Front Page Titles (by Subject) ACT III. - 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 III. - 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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[The scene represents an apartment in the palace.
- Who would have thought, Otanes, that the gods,
- Offended as they were, at length should smile
- Propitious thus, and threaten but to save!
- Should drop the uplifted thunder from their hand,
- And pardon me; should send Arsaces hither
- To change my fate! for know it is their will
- That I should wed, and by a second tie
- Expiate the crimes of my first fatal nuptials.
- They are the great disposers of our hearts,
- And mine with pleasure yields to their decrees:
- It even outruns their purposes: Arsaces,
- I’m thine; for thou wert born to rule o’er me,
- And o’er the world.
- Thou knowest,
- In Scythia’s plains, when I avenged the Persian,
- And conquered Asia, this young hero fought
- Beneath his father’s banners, and, surrounded
- With captives, brought to me the bloody spoils,
- And, blushing, laid his victims at my feet.
- When first I saw him, I could feel his heart,
- As by some secret power, attracting mine
- Insensibly towards him; all mankind,
- Besides Arsaces, seemed not worth my notice.
- Assur grew jealous of him, and ever since
- Has fired with indignation at his name;
- Whilst his dear image still employed my thoughts,
- Before that voice which guides my every word
- And every action named him for my husband,
- Before the gods had pointed out Arsaces.
- It was indeed a noble conquest, thus
- To bend that haughty spirit which disdained
- The proffered homage of our Eastern monarchs,
- Who as her subjects, not as lovers, still
- Accepted kings! You who contemned those charms,
- That sovereign beauty, which extended wide
- Your universal empire; whilst your eyes
- Pierced every heart, you scarce would condescend
- To mark their power; and dost thou yield at last
- To love’s imperious sway; to fears and horror
- Succeed the tender passions? Can it be?
- O, no; it is not love: I am not fallen
- So much beneath myself, as to bestow
- On beauty the reward that’s due to virtue;
- I feel a nobler passion in my breast:
- Alas! such weakness would but ill become
- Sémiramis: unhappy as I am,
- For me to think of love, Otanes, how
- Couldst thou suppose it? Once I was a mother,
- But scarce had studied to deserve the name
- By my fond cares, when heaven in anger snatched
- My child away, and left me here alone
- A prey to anguish. I had nothing near me
- That I could love; and, midst my grandeur, felt
- An aching void within my soul. I fled
- The court, endeavored to avoid myself,
- And sought relief in these proud monuments,
- Amusing flatterers of a restless heart
- That shunned reflection: rest was still a stranger,
- And long remained so; but he comes once more,
- I feel him now, and wonder at the power
- That charmed him hither: ’twas Arsaces; he
- Shall hold the place of husband and of son,
- A conquered world, and all my glories past.
- How much I owe to thee, celestial power,
- Who thus propitious leadest me to the altar
- So long abhorred; and hast thyself inspired
- That passion which alone can make me happy!
- But what will be the rage and grief of Assur?
- Hast thou reflected on it, when he hears
- Thy new resolves? He is not without hopes:
- The people have already fixed thy choice
- On him, and his resentment will not end
- In mere complaints.
- I never have deceived,
- And therefore fear him not: these fifteen years,
- Whate’er his views have been, I’ve taught him still
- To rank but with my subjects, though the first
- Amongst them; and set bounds to his ambition,
- Which he hath never o’erleaped: I reigned alone;
- And if this feeble hand so long could guide
- The helm of power, and curb his haughtiness,
- What can his courage or his cunning do
- Against Arsaces and Sémiramis?
- Yes: Ninus hath accepted my repentance,
- And leaves the mansions of the dead to urge
- Our happy union: his illustrious shade
- Again would rage to see his murderer seize
- His throne and bed: this calls him from the tomb,
- And Ammon’s oracles unite with him
- To crown my bliss: no more the awful virtue
- Of Oroes affrights me; I’ve sent for him
- To be a witness of the great event,
- And soon expect him here.
