Front Page Titles (by Subject) ACT I. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. VIII The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Mérope, Olympia, The Orphan of China, Brutus) and Part II (Mahomet, Amelia, Oedipus, Mariamne, Socrates).
ACT I. - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. VIII The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Mérope, Olympia, The Orphan of China, Brutus) and Part II (Mahomet, Amelia, Oedipus, Mariamne, Socrates). 
The Works of Voltaire. A Contemporary Version. A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901). In 21 vols. Vol. VIII The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Mérope, Olympia, The Orphan of China, Brutus) and Part II (Mahomet, Amelia, Oedipus, Mariamne, Socrates).
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- Let not, great queen, thy soul forever dwell
- On images of horror and despair;
- The storm is past, and brighter days succeed:
- Long hast thou tasted heaven’s severest wrath,
- Enjoy its bounties now: the gods, thou seest,
- Have blessed our land with victory and peace;
- And proud Messene, after fifteen years
- Of foul division and intestine wars,
- Now from her ruins lifts her towering front,
- Superior to misfortune: now no more
- Shalt thou behold her angry chiefs support
- Their jarring interests, and in guilt alone
- United, spread destruction, blood and slaughter,
- O’er half thy kingdom, and dispute the throne
- Of good Cresphontes: but the ministers
- Of heaven, the guardians of our sacred laws,
- The rulers, and the people, soon shall meet,
- Free in their choice, to fix the power supreme:
- If virtue gives the diadem, ’tis thine:
- Thine by irrevocable right: to thee,
- The widow of Cresphontes, from our kings
- Descended, must devolve Messene’s throne:
- Thou, whom misfortunes and firm constancy
- Have made but more illustrious, and more dear;
- Thou, to whom every heart in secret tied—
- No news of Narbas! shall I never see
- My child again?
- Despair not, madam: slaves
- Have been despatched on every side; the paths
- Of Elis all are open to their search:
- Doubtless the object of your fears is placed
- In faithful hands, who will restore to you
- Their sacred trust.
- Immortal gods! who see
- My bitter griefs, will ye restore my son?
- Is my Ægisthus living? have you saved
- My wretched infant? O preserve him still,
- And shield him from the cruel murderer’s hand!
- He is your son, the pure, the spotless blood
- Of your Alcides. Will you not protect
- The dear, dear image of the best of men,
- The best of kings, whose ashes I adore?
- But wherefore must this tender passion turn
- Thy soul aside from every other purpose?
- I am a mother: canst thou wonder yet?
- A mother’s fondness should not thus efface
- The duty of a queen, your character,
- And noble rank; though in his infant years
- You loved this son, yet little have you seen
- Or known of him.
- Not seen him, my Ismenia?
- O he is always present to my heart,
- Time has no power to loose such bonds as these;
- His danger still awakens all my fears,
- And doubles my affection: once I’ve heard
- From Narbas, and but once these four years past,
- And that alas! but made me more unhappy.
- “Ægisthus,” then he told me, “well deserves
- A better fate; he’s worthy of his mother.
- And of the gods, his great progenitors:
- Exposed to every ill, his virtue braves,
- And will surmount them: hope for everything
- From him, but be aware of Poliphontes.”
- Prevent him then, and take the reins of empire
- In your own hands.
- That empire is my son’s:
- Perdition on the cruel step-mother,
- The lover of herself, the savage heart,
- That could enjoy the pleasures of a throne,
- And disinherit her own blood! O no: Ismenia,
- If my Ægisthus lives not, what is empire.
- Or what is life to me! I should renounce them.
- I should have died when my unhappy lord
- Was basely slain, by men and gods betrayed.
- O perfidy! O guilt! O fatal day!
- O death! forever present to my sight!
