Mahomet (Voltaire)/Act II
ACT II. SCENE I.
Welcome, my Seid, do I see thee here
Once more in safety? What propitious god
Conducted thee? At length Palmira's woes
Shall have an end, and we may yet be happy.
Thou sweetest charmer, balm of every woe,
Dear object of my wishes and my tears,
O since that day of blood when flushed with conquest
The fierce barbarian snatched thee from my arms,
When midst a heap of slaughtered friends I lay
Expiring on the ground, and called on death,
But called in vain, to end my hated being,
What have I suffered for my dear Palmira!
How have I cursed the tardy hours that long
Withheld my vengeance! my distracted soul's
Impatience thirsted for the bloody field,
That with these hands I might lay waste this seat
Of slavery, where Palmira mourned so long
In sad captivity; but thanks to heaven!
Our holy prophet, whose deep purposes
Are far beyond the ken of human wisdom,
Hath hither sent his chosen servant Omar;
I flew to meet him, they required a hostage;
I gave my faith, and they received it; firm
In my resolve to live or die for thee.
Seid, the very moment ere thou camest
To calm my fears, and save me from despair,
Was I entreating the proud ravisher;
Thou knowest, I cried, the only good on earth
I prized is left behind, restore it to me:
Then clasped his knees, fell at the tyrant's feet,
And bathed them with my tears, but all in vain:
How his unkind refusal shocked my soul!
My eyes grew dim, and motionless I stood
As one deprived of life; no succor nigh,
No ray of hope was left, when Seid came
To ease my troubled heart, and bring me comfort.
Who could behold unmoved Palmira's woes?
The cruel Zopir; not insensible
He seemed to my misfortunes, yet at last
Unkindly told me, I must never hope
To leave these walls, for naught should tear me from him.
'Tis false; for Mahomet, my royal master,
With the victorious Omar, and forgive me,
If to these noble friends I proudly add
The name of Seid, these shall set thee free,
Dry up thy tears, and make Palmira happy:
The God of Mahomet, our great protector,
That God whose sacred standard I have borne;
He who destroyed Medina's haughty ramparts
Shall lay rebellious Mecca at our feet;
Omar is here, and the glad people look
With eyes of friendship on him; in the name
Of Mahomet he comes, and meditates
Some noble purpose.
Might free us, and unite two hearts long since
Devoted to his cause; but he, alas!
Is far removed, and we abandoned captives.
ACT II, SCENE II.
Palmira, Seid, Omar.
Despair not; heaven perhaps may yet reward you,
For Mahomet and liberty are nigh.
Is he then come?
Our friend and father?
I met the council, and by Mahomet
Inspired, addressed them thus: “Within these walls,
Even here,” I cried, “the favorite of heaven,
Our holy prophet, first drew breath; the great,
The mighty conqueror, the support of kings;
And will ye not permit him but to rank
As friend and fellow-citizen? He comes not
To ruin or enslave, but to protect,
To teach you and to save, to fix his power,
And hold dominion o'er the conquered heart.”
I spoke; the hoary sages smiled applause,
And all inclined to favor us; but Zopir,
Still resolute and still inflexible,
Declared, the people should be called together,
And give their general voice: the people met,
Again I spoke, addressed the citizens,
Exhorted, threatened, practiced every art
To win their favor, and at length prevailed;
The gates are opened to great Mahomet,
Who after fifteen years of cruel exile
Returns to bless once more his native land;
With him the gallant Ali, brave Hercides,
And Ammon the invincible, besides
A numerous train of chosen followers:
The people throng around him; some with looks
Of hatred, some with smiles of cordial love;
Some bless the hero, and some curse the tyrant:
Some threaten and blaspheme, whilst others fall
Beneath his feet, embrace and worship him;
Meantime the names of God, of peace and freedom,
Are echoed through the all-believing crowd;
Whilst Zopir's dying party bellows forth
In idle threats its impotent revenge:
Amidst their cries, unruffled and serene,
In triumph walks the god-like Mahomet,
Bearing the olive in his hand; already
Peace is proclaimed, and see! The conqueror comes.
