The Sack of Rome/Act III

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The Sack of Rome
by Mercy Otis Warren
Act III

ACT III[edit]

Scene I[edit]

(Maximus solus, in the Anician Palace, the sun just rising)

The bird of death that nightly pecks the roof,
Or shrieks beside the caverns of the dead;
Or paler spectres that infest the tombs
Of guilt and darkness, horror or despair,
Are far more welcome to a wretch like me
Than yon bright rays that deck the opening morn;
That softly gliding o'er the dewy field
Give life to nature---cheer the daisied lawn,
Where my Ardelia trod the dappled mead,
And breath'd fresh sweetness through the blooming dale.
What is the sun to Maximus!
Its noon tide ray shews him the sport of fools;
The simple pander of a lecher's guilt.
Ye gods! was reason lost, that, spiritless,
My weak, my dastard hand held back this sword
From striking instant at the tyrant's heart,
When on a frivolous pretence he urg'd,
Before another day, I'd see the camp?
But by the powers that shake the Ætnean vaults,
By all the deities of Rome I swear;
And still more solemnly I bind my soul,
By the great God to whom Ardelia bow'd,
My vengeance shall not sleep.

(Enter Traulista)

Traulista

What cause is there for Maximus's grief?
Why is thy bosom tortur'd with despair?
Unfold the tale, command Traulista's sword;
Wake up full vengeance, or forbear to grieve.

Maximus

Tortures may seize, and furies tear my heart,
But words can't utter what my soul endures;
Confusion darkens all my powers of speech,
And blushes blast the wretch that sacrific'd
His fame---his peace---his honour---and his wife
To glut a tyrant's lust.---My brain grows hot---
It kindles to distraction---yet Valentinian lives.

Traulista

What, did the monster, in thine absence, dare
Profane the sacred threshold of thy peace?

Maximus

She, ever duteous to her lord's command,
Was, by the darkest plot of hell, deceiv'd;
This ring, so often by her husband sent
In times too dangerous for other message,
To her presented, by the base Heraclius,
Reluctantly, she hasten'd to the palace---
Though terror seiz'd and chil'd her frighted soul:
She through each hollow, vacant room was drag'd,
Till in the silent deep abode of guilt,
As a dark fiend, the emperor alone
Waited the victim of his madden'd flame:
He seiz'd his prey---nor cries, nor tears avail'd;
She Heaven implor'd---to pitying Angels pray'd,
And in despair she call'd on her Petronius,
Yet thought his sanction back'd the vile design.

Traulista

And hates thee for suspected perfidy.

Maximus

'Twas a past the midnight watch when I return'd;
With anxious dread and deep suspense I flew
To her abode of misery and grief.
In sables dress'd---a taper just burnt down---
That darkly glimmer'd gloom from side to side---
Indignant scorn glanc'd from her languid eye;
While tears bedew'd her bright angelick face,
As if a cherub wept, the radiant beams
Of stars obscur'd, or of extinguish'd suns:
Dismay'd she held a dagger in her hand
As half resolv'd to plunge it in her breast,
Yet trembled at the purpose of her soul;
I caught her hand, and drew the weapon thence,
Ere she perceiv'd her wretched husband nigh.

Traulista

Sure she's too good to let resentment burn.

Maximus

"Poor Maximus she cry'd---spite of thy guilt,
My soul still pities thee---receive this pledge
To cheat some other soft, believing fool:
Blot from thy thought that e'er Ardelia liv'd
To be the sport of riot and debauch."
Then fix'd the fatal signet on my hand,
This cursed signet that has seal'd my doom,

(Shews the signet)

And branded me with infamy forever.
She breath'd a sob as if a seraph sigh'd,
Drop'd a kind tear, and smil'd a last adieu.

Traulista

Hah! dead!---say'st thou Ardelia's dead?

Maximus

All the big passions of a noble soul
Thrill'd through her heart, and stiffen'd all her frame;
The shining angel left this blasted world,
And now methinks, ineffably serene,
On yon bright azure golden skirted cloud,
Ardelia gently chides this tardy hand
That lingers thus while unaveng'd her death.

