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THE PROLOGUE.

MERCURY
As, in purchasing and selling your merchandize1, you are desirous to render me propitious to your bargains, and that I should assist you in all things; and as both in foreign countries and at home, you desire me to turn to the best advantage the business and the accounts of you all, and that with fair and ample profit, without end, I should crown the venture both which you have begun, and which you shall begin; and as you wish me to delight you and all yours with joyous news2--these tidings will I bring, that I may announce them to you, things which in especial are for your common interest (for already do you know, indeed, that it has been given and assigned to me by the other Divinities, to preside over news and profit): : as you would wish me to favour and promote these things, that lasting gain may ever be forthcoming for you, so shall you give silence for this play, and so shall you be fair and upright judges here, all of you. Now, by whose command, and for what reason I am come, I'll tell you, and at the sane time, myself, I will disclose my name. By the command of Jupiter I am come; my name is Mercury3. My father has sent me hither to you to entreat, although, what should as his commands be enjoined on you, he knew that you would do, inasmuch as he knew full well that you venerate and fear himself, as is befitting Jupiter. But, certainly, he bade me ask this of you with entreaty, in gentle tones, and in bland accents. For, in fact, this Jupiter, by whose command I am come, dreads a mishap4 not less than any one of you. Born of a mortal mother, a mortal sire, it is not reasonable to be surprised if he has apprehensions for himself. And I too, as well, who am the son of Jupiter, through my relationship to my father, stand in dread of ill. Therefore, in peace am I come to you, and peace do I bring. I wish a thing to be asked of you that's reasonable and feasible; for, reasonable things to ask of the reasonable, a reasonable mediator have I been sent. For from the reasonable it is not right to ask things unreasonable; whereas from the unreasonable to ask things reasonable, is sheer folly, since these unrighteous persons are ignorant of what is right, and observe it not. Now then, all lend your attention here to the things which I shall say. What we wish, you ought to wish as well: both I and my father have well deserved of you and of your state. But why should I mention how in Tragedies I have seen others, such as Neptune, Valour, Victory, Mars, Bellona, making mention of the good services which they had done you? Of all these benefits, the ruler of the Deities, my sire, was the founder. But this has never been the habit of my father, to throw in your teeth what good he has done unto the good. He thinks that this is gratefully returned by you to him, and that he bestows these blessings on you deservedly, which he does bestow. Now, the matter which I came here to ask, I'll first premise, after that I'll tell the subject of this Tragedy. Why have you contracted your brows? Is it because I said that this would be a Tragedy? I am a God, and I'll change it. This same, if you wish it, from a Tragedy I'll make to be a Comedy, with all the lines the same. Whether would ye it were so, or not? But I'm too foolish; as though I didn't know, who am a God, that you so wish it; upon this subject I understand what your feelings are. I'll make this to be a mixture--a Tragi-comedy5. For me to make it entirely to be a Comedy, where Kings and Gods appear, I do not deem right. What then? Since here the servant has a part as well, just as I said, I'll make it to be a Tragi-comedy. Now Jupiter has ordered me to beg this of you, that the inspectors6 should go among each of the seats throughout the whole theatre7, amid the spectators, that, if they should see any suborned applauders of any actor, there should in the theatre be taken away from them the pledge of their coats, as a security for their good behaviour. But if any should solicit the palm of victory for the actors, or if for any artist, whether by written letters, or whether any person himself should solicit personally, or whether by messenger; or if the Ædiles, too, should unfairly adjudge to any one the reward; Jupiter has commanded the law to be the same as if he had sought by solicitation an appointment for himself or for another. By valour has he declared that you exist as victors, not by canvassing or unfair dealing. Why any the less should there be the same principle for the player, which there is for the greatest man? By merit, not by favourers, ought we to seek our ends. He who does aright has ever favourers enough, if there is honesty in them in whose disposal this matter8 rests. This, too, he directed me likewise in his injunctions, that there should be inspectors over the players; that, he who should have procured suborned persons to applaud himself, or he who should have contrived for another give less satisfaction, from the same they might strip off his dress and leather9 mask. I don't wish you to be surprised, for what reason Jupiter now concerns himself about actors. Don't be surprised, Jupiter himself is about to take part in this play. Why are you wondering at this? As though, indeed, a new thing were now mentioned, that Jupiter takes to the calling of a player. But a year since10, when here on the stage the actors invoked Jupiter, he came; he aided them. Besides, surely in Tragedy he has a place. This play, I say, Jupiter himself will take a part in this day, and I together with him. Now do you give attention while I shall relate to you the subject of this Comedy.

