Behind the Emperor’s box at the Coliseum, where the performers assemble before entering the arena. In the middle a wide passage leading to the arena descends from the floor level under the imperial box. On both sides of this passage steps ascend to a landing at the back entrance to the box. The landing forms a bridge across the passage. At the entrance to the passage are two bronze mirrors, one on each side.
On the west side of this passage, on the right hand of any one coming from the box and standing on the bridge, the martyrs are sitting on the steps. Lavinia is seated half-way up, thoughtful, trying to look death in the face. On her left Androcles consoles himself by nursing a cat. Ferrovius stands behind them, his eyes blazing, his figure stiff with intense resolution. At the foot of the steps crouches Spintho, with his head clutched in his hands, full of horror at the approach of martyrdom.
On the east side of the passage the gladiators are standing and sitting at ease, waiting, like the Christians, for their turn in the arena. One [Retiarius] is a nearly naked man with a net and a trident. Another [Secutor] is in armor with a sword. He carries a helmet with a barred visor. The editor of the gladiators sits on a chair a little apart from them.
The Call Boy enters from the passage.
The Call Boy. Number six. Retiarius versus Secutor.
The gladiator with the net picks it up. The gladiator with the helmet puts it on; and the two go into the arena, the net thrower taking out a little brush and arranging his hair as he goes, the other tightening his straps and shaking his shoulders loose. Both look at themselves in the mirrors before they enter the passage.
Lavinia. Will they really kill one another?
Spintho. Yes, if the people turn down their thumbs.
The Editor. You know nothing about it. The people indeed! Do you suppose we would kill a man worth perhaps fifty talents to please the riffraff? I should like to catch any of my men at it.
Spintho. I thought —
The Editor [contemptuously] You thought! Who cares what you think? You’ll be killed all right enough.
Spintho [groans and again hides his face]!!! Then is nobody ever killed except us poor —
The Editor. If the vestal virgins turn down their thumbs, that’s another matter. They’re ladies of rank.
Lavinia. Does the Emperor ever interfere?
The Editor. Oh, yes: he turns his thumbs up fast enough if the vestal virgins want to have one of his pet fighting men killed.
Androcles. But don’t they ever just only pretend to kill one another? Why shouldn’t you pretend to die, and get dragged out as if you were dead; and then get up and go home, like an actor?
The Editor. See here: you want to know too much. There will be no pretending about the new lion: let that be enough for you. He’s hungry.
Spintho [groaning with horror] Oh, Lord! Can’t you stop talking about it? Isn’t it bad enough for us without that?
Androcles. I’m glad he’s hungry. Not that I want him to suffer, poor chap! but then he’ll enjoy eating me so much more. There’s a cheerful side to everything.
The Editor [rising and striding over to Androcles] Here: don’t you be obstinate. Come with me and drop the pinch of incense on the altar. That’s all you need do to be let off.
Androcles. No: thank you very much indeed; but I really mustn’t.
The Editor. What! Not to save your life?
Androcles. I’d rather not. I couldn’t sacrifice to Diana: she’s a huntress, you know, and kills things.
The Editor. That don’t matter. You can choose your own altar. Sacrifice to Jupiter: he likes animals: he turns himself into an animal when he goes off duty.
Androcles. No: it’s very kind of you; but I feel I can’t save myself that way.
The Editor. But I don’t ask you to do it to save yourself: I ask you to do it to oblige me personally.
Androcles [scrambling up in the greatest agitation] Oh, please don’t say that. That is dreadful. You mean so kindly by me that it seems quite horrible to disoblige you. If you could arrange for me to sacrifice when there’s nobody looking, I shouldn’t mind. But I must go into the arena with the rest. My honor, you know.
The Editor. Honor! The honor of a tailor?
Androcles [apologetically] Well, perhaps honor is too strong an expression. Still, you know, I couldn’t allow the tailors to get a bad name through me.
The Editor. How much will you remember of all that when you smell the beast’s breath and see his jaws opening to tear out your throat?
Spintho [rising with a yell of terror] I can’t bear it. Where’s the altar? I’ll sacrifice.
Ferrovius. Dog of an apostate. Iscariot!
Spintho. I’ll repent afterwards. I fully mean to die in the arena I’ll die a martyr and go to heaven; but not this time, not now, not until my nerves are better. Besides, I’m too young: I want to have just one more good time. [The gladiators laugh at him]. Oh, will no one tell me where the altar is? [He dashes into the passage and vanishes].
