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Socrates - Act 2 Post by :granknee Category :Plays Author :Voltaire Date :May 2012 Read :3854

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Socrates - Act 2


Divine Socrates, I cannot believe my luck: how can it be that Aglaea
whose father died in extreme poverty has such a considerable dowry?

I already told you; she had more than she knew. I knew her father's
resources better than she. May it suffice you both to enjoy a fortune
you deserve; as for myself, I owe the dead a secret as well as the

I have only one fear; it's that that priest of Ceres, over whom you've
preferred me will avenge Aglaea's refusals on you. He's a man really
to be feared.

Eh! What can be feared when one is doing one's duty? I know the rage
of my enemies. I know all their slanders; but when one only tries to
do good to men and when one does not offend heaven, one can fear
nothing, neither during life, nor after death.

Nothing is more true; but I would die of sorrow if the happiness I owe
you allowed your enemies to force you to put your heroic constancy to

AGLAEA. (entering)
My benefactor, my father, man above all men, I embrace your knees.
Second me, Sophronine, it's he, it's Socrates who is marrying us at
the expense of his fortune, who is paying my dowry, who is depriving
himself of the greatest share of his wealth for us. No. We won't
suffer it; we won't be rich at this price. The more grateful our
heart, the more we must imitate the nobility of his.

Like Aglaea, I am throwing myself at your feet. I am seized as she is.
We feel your benefactions equally. We love you too much, Socrates, to
abuse it. Look at us as your children. But don't let your children be
an expense to such a degree. Your friendship is the greatest of
treasures; it's the only one that we want. What! You are not rich and
you are doing what the powerful on earth don't do! If we were to
accept your benefits we would be unworthy of them.

Rise, children. You are making me too weak. Listen, mustn't we respect
the will of the dead? Aglaea, your father whom I regarded as the
better part of myself, didn't he order me to treat you as my own
daughter? I am obeying him. I would be betraying his friendship and
confidence if I did less. I accepted his testament, and I will execute
it. The little that I am giving you is useless to my old age which is
without needs. Finally, as I have a duty to obey my friend, you must
obey your father. It is I who in his sacred name order you not to
overwhelm me with sorrow by refusing me. But retire; I observe
Xantippe. I have my reasons for begging you to avoid her at this time.

Ah. What cruel orders you give us.

(Aglaea and Sophronine exit)

XANTIPPE (entering)
Truly, you've just made a fine masterpiece! My word, my dear husband,
it's necessary to prevent you. See, if you please, these stupidities.
I promised Aglaea to the priest Anitus who has much credit among the
great. I promised Sophronine to that big business woman, Drixa who has
great credit among the people, and you marry the two dummies to each
other to make me break my word. It's not enough you are endowering
them with the greatest share of your wealth. Twenty thousand drachmas,
just gods! Twenty thousand drachmas! Aren't you ashamed? With what
will you live at the age of seventy? Who will pay for your doctors
when you become ill; your lawyers when you have a law suit? Finally,
what will I do when this trickster, this hypocrite, Anitus and his
party that you could have won over to yourself conspire to persecute
you, as they've done so many times? Heaven confound philosophers and
philosophy, and my stupid friendship for you! You meddle to direct
others when you need to be led about. You argue endlessly and you have
no common sense. If you weren't the best man in the world, you would
be the most ridiculous and unbearable. Listen: Only one word will
work. Instantly break off this impertinent bargain and do what your
wife wishes.

My dear Xantippe, it's quite well to speak and with moderation; but
listen to me in your turn. I didn't propose this marriage. Sophronine
and Aglaea love each other and are worthy of each other. I've already
given you all the wealth that I could grant you under the laws. I am
giving almost all which remains to me to the daughter of my friend.
The little I am keeping will suffice for me. I have neither doctors to
pay, because I am sober, nor lawyers, because I have no debts. With
regard to the philosophy for which you reproach me it teaches me how
to suffer the indignities of Anitus and your reproaches. To love you
despite your temper. (he leaves)

The old fool! I have to respect him despite himself, for after all,
there's I don't know what of grandeur in his folly. The calm of his
extravagances enrages me. It's useless for me to scold him; I waste my
efforts. I've been screaming at him for thirty years, and when I've
really screamed he overawes me and I am really confounded. Could he
have something in his soul superior to mine?

DRIXA. (entering)
Well, Madam Xantippe! See how you are mistress in your own house! Fie!
How cowardly to allow oneself to be governed by one's husband! This
cursed Socrates has carried off this handsome boy whose fortune I
wanted to make! The traitor! He will pay me for that!

My poor Madame Drixa, don't be angry with my husband. I am
sufficiently angry with him. He's an imbecile, I know that very well.
But at bottom, he's got the best heart in the world. There's no malice
in him. He commits every possible stupidity without intending any
trickery and with so much integrity that it's disarming. Anyway, he's
headstrong like a mule. I've spent my life torturing him; I've even
beaten him sometimes. Not only have I been unable to correct him, I
haven't even been able to anger him. What do you expect me to do?

