Front Page Titles (by Subject) ACT II. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. IX The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Alzire, Orestes, Sémiramis, Catiline, Pandora) and Part II (The Scotch Woman, Nanine, The Prude, The Tatler).
ACT II. - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. IX The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Alzire, Orestes, Sémiramis, Catiline, Pandora) and Part II (The Scotch Woman, Nanine, The Prude, The Tatler). 
From The Works of Voltaire, A Contemporary Version, (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901), A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming. Vol. IX The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Alzire, Orestes, Sémiramis, Catiline, Pandora) and Part II (The Scotch Woman, Nanine, The Prude, The Tatler).
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- To thee, Arsaces, this great empire owes
- Its lustre, I my liberty and life.
- When vanquished Scythia, thirsting for revenge,
- From its wild desert rushed indignant forth,
- And bore down all before it; when my father,
- Oppressed by numbers, fell, and left me there
- A hapless slave; then, armed with thunder, thou,
- Piercing their dark retreats, didst break my chains,
- And give me ample vengeance on my foes.
- Thou wert my great deliverer, Arsaces,
- And in return I give thee all my heart;
- I will be thine, and only thine; but O!
- Our fatal passion will destroy us both:
- Thy generous heart, too open and sincere,
- Believed that gallant deeds, and fair renown
- In arms, would gain thee honors in a court;
- And, fearless of success, thou bringest with thee
- A hero’s fierceness and a lover’s heart.
- Assur is incensed: alas! thou dost not know him:
- He is too powerful for us; he rules all
- At Babylon; and much, I fear, abuses
- His fatal influence o’er Sémiramis:
- He is thy great inexorable—rival.
- No; that savage mind,
- Subtle and dark, a foe to every virtue,
- Insensible to love and every charm
- But those ambition boasts, could never feel
- A real passion for me: but he knows
- That Azema is descended from the race
- Of our Assyrian kings, and soon may claim
- My right of empire here, as next the throne;
- And therefore means to blend his interest here
- With mine, and gain the sceptre for himself:
- But if the youth whom Ninus had decreed,
- Even from my infant years, to be my husband,
- The son of great Sémiramis, and heir
- Of Babylon, were living now, and here
- Would offer me his heart and half his empire,
- By love I swear, and by thy precious self,
- Ninias should sue in vain, and see me quit
- A throne with him for banishment with thee.
- Even Scythia’s bleak inhospitable plains
- Would yield a sweet asylum to our love;
- For they would echo my Arsaces’ name,
- And sound his praise; those barren wilds, where first
- Our passion grew, would be to me a court,
- Nor should I cast a thought on Babylon.
- But much I fear this subtle statesman means
- To carry his resentment further still:
- I’ve searched his soul, and know the blackness of it:
- Or I mistake, or guilt sits lightly on him;
- Already he is jealous of thy glory,
- He fears, and hates thee.
- And I hate him more,
- But fear him not, since Azema is mine:
- Keep thou thy faith, and I despise his anger.
- At least I share with him the royal favor:
- I saw the queen, and her humanity
- Equalled the pride of Assur: when I fell
- Prostrate before her, gently she upraised me,
- And called me the support of Babylon:
- With pride I heard the flattering voice of her
- Whose name contending kings unite to honor:
- The distance ’twixt her royal state and mine
- Was lessened soon by mildest condescension;
- It touched, it melted me; and, after thee,
- To me she seemed, of all the human race,
- Most nearly to resemble the divine.
- If she protects us, Assur’s threats are vain:
- I heed them not.
- Inspired by thee, I went,
- Fearless and brave, to lay before the feet
- Of my great mistress, that aspiring passion
- Which Assur dreads, and Azema approves;
- When lo, that very moment came a priest
- From Egypt with Ammonian Jove’s decree:
- Trembling she opened quick the awful scroll,
- First fixed her eyes on me, then sudden turned
- Her face aside, and wept: stood fixed in grief
- Like one distraught, then sighed, and vanished from me.
- They tell me, she is fallen into despair,
- And hath of late been dreadfully pursued
- By some avenging god: I pity her:
- ’Tis wonderful that after fifteen years,
- Heaven, that so long defended, should at last
- Oppress her thus: by what hath she offended
- The angry gods, and wherefore are they changed?
- We hear of naught but dreadful spectres, omens,
- And vengeance from above: the queen of late
- Lets loose the reins of empire: we had cause
- To fear for Babylon, least subtle Assur,
- Who knows her weakness, in this dangerous time,
- Should seize the helm, and bury all in ruin;
- But the queen came, and all was calm again;
- All owned the power of her despotic sway.
- If I have any knowledge of the court,
- The queen hates Assur, but keeps fair with him,
- And watches close; they’re fearful of each other,
- Would quarrel soon, but that some secret cause,
- Some mutual interest, still prevents a rupture:
- I saw her fire indignant at his name;
- The blushes on her cheeks betrayed her thoughts,
- And her heart seemed to glow with deep resentment:
- But sudden changes happen in a court;
- Return, and speak to her.
