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ACT III, SCENE i
The enemy army.
MAM. Nothing greater, no more glorious day has ever dawned for our ancestors, comrades, since by my powers the hostile camp has been slaughtered. Our unarmed enemy have sought places to hide and deny that there is any safety for themselves in arms. In the city quaking old men, the helpless common folk, women and children are groaning. They are more intent on their tombs than their glory, and they are already overwhelmed.
ALL You bless us.
MAM. Let the spoils we have taken be shared out immediately, monuments of which all future ages will speak to our posterity. Lentulus, you should deservedly accept this bright token of your virtue, a noble two-ply breastplate. Pulvillus, take this reward for your brave hand, this shining helmet. Venuleius, you whose way it is to make incursions, you earned this laurel Camp Crown in our first assault on the foemen. This axe remains as a worthy prize for you, Volscus, an axe lately carried by fierce Veturius. Let this sword which belonged to Antonius ennoble you, Soranus. Algidus, take these arm-bands and breastplates taken from feeble women. If there is further booty, either a garment adorned with gold, purple shining with gems, heavy masses of tawny gold, or a throng of captives bound with strong fetters, let this be shared out among our officers by lot. You place these tokens into an urn or a helmet.
LENTULUS Should so much loot belong to your officers? Should these fine spoils be shared out to everyone in such a way that Mamilius alone abstains from taking enemy spoils and booty, and he who was so vexed by anxious efforts and heavy cares should uniquely lack these consolations, so that, while the entire army is rejoicing over its martial trophies, you should have no prize? Let our Tusculan have whatever has been taken from the commander who presided over them all, let him take first place over all of us.
PULVILLUS We all beg that whatever remains should entirely fall to you. Let captured axes still joined to their fasces, bloodstained swords, a helmet chased with heavy gold, wheels from captured chariots lavishly adorn you, Tusculan. And let them be placed the lintels of your high atrium so that future ages may learn that these things were captured from our conquered enemies. Let late day feast its eyes and give worthy praises for Pulvillus.
VENULEIUS This crown set on the Tusculan’s head by his hand is reward enough for Venuleius, let it surpass gold and all the heavy ingots Phoebus beholds as he passes from his rising to his setting when he plunges his chariot into the depths of the western sea. This evergreen laurel will proclaim that the enemy was scattered by my hand under your leadership, Mamilius. This is enough for me. I scorn the wealth which the mad common folk hope for with their dissipated lust, let the rabble admire such things. If future ages grant me glory and praise and does not bury my name in the dark cavern of oblivion, I pray the gods for nothing more. Let others possess the things which time reaps with its sudden, unpredictable scythe.
VOLSCIUS How I like this Roman axe taken in battle, the gift with which Mamilius repays me for my effort! I would not like to trade it for all that which the Tagus rolls along in its golden stream, the wealth which its pools conceal. My progeny will believe this axe is worthy of an energetic officer, which my household gods will preserve. If any booty remains, I think it should all fall to the Tusculan.
SORANUS Twofold happiness occupies my heart, a double reason bids Soranus rejoice. First, that our defeated enemy fell before your strength and shamefully turned tail, although previously he had worked his novel arts, deceits, tricks and deceptions so as to drive us from our ancestral homes and carry off our gods to his city. And then, Tusculan, you grant me this great honor when you bid Soranus receive the decemvir’s spoils. For this I congratulate myself and pledge my bravery in sharp battle. I shall bathe my sword with enemy blood.
ALGIDUS Were that it were possible, Tusculan, to pay you due thanks that you make Algidus shine with handsome breastplates! But you are parcelling everything out with an over-liberal hand, reserving for yourself nought but glory. Why not take some of the wealth gained in harsh war which you are dealing out, or some of the spoils taken from our enemy? He who has had a share in serious danger ought to have a share in the advantage it has brought us.
MAM. It is an opulent reward to have earned glory and the praise of my officers and to have brought safety to my ruined nation and repose to its citizens, and to have driven off the enemy squadrons. I care for no further goods. But are we to pursue our foe or does some other concern make you hang back? At this point you must state your opinions.
LENT. Is any peace to our liking unless Rome is first pulled down to its foundations? My weapons already thirst for blood. I want to ride over a field covered with enemy dead and bathe my feet in the blood they have shed.
PULV. How much I want to feed my eyes with that sight, trample their prostrate corpses, and look them in their savage eye at the very moment of their death! Ultimate terror awaits their walls. Why are we delaying? Let them come tumbling down. How I love the sound of the ringing trumpet!
VEN. I do not cravenly shun battles, nor does the blood run chill within my heart. I do not fear the enemy battalions, warlike Tusculan. But I have an anxious concern for our nation’s welfare. How I would wish to have a care for your dignity! If our servitude can be avoided by entering into a sure treaty, I urge that we take the lead in entering into a good peace. The dice of war are doubtful, and often a victor has proven in the end to be the vanquished. Often fickle Fortune changes her doubtful courses, fields are laid waste, and ruination compel wives and children to endure her savage wheel. Better to live quietly and enjoy our gains, rather than endure the unsteady condition of always bearing arms.