I will avenge myself, I tell you. I notice under the porticoes his
good friend Anitus and some of ours. Let me alone.

My God! I fear that all these folks may play my husband some trick.
Let's go quickly to warn him. for after all, one cannot help loving

(Exit Xantippe)

Our insults are alike, respected Anitus. You are betrayed like me.
This dishonest man, Socrates, is giving almost all his wealth to
Aglaea only to drive you to despair. You must exact an exemplary

That's indeed my intention; heaven is concerned in it. Since he
disdains me, this man doubtless scorns the gods. Accusations have
already been brought against him; you must help me to renew them.
We'll put him in danger of his life. Then I will offer him my
protection on the condition that he gives me Aglaea and surrenders
your handsome Sophronine to you. That way we will fulfill all our
duties. He will be punished by the fright we have given him. I will
obtain my mistress and you shall have your lover.

You speak like wisdom itself. Some divinity must inspire you. Instruct
us: what must be done?

The judges will soon pass here to go to the Tribunal; Melitus is at
their head.

But that Melitus is a little pedant; an evil man who is your enemy.

Yes, but he's even more an enemy of Socrates. He's a hypocritical
rogue who maintains the rights of the Areopagus against me. But we
will join together when it's a question of ruining those false wise
men who are capable of enlightening the people about our conduct.
Listen, my dear Drixa, you are devout.

Yes, assuredly, my lord. I love money and pleasure with all my heart,
but as regards devotion, I will give place to no one.

Go take some devout people with you and when the judges pass by,
scream out against impiety.

Will there be something to gain by it? We are ready.

Yes. But what kind of impiety?

All types. You have only to accuse him boldly of not believing in the
gods. That's the quickest way.

Oh! Let me do it.

You will be perfectly seconded. Go under these porticoes; stir up your
friends. Meanwhile, I am going to instruct some newsmongers of the
controversy, some hack scribblers who often come to dine with me. They
are very despicable people, I admit. But, when they are carefully
directed, on occasion, they can do harm. All means must be used to
make the good cause triumph. Go, my dear friends. Commend yourselves
to Ceres. You will shout on my given signal. It's the sure way of
gaining hearers, and especially to live happily on earth.

(They leave; Nonoti, Chomos and Bertios enter)

Tireless, Nonoti, deep Chomos, fastidious Bertios; have you prepared
against this evil Socrates the little works I ordered?

I have labored, Milord; he won't recover from it.

I have demonstrated the truth against him. He is confounded.

I said only one word in my paper: he is ruined.

Take care, Nonoti. I forbade you to be prolix. You are naturally
boring; you could try the patience of the court.

Milord, I've written only a page. There I prove that the soul is an
infused quintessence; that tails are given to animals to shoo flies;
that love works miracles, and that consequently Socrates is an enemy
of the state who must be exterminated.

You couldn't draw a better conclusion. Go bring your accusation to the
second judge, who is an excellent philosopher. I will answer for it.
You will soon defeat your enemy Socrates.

Milord, I am not his enemy. I am only annoyed that he's got too great
a reputation, and all that I am doing is for the glory of Ceres, and
the good of the country.

Go, I tell you. Hurry up. Well, wise Chomos, what have you done?

Milord, not having found anything to reprove in Socrates' writings,
I've adroitly accused him of thinking contrary to what he says. I
point out the venom in what he says.

Marvelous. Take that piece to the fourth judge. He's a man who lacks
common sense and will understand you perfectly. And you, Bertios?

Milord, here's my last paper on chaos. I show, cleverly passing from
chaos to the Olympic games, that Socrates is perverting the youth.

Admirable! Go on my behalf to the seventh judge and tell him that I
commend Socrates to him. Fine, here's Melitus already, the Chief of
the Eleven coming forward. There's no beating around the bush to be
done with him. We know each other, too well.

(Exit Bertios and Chomos, enter Melitus.)

Your honor, the judge, a word. Socrates must be destroyed.

Your Reverence, the Priest, I've been pondering it for a long while.
Let's unite on this point and we will be less embroiled on the rest.

I know quite well we hate each other. But while detesting each other,
we must unite to govern the republic.

Agreed. No one can hear us here. I know that you are a fraud. You
don't look on me as an honest man. I cannot injure you because you are
a high priest. You cannot ruin me because I am the leading judge, But
Socrates could hurt either of us by unmasking us. You and I must begin
by compassing his death and then we will see how we can exterminate
each other at the first opportunity.

No one could say it better.

Hum! How I'd like to hold this rascal from the Areopagus on an altar,
arms hanging on one side, legs over the other, so as to open his
stomach with my golden knife and consult his liver at my ease.

