Act II, Scene I

    The audience-chamber in the Palace of Cepheus.
    Cepheus and Cassiopea, seated.

    What will you do, Cepheus?

    This that has happened
    Is most unfortunate.

    What will you do?
    I hope you will not give up to the priest
    My Iolaus’ golden head? I hope
    You do not mean that?

    Great Poseidon’s priest
    Sways all this land: for from the liberal blood
    Moistening that high-piled altar grow our harvests
    And strong Poseidon satisfied defends
    Our frontiers from the loud Assyrian menace.

    Empty thy treasuries, glut him with gold.
    Let us be beggars rather than one bright curl
    Of Iolaus feel his gloomy mischiefs.

    I had already thought of it. Medes!

Medes enters.

Waits Polydaon yet!

    He does, my lord.

    Call him and Tyrian Phineus.

Medes goes out again.

    Bid Tyre save
    Andromeda’s loved brother from this doom;
    He shall not have our daughter otherwise.

    This to was in my mind already, queen.
    Polydaon and Phineus enter.
    Be seated, King of Tyre: priest Polydaon,
    Possess thy usual chair.

    Well, King of Syria,
    Shall I have justice? Wilt thou be the King
    Over a peopled country? Or must I loose
    The snake-haired Gorgon-eyed Erinnyes
    To hunt thee with the clamorous whips of Hell

    Be content. Cepheus gives nought
    But justice from his mighty seat. Thou shalt
    Have justice.

    I am not used to cool my heels
    About the doors of princes like some beggarly
    And negligible suitor whose poor plaint
    Is valued b some paltry drachmas. I am
    Poseidon’s priest.

    The prince is called to answer here
    Thy charges.

    Answer! Will he deny a crime
    Done impudently in Syria’s face? ‘Tis well;
    The Tyrian stands here who can meet that lie.

    My children’s lips were never stained with lies,
    Insulting priest, nor will be now; from him
    We shall have truth.

    And grant the charges admitted,
    The ransom shall be measured with the crime.

    What talk is this of ransom? Think’st thou, King,
    That dire Poseidon’s grim offended godhead
    Can be o’erplastered with a smudge of silver?
    Shall money blunt his vengeance? Shall his majesty
    Be estimated in a usurer’s balance?
    Blood is the ransom of this sacrilege.

    Ah God!

CEPHEUS (in agitation)
    Take all my treasury includes
    Of gold and silver, gems and porphyry

    The gods are not to be bribed,
    King Cepheus.

    Give him honours, state, precedence,
    All he can ask. O husband, let me keep
    My child’s head on my bosom safe.

    What wouldst thou have? Precendence, pomp and state?
    Hundreds of spears to ring thee where thou walkest?
    Swart slaves and beautiful women in thy temple
    To serve thee and beautiful women in thy temple
    To serve thee and thy god? They are thine. In feasts
    And high processions and proud regal meetings
    Poseidon’s followers shall precede the King.

    Me wilt thou bribe? I take these for Poseidon,
    Nor waive my chief demand.

    What will content thee?

    A victim has snatched from holy altar:
    To fill that want a victim is demanded.

    I will make war on Egypt and Assyria
    And throw thee kings for victims.

    Thy vaunt is empty.
    Poseidon being offended, who shall give thee
    Victory o’er Egypt and o’er strong Assyria?

    Take thou the noblest head in all the kingdom
    Below the Prince. Take many heads for one

    Shall then the innocent perish for the guilty?
    Is this thy justice? How shall thy kingdom last?

    You hear him, Cassiopea? He will not yield,
    He is inexorable.

    Must I wait longer?

    Ho Medes!
    Medes enters,
    Iolaus comes not yet.
    Medes goes out.

CASSIOPEA (rising fiercely)
    Priest, thou wilt have my child’s blood then, it seems!
    Nought less will satisfy thee than thy prince
    For victim?

    Poseidon knows not prince or beggar.
    Whoever honours him he heaps with state
    And fortune. Whoever wakes his dreadful wrath,
    He throws down into Erebus for ever.

