The Philokalia, Acts II – III




Scene 1: Dining Room in Aldus’ house. Seated at table: Aldus, Christoforo, Erasmus, Zeno, Jacopo’s wife and two children, boy apprentice, nobles, citizens, workmen.


Mamma, ask him to tell us a story tonight!


What would you like to hear?


Oh, one of your romances! Make it in Spring,

the woods full of flowers – and there must be a castle!


Awakened by the ecstatic birds of dawn

I walked in the King’s garden: the warm breeze

among the honeysuckle’s soft gold trumpets

climbing a broken statue of the goddess,

warned my frozen heart of old promises…


[Enter Ercole and Barbara]


Messer Ercole, you are welcome in my house!            [standing]

What brings you to Venice?


An embassy for my exalted lady,

the Duchess of Ferrara.


Is Pietro Bembo here?


Pietro Bembo!


You did not know of his coming?


             Since he has gone into the new Pope’s service,

he moves in an orbit beyond my means to measure.

I’ve neither the instruments nor intelligence

to predict his appearance.


And yet I know his heart

enough to foretell — expect him here tonight.


Maria                         The story, Christoforo!


And this is your bride?




You know each other?


These poets, Manutius,

admire one another in fervent letters–

but Bembo, with most balanced judgment, rules

from the throne of criticism.


That pompous Petrarchan!


If Bembo, who is supremely a man of letters,

succeeds at last in a diplomatic career,

that is a promising sign.


Like his father before him,

Bernardo Bembo, ambassador to Florence,

friend to its enlightened ruler Lorenzo,

and loved by Ficino, who commented on Plato!


But Venice would not trust the young Pietro.

He had to seek his fame in other cities.


Did you forget where you were, Christoforo?

Old promises, remember? You promised a story!


And now it is worse in our state.

Men of exalted understanding, wary

of the perils of office, seek studious retreats.


They fear, Zeno, your exemplary fate:

one day ennobled, a military hero:

but then the sun went down on your defeat

at Brescia, and you counted your years in prison.


Then let the Senate pay mercenary captains

to betray us, and let them quarrel about it!


When politicians are not philosophers,

power and virtue, which should be the same,

become something else– ambition and greed.


Your city was built on a better foundation! These houses

of excellent stone, standing above the water,

miraculous as a vision!

And the cementing of society

in one love, whether to rule or to serve:

this is Venice! See, in this very room:

guildsmen who hold the honors of their degree:

citizens groomed for the honors of magistry:

and you, the nobles, brought up from early years

for the highest honor in the voting Senate.

No city in the world was built like Venice!


These wars, though, that claw the land’s whole breast

and trouble the sea, and the new ocean routes

off Africa that spoil Venetian commerce,

have dropped the Senate’s thoughtful gaze to its feet

with the narrow frown of a new tyranny.

All fear the Council of Ten. I dare to say it,

though someone might be listening.


Even Plato

who dogmatizes the philosopher king

himself withdrew from politics, disgusted

that Socrates was condemned!


But who more potent

than he who rules his thought, and publishes

to the horizons of time, as Plato did?


Assuming even that is safe– consider



He was burned at the stake!


It was the only way to attain his desire.


This is no conversation for the children.


There were plenty of children there to see it.


Did he bubble, and burst? Did he yell? Did he scream? Did he stink?


I’ll help you put them to bed.


Oh, do not leave.

Stay. Let us hear your lute and voice –

one of your sweet songs!


Yes, a song! Sing that one about

the beginning of the world.


Let me excuse myself from these hard matters

and give the children the lullaby they long for.


A fair lullaby– about the world’s fresh garden!

“Pure were we, and pure was the light that shone

about us,” said Plato of our first existence.

Oh, fortunate children!                                     [Exit Barbara and children

But what do you mean
[to Erasmus]

that it was the only way to achieve his desire?


The doctors’ flame provided the alchemy

he had despaired of, removing earthly dross.


You make me sick.


And I apologize.

It’s not what I’d want after so fine a dinner.


You mock my frugal table.


Not at all!

Lent is necessary for our salvation:

so, if you provide the boiled beans and grains

of the fast all year, who could criticize it?


It’s all my profits yield, with so large a household.


A noble endeavor, and I appreciate it.

I notice that none of your pressmen care for it:

and they’ve no palate for our conversations,

so they dine elsewhere, and talk of other things.

But to return to ours, Christoforo,

a more irascible philosopher

never frowned at the clerks of the Inquisition.


He made them tremble!


And you are his disciple

in respect of arrogance also?


Oh, how they feared him!

And all those volumes printed with his own hand

went with him into the fire!


That is an outrage.


Not a policy which the apostles

would even have thought. One must admit this reasoning

in Aquinas, by which the body is burned

to save the soul, is a doctrine different

from that of the time of our first Christian fathers.

That the man was in error I don’t doubt –


In what was he mistaken? The will is free.

Whether one chooses good or its opposite,

one remains free. And it does not follow

that one who chooses good has been restrained

by the puppet-strings of Providence from his desire!


Only he who chooses the good is free.

He who chooses evil becomes enslaved,

though by choice. And even he is free

to break the chains, if he can be courageous,

only through repentance.


Enslaved by your thinking…

Tell me, then, did the flames atone for his soul?

Or maybe you’d say that they were the evil passions

clinging so long until they were manifested,

the door of hell?


I have no personal doctrine.

What would you say?


Despising agony

and every thing of matter, his thought sang

above that fire under which the clouds are chained,

soared, returning, the image of God, to God!

While the Church condemned those very ideals they preach.

They know nothing! The only Church exists

above: and its saints, if you will, whose virtues

never have been understood in the world,

do not conform to the sweet, impotent paintings.


Well, I wouldn’t know, not being one.

But those who are so deluded as to believe

they’ve any knowledge of such high abstractions

might be dizzy, or might be incredible fools.


I say that he went into the heavenly hall

and dined with the King at the sacramental table,

shining, as a new constellation of the myths …


Bright as the brightest star that ever said,

“Let us make ourselves as the Most High… ”


… initiate of such mysteries as no one

dreams, least of all the dull clerics.


Or again, it might be that you,

more than the murderers in power at Milan,

proud man, are in need of salvation.


[Barbara re-enters]


“He who desires salvation, let him look

into this woman’s eyes.”


Yes, my friend.

Dante was referring to the wisdom

of Lady Philosophy, and her shining virtues.


Zeno                         Would you follow your philosopher to the stake?             [to Christoforo]


A better image of unrequited love

I can’t imagine, than the philosopher burning.


All drink now to the name of love.



symposium– what shall it be? Whether love

is likely to make a wise man crazy, or

a crazy man wise!


Whether a hard heart can be turned by magic.


What kind of love might be ideal,

or whether only unrequited love

is true, or if only the philosopher’s love

of Beauty is love, and what is the Beautiful?

Who can begin?


Love is all these things.


Then what is the deepest struggle in the heart?


The heart? “… restlessly seeking after truth…

which is veiled in many conflicting forms,

shall, when it acquires an intellectual

understanding of Deity … find peace … ”


Is God to be found out?


Only the most daring in their thought,

only those who would make each word speak

in its full poetic vigor– as, for example,

only the pre-Socratic philosophers,

whose language is so pure and vigorous –

as none of our pedantic Aristotelians

appreciate! He was nothing, a man of letters,

petty, unintuitive. Who can deny it?


I shall! Even if I know nothing of

these splendid thinkers whom you have not named,

who still lie buried in some manuscript

as yet not exhumed and clothed in print,

at least, in our dark age, we’ve Aristotle

to rouse us to gaze at the ordered universe

under the hand of God, and to think of virtue.


Only because he postulated a God,

he is acceptable to Christians, who are

incapable of thought.


