It is a time when Constantine has declared Christianity to be the religion of the world, and the last relics of paganism are being stamped out relentlessly. But the city of Dionysia still cherishes its tradition, in spite of the presence of a Christian Bishop; and the Proconsul Harpalus, has been sent to reduce it to submission. Damis is loyal to his old beliefs, but Phrygius has lost his own kingdom and bows to the inevitable. Theokles (the hero of the play), a young nobleman of Dionysia, a true pagan, returns from his travels to find his City about to be given over to Rome. The Proconsul arrives, and by offering to the people all the pleasure and profit which Rome can give, is received with applause, and Androcles, a friend of Theokles, has to surrender the keys of the City.
A riot, however, has taken place because of a placard signed Harmodius, denouncing Rome and calling upon the citizens to rise.* Theokles tells his friends that he is the writer of this proclamation.
At the suggestion of Lycophron, an old grave-digger and seer, he leaves the city for a wild region of the Taurus Mountains in order to get advice from Heraklidos. Here he comes to the Temple of the Unknown God, where he is initiated by Heraklidos in the mysteries of Lucifer and ‘the heavenly voice’, and is given a new name, Phosphoros, and armed with the vision of ‘the Star and the Torch’. But he is warned that he will only become a ‘Hero’ when a virgin’s love for him is so fearless that she renounces her god to follow him.
Thus prepared he sets forth on his travels, and arrives at an oasis of lower Egypt where a Christian temple is kept by the ‘Father of the desert.’ Here is Cleonice, who has dedicated her life to virginity and prayer, but who has seen Phosphoros, or Theokles, in the market-place of Dionysia. She is determined that if Phosphoros comes her way she will curse him, but the Father of the desert cautions her against her rashness. Phosphoros arrives and Cleonice carries out her threat, though in doing so she relents, and it is clear that Phosphoros has conquered her ; but he leaves the cloister never to see her again.
He receives information from his friends at Dionysia that he has been pardoned on condition of his return to defend his conduct, and they warn him that this is only a trick. In spite of this friendly warning, he determines to return to Dionysia at once. Thessalus, an old servant of Cleonice’s family, arrives at her cloister and tells her that he has met Phosphoros, who has told him that he is on his way to Dionysia to stand his trial as an enemy of Caesar. Cleonice thereupon leaves the cloister to help Phosphoros in his trouble.
She finds on arrival that Phosphoros is cast into prison, and among his friends Phrygius, is hesitating. The trial takes place. Phosphoros in his speech makes no defence but carries the attack into the camp of his opponents. He is condemned to death, but this is mitigated to banishment if he can get one person out of the crowd to say a good word for him. Cleonice immediately intervenes. The crowd, to whom Cleonice is well known, is loud in its applause, the Proconsul is killed, the Roman soldiers driven back, and Phosphoros is proclaimed Archon of Dionysia.
The Christian Bishop knows that he has the Roman Empire in his support and is determined to work the ruin of the happy pair, who are now married. Soon Phosphoros learns that his armies are giving way, and in spite of encouragement and help from Cleonice, is feeling despondent. Cleonice herself is entrapped by a monk to leave her house in order to meet the Bishop. The loyal Damis arrives with bad news for Phosphoros. Damis is, however, at a critical moment able to release Cleonice, who has been cast by the Bishop into prison, and again the people are turned to favour Phosphoros.
But the invincible armies of Rome are pressing on, Phrygius has deserted his friends, and the Bishop employs the time by a forceful appeal to the superstition and fear of the populace, when he pronounces ‘anathema upon the accursed pair’. There are more riots in the City, Phosphoros and Cleonice are separated, the Armies enter, and Phosphoros flees to the Temple of the Unknown God, where he is expected by the old initiate Heraklidos.
Cleonice also finds her way there, but the Roman armies, with the Christian Bishop, are intent upon their destruction. Cleonice is prepared to die with Phosphoros. Phosphoros, in the old pagan spirit, is determined at any rate to fight, and refuses to yield; but it is borne in upon both of them that their sacrifice in death will be the fulfilment of the greatest human ideal and will help to bring about in humanity a truer Christianity, and they take of the same poisoned cup, and perish.
At this moment the Bishop and the troops enter the Temple, but fall back terrified at the vision of the flaming star and the fiery cross. The Bishop drops his crozier, the troops kneel, while Heraklidos gives the Sign of the Times—the Cross of Christ upon the Star of Lucifer.
* Harmodius and Aristogeiton in Greek history are the prototypes of liberty.
Children of Lucifer