- Methinks even now I hear the dismal shrieks,
- I hear them cry, “O save the king, his wife,
- His sons;” I see the walls all stained with blood,
- The flaming palace, helpless women crushed
- Beneath the smoking ruins, fear and tumult
- On every side, arms, torches, death, and horror:
- Then, rolled in dust, and bathing in his blood,
- Cresphontes pressed me to his arms, upraised
- His dying eyes, and took his last farewell;
- Whilst his two hapless babes, the tender fruits
- Of our first love, thrown on the bleeding bosom
- Of their dead father, lifted up the hands
- Of innocence, and begged me to protect them
- Against the barbarous murderers: Ægisthus
- Alone escaped: some god defended him.
- O thou who didst protect his infancy
- Watch o’er and guard him, bring him to my eyes;
- O let him from inglorious solitude
- Rise to the rank of his great ancestors!
- I’ve borne his absence long, and groaned in chains
- These fifteen years: now let Ægisthus reign
- Instead of Mérope: for all my pains
- And sorrows past, be that the great reward.
mérope, ismenia, euricles.
- Well! what of Narbas, and my son?
- I stand before thee; all our cares are vain;
- We’ve searched the banks of Peneus, and the fields
- Of fair Olympia, even to the walls
- Of proud Salmoneus, but no Narbas there
- Is to be found or heard of, not a trace
- Remaining of him.
- Narbas is no more,
- And all is lost.
- Whatever thy fears suggest
- Thou still believest; and yet who knows but now,
- Even whilst we speak, the happy Narbas comes
- To crown thy wishes, and restore thy son.
- Perhaps his love, tempered with fair discretion,
- Which long concealed Ægisthus from the eyes
- Of men, may hide his purposed journey from thee:
- He dreads the murderer’s hand, and still protects him
- From those who slew Cresphontes: we must strive
- By artful methods to elude the rage
- That cannot be opposed: I have secured
- Their passage hither, and have placed some friends
- Of most approved valor, whose sharp eyes
- Will look abroad, and safe conduct them to thee.
- I’ve placed my surest confidence in thee.
- But what alas! can all my watchfulness
- And faithful cares avail thee, when the people
- Already meet to rob thee of thy right,
- And place another on Messene’s throne?
- Injustice triumphs, and the shameless crowd,
- In proud contempt of sacred laws, incline
- To Poliphontes.
- Am I fallen so low:
- And shall my son return to be a slave?
- To see a subject raised to the high rank
- Of his great ancestors, the blood of Jove
- Debased, degraded, forced to own a master.
- Have I no friend, no kind protector left?
- Ungrateful subjects! have you no regard,
- No reverence for the memory of Cresphontes?
- Have you so soon forgot his glorious deeds,
- His goodness to you?
- Still his name is dear,
- Still they regret him, still they weep his fate,
- And pity thine: but power intimidates,
- And makes them dread the wrath of Poliphontes.
- Thus, by my people still oppressed, I see
- Justice give way to faction, interest still,
- The arbiter of fate, sells needy virtue
- To powerful guilt; the weak must to the strong
- Forever yield: but let us hence, and strive
- To fire once more their coward hearts to rage
- And fierce resentment, for the injured blood
- Of Hercules: excite the people’s love;
- Flatter their hopes; O tell them, Euricles,
- Their master is returned.
- I’ve said too much
- Already; Poliphontes is alarmed:
- He dreads your son; he dreads your very tears:
- Restless ambition, that holds nothing dear
- Or sacred but itself, has filled his soul
- With bitterness and pride: because he drove
- The ruffian slaves from Pylos and Amphrysa,
- And saved Messene from a band of robbers,
- He claims it as his conquest: for himself
- Alone he acts, and would enslave us all:
- He looks towards the crown, and to attain it
- Would throw down every fence, break every law,
- Spill any blood that shall oppose him: they
- Who killed thy husband were not more revengeful,
- More bloody, than the cruel Poliphontes.
- I am entangled in some fatal snare
- On every side, danger and guilt surround me:
- This Poliphontes, this ambitious subject,
- Whose crimes—
- He’s here: you must dissemble.
mérope, poliphontes, erox.
