ACT TWO

TABLEAU I

THE TEMPLE OF THE UNKNOWN GOD.

A wild region of the Taurus. The scene represents a wide porch built against the wall of the mountain. High Doric columns carry the overhanging rocks. Their double row encloses in the middle of the scene a gap forming an entrance; at the back is seen the mouth of a chasm in the ground. Behind the chasm, a gallery of stout square pillars plunges as far as the eye can see into the bowels of the mountain and ends in a luminous point. This is the inaccessible sanctuary. No statues or ornaments; the temple is bare and empty; the naked rock forms both floor and ceiling. Only two gigantic sphinxes, facing the spectator, crouch on watch at the edge of the chasm. The one on the right is white, the one on the left is black. Their wings are outspread. Near the chasm, equidistant from the two sphinxes, a marble altar on which burns a scarcely visible flame. To right and left copper basins containing incense stand on tripods.

 

SCENE I

THEOKLES, helmeted, a naked sword in his hand, enters by a gateway in the rock. He halts in the middle of the scene and casts looks of astonishment about him.

THEOKLES. At last I have reached you, terrible sanctuary! How have I climbed the rocky stairway under the flight of vultures and eagles? In truth, I know no longer. An irresistible desire carried me on its wings, and this sword opened my way. . . . But where am I now, great Heaven? Silence and Terror dwell in this porch, and all around the eye perceives nothing but summits and precipices. (He turns towards the sphinxes.) And you, dumb colossi, fabulous beasts, are you the only living beings here? What terrifying and sublime mystery, what monster or what god do you watch over with your outspread wings? Which of you two is the greater, the black or the white? The sombre guardian of the darkness whence none returns, or the radiant messenger clothed in immortal light? (He advances between the two sphinxes to the edge of the chasm and stoops over it.) This is the unfathomable abyss! It descends into the bowels of the earth! And beyond it a narrow track fades into the Infinite where a speck of light gleams faintly. . . . Here is indeed the temple of thy word, the tripod of thy oracles, 0 terrible unknown God! How often the horror of thy sanctuary has haunted my sleepless nights, and now that I behold it I tremble to the marrow and would flee to the ends of the earth! (He looks again at the sphinxes.) And yet I must hear his voice, though it should strike me down at the foot of these columns. But how to make him speak? Sphinxes have ever been silent from all eternity. Their stony eyes commune with God but not with man. (He notices a shield fastened by its centre to one of the columns of the porch.) What do I see here? A shield, with letters of gold gleaming on the brass. (He reads aloud the following inscription.) ‘Woe to any profane stranger who crosses the threshold of this Temple. Thou who desirest to know the Unknown God, enter not if thou art impure. But if thou darest to call upon him, strike on me . . . once, if only a man . . . twice if a king . . . thrice if an initiate.’ (He reflects a moment.) Come, my heart, thou hast not trembled before the shouts of the enemy and the shock of arms. Why tremble before the unknown? Let the hilt of my sword be the forger of my fate. And thou, shield, reply if thou hast a soul. Without fear I strike thee! (He strikes three blows on the shield with the handle of his sword.)

 

SCENE II

THEOKLES, then HERAKLIDOS, who emerges slowly through the bronze door of a building adjoining the gateway on the right. He wears the white robe of a Hierophant, a golden tiara, on his white hair intertwined purple fillets, and carries an ebony sceptre adorned with a golden lion.

HERAKLIDOS. You who have dared to climb the forbidden mountain and to pass the threshold of this Temple with a naked sword in your hand, of what god are you an initiate?

THEOKLES. Of no god.

HERAKLIDOS. You are a king then?

THEOKLES. Not that either.

HERAKLIDOS. By what right, then, being neither priest nor king, do you dare to knock three times on the fateful brass? Know that the call of the shield reverberates through the deeps of Being. No power can recall the sound, wave on its course in the infinite. Its triple signal summons the triple god. If I make him speak for you, he will manifest himself in his awful majesty. How will you a mere mortal, endure his radiance and his voice, you who are neither the king of any nation nor the initiate of any cult?

THEOKLES. It is true that I am no more than a mere mortal. But by the immensity of my desire I feel myself to be a king, and by the terror which my soul has overcome I am an initiate.

HERAKLIDOS. Indeed? I know not which is the greater, your audacity or your arrogance! Are you perhaps some charlatan who believes that by an act of furtive pilfering he can filch the eternal mysteries, or else some sacrilegious reprobate prompted by an impure intent? Approach this chasm. I know some who after a single glance into its depths were seized with giddiness and let themselves fall. Others have been unable ever to forget it and believe that they are falling, falling for ever into a bottomless void. Weigh your strength then and consider. You can still withdraw.

