MERCURY on a cloud; NIGHT in a chariot drawn by two horses
MERC. Wait! Gentle Night; deign to stay awhile: Some help is needed
from you. I have two words to say to you from Jupiter.
NIGHT. Ah! Ah! It is you Seigneur Mercury! Who would have thought
of you here in that position?
MERC. Well feeling tired and not being able to fulfil the
different duties Jupiter ordered me I quietly sat down on this
cloud to await your coming.
NIGHT. You jest Mercury: you do not mean it; does it become the
Gods to say they are tired?
MERC. Are the Gods made of iron?
NIGHT. No; but one must always have a care for divine decorum. There
are certain words the use of which debases this sublime quality and
it is meet that these should be left to men because they are unworthy.
MERC. You speak at your ease fair lady from a swiftly rolling
chariot in which like a dame free from care; you are drawn by two
fine horses wherever you like. But it is not the same with me. Such
is my miserable fate that I cannot bear the poets too great a grudge
for their gross impertinence in having by an unjust law which they
wish to retain in force given a separate conveyance to each God
for his own use and left me to go on foot: me like a village
messenger though as everyone knows I am the famous messenger of
the sovereign of the Gods on the earth and in the heavens. Without
any exaggeration I need more than any one else the means of being
carried about because of all the duties he puts upon me.
NIGHT. What can one do? The poets do what pleases them. It is not
the only stupidity we have detected in these gentlemen. But surely
your irritation against them is wrong for the wings at your feet
are a friendly gift of theirs.
MERC. Yes; but does going more quickly tire oneself less?
NIGHT. Let us leave the matter Seigneur Mercury and learn what is wanted.
MERC. Jupiter as I have told you wishes the dark aid of your cloak
for a certain gallant adventure which a new love affair has
furnished him. His custom is not new to you I believe: often does
he neglect the heavens for the earth; and you are not ignorant that
this master of the Gods loves to take upon himself the guise of man
to woo earthly beauties. He knows a hundred ingenious tricks to
entrap the most obdurate. He has felt the darts of Alcmene's eyes;
and whilst Amphitryon her husband commands the Theban troops on
the plains of Boeotia Jupiter has taken his form and assuaged his
pains in the possession of the sweetest of pleasures. The condition
of the couple is propitious to his desire: Hymen joined them only a
few days ago; and the young warmth of their tender love suggested to
Jupiter to have recourse to this fine artifice. His stratagem proved
successful in this case; but with many a cherished object a similar
disguise would not be of any use: it is not always a sure means of
pleasing to adopt the form of a husband.
NIGHT. I admire Jupiter and I cannot imagine all the disguises
which come into his head.
MERC. By these means he wishes to taste all sorts of conditions:
that is the act of a God who is not a fool. However mortals may
regard him I should think very meanly of him if he never quitted
his redoubtable mien and were always in the heavens standing upon
his dignity. In my opinion there is nothing more idiotic than
always to be imprisoned in one's grandeur; above all a lofty rank
becomes very inconvenient in the transports of amorous ardour.
Jupiter no doubt is a connoisseur in pleasure and he knows how to
descend from the height of his supreme glory. So that he can enter
into everything that pleases him he entirely casts aside himself
and then it is no longer Jupiter who appears.
NIGHT. I could overlook seeing him step down from his sublime stage
to that of men since he wishes to enter into all the transports
which their natures can supply and join in their jests if in the
changes which take his fancy he would confine himself to nature.
But I do not think it fitting to see Jupiter as a bull a serpent a
swan or what not and it does not astonish me that it is sometimes
MERC. Let all the busybodies talk; such changes have their own
charms and surpass people's understanding. The God knows what he
does in this affair as in everything else: in the movements of their
tender passions animals are not so loutish as one might think.
NIGHT. Let us return to the lady whose favours he enjoys. If by his
stratagem his pursuit is successful what more can he wish? What can I do?
MERC. He wishes that you would slacken the pace of your horses to
satisfy the passion of his amorous heart and so make of a
delightful night the longest night of all; that you would give him
more time for his transports and retard the birth of day since it
will hasten the return of him whose place he occupies.
NIGHT. Really the employment which the great Jupiter reserves for me
is a worthy one! The service he requires of me passes under a very
MERC. You are somewhat old-fashioned for a young goddess! Such an
employment is not debasing except among people of mean birth. When
one has the happiness of belonging to lofty rank whatever one does
is always right and good; things change their names to suit what one may be.
NIGHT. You know more about such matters than I do; I will trust to
your enlightened views and accept this employment.
MERC. Come come now Madam Night a little gently I beseech you.
The world gives you the reputation of not being so scrupulous. In a
hundred different climes you are made the confidant of many gallant
adventures; and if I may speak candidly we do not owe each other anything.
NIGHT. Let us cease these reproaches and remain what we are. Let us
not give men cause to laugh by telling each other the truth.
MERC. Adieu. I am going there to play my part in this business
promptly to strip myself of the form of Mercury and to take in its
place the figure of Amphitryon's valet.
NIGHT. I am going to keep station in this hemisphere with my sombre train.
MERC. Good day Night.
NIGHT. Adieu Mercury.
(Mercury descends from his cloud to the earth and Night goes away
in her chariot.)
END OF THE PROLOGUE.
Who goes there? Eh? My fear grows with every step. Gentlemen I am a
friend to all the world. Ah! What unparalleled boldness to be out
at this hour! My master is crowned with fame but what a villainous
trick he plays me here! What? If he had any love for his neighbour
would he have sent me out in such a black night? Could he not just
as well have waited until it was day before sending me to announce
his return and the details of his victory? To what servitude are thy
days subjected Sosie! Our lot is far more hard with the great than
with the mean. They insist that everything in nature should be
compelled to sacrifice itself for them. Night and day hail wind
peril heat cold as soon as they speak we must fly. Twenty years
of assiduous service do not gain us any consideration from them. The
least little whim draws down upon us their anger.
Notwithstanding this our infatuated hearts cling to the empty
honour of remaining near them contented with the false idea which
every one holds that we are happy. In vain reason bids us retire;
in vain our spite sometimes consents to this; to be near them is too
powerful an influence on our zeal and the least favour of a
caressing glance immediately re-engages us. But at last I see our
house through the darkness and my fear vanishes.
I must prepare some thought-out speech for my mission. I must give
Alcmene warlike description of the fierce combat which put our
enemies to flight. But how the deuce can I do this since I was not
there? Never mind; let us talk of cut and thrust as though I were
an eyewitness. How many people describe battles from which they
remained far away! In order to act my part without discredit I will
rehearse it a little.