The Sack of Rome/Act III
(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.
- 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.
- 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.
- What, did the monster, in thine absence, dare
- Profane the sacred threshold of thy peace?
- 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.
- And hates thee for suspected perfidy.
- '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.
- Sure she's too good to let resentment burn.
- "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.
- Hah! dead!---say'st thou Ardelia's dead?
- 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.
- I bind me by this sword, a soldier's oath,
- To vindicate in blood her wounded fame.
- 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.
- This makes him worthy of Traulista's sword.
- My arm shall aid till justice holds the scale
- To soften grief, or injury repair.
- 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.
(Maximus and Gaudentius)
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- Dismay'd by blood, the senators detest
- A sovereign, cruel, impotent and base,
- And all the army's ripen'd for revolt.
- 'Tis time to dash him from th' imperial throne;
- Name his successor, and the work is done.
- The crown, the sceptre, the regalia wait,
- Petronius's will to guide the realm,
- And bid the mistress of the world revive.
- 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.
- 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.
- '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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The hour draws nigh---the exercise begins---
- Arm thy brave heart, and bid adieu to love.
- 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.
(Maximus and Traulista)
- Hail , mighty prince of great Hermanric's line!
- Is thy sword whetted to avenge thy friends?
- 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.
- But art thou sure that not one traitor lurks,
- Nor coward heart in thy selected band?
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- Strike, now's the time, before his passions cool.
- Will Valentinian venture to the sports?
- The emperor comes with more than usual pomp,
- A chosen cohort added to the guards.
- 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.
(Eudocia and Placidia)
- 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---
- As though from heaven's battlements were burst
- Some dreadful ruin, that may empire shake.
- 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."
- Ah! what new shock?---the tumult bends this way---
- Oh! Valentinian!
(The noise draws near)
- The furious multitude rush towards the palace
- I hear the legions shout---long live the Emperor
- Petronius Maximus
- 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)
- 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.
- Oh! leave a wretch abandon'd to her fears.
- 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.
- If e'er thou lov'd---if pity touch thy soul---
- Fly hence to succour Rome, and save my father.
- Thy father!---he had a friend whose arm---
- Yes, Ætius was his friend---Oh! Ætius.
- 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?
- Forgive me, princess.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- If fate commands, and wraps both in a shroud,
- We must forget that e'er our fathers liv'd.
- 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?
- 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---
- What of the traitor Maximus?
- Ought never to forgive Ardelia's wrongs.
- Tell me the worst---am I the only wretch
- Of all my house, that lives to weep?
- 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.
- 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)
(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!
- 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.
- Is then the emperor slain!
- Am I the slave of Maximus?
- Forbid it all ye powers of heaven and earth!
- Thy person may be safe, if not a moment's lost.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- ---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.
- Lend not a sigh to me---I am too wretched---
- But spare thy tears for those who may be blest.
- 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.
- Name him no more---
- Let me forget that e'er I was belov'd.
- 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.
- Ah! Ætius!---Oh! happy Rome, if Ætius had liv'd.
- 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?
- Great Ætius is dead---spare me the rest,
- Nor from my bleeding breast the story wring.
- 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.