Androcles and the Lion
George Bernard Shaw
This etext was produced by Eve Sobol, South Bend, Indiana, USA
ANDROCLES AND THE LION
Overture; forest sounds, roaring of lions, Christian hymn
A jungle path. A lion's roar, a melancholy suffering roar, comes
from the jungle. It is repeated nearer. The lion limps from the
jungle on three legs, holding up his right forepaw, in which a
huge thorn sticks. He sits down and contemplates it. He licks it.
He shakes it. He tries to extract it by scraping it along the
ground, and hurts himself worse. He roars piteously. He licks it
again. Tears drop from his eyes. He limps painfully off the path
and lies down under the trees, exhausted with pain. Heaving a
long sigh, like wind in a trombone, he goes to sleep.
Androcles and his wife Megaera come along the path. He is a
small, thin, ridiculous little man who might be any age from
thirty to fifty-five. He has sandy hair, watery compassionate
blue eyes, sensitive nostrils, and a very presentable forehead;
but his good points go no further; his arms and legs and back,
though wiry of their kind, look shrivelled and starved. He
carries a big bundle, is very poorly clad, and seems tired and
His wife is a rather handsome pampered slattern, well fed and in
the prime of life. She has nothing to carry, and has a stout
stick to help her along.
MEGAERA (suddenly throwing down her stick) I won't go another
ANDROCLES (pleading wearily) Oh, not again, dear. What's the good
of stopping every two miles and saying you won't go another step?
We must get on to the next village before night. There are wild
beasts in this wood: lions, they say.
MEGAERA. I don't believe a word of it. You are always threatening
me with wild beasts to make me walk the very soul out of my body
when I can hardly drag one foot before another. We haven't seen a
single lion yet.
ANDROCLES. Well, dear, do you want to see one?
MEGAERA (tearing the bundle from his back) You cruel beast, you
don't care how tired I am, or what becomes of me (she throws the
bundle on the ground): always thinking of yourself. Self! self!
self! always yourself! (She sits down on the bundle).
ANDROCLES (sitting down sadly on the ground with his elbows on
his knees and his head in his hands) We all have to think of
ourselves occasionally, dear.
MEGAERA. A man ought to think of his wife sometimes.
ANDROCLES. He can't always help it, dear. You make me think of
you a good deal. Not that I blame you.
MEGAERA. Blame me! I should think not indeed. Is it my fault that
I'm married to you?
ANDROCLES. No, dear: that is my fault.
MEGAERA. That's a nice thing to say to me. Aren't you happy with
ANDROCLES. I don't complain, my love.
MEGAERA. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.
ANDROCLES. I am, my dear.
MEGAERA. You're not: you glory in it.
ANDROCLES. In what, darling?
MEGAERA. In everything. In making me a slave, and making yourself
a laughing-stock. Its not fair. You get me the name of being a
shrew with your meek ways, always talking as if butter wouldn't
melt in your mouth. And just because I look a big strong woman,
and because I'm good-hearted and a bit hasty, and because you're
always driving me to do things I'm sorry for afterwards, people
say "Poor man: what a life his wife leads him!" Oh, if they only
knew! And you think I don't know. But I do, I do, (screaming) I
ANDROCLES. Yes, my dear: I know you do.
MEGAERA. Then why don't you treat me properly and be a good
husband to me?
ANDROCLES. What can I do, my dear?
MEGAERA. What can you do! You can return to your duty, and come
back to your home and your friends, and sacrifice to the gods as
all respectable people do, instead of having us hunted out of
house and home for being dirty, disreputable, blaspheming
ANDROCLES. I'm not an atheist, dear: I am a Christian.
MEGAERA. Well, isn't that the same thing, only ten times worse?
Everybody knows that the Christians are the very lowest of the
ANDROCLES. Just like us, dear.
MEGAERA. Speak for yourself. Don't you dare to compare me to
common people. My father owned his own public-house; and
sorrowful was the day for me when you first came drinking in our
ANDROCLES. I confess I was addicted to it, dear. But I gave it
up when I became a Christian.
MEGAERA. You'd much better have remained a drunkard. I can
forgive a man being addicted to drink: its only natural; and I
don't deny I like a drop myself sometimes. What I can't stand is
your being addicted to Christianity. And what's worse again, your
being addicted to animals. How is any woman to keep her house
clean when you bring in every stray cat and lost cur and lame
duck in the whole countryside? You took the bread out of my mouth
to feed them: you know you did: don't attempt to deny it.
ANDROCLES. Only when they were hungry and you were getting too
MEGAERA. Yes, insult me, do. (Rising) Oh! I won't bear it another
moment. You used to sit and talk to those dumb brute beasts for
hours, when you hadn't a word for me.
ANDROCLES. They never answered back, darling. (He rises and again
shoulders the bundle).
MEGAERA. Well, if you're fonder of animals than of your own wife,
you can live with them here in the jungle. I've had enough of
them and enough of you. I'm going back. I'm going home.
ANDROCLES (barring the way back) No, dearie: don't take on like
that. We can't go back. We've sold everything: we should starve;
and I should be sent to Rome and thrown to the lions--
MEGAERA. Serve you right! I wish the lions joy of you.
(Screaming) Are you going to get out of my way and let me go
ANDROCLES. No, dear--
MEGAERA. Then I'll make my way through the forest; and when I'm
eaten by the wild beasts you'll know what a wife you've lost.
(She dashes into the jungle and nearly falls over the sleeping
lion). Oh! Oh! Andy! Andy! (She totters back and collapses into
the arms of Androcles, who, crushed by her weight, falls on his
ANDROCLES (extracting himself from beneath her and slapping her
hands in great anxiety) What is it, my precious, my pet? What's
the matter? (He raises her head. Speechless with terror, she
points in the direction of the sleeping lion. He steals
cautiously towards the spot indicated by Megaera. She rises with
an effort and totters after him).
MEGAERA. No, Andy: you'll be killed. Come back.
The lion utters a long snoring sigh. Androcles sees the lion and
recoils fainting into the arms of Megaera, who falls back on the
bundle. They roll apart and lie staring in terror at one another.
The lion is heard groaning heavily in the jungle.
ANDROCLES (whispering) Did you see? A lion.
MEGAERA (despairing) The gods have sent him to punish us because
you're a Christian. Take me away, Andy. Save me.
ANDROCLES (rising) Meggy: there's one chance for you. It'll take
him pretty nigh twenty minutes to eat me (I'm rather stringy and
tough) and you can escape in less time than that.
MEGAERA. Oh, don't talk about eating. (The lion rises with a
great groan and limps towards them). Oh! (She faints).
ANDROCLES (quaking, but keeping between the lion and Megaera)
Don't you come near my wife, do you hear? (The lion groans.
Androcles can hardly stand for trembling). Meggy: run. Run for
your life. If I take my eye off him, its all up. (The lion holds
up his wounded paw and flaps it piteously before Androcles). Oh,
he's lame, poor old chap! He's got a thorn in his paw. A
frightfully big thorn. (Full of sympathy) Oh, poor old man! Did
um get an awful thorn into um's tootsums wootsums? Has it made um
too sick to eat a nice little Christian man for um's breakfast?
Oh, a nice little Christian man will get um's thorn out for um;
and then um shall eat the nice Christian man and the nice
Christian man's nice big tender wifey pifey. (The lion responds
by moans of self-pity). Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Now, now (taking
the paw in his hand) um is not to bite and not to scratch, not
even if it hurts a very, very little. Now make velvet paws.
That's right. (He pulls gingerly at the thorn. The lion, with an
angry yell of pain, jerks back his paw so abruptly that Androcles
is thrown on his back). Steadeee! Oh, did the nasty cruel little
Christian man hurt the sore paw? (The lion moans assentingly but
apologetically). Well, one more little pull and it will be all
over. Just one little, little, leetle pull; and then um will live
happily ever after. (He gives the thorn another pull. The lion
roars and snaps his jaws with a terrifying clash). Oh, mustn't
frighten um's good kind doctor, um's affectionate nursey. That
didn't hurt at all: not a bit. Just one more. Just to show how
the brave big lion can bear pain, not like the little crybaby
Christian man. Oopsh! (The thorn comes out. The lion yells with
pain, and shakes his paw wildly). That's it! (Holding up the
thorn). Now it's out. Now lick um's paw to take away the nasty
inflammation. See? (He licks his own hand. The lion nods
intelligently and licks his paw industriously). Clever little
liony-piony! Understands um's dear old friend Andy Wandy. (The
lion licks his face). Yes, kissums Andy Wandy. (The lion,
wagging his tail violently, rises on his hind legs and embraces
Androcles, who makes a wry face and cries) Velvet paws! Velvet
paws! (The lion draws in his claws). That's right. (He embraces
the lion, who finally takes the end of his tail in one paw,
places that tight around Androcles' waist, resting it on his hip.
Androcles takes the other paw in his hand, stretches out his arm,
and the two waltz rapturously round and round and finally away
through the jungle).
MEGAERA (who has revived during the waltz) Oh, you coward, you
haven't danced with me for years; and now you go off dancing with
a great brute beast that you haven't known for ten minutes and
that wants to eat your own wife. Coward! Coward! Coward! (She
rushes off after them into the jungle).
Evening. The end of three converging roads to Rome. Three
triumphal arches span them where they debouch on a square at the
gate of the city. Looking north through the arches one can see
the campagna threaded by the three long dusty tracks. On the east
and west sides of the square are long stone benches. An old
beggar sits on the east side of the square, his bowl at his feet.
Through the eastern arch a squad of Roman soldiers tramps along
escorting a batch of Christian prisoners of both sexes and all
ages, among them one Lavinia, a goodlooking resolute young woman,
apparently of higher social standing than her fellow-prisoners. A
centurion, carrying his vinewood cudgel, trudges alongside the
squad, on its right, in command of it. All are tired and dusty;
but the soldiers are dogged and indifferent, the Christians
light-hearted and determined to treat their hardships as a joke
and encourage one another.
A bugle is heard far behind on the road, where the rest of the
cohort is following.
CENTURION (stopping) Halt! Orders from the Captain. (They halt
and wait). Now then, you Christians, none of your larks. The
captain's coming. Mind you behave yourselves. No singing. Look
respectful. Look serious, if you're capable of it. See that big
building over there? That's the Coliseum. That's where you'll be
thrown to the lions or set to fight the gladiators presently.