VOL. Heaven forfend! In my judgment no peace is to be granted the conquered. As long as the vital warmth governs my limbs I shall pursue the race of Romulus with truculent hatred, nor shall I set down the weaponry in my hand until Rome perishes utterly and is reduced to ashes. Let the same day put an end to my life and my hatred. So let this unreasonable faction recommending servitude disguised as peace be banished, let the bugles blow. The soldier’s armed hand refuses peace.
SOR. I am surprised, Venuleius, that you alone, who lately sought to protect our national safety and dignity by resorting to arms, are attracted to peace. Perhaps you are ignorant of the treacherous minds of that race. Faithless treaties, fraud, wiles and deceit hide beneath that surface, a snake lurks beneath that grass. I like no peace other than that which this sword bestows.
ALG. For me, peace is to be sought, and would be better than war. Our beloved wives are calling out for their husbands, children for their fathers, as they curse this everlasting war. And yet our enemy will regain his spirits and become all the haughtier if treaties are requested.
VEN. So your will is to go to war? Does the saner opinion have no weight, no power? I pray the gods lest a late Nemesis should overtake us, but I will not oppose you in your unanimity, let no fear or danger restrain me. I’ll will go in the van as a leader and advance my banners.
MAM. Imagine that this Tusculan wanted peace, who would sway the Roman’s bestial minds to negotiation? Who would take the lead in visiting their Fathers and announcing my intention while their swords are hot in their hands?
VEN. I am ready to go, I’ll bear your mild message of peace to the Fathers.
ALL We prefer war.
VEN. Weapons must eventually be put down.
ALL But by victors.
VEN. Wars are often ruinous.
ALL To the unwarlike.
VEN. We must consider our wives.
ALL War makes them safer.
VEN. Fortune’s wheel is slippery, she’s a goddess to be feared. Often she favors those she has oppressed, and once more uplifts the vanquishes.
ALL But strong virtue endures.
VEN. Ancestral fields are wasted.
ALL And likewise hostile ones.
MAM. So it is decided to depend on the outcome of battle and to harry the fugitives. Sound the alarm, bugler. To arms, let Rome collapse to its foundations. Lead the way as our guide and be the first to open the way for those who follow.
ALL We will keenly follow.
MAM. Behold, in the distance Rome raises up her towers and menacing citadels. Pitch your tents here.
ACT III, SCENE ii
THE FURIES, APPIUS’ COURT, THE, SENATE, CLAUDIUS, NURSE, NUMITORIUS, VIRGINIA, ICILIUS
FIRST FURY Now Virginia is caught up tightly in my nets, with frenzied minds her betrothed, her uncle, and her circle of friends range the Forum with frantic minds, vainly denouncing Appius’ deed and Claudius’ crime. This torch supplies the flames. The lictor will drag the girl, stirring up all passions. Claudius will prosecute her as the claimant, disorderly Icilius will oppose him with his anger. I shall create dire, bloody passions.
SECOND FURY Brother, I shall use my torch to set afire the heart of our lustful decemvir. I shall deny him rest, he shall strip himself of his rank’s dignity. Forgetful of his honor, he will openly act his role in a play which all men will know was devised by Appius. I shall fetch the wretched father back from the camp. Why are we delaying? Now Appius is laying down the law.
FIRST F. Continue with your twisty snakes, be more aggressive in agitating our raging decemvir. I’ll provoke the common folk.
SECOND F. How it pleases me to throw the crowd that comes to the courtroom into turmoil!
CLAUD. You will come under compulsion. I’ll neither let go of my little serving-girl nor accept payment for her. She’s my little slavel, Icilius.
IC. Virginia is Icilius’ betrothed. Keep away your unclean hands, you pimp, and don’t violate this decent girl with your noxious touch.
NUM. It is a damnable, cruel crime to wrench children from their fathers’ embraces, or brides from their intended bridegrooms.
NURSE I have no fear of your death-threats as long as I can cling to my ward.
VA. All the spirit deserts my anxious heart, I fall to the ground, unhappily I die.
CLAUD. Why avoid the decemvir’s pronouncement? Behold, Appius is sitting as judge. There is no violence, the law will make you mine.
LICTOR Settle down, you throng. Apply your championing hand, Appius.
APP. Is something unusually occurring. Is there some item of business which must be transacted with such great commotion and so much passion?
