Front Page Titles (by Subject) ACT V. - 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 V. - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
ægisthus, narbas, euricles.
- Our fate is yet uncertain, whilst the tyrant
- Still keeps us in the palace; all my fears
- Are for Ægisthus: O my king, my son,
- Let me still call thee by that tender name,
- O live, disarm the tyrant’s rage, preserve
- A life so dear, so precious to Messene,
- So valued by thy faithful Narbas!
- On the poor queen, who, for thy sake alone
- A humble suppliant, sprinkles with her tears
- The tyrant’s murderous hand.
- I’m scarce awakened
- From my long dream, I seem as one new-born;
- A wandering stranger in a world unknown;
- New thoughts inspire, new day breaks in upon me;
- The son of Mérope, and great Cresphontes;
- And yet his murderer triumphs; he commands,
- And I obey; the blood of Hercules
- A captive and in chains!
- O would to heaven
- The grandson of Alcides still remained
- Unknown in Elis!
- Is it not most strange,
- Young as I am, that I should know already,
- By sad experience, every human woe?
- Horror and shame, and banishment, and death,
- Since my first dawn of life, have pressed upon me:
- A persecuted wretch I wandered long
- From clime to clime, hid in the desert’s gloom,
- I languished there in vile obscurity:
- Yet, bear me witness, heaven, midst all my woes
- Nor murmured nor complained: though proud ambition
- Devoured my soul, I learned the humble virtues
- That suited best my hard and low condition:
- Still I respected, still obeyed thee, Narbas,
- And loved thee as a father; nor would e’er
- Have wished to find another, but high heaven
- Would change my fate to make me but more wretched:
- I am Cresphontes’ son, yet can’t avenge him;
- I’ve found a mother, and a tyrant now
- Will snatch her from me; soon she must be his:
- O I could curse the hour that gave me birth,
- And the kind succor which thy goodness lent me:
- O why didst thou hold back the uplifted hand
- Of a mistaken mother? But for thee
- I had fulfilled my fate, and all my woes
- Had ended with my life.
- We are undone,
- The tyrant comes.
poliphontes, ægisthus, narbas, euricles,Guards.
- [To Narbas and the rest.
- Retire: and thou, rash youth,
- Whose tender years demand my pity, list,
- And mark me well; for the last time I come
- To give thee here thy choice of life or death,
- Thy present and thy future happiness,
- Thy very being hangs upon my will:
- I can advance thee to the highest rank,
- Or shut thee in a dungeon, kill or save thee:
- Removed from courts, and bred in solitude,
- Thou art not fit to govern; let me guide
- In wisdom’s ways thy inexperienced youth;
- Assume not in thy humble state a pride
- Which thou mistakest for virtue: if thy birth
- Be mean and lowly, bend to thy condition;
- If happier fate hath given thee to descend
- From royal blood, and thou wert born a prince,
- Make thyself worthy of thy noble rank,
- And learn of me to rule: the queen, thou seest,
- Has set thee an example; she obeys,
- And meets me at the temple; follow her,
- Tread in my steps, attend us to the altar,
- And swear eternal homage to thy king,
- To Poliphontes: if thou fearest the gods,
- Call them to witness thy obedience; haste,
- The gates of glory open to receive,
- And not to enter may be fatal to thee:
- Determine therefore now, and answer me.
- How can I answer when thou hast disarmed me?
- Thy words, I own, astonish and confound;
- But give me back that weapon which thy fears
- Have wrested from me; give me my good sword,
- And I will answer as I ought; will show thee,
- Perfidious as thou art, which is the slave,
- And which the master, whether Poliphontes
- Was born to rule o’er princes, or Ægisthus
- To scourge oppressors.
- Impotence and rashness!
- My kind indulgence makes thee insolent:
- Thou thinkest I’ll not demean myself so far
- To punish an unknown rebellious slave;
- But mercy, thus abused, will change to wrath:
- I give thee but a moment to determine,
- And shall expect thee at the altar; there
- To die or to obey: guards, bring him to me:
- Narbas, to you and Euricles I leave
- The haughty rebel; you shall answer for him:
- I know your hatred of me, and I know
- Your weakness, too, but trust to your experience,
- You will advise him for the best; meantime
- Remember, whether he’s the son of Narbas
- Or Mérope, he must obey, or die.
ægisthus, narbas, euricles.
- I’ll listen to no counsel but the voice
- Of vengeance; O inspire me, Hercules,
- O from thy seat of endless bliss look down
- On thy Ægisthus, animate his soul,
- And guide his footsteps! Poliphontes calls,
- I will attend him; let us to the altar.