Think of that; and it'll help you to behave properly before the
captain. (The Captain arrives). Attention! Salute! (The soldiers
A CHRISTIAN (cheerfully) God bless you, Captain.
THE CENTURION (scandalised) Silence!
The Captain, a patrician, handsome, about thirty-five, very cold
and distinguished, very superior and authoritative, steps up on a
stone seat at the west side of the square, behind the centurion,
so as to dominate the others more effectually.
THE CAPTAIN. Centurion.
THE CENTURION. (standing at attention and saluting) Sir?
THE CAPTAIN (speaking stiffly and officially) You will remind
your men, Centurion, that we are now entering Rome. You will
instruct them that once inside the gates of Rome they are in the
presence of the Emperor. You will make them understand that the
lax discipline of the march cannot be permitted here. You will
instruct them to shave every day, not every week. You will
impress on them particularly that there must be an end to the
profanity and blasphemy of singing Christian hymns on the march.
I have to reprimand you, Centurion, for not only allowing this,
but actually doing it yourself.
THE CENTURION. The men march better, Captain.
THE CAPTAIN. No doubt. For that reason an exception is made in
the case of the march called Onward Christian Soldiers. This may
be sung, except when marching through the forum or within hearing
of the Emperor's palace; but the words must be altered to "Throw
them to the Lions."
The Christians burst into shrieks of uncontrollable laughter, to
the great scandal of the Centurion.
CENTURION. Silence! Silen-n-n-n-nce! Where's your behavior? Is
that the way to listen to an officer? (To the Captain) That's
what we have to put up with from these Christians every day, sir.
They're always laughing and joking something scandalous. They've
no religion: that's how it is.
LAVINIA. But I think the Captain meant us to laugh, Centurion. It
was so funny.
CENTURION. You'll find out how funny it is when you're thrown to
the lions to-morrow. (To the Captain, who looks displeased) Beg
pardon, Sir. (To the Christians) Silennnnce!
THE CAPTAIN. You are to instruct your men that all intimacy with
Christian prisoners must now cease. The men have fallen into
habits of dependence upon the prisoners, especially the female
prisoners, for cooking, repairs to uniforms, writing letters, and
advice in their private affairs. In a Roman soldier such
dependence is inadmissible. Let me see no more of it whilst we
are in the city. Further, your orders are that in addressing
Christian prisoners, the manners and tone of your men must
express abhorrence and contempt. Any shortcoming in this respect
will be regarded as a breach of discipline.(He turns to the
CENTURION (fiercely) Prisonerrrrrs! Tention! Silence!
THE CAPTAIN. I call your attention, prisoners, to the fact that
you may be called on to appear in the Imperial Circus at any time
from tomorrow onwards according to the requirements of the
managers. I may inform you that as there is a shortage of
Christians just now, you may expect to be called on very soon.
LAVINIA. What will they do to us, Captain?
THE CAPTAIN. The women will be conducted into the arena with the
wild beasts of the Imperial Menagerie, and will suffer the
consequences. The men, if of an age to bear arms, will be given
weapons to defend themselves, if they choose, against the
LAVINIA. Captain: is there no hope that this cruel persecution--
CENTURION (shocked) Silence! Hold your tongue, there.
THE CAPTAIN (unmoved and somewhat sardonic) Persecution is not a
term applicable to the acts of the Emperor. The Emperor is the
Defender of the Faith. In throwing you to the lions he will be
upholding the interests of religion in Rome. If you were to throw
him to the lions, that would no doubt be persecution.
The Christians again laugh heartily.
CENTURION (horrified) Silence, I tell you! Keep silence there.
Did anyone ever hear the like of this?
LAVINIA. Captain: there will be nobody to appreciate your jokes
when we are gone.
THE CAPTAIN (unshaken in his official delivery) I call the
attention of the female prisoner Lavinia to the fact that as the
Emperor is a divine personage, her imputation of cruelty is not
only treason, but sacrilege. I point out to her further that
there is no foundation for the charge, as the Emperor does not
desire that any prisoner should suffer; nor can any Christian be
harmed save through his or her own obstinacy. All that is
necessary is to sacrifice to the gods: a simple and convenient
ceremony effected by dropping a pinch of incense on the altar,
after which the prisoner is at once set free. Under such
circumstances you have only your own perverse folly to blame if
you suffer. I suggest to you that if you cannot burn a morsel of
incense as a matter of conviction, you might at least do so as a
matter of good taste, to avoid shocking the religious convictions
of your fellow citizens. I am aware that these considerations do
not weigh with Christians; but it is my duty to call your
attention to them in order that you may have no ground for
complaining of your treatment, or of accusing the Emperor of
cruelty when he is showing you the most signal clemency.
Looked at from this point of view, every Christian who has
perished in the arena has really committed suicide.
LAVINIA. Captain: your jokes are too grim. Do not think it is
easy for us to die. Our faith makes life far stronger and more
wonderful in us than when we walked in darkness and had nothing
to live for. Death is harder for us than for you: the martyr's
agony is as bitter as his triumph is glorious.
THE CAPTAIN (rather troubled, addressing her personally and
gravely) A martyr, Lavinia, is a fool. Your death will prove
LAVINIA. Then why kill me?
THE CAPTAIN. I mean that truth, if there be any truth, needs no
LAVINIA. No; but my faith, like your sword, needs testing. Can
you test your sword except by staking your life on it?
THE CAPTAIN (suddenly resuming his official tone) I call the
attention of the female prisoner to the fact that Christians are
not allowed to draw the Emperor's officers into arguments and put
questions to them for which the military regulations provide no
answer. (The Christians titter).
LAVINIA. Captain: how CAN you?
THE CAPTAIN. I call the female prisoner's attention specially to
the fact that four comfortable homes have been offered her by
officers of this regiment, of which she can have her choice the
moment she chooses to sacrifice as all well-bred Roman ladies do.
I have no more to say to the prisoners.
CENTURION. Dismiss! But stay where you are.
THE CAPTAIN. Centurion: you will remain here with your men in
charge of the prisoners until the arrival of three Christian
prisoners in the custody of a cohort of the tenth legion. Among
these prisoners you will particularly identify an armorer named
Ferrovius, of dangerous character and great personal strength,
and a Greek tailor reputed to be a sorcerer, by name Androcles.
You will add the three to your charge here and march them all to
the Coliseum, where you will deliver them into the custody of the
master of the gladiators and take his receipt, countersigned by
the keeper of the beasts and the acting manager. You understand
CENTURION. Yes, Sir.
THE CAPTAIN. Dismiss. (He throws off his air of parade, and
descends down from the perch. The Centurion seats on it and
prepares for a nap, whilst his men stand at ease. The Christians
sit down on the west side of the square, glad to rest. Lavinia
alone remains standing to speak to the Captain).
LAVINIA. Captain: is this man who is to join us the famous
Ferrovius, who has made such wonderful conversions in the
THE CAPTAIN. Yes. We are warned that he has the strength of an
elephant and the temper of a mad bull. Also that he is stark mad.
Not a model Christian, it would seem.
LAVINIA. You need not fear him if he is a Christian, Captain.
THE CAPTAIN (coldly) I shall not fear him in any case, Lavinia.
LAVINIA (her eyes dancing) How brave of you, Captain!
THE CAPTAIN. You are right: it was silly thing to say. (In a
lower tone, humane and urgent) Lavinia: do Christians know how to
LAVINIA (composedly) Yes, Captain: they love even their enemies.
THE CAPTAIN. Is that easy?
LAVINIA. Very easy, Captain, when their enemies are as handsome
THE CAPTAIN. Lavinia: you are laughing at me.
LAVINIA. At you, Captain! Impossible.
THE CAPTAIN. Then you are flirting with me, which is worse. Don't
LAVINIA. But such a very handsome captain.
THE CAPTAIN. Incorrigible! (Urgently) Listen to me. The men in
that audience tomorrow will be the vilest of voluptuaries: men in
whom the only passion excited by a beautiful woman is a lust to
see her tortured and torn shrieking limb from limb. It is a crime
to dignify that passion. It is offering yourself for violation by
the whole rabble of the streets and the riff-raff of the court at
the same time. Why will you not choose rather a kindly love and
an honorable alliance?
LAVINIA. They cannot violate my soul. I alone can do that by
sacrificing to false gods.
THE CAPTAIN. Sacrifice then to the true God. What does his name
matter? We call him Jupiter. The Greeks call him Zeus. Call him
what you will as you drop the incense on the altar flame: He will
LAVINIA. No. I couldn't. That is the strange thing, Captain, that
a little pinch of incense should make all that difference.
Religion is such a great thing that when I meet really religious
people we are friends at once, no matter what name we give to the
divine will that made us and moves us. Oh, do you think that I, a
woman, would quarrel with you for sacrificing to a woman god like
Diana, if Diana meant to you what Christ means to me? No: we
should kneel side by side before her altar like two children. But
when men who believe neither in my god nor in their own--men who
do not know the meaning of the word religion--when these men drag
me to the foot of an iron statue that has become the symbol of
the terror and darkness through which they walk, of their cruelty
and greed, of their hatred of God and their oppression of man--
when they ask me to pledge my soul before the people that this
hideous idol is God, and that all this wickedness and falsehood
is divine truth, I cannot do it, not if they could put a thousand
cruel deaths on me. I tell you, it is physically impossible.
Listen, Captain: did you ever try to catch a mouse in your hand?
Once there was a dear little mouse that used to come out and play
on my table as I was reading. I wanted to take him in my hand and
caress him; and sometimes he got among my books so that he could
not escape me when I stretched out my hand. And I did stretch out
my hand; but it always came back in spite of me. I was not afraid
of him in my heart; but my hand refused: it is not in the nature
of my hand to touch a mouse. Well, Captain, if I took a pinch of
incense in my hand and stretched it out over the altar fire, my
hand would come back. My body would be true to my faith even if
you could corrupt my mind. And all the time I should believe more
in Diana than my persecutors have ever believed in anything. Can
you understand that?
THE CAPTAIN (simply) Yes: I understand that. But my hand would
not come back. The hand that holds the sword has been trained not
to come back from anything but victory.
LAVINIA. Not even from death?
THE CAPTAIN. Least of all from death.