MELITUS. (aside)
Will I ever get this gallows bird of a High Priest in jail and make him
drink a pint of Hemlock at my pleasure?

There now, my dear chap, there are your comrades who are coming
forward. I've prepared the mood of the people.

Very fine, my dear ally. Count on me as yourself at this moment. But
the grudge still remains.

(Some judges pass through the porticoes. Anitus whispers in Melitus'

Justice! Justice! Scandal, impiety! Justice, justice! Irreligion,
impiety! Justice!

What's all this, my friends? Of what are you complaining?

Justice! In the name of the people.

Against whom?

Against Socrates.

Ah! ah! Against Socrates? It's not the first time he's been complained
of. What's he done?

I don't know anything about it.

They say that he gives money to girls to get married.

Yes. He's corrupting the youth.

He's impious. He never offers gifts to Ceres. He says there's too much
gold and too much useless money in the temples. That the poor are
dying of hunger and that they must be helped.

Yes, he says that the priests of Ceres sometimes get drunk. It's true,
he's impious.

He's a heretic. He denies the plurality of the gods. He's a deist. He
believes only in one God. He's an atheist.

Now these are very grave accusations and very credible. They've
already informed me of all that you are telling us.

If such horrors are allowed to go unpunished, the state is in danger.
Minerva will withhold her aid from us.

Yes, Minerva without doubt. I heard him make jokes about the owl of

About the owl of Minerva! Oh! Heavens! Aren't you of the opinion he
should be put in prison immediately?

JUDGES. (together)
Yes, in prison. Right away. In prison!

Ushers! Take Socrates to prison immediately.

And there let him be burned without having been heard.

Ah! He must at least be heard! We cannot infringe the law.

What this fine, pious man means is--he must be heard, but one cannot
be surprised by what he says. For you know these philosophers are
diabolically clever. Where we bring harmony, they disturb all the

To prison! to prison!

(Xantippe, Sophronine, Aglaea enter. Then Socrates, enchained.)

Ah, mercy! They are dragging my husband to prison. Honorable judges,
aren't you ashamed to treat a man of his age thus? What evil could he
do? He is incapable of it. Alas, he's more stupid than bad. Gentlemen,
take pity on him. Indeed, I told you, my husband, that you would get
yourself into some bad business. That's what comes of dowering girls.
How unhappy I am!

Ah, gentlemen. Respect his age and his virtue. Put me in irons. I am
ready to give my liberty and my life for his.

Yes. We will go to prison in place of him. We will die for him if need
be. Don't seek the life of the greatest of men. Take us for your

You see how he corrupts the youth!

Cease, my wife; cease, my children to set yourselves up in opposition
to the will of heaven. It is manifesting itself through the organ of
the laws. Whoever resists the law is unworthy of being a citizen. God
wished that I be put in irons; I submit to his decrees without a
murmur. In my house, in Athens, in a prison cell, I am equally free.
And in you I see so much sincere gratitude, so much friendship that I
am still happy. What does it matter whether Socrates sleeps in his
room or in an Athenian prison? Everything is in the eternal order of
things and my will must be there.

Let them take away this dialectician. That's how they all are. They
press you with arguments right under the gallows.

Gentlemen, what has just been said touches me. This man shows good
disposition. I flatter myself I am able to convert him. Let me speak
to him a moment in private. And order his wife and these young people
to retire.

We indeed wish it, venerable Anitus. You can speak to him before he
appears before our tribunal.

(They exit leaving Socrates alone with Anitus.)

Virtuous Socrates, my heart bleeds to see you in this condition.

You actually have a heart?

Yes, and I am ready to do everything for you.

Really? I'm convinced you've done much already.

Listen. Your situation is more dangerous than you think. It goes to
your life.

Then it's a question of a little thing.

It's little to your intrepid and sublime soul. To the eyes of those
who cherish, as I do, your virtue, it's everything. Believe me, with
whatever philosophy your souls may be armed, it is hard to perish by
execution. That's not all: your reputation which must be dear to you
will be tarnished throughout the centuries. Not only will all the
bigots laugh over your death, they will insult you, light the pyre on
which you will burn if they burn you, tighten the rope if they
strangle you, grind the Hemlock if they poison you. But they will
render your memory execrable to the entire future. You can easily
avoid such a funereal end. I will answer for saving your life, and
even will have you declared by the judges to be the wisest of men, as
you were by the oracle of Apollo. It's only a question of giving me
your pupil Aglaea. With the dowry you are giving her, understood. We
can easily break off her marriage with Sophronine. You will enjoy a
peaceable and honorable old age and the gods and goddesses will bless

Guards! Take me to prison without further delay.

(They lead him away.)

This man is incorrigible. It's not my fault. I have nothing to
reproach myself with. He must be abandoned to his reprobate opinions
and allowed to die unrepentant.


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