- At length I come to lay my heart before you:
- I’ve served the state, and my successful toils
- Have opened me a passage to the throne:
- The assembled chiefs awhile suspend their choice,
- But soon must fix it, or on Mérope,
- Or Poliphontes: the unhappy feuds
- That laid Messene waste, and filled the land
- With blood and slaughter, all are buried now
- In peaceful harmony, and we alone
- Remain to part the fair inheritance.
- We should support each other’s mutual claim;
- Our common interest, and our common foes,
- Love for our country, reason, duty, all
- Conspire to join us, all unite to say
- The warrior who avenged thy husband, he
- Who saved thy kingdom, may aspire to thee.
- I know these hoary locks, and wrinkled brow,
- Have little charms to please a youthful fair one.
- Thou’rt in the bloom of spring, and mayest despise
- The winter of my days; but statesmen heed not
- Such fond objections: let the royal wreath
- Hide these gray hairs, a sceptre and a queen
- Will recompense my toils: nor think me rash,
- Or vain, you are the daughter of a king,
- I know you are, but your Messene wants
- A master now; therefore remember, madam,
- If you would keep your right, you must—divide it.
- Heaven, that afflicts me with its bitterest woes,
- Prepared me not for this, this cruel insult:
- How darest thou ask it? wert thou not the subject
- Of great Cresphontes? thinkest thou I will e’er
- Betray the memory of my dearest lord,
- To share with thee his son’s inheritance,
- Trust to thy hands his kingdom and his mother?
- Thinkest thou the royal wreath was made to bind
- A soldier’s brows?
- That soldier has a right
- To rule the kingdom which his arm defended.
- What was the first that bore the name of king,
- But a successful soldier? he who serves
- His country well requires not ancestry
- To make him noble: the inglorious blood,
- Which I received from him who gave me life,
- I shed already in my country’s cause,
- It flowed for thee; and, spite of thy proud scorn,
- I must at least be equal to the kings
- I have subdued: but, to be brief with you,
- The throne will soon be mine, and Mérope
- May share it with me, if her pride will deign
- To accept it: I’ve a powerful party, madam.
- A party! wretch, to trample on our laws:
- Is there a party which thou darest support
- Against the king’s, against the royal race?
- Is this thy faith, thy solemn vows, thy oath,
- Sworn to Cresphontes, and to me; the love,
- The honor due to his illustrious shade,
- His wretched widow, and his hapless son;
- The gods he sprang from, and the throne they gave?
- ’Tis doubtful whether yet your son survives;
- But grant that, from the mansions of the dead,
- He should return, and in the face of heaven
- Demand his throne, believe me when I say
- He would demand in vain; Messene wants
- A master worthy of her, one well proved,
- A king who could defend her: he alone
- Should wield the sceptre who can best avenge
- His country’s cause: Ægisthus is a child,
- Yet unexperienced in the ways of men,
- And therefore little will his birth avail him;
- Naught hath he done for us, and naught deserved:
- He cannot purchase at so cheap a rate
- Messene’s throne, the right of power supreme
- Defends no more the gift of nature, here
- From son to son; it is the price of toil,
- Of labor, and of blood; ’tis virtue’s meed,
- Which I shall claim: have you so soon forgot
- The savage sons of Pylos and Amphrysa,
- Those lawless plunderers? Think on your Cresphontes,
- And your defenceless children whom they slew:
- Who saved your country then? Who stopped their fury?
- Who put your foes to flight, and chased them hence?
- Did not this arm avenge that murdered lord
- Whom yet you weep? these, madam, are my rights,
- The rights of valor: this is all my rank,
- This all my title, and let heaven decide it.