Androcles [to the Editor, pointing after Spintho] Brother: I can’t do that, not even to oblige you. Don’t ask me.
The Editor. Well, if you’re determined to die, I can’t help you. But I wouldn’t be put off by a swine like that.
Ferrovius. Peace, peace: tempt him not. Get thee behind him, Satan.
The Editor [flushing with rage] For two pins I’d take a turn in the arena myself to-day, and pay you out for daring to talk to me like that.
Ferrovius springs forward.
Lavinia [rising quickly and interposing] Brother, brother: you forget.
Ferrovius [curbing himself by a mighty effort] Oh, my temper, my wicked temper! [To the Editor, as Lavinia sits down again, reassured]. Forgive me, brother. My heart was full of wrath: I should have been thinking of your dear precious soul.
The Editor. Yah! [He turns his back on Ferrovius contemptuously, and goes back to his seat].
Ferrovius [continuing] And I forgot it all: I thought of nothing but offering to fight you with one hand tied behind me.
The Editor [turning pugnaciously] What!
Ferrovius [on the border line between zeal and ferocity] Oh, don’t give way to pride and wrath, brother. I could do it so easily. I could —
They are separated by the Menagerie Keeper, who rushes in from the passage, furious.
The Keeper. Here’s a nice business! Who let that Christian out of here down to the dens when we were changing the lion into the cage next the arena?
The Editor. Nobody let him. He let himself.
The Keeper. Well, the lion’s ate him.
Consternation. The Christians rise, greatly agitated. The gladiators sit callously, but are highly amused. All speak or cry out or laugh at once. Tumult.
Lavinia. Oh, poor wretch!
Ferrovius. The apostate has perished. Praise be to God’s justice!
Androcles. The poor beast was starving. It couldn’t help itself.
The Christians. What! Ate him! How frightful! How terrible! Without a moment to repent! God be merciful to him, a sinner! Oh, I can’t bear to think of it! In the midst of his sin! Horrible, horrible!
The Editor. Serve the rotter right!
The Gladiators. Just walked into it, he did. He’s martyred all right enough. Good old lion! Old Jock doesn’t like that: look at his face. Devil a better! The Emperor will laugh when he hears of it. I can’t help smiling. Ha ha ha!!!!!
The Keeper. Now his appetite’s taken off, he won’t as much as look at another Christian for a week.
Androcles. Couldn’t you have saved him brother?
The Keeper. Saved him! Saved him from a lion that I’d just got mad with hunger! a wild one that came out of the forest not four weeks ago! He bolted him before you could say Balbus.
Lavinia [sitting down again] Poor Spintho! And it won’t even count as martyrdom!
The Keeper. Serve him right! What call had he to walk down the throat of one of my lions before he was asked?
Androcles. Perhaps the lion won’t eat me now.
The Keeper. Yes: that’s just like a Christian: think only of yourself! What am I to do? What am I to say to the Emperor when he sees one of my lions coming into the arena half asleep?
The Editor. Say nothing. Give your old lion some bitters and a morsel of fried fish to wake up his appetite. [Laughter].
The Keeper. Yes: it’s easy for you to talk; but —
The Editor [scrambling to his feet] Sh! Attention there! The Emperor. [The Keeper bolts precipitately into the passage. The gladiators rise smartly and form into line].
The Emperor enters on the Christians’ side, conversing with Metellus, and followed by his suite.
The Gladiators. Hail, Caesar! those about to die salute thee.
Caesar. Good morrow, friends.
Metellus shakes hands with the Editor, who accepts his condescension with bluff respect.
Lavinia. Blessing, Caesar, and forgiveness!
Caesar [turning in some surprise at the salutation] There is no forgiveness for Christianity.
Lavinia. I did not mean that, Caesar. I mean that we forgive you.
Metellus. An inconceivable liberty! Do you not know, woman, that the Emperor can do no wrong and therefore cannot be forgiven?
Lavinia. I expect the Emperor knows better. Anyhow, we forgive him.
The Christians. Amen!
Caesar. Metellus: you see now the disadvantage of too much severity. These people have no hope; therefore they have nothing to restrain them from saying what they like to me. They are almost as impertinent as the gladiators. Which is the Greek sorcerer?
Androcles [humbly touching his forelock] Me, your Worship.
