PHOSPHOROS’S GARDEN AT DIONYSIA.
Clusters of spreading trees, and here and there columns surmounted by busts of sages and heroes. A distant view of the sea is framed by the statues of Castor and Pollux, on marble horses which rear towards the sky. To the left a little portico with Ionian columns. In a niche of the chapel stands a marble image of Lucifer taking flight, with one foot on the globe. Before the statue is the household altar, at the foot of which lies a trophy of weapons. Near by is a stone bench. To the right can be seen the perspective of the town dominated by the Acropolis.
CLEONICE, before the altar, is fastening to it a garland of foliage and some wreaths of flowers. Phosphoros is seated on the stone bench. A guard is standing in front of him.
PHOSPHOROS. Nothing from Damis?
THE GUARD. No, master.
PHOSPHOROS. Nothing from Androcles and the army?
THE GUARD. Nothing.
PHOSPHOROS. Nothing from Phrygius?
THE GUARD. Nothing either.
PHOSPHOROS. Very well. If they come let them enter without delay.
(Exit the guard.)
CLEONICE. Why has my love ceased for three days to tell me his thoughts? Why is he mute as a shadow this morning before his Beloved?
PHOSPHOROS. There are days when a man needs to withdraw into the source of his being, so that he may listen to the voices of silence.
CLEONICE (dropping her unfinished garland). Silence before me? Is your conscience afraid of your soul? What is happening?
PHOSPHOROS. You know it all.
CLEONICE (comes swiftly and sits on the bench. She takes Phosphoros’s hands, then clasps his head between hers and looks deep into his eyes). It is not true. What ails you? What is the veil over your eyes? What sadness behind? 0 Phosphoros, reply to the soul of your life! Within me I hear the eternal music of the love I have for you. The strings of it vibrate, now with tenderness now with rapture, the celestial harmony is ever there. I possess you by the right of this force which is without measure or limit. I have given everything—and I want everything!
PHOSPHOROS. 0 my living Muse, my beautiful desire, my dream incarnate, how can I resist you, dear diviner? Well then, yes, I am suffering. Until now I had the faith which moves mountains, I felt in myself the strength of Hercules to overturn them. I have braved the two supreme powers of this world: Caesar and the Church! . . . But the world marches behind them. Inevitable as Nemesis, the universe which I sought to raise in revolt is about to fall back upon me.
CLEONICE. Speak not so, my Phosphoros. The swift-footed Victories are goddesses. Be not ungrateful towards the one who touched your forehead with her flashing white wing. Remember that day of all days. After your departure with our phalanx, I could no longer stay here. In spite of you I meant to join you in the supreme hour. When I reached the camp, your tent was empty; the fight was beginning. Opposite me Caesar’s army was sweeping over the plain; the dull bronze of the undulating legions was streaked with the brilliant hues of the barbarian detachments. The hill on which I stood was gleaming with breastplates, helmets and swords; it was the consecrated phalanx led by you, with Damis and Androcles on the wings. The neighbouring height bristled with a moving palisade; it was Phrygius with the Gallic horsemen and the archers of Dyrapolis. The mountain and the valley were exchanging rallying-cries. The mountain shouted: ‘Phrygius!’ and the valley replied: ‘Phosphoros!’ Then, seizing a handful of javelins, you darted forward in the midst of your men, crying aloud: ‘For Lucifer and the Free City!’ My whole body seemed at once to burn and to shiver; your guards held me back from following you, and for a whole day I watched our phalanx enveloped in the whirl of the battle, advancing, retreating, with shields in close array, now in squares, now in triangles, often broken asunder, but ever rebuilding from its shattered fragments the agile tortoise formation of its shields. And overhead the unmoving Fates slowly let fall from their impartial hands the white dice of life, the black dice of death. I thought I should swoon. At length the Roman line broke and the phalanx swept through to the cry of ‘Lucifer and Dionysia!’
PHOSPHOROS. And that evening, after our men had taken possession of the Roman camp, when I saw my Cleonice ride on to the battlefield like an Amazon with streaming locks—how I lifted her from her neighing charger, maddened by distance and the clamour of trumpets! There was fire on your lips. . . . Then, ah then, I saw my Victory, I held her in my arms!