ACT II, SCENE III.
Mahomet, Omar, Hercides, Seid, Palmira, Attendants.
My friends, and fellow-laborers, valiant Ali,
Morad, and Ammon, and Hericides, hence
To your great work, and in my name instruct
The people, lead them to the paths of truth,
Promise and threaten; let my God alone
Be worshipped, and let those who will not love
Be taught to fear him—Seid, art thou here?
My ever-honored father, and King,
Led by that power divine who guided thee
To Mecca's walls, preventing your commands
I came, prepared to live or die with thee.
You should have waited for my orders; he
Who goes beyond his duty knows it not;
I am heaven's minister, and thou art mine;
Learn then of me to serve and to obey.
Forgive, my lord, a youth's impatient ardor:
Brought up together from our infant years,
The same our fortunes, and our thoughts the same:
Alas! My life has been a life of sorrow;
Long have I languished in captivity,
Far from my friends, from Seid, and from thee;
And now at last, when I beheld a ray
Of comfort shining of me, they unkindness
Blasts my fair hopes, and darkens all the scene.
Palmira, 'tis enough : I know thy virtues;
Let naught disturb thee: spite of all my cares,
Glory, and empire, and the weight of war,
I will remember thee; Palmira still
Lives in my heart, and shares it with mankind:
Seid shall join troops: thou, gentle maid,
Mayest serve they God in peace: fear naught but Zopir.
ACT II, SCENE IV.
Brave Omar, stay, for in thy faithful bosom
Will I repose the secrets of my soul:
The lingering progress of a doubtful siege
May stop our rapid course; we must not give
These weak deluded mortals too much time
To pry into our actions; prejudice
Rules o'er the vulgar with despotic sway.
Thou knowest there is a tale which I have spread
And they believe, that universal empire
Awaits the prophet, who to Mecca's walls
Shall lead his conquering bands, and bring her peace.
'Tis mine to mark the errors of mankind,
And to avail me of them; but whilst thus
I try each art to soothe this fickle people
What thinks my friend of Seid and Palmira?
I think most nobly of them, that amidst
Those few staunch followers who own no God,
No faith but thine, who love thee as their father,
Their friend, and benefactor, none obey
Or serve thee with an humbler, better mind:
They are most faithful.
Omar, thou art deceived;
They are my worst foes, they love each other.
And can you blame their tenderness?
I'll tell thee all my weakness.
How my Lord!
Thou knowest the reigning passion of my soul;
Whilst proud ambition and the cares of empire
Weighed heavy on me, Mahomet's hard life
Has been a conflict with opposing Nature,
Whom I have vanquished by austerity,
And self denial; have banished from me
That baleful poison which unnerves mankind,
Which only serves to fire them into madness,
And brutal follies; on the burning sand
Or desert rocks I brave the inclement sky,
And bear the seasons' rough vicissitude:
Love is my only solace, the dear object
O fall my toils, the idol I adore,
The god of Mahomet, the powerful rival
Of my ambition: know, midst all my queens,
Palmira reigns sole mistress of my heart:
Think then what pangs of jealousy thy friend
Must feel when she expressed her fatal passion
But thou art revenged.
If soon I ought not to take vengeance on them;
That thou mayest hate my rival more, I'll tell thee
Who Seid and Palmira are—the children
Of him whom I abhor, my deadliest foe.
Is their father: fifteen years
Are past since brave Hercides to my care
Gave up their infant years; they know not yet
Or who or what they are; I brought them up
Together; I indulged their lawless passion.,
And added fuel to the guilty flame.
Methinks it is as if the hand of heaven
Had meant in them to center every crime.
But I must— Ha! Their father comes this way,
His eyes are full of bitterness and wrath
Against me—now be vigilant, my Omar,
Hercides must be careful to possess
This most important pass; return, and tell me
Whether 'tis most expedient to declare
Against him, or retreat: away.