Caesar. My Worship! Good! A new title. Well, what miracles can you perform?
Androcles. I can cure warts by rubbing them with my tailor’s chalk; and I can live with my wife without beating her.
Caesar. Is that all?
Androcles. You don’t know her, Caesar, or you wouldn’t say that.
Caesar. Ah, well, my friend, we shall no doubt contrive a happy release for you. Which is Ferrovius?
Ferrovius. I am he.
Caesar. They tell me you can fight.
Ferrovius. It is easy to fight. I can die, Caesar.
Caesar. That is still easier, is it not?
Ferrovius. Not to me, Caesar. Death comes hard to my flesh; and fighting comes very easily to my spirit [beating his breast and lamenting] O sinner that I am! [He throws himself down on the steps, deeply discouraged].
Caesar. Metellus: I should like to have this man in the Pretorian Guard.
Metellus. I should not, Caesar. He looks a spoilsport. There are men in whose presence it is impossible to have any fun: men who are a sort of walking conscience. He would make us all uncomfortable.
Caesar. For that reason, perhaps, it might be well to have him. An Emperor can hardly have too many consciences. [To Ferrovius] Listen, Ferrovius. [Ferrovius shakes his head and will not look up]. You and your friends shall not be outnumbered to-day in the arena. You shall have arms; and there will be no more than one gladiator to each Christian. If you come out of the arena alive, I will consider favorably any request of yours, and give you a place in the Pretorian Guard. Even if the request be that no questions be asked about your faith I shall perhaps not refuse it.
Ferrovius. I will not fight. I will die. Better stand with the archangels than with the Pretorian Guard.
Caesar. I cannot believe that the archangels — whoever they may be — would not prefer to be recruited from the Pretorian Guard. However, as you please. Come: let us see the show.
As the Court ascends the steps, Secutor and the Retiarius return from the arena through the passage; Secutor covered with dust and very angry: Retiarius grinning.
Secutor. Ha, the Emperor. Now we shall see. Caesar: I ask you whether it is fair for the Retiarius, instead of making a fair throw of his net at me, to swish it along the ground and throw the dust in my eyes, and then catch me when I’m blinded. If the vestals had not turned up their thumbs I should have been a dead man.
Caesar [halting on the stair] There is nothing in the rules against it.
Secutor [indignantly] Caesar: is it a dirty trick or is it not?
Caesar. It is a dusty one, my friend. [Obsequious laughter]. Be on your guard next time.
Secutor. Let him be on his guard. Next time I’ll throw my sword at his heels and strangle him with his own net before he can hop off. [To Retiarius] You see if I don’t. [He goes out past the gladiators, sulky and furious].
Caesar [to the chuckling Retiarius]. These tricks are not wise, my friend. The audience likes to see a dead man in all his beauty and splendor. If you smudge his face and spoil his armor they will show their displeasure by not letting you kill him. And when your turn comes, they will remember it against you and turn their thumbs down.
The Retiarius. Perhaps that is why I did it, Caesar. He bet me ten sesterces that he would vanquish me. If I had had to kill him I should not have had the money.
Caesar [indulgent, laughing] You rogues: there is no end to your tricks. I’ll dismiss you all and have elephants to fight. They fight fairly. [He goes up to his box, and knocks at it. It is opened from within by the Captain, who stands as on parade to let him pass]. The Call Boy comes from the passage, followed by three attendants carrying respectively a bundle of swords, some helmets, and some breastplates and pieces of armor which they throw down in a heap.
The Call Boy. By your leave, Caesar. Number eleven! Gladiators and Christians!
Ferrovius springs up, ready for martyrdom. The other Christians take the summons as best they can, some joyful and brave, some patient and dignified, some tearful and helpless, some embracing one another with emotion. The Call Boy goes back into the passage.
Caesar [turning at the door of the box] The hour has come, Ferrovius. I shall go into my box and see you killed, since you scorn the Pretorian Guard. [He goes into the box. The Captain shuts the door, remaining inside with the Emperor. Metellus and the rest of the suite disperse to their seats. The Christians, led by Ferrovius, move towards the passage].
Lavinia [to Ferrovius] Farewell.
The Editor. Steady there. You Christians have got to fight. Here! arm yourselves.
Ferrovius [picking up a sword] I’ll die sword in hand to show people that I could fight if it were my Master’s will, and that I could kill the man who kills me if I chose.