VIRGINIA’S ADVOCATE Let Claudius pay the price for his insults, since he dared go to the Forum and drag off the daughter of a citizen with his rude hand. It is a quite unheard-of crime against the state to wrench an intended bride from the bosom of her betrothed, a daughter from her father’s household. It is your responsibility to heal this worst of examples, Fathers. Restrain the lust of this abandoned crime, and restore to an honest maiden her honor, intact. It is a matter of interest to the republic that chastity be protected. Prevent children from being snatched away from their fathers. If you wish, I shall recount the entire tragedy and place this novel felony before your eyes.
CLAUDIUS’ ADVOCATE An insulted Claudius resorts to your tribunal. Claudius, a Roman citizen, invokes Roman law and lays claim to his serving-girl, born in his house. In accordance with our custom, he demands the return of this stolen girl, having suffered a harmfully long passage of time. Our newly created legal code and its laws are under attack, laws which ought to possess their full weight even among remote nations: Stolen goods should revert to their owner. Give this handmaid back to her master, a citizen appeals for your support.
V.’S ADV. This story is an invention, Fathers, devised by cruel lust. This maiden has been pledged to Icilius, who is present to lay claim to her. Her mother, long since taken away from her unhappy father, raised her as a free girl. Numitorius knows this and swears so, and her very nurse, who was her holy godmother, is a witness. Virginius’ entire household will affirm on its oath. What? Should not the reputation of her absent father benefit his daughter, Fathers, a man kept far from his own home by our national cause, a man unconcerned about his safety, who is devoted to you and, heedless of the danger, campaigns against our enemy? It would not be fair to require him to fight for this one girl. Or at least concede her father a few days to be summoned from the camp. Delay does not harm this case, so let the matter be postponed until the arrival of her father. Virginius will be present before Cynthius sinks his chariot on his third orbit, a short time. Or if he is summoned and fails to take a leave, then let the serving-girl belong to Claudius in full right.
NURSE She will not belong to Claudius. Even if he roars and all Rome rages I shall defend her, though an old woman.
NUM. Carefully see to it, conscript Fathers, lest the insolent confiscation of the girl provoke tumults in our troubled city and riots erupt in the Forum. This matter requires prudence. Put it off entirely, if it please you, until her father can quit the camp and come home. Then the maiden will either be awarded to her father in accordance with our national law, or belong to her claimant thanks to good witnesses.
APP. This is a serious business, state your opinions.
VALERIUS It is a perplexing matter, Fathers, and in previous centuries unheard-of for a maiden to be torn from the embrace of her intended bridegroom and be haled before a tribunal. The novelty of the thing makes me anxious. Let Virginius be recalled and come home before the third orbit of the sun is through manifesting itself, so he may defend his daughter from the danger confronting her, or let her belong to her claimant Claudius. For it would be wrong for anything to be done in this matter in the absence of her father. This is my view.
HORATIUS It is my belief that the little lady needs to be asked whether her mother showed any signs of chilly love while still living, as if she were rearing a child not her own and taking insufficient care for her welfare, but was rather deceitfully attempting to please her husband by making him out to be the father of a child she received from some other woman as a remedy for her barrenness, or whether her love and good faith were constant, a performance such as befits a well-disposed mother.
VA. Woe’s me, this question renews my sufferings. With her breasts she fed me on mother’s milk, She considered me a boon for her troubled mind. I was her only source of repose, she looked after me alone, she called me her single daughter, her glory, and the future hope and brilliance for our family and household. When she died, with my hand I closed her eyes, my mother gave up her final breaths on this bosom of mine, I received her last kisses. Bear witness, holy mother, that I am your daughter.
FURIUS The laws rule out, the rules of sacred things deny, and I shall not permit that she thus be snatched from the bosom of her intended or the house of her father. As pontifex I forbid this sin. The gods will avenge your impious decisions, Appius. So you need to take particular care lest the gods, offended by a kidnapping, direct against your person this storm currently threatening us all. Let the father be summoned to protect his daughter.
TARPEIUS This girl, the daughter of one citizen and the intended bride of another, should not be placed in such jeopardy in the absence of her father. My opinion is that her father must be summoned.
OPPIUS The city is provoked and threatens us, while in suspense waiting to hear the edict issued by your mouth. Unless you satisfy it, it intends to oppose steel and fire to your cruelty. This hundred-headed beast is demanding that tribunes be restored to the Rostra. The time has passed and revolutions are being readied. If you take no care with a cautious mind, the regime of the decemvirs will collapse and we will be obliged to take off our purple in the middle of the Forum. Their quickly-shifting minds exclude the use of reason, the heads of the people are ill-disposed. I believe that her father must be recalled home, send someone to fetch him from the camp. Let him warn her father of the danger faced by her daughter, claimed by Roman law. Thus sound sentences will be pronounced in the presence of her father and witnesses.
APP. You wish a delay to be made regarding this claim?
ALL Let her father be summoned and make his appearance tomorrow.