THEOKLES. A man does not withdraw when the desire of a lifetime is staked upon one hour and when he knows that hour to be come. Foolhardy? Maybe, but neither sacrilegious nor a charlatan. I am a man who means to view Heaven and the Abyss before acting and to match the God which he carries within him against the God of the universe. The terrors you speak of do not frighten me. They cannot equal the hell of thoughts which I bear within me without trembling or flinching.

HERAKLIDOS. You speak like a predestined hero. Your name?

THEOKLES. Theokles of Dionysia.

HERAKLIDOS. Who sends you?

THEOKLES. Lycophron.

HERAKLIDOS. It is well; I was expecting you. Your words suit your deeds as a sword-hilt the blade; that is the mark of the strong. You are a true son of Japhet, one of those who walk under the sign of the sun and whom I, heir of the ancient sages, am bound to defend. Now what do you ask of me?

THEOKLES. To learn my destiny, and to find the path that I seek.

HERAKLIDOS. It is upon you to choose your destiny and to find your path. But I am able to bring forth from the Unfathomable and the Eternal the Powers which have begotten you and the Guardian Angel who rules over your soul.

THEOKLES. Ah! If only you could!

HERAKLIDOS. I will attempt it. Concentrate your soul in the depth of your heart and do not stir from here till I call. (Heraklidos kneels, prostrates himself, then kneels upright. Then he prays as follows, with uplifted arms.) Lord Who hast Thy throne in the Unfathomable, King of Heaven and Earth, Father of Worlds and Souls, Zeus—Adonais, I invoke Thee. Permit that one of Thy Rays be manifested to this fearless one, to this son who ascends to Thee filled with audacity and noble purpose! (A white flash issues from the inaccessible sanctuary. Heraklidos stands up again.) The Unknown God will speak. (He traces a circle in the air.) Step into the circle. (Theokles steps into the middle and stands still. Heraklidos takes incense from the copper bowl near the black sphinx and throws some on the altar fire. A red flame flashes out.) And now in the Name of the Almighty, speak, Powers of Heaven and Earth! I invoke the Guardian Spirit who rules over this man! (He raises his sceptre. Thunder is heard underground. A crimson light comes from the chasm.) The mountain quivers on its base. The columns of the Temple reel. Red flashes proclaim the coming of the Spirit. He is the most powerful of all in the Abyss. . . . (To Theokles.) Grasp your sword in your hand and behold!

(A beautiful figure slowly rises and appears above the chasm. The Fallen Angel is seated on a planet half riven and seamed with crevasses. One of his hands is chained to the globe by an iron ring riveted to the soil by a thunderbolt. In the other hand he proudly raises a torch in the darkness.)

THEOKLES. Sublime and awful Angel, I tremble and exult at the sight of thee. Every fibre in my body quivers. My Life Force, multiplied a hundredfold, seethes as though it gushed exultantly from the well-springs of Generation and of Eternal Desire. How sad and how splendid thou art, 0 my Guardian Spirit, my God, my Lucifer!

LUCIFER. Thou hast summoned me; what wouldst thou of me?

THEOKLES. To be like thee.

LUCIFER. Try then.

THEOKLES. How can it be done?

LUCIFER. Believe in thyself and strive with the Eternal with all the force of thy being.

THEOKLES. Wilt thou support me?

LUCIFER. Yes, for as long as thy faith in thyself lasts.

THEOKLES. Since I have seen Thee, I feel it to be invincible. But why, 0 mighty Angel, is thy immortality shot through with pain and why does the shadow of death darken thy brow?

LUCIFER. When God said: Let there be light! I was born, radiant and proud, of the breath of His mouth. A star gleamed on my forehead. Soaring through space I cried: ‘I am Intelligence and Liberty, I am Light! I will not obey Thee. It is through myself that I mean to be, to know and to conquer.’—‘Seek, then, Lucifer, through Pain and through Death!’ said the Eternal. Then I came near to the heart of the Almighty to steal His fire. Stricken by its splendour, I fell, I the Star of the Archangels, dragging down with me a shower of suns and of demons. I fell into the Abyss upon an accursed planet and the Star on my brow has faded. Since that day I have ranged through space with this torch kindled at the tabernacle of the Eternal, and slowly I am recapturing His universe. Wouldst thou rather enjoy without effort the uncreated Light or attain it with me through Pain and Death?

