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II.-Constantine the Great and St. Athanasius.
An Historical Incident dramatised.
Note.—[For the circumstances in which the following Dramaticle is founded, the reader
may consult Gibbon's “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," chapter xxi. from which the following is an extract—" He (Athanasios) resolved to make a bold and dangerous experiment, whether the throne was inaccessible to the voice of truth; and before the final sentence could be pronounced at Tyre, the intrepid primate threw himself into a bark which was ready to hoist sail for the imperial city. The request of a formal andience might have been opposed or eluded; but Athanasias concealed his arrival, watched the moment of Constantine's return from an adjacent villa, and boldly enconntered his angry sovereign as he passed on horseback through the principal street of Constantinople. So strange an apparition excited his surprise and indignation; and the guards were ordered to remove the importunate suitor : but his resentment was subdued by involuntary respect ; and the haughty spirit of the Emperor was awed by the courage and eloquence of a bishop who
implored his justice and awakened his conscience.”] I bave taken some liberties with my subject, which the historical reader will at once
observe, and excuse.
Scene the suburbs of Constantinople.--Enter on horseback the Emperor Constan-
tine.—The Prefect of the guards.- The Chamberlain of the palace (an Eunuch).-
Various officers of State, Guards, &c.—And a little apart, the Emperor's three Sons,
Constantine, Constantius, and Constans.
Constantine. How sweet the perfume rising from yon glade
Of flowering jasmine—while with lulling sound
The turtle cooeth from the olive boughs.
There is a jocund lightness at my heart,
The spirit of the dawn breathes o'er my soul.
Nay, prick not on so fast, Constantius:
The eunuch has some gossip to recite,
So lag we here amidst the shrubs and flowers. Constantius. All nature laughs, but on our father's brow
Sits settled gloom. "Tis rarely now he smiles
Since that dark day of wrath when Crispus fell.
Constantine. Hush! If his ear but catch that fatal sound
'Twill on the instant change him fearfully;
And like a man possest, his eyes will glare
With lurid fire.
Hast ever seen him so ?
Constantine. But once-and on his natal day. That morn
In the queen mother's chamber all had met,
When running to his grand-mother comes Julian,
Who in his hand held up, with child-like glee,
A gold denarius“ I'm wealthy, see
Rich as the questor is.” Augustus smil'd-
And, “ Curly-pate”—he ask’d, while through his locks
Of silky gold, his fingers gently twisted:
“Who gave thee all this treasure?"_" The freedman
Carus”-quoth the boy," who wished me fortune
Better than his whose image it doth bear,
His noble prince and master murder'd Crispus !"
And then did Carus weep, nor answer made
When I did ask the while, “ Who murder'd Crispus ?”
Constans. Did no one try to stop the prattling child ?
Constantine. Helena with Dalmatius, conversing,
Heard not the whole, but heard enough; she snatch'd
The coin from Julian, and on his lips
As barrier to further utterance
She plac'd her open hand.
And th' emperor?-
Constantine. Sate by a marble table ;-in one hand
He held a reed—for some state records lay
Open before him, for his signature;
The other rested on the luckless Julian :
When the words“ murder'd Crispus” struck his ear,
He dash'd the reed, the ink, all on the ground,
Soiling the Tyrian carpet-fierce he stood
With livid lips comprest, and eyes that glared,
Wild on the boy, whose golden locks he held:
And while huge drops rolld down his god-like front,
“ Hence mulapert!"-he sternly spoke-“I know
“ Thou hast been tutor'd on by others thus;
" But they shall rue it! By the cross they shall !
“ Ho! there our chamberlain-Eusebius, ho !
“ Shut instantly the palace gates, and lead
“ The traitor Carus forth to swiftest death.”
Canstans, And was his doom ev’n so?
Alas ! it was,
For ere repentance to the emperor came,
All that of faithful Carus could not die,
Had sped intrenchant on its arrowy flight
Through viewless space !
How swift is vengeance
At imperial hands! Scarce the behest
Has dreadful utt'rance found ere the sharp edge
Hath click’d, or in some twilight crypt of fear
The strangling cord been drawn!
