ACT II
Scene VI
 

JUPITER, ALCMENE, CLEANTHIS, SOSIE

JUPITER
Do you want to drive me to despair? Alas! Stay, lovely Alcmene.

ALCMENE
No, I cannot remain longer with the author of my grief.

JUPITER
I beseech you

ALCMENE
Leave me.

JUPITER
What . . .?

ALCMENE
Leave me, I tell you.

JUPITER
Her tears touch me to the heart; her sorrow troubles me. Allow me to

ALCMENE
No, do not follow me,

JUPITER
Where are you going?

ALCMENE
Where you are not.

JUPITER
That would be a vain attempt to make. I am linked to your beauty by too close a bond to suffer a moment's separation from you. I shall follow you everywhere, Alcmene.

ALCMENE
And I shall flee from you everywhere.

JUPITER
I am very terrible, then!

ALCMENE
Yes, more than I can say. Indeed, I look upon you as a frightful monster, a cruel, furious monster, whose approach is to be feared; as a monster to be avoided everywhere. My heart suffers incredible grief at the sight of you; it is a torture that overpowers me; I do not know anything under Heaven so frightful, horrible and odious, that I could not better endure than you.

JUPITER
Alas! Do these words really come from your mouth?

ALCMENE
I have many more in my heart; I only regret I cannot find words to express all I feel.

JUPITER
Ah! What has my heart done to you, Alcmene, that I should be looked upon as such a monster?

ALCMENE
Oh! Just Heaven! He can ask that? Is it not enough to drive me mad?

JUPITER
Yet, in a milder spirit . . .

ALCMENE
No; I do not wish either to see or to hear anything of you.

JUPITER
Have you really the heart to treat me thus? Is this the tender love which I heard yesterday was to last so long?

ALCMENE
No, no, it is not; your base insults have ordained it otherwise. That passionate and tender love does not exist any longer; you have cruelly killed it in my heart by a hundred keen wounds. In its place stands an inflexible wrath, a lively resentment, an invincible indignation, the despair of a heart justly incensed, which resolves to hate you for this grievous injury, as much as it was willing to love you; that is to say to hate as much as possible.

JUPITER
Alas! Your love must have had but little strength, if it can be killed by so slight a matter! Can a jest divorce us? Is there any need to be so roused at a trifle?

ALCMENE
Ah! It is just that which offends me: that which my anger cannot pardon. I should have felt less wounded by the justifiable transports of a fit of jealousy. Jealousy makes impressions the force of which oftentimes carries us beyond our control; at such times the most discreet mind, no doubt, finds it difficult enough to answer for its deeds. The violence of a heart which may have been deluded has, in its very delusion, a peace-offering for an aggrieved soul, and the love that gave birth to its fears, furnishes, in spite of all its violence, at least some reasons to urge as excuse. Outbursts such as these ever have love as an excuse against anger: for love gave birth to them, and we can easily pardon what we cannot control.

But to fly into uncontrollable fury, in gaiety of heart, and so causelessly and keenly to wound the tenderness and honour of a heart that dearly loves you, ah! It is too cruel a blow: my grief can never forget it.

JUPITER
Yes, you are right, Alcmene; I admit it. This action is unquestionably an odious crime; I do not pretend to justify it longer: yet allow my heart to defend itself in your eyes, and let it reveal to you who is to blame for this insulting fury. To tell you frankly, it is the husband Alcmene, who has done this wrong; it is the husband whom you must blame. The lover has no share in this churlish anger: his heart is not capable of offending you. He has too much respect and affection for you ever to think of it; had he been guilty of the crime of doing aught that could wound you, he would pierce himself with a hundred stabs before your eyes. But the husband has cast aside that humble submission which should always be yours; by his harsh deeds, the husband has made himself known; he thought the rights of marriage allowed him everything. Yes, it is he no doubt who is guilty towards you; he only has ill-treated your lovely person. Hate, detest the husband; I consent to it; I yield him to your mercy; but, Alcmene, spare the lover from the anger which such an offence gives you; do not let him suffer; differentiate between him and the guilty one; and, finally, in order to be just, do not punish him for what he has not done.

ALCMENE
Oh! All these subtleties are but frivolous excuses; such language only annoys incensed minds. In vain do you use these ridiculous prevarications. I do not make any distinction in him who offends me; everything in him becomes the object of my anger, the lover and the husband are alike confounded in its just violence. Both occupy my thoughts; both are painted in the same colours by my wounded heart. Both are guilty; both have offended me; and both are odious to me.

JUPITER
Well! Then, since you wish it, I must charge myself with the offence. Yes, you are right, when you sacrifice me as a guilty victim to your resentment. Anger towards me sways you; it is but too just, and all the terrible wrath you show causes me to suffer only lawful torments. It is right you should shun my presence, and in your anger threaten to flee from me everywhere. I must be a detestable object to you; you are right in thinking ill of me. My crime in being offensive in your charming eyes surpasses every horror; it is a crime that offends men and Gods; in short, as punishment for my insolence I deserve that your hatred should vent its utmost upon me. I beg your forgiveness, I beg it upon my knees, I beg it for the sake of the most lively passion, of the tenderest love for you, which has ever been kindled in a human breast. If, charming Alcmene, your heart refuses me the pardon which I have the audacity to seek, then shall a well-aimed stroke put an end to my life, and release me from the harsh severity of a penalty which I can no longer bear. Yes, this state of things drives me to despair. Do not think, Alcmene, that, enamoured as I am of your celestial charms, I can live a day under your wrath. Even these moments' agony is barbarously prolonged and my sad heart sinks under their mortal blows. The cruel wounds of a thousand vultures are not comparable in any way to my lively grief. Alcmene, you have but to tell me I need not hope for pardon: and immediately this sword, by a happy thrust, shall pierce the heart of a miserable wretch before your eyes. This heart, this traitorous heart, too deserving of death, since it has offended an adorable being, will be happy if, in descending into the place of shades, my death appeases your anger, and, after this wretched day, it leaves in your soul no impression of hatred in remembering my love! This is all I ask as a sovereign favour.

ALCMENE
Ah! Cruel husband.

JUPITER
Speak, Alcmene, speak.

ALCMENE
Must I still keep some kindness for you, who insult me by so many indignities?

JUPITER
Whatever resentment an outrage causes us, can it hold out against the remorse of a heart deeply in love?

ALCMENE
A heart full of passion would rather expose itself to a thousand deaths, than offend the object beloved.

JUPITER
The more one loves, the easier it is

ALCMENE
No, do not speak to me any longer about it; you deserve my hatred.

JUPITER
You hate me then?

ALCMENE
I make every effort to do so, and it annoys me to feel that all your insults do not yet carry my vengeance so far as yield to it.

JUPITER
But why this violence, since I offer to kill myself to satisfy your revenge? Pronounce the sentence and immediately I will obey.

ALCMENE
It is impossible to wish for another's death if hatred be absent.

JUPITER
I cannot live unless you abandon the wrath that overwhelms me, and unless you grant me the favour of a pardon which I beg at your feet. Decide to do one or the other quickly: to punish, or to absolve.

ALCMENE
Alas! The only resolution I can take is but too clearly apparent. My heart has too plainly betrayed me, for me to wish to maintain this anger: is it not to say we pardon, when we say we cannot hate?

JUPITER
Ah, charming Alcmene, overwhelmed with delight I must...

ALCMENE
Forbear: I hate myself for such weakness.

JUPITER
Go, Sosie, make haste; a sweet joy fills my soul. See what officers of the army you can find, and ask them to dine with me. (Softly aside.) Mercury can fill his post, while he is away from here.