APP. Nor shall I permit any further riotous commotions in the Forum. I shall grant to her father whatever Icilius and Numitorius request, nor pronounce any law. You, pray, should request that this claim of the girl should be deferred until the following day, and you should yield, so that no deceit will occur. Let the custody of the maiden be yours, Claudius.
IC. To me, Appius’ lictor is no more than an empty word, and you will not put Icilius out of the way by a mere statement. You have need of steel to accomplish the stealthy crime which you wish to keep concealed. Long ago Virginius granted this chaste and upright girl, a freeborn citizen, his own and a virgin, to Icilius, and, no matter what you threaten, Icilius will take her home. So let your gang produce all its lictors. Furious and passionate, command the decemviral axes be produced, and your henchmen to flay Icilius’ back. The whole city and this roaring mob standing outside the courtroom will see and hear. Though you may rejoice in shedding my blood, though your whips may crack and my torn skin bleed, my limbs be flayed, my naked bones crack, and Appius’ fury consumes all my strength, though your wrath and threats may thunder, this girl will nevertheless reside nowhere outside her father’s house, not even if we lack tribunes to be our unique consolation and our liberty go to smithereens, and we have no further right to appeal to justice. No matter that the government of your mad lust has handed over to tyrants the power that previously belonged to the people and will lord it over our sons, let chastity be intact and do not steal our plighted wives. But if your fury persists, your raging madness endure, and your lust admits no limits, I appeal to the good faith of my fellow citizens and her father will get the army to marching. Life can leave me as I stake my claim, but good faith cannot abandon me as long as the blood flows free in my heart. Nor do your threatening henchmen frighten me, much less the expressions you wear on my faith. I am baring my neck. Strike if you can, lictor. Why idly hesitate? Command my death, Appius, since this has been your desire, but let the girl remain with her father.
AP. I permit you to take this girl away and keep her at home, as long as bail is posted.
NUM. Let her be produced. Let me stand as surety to my fellow citizens.
NURSE This old person shall stand surety for the girl. My dear ward —
APP. Take her home, Icilius. But let no plebeian dare utter provocative words, nor let either her friends nor her father, when returned to the city, hesitate to produce the girl. As the man responsible for the laws, I shall take strong vengeance and steel my heart with my usual steadfastness. I shall take up arms and suppress anyone who offers resistance.
CLAUD. In vain, Oppius, will Appius be the first to raise his axes, and in vain will the lictors surround this decemvir of yours. Henceforth the senate will be an empty word, being in fact lower and more abject than the plebeians, if this is how he dares resist the public fury and the Forum when it is defiled by ready violence. Is how are our Fathers to obey common rebels? Let the girl be taken to her master’s home, Appius. Let the Fathers acknowledge the law and let Rome, Icilius, Numitorius, and whatever man makes trouble in the Forum learn, that slaves are their masters’ property. Let these words resound. This girl, due to me, ought to be preserved by me in the house of her owner, until a lawful sentence surrenders her. In the law it follows next that no consideration of time should prevent an owner from claiming his property. The laws have already been read out in the middle of the Forum, Fathers, and these are the Tables approved by you Fathers. But it appears to Appius, with the Fathers’ approval, that Claudius’ handmade should be handed over to someone else. I do not oppose your decision, Fathers, I resign my right. Let Icilius keep the girl together with her uncle, let him take home, but only for this one night. Tomorrow I’ll make her mine or no law will retain its weight. Bear witness to me, fellow citizens, and also you Fathers, I am resigning my right. I do not contend with you, take her home as you will. I do not care that Appius bids you create a little pause.
The enemy army. The Roman army.
MAMILIUS. Apply whatever strength lurks within you, comrades. Let ditches encircle these doomed walls.
ALL This longed-for day fulfills all our wishes.
MAM. Your efforts will soon be completed.
ALL This city is already reduced to ashes.
ANTONIUS. Rome is besieged and the Hernican threatens this will be our final day. They try to enchain the Tiber, and with outstretched hands matrons beg us for their safety. A throng of ancient citizens await the outcome of cruel warfare. Dire things are being threatened, the Tusculan prepares himself for the coming fight.
VENULEIUS See, the enemy ranks are at hand. Do you want your men to take up their positions, Tusculan? Do you want me be prompt in advancing our banners? See, our enemy is pressing us.
ANT. Stoutly assault them, this is our ultimate danger.
MAM. Let their right flank be yours, fierce Lentulus. Brave Volscus must take the left, and let Algidus join him. Let that position be given to Soranus, and I’ll look after the van. Let Venuleius go before us bearing our banners, let today put an end to the slaughter we are inflicting.
LENTULUS My experienced hand will be the first to mete out wounds.
PULVILLUS. Today there’ll be no means or opportunity for flight.
VEN. Are we delaying? Our feeble band is afraid.
VOLSCIUS I see that hands are now lying slack in our ranks.
SORANUS Our enemy is calling out to them, although driven out of their camp and fugitive.