THEOKLES. Rather a hundred thousand deaths and everlasting pain than forego a single fragment of my liberty!

LUCIFER. Art thou as strong as thou believest?

THEOKLES. My whole being aspires towards thee and ascends at sight of thee up to unimagined heights. My heart kindles at thy torch of pride and light.

LUCIFER. It is well. Henceforth thy name shall no longer be Theokles, but Phosphoros. For thou wilt bear my light before men. Go on thy way.

(He sinks into the black chasm amid red flashes and renewed underground thunder.)

PHOSPHOROS. He is plunging again into the gulf. . . . He disappears! Oh, that moan from the abyss, where millions of damned souls groan and wail without response. . . . Terror seizes me anew. 0 Lucifer, my mortal pain is heightened by thy immortal pain! Shall I be able to endure it and to sustain thy torch? I have presumed too far on my strength. I feel myself fainting. . . .

(He reels and backs a few steps.)

HERAKLIDOS. Beware! Do not pass the circle or you risk your life. The abyss is seething and its fumes vomit forth demons. (He stretches out his sceptre over the chasm.) Now hear the other voice!

(He takes more incense from the righthand tripod near the white Sphinx and sprinkles it on the altar. A flame of dazzling whiteness flashes out. At once sweet music is heard from the inaccessible sanctuary.)

PHOSPHOROS. What are those celestial strains, like the harmony of the spheres, or the incense which comes from the heart of the Seraphim? It softens the bowels of the rock; the huge mountain seems etherealized . . . the columns of the Temple vibrate like lyres . . . and the innermost soul unfolds its flower.

HERAKLIDOS. It is a voice from above. Look! The music becomes light, and the light is about to speak!

(A Star appears above the chasm; it is a five pointed Star of a vivid whiteness with a golden core. It glitters like a sun; a voice comes out of it.)

THE HEAVENLY VOICE. Phosphoros! Phosphoros! Thou hast the brand that burns and the torch that shines. But to make thee a hero, a spotless soul must believe in thee. One alone is enough. But without it thou wilt be nothing.

PHOSPHOROS. Where dwells such a soul?

THE VOICE. Phosphoros! Phosphoros! To make thee a hero, a virgin must burn for thee with a fearless love and renounce her god to follow thee. A woman with the seven rays of Glory must plunge into her own heart the seven swords of Pain. Feelest thou the strength to awaken such love?

PHOSPHOROS (with a cry of joy). Yes! By all the forces of Desire, by the torch of Lucifer I feel strong enough!

THE VOICE. Fulfil thy destiny! Beware of pride which leads to the Abyss. And follow the Star of Love. . . . Light is a Voice. . . . Let its Voice be thy Light! (The Star vanishes.)

HERAKLIDOS. The Abyss has spoken and Heaven, too. The Guardian Spirits have baptized thee with a Divine name. Thou called on them; they have chosen thee; henceforth thou must obey them.

PHOSPHOROS. The Torch! The Star! When shall I see them again?

HERAKLIDOS. Thou wilt see the Torch again in the hour of struggle, but the Star will kindle on thy brow under the breath of a divine woman.

PHOSPHOROS. (Grasps the arm of the Hierophant and cries with passion.) A woman’s breath mighty enough to kindle the Star on the brow of the Warrior? (He lets go Heraklidos’s arm.) This woman, thou makest me dream of her, thou bringest her living before my eyes . . . with her transparent flesh and the passionate ringlets of her dark hair; her eyes fountains of light, her mouth a flower of tenderness and strength. . . . (He shakes his head.) But such a woman does not exist! 0 overbold seer, dangerous prophet, why cast this devouring fire into my heart? Even the hair of the Maenads and the caresses of the Bacchantes cannot kindle such flames of desire!

HERAKLIDOS. It is with that fire that heroes are forged. Thy heart is on the anvil. Let the hammer beat and the sparks fly.

PHOSPHOROS (not listening). The soul who will believe in me . . . the virgin who will leave her god to follow me . . . the Titan woman born of the love of the daughters of Eve with the Archangels. . . . Where could I ever find her?

HERAKLIDOS. Believe in thy Star and thou wilt find her!

PHOSPHOROS. 0 mysterious sister of my desire, begotten of the blood of my travail and the vapour of my dreams, on what height, in what abyss am I to seek thee? To discover thee I would ransack the world and suffer a thousand deaths. Vast is the universe, but vaster still is my desire! And yet, Heraklidos, I leave thee with regret. These temple columns where the gods have spoken to me, when shall I be able to contemplate them again?