The Editor. Put on that armor.
Ferrovius. No armor.
The Editor [bullying him] Do what you’re told. Put on that armor.
Ferrovius [gripping the sword and looking dangerous] I said, No armor.
The Editor. And what am I to say when I am accused of sending a naked man in to fight my men in armor?
Ferrovius. Say your prayers, brother; and have no fear of the princes of this world.
The Editor. Tsha! You obstinate fool! [He bites his lips irresolutely, not knowing exactly what to do].
Androcles [to Ferrovius] Farewell, brother, till we meet in the sweet by-and-by.
The Editor [to Androcles] You are going too. Take a sword there; and put on any armor you can find to fit you.
Androcles. No, really: I can’t fight: I never could. I can’t bring myself to dislike anyone enough. I’m to be thrown to the lions with the lady.
The Editor. Then get out of the way and hold your noise. [Androcles steps aside with cheerful docility]. Now then! Are you all ready there? A trumpet is heard from the arena.
Ferrovius [starting convulsively] Heaven give me strength!
The Editor. Aha! That frightens you, does it?
Ferrovius. Man: there is no terror like the terror of that sound to me. When I hear a trumpet or a drum or the clash of steel or the hum of the catapult as the great stone flies, fire runs through my veins: I feel my blood surge up hot behind my eyes: I must charge: I must strike: I must conquer: Caesar himself will not be safe in his imperial seat if once that spirit gets loose in me. Oh, brothers, pray! exhort me! remind me that if I raise my sword my honor falls and my Master is crucified afresh.
Androcles. Just keep thinking how cruelly you might hurt the poor gladiators.
Ferrovius. It does not hurt a man to kill him.
Lavinia. Nothing but faith can save you.
Ferrovius. Faith! Which faith? There are two faiths. There is our faith. And there is the warrior’s faith, the faith in fighting, the faith that sees God in the sword. How if that faith should overwhelm me?
Lavinia. You will find your real faith in the hour of trial.
Ferrovius. That is what I fear. I know that I am a fighter. How can I feel sure that I am a Christian?
Androcles. Throw away the sword, brother.
Ferrovius. I cannot. It cleaves to my hand. I could as easily throw a woman I loved from my arms. [Starting] Who spoke that blasphemy? Not I.
Lavinia. I can’t help you, friend. I can’t tell you not to save your own life. Something wilful in me wants to see you fight your way into heaven.
Androcles. But if you are going to give up our faith, brother, why not do it without hurting anybody? Don’t fight them. Burn the incense.
Ferrovius. Burn the incense! Never.
Lavinia. That is only pride, Ferrovius.
Ferrovius. Only pride! What is nobler than pride? [Conscience stricken] Oh, I’m steeped in sin. I’m proud of my pride.
Lavinia. They say we Christians are the proudest devils on earth — that only the weak are meek. Oh, I am worse than you. I ought to send you to death; and I am tempting you.
Androcles. Brother, brother: let them rage and kill: let Us be brave and suffer. You must go as a lamb to the slaughter.
Ferrovius. Aye, aye: that is right. Not as a lamb is slain by the butcher; but as a butcher might let himself be slain by a [looking at the Editor] by a silly ram whose head he could fetch off in one twist.
Before the Editor can retort, the Call Boy rushes up through the passage; and the Captain comes from the Emperor’s box and descends the steps.
The Call Boy. In with you: into the arena. The stage is waiting.
The Captain. The Emperor is waiting. [To the Editor] What are you dreaming of, man? Send your men in at once.
The Editor. Yes, Sir: it’s these Christians hanging back.
Ferrovius [in a voice of thunder] Liar!
The Editor [not heeding him] March. [The gladiators told off to fight with the Christians march down the passage] Follow up there, you.
The Christian Men and Women [as they part] Be steadfast, brother. Farewell. Hold up the faith, brother. Farewell. Go to glory, dearest. Farewell. Remember: we are praying for you. Farewell. Be strong, brother. Farewell. Don’t forget that the divine love and our love surround you. Farewell. Nothing can hurt you: remember that, brother. Farewell. Eternal glory, dearest. Farewell.
The Editor [out of patience] Shove them in, there.
The remaining gladiators and the Call Boy make a movement towards them.
