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illeopardi text integral passage complete quotation of the sources comedies works historical literary works in prose and in verses

Translated by Charles Edwardes



Scene I


FIRST HOUR -- Good day, Excellency.

SUN -- Thanks; good-night as well.

FIRST HOUR -- The horses are waiting, your Excellency.

SUN -- Very well.

FIRST HOUR -- And the Morning Star has been up some time.

SUN -- All right. Let it rise and set, just as it pleases.

FIRST HOUR -- What do I hear your Excellency say?

SUN -- I wish you would leave me alone.

FIRST HOUR -- But, Excellency,, the night has already lasted so long, that it can last no longer; and if we delay, imagine, Excellency, the confusion that will ensue.

SUN -- I don't mean to stir, whatever happens.

FIRST HOUR -- Excellency! what is this? Does your Excellency feel ill?

SUN -- No, no; I feel nothing, except that I don't wish to move. So you can go and attend to your own affairs.

FIRST HOUR -- How can I go unless your Excellency comes? I am the first Hour of the day, and how can the day exist, if your Excellency does not deign to go forth as usual?

SUN -- If you will not be of the day, you shall be of the night; or better, the hours of the night shall do double duty, and you and your companions shall be idle. For you must know I am tired of this eternal going round to give light to a race of little animals that live far away in a ball of clay, so small that I, who have good sight, cannot see it. During the night I have decided not to trouble myself any more in this fashion. If men want light, let them make their own fires for the purpose, or provide it in some other way.

FIRST HOUR -- But, Excellency, how can the little fellows manage that? It will be a very great expense for them to keep lanterns or candles burning all day long. If only they could now discover a certain atmosphere to warm and illumine their streets, rooms, shops, taverns, and everything else at little expense, then they would not be so badly off. But men will have to wait some three hundred years, more or less, before they discover this; and meanwhile, all the oil, wax, pitch, and tallow of the earth will be exhausted, and they will have nothing more to burn.

SUN -- Let them hunt the will-o-the-wisp, and catch those shining things called glow-worms.

FIRST HOUR -- And how will they protect themselves against the cold? Eor without the assistance of your Excellency, all the forests together will not make a fire large enough to warm them. Besides, they will also die of hunger, since the earth will no longer bring forth its fruits. And so, after a few years, the seed of the poor little folk will be lost. They will go groping about the earth, seeking food and warmth, until having consumed every possible thing, and used up the last flicker of fire, they will all die in the darkness, frozen like pieces of rock-crystal.

SUN -- What is this to do with me? Am I the nurse of the human race; or the cook, that I should look after the preparation of their food? And why need I care if a few invisible little creatures, millions of miles away from me, are unable to see, or bear the cold, when deprived of iny light and warmth? Besides, even supposing, as you say, that I ought to act the part of stove or fireplace to this human family, surely it is more reasonable, if men want to warm themselves, that they should come to the stove, than that the stove should go whirling round them. Therefore, if the Earth requires me, let it come hither to satisfy its needs. I want nothing from the Earth, that I should thus trouble myself to rotate round it.

FIRST HOUR -- Your Excellency means, if I understand rightly, that henceforth the Earth must do for itself that which hitherto you have done on its behalf.

SUN -- Yes: now and for the future.

FIRST HOUR -- Well, your Excellency knows best what is right, and can do as it pleases you. But nevertheless, will your Excellency deign to think what a number of beautiful and useful things will be destroyed by this new decree. The day will be deprived of its handsome gilded chariot, and beautiful horses, which bathe themselves in the sea. Amongst other changes, we poor Hours must suffer; we shall no longer have a place in heaven, but shall have to descend from our position as celestial children to that of terrestrials, unless, as is more probable, we dissolve into thin air instead. But be that as it may, the difficulty will be to persuade the Earth to go round, necessarily a hard thing, because it is unaccustomed to do so; and the experience of rotating and exerting itself incessantly will be all the more strange, seeing that hitherto it has never stirred from its present position. If, then, your Excellency now begins to think of idleness, I fear the Earth will be as little desirous of bestirring itself as ever it was.