HERAKLIDOS. 0 Phosphoros! One day thou wilt return here.

PHOSPHOROS. Will it be a day of victory or of defeat?

HERAKLIDOS. God alone knows. But what matter if thou remainest equal to thyself?

PHOSPHOROS. 0 wondrous Sage, thou who dwellest like a lion in the cave of Truth, thou hast shown me the signs, thou hast made to speak the Guardian Spirits who reign over me. In their presence my own soul has risen like a warrior in arms. By revealing me to myself thou hast set me free for ever. Because of that I call thee my Master and my King. (He kneels before the Sage.)

HERAKLIDOS (putting his hand upon Phosphoros’s head). And I, 0 Phosphoros, I call thee my son. Be the awakener of souls and the trumpet-blast of the Unknown God in the world of the living. And now to action!

PHOSPHOROS (rising). The Star and the Torch summon me! Farewell!

HERAKLIDOS (stretching out his sceptre). Till we meet again!

(Exit Phosphoros.)

 

TABLEAU II

THE THEBAID OF THE VIRGINS OF THE DESERT.

An oasis of Lower Egypt. A Christian chapel of primitive simplicity, installed in the ruins of an Egyptian temple, open to the sky. The scene is framed by two enormous columns with bell-shaped capitals which disappear out of sight. Here and there stumps of pillars serve as seats. On the walls, images crudely painted in the Byzantine style of God the Father, the Virgin Mary and Christ. Colossal images of the Egyptian gods carved in hieratic lines in the stone can be seen rising at the back. To the right, doors built in the wall lead to the cells of the Virgins. To the left, a larger fully arched door-way, with the dove of the Holy Ghost carved in stone above it, leads to the cell of the Father of the Desert. At the back in a niche of the temple where once stood an Egyptian god, the recluses have placed a statue of Christ the Shepherd, carrying the lamb and holding the Cross like a crook. Behind the fragments of tumble-down walls can be seen the tops of gigantic palm trees which overshadow part of the temple.

 

SCENE I

THE FATHER OF THE DESERT, CLEONICE. The Father is standing towards the front of the scene. Cleonice comes out of her cell and approaches slowly from behind. She seems to be in search of someone behind the columns of the ruins; at length she touches the Father’s arm.

CLEONICE. He has not come yet?

THE FATHER. No, I do not believe he will come this evening. The sun is setting already. My prayers have kept him away.

CLEONICE. Oh, no, I can tell by the anxious throbs of my troubled heart. . . . I am sure he will come!

THE FATHER. You are determined then to see this reprobate, this Theokles, now called Phosphoros, who dares to propagate even in these regions the cult of the rebel Angel?

CLEONICE. Yes.

THE FATHER. And why do you, a defenceless maiden, wish to speak to him?

CLEONICE. To abase him before Christ . . . or if he will not listen, to throw a curse upon him which will leave him powerless for ever!

THE FATHER. Beware, my daughter, that is a dangerous mission. You do not yet know all the assaults and snares of the devil. His wiles are subtler than a spider’s web, and once he has caught us, he encloses us in meshes of steel. The presence of such men is deadly. Often a single word or look from them may taint a soul for ever.

CLEONICE. Christ is on my side, and I feel the strength to bring this rebel to the Saviour’s feet.

THE FATHER. What foolhardiness, my daughter. You bring to your devotion all the passion of your untamed spirit. Be humbler; I fear lest the contrary may happen and Satan entice you to himself.

CLEONICE. Never! Jesus, Whom I see in dreams, has clothed me in chastity for an armour and has given me His courage for a diamond shield!

THE FATHER. Yes, if you were a tried saint, but you are only an ardent . . . a too ardent . . . novice!

CLEONICE. Has not the Divine Master said: ‘Whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believe that ye shall receive it . . . ye shall obtain everything, even to cast the mountains into the sea’? Well then, I feel for this overbearing Phosphoros a hatred intense enough to overturn mountains. I mean to abase him before the splendour of my King!

THE FATHER. Headstrong audacity! You are relapsing into the worst errors of the heathen. It is not hatred but love which moves mountains. Jesus forbids hatred; it leads to every kind of downfall.

CLEONICE (with a deep sigh). Ah! You do not understand that my hatred for the foes of Jesus springs from my boundless love for Him.

(She wrings her hands and folds her arms across her face.)