Traulista

I bind me by this sword, a soldier's oath,
To vindicate in blood her wounded fame.

Maximus

Her soul unstain'd, immaculate and pure.
Not meagre malice dare impeach her mind;
Nor e'en Megara's tongue, though it were dip'd
In all the poisons of her curling snakes,
Till the gall ganger'd every name but hers,
Durst whisper aught to wound Ardelia's fame:
But yet her wrongs may urge thy dauntless arm,
And give full vigour to a bold design,
To smite a scepter'd brow---yes---that is all---
The man himself's a poltroon---
Yet he's an emperor.

Traulista

This makes him worthy of Traulista's sword.
My arm shall aid till justice holds the scale
To soften grief, or injury repair.

Maximus

Go, find thy friends, and ere the work begins,
I ask a moment to indulge my grief;
'The luxury of tears' is not for me---
My soul's too big for such a soft relief;
Yet I may rave and riot o'er my woes.

(Exeunt)

Scene II[edit]

(Maximus and Gaudentius)

Maximus

That dignity the gods themselves inspir'd,
When Rome inflam'd with patriotick zeal,
Long taught the world to tremble and admire,
Lies faint and languid in the wane of fame,
And must expire in luxury's lew'd lap
If not supported by some vigorous arm;
Th' Armorici 'tis said have pass'd the Rhine,
And ruder tribes, both Goth and Vandal hosts,
May soon be thundering at the gates of Rome;
While here, a treacherous, bloody minded prince
Stains the imperial court with slaughter'd friends,
And riots in the zenith of his pride.

Gaudentius

And are there none in this distracted state
Whose courage, zeal, and energy of mind
May stem the tide, and break the tyrant's yoke!

Maximus

The Roman people, sicken'd by his sloth,
Detest a weak, a lecherous, dastard prince
Who yet cuts down the bravest men Rome boasts,
And mocks the most heroick of her sons
Abused virgins rave in wild despair;
Affronted matrons weep, and beauty sighs,
While groans reecho from the tomb of grief,
And cry for vengeance on the emperor's head;
For innocence betray'd, and virtue sold.

Gaudentius

Dismay'd by blood, the senators detest
A sovereign, cruel, impotent and base,
And all the army's ripen'd for revolt.

Maximus

'Tis time to dash him from th' imperial throne;
Name his successor, and the work is done.

Gaudentius

The crown, the sceptre, the regalia wait,
Petronius's will to guide the realm,
And bid the mistress of the world revive.

Maximus

Th' imperial crown has not a charm for me;
Hung on a soldier's spear, expos'd to sale,
Stain'd with the blood of a long line of Cæsars,
From Julius down to Valentinian's reign,
'Tis fall'n too low to wake ambition up.
The palace groans with guilt too dark to name;
'Tis but the splendid theatre of woe,
From age to age the shambles of mankind,
On which to sacrifice the richest blood
The Roman annals boast---the crimson stream
Has ras'd the memory that a virtue liv'd,
Or that a noble deed from virtue sprang
In the proud boasts of ancient Roman fame.

Gaudentius

Ambition, in a noble, virtuous mind,
Is the first passion that the gods implant,
And soars to glory till it meets the skies:
If it has place in Maximus's breast,
Fortune, who sports with diadems and crowns
This day may hail him emperor of the west

(Gaudentius pauses a moment, retires thoughtfully a few steps, smothers an exclamation, and only articulate)

---Oh! my Eudocia.

Maximus

'Tis just revenge that animates my arm;
But did ambition urge my purpose on?
Yet, my young pensive friend, if Valentinian
Wraps his mantle o'er his trembling head---
Like Julius Cæsar crys---"Brutus my son,"
Will not Eudocia unnerve thy arm?

Gaudentius

Ah! my Eudocia!---would he were not thy sire;
But from my heart I tear thee for a moment,
'Till Ætius's manes are appeas'd,
And fair Ardelia's wrongs are all aveng'd.