LAVINIA. Then I must not come back either. A woman has to be
braver than a soldier.
THE CAPTAIN. Prouder, you mean.
LAVINIA (startled) Prouder! You call our courage pride!
THE CAPTAIN. There is no such thing as courage: there is only
pride. You Christians are the proudest devils on earth.
LAVINIA (hurt) Pray God then my pride may never become a false
pride. (She turns away as if she did not wish to continue the
conversation, but softens and says to him with a smile) Thank you
for trying to save me from death
THE CAPTAIN. I knew it was no use; but one tries in spite of
LAVINIA. Something stirs, even in the iron breast of a Roman
THE CAPTAIN. It will soon be iron again. I have seen many women
die, and forgotten them in a week.
LAVINIA. Remember me for a fortnight, handsome Captain. I shall
be watching you, perhaps.
THE CAPTAIN. From the skies? Do not deceive yourself, Lavinia.
There is no future for you beyond the grave.
LAVINIA. What does that matter? Do you think I am only running
away from the terrors of life into the comfort of heaven? If
there were no future, or if the future were one of torment, I
should have to go just the same. The hand of God is upon me.
THE CAPTAIN. Yes: when all is said, we are both patricians,
Lavinia, and must die for our beliefs. Farewell. (He offers her
his hand. She takes it and presses it. He walks away, trim and
calm. She looks after him for a moment, and cries a little as he
disappears through the eastern arch. A trumpet-call is heard from
the road through the western arch).
CENTURION (waking up and rising) Cohort of the tenth with
prisoners. Two file out with me to receive them. (He goes out
through the western arch, followed by four soldiers in two
Lentulus and Metellus come into the square from the west side
with a little retinue of servants. Both are young courtiers,
dressed in the extremity of fashion. Lentulus is slender,
fair-haired, epicene. Metellus is manly, compactly built, olive
skinned, not a talker.
LENTULUS. Christians, by Jove! Let's chaff them.
METELLUS. Awful brutes. If you knew as much about them as I do
you wouldn't want to chaff them. Leave them to the lions.
LENTULUS (indicating Lavinia, who is still looking towards the
arches after the captain). That woman's got a figure. (He walks
past her, staring at her invitingly, but she is preoccupied and
is not conscious of him). Do you turn the other cheek when they
LAVINIA (starting) What?
LENTULus. Do you turn the other cheek when they kiss you,
LAVINIA. Don't be foolish. (To Metellus, who has remained on her
right, so that she is between them) Please don't let your friend
behave like a cad before the soldiers. How are they to respect
and obey patricians if they see them behaving like street boys?
(Sharply to Lentulus) Pull yourself together, man. Hold your head
up. Keep the corners of your mouth firm; and treat me
respectfully. What do you take me for?
LENTULUS (irresolutely) Look here, you know: I--you--I--
LAVINIA. Stuff! Go about your business. (She turns decisively
away and sits down with her comrades, leaving him disconcerted).
METELLUS. You didn't get much out of that. I told you they were
LENTULUS. Plucky little filly! I suppose she thinks I care. (With
an air of indifference he strolls with Metellus to the east side
of the square, where they stand watching the return of the
Centurion through the western arch with his men, escorting three
prisoners: Ferrovius, Androcles, and Spintho. Ferrovius is a
powerful, choleric man in the prime of life, with large nostrils,
staring eyes, and a thick neck: a man whose sensibilities are
keen and violent to the verge of madness. Spintho is a debauchee,
the wreck of a good-looking man gone hopelessly to the bad.
Androcles is overwhelmed with grief, and is restraining his tears
with great difficulty).
THE CENTURION (to Lavinia) Here are some pals for you. This
little bit is Ferrovius that you talk so much about. (Ferrovius
turns on him threateningly. The Centurion holds up his left
forefinger in admonition). Now remember that you're a Christian,
and that you've got to return good for evil. (Ferrovius controls
himself convulsively; moves away from temptation to the east side
near Lentulus; clasps his hands in silent prayer; and throws
himself on his knees). That's the way to manage them, eh! This
fine fellow (indicating Androcles, who comes to his left, and
makes Lavinia a heartbroken salutation) is a sorcerer. A Greek
tailor, he is. A real sorcerer, too: no mistake about it. The
tenth marches with a leopard at the head of the column. He made a
pet of the leopard; and now he's crying at being parted from it.
(Androcles sniffs lamentably). Ain't you, old chap? Well, cheer
up, we march with a Billy goat (Androcles brightens up) that's
killed two leopards and ate a turkey-cock. You can have him for a
pet if you like. (Androcles, quite consoled, goes past the
Centurion to Lavinia, and sits down contentedly on the ground on
her left). This dirty dog (collaring Spintho) is a real
Christian. He mobs the temples, he does (at each accusation he
gives the neck of Spintho's tunic a twist); he goes smashing
things mad drunk, he does; he steals the gold vessels, he does;
he assaults the priestesses, he does pah! (He flings Spintho into
the middle of the group of prisoners). You're the sort that makes
duty a pleasure, you are.
SPINTHO (gasping) That's it: strangle me. Kick me. Beat me.
Revile me. Our Lord was beaten and reviled. That's my way to
heaven. Every martyr goes to heaven, no matter what he's done.
That is so, isn't it, brother?
CENTURION. Well, if you're going to heaven, _I_ don't want to go
there. I wouldn't be seen with you.
LENTULUS. Haw! Good! (Indicating the kneeling Ferrovius). Is this
one of the turn-the-other-cheek gentlemen, Centurion?
CENTURION. Yes, sir. Lucky for you too, sir, if you want to take
any liberties with him.
LENTULUS (to Ferrovius) You turn the other cheek when you're
struck, I'm told.
FERROVIUS (slowly turning his great eyes on him) Yes, by the
grace of God, I do, NOW.
LENTULUS. Not that you're a coward, of course; but out of pure
FERROVIUS. I fear God more than man; at least I try to.
LENTULUS. Let's see. (He strikes him on the cheek. Androcles
makes a wild movement to rise and interfere; but Lavinia holds
him down, watching Ferrovius intently. Ferrovius, without
flinching, turns the other cheek. Lentulus, rather out of
countenance, titters foolishly, and strikes him again feebly).
You know, I should feel ashamed if I let myself be struck like
that, and took it lying down. But then I'm not a Christian: I'm a
man. (Ferrovius rises impressively and towers over him. Lentulus
becomes white with terror; and a shade of green flickers in his
cheek for a moment).
FERROVIUS (with the calm of a steam hammer) I have not always
been faithful. The first man who struck me as you have just
struck me was a stronger man than you: he hit me harder than I
expected. I was tempted and fell; and it was then that I first
tasted bitter shame. I never had a happy moment after that until
I had knelt and asked his forgiveness by his bedside in the
hospital. (Putting his hands on Lentulus's shoulders with
paternal weight). But now I have learnt to resist with a strength
that is not my own. I am not ashamed now, nor angry.
LENTULUS (uneasily) Er--good evening. (He tries to move away).
FERROVIUS (gripping his shoulders) Oh, do not harden your heart,
young man. Come: try for yourself whether our way is not better
than yours. I will now strike you on one cheek; and you will turn
the other and learn how much better you will feel than if you
gave way to the promptings of anger. (He holds him with one hand
and clenches the other fist).
LENTULUS. Centurion: I call on you to protect me.
CENTURION. You asked for it, sir. It's no business of ours.
You've had two whacks at him. Better pay him a trifle and square
it that way.
LENTULUS. Yes, of course. (To Ferrovius) It was only a bit of
fun, I assure you: I meant no harm. Here. (He proffers a gold
FERROVIUS (taking it and throwing it to the old beggar, who
snatches it up eagerly, and hobbles off to spend it) Give all
thou hast to the poor. Come, friend: courage! I may hurt your
body for a moment; but your soul will rejoice in the victory of
the spirit over the flesh. (He prepares to strike).
ANDROCLES. Easy, Ferrovius, easy: you broke the last man's jaw.
Lentulus, with a moan of terror, attempts to fly; but Ferrovius
holds him ruthlessly.
FERROVIUS. Yes; but I saved his soul. What matters a broken jaw?
LENTULUS. Don't touch me, do you hear? The law--
FERROVIUS. The law will throw me to the lions tomorrow: what
worse could it do were I to slay you? Pray for strength; and it
shall be given to you.
LENTULUS. Let me go. Your religion forbids you to strike me.
FERROVIUS. On the contrary, it commands me to strike you. How can
you turn the other cheek, if you are not first struck on the one
LENTULUS (almost in tears) But I'm convinced already that what
you said is quite right. I apologize for striking you.
FERROVIUS (greatly pleased) My son: have I softened your heart?
Has the good seed fallen in a fruitful place? Are your feet
turning towards a better path?
LENTULUS (abjectly) Yes, yes. There's a great deal in what you
FERROVIUS (radiant) Join us. Come to the lions. Come to suffering
LENTULUS (falling on his knees and bursting into tears) Oh, help
me. Mother! mother!
FERROVIUS. These tears will water your soul and make it bring
forth good fruit, my son. God has greatly blessed my efforts at
conversion. Shall I tell you a miracle--yes, a miracle--wrought
by me in Cappadocia? A young man--just such a one as you, with
golden hair like yours--scoffed at and struck me as you scoffed
at and struck me. I sat up all night with that youth wrestling
for his soul; and in the morning not only was he a Christian, but
his hair was as white as snow. (Lentulus falls in a dead faint).
There, there: take him away. The spirit has overwrought him, poor
lad. Carry him gently to his house; and leave the rest to heaven.
CENTURION. Take him home. (The servants, intimidated, hastily
carry him out. Metellus is about to follow when Ferrovius lays
his hand on his shoulder).
FERROVIUS. You are his friend, young man. You will see that he
is taken safely home.
METELLUS (with awestruck civility) Certainly, sir. I shall do
whatever you think best. Most happy to have made your
acquaintance, I'm sure. You may depend on me. Good evening, sir.
FERROVIUS (with unction) The blessing of heaven upon you and him.
Metellus follows Lentulus. The Centurion returns to his seat to
resume his interrupted nap. The deepest awe has settled on the
spectators. Ferrovius, with a long sigh of happiness, goes to
Lavinia, and offers her his hand.
LAVINIA (taking it) So that is how you convert people, Ferrovius.
