To see a commentary note, click on a blue square. To see the Latin text, click on a green square.
VIRTUE, FRANCE, PLEASURE
VIRT. By my power I kept free from all dangers this kingdom which nourished me, whose youth, as was their duty, made their right arms ready for javelins, I under whose leadership their foes turned their backs on their pursuers, victorious always, whether the sea, swelling with high waves, or the skies with deadly hailstorms, threatened the least of their dwellings. Now, ejected from their land, I seek my lodging and they, whom I made mighty lords, abandon me; those whom I blest by my strength with a noble fate, and to whom, when fickle fortune forbade, I gave so many kingdoms, free of the vicissitudes of chance.
Once noble France, exempt from harsh blows, vexations, and the rest of the mortal cares which torment the heart, used to lift her head to heaven for joy thanks to her warfare, equal with the race of the gods. However, these gifts bestowed, these are the thanks I have, that I am compelled to remove like a beggar from the place she secured by my aid, and Jove’s thunderbolts put no terror in their hurtful minds.
At the borders of empire I made powerful whomever Phoebus in the dawn lights with his shining lamp, and the blest kingdoms that worship him with incense, and the pine-bearing soil, and I raised the exalted glory of the Persians to the sky. By the turgid swirl of the flowing Euphrates I consigned the seats of their empire to oblivion and left their dense cohorts laid low in fierce battle. The fierce Macedonian, in whose heart I lodged, subdued the barbarian hordes by force of arms, as did the world’s glory, noble Rome, in triumphant war against the troops of the east and the west. Jove’s command summoned me to this place. From where the twisting Seine flows as far as to where the kindly river Loire enters the waves of the ocean, he gave lands for colonies, which I made mighty, endowed with a noble name and praise. I overcame foes raging in barbarous war, and laid low many mighty leaders. I did not bless the Medes with such benefits, nor the Persian settler. To these places Jove’s decrees had summoned me. With bowmen, arrows, choice troops, and spears the select scions of Brennus’s captains, deemed worthy to effect the decrees of heaven, subdued the kingdoms of mighty kings. Then, abounding in the riches won, their wealth grew with no limit and they led a leisured life, secure in peace, shaken by no storms.
But the garrulous vanity of impudent tongues poured forth pernicious poison amongst all nations and dared insanely to attack the light-filled stars and God. Haughtily, they now oblige me (given them as their destiny’s eternal companion, under whose auspices they ordered their lives amidst all their misfortunes) to yield the homes which Jove had bestowed, yielding place to a seductive foreign guest who destroys everything obtained by my labours, and compels France to perform her commands in accordance with an iniquitous compact.
O what great disasters await you, unhappy France! O, how on how unsteady feet you are standing, you who have abandoned me! How transitory are the riches you hold, which belong to unpredictable fortune! And o how fragile the lofty place on which you are supported, falling in a headlong tumble! O you do not fear the nets which are deceitfully spread before your feet! Thus your mind is darkened and blinded, thus the leisure of your brief life deludes you, you do not see the swift hand of almighty Jove threatening you with thunderbolts. Thus your facile desires please you, thus you guide your mind by black wickedness, thus do you heap gloomy chaos and horrible darkness on your thoughts.
I shall go and with doleful complaints I shall move the gods, I shall sway their divinities with the weight of your crimes, and I shall see the proud France, which I used to see dictate law unto the nations, obeying Spanish laws. I shall visit the First and humbly ask that he restore me to the homes from which I have been driven, that he who designs crime will perhaps be stricken with shame for his sin and, terrified, abstain from his felonies, and that his guilty mind prevent his ready hand from becoming stained by deceptions.
But what companion advances, pleasing in her dress, clad in noble purple, dyed with false colours, her golden hair curled by iron? This is Pleasure, the foul nursling of repulsive Wantonness, who, consciously hostile to me, is the mother of abominations. This painted one beguiles with her countenance, and deceives the soft hearts of the beholder. With her blood-red hair she lays traps, as when nets are spread for beasts, With the sweet sound of her voice, like that of the Siren, she lures passers-by to their ruin. Her cinnamon scents are poisons that her incautious lovers inhale and which choke their breath. See how she delights in using a rich gift to lead the man who follows her to his destruction. I shall go and disentangle unhappy France’s captive feet from those crafty snares, and I shall teach her the way of life, nor shall I suffer her to be prey to a savage monster, but tell her of the glory of her elders and the duties owed to me.