Perhaps we could grant he is not the summit of thought,

yet this universal vision

shows us the harmonies of our own virtues.

At his prime, man’s body halts its growth.

Corruption sets in. But not so the soul!

He must continue to grow in virtue. Man

is framed by virtue, and that will be his labor,

no matter what his vocation.



if by “Aristotelianism” you mean

the theology of the schoolmen, I will agree –

that is the worst of evils to devout minds.

But tell me, would you deny the Incarnation?


Your pardon, reverend sir, I thought this was Venice,

and a dialogue in the house of Aldus. Or is this

the Inquisition? Then let me rephrase my thoughts…


I merely wonder, for the sake of my own thoughts,

if the Platonists think that the transcendent One

would never touch matter. If so, there is no mercy.


And thus the Trinitarians believe

they have penetrated the mystery, and may go.

Why, then, do philosophers protest,

outraged? Who could pretend to know the One?

Or claim to have thrust his hand into the side

of Logos? Still, if I had stolen such knowledge,

I would renounce it for the sake of her I love!


Plotinus and the Areopagite

would never agree!


Neither of them knew

the lady whom I love. And yet, to love her,

I might as well aspire to the unknown.


She is a statue of stone?

Surely, if she heard these agonized words,

if she had any heart, she would be moved.


Venus, so remote in the purple West,

does not keep her beauty so out of reach.

The virtues that keep her inclination and place

are fixed by laws over which love has no power.


The law which rules is love. Have you never…


However love reveals itself to me,

I have no power to contest, although

I live and die in the absence of her kiss,

or one tear shed for me! But she does not know

how my soul has gone from my hollow, crumbling ribs

to follow every movement of her hand:

and my poems are nothing but commentary

on her beauty.


[Enter Bembo]


Ercole                                     Your grace!                                     [rising]


Ercole, my faithful

Ercole! How are you? And how is my lady, the Duchess?

Does the high beauty still rule in her thoughts and unveil

itself in her loveliness?


If one spoke thus of me,

he would enjoy my patronage, I think.


[Christoforo looks away]


Then Ercole must have memorized a wealth

of priceless words that rhyme with Barbara!


A poet I’m not.


But a most sincere courtier!


Returning to your inquiry of the Duchess –                        [embarrassed]

many troubles attack her –

childbearing and the loss of children, and

the death of Caesar Borgia her dear brother,

and the ensuing wars we know too well…


Noble                         Curse the memory of Ravenna’s battle,

and all participants of the Cambrian league

joined against Venice!


Ercole                                                 A victory too costly,

in which we found ourselves excommunicated

under the previous Pope. Pietro, she begs you

frequently to commend her at the feet

of his Holiness, reminding him of her devotion

which increases as in his clemency

his Beatitude never ceases

to add to her innumerable obligations!


Bembo            We must speak more privately of this.

Aldus, have you forgotten how to talk?


Aldus                         – to see your manly and thoughtful face framed

by the Bishop’s mitre!


Bembo                                     Yes, it is I.


Aldus                         The master of love in letters?


Bembo                                     A wandering minstrel

from castle to castle, hungry, I could not be,

if that is a life of letters!


Erasmus                                                 I know too well.


Aldus                        A higher station you could not have attained.


Bembo             If successful in my present mission,

I hope for a Cardinal’s hat.


Ercole                                                             What is your mission?


Bembo             That I may not discuss.


I fear it is not in my lady’s interests.                                     [aside]


Let me introduce you to Erasmus.


Erasmus! In Venice? But if in Venice, where else

but in the house of Aldus?


So this is you!

So much correspondence have we exchanged,

we are friends already, Aldus.
His scribal hand

has mastered the beauty of that art! One gazes

over the whole composition, drinking

its perfect order of penned strokes, and the rare

elegance of each letter before, slowly,

with deep delight, reading. Did you know

that the type designed for use in your first publication,

that little love treatise, is called by your name?




That wasn’t my idea!


It has been

equated, in the popular mind, with your thought.

One would rather hope that you are remembered

for your manuscripts.


I am certain of that.

The vellums which we ourselves read are timeless…


If that were so, our laboring Aldus is mad.

He thinks the ancient word would be lost without

his groaning presses.


And our laboring Erasmus

is an outright lunatic believing

he must restore the letter and the sense

which generations of holy scribes corrupted,

though with a sure hand on the smoothest vellum.


And for my reward, recluses come out of their caves

to preach against Erasmus. the reformer!


Is all of Germany under the heretics?


Soon, I fear, all Europe will be ablaze –

men and books fan the flame, then go in –

assure his Holiness I am not of them!


In Spain, I hear, they want you for the fuel.


A thousand evil practices among

the clergy itself, and who could remain silent?

Therefore I refused at first to turn my pen

on Luther, but his immoderate ravings now

against the holy doors of the Church herself,

treatises against the Eucharist–

this is too far. The effects are to be seen

with madmen fainting in the streets while seeing

apocalyptic visions in the moon

and hearing divine whispers commanding death

to Catholics!




Let them not be given

the name of “Christian”.



Didn’t they learn this very barbarity

from their Catholic brethren?


Aren’t you fascinated,

Christoforo? Revolted as you are

by even the refined hypocrisy

of Italian prelates, you would wretch at these brutal

sons of the pagans that martyred Boniface

when the light first came to Germany. Pietro,

this young man who has fallen somewhat silent

since you came in, has a pen of promising bloom,

except that he believes

philosophy was more exalted when

beatitude was unknown.


Your eminence,

I am only a Platonist.


I think

his eminence will not be hard on you.


It is not fashionable for men of culture

to be too orthodox.


Then may I extend

this liberty to the canon of poetics?


It is true that you rule with an iron hand, Pietro.


What young poet would dare speak in your presence?


Then do, bold youth: declare the poetic doctrine!


A man must be crazy to think he knows it.


And only if a man is exalted with madness,

sang Socrates under the plane tree by the river

with his sweet love nearby, may man be poet.


Was Socrates able to untie his own

Gordian argument, or did he have to leave it

to Alexander’s sword?


Perhaps he was not able to say all

he had been breathless to learn from a wise woman:

gazing on the fading splendors of earth,

one is reminded of that beauty of which

this is a dull mirror.

What is the true, intellectual beauty?

Trying to recall it, the mind is engaged

in similitudes, and poetry emerges,

the poem itself a similitude of Beauty!


“At the sight of the Beloved,

memory races back to the form of Beauty

and he sees her again, enthroned, by the side

of Temperance, upon her holy seat.”

Behold, do I not, at this moment, see…


But if this highest Beauty is to be expressed,

style must be appropriate – and for that,

you must be more poet, and less philosopher.


Christoforo             Oh, you pedantic preacher! How dare you speak

in the face of the vision itself?


Bembo                                                 Because of brief rapture

you are passionate: but if restrained,

passion is more fitting to ecstasy.

Once, indeed, I saw it – in its fullness…


Christoforo             What do you mean by that?


Bembo             Across the crowded ballroom she delivered

her secret thoughts – a few stray words or tears

which only I was able to interpret.

No, she was not cruel: she would be

in my arms if she could! But, though she were a ruler,

she could not – a thousand guards were between us.


Christoforo             A duchess, and she loves him! Why does fortune                         [aside]

smile on such as he?


Ercole             Ah, does he believe she still could love,                                    [aside]

after so many years, so many troubles?


Bembo             When I escaped out to the balcony

where jasmine wept in the moonlight, she was there,

alone! Small, near, perfectly formed for love,

in that velvet robe which moonlight draped with softness,

pearls on her smooth neck answering the stars…


Christoforo             What dangerous insanity of passion                                                [aside]

these words excite– I cannot look at her.                         [Goes to window]


We dared not answer one another’s eyes.

The danger was as close as the precipice.