CLEONICE. You remember it. . . . Why then doubt it to-day? Think of Damis when he came to you to plead for the liberty of a captive, as if for his own brother. The gracious youth was radiant as though he had become a young Apollo. Think of Androcles, stained with blood and dust, but bearing his trophy, composed and strong like Hercules. Think of Phrygius, proclaimed King by his people, offering you his hand with the pride of a Jupiter. Thanks to you, the first had won a soul, the second a trophy, the third a crown. They came to exhibit their conquests to their master. For it was you who had filled them with your breath, it was you who had exalted them to the level of their gods!
PHOSPHOROS. Yes, to create free men—that is my desire. On that day the city of my dream came to life.
CLEONICE. And why should it not live for ever?
PHOSPHOROS. Because there are some heights which are reached only once and from which the limits of destiny can be viewed.
CLEONICE. Listen, my Fire and my Light, do you know what I felt on that evening of battle, when I slipped panting and exhausted, from my horse into your arms? Apart we are powerless; united we can do anything. When we love each other it is a world which meets a world. Their impact has repercussions in the infinite. Each of the two seems about to perish in the tempest; but behold, from their embrace a new world is born.
PHOSPHOROS. It is true! The branches of the new city have blossomed.
CLEONICE. We are its living stem.
PHOSPHOROS. And the city will live as long as the sap flows from the stem to the branches.
CLEONICE. And as long as we two together shall be one body, one soul and one thought.
PHOSPHOROS. Thus we are invincible.
THE SAME, then LYCOPHRON, who moves forward slowly, stops in front of the pair and gazes at them, leaning with two hands on his stick.
CLEONICE. The seer!
PHOSPHOROS. Lycophron, the first time I saw you, you foretold victory to me and your prophecy has been fulfilled. Now misgivings seem to trickle from your weary eyelids. What do you bring us, old man ever bowed under the shadow of the future?
LYCOPHRON. Be on your guard, Phosphoros; do not rest on your laurels. The hour of trouble is approaching. Beware of the Bishop. . . . Beware of the Christians. Be vigilant over your city!
PHOSPHOROS. Let us leave the Bishop and his monks to their plots. Damis, Androcles and Phrygius are the living pillars of my city. They too are on the watch. As long as they stand, I shall fear nothing.
LYCOPHRON. Tremble for Damis; his tender and loyal heart has not your strength—the sapling may be broken by a storm. Check the boldness of Androcles! He is impulsive and rash; a lion may fall into the huntsman’s net. Distrust the pride of Phrygius; he is ambitious. You have made him a king; his crown is a rival of your torch.
PHOSPHOROS. I, beware of Damis, Phrygius and Androcles? Why, I trust in their hearts more than in the ramparts of my forts. If that is so, then tell my soul to distrust my own body, my own arms and my own fiery heart.
LYCOPHRON. The body has often betrayed the soul.
PHOSPHOROS. Have you come to rob me of my courage?
LYCOPHRON. I am come to steel it against adversity!
PHOSPHOROS. Rash old man, it was you who sent me to the Temple of the Unknown God, where my Guardian Spirit flashed before my sight, it is you who have started me sword in hand on my head-long course. Why do you speak to me now of misfortune and death, when you have promised me Victory and Immortality?
LYCOPHRON. Victory is the flame which rises from the great funeral pyres. And immortality is the daughter of death. (He takes some steps towards the back, turns round between the Dioscuri with upraised arms and disappears.)
PHOSPHOROS. Whether these be an old man’s fears or a seer’s visions, what is the use of testing them? Let us assemble the phalanx. I feel the approach of the great battle between the world and me.
CLEONICE. I shall be in it, shall I not?
PHOSPHOROS. On that day then, Cleonice wishes to struggle at my side?
CLEONICE. Wish it? I demand it. To lose one’s self in love till the world is forgotten is a human joy; but to fight and conquer together—that is a pleasure of the gods!
PHOSPHOROS. My Winged Victory you will ever be! (He clasps her in his arms and goes out.)
CLEONICE, soon after the MONK.