Ferrovius [interposing] Touch them, dogs; and we die here, and cheat the heathen of their spectacle. [To his fellow Christians] Brothers: the great moment has come. That passage is your hill to Calvary. Mount it bravely, but meekly; and remember! not a word of reproach, not a blow nor a struggle. Go. [They go out through the passage. He turns to Lavinia] Farewell.
Lavinia. You forget: I must follow before you are cold.
Ferrovius. It is true. Do not envy me because I pass before you to glory. [He goes through the passage].
The Editor [to the Call Boy] Sickening work, this. Why can’t they all be thrown to the lions? It’s not a man’s job. [He throws himself moodily into his chair].
The remaining gladiators go back to their former places indifferently. The Call Boy shrugs his shoulders and squats down at the entrance to the passage, near the Editor.
Lavinia and the Christian women sit down again, wrung with grief, some weeping silently, some praying, some calm and steadfast. Androcles sits down at Lavinia’s feet. The Captain stands on the stairs, watching her curiously.
Androcles. I’m glad I haven’t to fight. That would really be an awful martyrdom. I am lucky.
Lavinia [looking at him with a pang of remorse]. Androcles: burn the incense: you’ll be forgiven. Let my death atone for both. I feel as if I were killing you.
Androcles. Don’t think of me, sister. Think of yourself. That will keep your heart up.
The Captain laughs sardonically.
Lavinia [startled: she had forgotten his presence] Are you there, handsome Captain? Have you come to see me die?
The Captain [coming to her side] I am on duty with the Emperor, Lavinia.
Lavinia. Is it part of your duty to laugh at us?
The Captain. No: that is part of my private pleasure. Your friend here is a humorist. I laughed at his telling you to think of yourself to keep up your heart. I say, think of yourself and burn the incense.
Lavinia. He is not a humorist: he was right. You ought to know that, Captain: you have been face to face with death.
The Captain. Not with certain death, Lavinia. Only death in battle, which spares more men than death in bed. What you are facing is certain death. You have nothing left now but your faith in this craze of yours: this Christianity. Are your Christian fairy stories any truer than our stories about Jupiter and Diana, in which, I may tell you, I believe no more than the Emperor does, or any educated man in Rome?
Lavinia. Captain: all that seems nothing to me now. I’ll not say that death is a terrible thing; but I will say that it is so real a thing that when it comes close, all the imaginary things — all the stories, as you call them — fade into mere dreams beside that inexorable reality. I know now that I am not dying for stories or dreams. Did you hear of the dreadful thing that happened here while we were waiting?
The Captain. I heard that one of your fellows bolted, and ran right into the jaws of the lion. I laughed. I still laugh.
Lavinia. Then you don’t understand what that meant?
The Captain. It meant that the lion had a cur for his breakfast.
Lavinia. It meant more than that, Captain. It meant that a man cannot die for a story and a dream. None of us believed the stories and the dreams more devoutly than poor Spintho; but he could not face the great reality. What he would have called my faith has been oozing away minute by minute whilst I’ve been sitting here, with death coming nearer and nearer, with reality becoming realler and realler, with stories and dreams fading away into nothing.
The Captain. Are you then going to die for nothing?
Lavinia. Yes: that is the wonderful thing. It is since all the stories and dreams have gone that I have now no doubt at all that I must die for something greater than dreams or stories.
The Captain. But for what?
Lavinia. I don’t know. If it were for anything small enough to know, it would be too small to die for. I think I’m going to die for God. Nothing else is real enough to die for.
The Captain. What is God?
Lavinia. When we know that, Captain, we shall be gods ourselves.
The Captain. Lavinia; come down to earth. Burn the incense and marry me.
Lavinia. Handsome Captain: would you marry me if I hauled down the flag in the day of battle and burnt the incense? Sons take after their mothers, you know. Do you want your son to be a coward?
The Captain [strongly moved]. By great Diana, I think I would strangle you if you gave in now.
Lavinia [putting her hand on the head of Androcles] The hand of God is on us three, Captain.
The Captain. What nonsense it all is! And what a monstrous thing that you should die for such nonsense, and that I should look on helplessly when my whole soul cries out against it! Die then if you must; but at least I can cut the Emperor’s throat and then my own when I see your blood.
The Emperor throws open the door of his box angrily, and appears in wrath on the threshold. The Editor, the Call Boy, and the gladiators spring to their feet.
