The Latin text and English translation here provided is that of L.R. Merrill, in The Life and Poems of Nicholas Grimald (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1925): we have added notes.
Further reading on Nicholas Grimald: ‘Seeing and Recognizing in the Sacred and New: The Latin Scriptural Plays of Nicholas Grimald’, Elisabeth Dutton and Stephanie Allen, in Staging Scripture: Biblical Drama 1350-1600, ed. Peter Happé and Wim Hüsken (Leiden: Brill, 2016) 204-34
Now first published
To the Most Excellent Man,
Dr Richard Cox,
Nicholas Grimald sends best greetings.
After I had finished writing this tragic poem, most illustrious sir, I considered to whom I should dedicate it, and resolved at last to commit it to the protection and patronage of one who was scholarly, and who was a zealous patron of literary men – for in the patronage of the ignorant there is nothing of dignity, nor in the superciliousness of the fastidious any pleasure; whereas the judgment of a learned patron gives great authority to a work, and the kind of him to whom a book is dedicated inspires great enthusiasm in the writer. After weighing for some time, first, the common opinion of men, and, secondly, my observation of your character, I was persuaded that you alone, beyond all other writers, were of such excellent learning that you would able to defend a work of this sort, and that you were a man of such great kindness as earnestly to desire consideration for honorable studies. I have learned from report how, at the outset, you were imbued with sound morals and discipline at both our universities; how, after having entered upon the province of teaching, you reviewed, confirmed, and increased the knowledge that you had already acquired; and how at length you reaped the fruits of your learned piety in the great authority and favor that you enjoy with the best and most illustrious of kings, through the great virtues and gifts of your genius. Why should I speak of your sermons – since all who have heard you with one voice declare that you are an admirable workman? Your love, moreover, for excellent and noble arts cannot be more clearly shown that it has been by your appearance as the great man who recently founded among us, and brought to its present excellent form, the college dedicated to Christ, which seems, indeed, to be comparable to the Lyceum, the Stoa, the Academy, and all the libraries of all philosophers, not only in the splendor of the building, but also in its excellent faculty of liberal arts. Nor am I ignorant of the courtesy with which you have received the letters of certain students, read their poems, and heard their speeches addressed to you, so that no slight incentive has been given to our young men; nor am I less conscious of the trouble you took in making trial of the attainments of all those who were to be elected to so famous a society, so that they might lend distinction to the college, rather than receive distinction from it. Receive, therefore, this history of John the Baptist, a great prophet of the first rank, the theme of which is thoroughly understood by you, and has, moreover, been treated in such a manner as not only to delight the learned, but also to profit those of cruder intelligence. As you best know, it is of the greatest consequence to the understanding and appreciation of any subject that that quality, from which the Greeks gave the name of poet to the writers themselves, be especially noted in poems. Such a thing happens when a deed is portrayed in adequate language, and characters are introduced as through living and breathing; when time, place, words, and deeds are vividly depicted; when the whole action is brought before your eyes and ears, so that it seems not so much to be told, to be narrated, as to be done, to be enacted. Because I cultivate style by exercises of this nature, I both break the inherent perversity of my nature – which is granted – and I accustom myself to delight in my Christ; while, through the consideration and treatment of sacred dialogue, my soul, otherwise downcast and greatly afflicted, is uplifted and refreshed. Nor do I think this concerns me alone, but all those who desire to be engaged in the same sort of labor and study, or who desire this first part of the Gospel to be placed before their eyes. Here the reader or the spectator will learn true, genuine, unfeigned repentance, the way to approach Christ, and the lesson the first preacher of the Gospel so strongly impressed upon the ears, and minds of men. He will learn, also, of this same man’s wonderful birth, of his stainless life, of the power of baptism, of his zeal in propagating religion, his freedom of speech, devotion in prayer, earnest admonitions, and of his death at last, worthy of a Christian. He will also see how hypocrites delight in themselves, how blind they are in self-love, how eager for their own advantage, and how they either dissolutely neglect pure religion or attack it hostilely. He will observe, too, how so impious a monster as Herod is rejected of God. Nor will he be without an opportunity for noting the wantonness of women, regal luxury, the flattery of courtiers, and, on the other side, the constancy and fidelity of John the Baptist, and other things not unpleasing to learn and to know. Now, most honored sir, if you will kindly and courteously receive this play, and allow me to be connected with you in some way, and to be counted among the number of your friends, you will surely inspire me with tremendous zeal for greater labors, and cause me to regard your great kindness with everlasting gratitude.
Farewell. May gracious God preserve you to us and to the state, most learned and most upright man. From Christ Church, Oxford, A.D. 1547.
Jehovah, the Heavenly Father.
John the Baptist.
The disciples of John.
Chorus of common people.
Typhlus } Pharisees.
Gelasimus, Herod’s fool.
A Syrian man, a slave.
Chorus of the followers of Herod.
A Syrian girl, a slave.
Herodias, the queen.
Tryphera, the daughter of Herodias.
Chorus of banqueters.
ACT 1, SCENE 1.
Jeh. From the most bountiful source of my liberality, what greater gift could be bestowed in loving kindness upon man than that I should grant him my only-begotten Son as the one guide to heaven? 1 Nor ought I to have small thanks for this, for it will be of the greatest consequence much to cherish this gift, and to regard it with the greatest honor. For it could hardly be brought about in any other manner than by a visit of the most righteous to the evil, and of the most holy to the impious, that the sons of wrath should know and abhor their infamy. This gift, and this alone above all else, is to be remembered in every succeeding age as well as in this, that there may shine forth for erring mortals that glorious light fully declared to be at hand by the patriarch, as he bowed before death: ‘Then straightaway shall our Deliverer come when Judah’s people have lost dominion.’2 Behold, has not Herod, the upstart, seized the power, and glutted himself with blood, and has he not left an offspring to be an heir to his tyranny?3 Yet that He who is now at hand may have more testimony and a greater weight of authority, it pleases me to appoint thee, John the Baptist, an ambassador, to prepare a way for Him who is veiled in human form. First of all, every one must be shown his sins, that he may understand the need of repentance. Then the Author of our salvation4 is to be revealed, who shall take away the sins of the faithful, and freely bring them to their heavenly home. Go thou and proclaim, then, to all the nations, far and wide, the tidings that have come from Jordan’s bank:5 ‘The way should be made straight for the Lord: hope in human wisdom, evil worship, vain-glory in works, in short, all wicked things, must be put aside; our voice must be harkened to, and in God must trust be placed.’ Go thou, strive to lay low the mountains, to exalt the valleys, to overthrow the fierce in spirit, and to raise the lowly of heart. Cast down whatever seems to oppose the coming of Christ, or whatever may be of hindrance to Him. Let not the Idumæan tyrant make thee fearful. On the contrary, go thou boldly, for we will be thy guard. Thou shalt conquer most when the tyrant thinks thee overcome. Never will I forsake thee; with my power will I cherish thee.
ACT I, SCENE II.
John, the Disciples of John, Chorus of the People.
John. Come, Thou Almighty Spirit, come, fill the hearts of Thy faithful, that they may burn with love for Thee, whom I saw descending from heaven, in bodily shape like a dove, upon the King.6 Grant that we may know God, the Father, through Christ, the Son. Nor refuse, O Father, to send this Spirit throughout all the world; for Thou wilt make all things new. O sole Preserver, who with the sacred breath of benignant divinity art accustomed to inspire the hearts of Thy children, grant that we may live in heavenly peace, all fear being cast out. Grant, omnipotent Father, that that grace which created us may recreate us. Living until now in woods and in lonely places, I have baptized here and there in the flowing waters of the Jordan those who confessed their sins, and I have received them into the faith and the congregation of Christ. In the Jordan, Naaman the Syrian washed away his leprosy. The Hebrew people of old under the leadership of God crossed over the river Jordan when they came to the Promise Land. One the banks of this very Jordan I revealed to the assembled people God Himself, whom I had often declared to be at hand. Now, men, my soul prompts me to leave the wilderness and to make my way into the midst of cities; and, hindered by no fear, to speak freely to wicked mortals that they may straightaway repent them of their state of iniquity, and seek the glad day when the divinity promised by the mouths of so many prophets has come.
Disc. We wondered not a little when to our inquiries you made answer that you were not the Christ, nor Elias, nor a prophet. Tell us now, truly, are you not one of these?
John. I am not the Saviour, the Healing of the envenomed world, nor will I ever preach under that name. How often have I testified to them that questioned me that I am but a weak man, unworthy to unloose the latchet of the sandals of that King. Nor am I that Tishbite prophet who was taken across the sky in a chariot of fire up into heaven.7 Nevertheless, I confess that the same spirit moves me, and the same power of the supreme Deity instructs me. I am
not to be accounted among the prophets who taught the multitudes, and led them in their wanderings; I point out a leader. They foretold the divinity to come, but I point out God Himself. They made obscure prophecies, but the things that I declare are in view.
Disc. We pray thee now to tell us, thy disciples, who thou art, and not to hold us longer in suspense.
John. The son of Amos, a prophet of the olden days, foretold a voice crying in the wilderness, saying, ‘Make straight a highway for the coming king.’ That voice am I; I myself am that herald.
Disc. But how shall this highway be made for the king?
John. As men of rank have servants who with the greatest care are wont to remove stones, pitfalls, whatever may render the way rough and uneven, so it is my duty to remove from the hearts of men whatever obstacles impede the entrance of God to their hearts; that is, their many and most grievous sins, especially the sin of those who vaunt themselves and boast of Pharisaic righteousness.8 To this end my duty particularly points, that every one may be led to a knowledge of himself, and realize how little he of himself can do, and how buried in vile sin he is. Thus it will be made manifest to every one, even to the best, how great is the need of the mercy and grace of God.
Disc. How is this knowledge of ourselves to be had?
John. First hold before your eyes the state in which our first parent9 was after he had sinned. From him we were created, and we, his offspring, are like unto him. He dwelt, indeed, in a beautiful garden, and had dominion over all that was created. He had free will, that he might follow either what was right or what was wrong. The great Creator gave to him this command, that he should in wise be led to eat of the tempting tree, since, should he do so, punishment worthy of such disobedience would be meted out. Satan, undaunted, envying Adam this place, and as his sworn enemy, sought to cast man down from his seat. Through yielding woman, Satan assailed him and led him on. Soon she seized an apple, and persuaded her husband to do the same. Overcome by the woman’s words, man yielded, and eagerly took of the forbidden fruit and did eat. Hence these tears, hence our loss, and the everlasting brand of shame. From being immortal, man became subject to death; from being pure, the vilest dregs; from being a creature of free will, one desiring evil, and having a nature most given to it; from being the only-beloved of God, the vessel of His wrath. Having forfeited his inheritance of eternal happiness, man gave himself over to the depths of hell. Think ye that we are more worthy than our parent. Who can believe that an evil tree will bring forth good fruit? He was wicked; we are wicked also. He lived a vain existence; we too are vain. He fell under the charge of ingrafted guilt; we, too, serve inherent wickedness. What slave can beget a free child? That which is born of the flesh is flesh; when that is forsaken of the spirit, what place is there for virtue?
