BRITAIN’S FIRSTFRUITS, OR ST. ALBANST THE PROTOMARTYR
After Diocletian’s fury had ravaged the entire world, it finally penetrated to the Britons, separated from the rest of the world. A that time St. Amphibalus, a priest of singular virtue and learning, born for the salvation of many a Briton, exercising the prudence of a ship’s captain by thinking the storm should be avoided, retired to the home of St. Albans, who at that time was still a pagan (he was a lord of Verulam born on ancient Roman stock), who gave him a kindly reception. And St.. Alban’s hospitality extended to a foreign man did not go unrewarded. For in place of a payment, he in turn received the orthodox faith from St. Amphablus.. But the master and his disciple did not long enjoy the fruits of their association. For when they learned that they had been betrayed by some pagan or other, they sought to escape by adopting disguises. The master got a way, the disciple was caught and placed under arrest by the prefect of Verulam. But behold a thing worthy of the history books! One of the soldiers who had captured St. Alban was amazed by his divine virtue and enlisted in the army of Christ and together with him was honored with the laurels of martyrdom.. But our executioner who beheaded this protomartyr with his axe was suddenly blinded, and a little later the city prefect who deprived him of his life went out of his mind. From the biography in Bede I.v. (Bede’s Codex Marcianus at Venice, I. chapter 8) and the Life of St. Alban.
ST. ALBAN the protomartyr
ST. AMPHIBALUS his preceptor
MARCELLUS the city prefect
CRISPUS his son
CAPNODES a priest of Diana
PROTEUS his brother
THEOPISTUS Alban’s servant
FAUSTULUS a shepherd
MEGASTHENES a Justice of the Peace
HARPAX his servant
AGATHO, THRASO, CRATERUS, POLEMO Soldiers
GURGES, OFFA, ARTOTROGUS Beggars
ACT I, SCENE
Newly bathed in the font of salvation, St. Alban rejoices. St. Amphibalus urges their immediate departure, but, overcome by his neophyte’s entreaties ,at length acquiesces
ST. ALBAN, AMPHIBALLUS
ALB. As soon as the shadows are banished and the light-bringing sun raises its head in heaven, its head shining with gold and the flowers of Paphos, and the sweet choir of birds greets its brilliance, the herds frisk in rejoicing, the aether shines once more the earth paints its bosom with an improved coloration, and all nature attests to its joy by putting oin a new face. For me, Christ is the bringer of light after the night’s gloom. Christ has dispelled the darkness with His better illumination, Christ teaches my heart to exult with new rejoicings. I am wholly dissolved with happiness. This is enough, heaven, oh restrain your generous hand! Or rather expand the confines of my narrow heart. What man can contain your gifts within such a little heart? With this heart I now embrace all-embracing heaven. (Enter Amphibalus.)
AMPH. A final farewell, Alban, you darling of the saints!
ALB . What sound strikes my ears? Oh the terrible thunder! Oh words filled with gall. “A final farewell?” How could Alban fare well, if Aphibalus, the better part of my soul , flees?
AMPH. Another world is summoning me. Christ is calling for Amphibalus, don’t fight against heaven.
ALB. Wherever you go I’ll be hard on your heels. Whether you scorch the soles of your feet by drawing too near to Phoebus’ chariot or drink from the stream of the faraway Don under an icy sky, I shall follow my master.
AMPH. I like the noble ardor of your affectionate heart, and yet you must moderate your love’s passion. Is the wolf to drag away a shepherd’s flock roaming through the forbidding wilds of the forest with his insatiable hellish jaws while I carefully guard a single lamb?
ALB. A good shepherd abandons a hundred sheep as long as he fetches back to the snow-white flock a single stray lambkin, disentangling it when he sees it caught up in tangled thickets, and cheerfully furnishes his shoulders to support its weight. his shoulders.
AMPH. A good shepherd abandons his hundred sheep when his milk-white sheep are happily munching grass, but that robber-wolf from Hell seizes and devours those sheep with teeth that flash like lightning.
ALB. Please don’t ruin my happiness. Just now bright days were shining, but Phoebus is now hidden by a dark cloud. This is how it goes: pain and pleasure like to operate in a cycle by taking turns. Pleasure is brief, but sorrow protracted. Are you fleeing me? Was I such a harsh host to you? In the name of England’s future hopes, her heroes who someday be given to heaven, and by my recent birth from the living water, stop your over-hasty feet. I am not asking for many days, let just a small delay hold back my sweet Amphibalus.