The Emperor. The Christians will not fight; and your curs cannot get their blood up to attack them. It’s all that fellow with the blazing eyes. Send for the whip. [The Call Boy rushes out on the east side for the whip]. If that will not move them, bring the hot irons. The man is like a mountain. [He returns angrily into the box and slams the door].
The Call Boy returns with a man in a hideous Etruscan mask, carrying a whip. They both rush down the passage into the arena.
Lavinia [rising] Oh, that is unworthy. Can they not kill him without dishonoring him?
Androcles [scrambling to his feet and running into the middle of the space between the staircases] It’s dreadful. Now I want to fight. I can’t bear the sight of a whip. The only time I ever hit a man was when he lashed an old horse with a whip. It was terrible: I danced on his face when he was on the ground. He mustn’t strike Ferrovius: I’ll go into the arena and kill him first. [He makes a wild dash into the passage. As he does so a great clamor is heard from the arena, ending in wild applause. The gladiators listen and look inquiringly at one another].
The Editor. What’s up now?
Lavinia [to the Captain] What has happened, do you think?
The Captain. What can happen? They are killing them, I suppose.
Androcles [running in through the passage, screaming with horror and hiding his eyes]!!!
Lavinia. Androcles, Androcles: what’s the matter?
Androcles. Oh, don’t ask me, don’t ask me. Something too dreadful. Oh! [He crouches by her and hides his face in her robe, sobbing].
The Call Boy [rushing through from the passage as before] Ropes and hooks there! Ropes and hooks.
The Editor. Well, need you excite yourself about it? [Another burst of applause].
Two slaves in Etruscan masks, with ropes and drag hooks, hurry in.
One of the Slaves. How many dead?
The Call Boy. Six. [The slave blows a whistle twice; and four more masked slaves rush through into the arena with the same apparatus] And the basket. Bring the baskets. [The slave whistles three times, and runs through the passage with his companion].
The Captain. Who are the baskets for?
The Call Boy. For the whip. He’s in pieces. They’re all in pieces, more or less. [Lavinia hides her face].
[Two more masked slaves come in with a basket and follow the others into the arena, as the Call Boy turns to the gladiators and exclaims, exhausted] Boys, he’s killed the lot.
The Emperor [again bursting from his box, this time in an ecstasy of delight] Where is he? Magnificent! He shall have a laurel crown.
Ferrovius, madly waving his bloodstained sword, rushes through the passage in despair, followed by his co-religionists, and by the menagerie keeper, who goes to the gladiators. The gladiators draw their swords nervously.
Ferrovius. Lost! lost forever! I have betrayed my Master. Cut off this right hand: it has offended. Ye have swords, my brethren: strike.
Lavinia. No, no. What have you done, Ferrovius?
Ferrovius. I know not; but there was blood behind my eyes; and there’s blood on my sword. What does that mean?
The Emperor [enthusiastically, on the landing outside his box] What does it mean? It means that you are the greatest man in Rome. It means that you shall have a laurel crown of gold. Superb fighter, I could almost yield you my throne. It is a record for my reign: I shall live in history. Once, in Domitian’s time, a Gaul slew three men in the arena and gained his freedom. But when before has one naked man slain six armed men of the bravest and best? The persecution shall cease: if Christians can fight like this, I shall have none but Christians to fight for me. [To the Gladiators] You are ordered to become Christians, you there: do you hear?
Retiarius. It is all one to us, Caesar. Had I been there with my net, the story would have been different.
The Captain [suddenly seizing Lavinia by the wrist and dragging her up the steps to the Emperor] Caesar this woman is the sister of Ferrovius. If she is thrown to the lions he will fret. He will lose weight; get out of condition.
The Emperor. The lions? Nonsense! [To Lavinia] Madam: I am proud to have the honor of making your acquaintance. Your brother is the glory of Rome.
Lavinia. But my friends here. Must they die?
The Emperor. Die! Certainly not. There has never been the slightest idea of harming them. Ladies and gentlemen: you are all free. Pray go into the front of the house and enjoy the spectacle to which your brother has so splendidly contributed. Captain: oblige me by conducting them to the seats reserved for my personal friends.
The Menagerie Keeper. Caesar: I must have one Christian for the lion. The people have been promised it; and they will tear the decorations to bits if they are disappointed.
The Emperor. True, true: we must have somebody for the new lion.
Ferrovius. Throw me to him. Let the apostate perish.
The Emperor. No, no: you would tear him in pieces, my friend; and we cannot afford to throw away lions as if they were mere slaves. But we must have somebody. This is really extremely awkward.
