Act I, Scene II

   
    Perseus descends on winged sandals from the clouds.

PERSEUS
    Rocks on the outland jagged with the sea,
    You slumbering promontories whose huge backs
    Jut into azure, and thou, O many-thundered
    Enormous Ocean, hail! Whatever lands
    Are ramparted with these forbidding shores,
    Yet if you hold felicitous roofs of men,
    Homes of delightful laughter, if you have streams
    Where chattering girls dip in their pitchers cool
    And dabble their white feet in the chill lapse
    Of waters, trees and a green-mantled earth,
    Cicalas noisy in a million boughs
    Or happy cheep of common birds, I greet you,
    Syria or Egypt or Ionian shores,
    Perseus the son of Danaë, who long
    Have sojourned only with hail-thrashed isles
    Wet with cold mists and by the boreal winds
    Snow-swathed. The angry voices of the surf
    Are welcome to me whose ears have long been sealed
    By rigorous silence in the snows. O even
    The wail of mortal misery I choose
    Rather than that intolerable hush;
    For this at least is human. Thee I praise,
    O mother Earth and thy guardian Sea, O Sun
    Of the warm south nursing fair life of men.
    I will go down into bee-murmuring fields
    And mix with men and women in the corn
    And eat again accustomed food. But first
    This galley shattered on the sharp-toothed rocks
    I fly to succour. You are grown dear to me,
    You smiling weeping human faces, brightly
    Who move, who live, not like those stony masks
    And Gorgon visions of that monstrous world
    Beyond the snows. I would not lose you now
    In the dead surges of the inhuman flood.

He descends out of sight.

Iolaus enters with Cireas, Derecetes and soldiers.

IOLAUS
    Prepare your ambush, men, amid these boulders,
    But at the signal, leave your rocky lairs
    With level bristling points and gyre them in.

CIREAS
    O Poseidon Ennosigaios, man-swallower, earth-shaker, I have swabbed thee for eighteen years. I pray thee tot up the price of those swabbings and be not dishonest with me not miserly. Eighteen by three hundred and sixty-five by two, that is the sum of them: and forget not the leap years either, O great Poseidon.

IOLAUS
    Into our ambush, for I hear them come,
    They conceal themselves.

Perseus returns with Tyrnaus and Smerdas.

PERSEUS
    Chaldean merchants, would my speed to save
    Had matched the hawk’s when he swoops down for slaughter.
    So many beautiful bodies of strong men
    Lost in the surge, so many eager hopes
    Of happiness now quenched would still have gladdened
    The sunlight. Yet for two delightful lives
    Saved to the stir and motion of the world
    I praise the Gods that help us.

TYRNAUS
    Thou radiant youth
    Whose face is like a joyous god’s for beauty,
    Whatever worth the body’s life may have,
    I thank thee that ’tis saved. Smerdas, discharge
    That hapless humour from thy lids! If riches
    Are lost, the body, thy strong instrument
    To gather riches, is not lost, nor mind,
    The provident director of its labours.

SMERDAS
    Three thousand piece of that wealthy stuff,
    Full forty chests all crammed with noble gems,
    All lost, all in a moment lost! We are beggars.

TYRNDAS
    Smerdas, not beggared yet of arm of brain.

SMERDAS
    The toil-marred peasant has as much.

PERSEUS
    Merchant,
    I sorrow for thy loss: all beautiful things
    Were meant to shine in the bright day, and grievous
    It is to know the senseless billows play with them.
    Yet life, most beautiful of all, is left thee.
    Is not mere sunlight something, and to breathe
    A joy? Be patient with the gods; they love not
    Rebellion and o’ertake it with fresh scourgings.

SMERDAS
    O that the sea had swallowed me and rolled
    In my dear treasure! Tell me, Syria youth,
    Are there not divers in these parts, could pluck
    My wealth from the abyss?

PERSEUS
    Chaldean merchant,
    I am not of this country, but like thyself
    Hear first today the surf roar on its beaches

SMERDAS
    Cursed be the moment when we neared its shores!
    O harsh sea-god, if thou wilt have my wealth,
    My soul, it was a cruel mercy then to leave
    This beggared empty body bared of all
    That made life sweet. Take this too, and everything.

IOLAUS (stepping forward)
    Thy prayer is granted thee, O Babylonian.

The soldiers appear and surround Perseus and the merchants.

