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IUPITER, PALLAS, IUNO, MARS, VENUS
JUP. My cares for the world’s kingdoms never moved me so much when fallen Troy, the pinnacle of mighty Asia, the fine work of the gods, taught a lesson of impious life to mankind. Their descendants’ disaster was less glorious, when the trophies of the Dardanian race borne in triumphs at Rome failed, which Gaul, rich in produce and in men, utterly subdued at my command. For this was approved by the terms of our eternal covenant to the gods who hold the gifts of heaven, and the Roman, who had corrupted his realms with luxury turned them over to the fierce Gauls for their government, so that they, controlling them, should manage barbaric races in accordance with the gods’ laws and rule so long as Aurora precedes the chariot of the sun and the shining world turns in its fixed alternations, and that they themselves should live obedient to the commands of the supernals. But, provoked by their impious minds, these rebels have strayed into criminality, forgetting that their pact with us had been sealed and confirmed by a celestial chalice of old, by the lilies we sent them as their badges, painted with the color of the sky, and by a gleaming silken cloth and the Oriflamme, shining like the stars, that martial token. Now I am the avenger of deceit, now I am compelled to be an evil-punishing god, and to employ its own armaments to overturn a nation which, having experienced such great perils, was raised to the acme of this world’s empire. This collapse will be greater than that of Ilium, nor will there be any hope in the arms of its descendants. Rather Hell itself will stand aghast before the sufferings of so great a power as it falls.
PAL. Eternal governor of the sky, whom the heavenly beings and mortal men obey, you grant the rule of kingdoms to whom you please. At your command the famous fall silent in darkness, and men noble in warfare spring from paupers’ blood. You raise up that what is thrust down, and, contrariwise, when moved by anger at sin, you thrust down what is raised up, you gently correct the wicked by whatever punishments please you, and you soften proud hearts thrusting themselves forward out of swollen pride. Absolve France from being a laughingstock to the nations, which you set before the rest and blessed with the gift of your kindly hand. Spare the gifts which once you, the Just One, indulgently granted with generosity. Spare France, which you caused later generations to call the blessed mother of nations, and protect the city of Paris, mistress of cities, to whom Babylon dares not compare herself, nor Rome, that ornament of all the world, nor Memphis, lofty with its turrets, nor Babylon, haughty with its gold and high walls.
JUP. The more and the greater the gifts I gave to all her kings, the more and the worse her insolent wickedness increased. Nothing would better befit the god of gods than that due punishment be added to so many misfortunes.
VEN. If, forgetful of your ancient compassion, you should yield to rage and anger wins the day, nobody would dare to beseech immunity from crime for mortal men. Unless you remit the wickedness done, I shall see lovely France, swathed in our banners, perish, France, which offered every hope of long-lasting rule. If France should fall, with her fall the works of the gods, and empty are the eternal gifts bestowed that she might reign in power.
JUP. He who is heedless of salvation once bestowed deserves to perish, consigned to his unspeakable end by his own free will, nor shall that house go unpunished where Hell’s darkness reigns, nor shall towns armed with fraud or the pinnacles of high towers conceal, unpunished, the greed of insolent, lying tongues, or the rewards of salvation be assured for the impious.
JUNO The rest of mortal mankind, scattered across the wide and fertile spaces of the earth, where Phoebus in his middle course denies their bodies shade or where the sands are washed by the sea that encircles the lands, are as troublesome as this single offspring of the deceitful prince of Ida, this hateful race of impious folk. After the hard fate of Troy, after the destruction of royal Rome at the hands of the cruel Fates, are you delaying punishments? Shall punishment be forestalled? Rise up as a righteous judge and erase what is left of this self-destructive kingdom, slaying these perfidious men. Let them no longer preside over affairs.
PAL. Yet let your accustomed clemency temper the penalties for arrogance, lest all that the gods built up at your command go to ruin. It is right for them to expiate the lesser crimes done to our godhead. Behold these suppliants praying to heaven, whom you deemed worthy of honour and were destined for heaven’s praise, to whom you grant to understand whatever you command. For shall those who, at your behest, have enlarged France by your decree destroy whatever lies where the Seine winds it way, or the Rhone swiftly descends, or the Loire washes with its peaceful current, as they go to join the ocean’s waters?
JUP. I regret that I so often freed the besieged kingdom from the insolence of its foes and enlarged it, alone undeserving, with so many heavenly and earthly gifts, gifts in which your labour and indulgence with riches wre generous. Now my hand should be kept free and a heavy penalty imposed for its crimes. But you, Minerva, who are so close to me in heaven, say how long you think the wicked race should be spared so that their crimes, committed with such great confidence, might be expiated. It is to you alone of my daughters that I will grant anything you ask for yourself.
