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Page 6 of 16


Scene 3

The atrium of the Antonia. Thursday morning Pilate and his wife Claudia Procula.
Scene opens with Claudia on couch and slave girl Bemba arranging her hair.
How does my dearest wife this April morn?
As joyous as the birds and laughing blooms.
And garlanded in beauty exquisite,
More lovely than the crocus dewy-pearled;
Than lily white more delicately fashioned
That lifts her snowy bosom to the sun.
Your morning mood doth rarely prompt such praise.
I fear ‘tis more poetic than sincere.
My poetry reflects my inmost heart,
Which this morn fills with all the life of spring,
Exults in nature’s burgeoning, and drinks
Deep draughts of inspiration from her breast.
I feel a king and you my beauteous queen,
And all the world lies clustered at our feet.
‘Tis perilous to voice such royal hopes.
Tiberius is envious of kings.
Think not that I intend to court the axe
By trying to usurp imperial power.
But destiny has made me to be great –
To play a glorious part ‘mid royalty.
This much is thine already. Would that I
Might help thee in attaining what still lacks.
I’ve climbed some rungs,
Outstripped some groundling folk,
And culled the proffered honours in my stride;
Yet hasten on to reach the topmost fruit.
But kingship is not nature’s highest gift.
For tyrants still partake of royalty
Though nature does abhor their tyranny.
True words, my dear; nor would I envy those
Like Herod and Agrippa who hold sway
As titled kings, but really slaves of Rome.
Far better to advance by that safe course
Whose steep ascent Tiberius keenly scans.

(Calling to slave Mindaro)
Bring my sandals, boy.

Go, Claudia,
And bid the priest Artemius bring me news
What signs the gods have vouchsafed to bestow
In answer to the morning sacrifice.

(EXIT Claudia. ENTER Mindaro.)
Tell me, Mindaro, have you fed my hounds
And look they fresh and eager for the chase?
My lord, they’re in fine fettle now.
Be careful of their feed and groom them well.

(ENTER Claudia and Artemius.)
Dear Pontius, goodly omens bless this day,
But hear them from the seer’s prophetic lips.
My lord,
For many years I’ve done the sacred rite,
And many victims slain on your behalf,
But never have I witnessed signs so strange,
More full of noble promise than this morn.
Harmonious ring these words within my heart.
The sun doth scatter lavish beams afar,
And touches rock and rill with golden fire;
But kindlier and with more generous hand
He pours his radiance in effulgent streams
On creatures that reflect his lovely light.
So do the gods, who care for all mankind,
Look down with special favour on your life.
O glorious presage! Unravel more, I pray.
The life of man is not a placid stream
That flows one way unhindered to its term.
Life beats in rhythmic motion with the stars
And changes with their cycles.
You this day
Have entered on an orbit most sublime,
The glory-gilded future bids you walk
Along achievement’s avenue to fame.
By heaven’s will so close are intertwined
The universal destiny and yours,
That in some hidden way what you decide
Shall stir loud echoes and reverberate
Throughout the massive framework of the world.
You promise me felicity too great
For mortal man to bear. Such prophecy
Sounded never in the mighty Caesar’s ear.
In terms more lucid I would have thee tell
What leverage can so unfix the world?
My words are but the weak interpreter
Of things momentous promised by the gods.
Seek not to query more. The rest lies hid.
I fain would know how this should come to pass.
One caution I would plant within thy soul
Remember who thou art and let thy deeds
Be worthy of thy state. Among the Jews
Your voice is that of Rome, and you fulfil
Viceregency for our imperial lord.
Let zeal for Rome inspire your words, and act
Not selfishly, but for the common good.
A willing heart needs not the spur of words
Rome first and last has always been my aim.
Swerve not an inch from thy appointed course.
Count nothing lost which you do lose for Rome.
But Rome betrayed, trust not to gentle fates.

(EXIT Artemius)

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