Front Page Titles (by Subject) ACT II. - 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 II. - 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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mérope, euricles, ismenia.
- Hast thou heard nothing of my dear Ægisthus?
- No news from Elis’ frontiers? O, too well
- I know the cause of this ill-boding silence!
- In all our search we have discovered naught,
- Save a young stranger, reeking with the blood
- Of one whom he had murdered: we have chained,
- And brought him hither.
- Ha! a murderer,
- A stranger too! Whom, thinkest thou, he has slain?
- My blood runs cold.
- The mere effect of love
- And tenderness: each little circumstance
- Alarms a soul like thine, that ever dwells
- On one sad object; ’tis the voice of nature,
- And will be heard; but let not this disturb thee,
- A common accident: our borders long
- Have been infested with these ruffian slaves,
- The baneful fruit of our intestine broils;
- Justice hath lost her power; our husbandmen
- Call on the gods for vengeance, and lament
- The blood of half their fellow-citizens,
- Slain by each other’s hand: but, be composed,
- These terrors are not thine.
- Who is this stranger?
- Answer me, tell me.
- Some poor nameless wretch,
- Such he appears; brought up to infamy,
- To guilt, and sorrow.
- Well, no matter who,
- Or what he is; let him be brought before me.
- Important truths are often brought to light
- By meanest instruments. Perhaps my soul
- Is too much moved; pity a woman’s weakness,
- Pity a mother, who has all to fear,
- And nothing to neglect: let him appear;
- I’ll see, and question him.
- Your orders, madam,
- Shall be obeyed.
- [To Ismenia.
- Tell them to bring him here,
- Before the queen.
- I know my cares are vain;
- But grief overpowers, and hurries me to act
- Perhaps imprudent; but you know I’ve cause
- For my despair; they have dethroned my son,
- And would insult the mother: Poliphontes
- Hath taken advantage of my helpless state,
- And dared to offer me his hand.
- Thy woes
- Are greater even than thou thinkest they are.
- I know this marriage would debase thy honor,
- And yet I see it must be so; thy fate
- Hath bound thee to it by the cruel tie
- Of dire necessity: I know it wears
- A dreadful aspect, yet perchance may prove
- The only means of placing on the throne
- Its rightful master, so the assembled chiefs
- And soldiers think; they with—
- My son would ne’er
- Consent to that: no: poverty and exile,
- With all their pains, were far less dreadful to him
- Than these base nuptials.
- If to assert his rights
- Alone sufficed to seat him on the throne,
- Doubtless his pride would spurn the shameful bond:
- But if his soul is by misfortune taught
- To know itself, if prudence guides his steps,
- If his own interest, if his friends’ advice,
- And above all, necessity, the first
- Of human laws, have any influence o’er him,
- He would perceive, that his unhappy mother
- Could not bestow on him a dearer mark
- Of her affection.
- Unwelcome truth, which nothing but my zeal,
- And your misfortunes, should have wrested from me.
- Wouldst thou persuade me then, that interest e’er
- Can get the better of my fixed aversion
- For Poliphontes, you who painted him
- In blackest colors to me?
- I described him
- Even as he is, most dangerous and bold;
- I know his rashness, and I know his power;
- Naught can resist him, he’s without an heir.
- Remember that: you say, you love Ægisthus.
- I do; and ’tis that love which makes the tyrant
- Still more detested: wherefore talkest thou thus
- Of marriage and of empire? speak to me
- Of my dear son; and tell me if he lives;
- Inform me, Euricles.
- Behold the stranger
- Whom you desired to question; see, he comes.
mérope, euricles, ægisthusin chains,ismenia,Guards.
- [At the bottom of the stage. To Ismenia.
- Is that the great unfortunate, the queen,
- Whose glory and whose sorrows reached even me
- Amidst the desert wild where I was hid?
- Thou great creator of mankind!
- Thou, who didst form those matchless charms, look down
- And guard thy image: virtue on a throne
- Is sure the first and fairest work of heaven.
- Is that the murderer? Can such features hide
- A cruel heart? Come near, unhappy youth,
- Be not alarmed, but answer me; whose blood
- Is on thy hands?
- O, queen, forgive me; fear,
- Respect, and grief, bind up my trembling lips.
- [Turning to Euricles.
- I cannot speak; her presence shakes my soul
- With terror and amazement.
- Tell me whom
- Thy arm has slain.
- Some bold presumptuous youth,
- Whom fate condemned to fall the wretched victim
- Of his own rashness.
- Ha! a youth! my blood
- Runs cold within me: didst thou know him?
- Messene’s walls, her fields, and citizens,
- Are new to me.
- And did this unknown youth
- Attack thee then? ’twas in thy own defence?
- Heaven is my witness, I am innocent.