    Beware! Thou shalt not have my child. Take heed
    Ere thou drive monarchs to extremity.
    Thou hopes in thy sacerdotal pride
    To make the Kings of Syria childless, end
    A line that started from the gods. Thisk’st thou
    It will be tamely suffered? What have we
    To lose, if we lose this? I bid thee again
    Take heed: drive not a queen to strong despair.
    I am no tame-souled peasant, but a princess
    And great Chaldea’s child.

POLYDAON (after a pause)
    Wilt thou confirm
    Thy treasury and all the promised honours,
    If I excuse the deed?

    They shall be thine.
    He turns to whisper with Cassiopea.

PHINEUS (apart to Polydaon)
    Dost thou prefer me for thy foeman?

    In the queen’s eyes her rage. We must discover
    New means; this way’s not safe.

    Thou art a coward, priest, for all thy violence.
    But fear me first and then blench from a woman.

    Well, as you choose.

Iolaus enters.

    Father, you sent for me?

    There is a charge upon thee, Iolaus,
    I do not yet believe. But answer truth
    Like Cepheus’ son, whatever the result.

    Whatever I have done, my father, good
    Or ill, I dare support against the world.
    What is this accusation?

    Didst thou rescue
    At dawn a victim from Poseidon’s altar?

    I did not.

    Dar’st thou deny it, wretched boy?
    Monarch, his coward lips have uttered falsehood.
    Speak, King of Tyre.

    Hear me speak first. Thou ruffian
    Intriguer masking in a priest’s disguise, –

    Hear him, O King!

    Speak calmly. I forbid
    All violence. Thou deniest then the charge?

    As it was worded to me, I deny it.

    Syria, I have not spoken till this moment,
    And would not now, but sacred truth compels
    My tongue howe’ver reluctant. I was there,
    And saw him rescue a wrecked mariner
    With his rash steel. Would that I had not seen it!

    Thou liest, Phineus, King of Tyre.

    If thou hast any pity for thy mother,
    Run not upon thy death in this fierce spirit,
    My child. Calmly repel the charge against thee,
    Nor thus offend thy brother.

    I am not angry.

    It was no shipwrecked weeping mariner,
    Condemned by the wild seas, whom they attempted,
    But a calm god or glorious hero who came
    By other ways than man’s to Syria’s margin.
    Nor did rash steel or battle rescue him.
    With the mere dreadful waving of his shield
    He shook from him a hundred threatening lances,
    This hero hot from Tyre and this proud priest
    Now bold to bluster in his monarch’s chamber,
    But then a pallid coward, – so he trusts
    In his Poseidon!

    Hast thou done?

    Not yet.
    That I drew forth my sword, is true, and true
    I would have rescued him from god or devil
    Had it been needed.

    Enough! he has confessed!
    Give verdict, King, and sentence. Let me watch
    Thy justice.

    But this fault was not so deadly!

    I see thy drift, O King. Thou wouldst prefer
    Thy son to him who rules the earth and waters:
    Thou wouldst exalt thy throne above the temple,
    Setting the gods beneath thy feet. Fool, fool,
    Know’st thou not that the terrible Poseidon
    Can end thy house in one tremendous hour?
    Yield him one impious head which cannot live
    And he will give thee other and better children.
    Give sentence or be mad and perish.

    Not for thy son’s but for thy honour’s sake
    Resist him. ‘Tis better to lose crown and life,
    Than rule the world because a priest allows it.

    Give sentence, King. I can no longer wait,
    Give sentence.

CEPHEUS (helplessly to Cassiopea)
    What shall I do?

    Monarch of Tyre,
    Thou choosest silence then, a pleased spectator?
    Thou hast bethought thee of other nuptials?

    You wrong my silence which was but your servant
    To find an issue from this dire impasse,
    Rescuing your child from wrath, justice not wounded.

    The issue in the accuser’s will,
    If putting malice by he’ld only seek
    Poseidon’s glory.

    The deed’s by all admitted,
    The law and bearing of it are in doubt.
    (To Polydaon)
    You urge a place is void and must be filled
    On great Poseidon’s altar, and demand
    Justly the guilty head of Iolaus.
    He did the fault, his head must ransom it.
    Let him fill up the void, who made the void.
    Nor will high heaven accept a guiltless head,
    To let the impious free.

