And Emily, who was arrayed in green, Rode out to hunt; it was a royal band. And to the coppice lying near at hand In which a hart – or so they told him – lay, He led his gathering by the shortest way. And pressing on towards a glade in sight Down which the hart most often took to flight Over a brook and off and out of view, The Duke had hopes to try a course or two With certain hounds that he had singled out; And when he reached the glade he looked about. Glancing towards the sun he thereupon Beheld Arcita fighting Palamon. They fought like boars in bravery. There go The shining swords in circle, to and fro, So hideously that with their lightest stroke It seemed as if they would have felled an oak. What they could be he did not know, of course, But he clapped spur at once into his horse And, at a bound, he parted blow from blow, And pulling out his sword he shouted, ‘Ho! No more on pain of death! Upon your head! By mighty Mars, he is as good as dead That dares to strike a blow in front of me! Tell me, what sort of fellows may you be That have the impudence to combat here Without a judge or other overseer, Yet as if jousting at a royal tilt?’
Palamon answered quickly and in guilt, ‘O Sir, what need of further word or breath? Both of us have deserved to die the death, Two wretched men, your captives, met in strife, And each of them encumbered with his life. If to judge righteously has been your fashion, Show neither of us mercy nor compassion,
And kill me first for holy charity! But kill my fellow too, the same as me. Or kill him first, for little though you know, This is Arcita and your mortal foe, Banished by you on forfeit of his head, For which alone he merits to be dead. This is the man that waited at your gate And told you that his name was Philostrate. This is the man that mocked you many a year, And you have made him chief equerry here. This is the man who dares love Emily. Now, since my day of death has come to me, I will make full confession and go on To say I am that woeful Palamon That broke out of your jail feloniously. And it is I, your mortal enemy, That am in love with Emily the Bright And glad to die this moment in her sight. And so I ask for judgement and for death; But slay my fellow in the self-same breath, Since we have both deserved that we be slain!’
And noble Theseus answered back again, ‘This is a short conclusion. It shall stand. Your own confession damns you out of hand. I shall record your sentence as it stood; There needs no torturing to make it good. Death you shall have, by mighty Mars the Red!’
On hearing this, the Queen began to shed Her womanly tears, and so did Emily And all the ladies in the company. It seemed so very piteous to them all That ever such misfortune should befall For they were noblemen of great estate And love the only cause of their debate. They saw their bloody gashes gaping wide
And, from the greatest to the least, they cried, ‘Have mercy, Lord, upon us women all!’ Down on their knees they then began to fall, Ready to kiss his feet as there he stood.
Abated in the end his angry mood; Pity runs swiftly in a noble heart. Though he had quaked with anger at the start He had reflected, having time to pause, Upon their trespass and upon its cause, And though his anger at their guilt was loth To pardon either, reason pardoned both. For thus he argued: almost any man Will help himself to love, if so he can, And anyone will try to break from prison; And then compassion in his heart had risen Seeing these ladies weeping there together, And in his noble heart he wondered whether He should not show his clemency, and ‘Fie,’ He thought, ‘on lords who show no mercy! why, To be a lion both in word and deed To a penitent in fear, is not to heed His change of heart, and equal him with one Proudly persisting in an evil done. A lord will lack discretion among his graces Who does not make distinction in such cases, But weighs humility and pride as one.’ And, to be brief, his anger being done, His eyes began to sparkle and uncloud And having taken thought he said aloud: ‘The God of Love! Ah, Benedicite! How mighty and how great a lord is he! No obstacles for him make any odds; His miracles proclaim his power a God’s. Cupid can make of every heart and soul Just what he pleases, such is his control.