FERROVIUS. Yes: there has been a blessing on my work in spite of
my unworthiness and my backslidings--all through my wicked,
devilish temper. This man--
ANDROCLES (hastily) Don't slap me on the back, brother. She knows
you mean me.
FERROVIUS. How I wish I were weak like our brother here! for then
I should perhaps be meek and gentle like him. And yet there seems
to be a special providence that makes my trials less than his. I
hear tales of the crowd scoffing and casting stones and reviling
the brethren; but when I come, all this stops: my influence calms
the passions of the mob: they listen to me in silence; and
infidels are often converted by a straight heart-to-heart talk
with me. Every day I feel happier, more confident. Every day
lightens the load of the great terror.
LAVINIA. The great terror? What is that?
Ferrovius shakes his head and does not answer. He sits down
beside her on her left, and buries his face in his hands in
ANDROCLES. Well, you see, sister, he's never quite sure of
himself. Suppose at the last moment in the arena, with the
gladiators there to fight him, one of them was to say anything to
annoy him, he might forget himself and lay that gladiator out.
LAVINIA. That would be splendid.
FERROVIUS (springing up in horror) What!
ANDROCLES. Oh, sister!
FERROVIUS. Splendid to betray my master, like Peter! Splendid to
act like any common blackguard in the day of my proving! Woman:
you are no Christian. (He moves away from her to the middle of
the square, as if her neighborhood contaminated him).
LAVINIA (laughing) You know, Ferrovius, I am not always a
Christian. I don't think anybody is. There are moments when I
forget all about it, and something comes out quite naturally, as
it did then.
SPINTHO. What does it matter? If you die in the arena, you'll be
a martyr; and all martyrs go to heaven, no matter what they have
done. That's so, isn't it, Ferrovius?
FERROVIUS. Yes: that is so, if we are faithful to the end.
LAVINIA. I'm not so sure.
SPINTHO. Don't say that. That's blasphemy. Don't say that, I tell
you. We shall be saved, no matter WHAT we do.
LAVINIA. Perhaps you men will all go into heaven bravely and in
triumph, with your heads erect and golden trumpets sounding for
you. But I am sure I shall only be allowed to squeeze myself in
through a little crack in the gate after a great deal of begging.
I am not good always: I have moments only.
SPINTHO. You're talking nonsense, woman. I tell you, martyrdom
pays all scores.
ANDROCLES. Well, let us hope so, brother, for your sake. You've
had a gay time, haven't you? with your raids on the temples. I
can't help thinking that heaven will be very dull for a man of
your temperament. (Spintho snarls). Don't be angry: I say it only
to console you in case you should die in your bed tonight in the
natural way. There's a lot of plague about.
SPINTHO (rising and running about in abject terror) I never
thought of that. O Lord, spare me to be martyred. Oh, what a
thought to put into the mind of a brother! Oh, let me be martyred
today, now. I shall die in the night and go to hell. You're a
sorcerer: you've put death into my mind. Oh, curse you, curse
you! (He tries to seize Androcles by the throat).
FERROVIUS (holding him in a grip of iron) What's this, brother?
Anger! Violence! Raising your hand to a brother Christian!
SPINTHO. It's easy for you. You're strong. Your nerves are all
right. But I'm full of disease. (Ferrovius takes his hand from
him with instinctive disgust). I've drunk all my nerves away. I
shall have the horrors all night.
ANDROCLES (sympathetic) Oh, don't take on so, brother. We're all
SPINTHO (snivelling, trying to feel consoled). Yes: I daresay if
the truth were known, you're all as bad as I am.
LAVINIA (contemptuously) Does THAT comfort you?
FERROVIUS (sternly) Pray, man, pray.
SPINTHO. What's the good of praying? If we're martyred we shall
go to heaven, shan't we, whether we pray or not?
FERROVIUS. What's that? Not pray! (Seizing him again) Pray this
instant, you dog, you rotten hound, you slimy snake, you beastly
SPINTHO. Yes: beat me: kick me. I forgive you: mind that.
FERROVIUS (spurning him with loathing) Yah! (Spintho reels away
and falls in front of Ferrovius).
ANDROCLES (reaching out and catching the skirt of Ferrovius's
tunic) Dear brother: if you wouldn't mind--just for my sake--
ANDROCLES. Don't call him by the names of the animals. We've no
right to. I've had such friends in dogs. A pet snake is the best
of company. I was nursed on goat's milk. Is it fair to them to
call the like of him a dog or a snake or a goat?
FERROVIUS. I only meant that they have no souls.
ANDROCLES (anxiously protesting) Oh, believe me, they have. Just
the same as you and me. I really don't think I could consent to
go to heaven if I thought there were to be no animals there.
Think of what they suffer here.
FERROVIUS. That's true. Yes: that is just. They will have their
share in heaven.
SPINTHO (who has picked himself up and is sneaking past Ferrovius
on his left, sneers derisively)!!
FERROVIUS (turning on him fiercely) What's that you say?
SPINTHO (cornering). Nothing.
FERROVIUS (clenching his fist) Do animals go to heaven or not?
SPINTHO. I never said they didn't.
FERROVIUS (implacable) Do they or do they not?
SPINTHO. They do: they do. (Scrambling out of Ferrovius's reach).
Oh, curse you for frightening me!
A bugle call is heard.
CENTURION (waking up) Tention! Form as before. Now then,
prisoners, up with you and trot along spry. (The soldiers fall
in. The Christians rise).
A man with an ox goad comes running through the central arch.
THE OX DRIVER. Here, you soldiers! clear out of the way for the
THE CENTURION. Emperor! Where's the Emperor? You ain't the
Emperor, are you?
THE OX DRIVER. It's the menagerie service. My team of oxen is
drawing the new lion to the Coliseum. You clear the road.
CENTURION. What! Go in after you in your dust, with half the town
at the heels of you and your lion! Not likely. We go first.
THE OX DRIVER. The menagerie service is the Emperor's personal
retinue. You clear out, I tell you.
CENTURION. You tell me, do you? Well, I'll tell you something. If
the lion is menagerie service, the lion's dinner is menagerie
service too. This (pointing to the Christians) is the lion's
dinner. So back with you to your bullocks double quick; and learn
your place. March. (The soldiers start). Now then, you
Christians, step out there.
LAVINIA (marching) Come along, the rest of the dinner. I shall be
the olives and anchovies.
ANOTHER CHRISTIAN (laughing) I shall be the soup.
ANOTHER. I shall be the fish.
ANOTHER. Ferrovius shall be the roast boar.
FERROVIUS (heavily) I see the joke. Yes, yes: I shall be the
roast boar. Ha! ha! (He laughs conscientiously and marches out
ANDROCLES. I shall be the mince pie. (Each announcement is
received with a louder laugh by all the rest as the joke catches
CENTURION (scandalised) Silence! Have some sense of your
situation. Is this the way for martyrs to behave? (To Spintho,
who is quaking and loitering) I know what YOU'LL be at that
dinner. You'll be the emetic. (He shoves him rudely along).
SPINTHO. It's too dreadful: I'm not fit to die.
CENTURION. Fitter than you are to live, you swine.
They pass from the square westward. The oxen, drawing a waggon
with a great wooden cage and the lion in it, arrive through the
Behind the Emperor's box at the Coliseum, where the performers
assemble before entering the arena. In the middle a wide passage
leading to the arena descends from the floor level under the
imperial box. On both sides of this passage steps ascend to a
landing at the back entrance to the box. The landing forms a
bridge across the passage. At the entrance to the passage are two
bronze mirrors, one on each side.
On the west side of this passage, on the right hand of any one
coming from the box and standing on the bridge, the martyrs are
sitting on the steps. Lavinia is seated half-way up, thoughtful,
trying to look death in the face. On her left Androcles consoles
himself by nursing a cat. Ferrovius stands behind them, his eyes
blazing, his figure stiff with intense resolution. At the foot of
the steps crouches Spintho, with his head clutched in his hands,
full of horror at the approach of martyrdom.
On the east side of the passage the gladiators are standing and
sitting at ease, waiting, like the Christians, for their turn in
the arena. One (Retiarius) is a nearly naked man with a net and a
trident. Another (Secutor) is in armor with a sword. He carries a
helmet with a barred visor. The editor of the gladiators sits on
a chair a little apart from them.
The Call Boy enters from the passage.
THE CALL Boy. Number six. Retiarius versus Secutor.
The gladiator with the net picks it up. The gladiator with the
helmet puts it on; and the two go into the arena, the net thrower
taking out a little brush and arranging his hair as he goes, the
other tightening his straps and shaking his shoulders loose. Both
look at themselves in the mirrors before they enter the passage.
LAVINIA. Will they really kill one another?
SPINTHO. Yes, if the people turn down their thumbs.
THE EDITOR. You know nothing about it. The people indeed! Do you
suppose we would kill a man worth perhaps fifty talents to please
the riffraff? I should like to catch any of my men at it.
SPINTHO. I thought--
THE EDITOR (contemptuously) You thought! Who cares what you
think? YOU'LL be killed all right enough.
SPINTHO (groans and again hides his face)!!! Then is nobody ever
killed except us poor--
THE EDITOR. If the vestal virgins turn down their thumbs, that's
another matter. They're ladies of rank.
LAVINIA. Does the Emperor ever interfere?
THE EDITOR. Oh, yes: he turns his thumbs up fast enough if the
vestal virgins want to have one of his pet fighting men killed.
ANDROCLES. But don't they ever just only pretend to kill one
another? Why shouldn't you pretend to die, and get dragged out as
if you were dead; and then get up and go home, like an actor?
THE EDITOR. See here: you want to know too much. There will be no
pretending about the new lion: let that be enough for you. He's
SPINTHO (groaning with horror) Oh, Lord! Can't you stop talking
about it? Isn't it bad enough for us without that?
ANDROCLES. I'm glad he's hungry. Not that I want him to suffer,
poor chap! but then he'll enjoy eating me so much more. There's a
cheerful side to everything.
THE EDITOR (rising and striding over to Androcles) Here: don't
you be obstinate. Come with me and drop the pinch of incense on
the altar. That's all you need do to be let off.
ANDROCLES. No: thank you very much indeed; but I really mustn't.
THE EDITOR. What! Not to save your life?