Disc. What then? Shall we not try to keep the commandments of the law, so that we may thus hope for salvation?
John. If the Ethiopian can change his skin, or the leopard his spots, it will be within your power to abandon the evil that comes from your very nature. Can you covet nothing?
Can you love your neighbor as yourself? Can you with all your heart obey the other commands of the law? I appeal to the conscience of each one of you.
Disc. The truths that you declare are indisputable. If God judges us sternly, fire remains for us, the everlasting fires of hell. What shall we, most miserable wretches, do? He is pronounced accursed has not conformed in his life to the precepts of the law. Whither shall we go? What shall we answer? Who shall heal our infirmities?
John. See that, according to the righteousness of the law, your helplessness be made manifest to you, that knowledge do not make you become arrogant, but cause you indeed to see your own unworthiness and shame, and to bewail them and to hate them. If any one of you ponder these things well, how he will censure himself! How little he will value himself! How readily he will seek aid from another! But it is not to be found except in Him whom I declare to be the most high God, from whom cometh our help. He is our peace10 and our righteousness. You will now choose this Master, this Leader, who has descended to earth to give you great gifts indeed. After you have been inwardly purified, nothing pleasant or unpleasant, nothing however joyous or full of grief it may be, will ever avail to root out your love of Him. Now with contrite heart kneel down and raise your hands to heaven, and with me humbly pray to God: ‘Be merciful and kind to us, O Father, we beseech Thee!’
Disc. Be merciful and kind to us, we beseech Thee!
John. O God, we know the bent of our mind, and that our rebel nature is inclined to whatever is most evil. Bestow Thy grace, that we may perceive how shameful is the burden of our sins, and that our love for Thee may urge us on.
Disc. Be merciful and kind to us, we beseech Thee.
John. O Thou who art grace itself, instil in us new ways of life, now that we have put away those of old Adam, and recreate us with Thy spirit. If, cherishing us with Thy Spirit, Thou wilt give our hearts peace, we will cry, ‘Father, Father,’ and will adore Thee with devout hearts.
Disc. Be merciful and kind to us, we beseech Thee.
John. Let us be most assured of Thy love towards us from this, that, Thou, in order to bless us, hast decreed Thy only-begotten Son to die; who for this is even now sent from heaven, and walks on earth. Grant, O Father, that we may receive Him with sincere hearts.
Disc. Be merciful and kind to us, we beseech Thee.
John. Do this often, and with unshaken faith call thus with vows upon the most high God. Moreover, since He wishes to be worshiped sincerely and from the heart, a worship to which your weakness cannot attain, devoutly entreat the Father through the Son that He may breathe into you His Holy Spirit abundantly, to strengthen your infirmities, and teach you the best manner of prayer. Now that our journey is done, we see the lofty towers of Herod at hand, and the buildings of the city begin to appear.
Disc. Will you go to the palace of the king?
John. I shall go, and not without hope of winning the prince, whom the people will at once follow as a leader before others. Therefor, my dear men, depart with the guidance of God, unto the near-by city, whither the road leads. After I have offered a short prayer, I will follow you. O Thou who dost embrace Thy sons with a Father’s love, may Thy name be praised throughout all the world. O Thou who hast been sent from heaven to make a sacrifice meet for the people, grant that they may not despise their salvation. O Thou who inspirest new life, and dost direct every course, fill the hearts of men with desire for God. O threefold Divinity,11 yet united in one by eternal bonds, grant strength and vigor to me, who am about to prepare a way for Thee. Grant that the king and his people may rightly hear him whom Thou hast sent as a herald, and that I may faithfully do my duty.
Chorus. The law of old time was given in desert places amid the unfriendly caverns of wild beasts; the new law likewise is beginning to be made known amid the forest shades. Here a voice full of gladness resounds which clearly reveals us to ourselves, and teaches us to put aside our worldly affairs, and to see free salvation. A foe to deceit, pious, a bold preacher, wholly acceptable, he calls out through the broad land. He has not been puffed up by the ample praises of the chief men. Neither the priests, nor the Pharisees, nor the Levites, skilled in deceit, were able to flatter him with new titles, whether he were hailed with that of the Most High, or as the Tishbite, or as a prophet of the people. He has sought to magnify the glory of Thee alone, O Christ. He has spurned thus the contentions of those who found fault with new beginnings. ‘Look into your hearts,’ he has said, ‘O ye who are depraved, base, wretched, and stained with innate sin. Not only your deeds, but even your thoughts, will betray you to yawning hell, unless God be in your hearts. Therefore call upon Him in your prayers and supplications; seek Him in your vows, that He may abide with you, and that He may increase your understanding.’
ACT II, SCENE I.
Phi. Great Jehovah! Whither will this new religion lead, which this stranger is introducing? Has he thus answered the Pharisees of Jerusalem? Has he use an unheard-of baptism, just as if our bathing were lacking in thoroughness? We touch no food except with washed hands.12 On coming from the market-place we bathe our bodies. We cleanse with water the seats, plates, cups, painted couches, and all the furniture.13
Ty. He has also taught the common people to confess their sins, but let him teach us nothing of the sort. We utter more prayers to God than he does. Twice every week we subdue the fierce lust of the flesh by fasting. A tenth part of all our wealth we bestow upon the poor. Others, for the most part, are inferior to us.
Phi. Yet, if we may believe what we hear, such is his impudence that he disparages all this, and counts it as nothing. Certainly, if he continues, he will put an end to our order. He censures everything, and praises no one.
Ty. Since they say that he has come into the city, we will warn the king f his arrival, who is both willing and able to check him if he err.
Phi. You judge most rightly. For if he were to find fault with Herod, I think that Herod would in wise endure it calmly. Nevertheless, since this man is in favor with the people, we will say nothing against him openly. It will be enough if he be brought to talk with Herod. Contraries will not agree with contraries.
ACT II, SCENE II.
Gelasimus,14 Pharisees, a Syrian, Herod, Chorus of Herod’s Men.
Gel. Well, who is breaking in our doors with knocking? Ah, there are pious people here, pious people! Ah, my fathers are here! Hail, hail! Oh, what do all these prayers
mean? Our ape often moves his lips just as they do.
Phi. Tell us, if you please, where is the king?
Gel. Where is the king? Here. I am king of the fools.
Phi. No, you are the fool of the king, if you turn the words aright.
Gel. Ah, you are the king’s fool. You teach me well, father. You are the king’s fool.
Ty. Call the Syrian from his quarters, I pray you.
Gel. Come out, please, you Syrian girl; here is someone for you, he says.
Ty. Oh, for God’s sake, say no more. Bah! We wish to see neither you nor a Syrian girl.
Gel. I can easily believe that you would be asses at the lute.
Phar. This fellow will do nothing. We must knock again, Typhlus.
Gel. What a lot my masters mumble! Mum, mum, ba, ba, be, be! Wouldn’t I make a fine Pharisee? But such work wears out one’s lips.
Syr. Who is at the door? Ah, is it you, fathers? Why do you stand there? Why did you not come in?
Ty. We had not yet completed the number of our prayers, and it is not fitting to disturb the king.
Syr. Have you anything which the king should hear from you yourselves?
Ty. We have, if you will only provide a way.
Syr. I will do so gladly.
Ty. We will wait for him here.
Gel. It gives us great pleasure to wait with a fool. Oh, they are giving money! Give me some! Let this empty hand have some! Ah, generously done! With these coins I will buy a kiss from the Syrian girl.
Syr. The Pharisees, O king, are waiting at the door.
He. Why did you not bring them in?
Syr. They refused to enter, because not all their prayers were yet finished.
He. Now, chief priests of the mysteries, what is it?
Phi. Some time ago a report reached our ears; a true and oft-repeated rumor was noised about, that a man has come into this city who teaches new doctrines, one who is said hitherto to have led a hard life amid the dark haunts of wild beasts. To him a great multitude of neighboring people have gone out, of whom a goodly number have accepted his doctrine, and baptism at his hands. There he has gathered together many disciples; the band of common people with accompanies him wherever he goes is not a small one. We thought that these things should be made known to your majesty, lest, when you were unaware, they should inaugurate new rites.
He. Go, search the city quickly. Either bring hither the man or some of his followers. I wish to talk with him and with them.
Gel. The king has gone in to his wife, and the Syrian after him; the gowned Pharisees have gone to the temple and the servants to the city. I will straightaway hie me to the wine-cellar. Stay here while I bring drink to the dry.
ACT II, SCENE III.
Syrian, Syrian girl, Gelasimus.
Syr. Does any one wonder that the king burns so with love for Herodias,15 and that she haunts his eyes and his mind? The beauty and splendor of her form is such that it seems to be some divine work of nature. Love has chosen a place for himself in her eyes, which are alluring, wanton, clear, merry. Her teeth are white as ivory, and her dainty lips, delicately colored, are parted a little. Her fine nose is well poised amid lovely surroundings. Her hair is as beautiful as the dawn. A pretty red suffuses her well-shaped cheeks. Her forehead is serene, and shines star-like. Her lips distil sweet ambrosia. Her snowy neck, full and round, is most delicately shaped. Her breasts do not swell to fill a flabby bosom, but stand there trim, soft, charming, white as ivory, rounded like tender grapes. All the parts of her body, most elegantly joined together, are most worthy of a king’s love. But more worthy still is the sweetness of her manners and the grace of her speech, in which she far excels his former wife and the rest of the women.
Syr. Girl. And also Syrian, to the great gifts of nature is added the favor of great fortune, and a certain wonderful joy of living. How she passes her days quite according to her inclination! The morning hours she passes at her toilet. After that, her husband entertains her at the table in elegant and splendid fashion. The time is whiled away by food, with pleasant talk, in playing together, with short walks, with jests, with kisses, and with laughter. Then follows a sumptuous dinner, spice with joyful songs, followed by dances, games of chance, dicing, and drinking. The drowsy night she gives to her ardent spouse, and to sleep. With the sun she returns to a like round of amusement.
Gel. Alone together! Ah, Syrian man with Syrian maid! Hah! Hi! Are you running off? Ho there! Syrian girl I want you, for I have something to tell you in private. I have a denarius for you if you will give me a kiss. Oh, do not run away. I will give you an obolus too, if you will give me one. Stay, stay!