SUN -- In that case, it must be pricked, and made to bestir itself as much as is necessary. But the quickest and surest way is to find a poet, or, better, a philosopher, who will persuade the Earth to move itself, or persuasion being unsuccessful, will use force. For philosophers and poets ordinarily manage these affairs. When I was younger I used to have a great esteem for the poets, though they rather caricatured me in representing me racing madly, great and stout as I am, round and round a grain of sand, simply for the sake of amusement or exercise. But now that I am older, I am more partial to philosophy. I study to discern the utility, not the beauty of things, and poetry seems to me either absurd or wearisome. I wish, also, to have good substantial reasons for whatever I do. Now, I see no reason why I should value a life of activity more than a life of ease and idleness. I have determined, therefore, in future, to leave the fatigues and discomforts to others, and for my own part to live quietly at home, without undertaking business of any kind. This change in me is partly due to my age, but has chiefly been brought about by the philosophers, a race of people whose power and influence increase daily. Consequently, to induce the Earth to rotate in my place, a poet would intrinsically be better than a philosopher: because the poets are accustomed to give a fictitious value to things by exaggerating the truth, beauty, and utility of subjects about which they treat, and because by raising a thousand pleasurable. hopes, they often incite people to fatigues they would else have avoided; whereas philosophers weary them. But, now that the power of philosophers is so predominant, I doubt whether a poet would be of much use, if even the Earth gave him a hearing. Therefore, we had better have recourse to a philosopher. It is true, philosophers are usually little suited, and still less inclined, to stimulate other people to exertions; but possibly in so extreme a case, they may be induced to act contrary to custom. The Earth has, however, one alternative; it has the option of declining to undertake all this hard labour. Its destruction will then ensue, and I am far from sure that this would not be the best thing for it. But enough of this: we shall see what will take place. Now, either you or one of your companions had better go at once to the Earth. If there you discover any one of these philosophers in the open air, regarding the heavens, and wondering about the cause of this protracted night, as well he may, take charge of him, and bring him hither on your back. Do you clearly understand?

FIRST HOUR -- Yes, Excellency. You shall be obeyed.

Scene II

Copernicus pacing the terrace of his house, with his eyes anxiously directed towards the eastern horizon. A roll of paper in his hand, which ever and anon he uses as a telescope.

This is a marvellous thing. Either the clocks are all wrong, or else the sun should have risen more than an hour ago. Yet not a gleam of light is to be seen in the east, though the sky is as bright and clear as a mirror. All the stars shine as if it were midnight. I must go and consult the Almagest and Sacrobosco, and see what they say about this event. I have often heard talk of the night Jove passed with the wife of Amphitryon, and I also remember reading a little while ago, in a modern Spanish book, that the Peruvians record a very long night, at the end of which the sun proceeded forth from a certain lake called Titicaca. Hitherto I have regarded these as mere tales, and have never wavered in my belief. Now, however, that I perceive reason and science to be absolutely useless, I am determined to believe the truth of these, and similar things. I will also visit the lakes and puddles in the neighbourhood, and see if I can fish out the sun. Ha! what is this that I hear? It is like the flapping of the wings of some huge bird.

Scene III


LAST HOUR -- Copernicus, I am the Last Hour.

COPERNICUS -- The Last Hour! Well, I suppose I must be resigned. But I beg of you, if possible, to give me enough time to make my will, and put my things in order, before I die.

LAST HOUR -- Die! What do you mean? I am not the last hour of your life.

COPERNICUS -- Oh, then, what are you? The last hour of the office of the breviary?

LAST HOUR -- I can quite imagine you prefer that one to the others, when you are in your stall.

COPERNICUS -- But how do you know I am a Canon? And how is it you know my name?

LAST HOUR -- I procured my information about you, from certain people in the street. I am, in fact, the Last Hour of day.

COPERNICUS -- Ah! now I understand. The First Hour is unwell; and that is why day is not yet visible.

LAST HOUR -- I have news for you. There will never be any more daylight unless you provide it yourself.

COPERNICUS -- You would throw on me the responsibility of making daylight? A fine thing, indeed!

LAST HOUR -- I will tell you how. But first of all, you must come with me at once to the house of the Sun, my father. You shall hear more when we set out. His Excellency will explain everything when we arrive.

COPERNICUS -- I trust it is all right. But the journey, unless I am mistaken, must be a very long one. And how can I take enough food to prevent my dying of hunger a few years before reaching the Sun? Besides, I doubt if his Excellency's lands produce the wherewithal to supply me with even a single meal.