ALGIDUS Too much delay! This hand of mine thirsts for gore.
MAM. So rush forward eagerly, as your leader I’ll open the way.
ANT. Let every man be mindful of his wife. Make up for the disaster we have lately suffered and use your swords to avenge your nation.
VIRGINIUS I’ll blunt the enemy’s self-confidence, I’ll make the man who is besieging Rome witness his own home seized by flames, his children dragged off in chains, a welcome spectacle for a Roman citizen. That throng will be prey for Tarpeian Jove, making him a noble meal.
ANT. Go go forth and crush our enemy. Give the signal, bugler.
MAM. Receive this blow from a Tusculan’s hand.
ANT. Our feeble foe is fleeing, this suffices for our nation. I shall pursue the fugitives
VETURIUS I’ll come along as your ready companion and place that rebel Tusculan in chains, he’s destined to provide a spectacle for our matrons.
SEMPRONIUS Now the whole field is strewn with their spoils.
SICCIUS Rejoice, brother. Now this hostile legion lies before your tomb, slaughtered as a victim. This will serve as a consolation for your pious shade. By this hand the enemy army has been driven from our fields.
VIRG. If you want to request the happy celebration of a triumph, I shall go to request it. There is no hope remaining for the conquered and now the Fathers are preparing you an ivory chariot. For you I shall request golden staffs, heavy crowns, and a day of triumph.
ANT. Let it be enough that security has been given to our nation.
VA. How I wish my father were here! This is the single thing that would suppress the rages and threats of this raving decemvir, this would be my sole salvation in my misery.
NUM. I should go to the camp, but heavy dread weighs upon me lest some harm befall you during my absence. Therefore, Icilius, we must take careful provision that her father be summoned and Virginia’s chastity endures. Your brother is here, ready with an eager hand. If it please you, it would be sufficient to send him.
IC. Go to the camp on flying feet, dear brother, and announce how our affairs are in great jeopardy, report to him how Rome’s social orders are a-boil. Tell him about Appius’ frenzy and the opposing wrath of the plebeians, how the provoked multitude is fully aware of the decemvir’s schemes. and how it hates them and cries out for a leader. Nevertheless he should be clever in making his approach lest some trouble is started by the decemvir. Go quickly, may the gods guide your steps.
BROTHER I shall head for the camp, and before the sun hides hides its light Virginius will be informed of the danger. I shall tell him about the city’s upheaval, and from me he will learn of Appius’ furies and your fears. I’ll bring him to the city so he stand surety for the accused girl. Sluggish delay will be banished. Meanwhile you men must consult for her honor.
APP. Let Antonius have this letter right away. A suitable reward awaits you if you hurry you steps. There’s need for speed.
MESS. Antonius will see this letter sooner than bright Apollo buries his torches and removes the day from this earth. I shall arrive at the camp quicker than the moon can bring her herd to the sky. Is anything further to be told him by my mouth? Shall I tell him nothing?
IC. Be swift in bearing the letter, it says what must be done.
MESS. I shall deliver it quickly.
BROTHER Virginius, Rome is rescued thanks to your virtue. The enemy is driven off, but a greater domestic danger confronts us, and your kinsmen are calling you home. Appius is displaying obvious symptoms of madness. He used to tempt your Virginia’s heart with pleasant words, and with entreaties mingled with threats. Now his violence is undisguised, and his freedman Claudius is 0penly claiming your daughter as if she were his serving-girl, and summons her to Appius’ cell.
VIRG. Ah, has the insolent pride of the decemvirs erupted? Are the intentions of these madmen aimed exclusively at Virginius? I have been negligent, since I have already been summoned by friends’ letters to come to the aid of pure chastity but have refused, those letters recently sent me indicated no more. Let my mistake be rectified. I shall energetically go to Rome, frustrate their desires and suppress their madness. By my intervention their dire lusts will soon be baffled, I shall shatter the axes of a helpless Appius. He shall dye the Forum he hates so much with his blood and shamefully atone for his damage to the laws, done lustfully, impiously, and brutally. But I am wasting too much time, I shall gird my loins and boldly request a leave of absence. Antonius, my domestic responsibility draws me homeward. I promise a swift return, and ask for a four days’ leave.
ANT. What reason bids Virginius depart?
VIRG. I must attend a funeral at home. As you yourself know, this is a serious responsibility.
ANT. I grant a leave of four full days, at the end of which you must return to our camp.
BROTHER Let’s make haste lest delay prove harmful, less your daughter be claimed and you lose your case. A great number of your lively comrades are at the Forum.
The Roman army, the senate.
MESS. (Reading.) Appius his colleague greets Antonius and begs you to relieve him of his fear. This business requires a swift remedy.