ACT II, SCENE IV.
Herod, Herodias, Gelasimus.
He. How is my beloved?
Her. By Hercules, if you are joyful, I too am so, my darling.
He. Who, who would not love such a face? Who would not gladly kiss it? Sweetheart, give me a kiss, I beg you.
Her. There, there my dearest! Truly I judge no addition could be made to our mutual love. One mind animates the bodies of us both. Our like and dislikes are both the same. We are both of one mind. Indeed – to speak freely what I think – you alone give me the greatest pleasure, and I alone give you the greatest, as is evident from deeds and words. What I do not deny to myself I do not deny to you; what you do not deny to yourself you do not deny to me. Day and night I think of Herod. Of Herodias you think day and night. Not if I might hope for Cæsar as husband would I desire to be separated from you, my beloved sweetheart.
He. Like Venus you radiate loveliness, my sweetest. Now let us go on. Come by my side. A stranger is to be summoned before us here.
Gel. Oh, if it were granted me to take such a wife, this would be my song everlasting: ‘How beautiful is my little love! How beautiful is my little love!’ Meanwhile I will keep quiet as to what is in my heart.
Her. But who is the stranger that will be here, and what sort of man is he?
He. They say that he is a new preacher of religion, who dwells in the wilderness, after whom the people flock.
Her. If you listen to me, do not extend your favor to any one.
He. I should like to learn from the man’s own lips by what assurance he teaches the wandering crowd. Unless, perchance, something excellent appears in his nature, he shall be sent away at once.
Her. You are right in your decision. That, too, is my opinion.
He. They have come. Arrange the seats without delay. Place one for us, and another for my consort. Here, under the open sky, we will sit during the inquiry.
ACT II, SCENE V
Chorus of Herod’s Men, Herod, Herodias, Chorus of the People, Disciples of John.
Cho. of Her. As you commanded, O king, we have brought here the country folk and such of his companions as we could seize. The man himself did not fall into our hands, though we searched for him.
He. Country people, pray wherefore do you so eagerly follow this stranger, and what manner of life does he lead?
Cho. of Peo. If the soul, conscious of its sins, has an inward wound, he teaches it how to lay aside harmful things, and to accept what is wholesome. We believe that through him we can arrive at peace of conscience. He has lived most uprightly. Indeed, from boyhood he withdrew from the multitude and from vulgar traffic, and went into the wilderness. There his raiment was of camel’s hair, his meat was locusts and wild honey, and his manner of life was like that of those who dwell in the forests; and he washed in Jordan’s overflowing waters a great multitude of people who confessed their sins.
He. What think you of this, wife?
Her. They tell us unheard-of things.
He. If these things be true, they do indeed tell strange matters.
Cho. of Peo. His followers tell further of many wonderful things that they know of his birth, which argue that he was born to do great things.
He. Tell me of them, I pray you. We will listen attentively.
Disc. By chance, a certain excellent priest named Zacharias,16 one of the course of Abia,17 was chosen to perform the sacred rites. His wife, Elizabeth, was greatly attached to him. One thing, which gave them ill repute, troubled them greatly. They had no children, and had arrived at hoary old age when all hope of offspring was taken from them. When the husband in turn was performing his office alone in the Holy of Holies, there with all his soul he asked for pledges of wedlock, and for the salvation of men, awaited for so many years. Behold, an angel, descending from heaven itself, stood at his right hand, shining with marvelous light, upon which his fearful eye could scarcely look. The messenger, however, said to him: ‘Be of good cheer. The heavenly King has heard thy prayers and supplications, for the Saviour will shortly come, and thy wife, begetting the great herald of the most high God, shall lay aside her sorrow for joy and gladness. Thou shalt call thy son John, and he shall be endowed with great talent and ability. His life shall not be spent in pleasure or in excess, but he shall drink water; neither wine nor strong drink shall he taste, nor what can make a vigorous mind become sluggish, do it injury, or take it away entirely. He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb. He shall turn many in days to come to the rising light, for, endowed with the spirit and the power of Elias, with the greatest eloquence, he shall bring it about that men, realizing their own sinfulness, shall be filled with a longing for the coming God.’ Thus the messenger spoke. Zacharias laid aside his fear, and said: ‘What token will you grant to us, perplexed as we are, as an assurance of this coming joy? Surely weary old age now denies to me and my virtuous wife a child. Shall the usual course of nature be changed ? How shall this, which was denied to youthful years, happen to those who are without vigor and without blood?’ Then the angel answered: ‘I am Gabriel, the messenger of God. That thou mayst understand that I am His true messenger, thou shalt receive a sure sign of the coming child, and also a punishment for thy vain doubts. Thy voice shall fail thee; thou shalt not be able to express thy thoughts in speech until thy little son, born into the light, shall attest my words.’ While these things between the old man and the angel took place within the Holy of Holies, all the multitude waiting at the doors marveled that the old man tarried beyond his wont in the temple. At length he came out, his face shining with great joy; but language, the discloser of his mind, and the power of speech, left him, as he strove to utter his thoughts. They gathered from this that when he was alone in the holy place he had seen with mortal eye some heavenly vision. However, as far as he was able, by signs and nods he made up for his lack of voice. When the days of his ministration were accomplished were accomplished, he straightaway departed to his own house to his wife, who, as soon as she saw that she had conceived, hid herself in her chamber, concealing the whole matter till the moon waxed in its fifth monthly revolution. ‘Now I perceive,’ she said to herself, ‘that God hath rewarded me with the greatest of blessings, for He graces my marriage with an unexpected pledge, so that I shall no longer be called barren, but be made a mother by His favor alone.’ Thus the promised day came, when the mother fulfilled her proper time, and the child, breathing the breath of life, issued from her aged womb. Then very many of those who were united to her by ties of kinship or of acquaintance came to congratulate her, whom God in so wonderful a child-bearing had made the other of so beautiful a child. When the boy had seen the eighth day, the relatives, according to custom, came to circumcise him, and to give him a name. Thinking the dumb and speechless father would desire it, they called the child after the name of his father, which is commonly most pleasing to people. The mother, however, taught by secret inspiration, openly declared that the child ought not to be called Zacharias, but John. Astonished by this unexpected speech, they reminded her that none of her kindred was called by that name. The father was consulted, that he might signify what his wish was. Then, when a writing-table was opened, his hand, acting as an interpreter, made known the thoughts of his mind, and mute signs spoke for the living voice, saying that John was the name given of high heaven. All marveled and were greatly astonished that this strange name pleased the parents, and that the deaf father agreed with the mother. But as soon as he had written he regained his speech, and declared the goodness and righteousness of God. Then dread amazement made those that dwelt round about them shudder, and fear made the hearts of the people humble. The fame of these things being carried forthwith throughout all Judea and the neighboring regions, the ears of the people were filled with these reports: that an old woman had conceived; a name for the child had been given from heaven; the son had been promised by God; the father had been made dumb, and had again been given the power of speech. Very many, therefore, in amazement said to one another: ‘What manner of child shall this boy, so wonderfully born , be? For so many miraculous things testify that is not born without divine purpose.
Her. This speech, my husband, clearly described to us a guest not at all evil.
He. So it certainly seems to me, my sweet. The wonderful things to have told us, men, give me the highest opinion of this stranger. Hasten, find your leader, and say that we are eagerly awaiting him, and that our doors are open to him whenever he shall come.
ACT II, SCENE VI.
Phi. How changeable the common people are, and how inconstant! How quickly they turn from the old to the new! Do you not see what a crowd surrounds this low fellow? There is danger that if he become a little more powerful, he will weaken our order.
Ty. No one so far has been able to do so, although many have tried. The opinion of the Essenes, that all things happen by fate, has long since been exploded. Those who forbade that tribute should be paid to Cæsar were put to death when sedition arose. The Sadducees18 remain, who are as inferior to us in character as they are in their views.
Phi. But lest, perchance, this impudent imposter should lead the people away from us to form a fifth sect, should we not also incite the Sadducees against him?
Ty. By Hercules! As you say: although the Sadducees are our enemies, and have nothing in common with us in their manner of life, in this business they shall be our friends, for it concerns their reputation.
Phi. Come. We must not execute lazily what we have decided upon.
ACT II, SCENE VII.
John, Disciples, Chorus of People, a Syrian.
John. Most merciful Jesus, who art endowed with the supreme power of the Father, breathing like a soft wind upon me, and approving of my good progress, aid me like a good leader. Verily, Thou art the word of the Father, verily Thou art His mind, His right hand. Let now Thy word supply me with words, Thy mind direct to my mind, and thy right hand guide mine.
Syr. I wish that this stranger might be brought into view. There is a great deal of curiosity among us in regard to him.
Disc. Wandering here and there, we have sought you, master. Why did you delay so long?
Cho. of Peo. The king, having learned of the manner of your life and of your birth, has a great desire to see you, and asks for a meeting and a talk with you
John. This, I hope, will be to God’s glory, and not to mine, comrades. Let us ascend the stone threshold.
Syr. What! Is this he? Yes? No. Yes, it is he himself. His lips are like lettuce. How like it they are in roughness! The master comes your way. Approach, whoever you are, the king desires to meet you.
ACT II, SCENE VIII.
John, Herod, a Syrian, Disciples, Chorus of People.
John. Peace to you, tetrarch!19
He. And to you also, my good man. Marvelous reports of your doings have come often to my ears, so that I much desire to hear you answer my question, which is: What are you striving to teach the multitudes of people?
John. To prepare themselves for the salvation that is at hand. As the cultivator of fruit is accustomed in the first place to root up and cut out useless weeds, thorns, tares, burrs, wild oats, and thistles, before he ventures to commit to the unfit earth his chosen seeds, the hope of the whole year, so it is necessary for me first to purge souls stained with sin, and, as far a mortal may, to pluck out fouls deeds of shame, that heavenly persuasion may find an entrance, and the soul be sustained by a firm hope of salvation. If I, taking away the stinging nettles of sin, bring it about that the sprouting see is not choked by a forest of tares, nothing of this is to be ascribed to my power, for to the one God we all owe all gifts.
He. But in what manner shall we prepare for salvation?
John. The sick soul ought to know its own disease, straightway to lament and bewail it, to lay aside the recognized life of sin, and with the greatest gratitude to receive God, the Physician, who will imbue it with healthful modes of living. Thus the soul becomes assured of a blessed life, in which there is peace, and which abounds in all that is good.
He. A disease of such sort is not easily recognized. What if one does not seek this physician?
John. know that He will surely come as a judge, and, mindful of right and wrong, will punish with the eternal torments of hell all those who have despised Him.