Cleonice, left alone, goes towards the household altar, takes a palm branch from it and goes to sit down on the marble seat. Soon she drops the branch and falls into reverie. The Monk emerges stealthily from a clump of trees and cautiously approaches Cleonice, looking around carefully. Having convinced himself that he is not observed, he assumes a grave attitude, puts his hands within his sleeves, posts himself at a distance and fixes his eyes on the wife of the Archon.
CLEONICE (turning swiftly with a start). A monk here? What do you want with me?
THE MONK (stretching out his hands towards her). Lost sheep of the Lord, may the Divine grace be upon you!
CLEONICE. How did you find your way into this garden?
THE MONK. God’s messengers come by all roads.
CLEONICE. By what right are you addressing me? On behalf of whom?
THE MONK. Our most holy Bishop sends me to the wife of the Archon. He would speak with the soul of her who was once the Virgin of the Desert. He knows that noble Cleonice is the daughter of pious Laodikos, he knows that, even if the claws of the Demon have taken hold of her, yet the secret grace of the Lord has never deserted her. . . . Yes, at the bottom of your heart you are still a Christian. . . . He knows that your soul is clouded by the growing dangers which threaten the city . . . and the Archon! All this troubles him. . . . Come with me. . . . The sovereign power of him who held you at the font will absolve you, and his wise counsel will give you the strength to assure the triumph of God . . . while still remaining the wife of Phosphoros. (He makes the sign of the cross.)
CLEONICE. You have spied upon me to take me unawares. Because you have stolen like a thief into my sanctuary, you think you can creep as far as my heart? Insolent monk of the hypocritical band whose books distil the honey of Holy Writ while sowing hate in the hearts of the people, you have sworn to your Bishop, our enemy, to lead Cleonice as a penitent to his feet! Go back and tell him who sent you that the Virgin of the Desert is now only the wife of Phosphoros. He is her king, her master and her god. If the Bishop will speak with me, let him come here. I shall not go to him.
THE MONK (crosses himself again, then moves suddenly towards Cleonice and addresses her in a tune of insidious familiarity). Unhappy woman! That is not all! There is also a question of an imperial secret . . . of a clandestine message from Caesar to our Holy Father the Bishop . . . the life of your husband is at stake!
CLEONICE (rising in great agitation). The life of Phosphoros! (recovering herself—aside). But no! That is only a trap. (Aloud.) Ah! I understand you would like to communicate to Caesar the plans of the Archon. . . . Priests, keep your own secrets. Cleonice knows how to defend her husband’s life . . . and has given proof of it!
THE MONK (drawing back haughtily). Demented woman! Know then the whole truth. Dangers surround you and lurk for you at every step. The threat comes not only from Caesar and his allies, but from the people of Dionysia. There are muffled stirrings of revolt, insurrection is near. On all sides it is said that the sacrilege in the name of Lucifer will bring down all the scourges of God upon the city and that her last day draws near. Already you are called ‘the Devil’s couple’. At this moment the Christians are gathering in the crypt, and with loud cries are urging the Bishop to launch his anathema against you. But in his compassion he still pauses. . . . He seeks to save you, on condition that you come to justify yourself before him.
CLEONICE. I refuse. God alone is my judge.
THE MONK (scornfully). Very well, I will leave you. But bear in mind what the people of Dionysia will think. They have been told that the wife of Phosphoros possessed the courage of the Christian women martyrs. Now they will say: ‘She is audacious enough when she passes in the street in her chariot under the protection of her guards or when she parades with the Archon before the phalanx. But when it is a question of confessing her faith, then she is afraid and flees like a cowardly heathen. . . . And the slave of Phosphoros cowers behind her wretched idol!’
CLEONICE. Afraid of your master? Afraid of the people? Afraid of you? Well look here. (She goes towards the household altar, takes from it a wreath of red lilies and puts it on her head, then she pulls a javelin from the trophy of weapons.) With my head wreathed in flowers I will go to confess my love and my faith at the tribunal of your master, in the presence of all the Christians. If they ask me what Phosphoros has done for Dionysia, I will show them this Roman javelin, one of a thousand captured from the forest of iron of the legions! And if they wish to stone me then, why, Lucifer will have a martyr! (Exit rapidly at the back.)