LAST HOUR -- Do not trouble yourself with these doubts. You will not stay long in my father's house, and the journey will be completed in a moment. For you must know that I am a spirit. Copernicus. Maybe. But I am a body.

LAST HOUR -- Well, well: you are not a metaphysician that you need excite yourself about these matters. Come now, mount on my shoulders, and leave all the rest to me.

COPERNICUS -- Courage. There, it is done! I will pursue this novelty to its issue.

Scene IV


COPERNICUS -- Most noble Lord.

SUN -- Forgive me, Copernicus, if I do not offer you a chair: one does not use such things here. But we will soon despatch our business. My servant has already explained the matter to you; and from what the child tells me, I imagine you will do very well for our purpose.

COPERNICUS -- My lord, I discern great difficulties in the matter.

SUN -- Difficulties ought not to frighten such a man as yourself. They are even said to make the brave man still more courageous. But tell me briefly of what these difficulties consist.

COPERNICUS -- In the first place, although philosophy is a great power, I doubt whether it can persuade the Earth to change its comfortable sitting posture for a state of restless activity; especially in these times, which are not heroic.

SUN -- And if persuasion be ineffectual, you must try force.

COPERNICUS -- Willingly, Illustrious, if I were a Hercules, or even an Orlando, instead of a mere Canon of Varmia.

SUN -- What has that to do with it? Did not one of your ancient mathematicians say, that if he had standing room given him outside the world, he would undertake to move heaven and earth? Now, you are not required to move heaven, and behold, you are already in a place outside the earth. Therefore, unless you are not so clever as that ancient, you will no doubt be able to move the Earth, whether it be willing, or not.

COPERNICUS -- My lord, such a thing might be possible. But a lever would be necessary, of such dimensions that neither I nor even your Illustrious Lordship could pay half the cost of its materials and manufacture. There are, however, other and far more serious difficulties, which I will now mention. You know the Earth has hitherto occupied the principal position in the Universe, that is the centre. Motionless, it has had nothing to do but regard all the other spheres, great and small, brilliant and obscure, continuously gyrating around and on all sides of it with a marvellous regularity and speed. All things seem to be occupied in its service; so that the Universe may be likened to a court, in the midst of which the Earth sits as on a throne, surrounded by attendant globes, like courtiers, guards, and servants, each of which fulfils its respective office. Consequently, the Earth has always regarded itself as Empress of the Universe. So far, indeed, little fault can be found with its control, and I do not think your design an improvement on the old state of affairs. But what shall I say to you about men? We esteem ourselves (and shall always do so) to be in the same relation to the rest of created beings as the Earth is to the Universe. And more than this. Supreme among terrestrial creatures, we all, including the ragged beggar who dines on a morsel of black bread, have a most exalted idea of ourselves. We are each of us emperors, and our empire is only bounded by the Universe, for it includes all the stars and planets, visible and invisible. Man is, in his own estimation, the final cause of all things, including even your Illustrious Lordship. Now, if we remove the Earth from its place in the centre, and make it whirl round and round unremittingly, what will be the consequence? Simply, that it will act like all the other globes, and be enrolled in the number of the planets. Then all its terrestrial majesty will vanish, and the Earth will have to abdicate its imperial throne. Men, too, will lose their human majesty, and be deprived of their supremacy; they will be left alone with their rags, and miseries, which are not insignificant.

SUN -- In short, Don Nicolas, what do you wish to prove by this discourse? Is it that you have scruples of conscience lest the deed should be treasonable?

COPERNICUS -- No, it is not that, Illustrious. For, to the best of my knowledge neither the Codes, nor the Digest, nor the books of public, imperial, international, or natural law, make any mention of such treason. What I wanted to show was, that this action, subverting our planetary relationships, will not only work alteration in the order of nature; for it will change the position of things inter se, and the ends for which created beings now exist; it will also necessarily make a great revolution in the science of metaphysics, and everything connected with the speculative part of knowledge. The result will be that men, even if they are able and willing to critically examine into the why and wherefore of life, will discover themselves and their aims to be very different from what they are now, or from what they imagine them to be.