He. Your words have not been without weight. You and your followers are welcome here. Give me your hand, my guest, and enter our abode.
ACT II, SCENE IX.
Gelasimus, a Syrian girl, Chorus of Herod’s Men.
Gel. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.20
Syr. Girl. Ha, ha, ha! Whither, prithee, will this speech lead?
Gel. Hail, worthy men! Pardon me if I speak a few words about myself before touching upon my subject. The vulgar herd call me a fool. What if they do? Do not measure any one by a name. An old wives’ tales has an answer for me. Once upon a time a fig-tree had wondered why a mulberry, which might considered a wise tree, nevertheless received its name from folly.21 Then the mulberry replied, ‘A name can neither confer nor take away wisdom. What forbids me, then, a wise existence?’ But let us proceed, my hearers, to other matters. The earth without form and utterly void has appeared.
Syr. Girl. Ha, ha, ha!
Cho. of Hero. Ha, ha, ha!
Gel. The devil himself dwells in you, men and brothers, so overwhelmed with sin. Players abound in jokes, harlots in blandishment, games of chance in quarrels, the court in gossip, the market-places in lawsuits, feasts in whispering and women in pride. This world is certainly most foul. Was there not darkness upon the face of the deep?
Cho. of Hero. Ha, ha, ha!
Syr. Girl. Ha, ha, ha!
Gel. Lest I should be too long-winded, I shall conclude with a story, or, rather, with a sharply pointed little question: What seems to each one of you to be the most difficult thing to know? What do you think, what do you, and lastly, what do you? I certainly think it is, how one is to know his own father. What is a patriarch, a patriarch? And what is a fool, a fool? What is a woman? What, indeed, save a vain thing? And the spirit of the Lord moved upon the face of the waters?22
Syr. Girl. Ha, ha, ha!
Cho. of Hero. Ha, ha, ha!
ACT II, SCENE X.
Herod, Herodias, John
He. Wife, when I, perplexed in mind, consider what he whom they call John the Baptist has said, and when I review everything, I am greatly astonished at the grace of speech, strength of courage, and divine authority there is in him. Perchance, my dearest wife, he some god, or someone sent by a god. With what noble bearing he fearlessly conducts himself! How sweetly sounds the voice that moves our hearts! How he surpasses in courage and boldness! What subjects, and how many of them, he has fearlessly presented! There are some among them, however, that I do not sufficiently understand. Therefore he shall be asked to repeat the thread of his discourse again. Syrian, bring the son of Zacharias before us.
Her. My husband, who would believe that this crude country fellow had such wonderful things hidden away in his heart, if they had not heard him speak?
He. You are right. Tell me, my guest, why you baptize with water, since another is coming who will baptize with fire;23 yet through your agency the divine power will take away all stains of sin?
John. This matter, which can only be perceived by the intellect and with thought, I wish to place before the eye of the mind, by means of the great likeness to those things which are visible to the eyes. You see that the water removes stains, and also quenches panting thirst. The same power is seen in the Spirit from above, for it cleanses the defiled conscience of its foul sin, and renews the heart. When this new world was first formed, and the discordant concord of things was established, the earth did not produce grass, herbs, trees, and seed, each after its own kind, until the most holy breath of heaven, the Spirit of God, had moved upon the face of the waters. Just so in this new creation of His people; none of them will bear good fruit unless the soil of his heart, so to speak, is bedewed by the Holy Spirit, as by water. The bodies of the people who were weary of their sins, and asked pardon of God, were therefore washed by me, that there might be a sure sign and testimony of the soul’s purification from the sins of the world. So, too, that fire, with which I say the Prince will come to take away the sins of the world, has the same power. For as soon as it seizes on what is exposed to it, it sends forth and scatters its light afar. So, also, this Spirit, this wonderful power of God, enduring, mighty, and stimulating to virtue, entering the hearts of His people, burns up what is repellent to its nature, and fills the soul with a light by which the hairs of the heavenly kingdom may direct their steps aright.
He. You have spoken most nobly indeed. What do you, my consort, think in regard to this?
Her. All that he has said seems wonderful to me.
John. Now there comes to mind a grave matter of which I have long purposed to speak. By your favor, O king, I have many counsels to give you, but there is one thing above all which greatly concerns your welfare to know.
He. I will gladly listen to you, John, whatever you may say concerning me. Come, we shall have an uninterrupted talk within.
Cho. While the famous prophet inspires the attentive people who are stirred with a constant longing for the new light, and he foretells the blessed life coming, the simple understand, but the learned cannot endure his words. The people – crude, despised, low-born – have faith in his story, and think that the blessed time of the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. But the interpreters, who cherish the law, who flourish in the dignity and the ample honors of their profession, think that what John has openly declared is of no avail toward a knowledge of salvation. ‘Who is it,’ they ask, ‘that so boldly commands us to enter upon a new path? What! Know we not the sayings of the prophets, and do we not observe the sacred customs of the law? Is vain then our teaching, and the belief of our fathers?’ See, they who are wise in their own conceit do not wish to learn; nor do those who rely on themselves wish to trust in God. They rail continually; such criers of virtue as they cannot be led from the path of truth; let them be given over by these stormers to a horrible death.
ACT III. SCENE I.
Ty. Philautus, now that our prayers are finished, let us betake our steps to the king’s palace, so that while the influence of this man is being destroyed in the city by the Essenes,24 it may also be subverted here. If he should go on, I think that nothing would prevent him from perverting all Judea, and from destroying us and all our class.
Phi. I will easily overcome this man in argument. Pretend that you are the Baptist, if you will, so that I may argue the subject. What is it that he says?
Ty. What? Make straight the way for the Lord.
Phi. Make straight the way for the Lord! Therefore we do not yet have the way. So we are wandering. He alone knows. Make straight the way for the Lord. So then God is not yet known. Therefore it must be an evil spirit that is being worshiped.
Ty. He does not say these things secretly, but loudly cries them in public.
Phi. Who can deny that the man is an intolerable heretic?
Ty. You come to a wise conclusion. Let us enter here praying.
ACT III, SCENE II.
Herodias, a Syrian girl.
Her. So unhappy of mind am I that I can neither lose myself in sleep, nor, groaning with care, can I take the night upon my eyes or upon my breast, while love returns to madden me, and rages with a fury not to be borne.
Syr. Girl. Place that bound to the field of your passions, beyond which no one can pass unpunished.
Her. What shall I do? Shall I make a laughing-stock of myself by trying to seek a union with Philip, my first husband, the man whom I so much despised? Shall I be kept out of this happy marriage? May heaven destroy that abominable man who advises such a thing! Indeed, he shall not long proclaim such things, nor shall I be unavenged, for he shall not long exult if my husband only shows me his accustomed favor.
ACT III, SCENE III.
A Syrian girl.
Syr. Girl. On my life, I swear that tragic circumstances, grave and painful, are coming upon us, for when the wife of Herod perceived that John was attacking her marriage as being impious, she was inflamed with the greatest hatred of him, and set to work with all the power of her mind free herself from this fear. When Herod comes to speak to her, I expect that she will warn him very insistently against the Baptist, for she is revolving dreadful plots and dire wickedness in her mind. She takes it ill that the king heeds him, and consults him in the things that he is doing. Lo, here they come talking together.
ACT III, SCENE IV.
He. If you condemn or disapprove of this marriage, you begrudge us our only happiness in life. I will, indeed, suffer the rest of your reproof, if only you do not differ from us in this. With what freedom our palace and our heart itself has been laid open to you, that you well know.
John. Antipas, holy vows or the bonds of marriage are not to be dissolved, unless you wish to transgress the decrees of God. You, violating honor and your brother’s marriage vows, have seized upon his wife, and taken her away while he is still living, though she has a daughter by him who is also living. You are acting contrary to the laws and statutes which the Father almighty gave to Moses, and Moses delivered to us, which I, the herald of the supreme Judge, make known to you. How long will you scorn the mighty Avenger of sin? How long will you provoke the wrath of such an Avenger? Come to your senses, I beseech you! Reject this base love. You have much need of repentance for such a deed.
He. Truly, I confess that I am ashamed. I am sorry, and I repent. Now I see that I have wronged my brother’s marriage-bed. But, O my wife, whom I love, and who loves me more than her very eyes, how will bear this? My heart is rent by various cares, which call me now this way, now that, in my indecision.
ACT III, SCENE V.
A Syrian, a Syrian girl, Gelasimus
Syr. Girl. Syrian, come here, I beg you! You should hear our fool singing. How he changes his clownish voice! How he croaks! How he pours out queer sounds! Had you been at the assembly, I know that you would have learnt to laugh beyond measure.
Syr. Now I will jest a little. Hark! Stick out your finger; one, two, three, four, five. How many is that?
Syr. Ha, ha, Gelasimus!
Syr. Girl. Ha, ha! You hit it off that time.
Gel. You laugh? Give me a kiss then?
Syr. Girl. O you bad, bad man!
Syr. Silence! For the tyrant is coming this way.
ACT III, SCENE VI.
He. It is just as you thought, my beautiful wife. Our new guest considers that this marriage of ours in unlawful. He opposes it with invincible arguments.
Her. He is an enemy, not a friend, dearest husband.
He. On the contrary, he declares that he wishes only the best for you and for me.
Her. Why worry me till I am ill my noble husband? Why do you terrify me? I am afraid of these harsh words. If your love were as strong as it once was, and as it still ought to be, you would endure this man no longer, but would force him to recant.
He. Many things were admirably said by him which, I know not how, have led my thoughts to the consideration of heavenly things: and when he afterwards spoke of our marriage, a still voice filled my breast as it were with new reverence and holy fear. Did you imagine, wife, that he, going forth from our palace, can ever be turned from the path of constancy? I seem to recognize his modesty as audacity, and his audacity as modesty. How much more is in that man than appears! I will go to him. I will question him so that you may hear.
Her. Unless the affair with the man is now most shrewdly managed, I shall quickly lose my case, and go forth most wretched. This idle rascal has such power! Alas, the disgrace! And him I’ll – but meanwhile I shall not neglect my cause.
ACT III, SCENE VII.
John, Herod, Chorus of People, Herodias, Chorus of Herod’s men.
John. Hail, O King!
He. And you, John, what say you? Has your headstrong way of thinking changed yet, or do you still wish to have my wife torn from me?
John. The Mosaic law,25 as I told you before, decrees that a man may not take in marriage the wife of a brother, while that brother still lives, and there is a child living. You, while your brother and his daughter still live, are keeping his wife from him, thus stirring the wrath of God.
He. How this answer troubles my mind! I have no defense, and I love her exceedingly.
Cho. of Peo. He is troubled. Pray, let us see how the affair will turn out. She is growing angry.