THE FATHER (sternly). Yes, I understand . . . everything. Now that I see clearly into your agitated heart, I bid you flee from the enemy of God. Return to your cell!

CLEONICE. I obey. (She goes in slowly and with bent head.)

THE FATHER (pensive). She will have to suffer much to become a saint. Happily I am on the watch . . . and the enemy will not come now. (With both hands he makes a gesture of exorcism towards the desert.) Let us return to prayer. (He re-enters his dwelling.)

 

SCENE II

PHOSPHOROS, then CLEONICE.

Phosphoros enters left and leans against the great column in the front of the scene.

PHOSPHOROS. It is here that Thou art worshipped 0 Christ! Before the humble statue with a lamb in its arms, the Virgins of the Desert come to adore Thee; and night and day they pour out floods of tenderness at Thy feet. . . . And I who bear in my heart the liberty of mankind and the beauty of a new world, I have not met a single soul who has seen into the depths of my own and who believes in me for life or death! When shall I have the sign? When will the hour of action rise in my heaven with the flaming Star? . . . It will never come. . . .

(Turning with a weary gesture towards the horizon.)

O boundless desert, dusky shroud, enfolding dead cities and buried gods. . . . Towards thee I stretch my empty arms in vain!

(At this moment Cleonice comes out of her cell. The setting sun falls full upon her face. On noticing Phosphoros, she makes a startled motion, but regains her composure at once and steps forward purposefully.)

CLEONICE. Stranger, by what right do you enter this temple?

PHOSPHOROS. The temple stands open, I have come to look at its God.

CLEONICE. Do you know that this God is Christ, and that these ruins shelter the Virgins of the Desert?

PHOSPHOROS. I know it. But who are you who speak so excellently the soft tongue of Ionia?

CLEONICE. I am Cleonice, daughter of Laodikos, of the city of Dionysos.

PHOSPHOROS. Cleonice? whom I met a while since, veiled, in the Agora?

CLEONICE. The same. And here I am now in safe harbour in this oasis of prayer, in one of the citadels of Christ for the conquest of the world. But you, what is your name?

PHOSPHOROS. My father named me Theokles. My destiny and my Guardian Spirit have surnamed me Phosphoros.

CLEONICE. Know then, Phosphoros, that the true God holds you accursed, scourge of the world, agent of Satan! He will strip branches from the trees to make rods for your chastisement. You have seen signs without understanding them. Voices have called to you, but you have not heard them. Luminous hands have traced on the wall, in letters of fire, the name of the Eternal; and you have erased the writing with your cloak, flushed with presumption and lust. Christ has died and risen again, and you know nothing of it! Woe upon you who believe not in the Messiah!

PHOSPHOROS. I believe in myself, and my God is the Outcast Angel who illuminates the world with his torch.

CLEONICE. Oh pitiful presumption! Oh do you not know Him then—the Divine Sufferer? You have not seen Him faint under the Cross. He comes to visit us here in the crypt, He the Saviour of the world; He brings to us the bread of angels and the chalice of sacrifice. If you only knew how beautiful He is! His body shines like a sun. From all His wounds He pours out the roses of Love and the lilies of Grace. Then I cast myself at His bleeding feet and I weep to be unable to suffer for Him all the agonies He has suffered for mankind! You do not know Him? Oh, if you could but know Him!

PHOSPHOROS (looks at her fixedly, then turns away—aside). I ought to have met this woman sooner.

CLEONICE. What ails you then, Phosphoros? You tremble; you seem agitated. . . .

PHOSPHOROS (looking at her again and then turning away—aside). Hitherto I have seen none but lowly maidens, downtrodden wives or frantic Bacchantes; but this is a woman! Beneath the living flesh her ardent soul quivers. . . . What a flame burns in the dilated orbit of her eyes! . . . And in her bosom throbs the heart of the world, athirst for love and sorrow. . . . A woman, a real woman. . . . A woman conscious and complete. . . . Only one . . . and yet that would suffice for the birth of a hero and the renaissance of the world!

CLEONICE. What are your thoughts?

PHOSPHOROS. I was thinking how happy is your Messiah to be thus beloved by you. I too will be a Messiah; I too am a Messenger of the Everlasting. I too will redeem men by rousing in them their sleeping souls, the divine spark, the fire which creates. Do you know what curses, what sufferings await me for the fetters that I shall break, for the truths that I am about to sow throughout the world like torches and swords? Do you know the hatred, the solitude, the banishment, death maybe, in some remote desert more desolate than this Thebaid of yours, where you dwell in vision and ecstasy? All that awaits me, oh pure and divine maiden! But you have tears only for your Christ! Be happy. . . . My blessing upon you! I desire the happiness of mankind; you possess it. May you retain it for ever! Farewell!