Look at Arcita here and Palamon! Both had escaped scot-free and could have gone To Thebes and lived there royally; they know That I have ever been their mortal foe; Their lives are mine, they can make no defence; Yet Cupid in the teeth of common sense Has brought them here to die in melancholy! Consider, is it not the height of folly? What is so foolish as a man in love? Look at them both! By God that sits above See how they bleed! Are they not well arrayed? Thus has their lord, the God of Love, repaid Their services; these are his fees and wages! And yet, in spite of that, they pose as sages, These devotees of Love, as I recall. But still this is the finest stroke of all, That she, the cause of all these jolly pranks, Has no more reason to return them thanks Than I, and knows no more of this affair, By God, than does a cuckoo or a hare! Well, well, try anything once, come hot, come cold! If we’re not foolish young, we’re foolish old. I long have known myself what Love can do, For, in my time, I was a lover too. And therefore, knowing something of love’s pain, How violently it puts a man to strain, As one so often caught in the same snare I readily forgive the whole affair, Both at the Queen’s request, that on her knees Petitions, and my sister Emily’s. But you shall swear to me and give your hands Upon it never to attack my lands, Or levy war on me by night or day, But be my friends in everything you may. I pardon you your fault. You are forgiven.’
They swore as he had asked, and, having striven To gain his patronage and further grace, Were satisfied, and Theseus summed the case:
‘So far as riches go, and nobleness, Were she a queen in question, or princess, You would be worthy when the moment came, Either of you, to marry. All the same, Speaking as for my sister Emily, The cause of all your strife and jealousy, You are aware yourselves that she can never Wed both at once, though you should fight for ever. And one of you, come joy to him or grief, Must go pipe tunes upon an ivy-leaf; That is to say she cannot have you both, However jealous you may be, or loth. And so, to put the matter in good order, Let Destiny herself be your Awarder, And shape your fortune. Listen to the close, For here is the solution I propose.
‘My will is this, to make a flat conclusion And end all counterpleading and confusion, (And you will please to take it for the best) That each shall take his freedom, east or west, And without ransom or constraint of war; And, a year later, neither less nor more, Each shall return, bringing a hundred knights, Armed for the lists and everything to rights, Ready by battle to decide his claim To Emily. To this I give my name, My faith and honour, as I am a knight. Whichever of you proves of greater might, Or, more precisely, whether you or he, Backed by the hundred knights allowed by me, Can drive his foe to stake, or take his life, To him I shall give Emily to wife,
To whom kind Fortune gives so fair a grace. I’ll build the lists upon this very place, And God in wisdom deal my soul its due As I shall prove an even judge and true. There is no other way, let that be plain; One of you must be taken or else slain. And if this seems to you to be well said, Think yourselves lucky, sirs, and nod your head. That’s the conclusion I’ve decided on.’
Who looks delighted now but Palamon? And who springs up rejoicing but Arcite? And who could tell, what poetry repeat The joy of all those present in the place That Theseus had vouchsafed so fair a grace? Down on their knees went everyone in sight Returning thanks with all their heart and might, Especially the Thebans, time on time. Thus in good hope, with beating heart a-climb, Each took his leave, and they began to ride To Thebes and to her ancient walls and wide.
I judge it would be held for negligence If I forgot to tell of the dispense Of money by the Duke who set about To make the lists a royal show throughout. A theatre more noble in its plan I dare well say was never seen by man. It had a circuit of a mile about, Well walled with stone; there was a ditch without. Shaped like a circle there it stood complete In tier on tier, the height of sixty feet, So that a man set in a given row Did not obstruct his neighbour from below.
Eastward there stood a gate of marble white,
And westward such another rose to sight; Briefly, there never was upon the face Of earth so much within so small a space. No craftsmen in the land that had the trick Of pure geometry, arithmetic, Portraiture, carving and erecting stages, But Theseus found him and supplied his wages To build this theatre and carve devices. And, to observe due rites and sacrifices, Eastward he built upon the gate, above, An oratory to the Queen of Love, To Venus and her worship, and he dressed An altar there; and like it, to the west, In reverence to Mars he built a second; The cost in gold was hardly to be reckoned. Yet, northward, in a turret on the wall He built a third, an oratory tall And rich, of whitest alabaster, set With crimson coral, to discharge the debt Of worship to Diana of Chastity. And it was thus that Theseus built these three Temples in great magnificence of style.
But yet I have forgotten all this while To tell you of the portraits that there were, The shapes, the carvings and the figures there To grace these temples high above the green.