ANTONIUS. (Continuing the letter.) You must shut Virginius up in the dark cavern of a dire prison and bind his hands with tight chains. Let him learn that the decemvirs rule Rome, something fiercely being denied by the helpless commons, which is rioting under the leadership of Icilius, and a new faction is calling for Virginius as their leader. Has he deceived me thus? Let Veturius give the alarm and lead my horsemen, let Sempronius stop the rebel in his flight and retrieve him forthwith.
SICCIUS Not even if he hides himself in the deep waters of the sea, not even if he retires to the remote regions of unknown nations will he escape these hands of mine. I shall pursue him as he departs and forcibly arrest him.
MESS. There’s a great upheaval in the city, you must keep the army dutiful, the camp is your concern. Appius will suppress the raging proletariat. What am I commanded to report to him?
ANT. That Virginius is locked up in my dark dungeon.
VIRGINIUS The decemvir Antonius is eluded by your artfulness, Virginius. Rome receives you safely, and you have no care or concern for martial camps. So that all this power of theirs may be shaken, you must prepare your hand to avenge these insults. Expend all your energy, loosen the bridle on your new sorrow, keep this madman from his evil scribbling, and baffle his ultimate lust in the presence of the people. But my throng comes to greet me. What do you plan to do first, what to do last, my keen sorrow? I am torn apart, I am pained, I am wounded, I am tormented within. My heart palpitates, passionate care sets this father to boiling. Is a girl of my blood destined to be a sacrifice to Appius? But let me embrace her first. Leave, lictor, and do not oppose a father with your evil axes. Abandon your fear, Virginia, Once this squalor of yours will someday make you a noble example of chastity for all maidens. I am here as your champion, I shall defend you energetically, free a blood relation, and as your father shall ward off harm. Perhaps his savage frenzy will abate in your father’s presence. But the trumpets bray rudely and the lictor calls out in the Forum. Since I do not match your appearance I shall dress in mourning and remove the sword from my side.
LICTOR Keep moving, girl. Claudius is loudly calling.
VIRG. . You be brave and keep moving, having gained possession of your girl. Brother, you be keen in protecting your niece’s person, and I’ll lead the way. This is my daughter, Appius. She has a share in my pure blood, being my legitimately daughter. As her champion I ask you, dismiss my child, who is a free citizen and is my own. Let Claudius pay the penalties for his dire fury, I mean that Claudius who is your freedman. For some time now Icilius has been designated my future son-in-law, in accordance with our ancestral custom. The pontifex knows this, and Rome remembers it. Behold the handwriting of Appius, preserved in these little letters to Virginia. Read the evidence of his his impious mind, read about the uncontrollable torches kindled by his love. Appius burns and rages within. Maiden, I pray, have pity on your lover. You alone can make him blessed, let not the denial of your favor make him wretched. You have heard Appius, fellow citizens. Sparing your ears, I omit the rest said by his lustful passions and raging mind, foul, dire and impious.
HORATIUS These things are shameful, I admit. Is this your handwriting, Appius, Appius bids his mistress a happy greeting? But I’m embarrassed to pronounce the rest.
VALERIUS Is this jewel not Appius’, He give sweet greetings to his mistress, superior to the goddesses, dearer than his own senses? This is the handiwork of a pimp, no holy magistrate ever wrote it.
NUMITORIUS His unclean fire is laying claim to my niece, his mad ardor is haling her before his decemvir’s tribunal. I appeal to the gods’ faith, Virginia is a freeborn girl.
APPIUS . Does this vile fellow dare squawk like a cheap little plebeian? Now I command that you, her betrothed, her uncle, her father to be thrown in jail, if you don’t control your wild words.
ICILIUS Tortures are welcome to Ilicius as long as his bride is safe. If you bid this back of mine be scourged with rods, let the forks be made ready. I do not refuse to endure corporal punishment, if it is your pleasure to hide me away in a dark dungeon and deny the light of day to my unhappy imprisoned self. I shall willingly enter my cell as long as Virginia is safe, her virtue protected. If my bloody death suits you better, and I seem to be your only obstacle, as long as her chastity remains intact, let your sword lop off his head of mine. Play the savage, and bid a ready man be dragged to his execution.
APP. Bind both his hands, lictor.
LICT. I’ll pile on chains. How do you like this iron collar for your neck?
IC. My good fellow citizens, why does your patience, so slow to act, permit an undeserving man to be dragged to the deep recesses of a dark cell? Am I to be the single sacrifice of your authority, which his insolent decemvir has already destroyed? Can the descendants of Romulus thus endure disgrace? Will nobody raise his friendly hands? Farewell forever, feckless law and right.
LICT. What a struggle this rascal puts up! Won’t you hold your tongue, my bold fellow. I’ll add more chains if you don’t keep quiet.
IC. Beloved bride, dear Virginia, farewell. Farewell, father. At length you must avenge this free girl, my fellow citizens. Let my punishment be enough, as long as Appius satisfies his hatred.