- Just on the borders of Pamisus, where
- A temple stands, sacred to Hercules,
- Thy great progenitor, I offered up
- To the avenger of wronged innocence
- My humble prayers for thee; I had no victims,
- No precious gifts to lay before him; all
- I had to give him, was a spotless heart,
- And simple vows, the poor man’s hecatomb:
- It seemed as if the god received my homage
- With kind affection, for I felt my heart
- By more than common resolution fired:
- Two men, both armed, and both unknown, surprised me;
- One in the bloom of youth, the other sunk
- Into the vale of years: “What brings thee here?”
- They cried, “and wherefore for Alcides’ race
- Art thou a suppliant?” At this word they raised
- The dagger to my breast: but heaven preserved me.
- Pierced o’er with wounds, the youngest of them fell
- Dead at my feet; the other basely fled,
- Like an assassin: knowing not what blood
- I might have shed, and doubtful of my fate,
- I threw the bloody corpse into the sea,
- And fled; your soldiers stopped me; at the name
- Of Mérope, I yielded up my arms,
- And they have brought me hither.
- Why these tears,
- My royal mistress?
- Shall I own it to thee?
- I melted with compassion, as he told
- His melancholy tale; I know not why,
- But my heart sympathized with his distress:
- It cannot be, I blush to think it, yet
- Methought I traced the features of Cresphontes:
- Cruel remembrance! wherefore am I mocked
- With such deceitful images as these,
- Such fond delusions?
- Do not then embrace
- Such vain suspicions, he’s not that barbarian,
- That vile impostor, which we thought him.
- Heaven hath imprinted on his open front
- The marks of candor, and of honesty.
- Where wert thou born?
- Ha! in Elis!
- In Elis! sayst thou? Knowst thou aught of Narbas,
- Or of Ægisthus? Never hath that name
- Yet reached thine ear? What rank, condition, friends,
- Who was thy father?
- Polycletes, madam,
- A poor old man: to Narbas, or Ægisthus,
- Of whom thou speakest, I am a stranger.
- Why mock ye thus a poor unhappy mortal?
- A little dawn of hope just gleamed upon me,
- And now my eyes are plunged in deepest night:
- Say, what rank did thy parents hold in Greece?
- If virtue made nobility, old Sirris
- And Polycletes, from whose blood I sprang,
- Are not to be despised: their lot indeed
- Was humble, but their exemplary virtues
- Made even poverty respectable:
- Clothed in his rustic garb, my honest father
- Obeys the laws, does all the good he can,
- And only fears the gods.
- How strangely he affects me! every word
- Has some new charm:
- [Turning to Ægisthus.
- But wherefore left you then
- The good old man? It must be dreadful to him
- To lose a son like thee.
- A fond desire
- Of glory led me hither: I had heard
- Of your Messene’s troubles, and your own:
- Oft had I heard of the illustrious queen,
- Whose virtues merited a better fate;
- The sad recital moved my soul; ashamed
- To spend at Elis my inglorious days,
- I longed to brave the terrors of the field
- Beneath thy banners: this was my design,
- And this alone: an idle thirst of fame
- Misled my steps, and in their helpless age
- Persuaded me to leave my wretched parents:
- ’Tis my first fault, and I have suffered for it:
- Heaven hath avenged their cause, and I am fallen
- Into a fatal snare.
- ’Tis plain he is not,
- Cannot be guilty; falsehood never dwells
- With such ingenuous, sweet simplicity:
- Heaven has conducted here this hapless youth,
- And I will stretch the hand of mercy to him:
- It is enough for me he is a man,
- And most unfortunate; my son perhaps
- Even now laments his more distressful fate:
- O he recalls Ægisthus to my thoughts:
- Their age the same; perhaps Ægisthus now
- Wanders like him from clime to clime, unknown,
- Unpitied, suffers all the bitter woes
- And cruel scorn that waits on penury:
- Misery like this will bend the firmest soul,
- And wither all its virtues: lot severe
- For a king’s offspring, and the blood of gods!
- O if at least—
mérope, ægisthus, euricles, ismenia.
- Hark! madam, heard you not
- Their loud tumultuous cries? You know not what—
- ’Tis Poliphontes’ triumph:
- The wavering people flatter his ambition,
- And give their voices for him; he is chosen
- Messene’s king: ’tis done.
- I thought the gods
- Had on the throne of her great ancestors
- Placed Mérope: O heaven! the greater still
- Our rank on earth, the more have we to fear:
- A poor abandoned exile, like myself,
- Is less to be lamented than a queen:
- But we have all our sorrows.
- [Ægisthus is led off.
- I foretold it:
- You were to blame to scorn his proffered hand,
- And brave his power.
- I see the precipice
- That opens wide its horrid gulf before me;
- But men and gods deceived me; I expected
- Justice from both, and both refused to grant it.
