Prologue
 

MERCURY, on a cloud; NIGHT, in a chariot drawn by two horses

MERCURY
Wait! Gentle Night; deign to stay awhile: Some help is needed from you. I have two words to say to you from Jupiter.

NIGHT
Ah! Ah! It is you, Seigneur Mercury! Who would have thought of you here, in that position?

MERCURY
Well, feeling tired, and not being able to fulfil the different duties Jupiter ordered me, I quietly sat down on this cloud to await your coming.

NIGHT
You jest, Mercury: you do not mean it; does it become the Gods to say they are tired?

MERCURY
Are the Gods made of iron?

NIGHT
No; but one must always have a care for divine decorum. There are certain words the use of which debases this sublime quality, and it is meet that these should be left to men, because they are unworthy.

MERCURY
You speak at your ease, fair lady, from a swiftly rolling chariot, in which, like a dame free from care; you are drawn by two fine horses wherever you like. But it is not the same with me. Such is my miserable fate that I cannot bear the poets too great a grudge for their gross impertinence in having, by an unjust law, which they wish to retain in force, given a separate conveyance to each God, for his own use, and left me to go on foot: me, like a village messenger, though, as everyone knows, I am the famous messenger of the sovereign of the Gods, on the earth and in the heavens. Without any exaggeration, I need more than any one else the means of being carried about, because of all the duties he puts upon me.

NIGHT
What can one do? The poets do what pleases them. It is not the only stupidity we have detected in these gentlemen. But surely your irritation against them is wrong, for the wings at your feet are a friendly gift of theirs.

MERCURY
Yes; but does going more quickly tire oneself less?

NIGHT
Let us leave the matter, Seigneur Mercury, and learn what is wanted.

MERCURY
Jupiter, as I have told you, wishes the dark aid of your cloak for a certain gallant adventure, which a new love affair has furnished him. His custom is not new to you, I believe: often does he neglect the heavens for the earth; and you are not ignorant that this master of the Gods loves to take upon himself the guise of man to woo earthly beauties. He knows a hundred ingenious tricks to entrap the most obdurate. He has felt the darts of Alcmene's eyes; and, whilst Amphitryon, her husband, commands the Theban troops on the plains of Boeotia, Jupiter has taken his form, and assuaged his pains, in the possession of the sweetest of pleasures. The condition of the couple is propitious to his desire: Hymen joined them only a few days ago; and the young warmth of their tender love suggested to Jupiter to have recourse to this fine artifice. His stratagem proved successful in this case; but with many a cherished object a similar disguise would not be of any use: it is not always a sure means of pleasing, to adopt the form, of a husband.

NIGHT
I admire Jupiter, and I cannot imagine all the disguises which come into his head.

MERCURY
By these means he wishes to taste all sorts of conditions: that is the act of a God who is not a fool. However mortals may regard him, I should think very meanly of him if he never quitted his redoubtable mien, and were always in the heavens, standing upon his dignity. In my opinion, there is nothing more idiotic than always to be imprisoned in one's grandeur; above all, a lofty rank becomes very inconvenient in the transports of amorous ardour. Jupiter, no doubt, is a connoisseur in pleasure, and he knows how to descend from the height of his supreme glory. So that he can enter into everything that pleases him, he entirely casts aside himself, and then it is no longer Jupiter who appears.

NIGHT
I could overlook seeing him step down from his sublime stage to that of men, since he wishes to enter into all the transports which their natures can supply, and join in their jests, if, in the changes which take his fancy, he would confine himself to nature. But I do not think it fitting to see Jupiter as a bull, a serpent, a swan, or what not, and it does not astonish me that it is sometimes talked about.

MERCURY
Let all the busybodies talk; such changes have their own charms and surpass people's understanding. The God knows what he does in this affair as in everything else: in the movements of their tender passions, animals are not so loutish as one might think.

NIGHT
Let us return to the lady whose favours he enjoys. If, by his stratagem, his pursuit is successful, what more can he wish? What can I do?

MERCURY
He wishes that you would slacken the pace of your horses, to satisfy the passion of his amorous heart, and so make of a delightful night the longest night of all; that you would give him more time for his transports, and retard the birth of day since it will hasten the return of him whose place he occupies.

NIGHT
Really the employment which the great Jupiter reserves for me is a worthy one! The service he requires of me passes under a very respectable name.

MERCURY
You are somewhat old-fashioned for a young goddess! Such an employment is not debasing except among people of mean birth. When one has the happiness of belonging to lofty rank, whatever one does is always right and good; things change their names to suit what one may be.

NIGHT
You know more about such matters than I do; I will trust to your enlightened views and accept this employment.

MERCURY
Come, come, now, Madam Night, a little gently, I beseech you. The world gives you the reputation of not being so scrupulous. In a hundred different climes you are made the confidant of many gallant adventures; and, if I may speak candidly, we do not owe each other anything.

NIGHT
Let us cease these reproaches and remain what we are. Let us not give men cause to laugh by telling each other the truth.

MERCURY
Adieu. I am going there to play my part in this business, promptly to strip myself of the form of Mercury and to take in its place the figure of Amphitryon's valet.

NIGHT
I am going to keep station in this hemisphere with my sombre train.

MERCURY
Good day, Night.

NIGHT
Adieu, Mercury.

(Mercury descends from his cloud to the earth, and Night goes away in her chariot.)