- I will; but know not
- Whether again I e’er shall gain admittance.
- Thou hast my vows, my wishes, and my prayers
- For thy success: I glory in my love,
- And in my duty: let Sémiramis
- Rule o’er the vanquished East, I envy her
- Nor fame nor conquest; let the world be hers,
- Arsaces mine: but Assur comes this way.
- The traitor! how I shudder at his presence!
- My soul abhors him.
assur, arsaces, azema.
- Your reception, sir,
- I find, was noble, such as kings have oft
- Solicited in vain: you saw the queen
- In secret, did she not reprove a conduct
- Injurious to my honor and her own?
- Did she not tell thee Azema’s designed
- For Assur, not for thee? Long since her hand
- To Ninias given was for the blood of kings
- Alone reserved; and therefore is my right,
- As next to the throne: did she acquaint you, sir,
- Into what fatal snares your pride would lead you,
- That neither fame nor honors will excuse
- Your bold pretensions?
- I well know what’s due
- To your high birth, and to the rank you bear,
- And should have paid it, though you had not thus
- Instructed me; but as a master here
- I own you not: your royal ancestors,
- From Belus sprung, perhaps may give you claim
- To Azema; the welfare of the state,
- Present and future, all, I own, conspire
- To raise your hopes of bliss, and make her yours:
- These are your claims, and I acknowledge them:
- But I have one that’s worth them all: I love her:
- I might have added this, that I avenged
- And saved her, gave new lustre to the throne
- Which she was born to fill, if I had chosen,
- Like thee, to boast of my exploits before her.
- But I must leave thee, to perform her orders.
- Sémiramis and her I shall obey,
- And them alone: a day perhaps may come
- When thou shalt be our master: heaven sometimes
- In anger sends us kings: but thou art deceived,
- At least in one of thy ambitious views,
- If amongst thy subjects thou hast ranked Arsaces.
- The measure’s full: thou courtest thy own destruction.
- I’ve borne his insolence too long already,
- ’Tis time we enter on a nobler subject,
- And worthier thy attention.
- Can there be one?
- But speak.
- Ere long all Asia shall attend
- On our resolves, and low concerns like these
- Must pass unheeded by: a world demands
- Our mutual care: Sémiramis is now
- The shadow of herself, her glory’s past,
- That star which shone with such transcendent lustre,
- Declining now, sends forth a feeble ray;
- The people see and wonder at her fall,
- Whilst every tongue demands a—successor:
- That word sufficeth: you well know my right:
- ’Tis not for love to deal forth sovereign power,
- And point out who shall rule in Babylon;
- Not that my soul, to beauty blind, would make
- A virtue of insensibility;
- But I should blush for thee and for myself,
- To see the welfare of a nation thus
- Dependent on a sigh: thoughts worthier both
- Must guide my fortune, and determine thine:
- Our ancestors the same, we should offend
- Their venerable shades, and lose the world
- By not uniting: I astonish you:
- These are harsh words for tender age like thine;
- But I address me to the kings and heroes
- From whom you sprung, to all those demigods
- Whom here you represent: too long trod down
- Beneath a woman’s feet their ashes lay,
- Their glories she eclipsed, usurped their power,
- And fettered vanquished nations with her laws;
- But she is gone, and thou must now support
- The building she had raised: she had thy beauty,
- And thou must have her courage: let not love
- Or folly wrest the sceptre from thy hand,
- But grasp it close: you will not sacrifice
- To a Sarmatian’s idle passion for you
- The name you ought to honor, and the throne
- You should ascend, of universal empire.
- Let not Arsaces be the theme, my lord,
- Of your reproaches, but depend on me
- To vindicate the honor of my race,
- And to defend, whene’er occasion calls,
- The rights of my loved ancestors; I know
- Their worth and virtues, but I know not one
- Amongst the heroes which Assyria boasts
- More great, more virtuous, more beloved, than he,
- Than this Sarmatian, whom you thus disdain.
- Do justice to his merit: for myself,
- When I shall bend to Hymen’s laws, the queen
- Must guide my choice, and at her hands alone
- Will I receive a master: for the crowd,
- The babbling echo of one secret voice,
- I heed it not; nor know I if the people
- Are tired of their obedience to a woman,
- But still I see them bow the knee before her;
- And if they murmur, murmur in the dust:
- The hand of heaven, they say, is raised against her:
- I am a stranger to her guilt, but think
- That heaven would never have made choice of thee
- To tell its high commands, or minister
- Its justice to mankind: Sémiramis
- Is still a queen, and you who lord it here
- Receive from her the laws which you dispense:
- For me, I own her power, and hers alone:
- My glory is to obey, be thine the same.