We stood, side by side, looking high

at the heavens in peace with the solitary moon.

Light filled heaven: her nearness was a stairway.

Stars like music, and a harmony

ennobling our winged souls…


Christoforo            And you, low moon,                                                                         [aside]

tilted in vain to embrace that evening star,

and Mars, frowning over your white shoulder,

what tragic overture do you strum tonight?


Better to let him believe she feels the same.                                     [aside]


[Enter Jacopo]


What a mystery is our life on earth!

Torrential life, and the bitter love of days

made perfect in a moment, my crown and meaning.

Now, though rich with honors,

I live as a wandering beggar, carrying

only a memory in my empty purse.


[Barbara weeps – Ercole lays a hand on her shoulder – Christoforo spins to stare at her]

What will I do? She wants his favor now                                    [aside]

only out of political desperation,

and he is blind to it. He is my friend!

But I am her servant, chained to her bitter needs.


Except for an endless longing, we don’t know…


Jacopo             What is it like – to serve the Sacrament?
[to Bembo]


What has that to do with our conversation?


I am confused – I thought my question was clear –

you were referring to the moment of

perfection – and you were weeping with a longing –

and I – I hardly know what it is I am asking –


It is for other men

with less of the higher ecclesiastical burden.

All my hours are consumed in waiting

upon the chief apostle,

contemplating his diplomacies

and carrying out his lengthy correspondence.

It’s relegated to deacons to feed the hungry,

by which I understand the Eucharist,

freeing the bishops to contemplate and teach.


Jacopo             Then you, sir, you’re a simple priest, that’s all!                        [to Erasmus


I never dared serve. To approach an act

of ritual meaning in a meaningless manner

horrifies me: and I am horrified

at those who teach that merely to cross oneself

suffices for repentance.


Now I understand Boccaccio!


What do you mean by that?


It tortured me that he wrote to discredit the clergy.


Jacopo, you are a simple man, unfit

for argument, troubled by a true memory

and a deep heart, but in interpretations you’ve never–


Tell me they’re not his subtle allegories,

sacrificing pure ones at the altar

of Dionysius and Aphrodite!


Well said! An orator, Aldus!


I was only reading the theologian

you told me to read – he struck this fire in me!

“But what they worship as true, they ought not veil

as mythical. But if these things are true,

they ought not call them myths…”


Polemic nonsense!

These myths are merely poetic similitudes

of the mysteries of wisdom…


“Eleusis knows

what’s guarded there by silence – and worthy of it!”

Those are his very words.


Don’t take it so hard!

This theologian merely infected you

with his quaint style.


Style? What’s that?


See, how you’re confusing my poor man!


It’s a shame how the lofty classical tongue

withered at the kissing of the cross!


What can it be you mean?


When your first German printers descended the Alps,

Erasmus, and set up press at Subiaco –


Subiaco – the perilous ravine

where adolescent Benedict ran to hide

from his clinging nurse – she was his last attachment

to the world!


As I was saying, what

was the first book to be printed in Italy?


Cicero’s Rhetoric.


How it rolls from the tongue!

Though the type, if you’ll forgive me, Erasmus,

was still too gothic for our Italian palate.

Next, off the presses at Subiaco –


The shepherds who found his cave there thought that a wild beast

hid in the gloomy rocks – such glaring eyes!


Our fathers, Lactantatius and Augustine.


Now compare –


– but it became as the manger

itself to them, such holiness lived there!


– “The lowliness of my tongue confesseth unto

Thy Highness”: and therefore, is not worth the reading.


You really think so! I am astonished, Pietro.


I speak in terms of style. The Christian authors

have a mystic touch – that is, to corrupt

the purity of speech! The unclassical Greek

of Paul, and the strange chimeric Latin invented

for the Vulgate, a book which by itself

vulgarized a noble language and

gave birth to the bastard tongues of Europe – these

should not be read in literary circles.


I am bewildered. Gregory’s Dialogues –


Style and intensity of thoughtfulness

are one and the same, as is simplicity

and lack of acuteness.


And Prudentius –


A mimic Vergil.


No, sir!

The swift, huge strides of Vergil’s thought are like

the footsteps of gods as they look down over earth –

is this what you mean by style?


Well… not entirely…

maybe a good beginning…


Prudentius, though, dwelled in the heart of Truth

which Vergil, at best, saw only from far below.


Another point for Jacopo!


But the most exalted thought that ever burned

in my heart was kindled by this theologian.

Who are the masters of this consuming fire

if even you, the priests, know nothing of it?


Yes! Who? Priests in pagan antiquity

trembled in front of the mysteries they guarded!

Even with the Christian Platonists

we see none such today,

unless Ficino dared not pass the flame.

I wonder if the Greek schismatics have seen

more brightness in the sanctuary of

their stern, eccentric hearts than we dare think?

It never occurred to me…


They are incensive enough

to excite your imagination! But is there among them

even one whose behavior speaks the language

of Christ’s commandments? That would be eloquent!

Tell me, Aldus, this feeble exile from

Byzantium’s last hour, with the half-burned

scrolls snatched from the towers of smoke – will I meet him?


One never knows when he will come.

A ghost, only at home on deserted streets

like the night in which he fled his homeland,

he haunts my shop odd hours. It’s dreamlike when

he enters with his unpredictable moods.


Twenty thousand volumes perished that night!

Everything the Greek mind gathered in

with centuries of labor, utterly lost,

lost! How can we restrain our tears!


He still smolders from the catastrophe.

His sunken eyes will show you the volcano

that eats his soul. But when he unrolls those scripts

and reads, his face is transfigured, and he weeps…


Was he – a holy man?


Not him! Court scribe,

a layman, rich like you could never imagine.

Now, though, he is hungry, and loathes himself

for selling his precious writings to the Latins!


Don’t try to impress him with your knowledge! He

will scorn you from the height of his Greek nose.

He’s liberal with his learning, though – which is vast!


I know where to find him.


How do you know?


He told me to meet him, tomorrow. Not far from here,

where the Byzantine well-head, as old as the city,

bubbles from under the pavement and is caught

in a cracked mosaic basin. In all Venice

that’s the place I love best! I am to wait,

and he will bring manuscripts.


What manuscripts?


He would not speak of that.


He favors you!

I know that there are writings he won’t mention.


Christoforo             He was watching your man when the theologian’s                         [to Aldus]

rhetoric took him—ha! He was surrounded!

Like an embattled Roman ship, engulfed

at the touch of Greek fire! Listen, Jacopo,

I will go with you.


He won’t stay if you come.


I mean to try it.


I will be there, too.


Then make it seem by chance.


That won’t be hard.

Tomorrow’s a holiday –


Ah, your famous marriage to the sea!

The Duke will cast his ring in the Adriatic?


Count yourself lucky if you’re not thrown in

where the steps descend to the waves. The crowd will lift you

by its blind will down any narrow street…


Christoforo will be my guide.


[Christoforo, Jacopo and Erasmus consult one another]


Your grace,                                     [to Bembo]

I don’t know what to say. If you accept

my frank apology on any terms

and hold me responsible…


Yes, I do,

and I rather admire the fellow – he’s worthy of you.


I’m glad you think so. His mind is a deep well,

but I’ve never understood his temper.


Too fiery.

Such innocence and the directness of questioning

may prove unfortunate in volatile times.


I tell you, it has worried me. I try

to guide his steps through the troubled world; but I can’t.

Such a nature must follow its own course.


I must speak with your grace.


Yes, my friend–


– alone!


Well, I will say goodnight.


Good night!

If you could find time to come to my island villa,

I can promise you a long quiet talk

under such stars as inspire a poet’s thoughts,

while the old trees, like bearded philosophers,

seem breathless to hear our soft speech climb to
knowledge –

though not to compare to a splendid evening here!