- We must not follow thee:
- Let us collect our few remaining friends,
- And strive—
- Away: another time my soul
- Would listen to your kind advice, for well
- I know ye love me; but no counsellors
- Must now be heard save all-directing heaven
- And my own heart: the irresolute alone
- Is swayed by others, but the blood of heroes
- Will guide itself: away, the die is cast.
- What do I see? O gracious heaven! my mother!
mérope, ægisthus, narbas, euricles,Attendants.
- Once more, Ægisthus, by the tyrant’s order,
- We meet together; he has sent me to thee:
- Think not that, after these detested nuptials,
- I mean to live; but for thy sake, my son,
- I have submitted to this shameful bondage:
- For thee alone I fear; for thee I bear
- This load of infamy: O live, Ægisthus,
- Let me entreat thee, live; ere thou canst rule
- Thou must obey, and servitude must open
- The path to vengeance; thou contemnest my weakness,
- I know thou dost; but O the more I love
- The more I fear. O my dear child—
- Alas! what wouldst thou do?
- Why, ye just gods, why was he made too virtuous?
- Seest thou my father’s tomb? dost thou not hear
- His voice? art thou a mother and a queen?
- O if thou art, come on.
- Methinks some god
- Inspires thy soul, and raises thee above
- The race of mortals: now I see the blood
- Of great Alcides flows through every vein,
- And animates Ægisthus: O my son,
- Give me a portion of thy noble fire,
- And raise this drooping heart!
- Hast thou no friends
- Within this fatal temple?
- Once I had
- A crowd of followers when I was a queen,
- But now their virtue sinks beneath the weight
- Of my misfortunes, and they bend their necks
- To this new yoke: they hate the tyrant, yet
- Have crowned him; love their queen, and yet desert her.
- By all art thou abandoned; at the altar
- Waits Poliphontes for thee?
- His soldiers,
- Do they attend him?
- No: he is surrounded
- By that ungrateful faithless crowd that once
- Encircled Mérope, by them upled
- To the altar, I will force for thee alone
- A passage.
- And alone I’ll follow thee:
- There shall I meet my ancestors divine;
- The gods who punish murderers will be there.
- Alas! these fifteen years they have contemned thee.
- They did it but to try me.
- No matter what; let us begone: farewell
- My mournful friends, at least ye soon shall know
- The son of Mérope deserved your care.
- [To Narbas, embracing him.
- Narbas, believe me, thou shalt never blush
- To own me for thy son.
- What means Ægisthus?
- Alas! my cares are fruitless all and vain:
- I hoped the sure slow-moving hand of time
- Would justify the ways of heaven, and place
- The wronged Ægisthus on Messene’s throne;
- But guilt still triumphs, and my hopes are vanished;
- His courage will destroy him; death awaits
- His disobedience.
- [A noise within.
- It is the fatal signal.
- Doubtless, at the very moment
- When Poliphontes was to wed the queen,
- She has dissolved the shameful bonds by death,
- For so her rage had purposed.
- Then Ægisthus
- Must perish too, she should have lived for him.
- The noise increases, like the rolling thunder
- Onward it comes, and every moment grows
- More dreadful.
- Hark! I hear on every side
- The trumpets sound, the groans of dying men,
- And clash of swords; they force the palace.
- Yon bloody squadron; look, it is dispersed;
- They fly.
- Perhaps to serve the tyrant’s cause.
- Far as my eyes can reach I see them still
- Engaged in fight.
- Whose blood will there be shed?
- Surely I heard the name of Mérope,
- And of Ægisthus.
- Thanks to heaven, the ways
- Are open, I will hence, and know my fate.
- [He goes out.
- I’ll follow thee, but not with equal steps,
- For I am old and feeble: O ye gods!
- Restore my strength, give to this nerveless arm
- Its former vigor; let me save my king,
- Or yield up the poor remnant of my days,
- And die in his defence.
[A crowd of people.
- Who’s there? Ismenia?
- Bloody and pale! O horrid spectacle!
- Art thou indeed Ismenia?
- O my voice,
- My breath is lost; let me recover them,
- And I will tell thee all.
- My son—
- The queen—do they yet live?
- I’m scarce myself;
- Half dead with fear; the crowd has borne me hither.
- O he is indeed
- The son of gods; a stroke so terrible,
- So noble! never did the unconquered courage
- Of great Alcides with a deed so bold
- Astonish mortals.
- O my son, my king,
- The work of my own hands, the gallant hero!