The Menagerie Keeper. Why not that little Greek chap? He’s not a Christian: he’s a sorcerer.
The Emperor. The very thing: he will do very well.
The Call Boy [issuing from the passage] Number twelve. The Christian for the new lion.
Androcles [rising, and pulling himself sadly together] Well, it was to be, after all.
Lavinia. I’ll go in his place, Caesar. Ask the Captain whether they do not like best to see a woman torn to pieces. He told me so yesterday.
The Emperor. There is something in that: there is certainly something in that — if only I could feel sure that your brother would not fret.
Androcles. No: I should never have another happy hour. No: on the faith of a Christian and the honor of a tailor, I accept the lot that has fallen on me. If my wife turns up, give her my love and say that my wish was that she should be happy with her next, poor fellow! Caesar: go to your box and see how a tailor can die. Make way for number twelve there. [He marches out along the passage].
The vast audience in the amphitheatre now sees the Emperor re-enter his box and take his place as Androcles, desperately frightened, but still marching with piteous devotion, emerges from the other end of the passage, and finds himself at the focus of thousands of eager eyes. The lion’s cage, with a heavy portcullis grating, is on his left. The Emperor gives a signal. A gong sounds. Androcles shivers at the sound; then falls on his knees and prays.
The grating rises with a clash. The lion bounds into the arena. He rushes round frisking in his freedom. He sees Androcles. He stops; rises stiffly by straightening his legs; stretches out his nose forward and his tail in a horizontal line behind, like a pointer, and utters an appalling roar. Androcles crouches and hides his face in his hands. The lion gathers himself for a spring, swishing his tail to and fro through the dust in an ecstasy of anticipation. Androcles throws up his hands in supplication to heaven. The lion checks at the sight of Androcles’s face. He then steals towards him; smells him; arches his back; purrs like a motor car; finally rubs himself against Androcles, knocking him over. Androcles, supporting himself on his wrist, looks affrightedly at the lion. The lion limps on three paws, holding up the other as if it was wounded. A flash of recognition lights up the face of Androcles. He flaps his hand as if it had a thorn in it, and pretends to pull the thorn out and to hurt himself. The lion nods repeatedly. Androcles holds out his hands to the lion, who gives him both paws, which he shakes with enthusiasm. They embrace rapturously, finally waltz round the arena amid a sudden burst of deafening applause, and out through the passage, the Emperor watching them in breathless astonishment until they disappear, when he rushes from his box and descends the steps in frantic excitement.
The Emperor. My friends, an incredible! an amazing thing! has happened. I can no longer doubt the truth of Christianity. [The Christians press to him joyfully] This Christian sorcerer —[with a yell, he breaks off as he sees Androcles and the lion emerge from the passage, waltzing. He bolts wildly up the steps into his box, and slams the door. All, Christians and gladiators’ alike, fly for their lives, the gladiators bolting into the arena, the others in all directions. The place is emptied with magical suddenness].
Androcles [naively] Now I wonder why they all run away from us like that. [The lion combining a series of yawns, purrs, and roars, achieves something very like a laugh].
The Emperor [standing on a chair inside his box and looking over the wall] Sorcerer: I command you to put that lion to death instantly. It is guilty of high treason. Your conduct is most disgra — [the lion charges at him up the stairs] help! [He disappears. The lion rears against the box; looks over the partition at him, and roars. The Emperor darts out through the door and down to Androcles, pursued by the lion.]
Androcles. Don’t run away, sir: he can’t help springing if you run. [He seizes the Emperor and gets between him and the lion, who stops at once]. Don’t be afraid of him.
The Emperor. I am not afraid of him. [The lion crouches, growling. The Emperor clutches Androcles] Keep between us.
Androcles. Never be afraid of animals, your Worship: that’s the great secret. He’ll be as gentle as a lamb when he knows that you are his friend. Stand quite still; and smile; and let him smell you all over just to reassure him; for, you see, he’s afraid of you; and he must examine you thoroughly before he gives you his confidence. [To the lion] Come now, Tommy; and speak nicely to the Emperor, the great, good Emperor who has power to have all our heads cut off if we don’t behave very, very respectfully to him.
The lion utters a fearful roar. The Emperor dashes madly up the steps, across the landing, and down again on the other side, with the lion in hot pursuit. Androcles rushes after the lion; overtakes him as he is descending; and throws himself on his back, trying to use his toes as a brake. Before he can stop him the lion gets hold of the trailing end of the Emperor’s robe.