THE MONK (looking after her). I have succeeded! . . . It is by their pride that the children of the Devil can be caught. The Bishop said to me: ‘The people love her; she enhances the Archon’s prestige. At all costs they must be parted before the mob surrounds their house! ‘Now it is done! She is hastening to the crypt like a wild beast to the pit. Once she is inside, I bar the door with iron chains. Let her gnash her teeth in prison, the heretic! And now to foment this insurrection, so that before nightfall I may see this devil’s house go up in flames! (Exit running.)
PHOSPHOROS, a GUARD, soon after DAMIS.
PHOSPHOROS (returning). The city is desolate; not a sign of Androcles; Damis still absent. . . . Can the seer have been right? What are the coming disasters heralded by such a silence? (To the guard.) Where is Cleonice?
THE GUARD. She has just gone out with a monk.
PHOSPHOROS. With a monk? And whither have they gone?
THE GUARD. To the basilica.
PHOSPHOROS. This is strange. (Enter Damis.) You Damis? At last.
DAMIS (running forward). Phosphoros, your life is in danger! The people are surrounding your house. I entreat you, have your doors guarded by your phalanx.
PHOSPHOROS. Oh, what matters my house! You come from the camp? What is Androcles doing?
DAMIS. Alas! The tidings I bring are so terrible that they turn my blood cold in my veins and benumb my tongue. I have ridden the whole night, carrying the dreadful news within my bosom. Now that I must bring it forth, my heart fails me. I shall die of it! (He collapses on to the seat.)
PHOSPHOROS. Speak, I am prepared for anything.
DAMIS. At three hours’ march from the pass, at the other end of the mountain, a messenger came rushing towards me. The camp is destroyed. . . . Androcles, surprised by Caesar’s vanguard, has died in the defence of his post. . . . The army is in flight!
PHOSPHOROS. How did Androcles let himself be surprised?
DAMIS. How? That is the worst of all. Phrygius has betrayed us.
DAMIS. The coward always envied you. Ever since Caesar’s victory over the Parthians, Phrygius has been plotting his treason by stealth. It was he who informed Constantine of Androcles’s movements. In return Caesar has guaranteed to him his title as King of Dyrapolis. Following his lead, the whole of Ionia is deserting us. Ephesus, Susa, Halicarnasses, Laodicea—all acclaim Phrygius¬who is treating with Caesar.
PHOSPHOROS. Phrygius—whom I treated as my brother in arms! I made him King of Dyrapolis, and he prefers to wear an iron collar under Caesar’s rod rather than to live and die a free man! The villain! But all is not over. My phalanx will not betray me. I am still Archon of Dionysia and Lucifer watches over me.
DAMIS (rising with deep concern). Phosphoros, I fear for you.... Caesar is drawing near. His spies are fomenting sedition in the town, and the angry people led by their Bishop are turning against you.
PHOSPHOROS. The Angel struck down by the thunderbolt is also the Angel who reascends. We are his sons, immortal like himself.
DAMIS. And yet . . . if he were to be vanquished by that other Son of God, by the pale Christ with His halo, come down from his heaven to die and rise again in the blood-stained darkness of the earth. Phosphoros! Phosphoros! If your Guardian Spirit should have deceived you!
PHOSPHOROS. Damis, you have doubted me! Now I am alone. (He drops on to the seat.)
DAMIS (alarmed). You are suffering, friend. I cannot bear to see you thus. Speak to me, I entreat you. . . . Reply to your brother!
PHOSPHOROS (still seated). No, you are no longer my brother. We had a common faith, luminous as the torch which of old the runners of Athens used to hand on to each other at the festival of Prometheus. It was on you that I relied to hand it on to the world; but you have let the brand fall! (He stands up.) Oh, to possess a single friend who believes in you is to possess the earth; for one soul is worth more than all wealth. But to see your faith die out in the heart of your best friend—there is the supreme sorrow! I know that the spirit who appeared to me at the temple of the Unknown God did not lie. If your faith is deserting you, leave me and go to join Phrygius. I shall remain alone to await the people, the Bishop and Caesar.