ACT II, SCENE V.
Unhappy Zopir! Thus compelled to meet
My worst of foes, the foe of all mankind!
Since 'tis the will of heaven that Mahomet
And Zopir should at length untie, approach
Without a blush, and fearless tell thy tale.
I blush for thee alone, whose baneful arts
Have drawn thy country to the brink of ruin;
Who in the bosom of fair peace wouldst wage
Intestine war, loosen the sacred bonds
Of friendship, and destroy our happiness;
Beneath the veil of proffered terms thou meanest
But to betray, whilst discord stalks before thee:
Thou vile assemblage of hypocrisy
And insolence, abhorred tyrant! Thus
Do the chosen ministers of heaven dispense
Its sacred blessings, and announce their God?
Wert thou not Zopir, I would answer thee
As thou deservest, in thunder, by the voice
Of that offended Being thou deridest:
Armed with the hallowed Koran I would teach thee
To tremble and obey in humble silence:
And with the subject world to kneel before me;
But I will talk to thee without disguise,
As man to man should speak, and friend to friend:
I have ambition, Zopir; where's the man
Who has it not? But never citizen,
Or chief, or priest, or king projected aught
So noble as the plan of Mahomet;
In acts or arms hath every nation shone
Superior in its turn; Arabia now
Steps forth; that generous people, long unknown
And unrespected, saw her glories sunk,
Her honors lost; but lo! The hour is come
When she shall rise to victory and renown;
The world lies desolate from pole to pole;
India's slaves and bleeding Persia mourns
Her slaughtered sons; whilst Egypt hangs the head
Dejected; from the walls of Constantine
Splendor is fled; the Roman Empire torn
By discord, sees its scattered members spread
On every side inglorious;--let us raise
Arabia on the ruins of mankind:
The blind and tottering universe demands
Another worship, and another God.
Crete had her Minos, Egypt her Osiris,
To Asia Zoroaster gave his laws,
And Numa was in Italy adored:
O'er savage nations where nor monarchs ruled
Nor manners softened, nor religion taught,
Hath many a sage his fruitless maxims spread;
Beneath a nobler yoke I mean to bend
The prostrate world, and change their feeble laws,
Abolish their false worship, pull down
Their powerless gods, and on my purer faith
Found universal empire: say not Zopir,
That Mahomet betrays his country, no:
I mean but to destroy its weak supports,
And banishing idolatry, unite it
Beneath one king, one prophet, and one God;
I shall subdue it but to make it glorious.
Is this thy purpose then, and darest thou thus
Avow it? Canst thou change the hearts of men,
And make them think like thee? Are war and slaughter
The harbingers of wisdom and of peace;
Can he who ravages instruct mankind?
If in the night of ignorance and error
We long have wandrered, must thy dreadful torch
Enlighten us? What right hast thou to empire?
That right which firm, exalted spirits claim
O'er vulgar minds.
Thus every bold impostor
May forge new fetters, and enslave mankind:
He has a right, it seems, to cheat the world
If he can dot it with an air of grandeur.
I know your people well; I know they want
A leader; my religion, true or false,
Is needful to them: what have all your gods
And all your idols done? What laurels grow
Beneath their altars? Your low, groveling sect
Debases man, unnerves his active soul,
And makes it heavy, phlegmatic, and mean;
Whilst mine exalts it, gives it strength and courage:
My law forms heroes.
Rather call them robbers:
Away; not bring thy hateful lessons here;
Go to the school of tyrants, boast thy frauds
To lost Medina, where thou reignest supreme
Where blinded bigots bend beneath thy power,
And thou beholdest thy equals at thy feet.
My equals! Mahomet has none; long since
I passed them all; Medina is my own,
And Mecca trembles at me; if thou holdest
Thy safety dear, receive the peace I offer.
Thou talkest of peace, but 'tis not thy heart;
I'm not to be deceived.