First, in the temple of Venus, you had seen Wrought on the wall, and piteous to behold, The broken sleeps and sighings manifold, The sacred tears and the lamenting songs And every fiery passion that belongs To those that suffer love, the long-endured, Their taken oaths, their covenants assured, Pleasure and Hope, Desire, Foolhardiness, Beauty and Youth, Lasciviousness, Largesse,
Philtres and Force, Falsehood and Flattery, Extravagance, Intrigue and Jealousy Gold-garlanded, with many a yellow twist, That had a cuckoo sitting on her wrist. Stringed instruments, and carols, feasts and dances, Joy and display, and all the circumstances Of love, as I have told you and shall tell Were in due order painted there as well, And more than I can mention or recount. Truly the whole of Citherea’s Mount, Where Venus has her dwelling above all Her other playgrounds, figured on the wall With all her garden in its joyful dress. Nor was forgotten her porter, Idleness, Nor yet Narcissus, beauty’s paragon In times gone by, nor doting Solomon, Nor the unmastered strength of Hercules. Medea and her enchantments next to these, And Circe’s too, and Turnus fierce and brave, And rich King Croesus, captive and a slave, That men might see that neither wit nor wealth, Beauty or cunning, bravery or health Can challenge Venus or advance their worth Against that goddess who controls the earth. And all these people captured in her noose Cried out, ‘Alas!’ but it was little use. Suffice these few examples, but the score Could well be reckoned many thousands more.
Her statue, glorious in majesty, Stood naked, floating on a vasty sea, And from the navel down there were a mass Of green and glittering waves as bright as glass. In her right hand a cithern carried she And on her head, most beautiful to see, A garland of fresh roses, while above
There circles round her many a flickering dove. Cupid her son was standing to behold her
Fronting her statue, winged on either shoulder, And he was blind, as it is often seen; He bore a bow with arrows bright and keen.
Why should I not go on to tell you all The portraiture depicted on the wall Within the Temple of Mighty Mars the red? The walls were painted round and overhead Like the recesses of that grisly place Known as the Temple of Great Mars in Thrace, That frosty region under chilling stars Where stands the sovereign mansion of King Mars.
First on the walls a forest with no plan Inhabited by neither beast nor man Was painted – tree-trunks, knotted, gnarled and old, Jagged and barren, hideous to behold, Through which there ran a rumble and a soughing As though a storm should break the branches bowing Before it. Downwards from a hill there went A slope; the Temple of Armipotent Mars was erected there in steel, and burnished. The Gateway, narrow and forbidding, furnished A ghastly sight, and such a rushing quake Raged from within, the portals seemed to shake. In at the doors a northern glimmer shone Onto the walls, for windows there were none; One scarce discerned a light, it was so scant. The doors were of eternal adamant, And vertically clenched, and clenched across For greater strength with many an iron boss, And every pillar to support the shrine Weighed a full ton of iron bright and fine.
And there I saw the dark imaginings Of felony, the stratagems of kings,
And cruel wrath that glowed an ember-red, The pick-purse and the image of pale Dread, The smiler with the knife beneath his cloak, The out-houses that burnt with blackened smoke; Treason was there, a murder on a bed, And open war, with wounds that gaped and bled; Dispute, with bloody knife and snarling threat; A screaming made the place more dreadful yet. The slayer of himself, I saw him there With all his heart’s blood matted in his hair; The driven nail that made the forehead crack, Cold Death, with gaping mouth, upon its back.
And in the middle of the shrine Mischance Stood comfortless with sorry countenance. There I saw madness cackling his distress, Armed insurrection, outcry, fierce excess, The carrion in the undergrowth, slit-throated, And thousands violently slain. I noted The raping tyrant with his prey o’ertaken, The levelled city, gutted and forsaken, The ships on fire dancingly entangled, The luckless hunter that wild bears had strangled, The sow, munching the baby in the cradle, The scalded cook, in spite of his long ladle – Nothing forgotten of the unhappy art Of Mars: the carter crushed beneath his cart, Flung to the earth and pinned beneath the wheel; Those also on whom Mars has set his seal, The barber and the butcher and the smith Who forges things a man may murder with. And high above, depicted in a tower, Sat Conquest, robed in majesty and power, Under a sword that swung above his head, Sharp-edged and hanging by a subtle thread.