[Exit Zeno, Aldus, Jacopo, Erasmus … left on stage: Bembo and Ercole, Barbara and Christoforo]




Bembo                         Does she still think of me?


Ercole                                                             She does…


Bembo             If only I could see her!


Ercole                                                 Perhaps – it is possible!


Bembo             How could that be?                                                            [Ercole thinks


Christoforo             Barbara!


Barbara                                     My friend, have you missed me so much?


Christoforo             So much …


Barbara                         I’d never have thought it.


Christoforo                                                 You’d never…? I never

told you?


Barbara             He – loves me?                                                                         [aside


Christoforo                                                 Oh, what a fool,                                     [aside

now I’ve told her!


Barbara                                                 This is a betrayal                                     [aside

of our long friendship! Now, I cannot tell him

all that I need so badly to confide –

oh, it makes me sick!


[They withdraw opposite, thinking]


Ercole             I know not how, your grace, but I dare say

it could be arranged.


Bembo                                                 Then she loves me still!

Do you really think it is possible?


Ercole                                                 If it is your wish,

as it is hers, I will do anything.


Bembo             This is the same Ercole, after ten years!

Day after tomorrow, I must go back to Rome.

The days are filled with meetings…


Ercole                                                             Every hour?


Bembo             I will do well to make them all by nightfall.


Must you make every one? But I know you must,

representing the Pope! Forgive me, Pietro,

but you are not suited to diplomacy!

Your temperaments are too refined, and your cunning

not coarse enough.


Not so, not so! If only

it were so! I was once sincere and simple

as this young Jacopo: but now, how it hurts

to glance at my tarnished ideals. Perhaps it’s true

there are others more crafty…


Can you not slip away some hours?


[Bembo thinks]


Barbara             Poor fool: will I be nothing but torture for him?                                     [aside

Tell me, has your fortune changed?                                     [To him, hollowly


Christoforo                                                  Not much!
[laughs hollowly]

At least she smiles while I’m ground beneath her wheel,

and whispers that I share that honor with

St. Catherine, the martyred philosopher!

Yet it seems that a little book of mine might be printed.


Barbara             Why, that is news! Your verse? Or one of your dramas?


Christoforo             No, no. A little treatise on the technique

and hidden powers of memory.


Barbara                                                 I doubt

this is as fine as your other –


– which is not for the public to mindlessly devour,

then belch critiques.


But what an unusual music,

hinting mysterious feeling – one can almost

touch the strings of it with one’s own fingers.

Often, they have made me want to tell you…




I cannot say it …


You keep them, then. You own the only copies.

Change them into your own songs if you want to,

or touch a candle to them, I don’t care.


Only those hours which are appointed for sleep                         [to Ercole

may be sacrificed – they would be anyway,

now that I seem to be thinking of her again.

Those large, imploring eyes return, and steal

my strength of present reality– Ercole!


I will go mad! He is the only one                                                 [aside

whom I thought would believe me. Swallow my heart?

I could never show it

to a man that desires me – I should have known by now,

everyone has poison in his heart!


Trust me, I’ll find the way. Tomorrow night                                     [to Bembo

I will come to show you which road to take.

Barbara! Let us go.                                                 [Ercole and Barbara exit


I will be waiting!                                                


I must have her!


That might be arranged.                         [from offstage


Who is there? Filippo? What are you doing?


[Enter Filippo]


Spying, what does it look like?


Here? What for?


What difference does it make to you? You know

my intricate ways. This much I can tell you:

she is soon to be released from the chains

that hold her from you.


What chains are those?


Her marriage, and her exalted fortune.



Will you ruin her entirely?


Fortune and

high place are chains more heavy almost than any.


Not for me, you won’t!


I thought you desired her.


Ah, so greatly.


Well, she’s out of your reach.

But if you want to grab her, the time may come.

Do not trouble your conscience – it is not for you

these things will be done. It is fate, a wheel

you cannot stop.                                                             [points to stars


What’s to be done to her husband?


We shall see when it happens – it’s out of my hands.


Is he to be murdered?


I dare not say.


No, no!

Promise he’ll not be killed!


David himself was willing to have Bathsheba’s

husband slain, when convenient, and not by his hands.

He was no coward, and a finer poet than you!


I won’t let it happen!


I would advise you not to get involved. He has piled

a great many enemies upon him,

a weight that must crush him. Both Rome and Venice would

be interested to know of Ercole’s plan,

and to see it fail.

Then there’s the Duke of Ferrara. He knows his lady’s

little adulteries are fulfilled through Ercole.

On top of this, he has married above his station,

and she is the heiress. Her brothers, you see, are hot

to rid themselves of him by any excuse.

You may take your opportunity

or leave it, as you desire.


Christoforo             It’s useless. Were she even within my reach,

the castle of her virtue will remain,

even when she’s a widow. How she will mourn!


A castle unmanned long enough, the walls

may be overcome. Whether they be stronger

than your desire, you yourself must decide.


You don’t know her.


You think she has no desires?


Of course she does! Her eyes make all transparent.

I’ve watched the struggle in her many times.

Virtue always wins.


But if desire could be greatly magnified,

virtue finds itself in a new arena.


What? Can you summon desire to rule a woman?


Filippo             There’s more to learn in the arts of incantation

than you have guessed, my young philosopher.

Soon, you will have mastered the fundamentals,

knowing the powers of the images

I’ve given you…


Christoforo                                     On the playing cards?

Yes: staring at them, I begin to feel

ridiculously silly.


But you must intensify

your powers of concentration.


Christoforo             I cannot deny that a mental exaltation

begins when I practice your rhythmic formulas

while I stare in those strange pictures.


Filippo             These are merely introductory

to the doctrine I wish to publish in disguise –

me in my wood engravings, you in your treatise

veiled as a theory of memorization.

But first, you must know yourself. What are those wild

unknown desires? Dark powers struggling

for recognition, or they will eclipse your heart?

This madness for a woman who could be yours

is an opportunity – do not be afraid

of the strength of your will. You must be taught to discern

its goals, and to direct it with mastery.


I won’t make her my slave!


Then you be hers,

if that is what you wish. But meet me tomorrow

at dark behind our usual church, if you’d rather

be shown how passion may achieve its end.





Scene 2: The piazza: Erasmus and Christoforo, among the crowd.


Will we find them in this crowd?


Jacopo will bring him across that bridge.


There is so much to see!


I will keep watch, then.

This foolish ceremony makes me weep.


My young Stoic, your moods are inconsistent.

When the ladies appear, I’m afraid your detachment will fail.


No, my thoughts are fixed on only one.


[Enter Antonio and Filippo, apart]


Take your own part in the guild procession.

Your wagon will pass the prison. Begin your practiced

insults at the flags of the mounted nobles

just as they turn at the column. Seem to defend

the jailed ambassador of the exiled Greeks,

and force it quickly to an open fight.


I thought you wanted me to print your maps!

I dare not do this.



I assure your protection.


Can you do that? News of revolt is strange

in Venice, where even the cobblestones seem to hear.


Filippo!                                                 [From a high prison window


Who is that?


An enemy.

You misunderstand my intentions: I’m not with the Greeks.

We think they want to overrun the city.

They believe it was theirs!


Are you one of the Ten?


I am.




Then– I dare not oppose you!


Let no one know of my secret office.



Look up here, see how you ruined me with your lies!


Filippo             The Greeks have influenced the presses. Think about it!

A generation ago, our native writers

were strong, original: poetry was our own!

Our thinkers shaped new politics. But now

our best scholars think only of ancient Greece.


I’ll take your word for it, sir…


Filippo                                                 You’ll see for yourself.

When it comes to swords, watch how the guilds take sides.


Antonio             Give me some token of your guarantee.


You see that man?


