The Palace of Cepheus. A room in the women’s apartments. Praxilla to her enters Diomede.
O 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.
Praxilla, O Praxilla! I am full to the throat with news. I pray you, rip me open.
She advances towards her with an uplifted knife.
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.
Tell me your news. If it is good, I will excuse you your whipping.
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 –
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.
Oh then you shall hear the news tell itself, mistress, when the whole town has chewed it and rechewed it.
She is going.
Stop, you long-limbed impertinence. The news!
I’ll be hanged if I tell you
You shall be whipped, if you do not.
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.
This is glorious news indeed.
It will be a great day when they are sacrificed!
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.
There would have been a third victim, but Prince Iolaus drew sword on the priest Polydaon to defend him.
I hope this is not true.
I saw it.
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!
Hush, silly madcap, hush; or speak much lower:
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.
You have slept late, Andromeda.
The sun had risen in my dreams: perhaps
I feared to wake lest I should find all dark
Once more, Praxilla.
He has risen in your eyes,
For they are full of sunshine, little princess.
I have dreamed, Diomede, I have dreamed.
What did you dream?
I dreamed my sun had risen.
He had a face like the Olympian Zeus
And wings upon his feet. He smiled upon me,
Dreams are full of stranger fancies.
Why, I myself have seen hooved bears, winged lions,
And many other monsters in my dreams.
My sun was a bright god and bore a flaming sword
To kill all monsters.
I think I’ve seen today
Your sun, my little playmate.
No, you have not.
I’ll not have any eyes see him but mine:
He is my own, my very own.
I saw him on the wild sea-beach this morning.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Why do you weep for them? They were not Syrians.
Not they, but barbarous jabbering foreigners
Form Indus or Arabia. Fie, my child,
You sit upon the floor and weep for these?
When Iolaus fell upon the rocks
From Indus or Arabia. Fie, my child,
You sit upon the floor and weep for these?
When Iolaus fell upon the rocks
And hurt himself, you did not then forbid me
He is your brother. That was loving,
Tender and right.
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.
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.
I’ll not be older!
I will not understand! I only know
That men are heartless and your gods most cruel.
I hate them!
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)
Will tell you of your bright sungod.
He is not
My sungod or he would have saved them.
ANDROMEDA (leaping to her feet)
Then tell me of him.
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.
He was my sungod!
He caught two drowning wretches by the robe
And drew them safe to land.
He was my sungod!
Diomede, I have seen him in my dream.
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.
Hang up your grim Poseidon!
This was a sweet and noble face all bright
With manly kindness.
Oh I know, I know.
Where went he with those rescued?
Why, just then
Prince Iolaus and his band leaped forth
And took them.
Wherefore took them? By what right?
To die according to our Syrian law
On dark Poseidon’s altar.
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.
Why, they must die
And you will see it done, my little princess,
You shall! Where are you going?
Let me go.
I do not love you when you talk like this.
But you are Syria’s lady and must appear
At these high ceremonies.
I had rather be
A beggar’s daughter who devours the remnants
Rejected from your table, than reign a queen
Doing such cruelty.
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.
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.
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!
You tell the actions of a mighty god,
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.
Was he not killed?
I wish he had been killed.
This is your pity!
I do not pity tigers, wolves and scorpions.
I pity men who are weak and beasts that suffer.
I thought you loved all men and living things.
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.
Fie, fie! You speak too violently. How long
Will you be such a child?
And that bright stranger then embraced. Together
They left the beach.
Where, where is Iolaus?
Why is he long in coming? I must see him.
I have a thousand things to ask.
She runs out.
A strange unusual child, my little playmate.
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.
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.
Is it he?
I know him by the noble strut
He has put on ever since they made him captain.
Andromeda comes running.
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?
In heaven, little sister.
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?
What do you mean, Andromeda?
Divine sent her a dream of that bright strength
Which shone by you on the sea-beach today,
And him she calls her sungod.
Is it so?
My little wind-tossed rose Andromeda!
I shall be glad indeed if Heaven intends this.
Where is he?
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.
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?
I only did my duty as a soldier,
Yet grieve I was compelled.
Now will you save them?
But they belong to dread Poseidon now!
What will be done to them?
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
You will not save them?
It is impiety to think of it.
Fie! Would you have your brother killed for your whimsies?
Will you not save them, brother?
I cannot, child.
Then I will.
She goes out.
Does she mean it?
Such wild caprices
Are always darting through her brain.
I could not take
Poseidon’s wrath upon my head!
As she will too. Her strange imaginations
Flutter awhile among her golden curls,
But soon wing off with careless flight to Lethe.
What is it, Medes?
The King, Prince Iolaus,
Requires your presence in his audience-chamber.
So? Tell me, Medes, is Poseidon’s priest
In presence there?
He is and full of wrath.
Go, tell them I am coming.
Medes goes out.
I have a strength the grim intriguers dream not of.
Let not my sister hear this, Diomede.
What may not happen? The priest is dangerous,
Poseidon may be angry. Let us go
And guard our child from peril of this shock.