CLEONICE (in her turn averts her eyes—aside). Woe is me for having beheld his radiant glance! Angel and serpent in one! The wiles of a seducer and the candour of a godlike hero. What sublime terror, what dreadful joy steals over me! How shall I recover henceforth the peace of Heaven when I think of the desperate warrior, the noble sufferer fighting his way up from the abyss? Through his eyes shines a revolted angel who seeks to overthrow me! (She staggers and leans against the column.)

PHOSPHORUS. What ails you, maiden? Why do you bow your heroic head? Why lower as if in pain your black-fringed eyelids over the splendour of your eyes? Oh! curse me once again! Cover me with anathemas, so only I may see those eyes shine for one last time!

(They look at each other with growing intensity and emotion. All at once she turns away and feverishly lifts her hands to her temples, and then to her bosom, as though stifling.)

PHOSPHORUS. In the name of Christ, what is the matter, Cleonice?

CLEONICE (with an abrupt defensive gesture). Silence! . . . Do not look at me any more! Leave me! Leave me! (She moves away swiftly and re-enters her cell without looking back.)

PHOSPHORUS (alone). There is the first soul I have ever won! A soul vibrant and strong, which can see and know, a soul capable of embracing the universe; the Woman in the Maiden, the Heroine in the Lover, the Heavenly Psyche in the complete Eve! Never shall I forget those trembling eyelids, nor those tears which fell like pearls of light from her fiery eyes. . . . A silent victory in the heart of the desert, on the threshold of a Thebaid; But worth the rout of armies. What divine force has stolen into my heart? No doubt I shall never see thee more, 0 Cleonice! But I shall know in my everlasting solitude that a soul solitary like my own, a dweller in this desert, is one with me!

 

SCENE III

PHOSPHORUS, a MESSENGER.

THE MESSENGER. I arrive breathless from Alexandria. The last ship coming from Ionia has brought a message for you. It is from Damis. (He hands him a tablet of wax.)

PHOSPHORUS (reading). ‘Everyone knows here that you are Harmodius, and your following is increasing visibly. Every day we read inscriptions on the walls of the City Hall: ”Return, Harmodius; Dionysia mourns her son’s absence! ”The Proconsul Harpalus, alarmed at this seditious outcry, is planning your ruin. He has publicly repealed the order of banishment issued against you. He promises that you shall dwell unmolested in the city and freely enjoy your possessions, on condition of appearing before his court to justify yourself before the assembled citizens against the grave charges brought against you. This is but a trap set for your eagerness, and your return would mean your death. Beware of showing your face in Dionysia. Stay rather with our friends in Alexandria.

‘Your faithful

‘DAMIS.’

So that is it? My friends are being discouraged by threats to my life! The germ of my ideas is to be stifled in their hesitant hearts; thus the eaglet will be crushed in the egg. Well calculated, Harpalus. But you rely too much on my fear. It shall not be said that Phosphoros shrinks from defending himself before Caesar’s hireling and before his fellow-citizens. This is the moment to dare, the call of destiny comes in answer to the sign. The hour of action has struck. (To the Messenger.) Do you know whether any boat is about to leave for Ionia?

THE MESSENGER. In three days’ time, a Phoenician boat will be setting sail for our shores.

PHOSPHOROS. Let us hasten to the harbour and then away to Dionysia! And now, Star of Lucifer, lone Planet shining in infinite space, rise in splendour on the horizon! (Exit with the Messenger.)

 

SCENE IV

CLEONICE and the VIRGINS of the DESERT.

It is night. The Virgins carrying lighted tapers issue one by one from their cells and go to kneel at the back of the scene, at the foot of the statue of Christ the Shepherd. Cleonice comes out last and stands looking after them.

CLEONICE. I dare not follow them. . . . I can no longer pray! (She moves cautiously towards the column.) Oh that piercing look which transfixed me, from what depths did it come? From what sea of suffering? It pierced me to the marrow. Oh! that agonized look, how it dwells still in me and governs my soul!

HYMN OF THE VIRGINS (kneeling at the back of the scene).

Here are some flowers of the valley

That the reaper plucks at dawn;

Here are some lilies of Galilee,

O Harvester of Divine Love!

Like boughs still athirst

Under the tree of the Cross,

We bring Thee our lives.