O nursling, born amid dangers, I brought you up in safety, and led you through storms and the dangers of harsh troubles. Acknowledge the cause why you enjoy your good, nor drive me from your borders, leaving me as an exile. If I return to heaven, you will beg for Jove’s aid in vain, overwhelmed with fresh calamities inflicted by a harsh foe.
FRANCE O mother, who disturb my rest with future misfortunes, by whose gift I am powerful and command proud nations, I forbid you not to return to heaven, ablaze with with flames, if noble kings 5resplendent in purple will obey me, and you leave dear Delight safe with me as my partner, like this companion here, to enjoy all with me by right. Nor do I give anyone precedence over her, since by an easy path she shows me the joys of the sought-for light, and frees me from the rugged by-way. To her I am owed thanks for my body’s cinnamon, and my hair oiled with the scents of India, and the gift of my beautiful mantle of purple. And to this selfsame sun I owe the gift of a life liberated from troubles.
VIRT. Let not these light blandishments, or beauty feigned with the cosmetics of deceit and guile, so cruelly deceive you, unhappy France, nor let them seduce you with pretense of perpetual praise or an empty promise with a gilded semblance of good.
PLEAS. These words fashioned of empty glory will have no effect, for glory leads life through trackless wildernesses to a wearisome end, and prostrates with dangers men excited by the empty whirlwind of fleeting fame, hopelessly neglecting the good things that are so greatly worth seeking amidst delights. With false hope you capture men’s minds, too ignorant
to avoid deceit, and you throw out empty words as if everything under the sun were due a triumphal celebration. But you, the West, last to be lit by the mighty sun, beware of being deceived by delusions. Do not let other kings of flourishing age more cheerfully finish out their blessed years, and do not allow the days of youth to go to ruin: O, windy Virtue will plunge you into the waters of the Styx with a lamentable death, and order you to hurl yourself into ghastly slaughter, depriving you of your reason, just as the raging breath of the north wind stirs up the sea’s billows, and with a thousand perils hastens on the most unheard-of deaths before old age is reached.
VIRT. Do not believe her. For after death the heaven-dwelling gods who rule all things will open up to you the bounds of heaven. Should I remind you of the labours of Hercules? Of those two thunderbolts in raging war, the Scipios, glory of the Roman race? Father Liber and the conquered Chinese? And the fierce peoples of India, as they drove their triumphal cars through the glad towns of the savage Caucasus? The loving brothers, offspring of Jove? And the Golden Fleece, brought from Colchis? And what shall I say of Rome, mistress of the world, oft conquered by your own ancestors? Are you left unmoved by the monarchs, the race of Charles, who wrote laws for all the earth, and their glory, brighter than the stars? What glorious deeds. Why should I proclaim for you the splendid deeds of all your ancestors? Why tell of all those banners planted on the high Capitoline by their strong right arms, and the perfidious ranks of the Saracens ranged against your troops, and the fertile fields of Judea soaked with much blood? You see how France, noble of countenance, directed its upraised eyes t0 the high stars. It did not direct them towards its belly like the race of mountain-ranging beasts, but rather lifted up ots head towards praise, seeing if it could capture the gifts of the gods. Rome, secure in this refuge albeit unequal to Etruscans, who threatened to outgrow them, increased and carried its name to the farthest ends of the earth.
PLEAS. Whoever thoughtlessly seeks triumphs and praises is author of his own death, and heedlessly falls together with his native land, as if crushing himself with the weight of his dwelling-place. To this the criminal weapons of Catiline and Sulla, their hands stained with the hot blood of Roman citizens, may bear witness. And what of the death inflicted by uncle and father on young boys, whom an impious battlefield has sent down to Hades? I pass over draughts of administered poison and cups mixed with the blood of bulls. I do not speak of crime preserved for many years by adamantine harshness, and deposed fathers of empire, compelled to endure sad deaths.
VIRT. But to those to whom it ever befell to die a sudden death, I recompensed the brevity of their life with worthy praise that eludes the greedy funeral pyre.