DAMIS. 0 my friend! Forgive me if I have wavered out of tenderness for you. The heart of Damis knows all he owes to Phosphoros. At the age when the soul expands leaf by leaf, like a white lotus on the turbid waters of life, you brought mine to blossom with your words of fire. At the age when one must fight in the cause of truth, you marched before me and I followed you. No, they did not lie, those paths of my adolescence, scented by the steps of divine Beauty when I first met you. You have been my friend, my brother, my master. You showed me the immortal pattern towards which I aspire. I owe you a new soul—and for that I believe in you! I am ready now to fight again for the dreams of our youth. Answer, Phosphoros, have I lost my faith?
PHOSPHORUS (clasping him in his arms). Pardon, brother, it was I who wavered. I had doubted you! And now if you will strive again for Phosphoros, go and find Cleonice at the basilica. I fear some snare of the Bishop. . . . At this moment, I feel it, a mortal danger is threatening us. At all costs bring her back here!
DAMIS. Be easy. I will hasten there. (Exit.)
(Twilight—a murmur of voices from behind.)
A GUARD. My lord, the people are thronging at the garden gate and with fierce cries demanding entrance. Shall we drive them back with pikes and stones?
PHOSPHORUS. Open the gates wide! On a day of disaster I will meet my people face to face. He who governs the city of Dionysos must know how to deal with the miscreants in his own ranks. Open the gates!
THE GUARD (aside). The Archon is going mad! (Exit with an angry gesture.)
PHOSPHORUS, the MONK, a band of the PEOPLE, later CLEONICE.
Enter the Monk, followed by a mob armed with pikes, stakes and cudgels, with a ferocious clamour, ‘Where is he?’ At the sight of the Archon, standing alone and composed before his household altar, the People, awestruck, form into a semicircle to the right.
THE MONK (to the People). You see him! There is the man who has ruined you. Caesar in his wrath has said that he will reduce to ashes the rebellious city, burn the citizens alive in their dwellings, and pass the ploughshare through the soil that was once Dionysia—unless Phosphoros be delivered to him dead or alive. And he, does he look even conscious of it? There he stands before the idol of his god whom he calls Lucifer. But I, I tell you that it is Satan! (Signs of alarm among the People.) And then notice that all his friends have left him. Even his wife Cleonice is no longer by him!
VOICES FROM THE PEOPLE. Where is she?
THE MONK. In the basilica, at the feet of the Bishop, confessing her sins and praying for pardon.
(Murmur of astonishment in the crowd.)
THE OLD MAN. If Cleonice deserts him, the Archon is lost. (He comes forward towards Phosphoros.) Caesar is marching upon us and threatening to destroy the city! Restore peace to us and save our lives!
THE YOUNG MAN. Give us back our pleasures!
THE WOMAN. Give us back the sacraments which redeem!
THE OLD MAN. What good is your god to us, if the city is about to perish?
PHOSPHOROS. What good is the latest-born of the gods to you? To be free men; to cringe neither before Caesar nor the Cross; to know that Beauty, Truth and Justice are within you, and to conclude with them a pact which shall make you masters of yourselves and others. Unless each of you feel himself a Lucifer to defy Caesar and the Church, you are unworthy to die with me for Dionysia, the Mother of Heroes and the City of Free Spirits!
THE MONK. You see, he seeks to sacrifice you to his arrogance; he wants to draw you down with him into the pit of Satan. And you will let him? Come, come, slay this son of the devil, strike down his altar! You will save your lives and the Church will take you back to her bosom!
THE PEOPLE (moving against Phosphoros, who has remained motionless). Death! Death!
CLEONICE (hastens in from behind and interposes between Phosphoros and the People). Strike me first! (She stands in front of him with extended arms. The People draw back.)
THE MONK (dumbfounded—aside). But I had imprisoned her.
THE OLD MAN. Cleonice!
THE WOMAN. The Christian woman!
THE PEOPLE. The Virgin of the Desert!
CLEONICE. Learn the truth then! This infamous monk entrapped me. On pretence of leading me to the Bishop and to the assembly of Christians to justify my husband, he locked me treacherously into the crypt as into a prison cell!
VOICES FROM THE PEOPLE. IS this true? Is this true?
THE MONK. She is lying!
(Enter Damis with pieces of a chain in each hand.)
CLEONICE. There is my witness!
DAMIS. This chain fastened the door of the crypt in which this monk had shut up the Archon’s wife. But I broke it! Here are the pieces! (He flings them at the Monk’s feet.)