He. I am overcome by the truth, Herodias. Who can deny these things?
Her. Then, my husband, if our union be dissolved, what a cruel fate we must endure! Shall there be no thought or care for her who spurned modesty for your sake? Is this, then, a husband’s sacred vow of fidelity? Is this the pledge that was given? Is this the end of our hopes, and of the promises so fair that you made? Truly, I chose you alone in preference to good repute, to modesty, to my native land, to my husband before all things; and this you give me in return for so great a love, the fear that the wicked speech of any one may so quickly dissolve these marriage bonds! Oh that you had fired this heart with a less fervid flame, or that you loved with a passion like mine! But you will so love me, if I be not deceived. Am I not your Herodias? Are not you my Herod? Have I not been wont to supply you with jests, laughter, pleasure, and delight, according to your desire? Our love is not secret, and our marriage is a true one, let John rail as he will. We openly plighted our vows. No one has objected save this barbarian. O my husband, my husband, see that the vain words of this ignorant, low-born, boorish, worthless fellow do not separate those united by such bonds of love.
John. I desire to speak. Consider, O King. Reject the love of woman for the love of God. Do you hesitate to prefer heaven to this world? I beseech you most earnestly, O King, look to what you do.
Her. Wretch, do you interrupt my pleading? If you listen to this man, the vilest in all the world, pray, what will become of us? I shall be carried a captive to my husband, Philip, whom I have inflamed with the greatest hatred by my desertion, there to spend my life in most wretched bondage. You will willingly follow the modest daughter of Aretas,26 who, Heaven help us! holds you so dear that, thirsting for the blood of your people, she would be ready to lead her father’s army against you. Are you able to look upon this man with patience? Can you give ear to him? Can you allow him to live in safety, to enjoy your palace freely, and to go about at will with his audacity unpunished, who seeks to plunge us into such misfortunes? Rather, let him be punished, and with the death he merits, for surely he is sent hither purposely by our envious enemies. O my husband, I beg you, if my beauty, my ability, my speech have ever been a source of pleasure to you, and have fired you with love, now give this man over to the death that he merits, that I may not perish from excess of grief, and fall lifeless here at your bidding. But now, if you will hear none of my complaints, if you will listen to the wicked exhortations of this man, if you will permit me, your own, to be slain by my enemies, rather take this life away by death, and with these hands, which I gladly kiss, kill me now. I would thus endure that my life should be taken from me, and my blood be shed. O my husband, my good husband, I cannot speak more because of my flowing tears. O my husband, my good husband!
He. Do not fear; cease your weeping. I do not wish to be parted from you while the breath of life lasts. O my wife, believe me, believe me, I implore you in the name of the guardian spirit in our house. Whither, I beg you, has your confidence in us gone? We are not so unmindful, nor so ungrateful, that forgetfulness of your love should overcome us.
John. Beware, O king, lest my words slip from your mind, for if you despise them, greater evils than you think of will follow. You who rule over the minds of others, rule your own, and do not become a bondsman to be ruled over by a woman.
Her. Can you bear these things which I hear and not avenge them? Let this vile wretch find that you are more than a bondsman.
He. Go at once, slaves. Why do you stand? While this insult newly stirs our breast, take away this seditious fellow, and cast him into prison, this brawler who troubles us and our dear soul. The holy fathers did not without cause suspect you of preaching new heresy to the people, you who dare to speak so boldly against us. Hasten, and let there be no delay in doing our commands.
John. I will endure any chains in God’s cause; as a champion of the divine will, I shall easily endure them. Being warned, take heed to yourself that you follow a better course.
Her. Let this fellow split the very air with his vain bellowing, if he likes. Let us go in and enjoy ourselves.
He. Let it be so, my light of day.
Cho. of Peo. As soon as we have told the whole thing to his followers, let us betake our steps to the prison.
ACT III, SCENE VIII.
Syr. Ha, ha, ha! What pretences cunning mortals make! John says that he bears things undisturbed. I believe he bears them so, because he cannot change them. Thus I have heard a bad wife, as often as she suffered punishment from her husband, say with a heavy sigh, ‘We must bear all things patiently, as is fitting, more especially (this to herself) when he is the stronger.’
ACT III. SCENE IX.
Disciples, Chorus of People, John.
Disc. And does he take all this in good part?
Cho. of Peo. He does, indeed.
Disc. This man who does not flee from punishment for his truthfulness, although death is nigh, is holy. Is there among mortals a nobler man than our leader? The things that he does are beyond human power. Although many have told great things of Jesus, without a doubt He ought not to be compare to this man.
Cho. of Peo. Of Jesus? Is He undertaking anything new?
Disc. There is a report that very many are being baptized by Him.
Cho. of Peo. This is He whom John often declared to us to be greater than himself.27
Disc. In this the modesty of the man is to be seen.
Cho. of Peo. It is, for this man of ours comes of renowned parents, but that one had his origin from obscure working people. If it pleases you, let us toward Machærus,28 so that the Baptist may be informed of these things.
John. O Jesus, most steadfast Guardian of those who believe on Thee, with Thee as a protector, there can be no danger anywhere. Strengthen my heart, so that through fear I depart not from Thy law.
Disc. We can hear his voice in prayer. Listen.
John. O Father in heaven, Thou hast chosen me for Thy son. Christ is the manifestation of Thy power, with whom I am co-heir. So the Spirit persuades me in the very depths of my heart.
Disc. May the peace of God be with you.
John. And with you also.
Disc. We we once taught by you, master, that in this age, given to vain things, it was the condition of virtue that there was nothing that more offends vain men. For this reason we bear these unexpected bonds the less unwillingly, as you yourself do. Nevertheless, this one thing greatly astonishes us, that a great multitude follows the Nazarene,29 whom you yourself once baptized with water, and to whom you bore testimony. In the place where you once dwelt he is instructing and baptizing many men with water. Throughout the cities of Palestine no man is more renowned.
John. It is not necessary, men, that this governor should found his kingdom with glittering pomp, or force, or splendid show, but with spiritual grace and virtue. Nevertheless, that it may be the more plainly manifested and be self-evident, let two of you go and ask him in my name whether he is the Saviour who the holy prophets foretold should come, or do we look for another.
Disc. We will go hence, and deliver your message.
ACT III, SCENE X.
Her. Unhappy Herodias! what accursed fates now come up on you! Will there be no end to this sorrow? Shall you drag on your life, ever wavering between hope and fear? Shall you, who are fortunate, never be able to overcome, and to put to the death he deserves this miserable man; him who is ignoble, while you are renowned; him a prisoner, you free; him a vile wretch, you highly regarded; him a crude country fellow, you a queen? But the bitter hatred of the common people restrains my effort. if he prevails, the author of my death lives. If I deliver him to death, I shall be called a monster by the people for having given free rein to my terrible wrath. Doubtful of mind, I turn now this way, now that. My mind is torn with cares of every sort.
He. Why do you grieve thus alone, my sole delight?
Her. Are you come, my husband, my consoler?
He. Do not doubt my heart’s love for you. You know that I freely preferred you to all, and that I gladly made you my wife, nor has there been any change in my feelings toward you.
Her. I suspected nothing of that sort in you, nothing whatever.
He. Raise up your brow for a kiss. Put your arms around my neck. Let us go in. There we will renew our vows.
Cho. Lo, behold the evil with which mankind is wretchedly afflicted, the evil which prevails on sea as well as on land! How this madness goads on the heedless! How like pleasant thirst it drinks up the very soul itself! Tender love subdued the invincible Samson;30 he who broke strong bonds was laid low, and overcome in the soft struggle of the couch. With this salaciousness, Solomon, the salt of the earth, was sprinkled beyond measure.31 What does this mean? That whereas we often see and approve what is good, nevertheless we rush on to worse things. The wonderful influence of divine power impels innumerable people to lay hold upon what is good and holy, but few persevere in what they had so well begun. How well did Saul commence,32 but he turned again to his former ways. With what zeal did Herod hearken to the Archprophet!33 But – mark the changeableness of the man – blind of heart, he abandoned what he had begun. O men, beware; greedy Pluto often makes a terrible end of what had a good beginning. As Pluto scatters his evil seeds, mean cares call us to their side, and fears of danger assail. Be on your guard, O mean, lest the vain desire of the present life lead you to a worse thing. The multitude, for the most part, forgetting God, and slipping into their old way, once forgetting God, and slipping into their old way, go on to ruin. Be cautious, O men. In ploughing the field, one who looks back cannot guide the furrow aright.
ACT IV, SCENE I.
A Syrian, Chorus of Herod’s Men.
Syr. Hail, festal morn, most looked-for day! At length you have come, the time dedicated to tender joys. On this day one may do whatever one pleases. On this day, with cithern, lyre, and trumpet, with sweet song and new applause, all the people everywhere make much noise. Hither, come hither, glad comrades, your temples bound with the flowers of spring. Now, O now, let us prepare the sacred festival, for Herod, our master, with merrymaking, singing, eating, and dancing; now let the sacred treasury be heaped with gifts. See, the king himself is now performing the sacred rite.
Cho. of Hero. With hands and feet we are striving, Syrian, for that is our purpose in returning from the sacred ceremonies to bear these choicest of spices – galbanum, ointments, oil of myrrh, and clear frankincense – that the Holy of Holies of the temple may smoke with incense; other, too, we bring, that may be of use in the sacred service.
Syr. Go. I shall follow the one who follows the queen.
ACT IV, SCENE II.
Herodias, Tryphera, a Syrian girl, Gelasimus, a Syrian.
Her. To-day the king pays solemn honors to God. He is going to receive his guests with great splendor. Therefore put on your pearls. Paint your little body with colors, wear your necklaces, your rings of gold, and your bracelets. Then, too, add art to your natural grace. Quick, girl, my ring-cases, my rings, jewels, sandals, and all the rest of ornaments.
Syr. Girl. Here they are, all out of this casket.
Her. A shining bracelet shall encircle my left arm. Here, in the midst of my bosom, a pendant shall gleam. Here let there be a carbuncle that pours forth many rays. Here my robe shall shimmer with a large single pearl. Now take the jasper set in this silver circle, a faithful guard to the wearer. Here a striped jasper, which prevents its wearer from wandering. This shining beryl is six-angled in shape. Here is enclosed an emerald, which gives power to one’s words. See, here is a loadstone for you, which shall make persuasion and grace sit upon those lips. About your neck let a necklace of pearls be hung. Let your robe hang down to your feet, so that the figured cloth may show off the more effective.
Try. Ha, ha, ha! Do you see how our fool is sitting with my ornaments on his head?