And Caesar’s slaughter stood in effigy
And that of Nero and Mark Antony; Though to be sure they were as yet unborn, Their deaths were there prefigured to adorn This Temple with the menaces of Mars, As is depicted also in the stars Who shall be murdered, who shall die for love; Such were the portraits on the walls above. Let these examples from the past hold good, For all I cannot reckon, though I would.
The statue of Mars was in a cart, and clad In armour, grim and staring, like the mad, Above his head there shone with blazing looks Two starry figures, named in ancient books, Puella one, the other Rubeus. The God of Battles was encompassed thus: There stood a wolf before him at his feet, His eyes glowed red, he had a man to eat. Subtle the pencil was that told this story Picturing Mars in terror and in glory.
To the temple of Diana, now, the Chaste, I briefly turn, for I will use what haste I can in trying to describe it all. Here there were many paintings on the wall Of hunting and of shamefast chastity. There I perceived the sad Callisto, she Whom in her rage Diana did not spare But changed her from a woman to a bear, Then to a star, and she was painted so (She is the lode-star, that is all I know; Her son, too, is a star, as one can see). There I saw Dana, turned into a tree* (No, not Diana, she was not the same, But Penneus’ daughter, Dana was her name). I saw Actaeon turned into a stag; This was Diana’s vengeance, lest he brag
Of having seen her naked. There they show him Caught and devoured – his own hounds did not know him. Close by there was a painting furthermore Of Atalanta hunting a wild boar, And Meleager; there were others too Diana chose to harry and undo, And many other wonders on the wall Were painted, that I need not now recall.
High on a stag the Goddess held her seat, And there were little hounds about her feet; Below her feet there was a sickle moon, Waxing it seemed, but would be waning soon. Her statue bore a mantle of bright green, Her hand a bow with arrows cased and keen; Her eyes were lowered, gazing as she rode Down to where Pluto has his dark abode. A woman in her travail lay before her, Her child unborn; she ceased not to implore her To be delivered and with piteous call Cried, ‘Help, Lucina, thou the best of all!’ It was a lively painting, every shade Had cost the painter many a florin paid.
So now the lists were made, and Theseus Who, at huge cost, had bidden them produce These temples in a theatre so stately, Saw it was finished, and it pleased him greatly. No more of Theseus now; I must pass on To speak of Arcite and of Palamon.
The day approached for trial of their rights When each should bring with him a hundred knights To settle all by battle, as I said; So, back to Athens each of them had led His hundred knights, all helmeted and spurred And armed for war. They meant to keep their word. And it was said indeed by many a man
That never since the day the world began In all God’s earth, wide seas and reach of land, Had so few men made such a noble band As in respect of knighthood and degree. Everyone with a taste for chivalry And keen (you bet!) to win a glorious name Had begged to be allowed to join the game. Lucky the man to whom they gave the word! And if, tomorrow, such a thing occurred You know quite well that every lusty knight Who loved the ladies and had strength to fight, Whether in England here, or anywhere, Would wish – you cannot doubt it – to be there. Fight for a lady? Benedicite! That would be something for a man to see.
And that was just the case with Palamon. With him there rode his comrades – many a one; Some were in coat of mail and others wore A breastplate and a tunic, little more. Some carried heavy plating, front and back, And some a Prussian shield to ward attack; Some cased their legs in armour, thigh to heel, Some bore an axe and some a mace of steel – There’s never a new fashion but it’s old – And so they armed themselves as I have told. Each man according to his own opinion.
You might have seen arrive from his dominion Mighty Lycurgus, famous King of Thrace; Black was his beard and manly was his face. To see the circling eye-balls of the fellow Set in his head and glowing red and yellow! And like a gryphon he would stare and rouse The shaggy hair upon his beetling brows. Huge were his limbs, his muscles hard and strong, His back was broad, his bulging arms were long.