- His honored name
- And sacred character may give indeed
- A sanction to your choice.
- I know it will,
- And establish my resolves.
- Great successor of Zoroaster, welcome:
- To-day must Babylon receive a king;
- Thy office is to crown him; is all ready
- For the solemnity?
- The magi wait
- Thy pleasure, and the nobles all attend:
- To pay obedience to the sovereign power
- Is all my duty, and I shall fulfil it:
- I am not to judge kings, for that belongs
- To heaven alone.
- By this mysterious language,
- It seems you disapprove my purpose.
- I know it not, but wish it fair success.
- Thou canst interpret heaven’s high will: these signs
- Which I have seen, can they be fatal to me?
- A spectre hath of late, perhaps some god,
- Appeared, and in the bosom of the earth
- Re-entered soon: what power hath thus broke down
- The eternal barrier that divides the light
- From darkness? wherefore should a mortal thus
- Rise from the tomb to visit me?
- Know, heaven
- Doth oft suspend its own eternal laws
- When justice bids, reversing death’s decree;
- Thus to chastise the sovereigns of the earth,
- And terrify mankind.
- The oracles
- Demand a sacrifice.
- Eternal justice, thou whose piercing eye
- Beholdest my naked heart, O fill it not
- Again with horror, bury in oblivion
- My first unhappy nuptials!
- Oroes, stay.
- [To Oroes, who is retiring.
- I thought my presence might disturb you, madam.
- Return, and answer me: this morning, say,
- Did not Arsaces offer at your altars
- Gifts to the gods?
- He did; and precious were they:
- Arsaces is the favorite of heaven.
- I know he is, and I rejoice to hear it.
- Can I be wretched if I trust to him?
- He is the empire’s best support; the gods
- Conducted him; his glory is their care.
- With transport I accept the fair presage,
- Whilst hope and peace return to calm my breast.
- Away: again let purest incense rise
- Before your altars; let your magi come
- And sanctify the choice; bring down the smiles
- Of the assenting gods, and make us happy.
- Henceforth may Babylon with me revive,
- And shine amongst the nations of the earth
- With double splendor! Go thou, and prepare
- The solemn pomp.
- Heaven seconds my design,
- And I am only the interpreter
- Of its high will, to give the world a master:
- Thus to receive a kingdom at my hand
- Will strike him with astonishment: even now
- How little thinks he of the approaching greatness!
- How will proud Assur and his fawning crowd
- Be humbled! But a word, and the whole earth
- Falls at his feet; and, grateful as he is,
- I know he will repay me: I shall wed him,
- And for my portion carry him a world;
- My glory’s pure, and now I shall enjoy it.
sémiramis, otanes, mitranes. an officer of the palace.
- Arsaces begs admittance to your presence,
- To lay his sorrows at your feet.
- What sorrows can Arsaces feel when I
- Am near him, he who thus hath banished mine?
- Quick, let him come: he knows not yet his power
- O’er the fond heart of his Sémiramis.
- O thou dread shade whose voice alarmed my soul,
- Whose blood no more calls out for vengeance on me,
- And you, the guardian gods of this great empire.
- Of the Assyrians, Ninus, and my son,
- Unite to bless Arsaces! Ha! the sight
- Alarms me; whence can these strange terrors rise?
- O queen, I am devoted to thy service;
- My life is thine; and when I shed this blood,
- I am rewarded if it flows for thee.
- My father had some small renown in arms;
- I saw him perish bravely in the field,
- And at the head of thy victorious bands;
- He left his hapless son a fair example,
- Perhaps but ill pursued: I’ll not recall
- The memory of my father’s services.
- ’Twould ill become me; at your royal knees,
- Though here I sue for favor and protection:
- Pity the rashness of a guilty youth,
- Who listened to the dictates of imprudence.
- And even in serving feared he might offend you.
- Offend me! thou, Arsaces! fear it not.