Her. Take them off, you monster of a man. Give them to me, give them to me; quickly, I say! Do you not know me? Take that box on the ear.
Gel. I know you better than I wish. You are Philip’s wife.
Her. Ha! Give me the other cheek. There, take that, and beware. Do not be mad enough to blab such things.
Gel. Alas, truth ever begets hatred, and blows as well! As long as I live I will never again speak the truth.
Her. Now tell whose I am.
Gel. The wife of Herod.
Her. But of which?
Gel. Come hither. I will explain, and whisper it in your ear. You, who are the wife of Antipas, were formerly that of Philip.
Her. Do you say this to me? Away to the hangman, and to dreadful torture! Go, you arrant knave. That is the way, my daughter. Everything is wonderfully becoming to you. Syrian, summon the lute-player. Indeed, I wish to see through what figures you can go, with what bearing you carry yourself, and how you arrange your steps. I believe that you have not learned to dance in vain. Come, then, let the lute strike up and give forth its sound, that we may tread the dancers’ circle. Dear daughter, go through with me the various standard figures, and here and there do your turns. Lightly beat the ground often with your feet thus; often in this manner check your swift steps. Always, agile, move your body aright. Give me now, I pray you, an example of your art. Now make a wider circle, now withdraw into a narrow space. Now proceed with the same step, now circle with various bendings. As God lives, you mark the rhythm with your feet beautifully. Give me a kiss. Take these fragrant perfumes. So, so, you shall come when summoned to the king at the feast. Now time calls us both to the temple.
ACT IV, SCENE III.
Disciples, John, Chorus of People.
Disc. Hail to thee, John.
Disc. We have done your commands, master. Wonderful to say, while we were looking on, the man to whom you sent us with a single word relieved those infirm of body, and from the heart cast out unclean spirits. At length He opened His mouth and said: ‘There is no need that I should speak concerning myself. ‘Go,’ He said, ‘report to the prophet only what things you have drunk in with your eyes and ears; those who were blind have now through me the use of their sight; those who dragged feeble knees now walk with firm joints; those whose members had wasted away through consuming leprosy are delivered of the odious plague; ears that lately were stopped now hear; those troubled with fierce tormenting spirits now recover sound, healthy minds; those that were dead are raised up and made whole.’ In brief, as Amos once foretold, the people were greatly cast down in spirit now highly esteem the longed-for messenger of everlasting salvation, but the perverse reject him. ‘Blessed,’ He said, ‘is he whosoever shall not be offended in me, but who, recognizing and receiving me, is persuaded that in me alone there is eternal life.’ When He had spoken these words He sent us two away.34
John. Now you yourselves, dearest companions, see such works of this Jesus, whom I have so often declared to you to be God, as neither I, nor the prophets of old time, nor any one else, has performed to this day. Nor is it doubtful that these miracles conform to the sacred prophecies. As it is permitted us to understand who He is from His deeds, turn your thoughts also to His words. ‘Blessed,’ He said, ‘is he whosoever shall not be offended in me.’ Doubtless in Him all our bliss lies. He, He it is whom you cannot be without if you wish to be blessed. Of me you have no need. You ought now to go hence to Him, if your desire be to follow Salvation itself. Why do you delay? Our heraldship is over, but his Gospel, spreading throughout the world, shall be held in honor for ever. See now the difference between the king and the herald, the lamp and the sun, the slave and the master. Now that you may enjoy Christ as your Lord, accustom yourself to call upon Him with holy vows. Meanwhile I will strive in my prayers to do the same.
Disc. We thank you. If He, who alone brings all things to pass, be willing, what you wish shall be done.
ACT IV, SCENE IV.
Herod, Herodias, a Syrian, a Syrian girl, Chorus of Herod’s Men.
He. Men of our household, and every friend, celebrate with us this annual festival.
Her. As many as wish the king and me well, hallow this blessed day with auspicious vows.
Syr. May the sun run its shining course without a cloud.
Syr. Girl. Let the blessed light of day shine forth from a clear sky.
Cho. of Hero. O prince, may your birthday return with good fortune again and again, that we may present our gifts yearly.
ACT IV, SCENE V.
Herodias, a Syrian girl, Gelasimus, John.
Her. Close the doors here. I am going to the prison to speak a few words with this man alone.
Syr. Girl. It shall be done. But what of the man? My good sir, where have you been?
Gel. In hell.
Syr. Girl. In hell? What, pray, did you see there?
Gel. A devil having his breakfast.
Syr. Girl. What, pray, did he have for breakfast?
Gel. Pharisees and women.
Syr. Girl. May the gods completely destroy you, you insolent rogue.
John. Here am I, mistress.
Her. Let us speak together through the window for a while. If you have any regard for me, if you have any regard for yourself, do not be so possessed with madness as to persist in this heresy. I will make you honored throughout the court of the king, if you will but change your opinion.
John. I must not speak as you will, for God’s will and yours are greatly at variance.
Her. You will lie in a squalid prison.
John. For God’s sake I shall endure evils, however great.
Her. Do you speak thus to me? Believe me, wretch, I will give you the most bitter punishment unless you retract. If you attempt to hurt me, your knife will strike flint. A dolt is not wise until he has suffered evil.
Gel. Beware, John, you are pursuing a horned beast. If you will listen to me, you will learn to play a part. He cannot live who cannot be cunning.
ACT IV, SCENE VI.
He. Cannot this set opinion be rooted out?
Her. He persists in it with great stubbornness. No price and no prayers can move him to agree with us.
He. What then?
Her. He who refuses to yield for fair words should be subdued by force.
He. The way is obvious, but the pretext for it is not so clear.
Her. He has offended, he has acted against us.
He. But by very many he is regarded as innocent of wrongdoing, and as most observant of what is just and right.
Her. By such people as are like himself.
He. The people whom he baptized honor him greatly.
Her. The ignorant admire a boor. Ask the learned.
He. Many think him the Messiah; and every one, a prophet.
Her. In this, together with others, you believe what he himself denies.
He. That may be but a mark of his singular modesty.
Her. Do you call him modest who does not spare kings?
He. His memorable birth and his stainless life render him the bolder.
Her. Tales, idle tales! Grant me my desire, and save me from death. The stupid and fickle multitude will be silent, when once the wise fathers have approved the deed.
He. But they are few compared with the multitude of people.
Her. Is it not better to follow the better class of people than mere numbers?
He. Why do I hesitate so much? The worth of the man, and the disquietude and hatred of the people, prevent me from ordering him to be put to death now. Nevertheless, in chains he shall remain for your sake.
ACT IV, SCENE VII.
Herodias, a Syrian girl.
Her. What shall I do now? On account of the rabble, my husband refuses to do away with this low slave.
Syr. Girl. I think, indeed, that one ought to plead with him in every way, so that he may of his own accord withdraw his decision.
Her. I have begged him, but he is not moved by the entreaties of any one; he is intractable, and will not listen. ‘God,’ he said, ‘has closed my too compliant ears, so that they shall never listen to such a thing.’ That, methinks, is a work for a god, that is a subject of anxiety for a god, as to what man I should enjoy! What can I hope for? His mind remains unchanged, and harder than flint. My prayers are poured out in vain; when I could not move him by talking, I worked on him with threats, and then by imploring him upon my knees, for I wished to leave no means untried, no force unexerted. Now, indeed, there remains for me but that one way. To that all my care and thought shall turn. Thus he who does the thing he wishes, in the end brings about what he does not wish.
ACT IV, SCENE VIII.
He. O mind, on what do you dwell? Why do you not give yourself perfect liberty through the death of this worst of all ranters? He will account it a gain. I deem him worthy of life, because he does not fear the death that threatens him. Shall a fire devour one’s very marrow, and peace of mind meanwhile be banished? Be bold, my heart! if you wish to finish the great things that you have begun, you may perchance conceal your offense with the nuptial torch. Success makes some evil deeds honest. O Herod, resist thy mad impulse, resist it! Consider how the character of this divine man ought to be reverenced. He who covers over crime with crime only makes the very thing he feared more terrible.
ACT IV, SCENE IX.
Phi. So far, with bland countenances we have concealed our hatred. At first, with the people, we cautiously said that we esteemed him highly. Now that Herod can no longer endure him, since he finds so much fault, let us secretly urge that he should be put to death.
Ty. And this not only affects our standing, but will be most pleasing to the queen. But what complaints shall we lodge against him?
Phi. We will brand him with having tried to stir up a revolution.
Ty. It is enough. No greater offense can be alleged.
ACT IV, SCENE X.
Her. Shall I, then, desist from my purpose, baffled, powerless to overthrow this stranger in the struggle? Whither am I borne? What madness turns my brain? Though all cry out against it, I shall follow my resolve to destroy him rightly or wrongly. Neither the desire nor the intention is lacking, but only the opportunity to wreak my wrath, as I may, on my sworn enemy.
ACT IV, SCENE XI.
John. O King and Father of men, who dost look upon us as Thy sons, Thou alone canst do all things. I give Thee eternal thanks that I have thus spent my allotted time of life upon the earth. Now, therefore, with unshaken faith and with untroubled conscience, I confidently await that day when I shall enter into the kingdom promised by Thee, O Father, than whom there can be none in heaven or on earth more to be trusted. He, whose herald I have been, going on before Him through the regions of the world, declares He will purchase this with His own blood, that my spirit, which in my mother’s womb drank in Thy Spirit, may, on leaving this body, be borne to heavenly joys.
ACT IV, SCENE XII.
Herodias, Herod, Chorus of Idumæans, Chorus of Herod’s Men, Gelasimus, Chorus of Banqueters, Tryphera, a Syrian girl, Philautus, Typhlus.
Her. Now the Idumæans35 in throngs press through the gates to celebrate that day of days which first gave thee to us. Many have already reclined at the splendid tables. Nor are there servants lacking within to load those tables with the viands, and to place the glowing cups. It is left for us only to receive the coming nobles courteously. I know well that they will come with no delay. Come; in the meantime, let the table be laid with silver plates, wheaten cakes, and salt; let the spoons and napkins be ready.
He. That I should love you, Herodias, is indeed most fitting, for you have taken such great pains over our birthday feast. All the royal palace is resplendent with your work. So elegantly, splendidly, and bountifully have you ordered the feast that all the palace resounds with the applause of both old and young. Do you not hear the joyous sounds? I should like to go and bestow my applause too. And, Syrian, when you see the nobles entering, do you cry out: ‘Well done! well done! bravo! bravo!’
Cho. of Idu. Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah! Long live Herod! Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!
Gel. Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!
Cho. of Hero. This table is set as our mistress commanded. Let us see now how they who have charge of the food have provided it.