PLEAS. Wretched the man who, deluded by a false outcome, prefers to trust empty praise and and drag the times of a quiet life though dangers, exchanging sweet joy for foolish trifles, and is gratified by a page best fit to give weight to smoke? Why boast of the silly rewards of death? Every decrepit old age, after a life lived softly at leisure, feels that its life has been like that of Achilles or Telamon. For in the brief time remaining them they hear a pin-drop as if it were the mountaintops when they hear the Thunderer or the cliffs hear the roaring of the sea. Thus those who have sailed across the Stygian lakes hear the empty speeches of praise, and you, who are puffed up with those titles of yours, do you imagine that the meaning of those who speak touches those who are dead to life, or that those who have crossed the marshes of Dis can hear what those aboveground are doing, understand the utterances of their mouths, or thank you for your praises? As soon as the spirit flees, there is “a single night to be slept by all.”
VIRT. Pleasure, you who can deceive the brief senses attacked by your allurements, behold heaven and consider the conscious light of the star that turns the year, the brandished thunderbolts which fall from the sky, and the power over other species of obedient animals given you, their mistress. A mind graced with better gifts has been granted you, who, because you are enclosed in a prison of transient strength, impiously attack the heavens if you fancy that it perishes when it seeks, the beloved place of its origin plucked from the grip of its chains.
PLEAS. If any sort of eternal life remains to illustrious minds after their deaths, that life they owe to me, whom Apollo with his light obeys and for whom Phoebe is accustomed to pour forth her yellow gifts. I make renowned the shining constellations, and alone have at my command the blue sea and earth, fertile in rich produce. By me all things living arise, and feel the risen light of the sun, at whose command the mists disperse, and the earth rich in pleasing colours gives forth its scents. The waves of the glassy seas laugh under my protection, and the sky throws itself, pouring out its light. But fruitless virtue mixes both light and darkness, and cold waves with fire, just as do the storms born of the raging sea tremble in the gale, or the high mountains, plundered by the north winds day and night.
VIRT. So you shamelessly claim what was granted me by the gift of the heavenly ones to be your lavish due by right, whatever rewards the reaper harvests, whether the wines of the fruitful slopes or the harvests which with their crackling ears of corn give strength and force to the weakened body, which God brings forth into the realms of light, He made the gifts of toil, not of wantonness. Nothing is owed to you but Pasiphae’s offspring, and creatures of unspeakable twofold gender, and those born of their father’s criminal intercourse, engendered by the sin of Oedipus, Thyestes, or Cleopatra. These are those whelped by Pleasure, for them let her organize triumphs. All other gifts are to be ascribed to heaven, not to your vices, which you now defend with their evil delights.
PLEAS. Unless you chase this woman away, she’ll soon trouble your pleasant idleness with gloomy cares.
FRANCE I have endured enough labours, I have drunk enough of danger. Go and find another friend to whom you can attach yourself. Mindful of the toils I bore amid the billows of misfortune, let me begin to enjoy the benefits that delightful Pleasure brings me. O, I have known what it is to stand on guard in the pouring rain pours at night, and I have suffered under the shining stars. I know that death follows along with the rewards of ardent virtue, and on what fickle wings it is borne. I shall devote. what remains of my life to pleasure. You have slain enough noble nurslings of royal blood born to me, and thanks to you, warm limbs grow weary, battered by injury, but Pleasure has poured forth the odours of cinnamon, and she alone has dragged me, liberated from my chains, out of the ghastly prison of Hell. About here stand Venus, painted with a thousand colours, throwing out fiery flames from her lovely face, sand flattering Beauty, as when painted Parian marble gleams, or Aurora summons new suns after Phoebus has sunk out of an open sky into redoubled clouds. I shall go with her as my companion, you go and seek a servant for yourself who will follow you, one who chooses to go through harsh snows, suffer the heat of Libya, destroy the faithless Africans, and plough deep furrows in the blue ocean. For idleness is pleasing to me, purchased by so many dangers.
VIRT. Go then: but when you have experienced the outcome which awaits what you are going to attempt, then you will know to bear the rewards of good fortune more modestly. I shall not delay your amours any longer with my words, lest you experience prosperous times flowing away from you. But when bitter death overwhelms you, then you will confess you foolishly despised my commands.
Go to Act III