SUN -- My dear child, the thought of these things does not disturb me much; so little respect have I for metaphysics, or physics, or even alchemy, necromancy, or any such things. Besides, men will in time become content with their position; or, if they do not like it, they may argue the matter to their hearts' content, and will doubtless succeed in believing just what they please. In this way they may still deceive themselves under the names of Barons, Dukes, Emperors, or anything else. If, however, they are inconsolable, I confess it will not give me much uneasiness.

COPERNICUS -- Well, then, apart from men and the Earth, consider, Illustrious, what may reasonably be expected to happen in regard to the other planets. These, when they see the Earth reduced to their condition, and doing precisely what they do, just like one of themselves, will be jealous of its apparent superiority. They will be dissatisfied with their own naked simplicity and sad loneliness, and will desire to have their rivers, mountains, seas, plants, animals, and men; for they will see no reason why they should be in the smallest degree less endowed than the Earth. Thereupon will ensue another great revolution in the Universe: an infinite number of new races and people will instantaneously proceed from their soil, like mushrooms.

SUN -- Well, let them come, and the more the merrier. My light and heat will suffice for them all without any extra expense. The Universe shall have food, clothes, and lodging amply provided gratis.

COPERNICUS -- But, if your Illustrious Lordship will reflect a moment, yet another objection may be discerned. The stars, having rivalled the Earth, will turn their attentions to you. They will notice your fine throne, noble court, and numerous planetary satellites. Consequently, they also will wish for thrones. And more, they will desire to rule, as you do, over inferior planets, each of which must of course be peopled and ornamented like the Earth. It is needless to mention the increased unhappiness of the human race. Their insignificance will be greater than ever. They will burst out in all these millions of new worlds, so that even the tiniest star of the milky way will be provided with its own race of mortals. Now, looking at this, solely as affecting your interests, I affirm that it will be very prejudicial. Hitherto you have been, if not the first, certainly the second in the Universe; that is, after the Earth; nor have the stars aspired to rival you in dignity. In this new state, however, you will have as many equals as stars, each with their respective stars. Beware then lest this change be ruinous to your supremacy.

SUN -- You remember Caesar's remark, when, crossing the Alps, he happened to pass a certain miserable little barbarian village. He said that he would rather be the first in that village, than the second in Eome. Similarly I would rather be first in this my own world than second in the Universe. But you must not think it is ambition that makes me desirous of changing the present state of things; it is solely my love of peace, or, more candidly, idleness. Therefore it is a small matter to me whether I am first or last in the Universe: unlike Cicero, I care more for ease than dignity.

COPERNICUS -- I also, Illustrious, have striven my utmost to obtain this ease. But, supposing your Lordship is successful in your endeavour, I doubt whether it will be of long duration. For, in the first place, I feel almost sure that before many years have elapsed you will be impelled to go winding round and round like a windlass, or a wheel, without however varying your locality. Then, after a time, you will probably be desirous of rotating round something the Earth for instance. Ah! well, be that as it may; if you persist in your determination, I will try to serve you, in spite of the great difficulties necessarily to be overcome. If I fail, you must attribute the failure to my inability, not unwillingness.

SUN -- That is well, my Copernicus. Do your best.

COPERNICUS -- There is however yet another obstacle.

SUN -- What is it?

COPERNICUS -- I fear lest I should be burnt alive for my pains. In which case, it would be improbable that I, like the Phoenix, should rise from my ashes. I should therefore never see your Lordship's face again.

SUN -- Listen, Copernicus. You know that once upon a time I was a prophet, when poetry ruled the world, and philosophy was scarcely hatched. I will now utter my last prophecy. Put faith in me on the strength of my former power. This is what I say. It may be that those who come after you, and confirm your deeds, shall be burnt, or killed in some other way; but you shall be safe, nor shall you suffer at all on account of this undertaking. And to make your safety certain, dedicate to the Pope the book (l) you will write on the subject. If you do this, I promise that you will not even lose your canonry.


(1) Copernicus did in effect dedicate his book on the "Revolution of the Celestial Bodies," the printing of which was only completed a few days before his death, to Pope Paul III. The system expounded therein was condemned by a decree of Paul V. in 1616. This condemnation remained in force until 1821, when it was revoked by Pius VII. The sun is supposed to be in the centre, and motionless; the earth and the rest of the planets move round it in elliptical orbits. The heavens and stars are supposed to be stationary, and their apparent diurnal motion from east to west is imputed to the earth's motion from west to east.

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