PAL. Once, when in a mighty contest Luxury and the power of seductive Pleasure had conquered the palaces of Rome and the mighty city’s rule, France was selected for the honours of housing the Palladium and was made the whole world’s capital. Hither I transferred the care of the Aegis and of the Gorgon with her snaky hair, lest some other one mightier in wealth might arise and use its powerful hand to subdue our splendid realms. So now you perceive that the wandering Nile, which opens its seven miles, and the fleet Parthians who used to terrify the Romans’ power, and the Tigris, greeting the reborn day at the place where it mingles with the sea, do our bidding. And our arts and inventions are so brilliant that you might feel Athens and Latin elegance have migrated here. Since such endowments of the mind have grown corrupt, and since wiles serve for arts and mouths tell lies with glibness, these insults to yourself must be chastised with punishments. These fine artifices, whereby they have been arrogantly dictating laws to barbarians, must be abolished, and likewise the mental error and the darkness of the heart which destroy the gifts of the sciences so generously granted us. For these are the great torments of an impious life, to understand how superior were the good things one has abandoned. This punishment is greater than the wheel on which the Thessalian duke’s treacherous limbs are whirled, or the thirst of Tantalus amid the waters, or of the sisters carrying full water vessels from the waters. But once the crime has been expiated by punishment, their erstwhile elegances return once more, their erstwhile eloquence. Let not Pallas, the offspring of your brain, die a wretched death or feel the yoke of harsh servitude, for we freely acknowledge her to be superior to all the nations, for the sake of her father. And if a rebel foe oppresses her or she is being worn down by her own weaponry, grant that she may emerge, having suffered hardships, and turn her weapons against them thanks to whom concern for holy things lies profane and prostrate. Thus, not unmindful of your eternal pact, you will protect this beloved realm for later ages, nor will its filthy crimes escape your harsh judgment unpunished. Let not the heavenly beings delay their punishments. Let them keep off their kindly hands from gifts, and let heaven be more sparing than usual in distributing its blessings.
JUNO Spurious fragrances sufficiently cheat our dull senses and our bodies are sprinkled with scented balm, our hair with Indian nard, and our whorish luxury scorns sacred things. For the temperate climes we possess mingle fragrances fetched from Persia’s new-dawned light with ones from India, artfully disguising the boldness of our criminal lust. Moved by these things, my mind has already pondering denying these lands the use of its fruits and grains and filling them with the dread of pale fear. And, since your sentence of visiting punishments upon them stands fixed, let me alone enjoy the warmth of your embrace. Let them feel the breath of winter when the sun enters the sign of hot Cancer. When Leo draws out the day let frost cover the leaves of their trees and their corn, and may a freezing reaper work the ground with his sickle. Let the jaws of Hell stand open and the waters of the Styx overflow, and let the only breeze be that which Hell, that father of misfortunes, supplies, and the sluggish waters of its slow, black river.
VENUS I fancied you had set aside your anger and that the wounding of your heart went no deeper. Thus you triumphantly make merry that the Italian realm, that glory of its ancient race, has perished. Nor does it suffice you that Latium has fallen and now lies buried beneath its own weight. What new things does your grudge fear? Does a fresh concern for Carthage inspire you? Has another treacherous Phoenician been born? Who is it for whom you display such confidence in your face, fearless of vain undertakings? Surely no new care for Turnus or Hannibal requires fresh support from soldiers’ arms. Or if provinces where you were mighty in divine honor have failed, Samos too has fallen, conquered by a barbaric foe. Why prevent some future champion of France from smiting the insolence of its fierce enemy?
JUNO Surely the Fates will not bid only monarchs survive conflagrations, and unchanged times will not provide changes? Proud Carthage endured the yoke, ashes were created for the Roman, nor is a home allowed to survive for me. Banished, I wander as if no place is given me in heaven, nor am I able to protect the places which honor me with their worship, for whatever realms heap praises on my provinces are conquered and suffer their downfall. Now the Spaniard, who was shattered by Roman arms in warfare, unfurls his banners with their sacred emblems, obtaining long-desired consolation for the servitude of his ancestors. Thanks to the penalties he has often paid for his treacherous disposition, he understands the strength and power fixed and assured fidelity, and how much his people owe to heaven and the gods.
VEN. Are these the honors understood by those who worship the gods? Are such the folk who publish the gods’ glory to the most distant shores of this fertile earth? Men only ennobled by their crimes and disdainful faces, who neither not look up to heaven with hope nor fear nor shudder at the waters of the Acheron and have acquired no dread of the heavy penalties the judge from Cnossus imposes with his voting-urn. Sooner will a happy Charybdis admit visiting ships into her waters and the wind will enter into a pact of good faith with the sea, or the day unite its brilliance with the allied light of deep darkness before the guaranteed good faith of Spaniards will be conjoined with the gods.
JUNO But more often no incense warms the rites seen by Phoebus as he rises and sets, or the middle of the day burning in the hot hours, or the shivering frost of springtime enjoined by the Scythian sea, which knows not how to relax its chill.
