Antony and Octavius. Scenes for the Study - Scene the Eleventh

[Alexandria. August, 30 B.C.]

Officer . O CTAVIUS . M ECÆNAS . G ALLUS .

Officer . News! glorious news! certain news! Dead as Death!
Octavius . Who dead?
Officer . The master of the horse to Julius,
Master too, but this morning, of this realm,
The great . .
Mecaenas . Halt there! and know, where Caesar is
There is none great but Caesar!
Officer . Pardon! true!
Octavius . And nought about his paramour?
Officer . The queen?
Octavius . Yes, fellow, yes.
Officer . Surely our emperor knows
Of her; the story now is some days old.
The queen was poisoned by two little worms
Which people here call asps, most venomous things,
Coil'd in a yellow fig around the seeds.
Her maidens wail'd her loudly; men and maidens
Alike mourn'd over . . I had nearly slipt.
Octavius . Many have done the same.
Art thou a Roman?
Officer . I have the honor, sir, to be a Gaul,
A native of Massilia, that famed city
Inhabited by heroes, built by Gods,
Who entered it again with Caius Julius.
Mecaenas . And didst thou see them enter?
Officer . Not distinctly,
There were a few between: one told it me
Who saw them; which, ye know, is just the same.
Octavius . Retire, my brave! go sure of a reward.
Lucretia hath escaped us after all!
But there is wax in Egypt, there are Greeks
Who model it, and who can bear to look
On queen or asp; this model'd to the life,
The other more like what they work upon.
No trouble in thus carrying her to Rome.
Gallus! thou lookest grave: thou art the man
Exactly to compose an epitaph.
No matter which died first: I think the asps
Rather have had the start: I may be wrong,
A bad chronologist, a worse astrologer.
Mecaenas . Where Caesar smiles, all others smile but Gallus.
Gallus . Not even Caesar's smiles awaken mine
When every enemy has dropt away,
And he who made so many safe, is safe.
Mecaenas . I wish thou wert more joyous.
Gallus . Kind the wish,
Almost enough to make me so.
Mecaenas . Come! come!
I know you poets: any wager now
Thou hast already forced the weeping Muse
To thy embraces. Tell us honestly;
Hast thou not turn'd the egg upon the nest
Ready for hatching?
Octavius . Guilty; look at him,
He blushes, blushes from cheekbone to beard.
Now, Gallus, for the epitaph.
Mecaenas . Recite it.
Gallus . Epitaphs are but cold and chisel'd words,
Or mostly false if warmer: quite unfit
Are mine for marble or for memory.
I thought of her . . another would have said
He wept: I wept not, but I know I sigh'd.
Mecaenas . And wrote? For poet is half sigh half flame:
Sigh out thy sigh.
Gallus . Would Caesar hear it?
Octavius . Yea.
Gallus . I have not ventured to pronounce the name
Of her I meditated on.
Caesar . My friend
Is here judicious as in all things else.
Gallus .
" Thou hast been floating on the o'erswollen stream
Of life these many summers; is thy last
Now over? hast thou dreamt out every dream?
Hath horn funereal blown the pageant past?
Caesar! thou too must follow: all the rods
Of sternest lictor cannot scare off Death;
She claims the earth for heritage; our Gods
Themselves have seen their children yield their breath."
Caesar . Gallus! I always thought thee a brave soldier,
Never a first-rate poet: I am right.
Gallus . Caesar! I never heard of one who gain'd
A battle and a kingdom who was not.
Caesar . If there be anything on earth I know
Better than other things, 'tis poetry.
Mecaenas . My sweet Octavius! draw not under nose
The knuckle of forefinger. Gallus aim'd
A harmless arrow: Love in sport hath done it
Often and often.
Gallus, seize his hand.
Now sing a paean; sing a prophet's; sing
Egypt! thy pyramid of power is closed.
Gallus . I would; but want the breath: I have but strength
For elegy: here is the last of mine.
" The mighty of the earth are earth,
A passing gleam the brightest smile,
In golden beds have sorrows birth,
Alas! these live the longer while."
Octavius . Unless we haste to supper, we shall soon
Forfeit our appetites. Come, my two friends!
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