Gel. They look for bread, but only dread awaits me; the right hand of the king and of the queen, and, if it so please the gods, of their children, too, will strike this cheek. Oh, that I were Samson, I would hand them over to slaughter.
Cho. of Hero. The dishes are now placed in order – pheasants, swans, and flamingoes. A peacock, guinea-hens, partridges, woodcock, capon, ducks, fig-peckers, geese, sparrows, fat game, lamb, veal, beef, wild boar, wether, and sheep’s flesh are at hand. Here are the spoils of the sea – purple-fish, pike, and a large platter holding turbot. Here are cakes of spelt, here is white pottage; here are tidbits, minced meat and sauce; here are the brains of birds, and sweet-smelling little livers with broth. Truly everything is set out with regal lavishness. The Syrian hurries back. Let the table be served. See, the whole crowd of banqueters is already appearing in the doorway.
Syr. Man. The Idumæans and Galilæns have come to see your Majesty.
He. By Hercules, you are all welcome, you are all welcome!
Gel. By Hercules, you all have come, you all have come; I am glad that I am hale and hearty, and able to see you.
Her. All hail, most worthy lords and ladies. When you grace this day with your presence, my husband is born again. Do you wish to look within, and see how gayly the common people fill themselves with the food set before them?
Cho. of Banq. Ah! Well done! well done!
Cho. of Idu. Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah! Long live Herod! Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!
Gel. Bah! bah! bah! Long drink Herod! Bah! bah! bah!
He. While the inner court resounds with the noise of the crowd, and the house is disturbed with the mingled din, we will enjoy ourselves in this nook for a time, and then, happy as we are, we will look after our happy guests.
Her. This day on which all you chiefs of Galilee assemble in honor of our prince is indeed, marked with a white stone. Now, servants, pour out water in the silver basins. Come, now, most noble men, so that the servants may give you scented water for your hands. Maid, put napkins carefully here and there. You, fool, why are you silent? Are you going to say nothing to such men? Tell us at least what your name is.
Gel. Whoever longs for my name as a gift shall be called Herod’s fool.
Cho. of Ban. Ha, ha, he, he, he!
Her. Tell me the name that your mother gave you when you were a baby.
Gel. My mother was wont to call me a beautiful child, a well-formed and knowing boy. She loved me wondrous well, and she never denied me her breast, even when I was eight years old.
Cho. of Ban. Ha, ha! You have a wonderful fool, O king, who will inspire you with abundant laughter whenever you are so disposed.
He. Recline, my dear, and I myself will take the place next to you. Recline next to us, most gentle lady; and you, tribune, be seated. Gentlemen, take your places according to your rank. It is well. Now the servants are bringing on the first course.
Song of Herod’s Men.
Splendor of Herod, let us delight in it;
Feast of his birth, praise ye the might of it;
Day of all days, hail ye the light of it;
Happy the day!
Joyous, ye youths, scatter the flowers for it;
Palm trees of Edom, wreathe ye the bowers for it;
Praise ye the feast, shining the hours of it;
Crown it to-day.
Her. Attend to the orders; now pass the dishes, servants; and all about the tables place cups of old wine. See that nothing is wanting. All hold your hands ready now for the rich dishes.
Gel. Think of the old saying, ‘No sooner said than done.’
He. Now, while we eat and drink, let music and sweet song delight us. Let the lyre and the voice increase our pleasure. Listen, hither turn your joyful minds.
Cho. Song of the Mimes.
O strength which comes of wine, O blessed juice,
You who command the fearful to be bold,
The timid hare to be like unto the lion,
You who impel the weak to war and battle
And to our sinews strength and vigor bring,
More potent that the chosen herbs of Pontus,
You make our weariness become aweary,
And bitter grief to lay aside its grief.
Great eloquence arises from much wine,
And from it glorious words abundant spring.
The gladdest gathering is thrice joyful made
By this, the cup, which, passing, cries from out
Its silver throat, ‘Here’s health, here’s health to you!’
He. Very pretty! Here, take this, and wet your lips.
Her. Boy, pray fill those smaller goblets with good Falernian.36 These are the cups for those noble women and my husband. But listen to the rest of my commands. See that the steward soon chooses servants to perform the glad rites of Bacchus.37
Syr. Man. Indeed I will do your bidding without delay.
Her. Now let us hear the symphony. Let not the cithern, the trumpet, nor the lyre be silent. Strike up, and let all the instruments resound together.
Syr. Man. Among the epicures38 these questions frequently arise: ‘What lake produces the very best fish? What place most abounds in birds? What country above all others furnishes the most eatable wild game? What dishes ought to swim in delicate sauce? What ought to go down dry to the depths of one’s gullet? By means of what novelty can one whet the appetite to demand food more eagerly, and of how much importance is it to vary the courses at the table?’ Now the servants are bringing in the second course.
Cho. of Herod’s Men.
If your lands, if the seas have anything choice,
It is served to your guests, mighty kind,
Love has brought to this, the feast of your birth,
Godlike women and men. Within
Marble halls and amid regal pomp sit the throng,
Entreating good omens for you –
For good omens for you loudly they prey.
The applause of the people of Edom
Reaches up even unto the glittering stars.
Her. Go, summon hither my daughter, that with the banqueters she may salute her father.
He. You say well. By Hercules she is a charming girl. Now again let there be music.
Cho. of Ban.
Most noble king, accept this foaming beaker,
The splendid beaker glows with foaming wine.
Let each one drink of this most royal liquor,
And thou, O queen, receive the fragrant beaker,
The splendid beaker glows with ancient wine.
O tribune, taste, O taste this drink divine,
The splendid beaker glows with ancient wine.
Most noble king, may good wine e’er befriend you!
Most lovely queen, may sweetness e’er attend you!
The splendid beaker glows with ancient wine.
Most gallant youths, great courage this will lend you!
The splendid beaker glows with ancient wine.
Try. All hail, my king. All hail, most noble men. May this banquet please you all!
He. By your head, you come at the right time, for what could be preferable to the delights of the dance? And in that art I think you now excel all others. Now that the feast has been removed, Herodias, my delight, with your daughter lead the figures of the dance, joining with you these most elegant ladies. Begin. Let the curved pipes sound the dance. Thus, thus, great pleasure will be given to the banqueters. Begin, we will sit and look on.
He. With what wonderful grace, Herodias, your daughter moves! How far she surpasses all others! How she changes her expression! What telling gestures she uses! How the movements of her whole body are ordered!
Cho. of Ban. By the god of truth, O king, nothing could be better!
He. It is not enough to have seen her dance once, but it pleases us to stop to see her again and again.
Her. You do everything magnificently, regally. You, my daughter, who thus please the king, lead the circle. This, indeed, he, I, all of us keenly wish.
He. Musicians, awake fresh harmony, that our sight may enjoy the dance anew.
He. Wonderful! From her fair face what glorious beauty shines! How much grace and skill there is displayed in her lovely body! What movements she makes! I am so stirred that I can scarce contain myself for my joy and pleasure.
Cho. of Ban. We, whom you have honored by your banquet and entertained by this spectacle, all thank you greatly, O king.
He. Come here, beautiful maid. Ask of me what you will, you shall not ask in vain. By the great Jehovah, and by this kingly crown, I swear that whatever you desire shall be granted you, even unto the half of my kingdom.
Song of Herod’s Men,
(sung during the dessert)
Cho. of Hero.
Most worthy King, behold the choicest fruits we bring.
See the honey-apples that excel all others;
Behold the pears of Greece, and of Voconia too;
Warden pears, pears big-bellied and round.
See here the walnuts, almonds, filberts, chestnuts,
The first fruits of our trees, in great abundance.
Try. The king swears that he will give me whatever I desire. So I come to you, mother, to know what will be best.
Her. You have found a way, my child, to avenge me well, and to free me from my greatest trouble. Go, ask that the head of John, severed from the neck, be given to you at once in a charger.40 I will lead the way, so that I may be there.
Oh, hasten quickly, quickly, before the warmth of the king’s feeling cools.
Try. That shall be my work.
Her. May what you eat benefit you, my husband. But how did the little dancer please you?
He. O wife, dearer than the light of day, how can you ever be fitly rewarded for such a child? Such grace did your daughter display in her dances that I have sworn before these witnesses to give her whatsoever she desires.
Her. You have spoken royally, as is your wont, my treasure.
Try. I know that all are now silent that I may make my request. I ask that the head of John, cut off from his neck, be given me in a charger.
He. I will give it, come what may, lest I should be thought either fickle or perjured. Go, lictor, cut off the head of the Baptist, and bring it here in a charger. I desire that everything here should be as is wished. Eat, drink, laugh, strike the lyre.
Cho. of Hero. Behold the head is brought to you, most excellent maid.
Try. Dearest mother, I give it to you.
Her. I receive it gladly. Why are you silent? My husband does not wish to be forsworn, and hates those who break their word worse than a dog or a snake.
Try. There is nothing for us to be amazed at, my lords. He was the author of rebellion and sedition.
Her. Now you who have feasted, enter into the palace. All Idumæa will be free to come hither.
Syr. Girl. Immortal God! what crime has been committed now? The time demands no such sight as this.
Cho. The head of the holy man, stained with blood, the head cut off by impious sword, is displayed on the king’s table in the midst of great men! Whither shall I turn? Would you as a Bacchante behold madness, would you learn of the frenzy of love, in short, would you see the fruits of feasting and dancing, hither turn your eyes. Look at these things with calm mind. Since the lustful king violated all the law of the foremost and greatest compact, under the spur of so many pleasures, he readily sets at naught divine law and human rights. What shall be said of the banqueters? They, changeable as the wind, nod to their master’s nod. When he says, ‘I do not wish it,’ they are all ready with: ‘I do not wish it.’ When he says, ‘I wish it,’ they echo: ‘I wish it.’ If ‘No’ be said, at once they reiterate ‘No.’ But if ‘Yes’ be said, they repeat ‘Yes.’ Out of so many guests, there was no friend of the king to advise him against committing so intolerable a crime. All, indeed, were either afraid, or else approved of the dreadful deed.
ACT V, SCENE I.
Jeh. Oh John, it is otherwise with thee than men think.
A hidden victory falls to him who is overcome by violence. There is a definite method and a fixed order which is continued in all our actions – to reveal heavenly wisdom by worldly folly, to make the Abels known by means of the Cains, to demonstrate our power by earthly weakness, to grant glory by means of the shame of the cross. Thus our people, accustomed to various persecutions, lay aside confidence in themselves, and, without hesitation, flee to us alone, for whom we have prepared everlasting joys, such as have not been conceived by the minds of men.
ACT V, SCENE II.