PAL. No false face, false sound of a tongue, or the gifts stored up in an arrogant heart and prideful eye ought to move you. Offerings of a grateful heart are more welcome to heaven, and a mind that works in harmony with a tongue, not those who wantonly trample on simple folk, hold the widow in scorn, overwhelm the newcomer and those bereft of their parents with vexations, and murmur to themselves “I shall cleanse myself of sin with a vigorous cloud of incense and donatives hung up in a temple, and with the goodly merits of wealthy gifts I shall pay for whatever evil my ready hand has committed against innocent blood, and my wanton tongue, unsparing in issuing reproaches, and daring to provoke heaven and its supernals.”
JUNO Inasmuch as equal guilt attaches to those who observe the sacred injunctions of the law as to villains tainted by crime, no life is above reproach. In vain do the pious hold their harmless crime, in vain they endure toils, being oppressed by every kind of evil as the impious man, as they walk a path sullied by no guilt.
JUP. It is unfitting to resolve such weighty matters with squabbles or stubborn dislike. Heavy punishments for their crimes await both these and those, and thus the one will teach the other what an arrogant mind is, and what is boldness of spirit. Nevertheless let that permanent seat of empire willed by the Fates remain for France, but let it pay the forfeits it owes for its crimes, its taint avenged.
MARS Whatever barbaric standards nations have advanced in battle, having been conquered by idleness they have lost the trophies acquired by the protracted struggles of their history. The Mede, reclining on his soft couches, left his realms to be plundered by our effort, exchanging his bronze weaponry for gem-encrusted jewelry, the glory he gained in war for goblets, and the orient beholds no nation undone by the gifts of base leisure. Indeed my child Rome, that glory of the nations, when it had shattered barbarous weapons and, as commanded, had raised its arms to spread my commands far and wide past the world’s borders, soon came to do the bidding of a sordid mistress, marked by the spoils of luxury, and bearing the scepters which the mighty Roman had captured in war, since it could not remain untouched while doing the bidding of its lusts. But it was France alone among the other nations which burned with my ardor. Neither Camilla nor the beasts of the Maeotian Swamp or the manly virtue implanted in warlike men acknowledged a nation worthier of lasting rule because of its doughty spirits. I shall not now desert their loyal hearts, tested over many centuries, whether they attack mighty monsters hostile to heaven, or drive the proud Spaniards from their territories, or join to themselves all the kingdoms the wealthy Pactolus washes with its waves, whose wide expanse Father Bacchus sees from his lynx-drawn chariot, and all the places where the the unconquered glory of the Greeks holds sway.
JUNO You rejoice in butchery, and when you see the corpses prostrate on the earth’s vile dust you burst in, you fearsome one, with an impassioned heart. You support the ferocious feats of savage folk. Why does care for French stir you more than the Spanish race, dressed in tunics blazing blood-red and mantled in noble purple? As they carry the victor’s ensigns, you see from their glad faces and from their character that they are strong, unconquered, all-conquering by their art.
MARS It is not for these arts that weapons are given us and the painted “cone” of a helmet distinguished by its fraud, nor the rough sword and the savage battle axe, nor harsh weapons which, brandished by the arms of Frenchmen, break the opposing Spanish ranks. Having experience how helpful this force is, I would rather abandon my home in heaven than deny protective assistance to my Frenchmen.
JUNO Then why not kit out great lumps of wild beasts with weapons, clothe tigers and bulls with breastplates, and lead stout columns of fierce creatures marching into battle against men? And when in war you favour those who are most like wild beasts, why not now, madman, command heroes who resemble us?
MARS Those endowed with good sense do not scorn my good effects, ascribed to such sturdy fellows.
JUNO Why then does the rebellious Frenchman don armor at your instigation and why does the Spaniard, who is mightier in spirit, fight without your aid?
MARS Not by arms alone, nor only by the strength of the spirit, but by both the one and the other is the sceptre bestowed on a king. It not is the man who refuses to ball his fist openly in a contest who will reign, haloed in the light of kingly praise, nor will he who furtively opposes the hand of the foe march in sublime triumphs, nor will he who purchases his kingdoms ever travel through free cities, swelling with a Caesar’s praise, but rather he whose bold right hand will smash the solid ranks of the savage foe, and will walk fearlessly through all dangers.
JUP. Without any impunity do those who are puffed up with with pride, having glimpsed a catastrophe, trade for money the gifts they owe to my right hand as they work to overturn the gods’ commands. What is before us calls for energetic action. Let France be the care of the fates and the gods. But you who kindly gave gifts must now refrain from conferring yet more on a kingdom mighty in strength, let your indulgence cease until these crimes are atoned by punishment. Mars, withhold your due assistance until France learns how to accept heaven-sent laws and understands against what nations war should be waged. And you, Juno cease to demand the ruin of a kingdom which, amongst the rest of mankind’s open fields, the high glory of her kings will adorn, just as the sun stands out amid the lesser lights of heaven and the fiery stars.
Go to Act IV