ANDROCLES. I'd rather not. I couldn't sacrifice to Diana: she's a
huntress, you know, and kills things.
THE EDITOR. That don't matter. You can choose your own altar.
Sacrifice to Jupiter: he likes animals: he turns himself into an
animal when he goes off duty.
ANDROCLES. No: it's very kind of you; but I feel I can't save
myself that way.
THE EDITOR. But I don't ask you to do it to save yourself: I ask
you to do it to oblige me personally.
ANDROCLES (scrambling up in the greatest agitation) Oh, please
don't say that. That is dreadful. You mean so kindly by me that
it seems quite horrible to disoblige you. If you could arrange
for me to sacrifice when there's nobody looking, I shouldn't
mind. But I must go into the arena with the rest. My honor, you
THE EDITOR. Honor! The honor of a tailor?
ANDROCLES (apologetically) Well, perhaps honor is too strong an
expression. Still, you know, I couldn't allow the tailors to get
a bad name through me.
THE EDITOR. How much will you remember of all that when you smell
the beast's breath and see his jaws opening to tear out your
SPINTHO (rising with a yell of terror) I can't bear it. Where's
the altar? I'll sacrifice.
FERROVIUS. Dog of an apostate. Iscariot!
SPINTHO. I'll repent afterwards. I fully mean to die in the arena
I'll die a martyr and go to heaven; but not this time, not now,
not until my nerves are better. Besides, I'm too young: I want to
have just one more good time. (The gladiators laugh at him). Oh,
will no one tell me where the altar is? (He dashes into the
passage and vanishes).
ANDROCLES (to the Editor, pointing after Spintho) Brother: I
can't do that, not even to oblige you. Don't ask me.
THE EDITOR. Well, if you're determined to die, I can't help you.
But I wouldn't be put off by a swine like that.
FERROVIUS. Peace, peace: tempt him not. Get thee behind him,
THE EDITOR (flushing with rage) For two pins I'd take a turn in
the arena myself to-day, and pay you out for daring to talk to me
Ferrovius springs forward.
LAVINIA (rising quickly and interposing) Brother, brother: you
FERROVIUS (curbing himself by a mighty effort) Oh, my temper, my
wicked temper! (To the Editor, as Lavinia sits down again,
reassured). Forgive me, brother. My heart was full of wrath: I
should have been thinking of your dear precious soul.
THE EDITOR. Yah! (He turns his back on Ferrovius contemptuously,
and goes back to his seat).
FERROVIUS (continuing) And I forgot it all: I thought of nothing
but offering to fight you with one hand tied behind me.
THE EDITOR (turning pugnaciously) What!
FERROVIUS (on the border line between zeal and ferocity) Oh,
don't give way to pride and wrath, brother. I could do it so
easily. I could--
They are separated by the Menagerie Keeper, who rushes in from
the passage, furious.
THE KEEPER. Here's a nice business! Who let that Christian out of
here down to the dens when we were changing the lion into the
cage next the arena?
THE EDITOR. Nobody let him. He let himself.
THE KEEPER. Well, the lion's ate him.
Consternation. The Christians rise, greatly agitated. The
gladiators sit callously, but are highly amused. All speak or cry
out or laugh at once. Tumult.
LAVINIA. Oh, poor wretch! FERROVIUS. The apostate has perished.
Praise be to God's justice! ANDROCLES. The poor beast was
starving. It couldn't help itself. THE CHRISTIANS. What! Ate him!
How frightful! How terrible! Without a moment to repent! God be
merciful to him, a sinner! Oh, I can't bear to think of it! In
the midst of his sin! Horrible, horrible! THE EDITOR. Serve the
rotter right! THE GLADIATORS. Just walked into it, he did. He's
martyred all right enough. Good old lion! Old Jock doesn't like
that: look at his face. Devil a better! The Emperor will laugh
when he hears of it. I can't help smiling. Ha ha ha!!!!!
THE KEEPER. Now his appetite's taken off, he won't as much as
look at another Christian for a week.
ANDROCLES. Couldn't you have saved him brother?
THE KEEPER. Saved him! Saved him from a lion that I'd just got
mad with hunger! a wild one that came out of the forest not four
weeks ago! He bolted him before you could say Balbus.
LAVINIA (sitting down again) Poor Spintho! And it won't even
count as martyrdom!
THE KEEPER. Serve him right! What call had he to walk down the
throat of one of my lions before he was asked?
ANDROCLES. Perhaps the lion won't eat me now.
THE KEEPER. Yes: that's just like a Christian: think only of
yourself! What am I to do? What am I to say to the Emperor when
he sees one of my lions coming into the arena half asleep?
THE EDITOR. Say nothing. Give your old lion some bitters and a
morsel of fried fish to wake up his appetite. (Laughter).
THE KEEPER. Yes: it's easy for you to talk; but--
THE EDITOR (scrambling to his feet) Sh! Attention there! The
Emperor. (The Keeper bolts precipitately into the passage. The
gladiators rise smartly and form into line).
The Emperor enters on the Christians' side, conversing with
Metellus, and followed by his suite.
THE GLADIATORS. Hail, Caesar! those about to die salute thee.
CAESAR. Good morrow, friends.
Metellus shakes hands with the Editor, who accepts his
condescension with bluff respect.
LAVINIA. Blessing, Caesar, and forgiveness!
CAESAR (turning in some surprise at the salutation) There is no
forgiveness for Christianity.
LAVINIA. I did not mean that, Caesar. I mean that WE forgive YOU.
METELLUS. An inconceivable liberty! Do you not know, woman, that
the Emperor can do no wrong and therefore cannot be forgiven?
LAVINIA. I expect the Emperor knows better. Anyhow, we forgive
THE CHRISTIANS. Amen!
CAESAR. Metellus: you see now the disadvantage of too much
severity. These people have no hope; therefore they have nothing
to restrain them from saying what they like to me. They are
almost as impertinent as the gladiators. Which is the Greek
ANDROCLES (humbly touching his forelock) Me, your Worship.
CAESAR. My Worship! Good! A new title. Well, what miracles can
ANDROCLES. I can cure warts by rubbing them with my tailor's
chalk; and I can live with my wife without beating her.
CAESAR. Is that all?
ANDROCLES. You don't know her, Caesar, or you wouldn't say that.
CAESAR. Ah, well, my friend, we shall no doubt contrive a happy
release for you. Which is Ferrovius?
FERROVIUS. I am he.
CAESAR. They tell me you can fight.
FERROVIUS. It is easy to fight. I can die, Caesar.
CAESAR. That is still easier, is it not?
FERROVIUS. Not to me, Caesar. Death comes hard to my flesh; and
fighting comes very easily to my spirit (beating his breast and
lamenting) O sinner that I am! (He throws himself down on the
steps, deeply discouraged).
CAESAR. Metellus: I should like to have this man in the Pretorian
METELLUS. I should not, Caesar. He looks a spoilsport. There are
men in whose presence it is impossible to have any fun: men who
are a sort of walking conscience. He would make us all
CAESAR. For that reason, perhaps, it might be well to have him.
An Emperor can hardly have too many consciences. (To Ferrovius)
Listen, Ferrovius. (Ferrovius shakes his head and will not look
up). You and your friends shall not be outnumbered to-day in the
arena. You shall have arms; and there will be no more than one
gladiator to each Christian. If you come out of the arena alive,
I will consider favorably any request of yours, and give you a
place in the Pretorian Guard. Even if the request be that no
questions be asked about your faith I shall perhaps not refuse
FERROVIUS. I will not fight. I will die. Better stand with the
archangels than with the Pretorian Guard.
CAESAR. I cannot believe that the archangels--whoever they may
be--would not prefer to be recruited from the Pretorian Guard.
However, as you please. Come: let us see the show.
As the Court ascends the steps, Secutor and the Retiarius return
from the arena through the passage; Secutor covered with dust and
very angry: Retiarius grinning.
SECUTOR. Ha, the Emperor. Now we shall see. Caesar: I ask you
whether it is fair for the Retiarius, instead of making a fair
throw of his net at me, to swish it along the ground and throw
the dust in my eyes, and then catch me when I'm blinded. If the
vestals had not turned up their thumbs I should have been a dead
CAESAR (halting on the stair) There is nothing in the rules
SECUTOR (indignantly) Caesar: is it a dirty trick or is it not?
CAESAR. It is a dusty one, my friend. (Obsequious laughter). Be
on your guard next time.
SECUTOR. Let HIM be on his guard. Next time I'll throw my sword
at his heels and strangle him with his own net before he can hop
off. (To Retiarius) You see if I don't. (He goes out past the
gladiators, sulky and furious).
CAESAR (to the chuckling Retiarius). These tricks are not wise,
my friend. The audience likes to see a dead man in all his beauty
and splendor. If you smudge his face and spoil his armor they
will show their displeasure by not letting you kill him. And when
your turn comes, they will remember it against you and turn their
THE RETIARIUS. Perhaps that is why I did it, Caesar. He bet me
ten sesterces that he would vanquish me. If I had had to kill
him I should not have had the money.
CAESAR (indulgent, laughing) You rogues: there is no end to your
tricks. I'll dismiss you all and have elephants to fight. They
fight fairly. (He goes up to his box, and knocks at it. It is
opened from within by the Captain, who stands as on parade to let
him pass). The Call Boy comes from the passage, followed by
three attendants carrying respectively a bundle of swords, some
helmets, and some breastplates and pieces of armor which they
throw down in a heap.
THE CALL BOY. By your leave, Caesar. Number eleven! Gladiators
Ferrovius springs up, ready for martyrdom. The other Christians
take the summons as best they can, some joyful and brave, some
patient and dignified, some tearful and helpless, some embracing
one another with emotion. The Call Boy goes back into the
CAESAR (turning at the door of the box) The hour has come,
Ferrovius. I shall go into my box and see you killed, since you
scorn the Pretorian Guard. (He goes into the box. The Captain
shuts the door, remaining inside with the Emperor. Metellus and
the rest of the suite disperse to their seats. The Christians,
led by Ferrovius, move towards the passage).
LAVINIA (to Ferrovius) Farewell.
THE EDITOR. Steady there. You Christians have got to fight. Here!
FERROVIUS (picking up a sword) I'll die sword in hand to show
people that I could fight if it were my Master's will, and that I
could kill the man who kills me if I chose.