Her. Alas! what great shame wells up from the depths of my heart! How love rages! How conscious the soul is of guilt! How madness mingled with grief confounds me! How accusing thought reviles me! I know that the fierce hatred of many surrounds me! What then? By Hercules, let them hate me long as they fear me! If I remain queen, what care I?
ACT V, SCENE III.
Chorus of the people, a Syrian girl, Disciples, Herod.
Cho. of Peo. Let us go. Perhaps because of these joys of the banquet he may now perchance be freed from prison.
Syr. Girl. O cruel king! O doleful spectacle! O die, terrible, and tyrannical crime! The head of the innocent man has been cut off by a wicked sword.
Disc. Why is it that she thus laments after the banquet? Let us come with you, and call the thing into question, I beg of you. Why have you stained your face with weeping, Syrian? Feasts should make one joyful.
Syr. Girl. Not feasts such as these, which I could scarce bear to look upon, that I flee from body and soul.
Disc. What! Has any evil befallen you?
Syr. Girl. The injury has been done not to me alone, but to the people. I am not able to tell it for tears.
Disc. O Syrian, cease your womanly lamentations, and explain the matter.
Syr. Girl. The head of the Baptist has been cut from his shoulders! How cruelly, alas, has his head been cut from his shoulders!
Disc. Can this be true? Tell us, tell us, Syrian girl, do you speak truly?
Syr. Girl. Alas, it is true, it is true. I say what is all too true. The king commanded it, his ferocious wife urging him to it.
Disc. O mad, mad tyrant, at the beck and wish of a wicked woman, do you deliver to death him who would have brought you out of the darkness of death to the full lights of true life? Have you, with unmerited death, slain him who strove to bring help and deliverance to you who were perishing? This man slept untroubled amid wild beasts, but you, more bloodthirsty than the tiger, did not judge it enough to put him in prison, but delivered him over to death. How, I beseech you, did it occur? What could be the occasion for so great a crime?
Syr. Girl. It chanced that the daughter of Herodias pleased the king beyond measure with her dancing, so that, overcome by affection for his lovely wife and by wine, and captivated by the movements of the dancer, he desired the girl, distinguished by the applause of all those looking on, to ask for what she would. The girl, persuaded by the words of her mother, therefore demanded the head of John the Baptist. The king sadly, or else pretending something of sorrow, both willing and unwilling, granted the request, since he had given his oath upon it. Now a fierce lictor seeks the fettered man. He waves his gleaming sword. He severs the head from the shoulders and trunk. A shudder runs through the cavern. Here lies the trunk, and there the head. All the ground is wet with ruddy gore. The savage performers of this dreadful deed suddenly rush forth, bear the bloody head to the diners reclining at the table, and to the grim tyrant. Then the lictor gave it to the girl who desired it, and she presented it to her most eager mother. When all were stricken dumb at the murder that had been done, the queen, laughing, said, ‘Why are you astonished? My husband and consort hates alike both false oaths and promises denied.’
Disc. The king keeps faith, but such faith alone as it is far worse to keep than it is to break.
Cho. of Peo. O mighty Father, canst thou see with eyes unmoved an innocent, learned, and most upright prophet fall before an incestuous woman? With what countenance could the guests behold such a dreadful sight? Was the natal day celebrated under these auspices? Is this the reward given to him who invokes what is right? Do they not expect the justice of God?
Disc. O friends, what profits it to pour forth laments? Oh, that we had the disposal of his body, so that we could commit it with honor to the earth!
Cho. of Peo. The king is coming this way. Now we will ask him himself.
He. Alas, what a troubled mind I bear with me! What furies madden and drive me! When I would sleep, what trembling seizes upon me, and what restlessness! Now, again and again, my wicked promise recurs to me, now the thought of the holiness of John and of his severed head. Sometimes I seem to see myself exiled from my fatherland, needy and despised of all men, and with my dearest companion, Herodias, striving to overcome my hungers with acorns in the forest. Would that I had not promised such evil things to the girl who besought them, or that I had not stood by my wicked promise! Woe is me, cruel and impious that I am!
Disc. Hail, king. That which is done cannot be undone. Nevertheless, give us the trunk and the dead body, so that, as our intimacy with him demands, the friendly rites may be bestowed upon the dead.
He. Go, take it. Do your office. O grief, grief! Go, Syrian, open the prison. O grief, grief! How it wearies me to live!
Disc. Here let a mound be heaped up, where the dead is to be buried. The doors of this lowly dwelling-house are open.
ACT V, SCENE IV.
Chorus of People, Disciples of John.
Cho. of Peo. O times, times much to be deplored! O death much to be lamented!
Disc. Is this you that we look upon, O holy prophet? Ah, is your body thus left on the unclean sand? See, see the ground is red and wet with blood! Who, looking on such a sight, can refrain from tears?
Cho. of Peo. O times, times much to be deplored! O death most grievous!
Disc. Is this our return, and our looked-for joy? Is your hospitality of this sort, O Herod? What a helper, O Judea, has this dark day taken from you, and overwhelmed with bitter death!
Cho. of Peo. O times, times much to be deplored! O death much to be lamented!
Disc. O light of life to us, could you thus leave us? What o what, shall Christ now hear of you? Shall He, indeed, hear of your piteous body covered with earth, and of your head possessed by that harlot-wife?
Cho. of Peo. O times, times much to be deplored! O death much to be lamented!
Disc. Thus his grave is made, thus his burial is finished. Now let us raise our last cry, Farewell! Farewell!
Cho. of Peo. John the Baptist, farewell, farewell, farewell!
To the one God be all thanks and glory.
From the most bountiful source of my liberality, what greater gift could be bestowed in loving kindness upon man than that I should grant him my only-begotten Son as the one guide to heaven?: John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (KJV) Back to text
‘Then straightaway shall our Deliverer come when Judah’s people have lost dominion.’: The patriarch Jacob says this in Genesis 49:10. Back to text
Behold, has not Herod, the upstart, seized the power, and glutted himself with blood, and has he not left an offspring to be an heir to his tyranny? : Matthew 2:16 “Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.” Back to text
the Author of our salvation: Jesus Christ, God’s only-begotten Son. Back to text
the tidings that have come from Jordan’s bank: The preaching of John the Baptist, described in the New Testament as a forerunner to Jesus’ ministry. John says, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.” (John 1:23) Back to text
whom I saw descending from heaven, in bodily shape like a dove, upon the King: And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. (John: 1:32) Back to text
Nor am I that Tishbite prophet who was taken across the sky in a chariot of fire up into heaven: The prophet Elijah. The story is related in 2 Kings 2. Back to text
Pharisaic righteousness: The Pharisees were a religious movement or school of thought within Judaism, with a reputation for righteous conduct. “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) Back to text
our first parent: Adam, the first man, who ate of the Tree of Knowledge against God’s command. (Genesis 3) Back to text
our peace: Ephesians 2:14. “For He Himself is our peace…” Back to text
O threefold Divinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit: the Holy Trinity. This explicitly trinitarian prayer does not parallel anything that exists in the New Testament. The Christian doctrine of the trinity is not explicitly expressed in the Bible. Back to text
We touch no food except with washed hands: Mark 7:3. “For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders.” Back to text
We cleanse with water the seats, plates, cups, painted couches, and all the furniture: Matthew 23:25. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.” Back to text
Gelasimus: A comic figure of Grimald’s invention. Back to text
Herodias: According to the Biblical account, King Herod (Antipas) took his brother’s wife Herodias for his own. When John the Baptist criticised him for this, he imprisoned him. See Matthew 14:1-12. Back to text
By chance, a certain excellent priest named Zacharias: The following narrative of the birth of John the Baptist is related in Luke 1. Back to text
the course of Abia: The order of Abia, or Abijah, was the eighth of the twenty-four courses of priests, the arrangement of which is ascribed to David (1 Chronicles 24:3). To this course Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, belonged (Luke 1:5). Back to text
Sadducees: Another sect active during the Second Temple Period in which the events of the gospels occurred. The historian Josephus associates the Sadduccees with the social elite among the Jewish people at the time. Back to text
Tetrarch: A ruler of a quarter of a territory. In the New Testament, Herod is described as a tetrarch at Matthew 14:1. Back to text
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth: The first line of the Bible, Genseis 1:1. Back to text
received its name from folly: The mulberry tree is called in Latin ‘morus’, a word which also means ‘foolish’ or ‘silly.’ Back to text
And the spirit of the Lord moved upon the face of the waters?: Genesis 1:2. Back to text
why you baptize with water, since another is coming who will baptize with fire: Matthew 3:11. “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” Back to text
Essenes: A sect of Second Temple Judaism, many of whose followers lived together in ascetic communities. Back to text
Mosaic law: “And if a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing: he hath uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.” Leviticus 20:21. Back to text
Aretas: Herod’s first wife, whom he had divorced in order that he might marry Herodias, and who was now seeking revenge for the treatment she had received from him. Back to text
This is He whom John often declared to us to be greater than himself: Matthew 3:11. “…but he that cometh after me is mightier than I…” Back to text
Machærus: The castle of Macherus, where John was imprisoned and beheaded, was a fortress lying on the southern extremity of Peræa, at the head of the Dead Sea. Back to text
Nazarene: Jesus of Nazareth, another name for Jesus Christ. Back to text
Tender love subdued the invincible Samson: According to Judges 16, Samson lost his famous strength when his Philistine lover Delilah cut his hair as he slept. Back to text
With this salaciousness, Solomon, the salt of the earth, was sprinkled beyond measure.: According to 1 Kings 11:4, Solomon’s many foreign wives turned his heart after foreign gods. Back to text
How well did Saul commence: 1 Samuel 15 tells how Saul fell out of God’s favour when he disobeyed His command, delivered through the prophet Samuel, to completely destroy the Amalekites. Grimald is hinting at the consequences for Herod in disobeying John the Baptist. Back to text
Archprophet: John the Baptist, the titular character of the play. Back to text
When He had spoken these words He sent us two away: Matthew 3:2-6. “Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” Back to text
Idumæans: The founder of the Herodian dynasty was Antipater the Idumaean, from the Kingdom of Idumea, also called Edom. Back to text
Falernian: Wine from Mount Falernus. Back to text
Bacchus: The Roman god of wine. Back to text
epicures: Philosophers in the school of Epicurus. Epicurus was a hedonist in the sense that he believed that the good was synonymous with pleasure. However, contrary to portrayals of him in Early Modern art and literature, he in fact lived a rather ascetic life due to his belief that the pleasures of philosophy were more profound than mere sensate pleasures. Back to text
Dance: Mark 6 relates that a daughter of Herodias danced before Herod on the occasion of his birthday. Back to text
be given to you at once in a charger: Mark 6:22-24. “And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom. And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist.” Back to text