NUM. Come to the aid of an innocent man, citizens. Or is this a civic courtroom? Do the laws tolerate this? Either these villains will pay the price or a bloody sword will cut off this head of mine.
APP. Load this man down with chains too, lictor, who dares utter provocative words in a courtroom.
LICT. Your prattling tongue has earned you this, Numitorius.
NUM. I appeal to your injured good faith, my fellow citizens.
APP. An equal penalty of law awaits the rest, if they do not keep silent. Speak up, Claudius. Was this servant-girl Virginia purchased by your money? Do you prove this by witnesses?
ADV. CLAUD. There is sure evidence that Virginius long went childless, being estranged from his wife, and that once upon a time he bought this girl. Behold, fellow citizens, I read aloud this contract. Let this girl be deemed a daughter of Numitoria, although she born to a servant of Claudius, if ten sesterces be paid to the woman. This is made clear by a wax seal at the foot of the page and ten witnesses. Claudius’ handmaid sold her, and her master claims her back. I urge that your verdict confirm this. Appius, Virginius’ ambition has prevented me from receiving my rights until now, Appius, but your dependent is asking for that which belongs to him.
ADV. VA. Virginia had a domestic upbringing, having been born at home. I summon as witnesses the women you see, matrons of good faith, to attest that her father was present at her birth and took her up so as to acknowledge her as his own, and hosted a family celebration for his friends. Then she grew, nursed at her mother’s breast, until recently she was betrothed to Icilius. He liked, ah, he very much liked her lovely beauty, but it was her injurious comeliness which brought her to this trial. Return this bride to her husband, this daughter to her father. If such is your wish, Fathers, cross examine these witnesses. None of them will fail to testify that her birth was genuine, which the pontifex and his holy books will confirm and is attested by the money he dedicated to our holy gods and by the temple of Youth . In sum, let this be maintained by your sense of decency and reverence, your concern for children, your fear of the gods.
CLAUDIUS Your fear of the gods will return this serving-girl to her former master. Nothing is clearer, it’s obvious. Look at this document of Numitoria, Fathers. Let her, purchased for money, henceforth be mine. Let this girl, born to a servant, belong to my husband. Let the laws be granted their strength, let contract law enjoy its authority. As their protector, Appius, will you permit her to be stolen, the law to be violated, and your dependent to be swindled. Your injured dependent requests his patron to come to his aid, this citizen calls on our good faith, and our civil laws lay their claim on it. Virginius, I will repay you whatever money your wife has expended. Do you agree to this stipulation? The payment is ready at hand, take these pieces of gold and give me back my property.
APP. Although I was on the verge of declaring her a free woman, it has just come to my ears that she is the offspring of a handmaiden. I have learned by no mean evidence that this girl was brought into Virginius’ household after having been purchased for a trifling sum, albeit that man Icilius, about to found his own household and enlist in his tribe, requested an advocate to represent himself, and claimed that she was his own. It is reasonable, fellow citizens, for me not to abandon my dependent and to grant him his rights. Since, Claudius, you prove that she is yours by credible witnesses, you may have your property, take your servant. Bailiff, enjoin silence.
LICT. Silence, silence, silence. Hold your tongues.
APP. The plebeians are making a fuss, crying out, raging. Lictor, remove that mob, give room for a master claiming his property.
VIRG. Pray forgive me, if my paternal grief in its boiling anger has led me to say anything unkind. If I have uttered any hard words against Appius, if the just spirit of an injured parent has produced any over-bold statements, I confess that my excessively bloodthirsty rage blazed forth against a magistrate. So give me brief leave to escort this girl from the courtroom. Having interrogated these witnesses belonging to his household, her father will release her with a calmer temper, when he learns that she was not born to Numitoria. Grant a brief delay such as is being requested of you and I, a deluded father, will be less aggrieved. Allow me to take her away.
APP. You may.
VIRG. Ah, I am compelled by an unfair to law to abandon the source of my hopes, the solace of my weary old age? Will blood, ah, my blood endure the hateful yoke of servitude, and a thieving pimp wrench a chaste daughter from her father’s bosom?
VIRGINIA. Make me die chastely, father. I shall die a free woman, though killed by your hand.
VIRG. Fellow citizens, her father kills her with this knife as a modest and free girl. You die as a citizen and as my own. With this bloodshed I consign your person, evil Appius, to the gods above and the shades below. Make way for him as he goes.
APP. You, arrest this madman. Let your menacing snares restrain this parricide.
VAL. Oh the atrocious deed! Audacity that cries out for vengeance! The reprehensible urging of his mindless wrath! The senate has already had enough of unjust arrogance, our destiny demands a cure for this untimely evil. Within a free state, raging lust must be abolished. If you believe me, this will be the end of the rule of the decemvirs.