THE EDITOR. Put on that armor.
FERROVIUS. No armor.
THE EDITOR (bullying him) Do what you're told. Put on that armor.
FERROVIUS (gripping the sword and looking dangerous) I said, No
THE EDITOR. And what am I to say when I am accused of sending a
naked man in to fight my men in armor?
FERROVIUS. Say your prayers, brother; and have no fear of the
princes of this world.
THE EDITOR. Tsha! You obstinate fool! (He bites his lips
irresolutely, not knowing exactly what to do).
ANDROCLES (to Ferrovius) Farewell, brother, till we meet in the
THE EDITOR (to Androcles) You are going too. Take a sword there;
and put on any armor you can find to fit you.
ANDROCLES. No, really: I can't fight: I never could. I can't
bring myself to dislike anyone enough. I'm to be thrown to the
lions with the lady.
THE EDITOR. Then get out of the way and hold your noise.
(Androcles steps aside with cheerful docility). Now then! Are you
all ready there? A trumpet is heard from the arena.
FERROVIUS (starting convulsively) Heaven give me strength!
THE EDITOR. Aha! That frightens you, does it?
FERROVIUS. Man: there is no terror like the terror of that sound
to me. When I hear a trumpet or a drum or the clash of steel or
the hum of the catapult as the great stone flies, fire runs
through my veins: I feel my blood surge up hot behind my eyes: I
must charge: I must strike: I must conquer: Caesar himself will
not be safe in his imperial seat if once that spirit gets loose
in me. Oh, brothers, pray! exhort me! remind me that if I raise
my sword my honor falls and my Master is crucified afresh.
ANDROCLES. Just keep thinking how cruelly you might hurt the poor
FERROVIUS. It does not hurt a man to kill him.
LAVINIA. Nothing but faith can save you.
FERROVIUS. Faith! Which faith? There are two faiths. There is our
faith. And there is the warrior's faith, the faith in fighting,
the faith that sees God in the sword. How if that faith should
LAVINIA. You will find your real faith in the hour of trial.
FERROVIUS. That is what I fear. I know that I am a fighter. How
can I feel sure that I am a Christian?
ANDROCLES. Throw away the sword, brother.
FERROVIUS. I cannot. It cleaves to my hand. I could as easily
throw a woman I loved from my arms. (Starting) Who spoke that
blasphemy? Not I.
LAVINIA. I can't help you, friend. I can't tell you not to save
your own life. Something wilful in me wants to see you fight your
way into heaven.
ANDROCLES. But if you are going to give up our faith, brother,
why not do it without hurting anybody? Don't fight them. Burn the
FERROVIUS. Burn the incense! Never.
LAVINIA. That is only pride, Ferrovius.
FERROVIUS. ONLY pride! What is nobler than pride? (Conscience
stricken) Oh, I'm steeped in sin. I'm proud of my pride.
LAVINIA. They say we Christians are the proudest devils on earth
--that only the weak are meek. Oh, I am worse than you. I ought
to send you to death; and I am tempting you.
ANDROCLES. Brother, brother: let THEM rage and kill: let US be
brave and suffer. You must go as a lamb to the slaughter.
FERROVIUS. Aye, aye: that is right. Not as a lamb is slain by the
butcher; but as a butcher might let himself be slain by a
(looking at the Editor) by a silly ram whose head he could fetch
off in one twist.
Before the Editor can retort, the Call Boy rushes up through the
passage; and the Captain comes from the Emperor's box and
descends the steps.
THE CALL BOY. In with you: into the arena. The stage is waiting.
THE CAPTAIN. The Emperor is waiting. (To the Editor) What are you
dreaming of, man? Send your men in at once.
THE EDITOR. Yes, Sir: it's these Christians hanging back.
FERROVIUS (in a voice of thunder) Liar!
THE EDITOR (not heeding him) March. (The gladiators told off to
fight with the Christians march down the passage) Follow up
THE CHRISTIAN MEN AND WOMEN (as they part) Be steadfast, brother.
Farewell. Hold up the faith, brother. Farewell. Go to glory,
dearest. Farewell. Remember: we are praying for you. Farewell. Be
strong, brother. Farewell. Don't forget that the divine love and
our love surround you. Farewell. Nothing can hurt you: remember
that, brother. Farewell. Eternal glory, dearest. Farewell.
THE EDITOR (out of patience) Shove them in, there.
The remaining gladiators and the Call Boy make a movement towards
FERROVIUS (interposing) Touch them, dogs; and we die here, and
cheat the heathen of their spectacle. (To his fellow Christians)
Brothers: the great moment has come. That passage is your hill to
Calvary. Mount it bravely, but meekly; and remember! not a word
of reproach, not a blow nor a struggle. Go. (They go out through
the passage. He turns to Lavinia) Farewell.
LAVINIA. You forget: I must follow before you are cold.
FERROVIUS. It is true. Do not envy me because I pass before you
to glory. (He goes through the passage).
THE EDITOR (to the Call Boy) Sickening work, this. Why can't they
all be thrown to the lions? It's not a man's job. (He throws
himself moodily into his chair).
The remaining gladiators go back to their former places
indifferently. The Call Boy shrugs his shoulders and squats down
at the entrance to the passage, near the Editor.
Lavinia and the Christian women sit down again, wrung with grief,
some weeping silently, some praying, some calm and steadfast.
Androcles sits down at Lavinia's feet. The Captain stands on the
stairs, watching her curiously.
ANDROCLES. I'm glad I haven't to fight. That would really be an
awful martyrdom. I AM lucky.
LAVINIA (looking at him with a pang of remorse). Androcles: burn
the incense: you'll be forgiven. Let my death atone for both. I
feel as if I were killing you.
ANDROCLES. Don't think of me, sister. Think of yourself. That
will keep your heart up.
The Captain laughs sardonically.
LAVINIA (startled: she had forgotten his presence) Are you there,
handsome Captain? Have you come to see me die?
THE CAPTAIN (coming to her side) I am on duty with the Emperor,
LAVINIA. Is it part of your duty to laugh at us?
THE CAPTAIN. No: that is part of my private pleasure. Your friend
here is a humorist. I laughed at his telling you to think of
yourself to keep up your heart. I say, think of yourself and burn
LAVINIA. He is not a humorist: he was right. You ought to know
that, Captain: you have been face to face with death.
THE CAPTAIN. Not with certain death, Lavinia. Only death in
battle, which spares more men than death in bed. What you are
facing is certain death. You have nothing left now but your faith
in this craze of yours: this Christianity. Are your Christian
fairy stories any truer than our stories about Jupiter and Diana,
in which, I may tell you, I believe no more than the Emperor
does, or any educated man in Rome?
LAVINIA. Captain: all that seems nothing to me now. I'll not say
that death is a terrible thing; but I will say that it is so real
a thing that when it comes close, all the imaginary things--all
the stories, as you call them--fade into mere dreams beside that
inexorable reality. I know now that I am not dying for stories or
dreams. Did you hear of the dreadful thing that happened here
while we were waiting?
THE CAPTAIN. I heard that one of your fellows bolted,, and ran
right into the jaws of the lion. I laughed. I still laugh.
LAVINIA. Then you don't understand what that meant?
THE CAPTAIN. It meant that the lion had a cur for his breakfast.
LAVINIA. It meant more than that, Captain. It meant that a man
cannot die for a story and a dream. None of us believed the
stories and the dreams more devoutly than poor Spintho; but he
could not face the great reality. What he would have called my
faith has been oozing away minute by minute whilst I've been
sitting here, with death coming nearer and nearer, with reality
becoming realler and realler, with stories and dreams fading away
THE CAPTAIN. Are you then going to die for nothing?
LAVINIA. Yes: that is the wonderful thing. It is since all the
stories and dreams have gone that I have now no doubt at all that
I must die for something greater than dreams or stories.
THE CAPTAIN. But for what?
LAVINIA. I don't know. If it were for anything small enough to
know, it would be too small to die for. I think I'm going to die
for God. Nothing else is real enough to die for.
THE CAPTAIN. What is God?
LAVINIA. When we know that, Captain, we shall be gods ourselves.
THE CAPTAIN. Lavinia; come down to earth. Burn the incense and
LAVINIA. Handsome Captain: would you marry me if I hauled down
the flag in the day of battle and burnt the incense? Sons take
after their mothers, you know. Do you want your son to be a
THE CAPTAIN (strongly moved). By great Diana, I think I would
strangle you if you gave in now.
LAVINIA (putting her hand on the head of Androcles) The hand of
God is on us three, Captain.
THE CAPTAIN. What nonsense it all is! And what a monstrous thing
that you should die for such nonsense, and that I should look on
helplessly when my whole soul cries out against it! Die then if
you must; but at least I can cut the Emperor's throat and then my
own when I see your blood.
The Emperor throws open the door of his box angrily, and appears
in wrath on the threshold. The Editor, the Call Boy, and the
gladiators spring to their feet.
THE EMPEROR. The Christians will not fight; and your curs cannot
get their blood up to attack them. It's all that fellow with the
blazing eyes. Send for the whip. (The Call Boy rushes out on the
east side for the whip). If that will not move them, bring the
hot irons. The man is like a mountain. (He returns angrily into
the box and slams the door).
The Call Boy returns with a man in a hideous Etruscan mask,
carrying a whip. They both rush down the passage into the arena.
LAVINIA (rising) Oh, that is unworthy. Can they not kill him
without dishonoring him?
ANDROCLES (scrambling to his feet and running into the middle of
the space between the staircases) It's dreadful. Now I want to
fight. I can't bear the sight of a whip. The only time I ever hit
a man was when he lashed an old horse with a whip. It was
terrible: I danced on his face when he was on the ground. He
mustn't strike Ferrovius: I'll go into the arena and kill him
first. (He makes a wild dash into the passage. As he does so a
great clamor is heard from the arena, ending in wild
applause. The gladiators listen and look inquiringly at one
THE EDITOR. What's up now?
LAVINIA (to the Captain) What has happened, do you think?
THE CAPTAIN. What CAN happen? They are killing them, I suppose.
ANDROCLES (running in through the passage, screaming with horror
and hiding his eyes)!!!
LAVINIA. Androcles, Androcles: what's the matter?