I would not have thee;
The weak deceive, the powerful command:
To-morrow I shall force thee to submit;
To-day, observe, I would have been they friend.
Can we be friends? Can Mahomet and Zopir
E'er be united? Say, what god shall work
A miracle like that?
I'll tell thee one,
A powerful God, one that is always heard,
By me he speaks to thee.
Who is it? Name him.
Interest, thy own dear interest.
And hell shall be united; interest
May be the god of Mahomet, but mine
Is—justice: what shall join them to each other?
Where is the cement that must bind our friendship?
Is that the son I slew, or the warm blood
Of Zopir's house which thou has shed?
Thy blood, thy son's—for now I will unveil
A secret to thee, known to none but me:
Thou weepest thy children dead; they both are—living.
What sayest thou? Living? Unexpected bliss!
My children living?
Yes; and both—my prisoners.
My children slaves to thee? Impossible!
My bounty nourished them.
And couldst thou spare
A child of Zopir's?
For their father's faults
I will not punish them
But tell me, say,
For what are they reserved?
Their life or death
Depend on me: speak but the word, and thou
Art master of their fate.
O name the price
And thou shalt have it; must I give my blood,
Or must I bear their chains, and be the slave
I ask not either of thee:
Lend me thy aid but to subdue the world;
Surrender Mecca to me and give up
Your temple, bid the astonished people read
My sacred Koran; be thou my vassal,
And fall before me, then will I restore
Thy son, perhaps hereafter may reward thee
With honors, and contract a closer tie
Mahomet, thou seest in me
A tender father: after fifteen years
Of cruel absence, to behold my children,
To die in their embraces, were the first
And fairest blessings that my soul could wish for;
But if to thee I must betray my country,
Or sacrifice my children, know, proud tyrant,
The choice is made already—fare thee well.
Inexorable dotard! But henceforth
I will be more implacable, more cruel
Even than thyself.
ACT II, SCENE VI
And so indeed thou must be,
Or all is lost: already I have bought
Their secret counsels: Mahomet, to-morrow
The truce expires, and Zopir reassumes
His power; thy life's in danger: half the senate
Are leagued against thee: those who dare not fight
May hire the dark assassin to destroy thee;
May screen their guilt beneath the mask of justice,
And call the murder legal punishment.
First they shall feel my vengeance: persecution,
Thou knowest, has ever been my best support.
Zopir must die.
'Tis well resolved: his fate
Will teach the rest obedience: lose no time.
Yet, spite of my resentment, I must hide
The murderous hand that deals the blow. To 'scape
Suspicion's watchful eye, and not incense
They are not worth our care.
And yet they must be pleased: I want an arm
That will strike boldly.
Seid is the man;
I'll answer for him.
Ay: the best,
The fittest instrument to serve our purpose:
As Zopir's hostage he may find occasion
To speak with him, and soon avenge his master.
Thy other favorites are too wise, too prudent
For such a dangerous enterprise; old age
Takes off the bandage of credulity
From mortal eyes; but the young, simple heart,
The willing slave to its own fond opinions,
And void of guile, will act as we direct it:
Youth is the proper period for delusion.
Seid, thou knowest, is superstitious, bold,
And violent, but easy to be lead;
Like a tame lion, to his keeper's voice
What! The brother of Palmira?
Ay; Seid, the fierce son of thy proud foe,
The incestuous rival of great Mahomet,
His master's rival.
I detest him, Omar,
Abhor his very name; my murdered son
Cries out for vengeance on him; but thou knowest
The object of my love, and whence she sprung;
Thou seest I am oppressed on every side;
I would have altars, victims, and a throne;
I would have Zopir's blood, and Seid's too:
I must consult my interest, my revenge,
My honor, and my love, that fatal passion,
Which, spite of my resentment, holds this heart
In shameful chains: I must consult religion,
All powerful motive, and necessity
That throws a veil o'er every crime: away.
End of the Second Act