- If thy Ægisthus comes, by me perhaps
- He may be taught to live, by me to reign:
- Then shall he see how Poliphontes guides
- The reins of empire. I esteem the blood
- Of great Alcides, but I fear it not;
- I look beyond Alcides’ race, and fain
- Would imitate the god from whom he sprung:
- I would defend the mother, serve the son;
- Be an example to him, and a father.
- O, sir, no more of your affected cares;
- Your generous offers, meant but to insult
- My hapless son; if you would wish to tread
- In great Alcides’ steps, reserve the crown
- For his descendant: know, that demi-god
- Was the avenger of wronged innocence;
- No ravisher, no tyrant; take thou care,
- And with his valor imitate his justice;
- Protect the guiltless, and defend your king,
- Else shalt thou prove a worthless successor.
- If thou wouldst gain the mother, seek the son;
- Go, bring him to me; bring your master here,
- And then perhaps I may descend to you:
- But I will never be the vile accomplice,
- Or the reward, of guilt like thine.
- My lord,
- Did you expect to move her? Does the throne
- Depend on her capricious will? Must she
- Conduct you to it?
- ’Twixt that throne and me,
- Erox, I see a dreadful precipice
- I must o’erleap, or perish: Mérope
- Expects Ægisthus; and the fickle crowd,
- If he returns, perhaps may bend towards him.
- In vain his father’s and his brothers’ blood,
- Have opened wide my passage to the throne;
- In vain hath fortune cast her friendly veil
- O’er all my crimes; in vain have I oppressed
- The blood of kings, whilst the deluded people
- Adored me as their friend, if yet there lives
- A hateful offspring of Alcides’ race:
- If this lamented son should e’er again
- Behold Messene, fifteen years of toil
- At once are lost, and all my hopes o’erthrown;
- All the fond prejudice of birth and blood
- Will soon revive the memory of Cresphontes,
- A hundred kings for his proud ancestors,
- The boasted honor of a race divine,
- A mother’s tears, her sorrows, her despair,
- All will conspire to shake my feeble power:
- Ægisthus is a foe I must subdue:
- I would have crushed the serpent in his shell,
- But that the diligent and subtle Narbas
- Conveyed him hence, e’er since that time concealed
- In some far distant land, he hath escaped
- My narrowest search, and baffled all my care:
- I stopped his couriers, broke the intelligence
- ’Twixt him and Mérope; but fortune oft
- Deserts us: from the silence of oblivion
- Sometimes a secret may spring forth; and heaven,
- By slow and solemn steps, may bring down vengeance.
- Depend, undaunted, on thy prosperous fate;
- Prudence, thy guardian god, shall still protect thee:
- Thy orders are obeyed; the soldiers watch
- Each avenue of Elis and Messene:
- If Narbas brings Ægisthus here, they both
- Must die.
- But say, canst thou depend on those
- Whom thou hast placed to intercept them?
- None of them know whose blood is to be shed,
- Or the king’s name whom they must sacrifice.
- Narbas is painted to them as a traitor,
- A guilty vagabond, that seeks some place
- Of refuge; and the other, as a slave,
- A murderer, to be yielded up to justice.
- It must be so: this crime and I have done;
- And yet, when I have rid me of the son,
- I must possess the mother: ’twill be useful:
- I shall not then be branded with the name
- Of a usurper; she will bring with her
- A noble portion in the people’s love:
- I know their hearts are not inclined to me;
- With fears dejected, or inflamed with hope,
- Still in extremes, the giddy multitude
- Tumultuous rove, and interest only binds them,
- That makes them mine. Erox, thy fate depends
- On my success; thou art my best support:
- Go, and unite them; bribe the sordid wretch
- With gold to serve me, let the subtle courtier
- Expect my favors; raise the coward soul,
- Inspire the valiant, and caress the bold;
- Persuade and promise, threaten and implore:
- Thus far this sword hath brought me on my way;
- But what by courage was begun, by art
- We must complete; that many-headed monster,
- The people, must be soothed by flattery’s power:
- I’m feared already, but I would be loved.
End of the First Act.