Antonio                                     Aleppo?

The banker for the merchants’ confederation?


An organization more powerful than kings.

Go to him. Say I sent you. See what he pays!


I will.


If that does not convince you, wait

by the wall into that street, and you’ll hear more.


[While Antonio carries out these instructions, Filippo continues to himself:]


Pretentious Republic, you compare yourself

to Athens and Rome? Your aristocracy

is enrolled by wealth. Your laws are built on greed

and trading rights. No one here can be trusted.


Filippo, Filippo! Why won’t you look up?


[Enter out of the street where Antonio is waiting, Chrysologus and Jacopo. Christoforo, seeing them, brings Erasmus near to where they must walk.]


These were a bishop’s words?


That was what he said.


That the Christian writers

corrupted the purity of the ancient language?


Is that what he meant by “style”?


What disregard of the value of a word!

I have purple vellums inscribed with gold,

bound in jewels, with brilliant miniatures

scattered through the pages, each worth a kingdom!

But I have others – poor, scribbled rolls,

which, if you could read them,

would show the heart of all mysteries!


Christoforo                                                              Now!
[to Erasmus

That’s what I said, yes. Ethics hold value

only in a limited world.


How you goad me!

What world but hell is separated from goodness?


Christoforo             Ethics, like politics, is a practical science.

It would never dare attempt to climb

to the transcendental Good,

which only contemplation may see, and only

with the terror of its distance from us.

How we should act is a question of conflicting

appearances, changeable and particular.

Well, old man! What daring brings you out              [turning to Chrysologos

in the day itself, in a crowd of heretics?


Not the foolish daring on which you fly

with Icarius’ wings toward your tragic conclusions.


He’s proud as the hero of all the tragedies!

Come, Christoforo, you’re a playwright: you know

the theme of the old conflict: man must learn

to weigh one seeming good against another

and waken conscience at last. The realization

is worth the hero’s life. Can you deny it?


Perfect conscience will only be found through prayer,

and pure prayer – who can tell us where that’s found?

 [holding up his scroll


The desert fathers? What a disappointment!


Knowing one’s own heart is the hardest labor,

and yet it is the science of sciences.


I have never heard truth so quietly spoken!


Such are the hidden writings, most sought by those

with the greatest thirst.


And choking on the dust

of mirages, they died, skeletons already.


But if you knew the oasis

to which they were led through that disguised landscape,

to bitter waters made sweet by miraculous wood

and gushings out of the rock? For a taste of it

our spiritual fathers despised not only

their flesh, but even every thought of their own.


The thought of a man must be a precious thing,

if the battalions of angels and devils needed

such wide deserts for their invisible footprints

while they fought for one emaciated monk.


Thus he begins his dialectic. Already

I know where it ends: in a lofty heresy.


“Never belittle the significance

of thoughts, for not one escapes God’s notice,”

said Mark the Ascetic. Nevertheless, our fathers

counsel thus: “Leave behind perception

and intellectual efforts, and all objects

of sense and intelligence: and all things

being and not being: and be raised

as far as attainable, unknowingly

to the union with Him above all knowledge and essence.”


I think it can be proven

this Dionysius is a forgery.


You were able to come to such a monstrous conclusion?


Erasmus             Like you, I have a passion for purity

in the original texts. My studies in

philology reconstruct …


You reconstruct?

You think you are wiser than the holy fathers?


Erasmus             No, I do not. Yet I think it is likely

a thousand years of copying may cause

significant departures from their own thoughts.


Chrysologos             Perhaps. But such a claim against such a father,

one of the first in time, and one of the first

in orthodoxy, is a daring reconstruction!


Erasmus             As you will. The language that he uses

was not possible until after Proclus.


This only makes clear what I’ve long suspected:

the best of your holy ancients were Platonists.


It never occured to you that Proclus could be

the student, and Dionysius the teacher?


However you try to make it otherwise,

Cassian learned it from Evagrius

who had it from Origen the Platonist.

And think of their predecessors: Pantaneus,

Clement and Justin – how many must I name?

Athenagorus, and the Areopagite,

the master of the mystic philosophers!


And you’ve misunderstood them all.


They lifted their eyes above all things that fade,

wise, as in the beginning,

before the primordial intelligence,

satiated with contemplation, turned

its thoughts away from the One –

before the soul was closed within the flesh.


True, the theory of our pre-existence,

and other Neoplatonic principles

which Origen allowed for the sake of investigation

in dialogue with the students of Plotinus,

became the root of many misunderstandings

on the nature, substance, and even the person of Christ.

Influenced by mere conjecture, grave errors were born

attempting, by reason, to tear the royal cloak

of perfect humanity from His broken flesh;

or, to further blind the eye of the soul

from its full inheritance of enlightenment

freely given, to rob Him of the essence

of Godhead, as though that were possible!


Christoforo            Philosophers never argued those fine points

until the Christians forced their doctrines upon them!


Chrysologos            Our wise and holy fathers, you think, were forced

to swallow theological vision? To bathe

in the miracles of uncreated light?

But they were forced to speak when they saw their people

led into fatal philosophical errors…


All our intelligence is a reminiscence

of our first state, and the conscience is

our passion for the memory of things

that are divine!


His thesis is this hypnotic memory…


The memory of things that never happened!


Unchanging Ideas, of which the Platonists speak,

are figured in the stars, whose writings I learn

from the mystic philosophers and their exegetes.

God may be sought in the wisdom of that high book

which the Church forbids me to read!


The stars! You think you understand the stars?

If you believed they were signs of the thoughts of God,

you think in your arrogance you are able to read them?

Even the angels were astonished when

the Magi’s star appeared, and where. But man

in his meager intelligence believes to interpret

a fatal doctrine there,

reading destinations

when even the angels do not know the outcome.


One’s will is superior. No star can bend it!

In my soul’s winged chariot I must climb

beyond their dizzying spheres and then stare into beauty,

while the stamping black horse of the appetites

spits blood against the bridle.


Chrysologos             Then what of a man who ascends to a glimpse of knowledge?

Acquiring all virtue, he falls

from the height of lonely pride

to die by his own hand – like Seneca!

What a radical change of heart and will

you would need, to turn toward the mysterious

blessings held in store by eternity!

This is Origen’s philosophy, young friend,

far different from yours.


Your words are strange…


Erasmus                                     …smothering the fire of his arguments.

[to … Jacopo, pointing at Christoforo


These are like the words of the Theologian!

That’s what I was trying to tell you last night.


You are old, and bitter. Your life has come to nothing.

The sagging speech of these wrinkled manuscripts

is like your own wasted heart.


Oh, it makes me weep!

I, like you, was a scholar, a man of the court

in the splendid city: and with all truth at hand

I lived ambitiously, was honored by

the Emperor himself, who made me rich

while I misled him in intrigues… how God scourged us!

He preferred that the heathen possess such a city…

I saw my children slain… my wife led off

from the church where she had hid… women were gathered

like cattle there, and sold…

the holiest breathed a sigh almost of relief

as they died, or fled for the distant monasteries…


Why did you come to Venice? You don’t like it.


Because … I am an outcast. Not only from

the Eastern court, but also somewhat from God.

I was not able to stay in the monastery

enduring the weight of my sins. Oh, what a failing…                        [he weeps


I hope our city isn’t doomed to the storms

like Jonah’s ship– or we’ll toss you in the sea!


I bear a prophet’s penance… no, that’s delusion:

yet the holy abbot said I would accomplish things
in the land estranged from Christ where I will be buried –

such a man he was, with a soul of lightning!

Now, the hurricane of my wasted life

strands me in Venice, among the beached wreckage

I stare at, scattered around me –

relics of a hundred saints rest here:

and manuscripts, their own words, lost otherwise,

are gathered and unrolled… as in the ikons…


If you wish to visit any of their monuments,

I can show you, during any Mass…


I’ll have no part in such irreverence

so near their bones!


