Act I, Scene III

 
   
    The Palace of Cepheus. A room in the women’s apartments. Praxilla to her enters Diomede.

DIOMEDE
    O Praxilla, Praxilla!

PRAXILLA
    So thou art back thou tall inutility? Where wert thou lingering all this hour? I am tired of always whipping thee. I will hire thee out to a timber-merchant to carry logs from dawn to night-fall. Thou shalt learn what labour is.

DIOMEDE
    Praxilla, O Praxilla! I am full to the throat with news. I pray you, rip me open.

PRAXILLA
    Willingly.

She advances towards her with an uplifted knife.

DIOMEDE (escaping)
    A plague! Can you not appreciate a fine metaphor when you hear it? I never saw so prosaic a mortal. The soul in you was born of a marriage between a saucepan and a broomstick.

PRAXILLA
    Tell me your news. If it is good, I will excuse you your whipping.

DIOMEDE
    I was out on the beach thinking to watch the seagulls flying and crying in the wing amidst the surf dashing and the black cliffheads -

PRAXILLA
    And could not Poseidon turn thee into a gull there among thy natural kindred? Thou wert better fitted with that shape than in a reasonable human body.

DIOMEDE
    Oh then you shall hear the news tell itself, mistress, when the whole town has chewed it and rechewed it.

She is going.

PRAXILLA
    Stop, you long-limbed impertinence. The news!

DIOMEDE
    I’ll be hanged if I tell you

PRAXILLA
    You shall be whipped, if you do not.

DIOMEDE
    Well, your goddess switch is a potent divinity. A ship with men from the East has broken on the headland below the temple and two Chaldeans are saved alive for the altar.

PRAXILLA
    This is glorious news indeed.

DIOMEDE
    It will be a great day when they are sacrificed!

PRAXILLA
    We have not had such since the long galley from Cnossus grounded upon our shores and the temple was washed richly with blood and the altar blushed as thickly with hearts of victims as the King’s throne with rubies. Poseidon was pleased that year and the harvest, was so plentiful, men were brought in from beyond the hills to reap it.

DIOMEDE
    There would have been a third victim, but Prince Iolaus drew sword on the priest Polydaon to defend him.

PRAXILLA
    I hope this is not true.

DIOMEDE
    I saw it.

PRAXILLA
    Is the wild boy
    In love with ruin? Not the King himself
    Can help him if the grim sacrificant
    Demand his fair young head: Only a god
    Could save him. And he was already in peril
    From Polydaon’s gloomy hate!

DIOMEDE
    And Phineus’.

PRAXILLA
    Hush, silly madcap, hush; or speak much lower:

DIOMEDE
    Here comes my little queen of love, stepping
    As daintily as a young bird in spring
    When he would take the hearts of all the forest.

Andromeda enters.

PRAXILLA
    You have slept late, Andromeda.

ANDROMEDA
    Have I?
    The sun had risen in my dreams: perhaps
    I feared to wake lest I should find all dark
    Once more, Praxilla.

DIOMEDE
    He has risen in your eyes,
    For they are full of sunshine, little princess.

ANDROMEDA
    I have dreamed, Diomede, I have dreamed.

DIOMEDE
    What did you dream?

ANDROMEDA
    I dreamed my sun had risen.
    He had a face like the Olympian Zeus
    And wings upon his feet. He smiled upon me,
    Diomede.

PRAXILLA
    Dreams are full of stranger fancies.
    Why, I myself have seen hooved bears, winged lions,
    And many other monsters in my dreams.

ANDROMEDA
    My sun was a bright god and bore a flaming sword
    To kill all monsters.

DIOMEDE
    I think I’ve seen today
    Your sun, my little playmate.

ANDROMEDA
    No, you have not.
    I’ll not have any eyes see him but mine:
    He is my own, my very own.

DIOMEDE
    And yet
    I saw him on the wild sea-beach this morning.

PRAXILLA
    What mean you, Diomede?

DIOMEDE (to Andromeda)
    You have not heard?
    A ship was flung upon the rocks this morning
    And all her human burden drowned.

ANDROMEDA
    Alas!

DIOMEDE
    It was a marvellous sight, my little playmate,
    And made my blood with horror and admiration
    Run richer in my veins. The great ship groaned
    While the rough boulders shrieks went tumbling down
    Mid laughters of the surge, strangled ‘twixt’ billows
    O r torn by strips upon the savage rocks
    T hat tossed their mangled bodies back again
    I nto the cruel keeping of the surge.

ANDROMEDA
    O do not tell me any more! How had you heart
    To look at what I cannot bear to hear?
    For while you spoke, I felt as if the rocks
    Were tearing my own limbs and the salt surge
    Chocking me.

DIOMEDE
    I suppose it must have hurt them.
    Yes, it was pitiful. Still, ’twas a sight.
    Meanwhile the deep surf boomed their grandiose dirge
    With fierce triumphant voices. The whole scene
    Was like a wild stupendous sacrifice
    Offered by the grey-fileted grim suges
    On the gigantic altar of the rocks
    To the calm cliffs seated like gods above.