- Crowned with fresh flowers the victim was prepared,
- And Hymen’s torches round the altar blazed,
- When Poliphontes, wrapped in gloomy silence,
- Stretched forth his eager hand; the priest pronounced
- The solemn words; amidst her weeping maids
- Stood fixed in grief the wretched Mérope;
- Slow she advanced, and trembling in these arms,
- Instead of Hymen, called on death; the people
- Were silent all; when from the holy threshold,
- A more than mortal form, a youthful hero
- Stepped forth, and sudden darted to the altar;
- It was Ægisthus; there undaunted seized
- The axe that for the holy festival
- Had been prepared; then with the lightning’s speed
- He ran, and felled the tyrant; “Die,” he cried,
- “Usurper, die; now take your victim, gods.”
- Erox, the monster’s vile accomplice, saw
- His master weltering in his blood, upraised
- His hand for vengeance; but Ægisthus smote
- The slave, and laid him at the tyrant’s feet:
- Meantime, recovered, Poliphontes rose
- And fought; I saw Ægisthus wounded; saw
- The fierce encounter: the guards ran to part them;
- When Mérope, such power has mighty love,
- Pierced through opposing multitudes, and cried,
- “Stop, ye inhuman murderers, ’tis my son,
- ’Tis my Ægisthus, turn your rage on me,
- And plant your daggers in the breast of her
- Who bore him, of his mother, and your queen:”
- Her shrieks alarmed the crowd, and a firm band
- Of faithful friends secured her from the rage
- Of the rude soldiers; then might you behold
- The broken altars, and the sacred ruins:
- On every side, confusion, war, and slaughter
- Triumphant reigned; brothers on brothers rose,
- Children were butchered in their mothers’ arms,
- Friends murdered friends, the dying and the dead
- Together lay, and o’er their bodies trampled
- The flying crowd; with groans the temple rung.
- Amidst the uproar of contending legions
- I lost Ægisthus and the queen, and fled:
- In vain I asked each passing stranger whither
- They bent their way; their answers but increased
- My terrors; still they cry, he falls, he’s dead,
- He conquers; all is darkness and confusion:
- I ran, I flew, and by the timely aid
- Of these kind friends have reached this place of safety:
- But still I know not whether yet the queen
- And great Ægisthus are preserved; my heart
- Is full of terrors.
- Thou great arbiter
- Of all that’s mortal, providence divine,
- Complete thy glorious work, protect the good,
- Support the innocent, reward the wretched,
- Preserve my son, and I shall die in peace!
- Ha! midst you crowd do I behold the queen?
mérope, ismenia, narbas,People, Soldiers.
[At the farther part of the stage is exposed the corpse of Poliphontes, covered with a bloody robe.
- Priests, warriors, friends, my fellow-citizens,
- Attend, and hear me in the name of heaven.
- Once more I swear, Ægisthus is your king,
- The scourge of guilt, the avenger of his father,
- And yonder bleeding corpse, a hated monster,
- The foe of gods and men, who slew my husband,
- My dear Cresphontes, and his helpless children,
- Oppressed Messene, and usurped my kingdom,
- Yet dared to offer me his savage hand,
- Still reeking with the blood of half my race.
- [Meeting Ægisthus, who enters with the axe in his hand.
- But here behold Messene’s royal heir,
- My only hope, your queen’s illustrious son,
- Who conquered Poliphontes: see, my friends,
- This good old man,
- [Pointing to Narbas.
- Who saved him from the tyrant,
- And brought him here: the gods have done the rest.
- I call those gods to witness, ’tis your king;
- He fought for them, and they protected him.
- O hear a mother pleading for her son,
- And know me for your king! I have avenged
- A father, I have conquered but for you.
- If still ye doubt, look on his glorious wounds:
- Who, but the great descendant of Alcides,
- Could save Messene thus, and scourge a tyrant?
- He will support his subjects, and avenge
- An injured people: hark! the voice of heaven
- Confirms your choice, and speaks to you in thunder;
- It cries aloud, “Ægisthus is my son.”
mérope, ægisthus, ismenia, narbas, euricles,People.
- O madam, show yourself to the pleased people,
- The king’s return has fixed their wavering minds,
- And every heart is ours: the impatient crowd
- Sheds tears of joy, and blesses your noble son:
- Forever will they hold this glorious day
- In sweet remembrance; ardently they long
- To see their youthful sovereign, to behold
- His faithful Narbas, and adore their queen:
- The name of Poliphontes is detested;
- Thine and the king’s the praise of every tongue.
- O haste, enjoy thy victory and thy fame;
- Enjoy a nobler prize, thy people’s love.
- To heaven ascribe the glory, not to me;
- Thence comes our happiness, and thence our virtue:
- While Mérope survives, I will not mount
- Messene’s throne, my joy shall be to place
- A mother there; and thou, my dearest Narbas,
- Shall be my friend, my guide, my father still.
End of the Fifth and Last Act.