HOR. Henceforth Horatius’ sole desires will be to settle the cares of our public business. Let the Campus Martius once more witness elections, which have grown out of fashion, let the consuls regain their annual fasces. Enough has been given to those in power, the aroused multitude is trampling on their decemviral axes. No more hoped-for time has ever dawned on which tyranny might suffer a downfall, if only Valerius would contribute his friendly hands as our leader.
VAL. Valerius is at your service, Horatius. Give the command and you’ll find me obedient to your will. I owe this to my nation, if you cannot support it as it totters. The aroused plebeians rage against Appius’ person, and call Numitorius and Icilius their leaders. Let us free them. You convene the senate, and I’ll rally the plebeian bands, with those men their leaders. Let us go together to the prison, where they can be freed of their bonds.
HOR. I approve your sound counsel. But a multitude block the prison doors. This band must be removed. You come out, citizens, you’re free of your chains. Your fellow citizens elect you as the leaders of their new faction. Greetings, Icilius, you pillar and glory of our citizenry. Remove your chains, strip off those filthy clothes, take back this sword to adorn your side, and conduct yourself stoutly so that this insult may be avenged.
VAL. Numitorius languishes, enchained in another prison. Soon I’ll give him to his Icilius as a comrade. Our women, children and old men beg you to come out of your concealment. Under your leadership the decemvir will be reduced to a private citizen, his fasces shattered. Dare to avenge free men. Dare to break his raging power. Let your strong hands be freed of their tight bonds.
NUM. I am deeply ingratiated to you, Valerius, and vow to devote all my powers to my fellow citizens. Who will give me a sword? Although my hands tremble, my head is that of an old man, and my eyes are as dim of sight as you care to call them, I shall plunge this in Appius’ guts. The youthful blood has not deserted my heart.
VAL. Meanwhile I’m ready to go to the senate and inspire the others by invoking your authority.
IC. Thanks to your support I am returned to the air of freedom, and it is welcome to enjoy the light and breathe in the open air I previously enjoyed. With my squalor at last put behind me, coming from my dark dungeon and the black hall of Dis my eye is at first dazzled. Why flinch at enjoying daylight, my soul? Why, my hand previously weighed down by chains, do you now refuse to bear a sword? Where are my friends? Can none of you standing by tell me what transpired in the courtroom? Is Virginia safe and once more enjoying her free station, having been returned to her father? What do these strange words mean? Your glum silence portends something. I perceive that throughout the Forum and at all the street corners citizens are shouting, lamenting, groaning, and weeping. Who will tell me in my anxiety? Every citizen shrinks back from me, the sad plebeians dread to meet me. Ah, these are dire omens! Where’s Virginius? But here’s Numitorius, why is he clad in mourning? Why this menacing frown? Tell me what has lately transpired at the tribunal.
NUM. When your hands had received their manacles, I gave sure signs of my grief. And Appius, raging in his blind frenzy, commanded that I too should be bound and put in a cell. And so, from that hour I have languished pent up in a dark dungeon in violation of the law and unaware of developments.
IC. The tribunal is empty and the Rostra is crowded. What’s happening? What’s this blood? What are these piteous complaints men are making everywhere? What are these mixed crowds of girls and men? Why is the whole city cursing Appius? Teach me in my unhappiness.
MESS. I would do so, but the awful novelty of the crime deters me. After the mad decemvir had commanded Numitorius and Icilius to be dragged to the prison, by an impious sentence he awarded the girl to the possession of his own servant. When the lictor would have taken her, her father begged a little while to converse with his daughter, and snatched a butcher’s knife. Why say more? Virginia died at the hand of her father.
IC. So Virginia, the glory of her generation, the unique example of maidenhood’s flower, the single model of chastity, beauty of her century and rose of the world, is snatched away and lies dead. Oh dire hope of mankind! Oh futile image of vain happiness! I who was lately blessed in my promised bride and an object of envy to Appius the decemvir pay, alas, for my protracted happiness with this new grief. Fortune, deceitful, treacherous, shifting and fleeting, is this how you mock my wishes? Why is Virginia dead by the bloodstained hand of her father while Icilius survives? Why are we not united by the same doom? Oh bitter light of day! Oh sad sunbeams and gloomy sky! What’s the point in my living, useless to the city, a burden on the earth, and damned by the gods and the stars? Take this devoted person, my chaste bride Virginia, who pursues you as his own wife and is not to be parted from you by death. Oh stars, men, gods, earth and air, help me in my undertakings. Guide my failing hand, you shades of the deep.
NUM. Restrain your grief, let Appius discover that you are alive, prepare your steel and your fire, your hope of revenge.
IC. Sound advice. Let her modest ghost learn that I survive her. I shall give solace to her chaste shade, placating it with the spilt blood of Appius. Rome will praise my fidelity, a long period of time will speak of me. No matter how fierce a crew of henchmen surround him, I shall break through them none the less, this sword will pierce the breast of that brutal tyrant.