Jacopo             Schismatic fool! How dare you?
[shoves him


You’ll be so rough on an old man? [piteously


You say such a thing, and accuse me of roughness?

I don’t know whether to pity or despise you!                                     [laughs


Chrysologos             What do you think is your own origin?

Is it not plain that this is a Byzantine city

fallen in ruins worse than Constantinople?

Your patriarch and doge were not invested

from the West. What corrupt myths do they tell

when he casts his ring in the sea, facing sunrise?

The marriage of commerce? What a sorry tale!

The riches from the East are symbolized …


It must be true! This Greek appears to be
[To himself

inciting rebellious thoughts. Then must I do it?


Fascinating! The ritual of the ring

and water… ordination? Or baptism?

Or the unity that was the Christian faith

in every land that touched the sea?


I must.


What is this scroll you have?


St Mark the Ascetic.


Will you let us see it?


It cannot be done.


What do you mean?


I shouldn’t have quoted it.

For most, purification from the passions

is enough– yet that’s no little thing!

This is an understanding reserved as a gift

only to those. Without it, contemplation

leads only to delusion.


Are we the toys of your senility?


To read– would only confuse you.

And only under the dome of the one true Church

can the voice of God be heard with clarity.


To hell with you!
[shoves him to the ground


[Weeping and pitiful, Chrysologus falls. Jacopo and Christoforo laugh, walk away: Erasmus starts to go to him. But suddenly a screaming crowd stampedes across the stage. Jacopo and Christoforo are backed against a wall – Chrysologus is trampled – Erasmus is swept away. Crowd exits, then mercenary soldiers burst onstage, followed by Antonio who hides behind a pillar.]


There, those are some from the Printers Guild!

Look out for the others,

and don’t let any of the Greeks get away!


What is this?
[Drawing sword


Whatever you do, don’t draw.


[Chrysologus screams as the soldiers pounce on him, but Jacopo drives them off. The manuscript is torn from Chrysologus’ hand, lands on stage.]


Jacopo, I leave you to your own reckless temper.


Cowards! To fall on an old defenseless man!

What has he done?


Oh, see, this one wants to show his skill.

Let me have him, while you bury that skeleton.


No! You will all have to satisfy your sport

in me before you touch his wilted beard.


[They fight]


He’ll be killed.


Christoforo                         `            But I never knew he had

such heart! I must help him.                                                 [Drawing his sword]


Antonio             No! Jacopo,

put up your sword. This has gone far enough.


[Coming out of hiding.]


There is the one who started it all. On him!


Wait! Who is your captain? I must speak

with him.


On him, fools, before he has

a chance to draw.


But surely, you must know…                         [he is stabbed

Ah! I am deceived!                                                             [dying


Mercenary cowards!


[Jacopo and Christoforo fall on them furiously – several mercenaries fall dead and wounded.]


Help! Help!


[Crowd of mercenaries arrive. As Christoforo and Jacopo are backed into a corner with Chrysologus, enter Filippo.]


That’s enough! Now, drop your swords.

It is illegal to unsheathe them in Venice.


But it was in defense…


We will hear it all

before the assembled Council.


[Jacopo picks up torn manuscript, hands it to Chrysologus, who motions for Jacopo to keep it.]


Give that to me.


You will find nothing in it

that would interest you.


We must have it

as evidence.


It’s nothing, old sayings

you would find unpleasant and harsh, such as this:

“When harmed, insulted, or persecuted by someone,

do not think of the present, but wait for the future,

and you will find that he has brought much good,

not only in this, but in the life to come.”

You see? Is that something you really want?

Never throw your treasure to these dogs.
[Aside to Jacopo]


Let him hold on to it then, I don’t care.

See that neither it disappears, nor themselves.


[All exit. Enter, Erasmus from hiding.]


Does anyone know what all this madness is?

I’ll have to find where they’re going, then fetch Aldus.


[One of the dying mercenaries lifts his head.]


Father… don’t leave us!


[Erasmus, looking horrified, exits hurriedly.]









Scene 1: The Senate Chamber. Ten Senators, the “Council of Ten”, are seated: Bembo stands before them. Aldus and Erasmus stand to the side.


1st Senator
Our city’s own son – ambassador from the Holy See!


Bembo             I am honored to serve you in this capacity.

(Wait for him outside Aldus I house. Bring me his message in writing. Don’t let him speak!)
[aside to aide


[Exit aide]


1st Senator
Honored? Indeed. Why do you seem nervous?


Bembo              (I don’t understand why he hasn’t returned.)


1st Senator
Because we doubted your diplomatic skills when you were young, that is no reason not to redeem yourself!


His Holiness wishes to build your finances in your war against Ferrara.


2nd Senator
Most generous! How does he wish to do so?


With a sizeable loan.

(I am tormented by the thought! Yet what do I care for the Duke of Ferrara? He owns her body, not her soul.)


1st Senator
We have our own bankers.


And their monies are depleted.


2nd Senator
They are invested in mercantile enterprises, yes.


Yes, and in the wars of His Majesty, the King of France, who threatens our common borders!


1st Senator
What is the cost of this loan?


Only that you re-establish the source of your saltpeter trade, purchasing from the Pope’s new mines…


1st Senator             And boycotting the Turk?


Bembo             That’s right.


1st Senator
Oh, is that all?                                                                         [sarcastically


One more thing.


2nd Senator
We can guess what that is!


That the Patriarch of Aquilea and the clergy of your Republic bow to the Pope’s unquestioned authority.


3rd Senator
We accept His Holiness as our spiritual leader already.


Then why does he have so little authority to administer your churches and to appoint your clergy?


3rd Senator
If the Church of Rome were purified by a more spiritual conception of her own nature and mission, such a question would not exist.


On the contrary…


3rd Senator
On the contrary, Papal administration and censure has become and instrument of political ambition.


Shall I relay your answer to His Holiness?


1st Senator
We will consider what answer we will give.


I cannot wait…


1st Senator
But you must. Right now we have an important internal matter to consider. Will you have a seat?


I am afraid I must go.


1st Senator
I think you will find our personal concerns of interest, since you are considering such generosity toward us. Bring in the prisoners and the witnesses.


[Enter soldiers with Jacopo and Chrysologus]




1st Senator
You know this man?


Why, yes, I met him at Aldus’ house.


2nd Senator
Oh, you have been there? On official business?


No, that’s a personal affair.


1st Senator
So we understand.


2nd Senator
Filippo, why do you think the presses are responsible for the Greek uprising?


Because they are not yet an established guild.


3rd Senator
They have been well protected by our trade laws. You own the sole right, Aldus, to use your new “italic” letterform…


Everyone pirates his copyright.


3rd Senator
That is no reason to start a rebellion! You are doing well, are you not?


I have no profits to show for my labor. But that is not why I …


No, of course not. Aldus wants more than protection – he wants a place in the Senate!


2nd Senator
Can you prove this charge?


Consider the men he entertains in his home – intellectuals disenchanted with our government. Then he staffs his presses with these people.


2nd Senator
Yes, we know of this activity.


And think of the ideas they glorify in type…


1st Senator
What have you to say to this?


Lies, from the beginning. Search into it.


1st Senator
We have. Did not one say: “Let the Senate pay mercenary captains to betray us…”


2nd Senator             I believe that was Zeno?


[Aldus and Erasmus stare at each other]


1st Senator
And this gentleman – let’s see – this: “When politicians are not philosophers, power and virtue, which should be the same, become something else – ambition and greed.”


2nd Senator


Yes, well quoted! I said that.


1st Senator
That was only the start. And this: “All fear the Council of Ten. I dare say it, though someone might be listening.” Do you want to hear more?