- I will assemble yet our little force
- Of trusty friends, to anchor our poor bark,
- And save it from the fury of the storm;
- To shield thee from the insults of a tyrant,
- And the mad rage of an ungrateful people.
- ’Tis not the people’s fault; they love you still,
- And would preserve the honor of your crown:
- They wish to see you joined to Poliphontes,
- That from your hand he then might seem to hold
- The sovereign power.
- They give me to a tyrant,
- Betray Ægisthus, and enslave his mother.
- They call you to the throne of your forefathers:
- Obey their voice; it is the voice of heaven.
- And wouldst thou have me purchase empty honors
- With infamy and shame?
mérope, euricles, ismenia.
- O queen, I tremble
- To stand before thee: now prepare thy heart
- For the most dreadful stroke; call forth thy courage
- To bear the news.
- I have no courage left,
- ’Tis worn out by misfortune; but no matter.
- Proceed, inform me.
- All is past; and fate—
- I can no more.
- He’s dead:
- It is too true: the dreadful news hath shocked
- Your friends, and froze their active zeal.
- Some base assassins
- Had in his passage laid the snares of death;
- The horrid crime is done.
- O hateful day!
- Why shines the sun on such a wretch as I?
- He’s lost; he’s gone: what cruel hand destroyed him!
- Who shed his blood, the last of my sad race?
- It was that stranger, that abandoned slave,
- Whose persecuted virtue you admired,
- For whom such pity rose in your kind breast;
- Even he whom you protected.
- Can it be!
- Was he that monster?
- We have certain proofs,
- And have discovered two of his companions,
- Who, lurking here, were still in search of Narbas,
- Who had escaped them: he who slew Ægisthus
- Had taken from your son these precious spoils,
- [The armor is shown at a distance at the farther end of the stage.
- The armor which old Narbas bore from hence.
- The traitor, that he might not be discovered,
- Had thrown aside these bloody witnesses.
- What hast thou told me? O these trembling hands
- Did on Cresphontes put that very armor
- When first he went to battle. Ye dear relics,
- O to what hands were ye delivered! monster,
- To seize this sacred armor.
- ’Tis the same
- Ægisthus did bring hither.
- Now behold it
- Stained with his blood! but in Alcides’ temple
- Did they not see a poor old man?
- ’Twas Narbas:
- So Poliphontes owns.
- O dreadful truth!
- The villain, to conceal his crime, hath cast
- His body to the waves, and buried him
- In the rude ocean: O I see it all,
- All my sad fate: O my unhappy son!
- Would you not have the traitor brought before you,
- And questioned here?
mérope, euricles, ismenia, erox,Guards.
- Permit me in the name
- Of Poliphontes, my rejected master.
- Perhaps rejected but because unknown,
- To offer you, in this distressful hour,
- His best assistance: he already knows
- Ægisthus is no more, and bears a part
- In your misfortunes.
- That I know he does,
- A joyful part, and reaps the fruits of them,
- The throne of my Cresphontes, and Ægisthus.
- That throne he wishes but to share with you,
- And throw his sceptre at thy feet; the crown
- He hopes will make him worthy of thy hand:
- But to my hands the murderer must be given,
- For sacred is the power of punishment,
- ’Tis a king’s duty; he alone must wield
- The sword of justice, the throne’s best support,
- That to his people and to you he owes;
- Midst hymen rites the murderer’s blood shall flow,
- A great sacrifice.
- My hand alone
- Shall strike the fatal blow: though Poliphontes
- Reigns o’er Messene, he must leave to me
- The work of vengeance: let him keep my kingdom,
- But yield to me the right of punishment:
- On that condition, and on that alone,
- I will be his: go, and prepare the rites:
- This hand, fresh bleeding from the traitor’s bosom,
- Shall at the altar join with Poliphontes
- Doubtless, the king, whose sympathetic heart
- Feels for your woes, will readily consent.
mérope, euricles, ismenia.
- O Euricles, this vile detested marriage.
- Whate’er I promised, ne’er will come to pass:
- This arm shall pierce the savage murderer’s breast,
- And instant turn the dagger to my own.
- O! madam, let me by the gods conjure you—
- They have oppressed me sorely; I have been
- Too long the object of their wrath divine:
- They have deprived me of my dearest child,
- And at their altars shall I ask a husband?
- Shall I conduct a stranger to the throne
- Of my forefathers? Wouldst thou have me join
- The hymeneal to the funeral torch?
- Shall Mérope still raise her weeping eyes
- To heaven, that shines no more on my Ægisthus?
- Shall she wear out her melancholy days
- Beneath a hateful tyrant, and expect
- In tears and anguish an old age of sorrow?
- When all is lost, and not even hope remains,
- To live is shameful, and to die, our duty.
End of the Second Act.