Maximus

But art thou sure thou canst this test sustain?
This test severe, of friendship, honour, love,
Will try thy soul, and probe thee to the heart.
Will not thy purpose shake, when her soft image
Dances in thine eye, and pity pleads?
But yet thou hast a struggle more severe;
Thou may'st as well avenge thy bleeding friends
And draw thy sword in injur'd virtue's cause:
'Tis whisper'd through the court the Suevick chief,
The valiant Ricemar, has purchas'd peace
With Genseric the terror of the west;
And that the heiress of the imperial throne
Is the rich price---that Hunneric his son
Is on his way to wed the fair Eudocia.

Gaudentius

Petronius, thou hast fix'd my wav'ring will;
Let me lead on---my sword alone,
Without another's aid, shall find its way
To Valentinian's heart.

Maximus

The hour draws nigh---the exercise begins---
Arm thy brave heart, and bid adieu to love.

(Exit Maximus)

Gaudentius

How would my eyeballs from their sockets start
To see Eudocia in that monster's arms?
Can her fair soul mix with the horrid brood,
Begot and nurtur'd in the Quadian lakes!
Beneath the vaulted, black Carpathian mount,
Amidst the darkness of Cimmerian damps,
As nature sported with infernal fiends
She gender'd there this ill form'd squalid birth
And mid'st the jargon of discordant sounds
She call'd the beardless, uncouth monster, Hunneric:
And shall this savage violate her charms?
Save her, ye gods!---oh! save the Roman name
From such a stain, indelible and dark.

(Exit)

Scene III[edit]

(Maximus and Traulista)

Maximus

Hail , mighty prince of great Hermanric's line!
Is thy sword whetted to avenge thy friends?

Traulista

No eagle darting down the slaughter'd field
Of human carnage strew'd with mangled limbs,
More swiftly bends its talons to the prey,
Than shall my sword deal thunderbolts around,
Whene'er Petronius wishes for its aid.

Maximus

But art thou sure that not one traitor lurks,
Nor coward heart in thy selected band?

Traulista

There's not a man but what would bay the lion,
Or meet the tyger growling from his den,
By hunger urg'd to prowl for human prey.
When Cæsar's dial marks meridian day,
They'll spring to action at the trump of war;
As the train'd steed who snuffs the northern air
Leaps through the crowd, and leaves the winds behind.

Maximus

Have they ne'er trembled at an emperor's frown,
Nor felt the servile homage of a slave?
Will not the valiant arm grow sick and flag,
And the drawn dagger droop e'en in thy hand
As it approaches Valentinian's breast?

Traulista

Have I not sworn by Mars's fiery sword,
The redden'd symbol of the Scythian faith,
To aid thee to avenge thine injur'd love?
Not Casca's arm e'er gave a surer blow
Than shall Traulista's.

Maximus

The great Triumvirs of the world have fall'n
By weaker hands than thine---thou art my Cassius---
But I fear Gaudentius---he's of a softer mould---
Humane and tender---though a valiant prince
He feels the softest passion for Eudocia.

Traulista

He feels no pang but for Eudocia's sake;
Yet jealousy has wak'd a war within;
Resentment, love, and rage, by turns distract,
And make his soul a chaos of despair.

Maximus

Will he o'ercome this painful struggle
In a noble breast?---Can he renounce her charms?
When filial tears are leagu'd with just revenge,
When duty, fame, and glory combat love,
Will the fond lover act the hero's part,
And snatch the princess from a rival's arms,
Mid'st blood and slaughter, and the fresh grown yews
His sword may strew around her father's tomb?

Traulista

Strike, now's the time, before his passions cool.

Maximus

Will Valentinian venture to the sports?

Traulista

The emperor comes with more than usual pomp,
A chosen cohort added to the guards.

Maximus

Though guilt makes cowards, justice finds them out:
Not all the legions of the western world
Shall screen him from my sword, my just revenge.

