistic hand? Let it suffice for captives to have been captured. I consider it the mark of an abject spirit to add extra misery for miserable men. (Enter Theodorus.)
THEO. The funeral procession is ready, brother. Do you want to witness Chosroes’ funeral?
HER. I’ll gladly witness the proof of my own infirmity. (Chosroes and Medarses are brought onstage on biers.) Do you see the king, shot through? This man whom the bier now bears was once Chosroes. He was, but now he is a pale, bloodless, silent shade. Observe, my sons, how frail is the life-thread of kings. (Aside.) Tears are drenching his enemy’s cheeks, who would imagine that? (Aloud.). It is a short thread. I’ll consider this better in seclusion. (Exit.)
THEO. What great sorrow oppresses your father’s heart!
CONST. And the former harshness of my mind is also softened. Now I am untouched by desire for a triumphal parade. Rather, I am moved by this funeral procession of Persephone.
Y. HER. What a dainty flower Libitina has harvested with her black sickle! A brother sank this arrow in his brother’s breast? We’re wrong. Dark death used Siroes’ hand to shoot this arrow.
CONST. Take these death-ceremonies far away, servants. Let us not sully this happy day with a funeral dirge. (The biers are carried off.) What Scythian has ever dared to do violence to his father’s sacred breast, and likewise a brother’s? What was the reason for such a dire sin?
THEO. Ambition puts out the light of the mind, it ignores the sweet name of father and brother. Being ablaze with thirst for honor, it is a very dangerous serpent. The more you drink, the greater grows your enthusiasm for drinking. This has destroyed royal houses that were once happy. And it pricked Chosroes’ heart too with its restless goads, leading him up to the lofty ridge of a glass mountain, so that he might take all the worse a fall. And with its turbulent torch it came close to driving Siroes’ languid heart mad. If you want to wield the world’s reins with a happy hand, you must avoid Chosroes’ bane and wholly imitate your father.
CONST. As far as I am concerned, my father is my all. I shall think myself rich enough, if he appoints me the heir of his glory. And yet I regret —
THEO. Why destroy your heart with regret?
CONST. Since the entire world acknowledges my father’s yoke, that does there remain a second world where new laurels might grow for your nephew.
THEO. (Embraces him.) Nephew, submit your neck to the Gordian’s knot of an uncle’s embrace. It delights my heart that his mind is unsatisfied by a single world. Soon you will be wielding your thunderbolts against the Persians. A horse of two colors will offer you its slack reins.
CONST. When will Phosphorus ever being that day? Phoebus’ yoked horses are traveling their road on slow hooves.
THEO. While you are uttering those words the hours are flying by, that day will come on a swift chariot. (Enter Cephalus.)
CEPH. The procession of the Cross awaits both you princes.
THEO. Let us all venerate the sacred Tree of the Cross. (Exeunt. A trumpet sounds.)
ACT III, SCENE v
After paying most pious reverence to the Cross together with his entire court, Heraclius witnesses an entertainment performed in its honor.
The argument of the entertainment
When he has freed the Garden of the Hesperides (where, if we believe the poets, gold-bearing trees are kept) from the pestilential embrace of a sleepless dragon, he celebrates his triumph over the dragon. The Hesperides sing a paean for victorious Hercules, and summon the trees to salute him. In this allegory we intimate the joy of the Church over the recovery of the Cross from the tyranny of idolatry thanks to the work of Heraclius, which is superior to that of Hercules.
ZACH. (Kneels as he sings.) Now, Christ, you may close my eyes in a lengthy sleep. What can please my eyes, now that this sweet plant has taken away my desires? Everything disgusts me, save for the triumphs of my Tree.
HER. Hail, jewel of heaven and earth, bought by God at the cost of His own blood. Thrice-blessed plant! Queen of the sacred grove! Hail, you Tree from whose branches once hung salvation and the fruit of live. You were the goal of my effort, for your sake I cheerfully bore clouds of steel and the thunder of cruel Mars. For you I likewise willingly pledged my wealth, my crown, my sons, and my life. If my camps are pleasing to the supernals, protect me and my blood under the shade of your fruit. Surpass the rest of the forest with your golden foliage. Thus you must return, safe, to the top of holy Golgotha (He kisses it.)
THEO. As long as you fight under the shadow of the Cross, although the earth should once more beget Phlegraean upheavals, although Enceladus should hurl ash trees once more, your well-protected heart will fear nothing. The shield of the Cross is an object of dread to its enemies.
HER. (After everyone has kissed the Cross.) To you I entrust the Cross, my sons. As long as you protect it with your arms, it will protect my children.
CONST. I embrace the Cross as my father’s patrimony. It will be my shield, my helmet, my breastplate, my legion.
Y. HER. Away with eagles. The Tree where our Eagle has built His nest is more to my liking.
HER. Come, bring our well-rehearsed choirs onstage.
CONST. I’ll hasten them, father. Both of us will play a large part in the entertainments too. (Exeunt Heraclius’ sons. The rest take their seats and a trumpet sounds.)
HER. We have conquered, crown the brave man’s brow with garlands. We have conquered, let Flora’s gardens resound with the name of Hercules, let the rejoicing caverns of that pernicious beast resound. (He points to the dragon.)
The dragon has experienced thundering Alcides, it has experience his mighty hand and its wooden weight. Being conquered, it bore witness to the wrath of Hercules. (He points to the Garden of the Hesperides.)
See how the bane which had evilly grazed on these wealthy gardens has relaxed his sinuous back, and cannot twist it into coils.
