The Sack of Rome

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The Sack of Rome
by Mercy Otis Warren
A tragedy in five acts (1790)

Preface[edit]

To the Public,

Almost every page of the story of Rome, exhibits a tragedy, without the exaggeration of poetic fiction; yet there are few of its interesting scenes, that have not furnished the machinery for some dramatic work. But, amidst the innumerable writers, that almost every age has produced, the author of a piece, now offered the public, does not recollect to have seen the weakness and cruelty of Valentinian ---the character of Petronius Maximus ---the resentment, indiscretion and revenge of Edoxia ---(the more immediate causes of the invasion of the imperial city, by the Vandals)---chosen for the subject of theatrical instruction.

The subversion of the western empire, and the Sack of the city of Rome, by Genseric , form an era in the revolution of human affairs, that strikes the mind with peculiar solemnity: Perhaps, at that period, the character of man was sunk to the lowest stage of depravity. Debilitated by the habits of every species of luxury, a long series of tragical events, and the continual apprehensions of proscription, or death; the powers of the mind were, at the same time, obscured by the superstitions of weak, uninformed christians, blended with the barbarism and ignorance of the darker ages.

Thus an impenetrable cloud was thrown over the religious and political institutions, both of the Roman and the Gothic world; which hastened on the destruction of the former, without exhibiting any thing more honourable to the genius and virtue of mankind, in the establishment of the latter, nor have more enlightened and polished ages been taught, by their examples, to shun the luxurious vices, or the absurd systems of policy, which have frequently corrupted, distracted, and ruined the best constituted republics; as well as divided and overturned the strong fabric of monarchic government.

In tracing the rise, the character, the revolutions, and the fall of the most politic and brave, the most insolent and selfish people, the world ever exhibited, the hero and the moralist may find the most sublime examples of valour and virtue; and the philosopher the most humiliating lessons to the pride of man, in the turpitude of some of their capital characters: While the extensive dominions of that once celebrated nation, their haughty usurpations and splendid crimes, have for ages furnished the historian and the poet with a field of speculation, adapted to his own peculiar talents. But if the writer of the Sack of Rome has mistaken her's, she will, doubtless, be forgiven, as there have been instances of men of the best abilities who have fallen into the same error.

There is but little mixture of fable in the narration, and, I hope, a just purity of stile has been observed, while the writer has aimed at moral improvement, by an exhibition of the tumult and misery into which mankind are often plunged by an unwarrantable indulgence of the discordant passions of the human mind.

Theatrical amusements may, sometimes, have been prostituted to the purposes of vice; yet, in an age of taste and refinement, lessons of morality, and the consequences of deviation, may perhaps, be as successfully enforced from the stage, as by modes of instruction, less censured by the severe; while, at the same time, the exhibition of great historical events, opens a field of contemplation to the reflecting and philosophic mind.

My first wish is to throw a mite into the scale of virtue, and my highest ambition to meet the approbation of the judicious and worthy:---In the one, I am gratified from the reflections of my own heart; for the other, I wait with diffidence the determinations of the candid public.

M. W.

Dramatis Personae[edit]

Men
Valentinian: Emperor of Rome
Heraclius: Favorite eunuch to Valentinian
Petronius Maximus: a noble citizen
Ætius: Commander of the Roman Troops
Gaudentius: Son to Ætius, betrothed to Eudocia
Leo: Bishop of Rome
Genseric: King of the vandals, reigning in Carthage
Hunneric: on to Genseric
Traulista: a barbarian prince
Women
Edoxia: Empress to Rome
Eudocia: Daughter of Valentinian
Placida: Daughter of Valentinian
Senators, Soldiers, Servants. &c. &c.

The Play[edit]