- To-day you give your kingdom and your hand:
- My heart, I know, should on the great event
- Keep secret all its fears, and humbly still
- In silence, with depending monarchs, wait
- To know our master; but this Assur steps
- So haughtily, and triumphs in his conquest,
- We cannot brook his pride: the people call him
- Already their new sovereign; his high blood
- And rank support him: may he prove himself
- Worthy of both! but I have still a soul
- Too proud to bend beneath him, or adore
- The power I had defied: his jealous heart
- I know detests Arsaces: let me then
- Retire in safety, far from him, and thee:
- Permit me to revisit the dear climes
- Where first I served my royal mistress, there
- His tyranny can never reach: perhaps
- I may hereafter—
- Wilt thou leave me then,
- And fearest thou Assur?
- No: Arsaces fears
- Naught but the anger of Sémiramis.
- Perhaps thou knowest my fond ambition, then
- I’ve cause indeed to tremble.
- Hope the best,
- And know that Assur ne’er shall be thy master.
- I own it shocked my soul to look on him
- As Ninus’ successor: but is he then
- Designed for Azema? forgive this bold
- Presumptuous questioner: long since I know
- She was to Ninias given, proud Assur sprung
- From the same race, and claims her as his own:
- I am but a poor subject, yet I dare—
- Such subjects are my kingdom’s best support;
- I know thee well; thy noble soul, superior
- To vulgar minds, hath sought Sémiramis,
- Not for her fortunes, but herself; thy eyes
- Are fixed on her true interest, and on thee
- I shall depend: Assur and Azema
- Shall never meet; their union would be dangerous:
- But their designs are known, and by my care
- Will be prevented.
- Since my heart at length
- Is open to thee, and thou hast discovered—
- [Enters suddenly, and throws herself at the feet of Sémiramis.
- O queen, permit me thus—
- Rise, Azema:
- Where’er my choice may light, thou mayest depend
- On my protection, and shalt find respect
- Due to thy birth; for, destined as thou wert
- To be the wife of my lamented son,
- I look upon thee with a mother’s eye:
- [To them both.
- Go, place yourselves with those whom I have called
- To witness my resolves, and mark my choice.
- [To Arsaces.
- Be thou, my best protector, near the throne.
The apartment of Sémiramis opens into a magnificent saloon richly ornamented; a number of officers in their proper habits on the steps of the throne, which is raised in the middle; the satraps on each side: the high priest enters with the magi, and places himself between Assur and Arsaces: the queen in the midst with Azema, and her attendants: guards at the lower end of the saloon.
- Ye princes, magi, warriors, the support
- Of Babylon, assembled by command
- From great Sémiramis, the will of heaven
- Soon shall ye know: the gods that guard our empire
- Have fixed on this important hour to work
- A great and mighty change; whoe’er the queen
- Shall here appoint her sovereign and our own
- It is our duty to obey; and here
- I bring my tribute to the throne, my prayers
- And wishes for the glory and the welfare
- Of them, and of their kingdom: may these days
- Of joy and gladness ne’er be changed to hours
- Of grief and sorrow, nor these songs of mirth
- To mournful plaints!
- A king, my lords, will soon
- Be named; whoe’er he be, the choice will injure
- Myself alone; but Azema was born
- And must remain a subject; I submit
- To the queen’s pleasure, and on her protection
- Shall still depend; nor with the dark presage
- Of future ills shall interrupt your joy:
- But leave you my example of obedience.
- Howe’er the queen may choose, and heaven determine,
- We must consult the public good alone;
- Let us then swear by this imperial throne,
- And great Sémiramis, to yield submissive,
- And without murmuring to obey her will.
- I swear it; and this arm that fought for her,
- This heart obedient ever to her voice,
- Which next the voice of heaven I still revered,
- This blood which flowed with pleasure for her sake,
- Shall be devoted to that royal master
- Whom she appoints.