CIREAS
    All the good stuff drowned! O unlucky Cireas! O greedy Poseidon!

TYRNAUS
    Fate’s
    This is that strange inhospitable coast
    Where the wrecked traveller in his own warm blood
    Is given guest-bath (draws)Death’s dice are yet to throw .

IOLAUS
    Draw not in vain, strive not against the gods.
    This is the shore near the temple where Poseidon
    Sits ivory-limbed in his dim rock-hewn house
    And nods above the bleeding mariner
    His sapphire locks in gloom. You three are come,
    A welcome offering to that long dry altar,
    O happy voyagers. Your road is straight
    To Elysium

PERSEUS
    An evil and harsh religion
    You practise in your, stripling of Syria,
    Yet since it is religion, do thy will,
    If you have power no less than will. And yet
    I deem that ere I visit death’s clam country,
    I have far longer ways to tread.

TYRNAUS (flinging away his sword)
    Take me.
    I will not please the gods with impotent writhing
    Under the harrow of my fate.
    They seize Tyrnaus.

SMERDAS
    O wicked fool!
    You might have saved me with that sword. Ah youth!
    Ah radiant stranger! help me! thou art mighty.

PERSEUS
    Still, merchant, thou wouldst live?

SMERDAS
    I am dead with terror
    Of these bright thirsty spears. O they will carve
    My frantic heart out of my living bosom
    To throw it bleeding on that hideous altar.
    Save me, hero!

PERSEUS
    I war not with the gods for thee.
    From belching fire or the deep-mouthed abyss
    Of waters to have saved the meanest thing
    That wears man’s kindly semblance, is a joy.
    But he is mad who for another’s ease
    Incurs the implacable pursuit of heaven.
    Yet since each man on earth has privilege
    To battle even against the gods for life,
    Sweet, lift up from earth thy fellow’s sword;
    I will protect mean while thy head from onset.

SMERDAS
    Alas, you mock me! I have no skill with weapons
    Nor am a fighter. Save me!
    The Syrians seize Smerdas.
    Help! I will give thee
    The wealth of Babylon when I am safe.

PERSEUS
    My sword is heaven’s; it is not to be purchased.
    Smerdas and Tyrnaus are led away.

IOLAUS
    Take too this radiance.

PERSEUS (drawing his sword)
    Asian stripling, pause.
    I am not weak of hand nor feeble of heart.
    Thou art too young, too blithe, too beautiful;
    I would not disarrange thy sunny curls
    By any harsher touch than an embrace.

IOLAUS
    I too could wish to spare thy joyous body
    From the black knife, whoe’er thou art, O stranger.
    But grim compulsion drives and angry will
    Of the sea’s lord, chafing that mortal men
    Insult with their frail keels his rude strong oceans.
    Therefore he built his grisly temple here,
    And all who are broken in the unequal war
    With surge and tempest, though they evade his rocks,
    Must belch out anguished blood upon that altar
    Miserably.

PERSEUS
    I come not from the Ocean.

IOLAUS
    There is no other way that men could come;
    For this is ground forbidden to unknown feet.
    (smiling)
    unless these gaudy pinions on thy shoes.
    Were wings indeed to bear thee through the void!

PERSEUS
    Are there not those who ask nor solid land
    For footing nor the salt flood to buoy their motions?
    Perhaps I am of these.

IOLAUS
    Of these thou art not.
    The gods are sombre, terrible to gaze at,
    Or, even if bright, remote, grand, formidable.
    In Syria and thy radiant masculine body
    Allures the eye. Yield! It may be the God
    Will spare thee.

PERSEUS
    Set on thy war-dogs, Me alive
    If they alive can take, I am content
    To bleed a victim.

IOLAUS
    Art thou a demigod
    To beat back with one blade a hundred spears?

PERSEUS
    My sword is in my hand and that shall answer.
    I am tired of words.

IOLAUS
    Dercetes, wait . His face
    Is beautiful as Heaven. O dark Poseidon,
    What wilt thou do with him in thy dank caves
    Under the grey abysms of the salt flood?
    Spare him to me and sunlight.
    Polydaon and Phineus enter from behind

DERCETES
    Prince, give the order.

IOLAUS
    Let this young sun god live.

DERCETES
    It is forbidden.

IOLAUS
    But I allow it.