Enfold the pure of heart

In Thy pierced side,

0 Christ, 0 King of Kings!

(The Virgins descend into the crypt.)

CLEONICE. How blissful they are, the spouses of Christ! They possess Heaven upon Earth. To think that I was like them, and now burn with another fire. Will Jesus leave me to face alone the terrible Spirit who is assailing me? Has the Divine Master of pardon and of grace already condemned me? No, that is not possible. . . . That would be an injustice! What have they done for Thee, 0 Christ, these innocent maidens, these lowly virgins? They have brought Thee weak spirits, trembling souls, which have never felt the temptations of the world, or the lure of power. But I, I have brought Thee a royal heart, brimming with strength, capable of every kind of pride and love, and I have crushed it at Thy feet to share in Thy divine sorrows! The Queen of Flowers, the entrancing rose, has she less worth in Thine eyes than the lilies of the field? Lord! Thou owest me a miracle! If Thou wilt save me, show Thyself in Thy glory!

(She moves towards the interior of the dim temple and prostrates herself before the altar. But suddenly lifting her head again she beholds Lucifer in the place of Christ, standing in a shaft of dazzling light, with outspread wings, in the posture of a spirit about to take flight. His right hand holds the torch, his left is outstretched over the bewildered suppliant. The vision lasts a few seconds and then fades.)

CLEONICE (hastening back towards the front of the scene). The Fallen Angel! Lucifer! That was his face! It was he! Phosphoros! . . . I am lost!

(She collapses half fainting on the ground with her head against the column.)

 

SCENE V

THE FATHER (stepping out of his dwelling). Who is there? I heard a desperate cry in the darkness. There is someone sighing at the foot of the column. (He comes nearer.) Is that you, Cleonice? Why do you lie there?

CLEONICE (raising herself on one arm). Oh awful and splendid vision!

THE FATHER (taking her arm). You seem ailing—beside yourself. Your cheek is fevered, your hands burn. Let me raise you up.

CLEONICE (lets him raise her and remains wrapt in a reverie; finally she murmurs in a low tone). Lucifer! Phosphoros!

THE FATHER. You are ill, Cleonice, and more in spirit than in body.

CLEONICE (looks at him in bewilderment as if unable to recognize him, then passes her hand over her forehead and gradually recovers her senses). Yes, I am strangely ill, and it would be better if I were dead!

THE FATHER. What has happened then?

CLEONICE. Something incredible and terrifying, enough to make all the temples on earth crumble into dust, but I cannot tell you. . . .

THE FATHER. Why, what is it?

CLEONICE. Already it seems to me that an eternity has elapsed since I saw this thing . . . so much has it altered for me the appearance of the world.

THE FATHER. I will know everything and have a right to know. I am your spiritual father.

CLEONICE. You insist?

THE FATHER. I command you.

CLEONICE (in a muffled voice and still as if dreaming). Just now I was praying to the Lord at the foot of this altar. Oh I was praying with the whole breath of my being, with the whole blood of my heart . . . and my soul had but one thought—to see Him. All at once, feeling myself touched by a supernatural ray, I lifted my head . . . but there, instead of Christ, Lucifer was standing before the altar!

THE FATHER. Lucifer!

CLEONICE (with a mysterious smile). Yes, Lucifer, with his torch and his wings! . . . No, he was not loathsome as you depict him. He was radiant and beautiful like the Saviour, but more sombre and sad. . . .

THE FATHER. Unhappy maiden! Already led astray by the Spirit of Evil, do you not know that the Demon’s worst temptation is to assume the shape of the Angel? Until your soul is cleansed I exclude you from the holy mysteries and from the sisterhood. Profound humility, long repentance and absolute obedience to my orders—yes—annihilation of your will—this alone can still redeem you!

CLEONICE (still in her dream). Humiliate myself? Annihilate myself? Why not? If the holocaust of my body and soul might serve to redeem him?

THE FATHER. Whom?

CLEONICE. Phosphoros!

THE FATHER. He, who by his mere presence has cast an evil spell over this sanctuary and implanted sinful error in your heart? No, he is accursed! Never think of him more! Already you are tainted by an impure breath; go, abase yourself in your cell, put on the haircloth and pour ashes on your head. (He goes towards the back and descends into the crypt.)

CLEONICE (who has bent her head under the Father’s condemnation, now raises it again. A smile of pity, followed by an inner rapture, illuminates her features). Phosphoros accursed? . . . I will go pray for him! (She returns to her cell with head erect and as if in ecstasy.)