ANDROCLES. Oh, don't ask me, don't ask me. Something too
dreadful. Oh! (He crouches by her and hides his face in her robe,
THE CALL Boy (rushing through from the passage as before) Ropes
and hooks there! Ropes and hooks.
THE EDITOR. Well, need you excite yourself about it? (Another
burst of applause).
Two slaves in Etruscan masks, with ropes and drag hooks, hurry
ONE OF THE SLAVES. How many dead?
THE CALL Boy. Six. (The slave blows a whistle twice; and four
more masked slaves rush through into the arena with the same
apparatus) And the basket. Bring the baskets. (The slave whistles
three times, and runs through the passage with his companion).
THE CAPTAIN. Who are the baskets for?
THE CALL Boy. For the whip. He's in pieces. They're all in
pieces, more or less. (Lavinia hides her face).
(Two more masked slaves come in with a basket and follow the
others into the arena, as the Call Boy turns to the gladiators
and exclaims, exhausted) Boys, he's killed the lot.
THE EMPEROR (again bursting from his box, this time in an ecstasy
of delight) Where is he? Magnificent! He shall have a laurel
Ferrovius, madly waving his bloodstained sword, rushes through
the passage in despair, followed by his co-religionists, and by
the menagerie keeper, who goes to the gladiators. The gladiators
draw their swords nervously.
FERROVIUs. Lost! lost forever! I have betrayed my Master. Cut off
this right hand: it has offended. Ye have swords, my brethren:
LAVINIA. No, no. What have you done, Ferrovius?
FERROVIUS. I know not; but there was blood behind my eyes; and
there's blood on my sword. What does that mean?
THE EMPEROR (enthusiastically, on the landing outside his box)
What does it mean? It means that you are the greatest man in
Rome. It means that you shall have a laurel crown of gold. Superb
fighter, I could almost yield you my throne. It is a record for
my reign: I shall live in history. Once, in Domitian's time, a
Gaul slew three men in the arena and gained his freedom. But when
before has one naked man slain six armed men of the bravest and
best? The persecution shall cease: if Christians can fight like
this, I shall have none but Christians to fight for me. (To the
Gladiators) You are ordered to become Christians, you there: do
RETIARIUS. It is all one to us, Caesar. Had I been there with my
net, the story would have been different.
THE CAPTAIN (suddenly seizing Lavinia by the wrist and dragging
her up the steps to the Emperor) Caesar this woman is the sister
of Ferrovius. If she is thrown to the lions he will fret. He will
lose weight; get out of condition
THE EMPEROR. The lions? Nonsense! (To Lavinia) Madam: I am proud
to have the honor of making your acquaintance. Your brother is
the glory of Rome.
LAVINIA. But my friends here. Must they die?
THE EMPEROR. Die! Certainly not. There has never been the
slightest idea of harming them. Ladies and gentlemen: you are all
free. Pray go into the front of the house and enjoy the spectacle
to which your brother has so splendidly contributed. Captain:
oblige me by conducting them to the seats reserved for my
THE MENAGERIE KEEPER. Caesar: I must have one Christian for the
lion. The people have been promised it; and they will tear the
decorations to bits if they are disappointed.
THE EMPEROR. True, true: we must have somebody for the new lion.
FERROVIUS. Throw me to him. Let the apostate perish.
THE EMPEROR. No, no: you would tear him in pieces, my friend; and
we cannot afford to throw away lions as if they were mere slaves.
But we must have somebody. This is really extremely awkward.
THE MENAGERIE KEEPER. Why not that little Greek chap? He's not a
Christian: he's a sorcerer.
THE EMPEROR. The very thing: he will do very well.
THE CALL Boy (issuing from the passage) Number twelve. The
Christian for the new lion.
ANDROCLES (rising, and pulling himself sadly together) Well, it
was to be, after all.
LAVINIA. I'll go in his place, Caesar. Ask the Captain whether
they do not like best to see a woman torn to pieces. He told me
THE EMPEROR. There is something in that: there is certainly
something in that--if only I could feel sure that your brother
would not fret.
ANDROCLES. No: I should never have another happy hour. No: on the
faith of a Christian and the honor of a tailor, I accept the lot
that has fallen on me. If my wife turns up, give her my love and
say that my wish was that she should be happy with her next, poor
fellow! Caesar: go to your box and see how a tailor can die. Make
way for number twelve there. (He marches out along the passage).
The vast audience in the amphitheatre now sees the Emperor
re-enter his box and take his place as Androcles, desperately
frightened, but still marching with piteous devotion, emerges
from the other end of the passage, and finds himself at the focus
of thousands of eager eyes. The lion's cage, with a heavy
portcullis grating, is on his left. The Emperor gives a signal. A
gong sounds. Androcles shivers at the sound; then falls on his
knees and prays.
The grating rises with a clash. The lion bounds into the arena.
He rushes round frisking in his freedom. He sees Androcles. He
stops; rises stiffly by straightening his legs; stretches out his
nose forward and his tail in a horizontal line behind, like a
pointer, and utters an appalling roar. Androcles crouches and
hides his face in his hands. The lion gathers himself for a
spring, swishing his tail to and fro through the dust in an
ecstasy of anticipation. Androcles throws up his hands in
supplication to heaven. The lion checks at the sight of
Androcles's face. He then steals towards him; smells him; arches
his back; purrs like a motor car; finally rubs himself against
Androcles, knocking him over. Androcles, supporting himself on
his wrist, looks affrightedly at the lion. The lion limps on
three paws, holding up the other as if it was wounded. A flash of
recognition lights up the face of Androcles. He flaps his hand as
if it had a thorn in it, and pretends to pull the thorn out and
to hurt himself. The lion nods repeatedly. Androcles holds out
his hands to the lion, who gives him both paws, which
he shakes with enthusiasm. They embrace rapturously, finally
waltz round the arena amid a sudden burst of deafening applause,
and out through the passage, the Emperor watching them in
breathless astonishment until they disappear, when he rushes from
his box and descends the steps in frantic excitement.
THE EMPEROR. My friends, an incredible! an amazing thing! has
happened. I can no longer doubt the truth of Christianity. (The
Christians press to him joyfully) This Christian sorcerer--(with
a yell, he breaks off as he sees Androcles and the lion emerge
from the passage, waltzing. He bolts wildly up the steps into his
box, and slams the door. All, Christians and gladiators' alike,
fly for their lives, the gladiators bolting into the arena, the
others in all directions. The place is emptied with magical
ANDROCLES (naively) Now I wonder why they all run away from us
like that. (The lion combining a series of yawns, purrs, and
roars, achieves something very like a laugh).
THE EMPEROR (standing on a chair inside his box and looking over
the wall) Sorcerer: I command you to put that lion to death
instantly. It is guilty of high treason. Your conduct is most
disgra-- (the lion charges at him up the stairs) help! (He
disappears. The lion rears against the box; looks over the
partition at him, and roars. The Emperor darts out through the
door and down to Androcles, pursued by the lion.)
ANDROCLES. Don't run away, sir: he can't help springing if you
run. (He seizes the Emperor and gets between him and the lion,
who stops at once). Don't be afraid of him.
THE EMPEROR. I am NOT afraid of him. (The lion crouches,
growling. The Emperor clutches Androcles) Keep between us.
ANDROCLES. Never be afraid of animals, your Worship: that's the
great secret. He'll be as gentle as a lamb when he knows that you
are his friend. Stand quite still; and smile; and let him smell
you all over just to reassure him; for, you see, he's afraid of
you; and he must examine you thoroughly before he gives you his
confidence. (To the lion) Come now, Tommy; and speak nicely to
the Emperor, the great, good Emperor who has power to have all
our heads cut off if we don't behave very, VERY respectfully to
The lion utters a fearful roar. The Emperor dashes madly up the
steps, across the landing, and down again on the other side, with
the lion in hot pursuit. Androcles rushes after the lion;
overtakes him as he is descending; and throws himself on his
back, trying to use his toes as a brake. Before he can stop him
the lion gets hold of the trailing end of the Emperor's robe.
ANDROCLES. Oh bad wicked Tommy, to chase the Emperor like that!
Let go the Emperor's robe at once, sir: where's your manners?
(The lion growls and worries the robe). Don't pull it away from
him, your worship. He's only playing. Now I shall be really angry
with you, Tommy, if you don't let go. (The lion growls again)
I'll tell you what it is, sir: he thinks you and I are not
THE EMPEROR (trying to undo the clasp of his brooch) Friends! You
infernal scoundrel (the lion growls)don't let him go. Curse this
brooch! I can't get it loose.
ANDROCLES. We mustn't let him lash himself into a rage. You must
show him that you are my particular friend--if you will have the
condescension. (He seizes the Emperor's hands, and shakes them
cordially), Look, Tommy: the nice Emperor is the dearest friend
Andy Wandy has in the whole world: he loves him like a brother.
THE EMPEROR. You little brute, you damned filthy little dog of a
Greek tailor: I'll have you burnt alive for daring to touch the
divine person of the Emperor. (The lion roars).
ANDROCLES. Oh don't talk like that, sir. He understands every
word you say: all animals do: they take it from the tone of your
voice. (The lion growls and lashes his tail). I think he's going
to spring at your worship. If you wouldn't mind saying something
affectionate. (The lion roars).
THE EMPEROR (shaking Androcles' hands frantically) My dearest Mr.
Androcles, my sweetest friend, my long lost brother, come to my
arms. (He embraces Androcles). Oh, what an abominable smell of
The lion lets go the robe and rolls over on his back, clasping
his forepaws over one another coquettishly above his nose.
ANDROCLES. There! You see, your worship, a child might play with
him now. See! (He tickles the lion's belly. The lion wriggles
ecstatically). Come and pet him.
THE EMPEROR. I must conquer these unkingly terrors. Mind you
don't go away from him, though. (He pats the lion's chest).
ANDROCLES. Oh, sir, how few men would have the courage to do
THE EMPEROR. Yes: it takes a bit of nerve. Let us invite the
Court in and frighten them. Is he safe, do you think?
ANDROCLES. Quite safe now, sir.
THE EMPEROR (majestically) What ho, there! All who are within
hearing, return without fear. Caesar has tamed the lion. (All the
fugitives steal cautiously in. The menagerie keeper comes from
the passage with other keepers armed with iron bars and
tridents). Take those things away. I have subdued the beast. (He
places his foot on it).