AMPH. You win, Alban. Your eloquent words move me with their persuasive honey.
ACT I, SCENE ii
THEOPISTUS, ST. ALBAN, AMPHIBALUS, AGATHO
In Marcellus’ name St. Alban is invited to join him on the hunt. He pleads his bad health, but at St, Amphibalus’ urging he promises to come.
THEO. Alban, this soldier requests an interview.
ALB. Does he come armed?
THEO. He is equipped with a sword and spear.
ALB. Flee, Albanus. He brings armed words.
AMPH. If he comes by himself there’s no reason to be afraid.
THEO. He’s alone.
ALB. And yet I’m afraid. I compelled you to create a dangerous delay, so I have killed you.
AMPH. Dismiss this mental habit of anticipating evil. Sorrows hasten forward sufficiently of their own volition, they scarcely require an invitation.
ALB. At least remain hidden in some dark lurking-place.
AMPH. Is a solid wall to conceal Amphibalus even though so danger is present? Not yet has Time driven its chariot as far as those blessed hours when he will break free of he earthly bonds and let him drink the supernals’ nectar among the senate of the saints. Let the soldier be summoned, I shall cleverly copy the arts of the Paonians.
ALB. Let him enter my home with favorable omens. (Exit Theopistus.)
AMPH. He who governs the Fates with his nod thas not yet cut your life’s thread. But let your well-prepared heart fearlessly receive Death’s cruel dart when it shots its deadly arrow.
ALB. I shall purchase the crown of martyrdom by dying a beautiful death. (Enter Theopistus and Agatho.)
AG. Marcellus is seeking the forest dens of beasts, so as to while away the day with his keen-scenting hounds. But he will find even Sylvanus’ haunts tedious unless Alban is present. He begs that you join his sportive young men as their companion.
ALB. I feel a hidden chill permeating my limbs, I fear that a fever might be preclude Diana’s sports. Perhaps while I am chasing our prey illness might also be pursuing me. Come now, you alone are a second Machaon. Tell me, should I travel to the forest?
AMPH. (Taking his pulse.) Your vein is throbbing too quickly, but the forest will give it a regular beat. Physical exercise is wont to defeat evil humors and make you sweat out the fever’s poisons.
ALB. Now I happily enter the Dryads’ dark haunts. Theopistus, let this soldier have a taste from our Massic casks before he leaves my threshold.
AG. May heaven readily grant you a thread as long as Nestor’s. (Exit with Theopistus.)
ACT I, SCENE iii
St. Amphibalus urges steadfastness on his disciple as he departs for the hunt.
AMPHIBOLUS, S. ALBAN
AMPH. Let spells of relaxation interrupt your cares. Heaven does not always require you to keep your bow strung. He who observes the Golden Mean walks in safety. And yet you should take care lest that forest sport deceive you. While you are capturing fearsome beasts in your nets see to it that they do not spread a treacherous net for yourself as well.
ALB. As long as you weary heaven with your frequent praying I have nothing to fear. Though tyrants thunder, gnash their teeth, and foam at the mouth, Christ is my shield.
AMPH. What if they threaten you with imprisonment?
ALB. To me the world seems like one great prison. And what is this muddy mass which encages my mind within its tight betters if not a little prison.
AMPH. And can you fearlessly withstand Marcellus’ threats when he glowers at you balefully?
ALB. Although he has the power to confiscate transitory wealth, he cannot take away heaven. I will gladly exchange this little bit of glittering mud for heaven.
AMPH. You have no fear of death?
ALB. What’s death? A perpetual resting-place, a short sleep, an ending to misery, a mother of eternal blessedness.
AMPH. There’s no need to supply premature wings to a man who wants to fly. Enjoy good fortune when entering the forest.
ALB. You’ll soon see Alban returned. (He kneels and asks for a benediction.) Meanwhile fortify my brow with a sign of the cross. For me this is better protection than a trusty helmet. (Aphibalus marks his forehead with a sign of the cross.) Now I challenge the Styx to battle, let it attack my single self with all its legions, I shall meet them with bared breast.
AMPH. Thus, thus you should go. Let Christ be your shirt of chain mail, stronger than threefold layers of adamant. With Christ as your commander may you trample on Jove of the Underworld with a victorious foot. (Exeunt.)
Go to Act II