I pray thee now
What further of our sire?
« To instant death,”
He said, and “Mother, ha! that piece of gold;-
“ Nay give it me.
O powers divine, how like! “ Did I not tell Ablavius to recall, “ To melt that coinage, and from out the earth “ To rase all traces of his name and image? “ But 'twill not be—and oh how proud I was “When on my Cæsar's brow, my noble boy “ Was first entwin’d the laurel wreath of triumph ! “And I did scar that neck with bloody steel ! “Yes, Minervina my first-best belov'd! “ 'Twas thy own Constantine the order gave, “Aye-gave it in dire cruelty and hate
(O that my tongue should speak it-hate of Him) “ That our belov'd first born, our darling Crispus “ Sent to the fatal block. Curse on the chance, “And cursed was my wrath in that fell hour ! “ But they deceived me, told me stories strange, “And dismal as unnatural. Ha! ha! “ Well there's some comfort yet, it is a balm “ To know that he was innocent-ha, ha! “ Sweet balm indeed to him who murder'd him ! “ The murder'd Crispus-Carus spoke most true.
“ But is not Carus doom’d? Methought I heard
“ A voice decree it so: Prætor, guards, ho !
“ Set Carus free. Perhaps I am too late !"
Augustus to the window rush'd, but shrank
The instant back, his face all blanch'd with horror;
Below in the Court-yard lay a headless corpse.
“ Another murder"-groan'd he hollowly;
Then his broad mantle o’er his face he drew,
For it was fearfully convuls'd; he shook,
And swung, and moan'd like to a stately tree
Mov'd by the pinions of the tempest fiend;
Then in a moment fell, like the grand length
Of a Corinthian column struck by thunder!
Constantius. The Queen remain'd still by him— did she not?
Constantine. With one quick sweep of her majestic arm
She waiv'd us all away. I thought no more
That day to see our sire ; but when the lights
Burnt brightest, and the halls were lustrous round
With gems and coronals of noblest guests
Assembled to do honour to the eve;
Abrupt doth he come, but gorgeously array'd
As doth become an emperor.
How look'd he?
Constantine. Most grand, serene, and royal! In his face
So firm, yet placid; not a trace there was
To mark the tempest which at noon had shook him,
So had he master'd him to meet his guests.
Nay more—with dainty care his robes arrang'd,
His hair in ringlets, and of various dye,
Peeping beneath a diadem of leaves
Cut out of emeralds relieved in gold;
More like some scented gay gallant, he seem'd
Prepar’d to meet his smiling sweetheart's eye,
Than the great Christian emperor of the East !
Constans. Is it not strange, that at his age, our sire
Should th’ Asiatic pomp so much affect ?
Constantius. When I behold his diverse coloured hair
Shining, and all with costly unguents essenced;
When his moony pearls I see,-his bracelets,
And massive collars of Assyrian gold,
His flowing robes of Persia's silken tissue,
All luminous with dazzling stars and flowers* ;
His dagger with its ruby sparkling hilt ;
His sandals gleaming forth the sapphire's flash:
I scarce can deem him that great Constantine
Who with such speed did cross the Cottian Alps,
And fell on Milan like a thunderbolt ;
Thence led his legions to Verona's gates,
With whirlwind speed, o'erthrew Pomponius' hosts
In measureless slaughter; then with eagle sweep
Wheeld on imperial Rome his fearful fight !
Constantine. How oft has Scaurus the centurion told
When in the melee at the Milvian bridge
• For these and the other Imperial fopperies we have the warrant of bistory.See Chap. xviii. of Gibbon.
The hero by his purple knew Maxentius !
Hard he spurr'd his Spanish barb to joust him-
Great was the shock when horse to horse they met,
Great the recoil of the usurper's steed,
Back trampling on the flying multitude
Mass'd, interlock'd, and shrieking in the pass,
Where thousands groan'd their last beneath hard hoofs,
Or desperate rush'd into the bloody Tiber!
They wrathful met and paus'd, while each on each
Glar'd fiercely like two Lybian lions wild !
