Aristodemus the Messenian

(Dramatic Hendecasyllabics)

Scene : Before the Stronghold of Ithome,

Messenia, 735 b.c.

His daughter's lover discovered, in the disguise of a soothsayer; to whom enters Aristodemus.

Aristodemus ( apostrophically )

Straightway let it be done!

Lover

Let what be done, chief?

Aristodemus

Who art thou that art speaking? Some sage prophet? —
She, my daughter's to perish on the altar!

Lover

Thou called hero! — a myth thy vaunted power,
If it fail to redeem thy best beloved.

Aristodemus

Power is nought to the matter. What the Sibyl
Bids, must be!

Lover

But I doubt such bidding thereto.

Aristodemus

Nay. White lippings above the Delphic tripod
Mangle never their message! And they lip such.
Thriving, conquering shall Messene be forthwith —
Future worthy my gift of this intact one.
Yea, and who of the Aepytids' renowned house
Weigh can greater with Zeus than she my offspring?
Shall these Spartiats sway to save me reavement?
What is fatherhood when they march in hearing?
Hark! E'en now they are here!

(Marching soldiers heard afar.)

Lover ( after a silence )

And mean you to warn her?

Aristodemus

Not till evening shades can cover pallor.
[ Exit .

Lover stands motionless. Enter the daughter of Aristodemus.

Daughter

Ah! Thou comest to me, Love, not as earlier!
Lover, as it were waking, approaches, unhoods his face, and embraces her.
Why not speak to me?
Lover

Sweetest, thou'rt a doomed one!

Daughter

How?

Lover

Thy sacrifice by thy father waits thee —
Thee, as offering for the State's salvation.

Daughter

Not the slaying of me?

Lover

Fail I to stay him —

(She droops in his arms)

Whereto bursts in a flame a means upon me!

Daughter

How? My father is mighty. Thou'rt so powerless.

Lover

Thus and now it adumbrates. Haste I to him,
Vowing love for thee!

Daughter

Which he'll value wryly —
Less than nought, as I know.

Lover

Till comes my sequel;
This, to wit. Thou art got with child by me. Ay,
List: the Sibylline utterance asks a virgin;
So th'rt saved!

Daughter

But a maid's the thing I am, Love!
Gods! With child I am not, but veriest virgin —
Who knows surer than thou?

Lover

I'll make him think so,
Though no man upon earth more knows its falseness,
Such will I.

Daughter

But alas, thou canst not make him:
Me he knows to the core. He'll not believe thee.

Lover

Then thou canst. He'll accept thy vouching, sure, Sweet,
And another intact one, equal serving,
Straightway find for the knife.

Daughter

My Love, I must not!

Lover

Not? And yet there is pending for thee, elsewise,
Dark destruction, and all thy burning being
Dungeoned in an eternal hescientness!
She shudders, but weepingly shows unwillingness.

Stay. I'll make the asseverance first. Thou'lt clinch it?

Daughter ( with white cheeks, after a pause )

Be it so! . . .

The Messenian army is heard going out to meet the
Spartans. Lover hoods himself as Aristodemus enters
from the stronghold .

Aristodemus ( looking strangely at his daughter )
Stay you yet at the gate? The old man also?
Hath indeed he disclosed the sore pronouncement?

Daughter ( falteringly )

Sore pronouncement? And what is, sire, its substance?

Messenger enters.

Messenger

King Euphaes is just found slain in combat:
Thereby King is the Chief, Aristodemus,
E'en ere falters the strife — still hard against us!

Aristodemus

Ha! And is it in balance yet! — The deed, then!

Daughter looks at her lover, who throws off his disguise;
and they go up to Aristodemus together .

Who's this man? And to what tends all this feigning?

Daughter

He — my lover — who thinks to be my husband —
O my father, thy pardon! Know a secret!

Aristodemus

Lover? Secret? And what? But such is nought now:
Husband he nor another can be to thee,
Let him think as he may! And though I meant not
Death to broach till the eve, let doom be dealt now.
Hark, the Spartan assays! It straight behoves me,
Cost it what to my soul, to give deliverance
To my country the instant. Thou, my daughter,
Foremost maiden of all the maidens round us —

Daughter

O but save me, I pray, sire! And to that end
There has now to be spoke a thing immediate,
And I fain would be speaker. But I cannot!
What he now will reveal, receive as vouched for!

(She rushes into the castle.)

Artistodemus ( to lover )

What means this in her? Reads she what's impending?

Lover

King, its meaning is much! That she's with child. Yea,
By me! Hence there is called for immolation
One who's what she is not — a sure-sealed virgin —
If you'd haste to deliver stressed Ithome,
Bulking yet overhead as though unweakened!

Aristodemus stinks on to a projection of the rock, and covers his eyes .

Aristodemus ( brokenly )

Better had she been made the purposed victim
Than that this should have so befallen to save her!
Foul disaster of fatherhood and home-pride! . . .
Let this citadel fall; the Spartan army
Trample over its dust, and enter in here!
She is worse than a martyr for the State-weal,
I than one of the slain. And king to-morrow!

(He pauses)

'Tis not true!
He makes as if to fall upon her lover with his sword. Lover defends
himself with his dagger , Aristodemus turns to rush into the castle after
his daughter .
I misdoubt it! They speak falsely!
[ Exit Aristodemus.

Lover walks up and down in strained suspense. Interval. A groan is
heard. Lover is about to rush out, but re-enter Aristodemus sword
in hand, now bloody .

Aristodemus

I have proved me her honour, shown the falsehood
Ye twain both have declared me!

Lover

That canst not do!

Aristodemus

I say I have outshown it; proved her even
Until death very virgin pure and spotless!

Enter Attendants.

Attendants ( severally )

Horror, horror indeed! He's ripped her up — yea,
With his sword! He hath split her beauteous body
To prove her maid!

Aristodemus ( to lover )

Now diest thou for thy lying, like as she died!

He turns his sword on lover, but falls from exhaustion. Lover seizes
Aristodemus' sword, and is about to run him through with it; but
he checks his hand, and turns the sword upon himself .

(Lover dies.)
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