- I wait the great award
- Of heaven and Sémiramis.
- Each to his place, and now attend, my people.
- [She seats herself on the throne.
- [azema, assur, oroes (the high priest) andarsacestake their places, and she proceeds.
- If in that hand which custom and the laws
- Of an imperious husband had confined
- To homely cares, and to a distaff chained,
- I bore aloft the sceptre and the sword,
- Beyond my subjects’ hope, nor sunk beneath
- The weight of empire, let me now extend
- To latest times its glory: ’tis my purpose
- This day to take a partner in the throne:
- The gods must be obeyed, whose dread command
- At length subdued my long unconquered heart:
- They who deprived me of my son, perhaps
- May one day raise an heir to Babylon
- Worthy of empire, who shall follow me
- Through all the thorny paths that I have trod,
- Finish my work, and make my reign immortal.
- I might have chosen a sovereign from the kings
- That dwell around me, but they are all my foes,
- Or tributary slaves: a foreign hand
- Shall never wield this sceptre: my own subjects
- Are better than the kings which they have conquered:
- Belus was born a subject; if he gained
- The diadem, he owed it to the people,
- And to himself: by rights like his I hold
- The power supreme; and, mistress of a kingdom
- Larger than his, have bent beneath my yoke
- The nations of the East, which Belus ne’er
- Had seen or heard of: what he but attempted
- Sémiramis performed; for they who found
- A kingdom, and they only, can preserve it.
- You want a king who may be worthy of you,
- Worthy of such an empire, shall I add
- Worthy the hand that crowns him, and the heart
- Which I shall give: I have consulted heaven,
- My country’s weal, the interest of mankind,
- And choose a king to make the world more happy.
- Adore the hero, see in him revived
- The princes of my honored race; observe him,
- And know, this king, this hero, is—Arsaces.
- [She descends from the throne, and they all rise.
- Just heaven! avert
- These omens.
- Thou who sanctifiest my choice,
- Confirm it at the altar: see in him
- Ninus and Ninias both restored.
- [It thunders, and the tomb shakes.
- O heaven!
- What do I hear?
- Great gods, protect us now!
- The thunder comes, in anger or in love
- I know not: pardon, gracious gods! Arsaces
- Must win them to forgiveness. Ha! what voice
- Distracts me thus? and see, the tomb is open.
- O heaven! I die.
- [The ghost of Ninus comes out of the tomb.
- The shade of Ninus’ self.
- Gods! is it possible?
- What sayest thou? speak,
- Thou god of terrors.
- Comest thou to pardon, or to punish me?
- It is thy sceptre and thy bed which here
- I have bestowed: speak, is he worthy of it?
- Determine: I obey thee.
the ghost of ninus to arsaces.
- Thou shalt reign,
- Arsaces, but there are some dreadful crimes
- Which thou must expiate: hie thee to the tomb,
- And to my ashes offer sacrifice:
- Serve me and Ninias: remember well
- Thy father: listen to the pontiff.
- Thou venerable shade, thou demigod,
- Who dwellest within these walls, the sight of thee
- Inspires but does not amaze Arsaces:
- Yes, I will go, on peril of my life,
- And meet thee in the tomb: but tell me, what
- Must be the sacrifice? O speak! he’s gone.
- [The ghost retires towards the entrance of the mausoleum.
- Thou honored spirit of my lord, permit me
- Thus on my knees to pour my sorrows forth,
- Permit me in the tomb to—
- [At the entrance of the tomb.
- Stop: no farther:
- Respect my ashes: when the time is come
- I’ll send for thee.
- [The ghost goes into the tomb, and the mausoleum closes.
- Follow me,
- My people, to the temple: be not thus
- Dismayed: for know, the gentle shade of Ninus
- Is not implacable; it loves your king,
- And therefore will it spare Sémiramis:
- Heaven that inspired my choice will now support it:
- Haste then, and pray for me, and for Arsaces.
End of the Third Act.