Our motive is nothing other than the reading, interpretation and emending of valuable texts.


2nd Senator
What makes them valuable?


Their value is in themselves, increasing the value of our minds. That is all. There is nothing to investigate. What evidence do you have for a Greek uprising even?


1st Senator             Let this one tell us that.                                     [pointing to Chrysologus


Don’t be ridiculous. He can’t even be understood – much less trusted.


1st Senator
Let him speak!


What is your question?


2nd Senator
Have you not spoken openly against the honored institutions of our state and our Holy Church?


Not openly. Only to a few who would not themselves hear of it. Were there others who were interested enough to have been listening unseen?


2nd Senator
Was your intention to inspire the overthrow of our institutions?
They are not important enough to me for that!


1st Senator
Let him be sent from our city.


If that pressman were still alive, he could tell you who inspired this riot!


What’s this?


Now he shows more interest!


Is one of my men slain?


His last words – I remember now!


Whose last words?






He said he was betrayed – what did he mean?


1st Senator
Are there other witnesses to these words? Where is the captain?


This is proof of conspiracy.


But why – when he was stabbed by one of the mercenaries –


Filippo! You led him to his death!


You would accuse me?


You wanted to hire Antonio, I know, to break Antonio’s contract with me! Why are you trying to ruin me? Why did you fabricate this? What is it, that is worth my man’s death?


1st Senator
That’s enough! We will conduct the inquiry! Jacopo. Explain your actions against our soldiers.


They were going to kill a defenseless man, and I was not going to allow it. Pronounce your sentence on me.


2nd Senator
Did you receive something from this defenseless man?


This?                                                                                     [holding out scroll


2nd Senator
This is yours?                                                                         [to Chrysologus


No. It belongs to him.


2nd Senator
It is yours then?
[to Jacopo


… yes…
[after a pause: amazed, staring at Chrysologus]


2nd Senator
May we see it?                                                                                     [reads

Old sayings, like he said.

You may take it with you into exile.


[Jacopo receives it reverently]


Exile! For what reason?


1st Senator
You know it is unlawful to brawl.


This is not a formal trial at all! Even without a fair trial you exile him?


1st Senator
He has no right to trial! It is only because of… the importance of the issue at stake – he could have been executed, and so could you.




1st Senator
It is within our legal power to do what is necessary to protect the state. It is useless to argue it.


It is not. Should such “misfortune” befall Aldus’ house, the Pope himself would have to be answered.


1st Senator


Do not underestimate the importance

of Aldus to the world! Venice is known

more for the spread of ideas through the earth

than for her commerce even.

From her threshold of waves, books are packed under sail

to every port. Venice has become the voice

of the new intellect, more even than Rome!


This is their aim, you see. Their political motives differ from the interests of our Republic.


If this kind of trial represents that interest, this Republic is no subtle farce – uh, that is, force.


1st Senator
Who is this man?


Erasmus is my name.


1st Senator
How did he come to the city, and we weren’t informed?


2nd Senator
Not only to the city, but right into a meeting of its secret Council!


1st Senator
Filippo, you must have known. Did you neglect to tell us?


I’ve had many things on my mind.


1st Senator
This is no simple blunder.


You might as well have me killed – secretly, of course.


1st Senator
We must discuss these charges in private.


So if you want to make up plots against your Republic and its infamous Council, remember that if anything happens to Aldus or myself, all Europe would turn against Venice! Can you risk that now?


1st Senator
Gentlemen, if you will please withdraw to this room?


[Senators exit]


Antonio! God have mercy on his soul!                                     [weeps


Who did he think betrayed him?


Filippo!                                                                                     [angrily


Where will I go? To the monastery? To some other city?            [aside


Why doesn’t he return?                                                              [aside


How will my family find me? How will I provide for them? God help me!


Don’t expect to hear from him tonight. He is more careful than you.

[to Bembo


What do you mean?


Couldn’t you tell? They know you are waiting for Ercole.


They! Do they think… but Strozzi knows nothing of my mission here.


He probably does.


I didn’t tell him!


Aldus                         He is more careful than you.


Bembo             If they think… they would suspect a secret alliance with Ferrara, but – they can see, that doesn’t make sense! It would be working against my mission from the Pope.


But don’t you suspect that is just what is happening?


Strozzi wouldn’t do that – at least not to me!                                     [pause

How do you know this?


With a few more years in this diplomatic work, you’ll understand many things. You will learn to make your actions invisible.


You have a sharper eye than I realized.


And yet not sharp enough… to save Antonio!


I was only just setting the last lines of the Paradisio – I will not be able to finish it! Now, like Dante, 1’m
an exile, not only from my home, but from the world!


My mission is doomed. If they refuse the Pope’s offer, he will open the door to France.


He would not betray Italy like that!


In his anger, he would, I’m afraid.


[Re-enter Council]


1st Senator
Aldus, you are to return to your home, knowing now you are under watch. But your workman and your Greek associate must leave, tonight. They will be escorted to the city gates. This young man, we have been convinced, is innocent under the circumstances. He is to be released under Filippo’s watch.             [indicating Christoforo]


Bembo             Go to Rome. His Holiness wishes to build his own press, one that will rival any in Italy – I will entreat him to employ you.                                                [to Jacopo


That’s a stroke of luck! Jacopo would be qualified to build the whole operation!


With Aldus’ recommendation, your position is assured.


Your misfortune is transformed into a worthy promotion! Go. We will see your family safely conveyed to Rome.


1st Senator
Pietro, you are to return to the Pope. We will send our answer to him later – we have appointed Filippo our ambassador. Take the exiles away.


[Exit soldiers with Chrysologus and Jacopo]


2nd Senator
As for Strozzi: his mission has been interrupted.





Scene 2: A street outside Aldus’ house. Christoforo alone.


One lit window in Aldus’ house tonight,

beacon for two men lost in colliding storms.

He doesn’t return. She waits. She is alone!

I’ll fight my way to her …


You had better not.


The darkness challenges me? Who is it there?

I’ll cut the cloak from your face!


I doubt the strength of your hand.

Fear masters your eyes.


Darkness walks

on either side of you with giant steps!


Put away your sword!

[Christoforo drops it]


Filippo!  I’m not going with you tonight.

This is how I will make my escape, climbing

toward my star.


The stars are not in such places

that you would succeed. It’s best you come with me,

as you’ve been ordered to do.





Scene 3: In an empty cathedral, the same night.


What lofty gloom sits in the old cathedral

when no one is here!


Five bowls of burning oil for the pentagram.

Seven candles, outline of a star.

We have to stand in the inner circle, screened

by the smoke of burning herbs in these twelve pots.


What a foul odor!


You will find it

an effective protection from the apparitions

that will walk out of this gloom, fighting for

your fragile mind for their own rightful spoils.


What are you writing there?


Names which are found

in your Areopagite.


Except – they are all spelled backwards!


You did not think

he would leave such words of power undisguised?

Tonight you’re going to get an education!

Put on your robe.


Why do you write so slowly?


What do you know of writing? Because you’re a scholar,

you think you know anything?


I am a poet!


That’s better, but not good enough. Knowledge

can only be imparted with directness.

That which you read is only partly known.


Then why are you writing now?


Writing itself

is an ancient invocation! Its power was lost

in the use of letters, which were mystic symbols

until, with too much writing, they became common.

To record the truth is to weaken its force

in other ways as well – which can’t be explained.


You make me crave this knowledge!


It were better

to be illiterate! In our natural state

which you’d call “ignorance”, the memory

is full of power. Literacy is illusion,

disguising one’s own ignorance from oneself!


What are we waiting for?


For the lazy moon.

When it comes to that window, and throws its ghost of light

across that statue’s face, we will begin.


The statue of St Thomas?