Androcles. Oh bad wicked Tommy, to chase the Emperor like that! Let go the Emperor’s robe at once, sir: where’s your manners? [The lion growls and worries the robe]. Don’t pull it away from him, your worship. He’s only playing. Now I shall be really angry with you, Tommy, if you don’t let go. [The lion growls again] I’ll tell you what it is, sir: he thinks you and I are not friends.
The Emperor [trying to undo the clasp of his brooch] Friends! You infernal scoundrel [the lion growls] don’t let him go. Curse this brooch! I can’t get it loose.
Androcles. We mustn’t let him lash himself into a rage. You must show him that you are my particular friend — if you will have the condescension. [He seizes the Emperor’s hands, and shakes them cordially], Look, Tommy: the nice Emperor is the dearest friend Andy Wandy has in the whole world: he loves him like a brother.
The Emperor. You little brute, you damned filthy little dog of a Greek tailor: I’ll have you burnt alive for daring to touch the divine person of the Emperor. [The lion roars].
Androcles. Oh don’t talk like that, sir. He understands every word you say: all animals do: they take it from the tone of your voice. [The lion growls and lashes his tail]. I think he’s going to spring at your worship. If you wouldn’t mind saying something affectionate. [The lion roars].
The Emperor [shaking Androcles’ hands frantically] My dearest Mr. Androcles, my sweetest friend, my long lost brother, come to my arms. [He embraces Androcles]. Oh, what an abominable smell of garlic!
The lion lets go the robe and rolls over on his back, clasping his forepaws over one another coquettishly above his nose.
Androcles. There! You see, your worship, a child might play with him now. See! [He tickles the lion’s belly. The lion wriggles ecstatically]. Come and pet him.
The Emperor. I must conquer these unkingly terrors. Mind you don’t go away from him, though. [He pats the lion’s chest].
Androcles. Oh, sir, how few men would have the courage to do that —
The Emperor. Yes: it takes a bit of nerve. Let us invite the Court in and frighten them. Is he safe, do you think?
Androcles. Quite safe now, sir.
The Emperor [majestically] What ho, there! All who are within hearing, return without fear. Caesar has tamed the lion. [All the fugitives steal cautiously in. The menagerie keeper comes from the passage with other keepers armed with iron bars and tridents]. Take those things away. I have subdued the beast. [He places his foot on it].
Ferrovius [timidly approaching the Emperor and looking down with awe on the lion] It is strange that I, who fear no man, should fear a lion.
The Captain. Every man fears something, Ferrovius.
The Emperor. How about the Pretorian Guard now?
Ferrovius. In my youth I worshipped Mars, the God of War. I turned from him to serve the Christian god; but today the Christian god forsook me; and Mars overcame me and took back his own. The Christian god is not yet. He will come when Mars and I are dust; but meanwhile I must serve the gods that are, not the God that will be. Until then I accept service in the Guard, Caesar.
The Emperor. Very wisely said. All really sensible men agree that the prudent course is to be neither bigoted in our attachment to the old nor rash and unpractical in keeping an open mind for the new, but to make the best of both dispensations.
The Captain. What do you say, Lavinia? Will you too be prudent?
Lavinia [on the stair] No: I’ll strive for the coming of the God who is not yet.
The Captain. May I come and argue with you occasionally?
Lavinia. Yes, handsome Captain: you may. [He kisses her hands].
The Emperor. And now, my friends, though I do not, as you see, fear this lion, yet the strain of his presence is considerable; for none of us can feel quite sure what he will do next.
The Menagerie Keeper. Caesar: give us this Greek sorcerer to be a slave in the menagerie. He has a way with the beasts.
Androcles [distressed]. Not if they are in cages. They should not be kept in cages. They must all be let out.
The Emperor. I give this sorcerer to be a slave to the first man who lays hands on him. [The menagerie keepers and the gladiators rush for Androcles. The lion starts up and faces them. They surge back]. You see how magnanimous we Romans are, Androcles. We suffer you to go in peace.
Androcles. I thank your worship. I thank you all, ladies and gentlemen. Come, Tommy. Whilst we stand together, no cage for you: no slavery for me. [He goes out with the lion, everybody crowding away to give him as wide a berth as possible].
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00