- Obey! I blush to think how long already
- I have obeyed: O insupportable!
- But say, hast thou succeeded, are the seeds
- Of hatred sown in secret through the realm?
- Will they spring up into a fruitful harvest
- Of discord, and rebellion?
- All is well:
- The people, long deluded by the arts
- And dazzling glory of Sémiramis,
- At length have lost their idle veneration:
- No longer chained to silence, they demand
- A successor: each lover of his country
- Calls for a master, and looks up to thee.
- Heart-burning care! and ever-during shame!
- Still must my hopes, my fate depend on her?
- Was it for this that Ninus and his son
- Fell by my hand, that Assur might be still
- Only her first of slaves? So near the throne,
- To languish in illustrious servitude,
- And only be the second of mankind!
- The queen was satisfied with Ninus’ death,
- But I went further, and pursued my blow:
- Ninias, in secret murdered by my order,
- Opened my passage to the throne; but she
- Denied me entrance.—A long time in vain
- I soothed her pride with flattery on her charms;
- Still hoped one day to gain upon her youth
- That happy influence which assiduous care
- And humble adoration seldom fail
- To win o’er artless minds that bend with ease:
- I little knew the firmness of her soul,
- Inflexible, and bold; the world alone
- Could satisfy her pride: she seemed indeed
- Most worthy of it: spite of my resentment,
- I own she was, and yield the praise she merits.
- The reins of empire, that flowed loose before,
- Strongly she held; appeased the murmuring crowd,
- Silenced their plaints, and quashed conspiring rebels;
- Fought like a hero, like a monarch ruled:
- She led her army and her people captive,
- And spite of fame, with more than magic art,
- Chained down the minds of men: the universe
- Astonished stood, and trembled at her feet.
- In short, her beauty, woman’s best support,
- Strengthened the laws which power and valor made;
- And when I strove to raise conspiracies
- My friends stood mute, and only could admire her.
- At length the charm is broke: her power decays;
- Her genius droops; remorse, and idle fears,
- And fond credulity have bound her faith
- To lying oracles, which knavish priests
- Had taught to speak in Egypt’s barren plain:
- She pours her daily incense at their altars,
- And wearies heaven with vows: Sémiramis
- Creeps on a level now with common mortals,
- And condescends to fear: I know her weakness:
- Know, till she falls, Assur can never rise:
- But I have raised the people’s voice against her,
- And she must yield: this blow decides her fate:
- If she consents to give me Azema,
- She is no longer queen; if she refuses,
- The kingdom will revolt: on every side
- The snare is laid, and nothing now can save her.
- Yet, after all, perhaps I am deceived,
- And fortune, so long called for, comes at last
- But to betray me.
- If the queen is forced
- To name a successor, and yields the princess
- To Assur’s bed, what can he have to fear,
- When the divided branch of Asia’s kings
- Shall be united? all conspires to pave
- Your way to empire.
- Azema is safe;
- She must be mine; but wherefore send so far
- For this Arsaces? she supports him too;
- And when I would chastise his insolence,
- Her interposing hand prevents me still:
- A minister without the power, a prince
- Without a subject, girt around with honors,
- And yet a poor dependent, what is Assur?
- All, all unite to persecute me now:
- A peevish mistress, and a haughty rival,
- Consulted priests that teach their gods to speak
- Against me; with Sémiramis, who strives
- To free herself, yet trembles at my presence:
- But we shall see how far this proud ingrate
- Will urge an angry rebel who defies her.
assur, otanes, cedar.
- My lord, the queen commands you to attend her
- In secret, and alone.
- I shall obey
- Her sacred orders, and with care perform
- My sovereign’s will.
- Whence springs this sudden change?
- These three months past she has avoided me,
- Even as the object of her hatred: oft
- When she beheld me she would cast her eyes
- Down on the earth, as if she loathed the sight:
- Whene’er we met, ’twas in a gaping crowd
- Of hearers; when she spoke, her sighs and tears
- Would interrupt our converse, or perchance
- Silence was all the answer she would give me.
- What can she want? What can she say to me?
- But here she comes: ’tis she—wait you within.
- [To Cedar.
- My lord, I come to ease a troubled heart
- Of its long hidden woes, and pour it all
- Before you: I have ruled o’er Asia long,
- And not ingloriously: Babylon perhaps
- May pay this tribute to my memory,
- And say Sémiramis deserved to rank
- Among the greatest of her kings: thy hands
- Have helped me to support the weight of empire;
- With absolute dominion have I ruled,
- Adored by all, and crowned with victory
- On every side: intoxicated long
- With flattery’s pleasing incense, I forgot
- The crimes that raised me to this envied state;
- Forgot the justice of high heaven: it comes;
- It speaks to me: Sémiramis must yield:
- This noble structure, which I fondly thought
- Superior to the injuries of time,
- Is tottering now, and shakes from its foundation;
- Means must be found to strengthen and support it.