That is not St Thomas.


Is this his Church?


The builders knew otherwise.

Its dedication is to a terrible god

of the ancient religion – older than the Etruscans.


You think there is a God?


If you mean by “God” some supreme One,

I know of none. He hasn’t shown himself.

If there is God such as the Christians believe,

I hope He keeps His distance.

The Ideas you seek, I know them all, as Persons.

I know their powers, and am endowed with power.

If men knew what forces are in the world

they would live in fear of the unknown universe

as once men did. Your own imagination

is the power that sees into the unseen realms.

The turbulent sea of matter, this rolling surface

of sensible things is less than a fingernail’s thickness

above the depth of chaos. We may shape

and make it prisoner of our own will,

or we may drown. One must know and subdue

tremendous forces without a trace of fear,

or they’ll rip your soul to shreds. That is why

your training of memory and imagination

was arduous. How much more difficult,

how much more labor and intense concentration,

to carve in ether the strokes of one’s own will

than to pen a letter correctly, or to draw an image!

Yet even the very letter of the invocation

must be exact, or you will lose your soul.

The time has come!                        [shouting this last, thrusting arms in air


No, wait.


Conquer your fear!



I can’t!


Fear exists in the presence of gods,

yet you must overcome it.


                                     But –


Silence now!


Oh, this is evil!


I thought you didn’t

subscribe to childish theories. The secret doctrine –


But I never saw demons before!


Do not dare

to call them that! These gods of the vast domain

are older than the earth.


Man, you are deluded!

These are the very friends of the devil himself.


Silence! Master your thoughts! They’re threatening

to break through the circle!
[Cowering, Christoforo farts loudly]


Oh, God! What did you eat at Aldus’ house?


Where did they go?


You’ve ruined everything!


I did that? I never would have dreamed

I had such power! It’s just like you said,

the will is centered in the bowels, hey?


Snuff out those fires. Gather up the things. [disgusted

If you wanted power over her, you could have had it.

Even as it is, some things were accomplished…


[A scream outside]


Christoforo              That’s her!


Filippo                          News of her husband.


[Shock on Christoforo’s face]


Oh, did I tell you?

We’re going to Rome – to the Vatican!


Not me!


Did you forget? You are my prisoner.


[Loud sob-like screaming outside]


Don’t worry after her – we’ll find a way

to bring her to us in Rome.





Scene 4: The Duchess’s chamber in the Ducal Palace in Ferrara. Barbara, with Lucretia Borgia the Duchess, and Barbara’s brother.


I hope to cheer you with the lofty honor

which is given to you.


My heart is too shattered to catch a drop of hope.


But if you were esteemed as our delegate

to the Papal Court?


Me? Why?


News of your rare wit and intelligence

have reached the ears of the Pope. He Himself

has asked for you.


I am to be nothing

but one of his concubines!


What of it? A more distinguishing career

for a woman of high degree could not be found.

It’s more an honor than an honorable marriage

to one of lesser station.


I’m not your whore!

Ercole was ten times a better man than you!

He had virtue, where you’ve got only a name.


Lucretia             Your words and your manners seem to lack something, don’t they,

even if you’re her brother? Leave us at once.
[to him


[He exits]


You won’t send me against my will?


I must,

even against my own. Relations with Rome

are desperate.


Can even fate be this cruel?


Oh, more than this. I myself am nothing,

a concubine for the Duke my husband – one

of many! I, remember?

Daughter of a Pope! And like my mother,

you will know the exaltations of fortune

as well as its crushing demands.


But I don’t want it,

neither its curse nor its gifts.


It doesn’t matter.

Women in our position have no voice.

My first husband was the choice of my youth,

but my brother had him murdered – I was forced to watch!


Oh, merciful God!


I thought my heart would never live again.

I let my family arrange this marriage,

enlarging, with Ferrara, the dual empire

of a Pope and his bastard son, Caesar Borgia,

my brother! I hated them, and loved them, too.

But the young Pietro – the perfect courtier!

What fire in my withered heart! But I was mistaken,

fooled by the beauty of his poetry –

never had I heard such poetry!

Ah! Is it not what every woman dreams?

When I realized he, too, was in love with his verse

more than with me, that was the stone on my tomb.

He never would dare what is necessary

to embrace me! Even now I’d forgive it –

yet more for the sake of my adopted city

and his influence with this new Pope, who was

my father’s enemy.


You would betray

your lover in Milan?


I know you don’t like him.

He would have to be sacrificed. His love

is passionate and real, but could not produce

the same effects in statecraft.


You are a witch!


No, you mistake me. I am a broken widow.


I beg you, by the memory of your first love,

do not send me to Rome!


I once thought

my heart was free, and I could follow it.

It’s too late. Your fate has been decided.

Your beauty has already been described

and your poems read to him. He awaits you

eagerly. It is not in our power

to disappoint him now.





Scene 5: Pre-dawn light on the banks of the Tiber River. Jacopo meets a stranger beside a landed boat.


Sir, I will pay you well if you will take me across.


Why do you wish to go into Rome?


What business is that of yours? I wish to cross, and will gladly pay. If not, my sword will pay.


No need for that! It were much simpler to answer my question. Consider me, if you will, a philosopher: enter into dialogue with me before you enter my boat – dialogue or debate, as you wish. If you win me over by convincing me you have a worthy goal beyond this river sanctified
by ancient martyrdoms, into that city, why then, you should pass, and I shall willingly take you there myself, and without pay.


I am compelled to that city by the strong arm of destiny itself, and have no choice but to comply. Therefore, I must go, whether I win my way by argument, by pay, or by force of sword.


You are compelled by destiny? Come now, be a man! Destiny? I don’t mean to strain after definitions, but it seems
to me you could mean several things by the word. If you mean fate, which is an agent of powers higher than oneself and for purposes other than one’s own, then the question for debate is what is man in relation to the universe, and how great is his power to choose his own direction, or how helpless he is. If, on the other hand, you mean Providence, that is another concept altogether, as you may know from Boethius: one which presupposes the Almighty, and which presumes that His will for every man is for that man’s good: in which case his choice is either to try to understand that Providence and its messengers, and to abide with it for one’s good, or else to oppose it, whether knowingly or ignorantly. Now if you are here by the aid of Providence, well then, so am I, and my act of questioning is to help direct you toward your goal, unless, of course, you already know what that is.


Sir, what could be gained by discussion? You seem to be a man as I am: can you win such an understanding?


Stranger             If you remain unconvinced by my attempt, I will abandon the boat to you, though I will not take you across myself unless you win me over. On the other hand, if I convince you that you should not go into that city, you must turn back according to my advice.


I don’t see how that could be. My destination is the holy city, and my determination is to print the words of the Holy Fathers.


A worthy goal! There is none better – unless it were to live by those words. Yet I must question whether holiness be in that city. Once there was…


You are a Lutheran, then?                                                [draws sword


But if I am not, what then?


Then you are a Greek, or a convert to the schismatics.




Then you must know the seat of the Holy Church is that city.


I could allow you to go and see for yourself that it is not so…


You will not stand in my way!


… but you’ve no idea what awaits you. I cannot allow it.


You! Who are you? A philosopher! Your arguments contain nothing. Stand aside!


Will you kill me?


Jacopo             [pause] No. But I will throw you… God! Where do you get such strength? Why do you insist on standing in my way?


You cannot pass except according to our agreement. If I have failed to convince you, so have you failed to convince me.


Then allow me to take your boat, as we agreed.


You will find yourself wishing you had heard me. Who will be there to discuss your destiny…


I don’t know!


…when you thought you had come to seat of the Church, and can find it nowhere…


Wherever God allows simple people to believe, He will not cast them out.


Behold, you have prevailed, Jacopo.




Where did he go? How did he know my name?






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