    Phineus, –

    But if
    The victim lost return, you cannot then
    Claim Iolaus: then there is no void
    For substitution.

    King, –

    The simpler fault
    With ransom can be easily excused
    And covered up in gold. Let him produce
    The fugitive.

    Tyrian, –

    I have not forgotten.
    Patience! You plead that your mysterious guest
    Being neither shipwrecked nor a mariner
    Comes not within the doom of law. Why then,
    Let law decide that issue, not the sword
    Nor swift evasion! Dost thou fear the event
    Of thy great father’s sentence from that throne
    Where Justice sits with bright unsullied robe
    Judging the peoples? Calmly expect his doom
    Which errs not.

    Thou art a man noble indeed in counsel
    And fit to rule the nations.

    I approve.
    You laugh, my son?

    I laugh to see wise men
    Catching their feet in their own subtleties.
    King Phineus, wilt thou seize Olympian Zeus
    And call thy Tyrian smiths to forge his fetters?
    Or wilt thou claim the archer bright Appolo
    To meet thy human doom, priest Polydaon?
    ‘Tis well; the danger’s yours. Give me three days
    And I’ll produce him.

    Priest, art thou content?

    Exceed not thou the period by one day,
    Or tremble.

CEPHEUS (rising)
    Happily decided. Rise
    My Cassiopea: now our hearts can rest
    From these alarms.
    Cepheus and Cassiopea leave the chamber.

    Keep thy knife sharp, sacrificant.
    King Phineus, I am grateful and advise
    Thy swift departure back to Tyre unmarried.

He goes out.

    What hast thou done, King Phineus? All is ruined

    What, have the stripling’s threats appalled thee, priest?

    Thou hast demanded a bright dreadful god
    For victim. We might have slain young Iolaus:
    Wilt thou slay him whose tasselled aegis smote
    Terror into a hundred warriors?

    Thou art a superstitious fool. Believe not
    The gods come down to earth with swords and wings,
    Or transitory raiment made in looms,
    Or bodies visible to mortal eyes.
    Far otherwise they come, with unseen steps
    And stroke invisible, – if gods indeen
    There are. I doubt it who can find no room
    For powers unseen: the world’s alive and moves
    By natural law without their intervention.

    King Phineus, doubt not not the immortal gods.
    They love not doubters. If thou hadst lived as I,
    Daily devoted to the temple dimness,
    And seen the awful shapes that live in night,
    And heard the awful shapes that live in night,
    And heard the awful sounds that move at will
    When Ocean with the midnight is alone,
    Thou wouldst not doubt. Remember the dread portents
    High gods have sent on earth a hundred times
    When kings offended.

    Well, let them reign unquestioned
    Far from the earth in their too bright Olympus,
    So that they come not down to meddle here
    In what I purpose. For your aegis-bearer,
    Your winged and two-legged lion, he’s no god.
    Your hurried me away or I’ld have probed
    His godlike guts with a good yard of steel
    To test the composition of his ichor.

    What of his flamings aegis lightning-tasselled?
    What of his winged sandals, King?

    The aegis?
    Some mechanism of refracted light.
    The wings? Some new aerial contrivance
    A luckier Daedalus may have invented.
    The Greeks are scientists unequalled, bold
    Experimenters, happy in invention.
    Nothing’s incredible that they device,
    And this man, Polydaon, is a Greek,

    Have it your way. Say he was merely man!
    How do we profit buy his blood?

    O marvellous!
    Thou hesitate to kill! Thou seek for reasons!
    Is not blood always blood? I could not forfeit
    My right to marry young Andromeda;
    She is my claim to Syria. Leave something, priest,
    To fortune, but be ready for her coming
    And grasp ere she escape. The old way’s best;
    Excite the commons, woo their thunderer,
    That plausible republican. Iolaus
    Once ended, by right of fair Andromeda
    I’ll save and wear the crown. Priest, over Syria
    And all my Tyrians thou shalt be the one prelate,
    Should all go well.

    All shall go well, King Phineus.

They go.