Swung Cæsar then his long tremendous mace
The iron rattled on his rival's casque,
And stunn’d by the blow, Maxentius totters !
Now Cæsar's falchion drinks his boiling blood !
Still, hard he battles, till with giant grasp
The Cæsar plucks him from his saddle seat,
And urging on ev’n to the crumbling verge,
Hurls him into Tiber's roaring waters!
“ Down, down;" he said, “into thy Pluto's realms,
“ Whilst I do chant KYRIE ELEESON,
“ So perish all the enemies of CHRIST!"
Heavy with massy armour, sunk like stone,
The struggling wretch ; and yet his eyes flash'd back
Even to the last most deadly defiance,
Till the bubbling eddies quench'd their fire for ever! Constantius. Methinks there's melody in that shrill neigh,
With which each horse doth hail the Hippodrome.
But see- -Augustus from his musing mood
Starts and seeks the chamberlain.
Where can the eunuch be?
Behold! in front,
And with his friend the proud Ablavius.
Constans. Proud indeed! For even us he humbles
But hark to the
Chamberlain ( riding up.) Augustus, my Lord !
Of the courier
What says your gravity* ?
Letters he brings
From Cæsarea's Bishop, good my Lord !
And from Tyre's Synod.
Do thou tell their purport. Chamberlain. Of certain accusations they advise
Whereof the Tyrian general Synod
Hold Alexandria's Archbishop convict. Emperor. Ha! most pestilent priest ! and what of him
Record the tablets?
That in many points
He Athanasius is recusant,
And to the state and church is treasonous,
Is false in doctrine and in acts obscene:
That he abused his power most flagrantly,
Being all reckless of his priestly duties,
* His proper or etiquette address at the Byzantine court.
Most grossly so and most unholily!
That he did sacrilege most foul commit,
Ev’n within a church of Mareotis;
Where in his ire he dash'd a chalice down
The consecrated agate cup of Christ,
With gold rich cinctured; and contemptuous spat
Upon the fragments as he trod them down
In Eth’nic rage, with his irreverent heel !
Emperor. Ar't sure Eusebius, that all this is true?
Constantius (apart). Mark you Constans, his darkly knitting brow?
In that dread frown I read the primate's fate.
Constans. 'Tis seald i'faith,—and yet I would not so.
This Athanasius is no common priest,
But bears him nobly to the utmost verge
Of moil and danger. If he's in the right,
He well doth act to hold the right so sturdy;
If wrong, his honest bearing ev’n gives wrong
A right. Beshrew me, but I love this same
Egyptian primate's spirit.
So do I,
Indeed far better than thy logic, Constans,
About wrong and right; but see the eunuch
Crafty ever, he has some point to urge.
Chamberlain. Alas! my lord, the frightful tale is true;
Nay more, the measure of his crimes not full,
He scourg'd of the Sectarian Bishops six,
And then immur'd them in a noisome dungeon.
Still setting no bounds unto his rancour,
Dreadful to declare! In fiendish malice,
I grieve to state it, mighty prince; I grieve
Such tale to tell of Christian pontiff:
Of that no more-my duty must be done
Howe'er repugnant to my shrinking soul,
Yes! sublime Augustus, this lowly, meek,
And ( the merciful Athanasius !
His Brother in Christ, Bishop Arsenius took,
And smilingly consign’d him to the torture !
Yea, and stood by exulting while the rack
Did stretch and crack th' unhappy victim's limbs.
Nay more! when the spectators earnestly pray'd
For his absolvement, he with his own hands
Did mutilate and hack the hapless wretch
Beyond the pale of manhood!
Oh most monstrous ! Constans. And most impossible! Beseech thee, father,
O Augustus ! This is altogether
Wild and unlikely. Constantius.
A gross falsehood, 'tis
Coin’d by some deadly foe of Egypt's primate.
Chamberlain. Young prince! Tho' this impatience do thee honour,
Yet it dishonoureth me:- I have not done,
Not only was the torture thus applied,
But when Arsenius gave a wailing moan,
The ruthless primate drew a sharp long knife,
And stabb’d him to the heart !
Well, by the Cross !