ANDROMEDA
    Alas, the unhappy men, the poor drowned men
    Who had young children somewhere whom they loved,
    How could you watch them die! Had I been a god,
    I would not let this cruel thing have happened.

DIOMEDE
    Why do you weep for them? They were not Syrians.

PRAXILLA
    Not they, but barbarous jabbering foreigners
    Form Indus or Arabia. Fie, my child,
    You sit upon the floor and weep for these?

ANDROMEDA
    When Iolaus fell upon the rocks
    From Indus or Arabia. Fie, my child,
    You sit upon the floor and weep for these?

ANDROMEDA
    When Iolaus fell upon the rocks
    And hurt himself, you did not then forbid me
    To weep!

PRAXILLA
    He is your brother. That was loving,
    Tender and right.

ANDROMEDA
    And these men were not brothers?
    They too had sisters who will feel as I should
    If my dear brother were to die so wretchedly.

PRAXILLA
    Let their own sisters weep for them: we have
    Enough of our own sorrows. You are young.
    And softly made: because you have yourself
    No griefs, but only childhood’s soon-dried tears,
    You make a luxury of others’ woe.
    So when we watch a piteous tragedy,
    We grace with real tears its painted sorrows.
    When you are older and have true things to weep for,
    Then you will understand.

ANDROMEDA
    I’ll not be older!
    I will not understand! I only know
    That men are heartless and your gods most cruel.
    I hate them!

PRAXILLA
    Hush, Hush! You know not what you say,
    You must not speak such things, Come, Diomede,
    Tell her the rest.

ANDROMEDA (covering her ears with her hands)
    I will not hear you.

DIOMEDE (kneeling by her and drawing her hands away)
    But I
    Will tell you of your bright sungod.

ANDROMEDA
    He is not
    My sungod or he would have saved them.

DIOMEDE
    He did

ANDROMEDA (leaping to her feet)
    Then tell me of him.

DIOMEDE
    Suddenly there dawned
    A man, a vision, a brightness, who descended
    From where I know not, but to me it seemed
    That the blue heavens just then created him
    Out of the sunlight. His face and radiant body
    Aspired to copy the Olympian Zeus
    And wings were on his feet.

ANDROMEDA
    He was my sungod!

DIOMEDA
    He caught two drowning wretches by the robe
    And drew them safe to land.

ANDROMEDA
    He was my sungod!
    Diomede, I have seen him in my dream.

PRAXILLA
    I think it was Poseidon come to take
    His tithe of all that death for the ancient altar,
    Lest all be engulfed by his grey billows, he
    Go quite unhonoured.

DIOMEDE
    Hang up your grim Poseidon!
    This was a sweet and noble face all bright
    With manly kindness.

ANDROMEDA
    Oh I know, I know.
    Where went he with those rescued?

DIOMEDE
    Why, just then
    Prince Iolaus and his band leaped forth
    And took them.

ANDROMEDA (angrily)
    Wherefore took them? By what right?

DIOMEDE
    To die according to our Syrian law
    On dark Poseidon’s altar.

ANDROMEDA
    They shall not die.
    It is a shame, a cruel cold injustice.
    I wonder that my brother had any part in it!
    My sungod saved then, they belong to him,
    Not to your hateful gods. They are his and mine,
    I will not let you kill them.

PRAXILLA
    Why, they must die
    And you will see it done, my little princess,
    You shall! Where are you going?

ANDROMEDA
    Let me go.
    I do not love you when you talk like this.

PRAXILLA
    But you are Syria’s lady and must appear
    At these high ceremonies.

ANDROMEDA
    I had rather be
    A beggar’s daughter who devours the remnants
    Rejected from your table, than reign a queen
    Doing such cruelty.

PRAXILLA
    Little passionate scold!
    You mean not what you say. A beggar’s daughter!
    You? You who toss about if only a rose-leaf
    Crinkle the creamy smoothness of your sheets,
    And one harsh word lings weeping broken-hearted
    As if the world had no more joy in store.
    You are a little posturer, you make
    A theatre of your own mind to act in,
    Take parts, declaim such childish rhetoric
    As that you speak now. You a beggar’s daughter!
    Come, listen what became of your bright sungod.

DIOMEDE
    Him too they would have seized, but he with steel
    Opposed and tranquil smiling eyes appalled them.
    Then Polydaon came and Phineus came
    And bade arrest the brilliant god. Our Prince,
    Seized by his glory, with his virgin point
    Resisted their assault.

ANDROMEDA
    My Iolaus!

DIOMEDE
    All suddenly the stranger’s lifted shield
    Became a storm of lightnings. Dawn was blinded:
    Far promontories leaped out in the blaze,
    The surges were illumined and the horizon
    Answered with light.

ANDROMEDA (clapping her hands)
    O glorious! O my dream!

PRAXILLA
    You tell the actions of a mighty god,
    Diomede.

DIOMEDE
    A god he seemed to us, Praxilla.
    The soldiers ran in terror. Polydaon
    Went snorting off like a black whale harpooned,
    And even Phineus fled.