 

SCENE VI

THESSALUS, then CLEONICE.

THESSALUS (an old slave). 0 Jupiter! 0 kindly Ceres! I am half dead of hunger, fatigue and thirst. It is here that Cleonice dwells with the Virgins of the Desert. She alone can save me. I will await her! . . . (He squats near the column and falls asleep. Dawn breaks.)

CLEONICE (issuing from her cell). Already dawn? A prophetic gleam illuminates the ashes of the desert . . . and in my heart a new day is rising. But what is this marvellous star that pierces the red dawn? It glitters like an amethyst under a veil of purple. Is it not the one of which the prophet has said: ‘Why hast thou fallen from Heaven, fiery star, thou who wast so brilliant at thy rising?’ It is the gem of thy crown, proud Angel of Revolt and Sorrow. But yonder it reascends, flaming like an emerald to meet the radiance of day. . . . I love you, Phosphoros, in your sadness and beauty, you who bring light into the world! Ah! pitiless Father, you will prevent me from loving freely? You know not then, that a heart invaded by triumphant love becomes untamable, because it is inhabited by a god? Christ is happy in His Heaven, but Phosphoros is suffering on earth. Let others immolate themselves at Jesus’ feet to save their trembling souls. As for me, I will forfeit mine to redeem the one who is Accursed!

THESSALUS (awakening and standing up). Do you recognize me, Cleonice?

CLEONICE. What, Thessalus! My father’s slave!

THESSALUS. Yes, old Thessalus who nursed you as an infant in his arms. Your father, when he became a Christian, had promised to free me. But one day when I was going to the temple of Bona Dea to be healed of my diseases, he sold me to some Syrian merchants. They carried me off in a caravan bound for Thebes, and then cast me out by the wayside because I was too old and feeble. Then I learned that you, Cleonice, the holy maiden, dwelt in this Thebaid. There are ewes and goats in this oasis. Let the Father of the Desert take me as a shepherd. 0 my dear mistress, intercede for your old servant!

CLEONICE. Who told you that I was here?

THESSALUS. A countryman of yours named Phosphoros, who is travelling in these parts.

CLEONICE. Where did you see him?

THESSALUS. Quite near here. He told me that he was returning to his native city to appear before the tribunal of the Proconsul. It is said that he is an enemy of Caesar and is in danger of being condemned to death.

CLEONICE. To death? He? That shall not be. Listen, Thessalus. Are you willing to take me back to Dionysia?

THESSALUS. Surely, if you will take me into your service! But how can we leave this accursed country?

CLEONICE. You will see. Wait for me a moment. (She goes into her cell and returns immediately wrapped in an ample grey cloak, with a casket of cedarwood under her arm.) Here is all that I have kept of my wealth. But this box is full of gems and precious stones. It is my whole inheritance. With this treasure I intended to build a convent for the daughters of the Lord; now I will use it to save Phosphoros!

THESSALUS (opening the casket and looking into it greedily). By Pluto! What wonderful things! When shall we leave?

CLEONICE. Instantly.

(The Virgins and the Father of the Desert are seen issuing from the crypt at the back of the scene and gathering in front of the altar at the feet of Christ the Shepherd. The Virgins kneel down and resume the singing of the hymn already given. The Father remains standing behind them, his arms outstretched over his flock, and his back towards the audience, till the end of the scene.)

HYMN OF THE VIRGINS.

Here are some flowers of the valley

That the reaper plucks at dawn,

Here are some lilies of Galilee,

0 Harvester of Divine Love!

(As soon as the Virgins appear, Cleonice pushes Thessalus behind a column.)

CLEONICE. We must hide! (During the hymn.) In spite of myself I feel a pang at parting from them. Farewell, beloved hymns. . . . Sweet ecstasies, gentle peace of the Thebaid. . . . But now I must live no longer in a safe harbour but rather on the stormy waves. (To Thessalus.) They might see us, let us away! My nostrils long for the sea-spray and my eyes for Ionia’s shores!

THESSALUS. Have you no fear to travel with only a poor old slave as your protector?

CLEONICE. No, I no longer dread the lions of the desert, and I laugh at the furies of the ocean.

THESSALUS (superstitiously). Why then, is some god watching over you?

CLEONICE. Yes Thessalus, a god stronger than the rage of mobs and bolder than the sayings of prophets—a god who defies infamy, outrage and death . . . and the name of this god is Eros, Love, the Creator and Sovereign of the world! (She pulls Thessalus after her. Exeunt both hastily.)

Act Three

Children of Lucifer