- The work is yours, and you must finish it:
- Foresee the attacks of time, and stop his rapine:
- Who shall obscure the lustre of thy days,
- Or wherefore fearest thou heaven whilst earth obeys thee?
- Yonder the ashes of my husband lie;
- Canst thou look there, and wonder at my fears?
- I cannot bear to hear the noisy crowd
- Still talk of Ninus: wherefore should remembrance
- Call back the thoughts of that inglorious reign?
- Can they believe, that, after fifteen years,
- His angry spirit still calls out for justice?
- Ere now he would have taken due vengeance on us,
- Had he the power: why from the peaceful realms
- Of dark oblivion wouldst thou call the dead,
- Or search for truth in lying oracles?
- I am astonished too, but ’tis at thee,
- And thy vain fears: to make the gods propitious,
- We must be resolute: this idle phantom,
- At once the child and parent of your fears,
- Why should it thus alarm you? Prodigies
- Never appear to those who dread them not:
- Baits to allure the unthinking multitude,
- By knaves invented, and by fools believed;
- The great despise them: but if nobler views
- Inspire thy soul to immortalize the blood
- Of Belus, if the beauteous Azema
- Claims her high rank.—
- Assur, on that I came
- To speak with thee: our Babylon demands,
- For such is Ammon’s will, a successor:
- Heaven and my people will be satisfied
- When I shall take a partner to my throne:
- Thou knowest, my pride could never condescend
- To a divided sway; ’twas my resolve
- To rule alone, while the impatient world
- Urged me in vain; and when the people’s voice,
- Which now is echoed by the voice of heaven,
- Still presses me, in the bloom of youth, to give
- A sovereign to mankind, I still refused:
- If I had yielded then to any claim,
- It had been thine; you had a right to hope,
- And to expect it; but you knew too well,
- How much Sémiramis abhorred a master.
- Without submitting to a tie so fatal,
- I made thee then the second of mankind,
- And only not my equal; ’twas enough,
- I thought, to satisfy even thy ambition.
- At length the gods make known their will divine,
- And I obey them: hear the oracle:
- “All shall again be well at Babylon,
- When Hymen’s torch a second time shall blaze
- Propitious; then shalt thou, O cruel wife,
- And wretched mother, then shall thou appease
- The shade of Ninus.” Thus the voice of heaven
- Declares its sacred will: I know thy arts;
- Know, thou hast formed a party in the state,
- And mean to oppose me with the royal blood
- From whence you sprung: from thee and Azema
- My successor, it seems, must rise; I know
- You look that way, and she perhaps aspires
- To equal honors; but, observe me well:
- I shall not suffer your united claims
- To rob me of my right: remember, sir,
- You know my will; ’tis constant, and as fate
- Irrevocable: thinkest thou now the God
- Whose arm is lifted o’er me hath deprived
- My soul of all its wonted strength and spirit,
- Or dost thou still behold Sémiramis,
- Who can support the honor of her throne?
- Know, Babylon ere long shall at my hands
- Receive a master: whether the high choice
- Shall fall on thee, or be another’s lot,
- I’ll take a sovereign as a sovereign ought:
- Bring me the magi and the princess here
- To join their voices with Sémiramis.
- To give away my freedom and my empire
- Is the first, greatest act of royal power,
- And therefore let it be performed with awe
- And silence due to my authority.
- Heaven hath appointed this great day to show
- Its mercy to me, and the gods at length
- Remit their anger; nothing can disarm it
- But my repentance; ’tis the only virtue:
- Trust me, it is, howe’er you may despise it,
- Remaining for the guilty: weak, I know,
- And fearful thou esteemest me; but henceforth
- Remember, Assur, guilt alone is weakness:
- Think not that fear can e’er disgrace a throne,
- It has done good to kings, and might to thee;
- I tell thee, statesman, to obey the gods,
- And tremble at their power, is no abasement.
- Astonishment! such language, such designs!
- Or is it artifice, or weakness in her,
- Or cowardice or courage? Does she mean,
- By yielding thus, to prop her tottering power,
- And by our union to defeat my purpose?
- I must not think, it seems, of Azema,
- Because, perhaps, I’m destined for herself.
- It must be so. What all my cares in vain
- Solicited, my flattery of her charms,
- My deep intrigues, and our united crimes,
- With all her fears, could never gain, at length
- An idle dream, and a dark oracle
- From Egypt have performed. What power unknown
- Decrees the fate of mortals? Great events
- Hang on the slenderest thread: still I am doubtful:
- I’ll see Sémiramis again; she seemed
- Too much in haste; such sudden resolutions
- Betray an overanxious mind, and those
- Who change with ease are either weak, or wicked.
End of the Second Act.