ANDROMEDA
    Was he not killed?
    I wish he had been killed.

PRAXILLA
    This is your pity!

ANDROMEDA (angrily)
    I do not pity tigers, wolves and scorpions.
    I pity men who are weak and beasts that suffer.

PRAXILLA
    I thought you loved all men and living things.

ANDROMEDA
    Perhaps I would have loved him like my hound
    Or the lion in the park who lets me pat his mane;
    But since he would have me even without my will
    To foul with his beast touch, my body abhors him.
   
    PRAXILLA
    Fie, fie! You speak too violently. How long
    Will you be such a child?

DIOMEDE
    Our Iolaus
    And that bright stranger then embraced. Together
    They left the beach.

ANDROMEDA
    Where, where is Iolaus?
    Why is he long in coming? I must see him.
    I have a thousand things to ask.

She runs out.

DIOMEDA
    She is
    A strange unusual child, my little playmate.

PRAXILLA
    None can help loving her, she is in charm
    Compelling: but her mind is wry and warped.
    She is not natural, not sound in fancy.
    But made of wild uncurbed imaginations,
    With feelings as unruly as winds and waves
    And morbid sympathies. At times she talks
    Strange childish blasphemies that make me tremble.
    She would impose her fancies on the world
    As better than the eternal laws that rule us!
    I wish her mother had brought her up more strictly.
    For she will come to harm.

DIOMEDE
    Oh, do not say it!
    I have seen no child in all our Syria like her,
    None her bright equal in beauty. She pleases me
    Like days of sunlight rain when spring caresses
    Warmly the air. Oh, here is Iolaus.

PRAXILLA.
    Is it he?

DIOMEDE
    I know him by the noble strut
    He has put on ever since they made him captain.

Andromeda comes running.

ANDROMEDA
    My brother comes! I saw him from the terrace.
    Enters Iolaus. Andromeda runs and embraces him.
    Oh, Iolaus, have you brought him to me?
    Where is my sungod?

IOLAUS
    In heaven, little sister.

ANDROMEDA
    Oh, do not laugh at me. I want my sungod
    Whose face is like the grand Olympian Zeus’
    And wings are on his fee. Where did you leave him
    After you took him from our rough sea-beaches?

IOLAUS
    What do you mean, Andromeda?

DIOMEDE
    Some power
    Divine sent her a dream of that bright strength
    Which shone by you on the sea-beach today,
    And him she calls her sungod.

IOLAUS
    Is it so?
    My little wind-tossed rose Andromeda!
    I shall be glad indeed if Heaven intends this.

ANDROMEDA
    Where is he?

IOLAUS
    Do you not know, little rose-sister,
    The great gods visit earth by splendid moments
    And then are lots to sight? Come, do not weep;
    He is not lost to Syria.

ANDROMEDA
    Iolaus,
    Why did you take the two poor foreign men
    And give them to the priest? My sungod saved them,
    Brother, – what right had you to kill?

IOLAUS
    My child,
    I only did my duty as a soldier,
    Yet grieve I was compelled.

ANDROMEDA
    Now will you save them?

IOLAUS
    But they belong to dread Poseidon now!

ANDROMEDA
    What will be done to them?

IOLAUS
    They must be bound
    On the god’s altar and their livings hearts
    Ripped from their blood-choked breasts to feed his hunger.
    Andromeda covers her face with her robe.
    Grieve not for them: they but fulfil their fate.
    These things are in the order of the world
    Like plagues and slaughters, famines, fires and earthquakes,
    Which when they pass us by killing their thousands,
    We should not weep for, but be grateful only
    That other souls than the dear heads we loved
    Have perished.

ANDROMEDA
    You will not save them?

PRAXILLA
    Unhappy girl!
    It is impiety to think of it.
    Fie! Would you have your brother killed for your whimsies?

ANDROMEDA
    Will you not save them, brother?

IOLAUS
    I cannot, child.

ANDROMEDA
    Then I will.

She goes out.

IOLAUS
    Does she mean it?

PRAXILLA
    Such wild caprices
    Are always darting through her brain.

IOLAUS
    I could not take
    Poseidon’s wrath upon my head!

PRAXILLA
    Forget it
    As she will too. Her strange imaginations
    Flutter awhile among her golden curls,
    But soon wing off with careless flight to Lethe.

Medes enters.

IOLAUS
    What is it, Medes?

MEDES
    The King, Prince Iolaus,
    Requires your presence in his audience-chamber.

IOLAUS
    So? Tell me, Medes, is Poseidon’s priest
    In presence there?

MEDES
    He is and full of wrath.

IOLAUS
    Go, tell them I am coming.
    Medes goes out.

PRAXILLA
    Alas!

IOLAUS
    Fear not.
    I have a strength the grim intriguers dream not of.
    Let not my sister hear this, Diomede.

He goes.

PRAXILLA
    What may not happen? The priest is dangerous,
    Poseidon may be angry. Let us go
    And guard our child from peril of this shock.

They go.

Curtain