This city is Thebes; in that house there pointing , Amphitryon11 dwells, born at Argos, of an Argive sire; whose wife is Alcmena, daughter of Electryon. This Amphitrvon is now the general of the Theban troops; for between the Teleboans and the Theban people there is war. He, before he departed hence for the expedition, left his wife Alcmena pregnant. But I believe that you already know how my father is disposed how free in these affairs he has been, and how great a lover of many a woman, if any object once has captivated him. Unknown to her husband, he began to love Alcmena, and took temporary possession of her person for himself, and made her pregnant, too, by his embrace. Now, that more fully you may understand the matter with respect to Alcmena, she is pregnant by both; both by her husband and by supreme Jupiter And my father is now lying here he points to the house in-doors with her; and for this reason is this night made longer, while he is taking this pleasure with her whom he desires. But he has so disguised himself, as though he were Amphitryon. Now, that you may not be surprised at this dress of mine, inasmuch as I have come out here this way in servile garb, an ancient and an antique circumstance, made new, will I relate to you, by reason of which I have come to you attired in this new fashion; for lo! my father Jupiter, now in the house, changes himself into the likeness of Amphitryon, and all the servants who see him think it is he, so shifting in his shape does he render himself when he chooses. I have taken on myself the form of the servant Sosia, who has gone hence together with Amphitryon on the expedition, that I may be able to serve my father in his amour, and that the servants may not be enquiring who I am, when they see me here frequenting oft the house. Now, as they will suppose me a servant and their fellow-servant, not any one will enquire who I am, or why I'm come. My father, now in-doors, is gratifying his inclination, and is embracing her of whom he is especially enamoured. What has been done there at the army, my father is now relating to Alcmena. She, who really is with a paramour, thinks that he is her own husband. There, my father is now relating how he has routed the legions of the enemy; how he has been enriched with abundant gifts. Those gifts which there were given to Amphitryon, we have carried off; what he pleases, my father easily performs. Now will Amphitryon come hither this day from the army, his servant too, whose form I am bearing. Now, that you may be able the more easily to distinguish between us, I always shall carry these little wings here pointing upon my broad-brimmed cap; then besides, for my father there will be a golden tuft beneath his cap; that mark will not be upon Amphitryon. These marks no one of these domestics will be able to see; but you will see them. But yonder is Sosia, the servant of Amphitryon; he is now coming yonder from the harbour, with a lantern. I will now drive him, as he arrives, away from the house. Attend, it will be worth the while of you spectators, for Jupiter and Mercury to perform here the actors' part.

1 Merck indize: "Mercimoniis." Mercury was the God of trading and merchandize, and was said to have received his name from the Latin word "merx." See the tradesman's prayer to him in the Fasti of Ovid, B. v., l. 682.

2 With joyous news: Mercury was the messenger of the Gods, and, therefore, the patron of messengers; and, if we may so say, the God of News.

3 My name is Mercury: There seems hardly any reason why he should disclose his name, after having, by an enumeration of his attributes, informed the Audience who he is.

4 A mishap: "Malum." This word probably signifies here the corporal punishment which was inflicted on the slaves. It has been already remarked that the actors were mostly slaves, and punishment ensued on their displeasing the Audience.

5 A Tragi- comedy: "Tragico-comœdia." This is said to be the only occasion in which Tragi-comedy is mentioned by any of the ancient authors. Plautus does not, however, use the term in the sense which we apply to it. Gods being generally introduced into Tragedy alone, but here taking part in a Comedy he thinks it may be fairly called a Tragi-comedy, or a Comedy with the characters of Tragedy. This play is thought by some to have been borrowed from the writings of Epicharmus, the Sicilian dramatist.

6 The inspectors: To the actor who was considered to give the most satisfaction to the Audience, it was customary for the Ædiles to present a reward, which they were bound to do without partiality. Officers, called "conquisitores," were consequently employed to go about the "cavea," or part of the theatre where the Audience sat, to see that there were no persons likely to have been hired for the purpose of applauding a particular actor.

7 Whole theatre: "Cavea." Literally, "the seats" or "benches" where the Audience sat

8 This matter: The award of the prize.

9 Leather: "Corium." It is a matter of doubt whether this word means the "persona," or "leather mask" worn by the actors, or the actor's own hide or skin, which would suffer on his being flogged.

10 A year since: It is conjectured that he is here dealing a hit at some Poet who had recently introduced Jupiter on the stage, perhaps in an awkward manner or at an untimely moment--not as taking part himself in the piece, but at the prayer of some one of the characters. Horace reprehends a similar practice in his time: "Nec Deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus;" meaning, that a Deity may only be introduced when the circumstances are such as to warrant his interference.

11 Amphitryon: Perseus was the son of Jupiter and Danaë. By Andromeda, he was the father of Alcæus, Sthenelus, Nestor, and Electryon. Alcæus was the father of Amphitryon, while Electryon was the father of Alcmena, by Lysidice, the daughter of Pelops. Amphitryon, having accidentally slain Electryon, fled with his daughter Alcmena, who had been betrothed to him, to the court of Creon, King of Thebes. The brother of Alcmena having been slain by the Teleboans or Taphians, who inhabited certain islands on the coast of Acarnania, Amphitryon undertook an expedition against them, at the head of the forces of Creon.

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