(Exeunt)

Scene IV[edit]

(Eudocia and Placidia)

Eudocia

Alas ! my fears---my throbbing heart lie still,
Nor startle thus, e'en at a quiv'ring leaf:
The downy pillow gives me no repose,
And slumbers fly from the soft silken couch;
Ill boding terrors shake the gilded roof;
Methinks I hear a distant din of arms---
---alarms---and shouts---

(Shouts without)

As though from heaven's battlements were burst
Some dreadful ruin, that may empire shake.

Placidia

Another shout---I fear some signal blow:
This early morn, as sleep forsook my lids,
I from my window saw Traulista haste;
Two chiefs beside led on a chosen band,
So like Thuringian blood hounds in their gestures,
I trembled at the sight; yet as they pass'd
I caught a signal meant to be conceal'd,
A hoarse, low, hollow voice growl'd from the midst,
"Haste to the Campus Martius."

Eudocia

Ah! what new shock?---the tumult bends this way---
Oh! Valentinian!

(The noise draws near)

Placidia

The furious multitude rush towards the palace
I hear the legions shout---long live the Emperor
Petronius Maximus

Eudocia

Undone---undone forever!
Where is our father?---Oh! where the good Edoxia?
And midst the group of misery and woe---
Would heav'n permit---ah! where is my Gaudentius?

(Gaudentius rushes suddenly into the Palace---Soldiers and Guards in tumult without)

Gaudentius

He's here, my princess---he guards the fair Eudocia---
Protects her life from every ruffian hand,
Nor fate again shall snatch her from mine arms.

Eudocia

Oh! leave a wretch abandon'd to her fears.

Gaudentius

What! leave Eudocia midst this furious storm!
Name it no more---death stalks abroad,
And vengeance lifts his arm---but Heaven forbid
That innocence should feel the dread effects
Of cruelty and guilt.

Eudocia

If e'er thou lov'd---if pity touch thy soul---
Fly hence to succour Rome, and save my father.

Gaudentius

Thy father!---he had a friend whose arm---
Yes, Ætius was his friend---Oh! Ætius.

Eudocia

Barbarous man! can'st thou reproach Eudocia,
And chill her with the terror of a name
That rives her inmost soul with guilt and horror?

Gaudentius

Forgive me, princess.

Eudocia

Oh! Gaudentius---
Could my poor life atone---my clay cold corse
I'd lay on Ætius' tomb---sprinkle his urn---
Refresh his memory with the last purple drop
That warms to love, the heart of thy Eudocia.

Gaudentius

Pardon the transports of my filial breast,
That pours its sorrows o'er a father's tomb;
Great Ætius's virtues justly claim
A tributary tear from half the world.

Eudocia

Had'st thou a marble heart, or stoick soul,
Unmov'd at aught the destinies decree,
Though death cut down the hero, father, friend,
I'd spurn a wretch that mock'd these tender names
Back from my soul to ravage the wild woods.
But say, what tale hangs on thy tongue---
Thou durst not name?

Gaudentius

If fate commands, and wraps both in a shroud,
We must forget that e'er our fathers liv'd.

Eudocia

Hah! parricide!
Hast thou the death of Ætius aveng'd?
What! durst thou lift thy sacrilegious hand,
And hurl a blow that severs me forever
From thine arms? then come with this bold front
And subtle tongue, to lay thy sword
Wet with her father's blood, at his Eudocia's feet?

Gaudentius

Not all the wrongs I suffer'd from thy sire,
Nor yet the vengeance that my own demand
Could urge my arm to aim an impious blow
That might a moment interrupt thy peace!
But Maximus---

Eudocia

What of the traitor Maximus?

Gaudentius

Ought never to forgive Ardelia's wrongs.

Eudocia

Tell me the worst---am I the only wretch
Of all my house, that lives to weep?

Gaudentius

Like the thrice heated bolt from heav'ns high arch,
Through the dark gloom of dreary night and horror,
That falls and blasts the cedar's lofty top,
The light'ning fell on Valentinian's head.

Eudocia

From heaven?---no, 'twas hell that belch'd the flame;
By jarring fiends the pointed sword was whet,
And thou wast witness to the horrid deed.
Let us, Placidia, haste with trembling steps,
(Ere earth shall sink beneath his guilty feet,
Like the twin sisters of misfortune lead,
If yet the empress lives, to her apartment.