The tongue of its stinking maw spares the cavern, nor does it spew its black venom. Its hissings leave off, its two eyes are overwhelmed by darkness. (Enter the three Hesperides Aegle, Arethusa and Hesperethusa, carrying golden branches in their hands.)
AEG. To the labors of Hercules, to the trophies of Hercules, let us come flying upon a swift wing. He redeems the forest, he redeems its nymphs.
ARETH. Lo how the sleepless serpent is now weighed down by slumber. Cruel wrath tinges the serpent’s face, he is threatening even in death.
HESP. Come now, use your flashing fang, the sulphur of your breath, the comets shot forth by your eyes to threaten us with war and Hercules with single combat. No more will you work your harm, your painted wrath will do no damage. (Omnes ex 3 ramis texunt unam coronam.) (They all weave a single crown from their three branches.)
AEG. So let us weave a laurel-wreath, threefold and wealthy, and let us bind the locks of Hercules with this golden foliage.
ARETH. If the whole grove itself would come a-flying to make a crown for Hercules, it would not weave one worthy of his tresses.
AEG. Receive this garland, unequal to the Thunderer’s son. Now you will see the trees accompanying you out of joy for your triumphant. A greater Orpheus summons you with a better quill. Come now, join in happy dances of celebration. (The trees appear.) See how the tree takes unaccustomed steps, how this plant plants its feet. (Exeunt the nymphs. Dance of the trees. After the dance Constantinus speaks, wearing the costume of a tree.)
CONST. By your leave let this be said, scion of the Thunderer, a hero is present stronger-armed than Hercules. My father surpasses your triumphs. The conqueror of the Euphrates, the master of the Tigris, by your victory-triumphs you render eloquent even trees.
HERC. Thus far I have been a victor, but I am defeated by Heraclius. Come, receive my garland. (Offers it at Heraclius’ feet.) It will better shade your indomitable hair. (Exit Hercules, in the company of the trees.)
HER. You race of heroes, captains ennobled by the dust of battle, to me heaven has entrusted this jewel, more valuable than a rose-red [...]. I shall protect it as long as the breath enlivens my limbs. (Exeunt. A trumpet sounds.)
ACT III, SCENE vi
The Church appears, flanked by a bronze serpent and the staff of Moses, the types of the Cross, and exults that the Cross has been regained. Saint Helen and Constantine the Great congratulate themselves about the rediscovered Cross. Saints Paul and Andrew beseech Christ that Heraclius might return the Cross to Mt. Calvary. Christ consents.
CHRIST. Applaud the feast of the Cross, you celestial Muses, let a new song encourage your hearts with its chords.
The supernals give a cheer for the recovered Cross.
FIRST ANGEL Let us sing to Christ with our triumphal quill, let us sing to the Cross with a laureled song. The cross, that single noble daughter of the forest, that glory of the glade, has conquered. Let us repeat our cheer, you fairest plant.
SECOND ANGEL Now the barbarian has experienced the warlike Cross, now Tartarus has experienced the Cross when it thunders. Chosroes is dead: cheer, you Cherubim. Orcus is conquered: cheer, you Seraphim. The Cross has conquered. Let us repeat our cheer, you fairest plant.
ST. HELEN At last you see my Tree again, at last this life-bearing Tree has escaped the blood-stained hands of Chosroes. Let the earth, drunken with its redoubled victories, sing a cheer, let the chorus of stars echo it thrice.
CONSTANT. Rejoice, you bride of Christ. Now Chosroes humbly worships at your feet. The swelling of that insolent bubble has burst. Behold, he lies prostrated. (He points to Chosroes at the Church’s feet.) Where are your great spirits now, you arrogant man? Where are your laureled locks? Where is Europe, which groveled at your feet? Why did you wage war against heaven, you fool? If you are unaware, you wretch, punishment follows behind an impious man, bearing its avenging scourge.
ST. PETER Master of the world, You Who make Erebus tremble at the lift of your dread eyebrow, You Who alone tame the wrath of Mars, behold, the braying of bugles falls silent, no clash of arms pierces our ears, Ceres beats swords into plowshares. Fostering Peace, abandoning the wealthy realms of the supernals, returns to earth, and Prosperity, that companion of blessed Peace, carries a horn heavy with grapevines. If Peter’s prayers are pleasing to our august God, make this great treasure return to its natal soil of Palestine, this Tree with its crown of golden fruit. Let it mount once more that hill reddened by Your blood. Let Your handmaid subject the high mountains of Persia to You, and make Your altars smoke with the incense-casket of the Cross.
ST. ANDREW Let the instrument of my salvation return, oh let it return! Let its precious plant mount the ridge of Golgotha once more! Now it will not dread the criminal hand of Chosroes: he has paid his forfeits, and always will, a sinner roasted in the fiery straits of Hell.
CHRIST Let it return again to Zion’s lush gardens, and when sublime nature rides to its fields on her returning car, the father of the Jordan, made greater than himself, will decorate his blue-grey head with blazing ornaments of gold. Like a suppliant, Lebanon will offer up all its cedars, and the mount which is anointed with olives will offer its kiss. At length the mountain consecrated with my blood will clasp the Cross to its kindly breast. Heraclius will carry the sweet weight of the Cross. Then the entire throng of the diseases will begin to flock here and find an effective cure for their maladies. Oh would that you would come to know your happiness, you harsh race! You should prefer the Cross to the scepter. He who cleaves to the Cross with his loving embrace possesses the stars and their heaven.