POLYDAON (coming forward)
    And when did lenient Heaven
    Make thee a godhead, Syrian Iolaus,
    To set thy proud decree against Poseidon’s?
    Wilt thou rescind what Ocean’s Zeus has ordered?

IOLAUS
    Polydaon -

POLYDAON
    Does a royal name on earth
    Inflate so foolishly thy mortal pride,
    Thou evenest thyself with the Olympians?
    Beware, the blood of kings has dropped ere now
    From the grey sacrificial knife.

IOLAUS
    Our blood!
    Thou darest threaten me, presumptuous priest?
    Back to thy blood-stained kennel! O absolve
    This stranger.

POLYDAON
    Captain, take them both. You flinch?
    Are you so fearful of the name of prince
    He plays with? Fear rather dark Poseidon’s anger.

PHINEUS
    Be wise, young Iolaus. Polydaon,
    Thy zeal outstrips the reverence due to kings.

IOLAUS
    I need not thy protection, Tyrian Phineus:
    This is my country.

He draws.

PHINEUS (aside to Polydaon)
    It were well done to kill him now, his sword
    Being out against the people’s gods; for then
    Who blames the god’s avenger?

POLYDAON
    Will you accept,
    Syrians, the burden of his sacrilege?
    Upon them for Poseidon!

DERCETES
    Seize them but slay not!
    Let none dare shed the blood of Syria’s kings.

SOLDIERS
    Poseidon! great Poseidon.

PERSEUS
    Iolaus,
    Rein in thy sword: I am enough for these.
    He shakes his uncovered shield in the faces of the soldiers.
    They stagger back covering their eyes.

IOLAUS
    Gods, what a glory lights up Syria !

POLYDAON
    Amazement!
    Is this a god opposes us? Back, back!

CIREAS
    Master, master skedaddle: run, run, good King of Tyre, it is scuttle or be scuttled. Zeus has come down to earth     with feathered shoes and a shield made out of phosphorus.

He runs off, followed more slowly by Dercetes and the soldiers.

PHINEUS
    Whate’er thou art, yet thou shalt not outface me.
    He advances with sword drawn.
    Hast thou Heaven’s thunders with thee too?

POLYDAON (pulling him back)
    Back, Phineus!
    The fiery-tasselled aegis of Athene
    Shakes forth these lightnings, and an earthly sword
    Were madness here.

He goes out with Phineus.

IOLAUS
    O radiant strong immortal,
    Iolaus kneels to thee.

PERSEUS
    No, Iolaus.
    Though great Athene breathes Olympian strength
    Into my arm sometimes, I am no more
    Than a brief mortal.

IOLAUS
    Art thou only man?
    O them be Iolau’s friend and lover,
    Who com’st to me something all my own
    Destined from other shores.

PERSEUS
    Give me thy hands,
    O fair young child of the warm Syrian sun.
    Embrace! Thou art like a springing laurel
    Fed upon sunlight by the murmuring waters.

IOLAUS
    Tell me thy name. What memorable earth
    Gave thee to the azure?

PERSEUS
    I am from Argolis,
    Perseus my name, the son of Danaë.

IOLAUS
    Come, Perseus, friend, with me: fierce entertainment
    We have given, unworthy the fair joyousness
    Thou carriest like a flag, but thou shalt meet
    A kinder Syria. My royal father Cepheus
    Shall welcome, my mother give thee a mother’s greeting
    Persuade thee of a world more full of beauty
    Than thou hadst dreamed of.

PERSEUS
    I shall yet be glad with thee,
    O Iolaus, in thy father’s halls,
    But I would not as yet be known in Syria.
    Is there no pleasant hamlet near, hedged in
    With orchard walls and green with unripe corn
    And washed with bright and flitting waves, where I
    Can harbour with the kindly village folk
    And wake to cock-crow in the morning hours,
    As in my dear Seriphos?

IOLAUS
    Such a village
    Lurks near our hills, – there with my kind Cydone
    Thou may’st abide at ease, until thou choose,
    O Perseus, reveal thyself to Syria.

PERSEUS
    Thither
    Then lead me. I have a thirst for clam obscurity
    And cottages and happy unambitious talk
    And simple people. With these I would have rest,
    Not in the laboured pomp of princely towns
    Amid pent noise and purple masks of hate.
    I will drink deep of pure humanity
    And take the innocent smell of rain-drenched earth,
    So shall I with a noble untainted mind
    Rise from the strengthening soil to great adventure.

They go out.