(The Princesses in an agony of grief retire.---Exit Gaudentius)

Scene V[edit]

(The Palace--- Edoxia, sola)

When will these dark and lowering clouds pass o'er,
And brighter aspects tinge the western skies?
This day is big with omens of despair,
And some wild tumult rages loud abroad;
Each face is pale, and every eye's askance,
As wrapt in dark mysterious intrigue:
That Maximus must meditate revenge
There's not a doubt; and when he strikes
'Twill be a deadly blow---his arm disdains
A mean or vulgar stroke---and his bold spirit
Shakes at no resolve---yet 'tis too soon
To execute the deed---his dreaded rage,
Oh! Heaven!---just Heaven restrain!
Hah! who art thou that ent'rest thus abrupt?

(Leo enters hastily in disguise)

Disguis'd, as if beneath a vizard, lurk'd
Mischief and treason---murder---guilt and death!

Leo

There is no time for leave of audience now;
Haste hence my empress---fly the palace gates
Ere all the avenues are seiz'd by Maximus.

Edoxia

Is then the emperor slain!
Am I the slave of Maximus?
Forbid it all ye powers of heaven and earth!

Leo

Thy person may be safe, if not a moment's lost.

Edoxia

What! like a timid fugitive to fly,
And rove a friendless world from court to court?
Though royalty is toss'd from gale to gale
On fortune's fickle wing, the sportive bubble,
The plaything of her most capricious hour;
Yet know, Edoxia dares to hold a throne,
And has a soul to scourge a traitor's guilt.
Name thou the first who struck the impious blow
That shakes the glory of the imperial crown,
He'll feel what vengeance 'tis my arm inflicts.

Leo

Petronius led the band---the cohorts join'd---
Traulista waited at the Campus Martius,
'Till Valentinian enter'd.
The fierce barbarian struck his helmet off,
And, swift as light'ning, fell an hundred blows;
His trembling soul escap'd without a groan;
The army and the Gothic princes cry'd
Long live the emperor, Petronius Maximus.

Edoxia

Forsook---betray'd---and widow'd in an hour!
Alas! my daughters!---where are the lovely maids?
Are my Eudocia and Placidia safe,
Or are the charms or innocence and worth,
Of virgin beauty, piety, and truth,
The sport of Gothic slaves?

(Enter Princesses)

---Ah! my Placidia!
This tender woe becomes thy filial eye:
Alas, Eudocia!---lovely in thy grief;
I can no more than sighs and tears bestow.
'Tis all I have to lend my hapless children.

Eudocia

Lend not a sigh to me---I am too wretched---
But spare thy tears for those who may be blest.

Edoxia

My tears for thee can never cease to flow;
Yet tears are but unseemly gifts indeed,
And ill become the soft hymenial hour.
This was the day, by solemn promise made
His noble sire---Gaudentius might have claim'd
His lovely bride, and seal'd his nuptials
With the fair Eudocia.

Eudocia

Name him no more---
Let me forget that e'er I was belov'd.

Edoxia

These tears indulge, to bathe his sacred urn,
And while they trickle o'er thy blooming cheek,
Water the willows round thy father's tomb,
Till the brave veteran Ætius shall chace
The bold Petronius from the imperial throne.

Eudocia

Ah! Ætius!---Oh! happy Rome, if Ætius had liv'd.

Edoxia

Had Ætius liv'd!---Just gods! what means Eudocia?
Has the monster slain the noble Ætius,
And rais'd so high the mounds of death around,
That justice cannot reach a traitor's heart?

Eudocia

Great Ætius is dead---spare me the rest,
Nor from my bleeding breast the story wring.

Edoxia

I'm lost and wilder'd in this mazy path;
What furious fiend presides this awful day!
On every side some spectre ghastly grins,
Through floods of reeking gore, and beckons down
To Hades' dark, benighted, dismal shore.

(Exeunt)