PHOSPHOROS (taking the hands of his wife and of Damis and coming forward to the People). And thus we shall break all the chains you have riveted upon men’s souls!
(At the Archon’s words, a group of armed young men of the phalanx and a group of maidens run forward with a sudden movement from both sides of the chapel, before which stand the statue of Lucifer and the household altar. The young men draw swords to defend him, and the maidens hold out palm branches to protect him. At the head of the two groups, a youth and a maiden raise on high bright torches. The people draw back in amazement.)
THE SAME; the BISHOP appears between the DIOSCURI with two deacons bearing pitch brands with red smoky flames.
THE BISHOP. Cleonice, rebellious woman, you who were once the pure Virgin of the Desert, hear me. I am about to pronounce the anathema of the Church upon this man accursed who has ruined this city and set up the cult of the Angel of Darkness. But I will try to save you still. Abandon the outcast, if you will not receive the anathema with him.
CLEONICE. Do not hope to win me back! Did not a bold messenger from my noble hero come just now to break the bars of your church in which you sought to lock me in among the bones of the dead, so as to stifle my love under your crozier? My church is as wide as the earth, as high as heaven where shines the star of Lucifer. (She throws her arm round the shoulders of Phosphoros.) Yes, I love the Angel of Light and his Hero. The more you curse him the more I shall love him. For I love him with that love which preceded the birth of the world and will outlast it, that love whence divine souls flowed and which springs from the heart of God. This love dreads nothing, knowing itself immortal. It laughs at your threats, your bonds and your torches.
THE BISHOP. Threefold disaster upon you! Have you thought that, accursed upon earth, you forfeit heaven too?
CLEONICE (ironically). And if I parted from him, if I cringed at your feet, would he enter Heaven with me?
THE BISHOP. Never! What comes from God returns to God; but what comes from the devil returns to the devil. He is damned to all eternity.
CLEONICE. Then keep your Heaven! I choose Hell with my Beloved!
THE BISHOP. Be ye then both accursed. In the Name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, I excommunicate you and deliver you into the hands of Satan! Children of the Evil One, be abhorred of all men and all spirits, a thing loathed by day and at the mercy of the night. Be it forbidden to all Christians to greet you, to pray, work or eat with you. Let no priest sustain you in the hour of death. May your bed be fruitless, your hearth ill-omened. Let those who shall give you bread, water or fire be accursed with you. Let there be solitude wheresoever you shall set your foot. Let terror march before your eyes and death at your heels. Let all nations drive you out, mountains fall upon you, rivers engulf you, heaven and earth cry out on you: ‘Anathema upon the accursed pair!’ (To the deacons.) Throw down the brands. (The deacons fling the brands to the ground and quench them with their feet.) May your lives be trampled under foot like these brands, may your souls be quenched like these flames!
THE MONK (to the People, pointing at the pair). Behold Anti-Christ and his concubine!
THE YOUNG MEN of the phalanx (guarding the household altar, move with drawn swords towards the Monk, crying). Coward!
PHOSPHOROS (checking them with a gesture). Let us endure with unmoved souls the excommunication of the oppressors of the soul and the hatred of their slaves.
(Exit the Bishop with the deacons. The People have drawn back, horrorstruck, but remain as though fascinated by the luminous couple, who stand in solemn posture before the altar between the ranks of the phalanx and the maidens, amid a forest of swords, torches and palm boughs.)
THE MONK (aside). I believe that notwithstanding the curse he will seduce them again. (Aloud—to the People.) Begone, heathens!
PHOSPHOROS and CLEONICE, alone.
PHOSPHOROS. What a mournful silence has fallen all at once! Night is coming on, and solitude ex-tending around us like an immense circle. Look at those quenched brands still smouldering on the ground. Are those truly our souls? Is it all over?
CLEONICE (looks at the brands and shivers, then clasps the hand of Phosphoros with sudden resolution). No! All begins afresh. The world may be born again from one love, provided it be the highest.
PHOSPHOROS (clasping her in his arms). Let us prove then to the world that a man and a woman who love each other in the radiance of an immortal idea can brave the whole universe!
CLEONICE. Let us be the temple of the living city!
Children of Lucifer