FERROVIUS (timidly approaching the Emperor and looking down with
awe on the lion) It is strange that I, who fear no man, should
fear a lion.
THE CAPTAIN. Every man fears something, Ferrovius.
THE EMPEROR. How about the Pretorian Guard now?
FERROVIUS. In my youth I worshipped Mars, the God of War. I
turned from him to serve the Christian god; but today the
Christian god forsook me; and Mars overcame me and took back his
own. The Christian god is not yet. He will come when Mars and I
are dust; but meanwhile I must serve the gods that are, not the
God that will be. Until then I accept service in the Guard,
THE EMPEROR. Very wisely said. All really sensible men agree that
the prudent course is to be neither bigoted in our attachment to
the old nor rash and unpractical in keeping an open mind for the
new, but to make the best of both dispensations.
THE CAPTAIN. What do you say, Lavinia? Will you too be prudent?
LAVINIA (on the stair) No: I'll strive for the coming of the God
who is not yet.
THE CAPTAIN. May I come and argue with you occasionally?
LAVINIA. Yes, handsome Captain: you may. (He kisses her hands).
THE EMPEROR. And now, my friends, though I do not, as you see,
fear this lion, yet the strain of his presence is considerable;
for none of us can feel quite sure what he will do next.
THE MENAGERIE KEEPER. Caesar: give us this Greek sorcerer to be a
slave in the menagerie. He has a way with the beasts.
ANDROCLES (distressed). Not if they are in cages. They should not
be kept in cages. They must all be let out.
THE EMPEROR. I give this sorcerer to be a slave to the first man
who lays hands on him. (The menagerie keepers and the gladiators
rush for Androcles. The lion starts up and faces them. They surge
back). You see how magnanimous we Romans are, Androcles. We
suffer you to go in peace.
ANDROCLES. I thank your worship. I thank you all, ladies and
gentlemen. Come, Tommy. Whilst we stand together, no cage for
you: no slavery for me. (He goes out with the lion, everybody
crowding away to give him as wide a berth as possible).
In this play I have represented one of the Roman persecutions of
the early Christians, not as the conflict of a false theology
with a true, but as what all such persecutions essentially are:
an attempt to suppress a propaganda that seemed to threaten the
interests involved in the established law and order, organized
and maintained in the name of religion and justice by politicians
who are pure opportunist Have-and-Holders. People who are shown
by their inner light the possibility of a better world based on
the demand of the spirit for a nobler and more abundant life, not
for themselves at the expense of others, but for everybody, are
naturally dreaded and therefore hated by the Have-and-Holders,
who keep always in reserve two sure weapons against them. The
first is a persecution effected by the provocation, organization,
and arming of that herd instinct which makes men abhor all
departures from custom, and, by the most cruel punishments and
the wildest calumnies, force eccentric people to behave and
profess exactly as other people do. The second is by leading the
herd to war, which immediately and infallibly makes them forget
everything, even their most cherished and hardwon public
liberties and private interests, in the irresistible surge of
their pugnacity and the tense pre-occupation of their terror.
There is no reason to believe that there was anything more in the
Roman persecutions than this. The attitude of the Roman Emperor
and the officers of his staff towards the opinions at issue were
much the same as those of a modern British Home Secretary towards
members of the lower middle classes when some pious policeman
charges them with Bad Taste, technically called blasphemy: Bad
Taste being a violation of Good Taste, which in such matters
practically means Hypocrisy. The Home Secretary and the judges
who try the case are usually far more sceptical and blasphemous
than the poor men whom they persecute; and their professions of
horror at the blunt utterance of their own opinions are revolting
to those behind the scenes who have any genuine religious
sensibility; but the thing is done because the governing classes,
provided only the law against blasphemy is not applied to
themselves, strongly approve of such persecution because it
enables them to represent their own privileges as part of the
religion of the country.
Therefore my martyrs are the martyrs of all time, and my
persecutors the persecutors of all time. My Emperor, who has no
sense of the value of common people's lives, and amuses himself
with killing as carelessly as with sparing, is the sort of
monster you can make of any silly-clever gentleman by idolizing
him. We are still so easily imposed on by such idols that one of
the leading pastors of the Free Churches in London denounced my
play on the ground that my persecuting Emperor is a very fine
fellow, and the persecuted Christians ridiculous. From which I
conclude that a popular pulpit may be as perilous to a man's soul
as an imperial throne.
All my articulate Christians, the reader will notice, have
different enthusiasms, which they accept as the same religion
only because it involves them in a common opposition to the
official religion and consequently in a common doom. Androcles is
a humanitarian naturalist, whose views surprise everybody.
Lavinia, a clever and fearless freethinker, shocks the Pauline
Ferrovius, who is comparatively stupid and conscience ridden.
Spintho, the blackguardly debauchee, is presented as one of the
typical Christians of that period on the authority of St.
Augustine, who seems to have come to the conclusion at one period
of his development that most Christians were what we call wrong
uns. No doubt he was to some extent right: I have had occasion
often to point out that revolutionary movements attract those who
are not good enough for established institutions as well as those
who are too good for them.
But the most striking aspect of the play at this moment is the
terrible topicality given it by the war. We were at peace when I
pointed out, by the mouth of Ferrovius, the path of an honest man
who finds out, when the trumpet sounds, that he cannot follow
Jesus. Many years earlier, in The Devil's Disciple, I touched the
same theme even more definitely, and showed the minister throwing
off his black coat for ever when he discovered, amid the thunder
of the captains and the shouting, that he was a born fighter.
Great numbers of our clergy have found themselves of late in the
position of Ferrovius and Anthony Anderson. They have discovered
that they hate not only their enemies but everyone who does not
share their hatred, and that they want to fight and to force
other people to fight. They have turned their churches into
recruiting stations and their vestries into munition workshops.
But it has never occurred to them to take off their black coats
and say quite simply, "I find in the hour of trial that the
Sermon on the Mount is tosh, and that I am not a Christian. I
apologize for all the unpatriotic nonsense I have been preaching
all these years. Have the goodness to give me a revolver and a
commission in a regiment which has for its chaplain a priest of
the god Mars: my God." Not a bit of it. They have stuck to their
livings and served Mars in the name of Christ, to the scandal of
all religious mankind. When the Archbishop of York behaved like a
gentleman and the Head Master of Eton preached a Christian
sermon, and were reviled by the rabble, the Martian parsons
encouraged the rabble. For this they made no apologies or
excuses, good or bad. They simple indulged their passions, just
as they had always indulged their class prejudices and commercial
interests, without troubling themselves for a moment as to
whether they were Christians or not. They did not protest even
when a body calling itself the AntiGerman League (not having
noticed, apparently, that it had been anticipated by the British
Empire, the French Republic, and the Kingdoms of Italy, Japan,
and Serbia) actually succeeded in closing a church at Forest Hill
in which God was worshipped in the German language. One would
have supposed that this grotesque outrage on the commonest
decencies of religion would have provoked a remonstrance from
even the worldliest bench of bishops. But no: apparently it
seemed to the bishops as natural that the House of God should be
looted when He allowed German to be spoken in it as that a
baker's shop with a German name over the door should be pillaged.
Their verdict was, in effect, "Serve God right, for creating the
Germans!" The incident would have been impossible in a country
where the Church was as powerful as the Church of England, had it
had at the same time a spark of catholic as distinguished from
tribal religion in it. As it is, the thing occurred; and as far
as I have observed, the only people who gasped were the
Freethinkers. Thus we see that even among men who make a
profession of religion the great majority are as Martian as the
majority of their congregations. The average clergyman is an
official who makes his living by christening babies, marrying
adults, conducting a ritual, and making the best he can (when he
has any conscience about it) of a certain routine of school
superintendence, district visiting, and organization of
almsgiving, which does not necessarily touch Christianity at any
point except the point of the tongue. The exceptional or
religious clergyman may be an ardent Pauline salvationist, in
which case his more cultivated parishioners dislike him, and say
that he ought to have joined the Methodists. Or he may be an
artist expressing religious emotion without intellectual
definition by means of poetry, music, vestments and architecture,
also producing religious ecstacy by physical expedients, such as
fasts and vigils, in which case he is denounced as a Ritualist.
Or he may be either a Unitarian Deist like Voltaire or Tom Paine,
or the more modern sort of Anglican Theosophist to whom the Holy
Ghost is the Elan Vital of Bergson, and the Father and Son are an
expression of the fact that our functions and aspects are
manifold, and that we are all sons and all either potential or
actual parents, in which case he is strongly suspected by the
straiter Salvationists of being little better than an Atheist.
All these varieties, you see, excite remark. They may be very
popular with their congregations; but they are regarded by the
average man as the freaks of the Church. The Church, like the
society of which it is an organ, is balanced and steadied by the
great central Philistine mass above whom theology looms as a
highly spoken of and doubtless most important thing, like Greek
Tragedy, or classical music, or the higher mathematics, but who
are very glad when church is over and they can go home to lunch
or dinner, having in fact, for all practical purposes, no
reasoned convictions at all, and being equally ready to persecute
a poor Freethinker for saying that St. James was not infallible,
and to send one of the Peculiar People to prison for being so
very peculiar as to take St. James seriously.
In short, a Christian martyr was thrown to the lions not because
he was a Christian, but because he was a crank: that is, an
unusual sort of person. And multitudes of people, quite as
civilized and amiable as we, crowded to see the lions eat him
just as they now crowd the lion-house in the Zoo at feeding-time,
not because they really cared two-pence about Diana or Christ, or
could have given you any intelligent or correct account of the
things Diana and Christ stood against one another for, but simply
because they wanted to see a curious and exciting spectacle. You,
dear reader, have probably run to see a fire; and if somebody
came in now and told you that a lion was chasing a man down the
street you would rush to the window. And if anyone were to say
that you were as cruel as the people who let the lion loose on
the man, you would be justly indignant. Now that we may no longer
see a man hanged, we assemble outside the jail to see the black
flag run up. That is our duller method of enjoying ourselves in
the old Roman spirit. And if the Government decided to throw
persons of unpopular or eccentric views to the lions in the
Albert Hall or the Earl's Court stadium tomorrow, can you doubt
that all the seats would be crammed, mostly by people who could
not give you the most superficial account of the views
in question. Much less unlikely things have happened. It is true
that if such a revival does take place soon, the martyrs will not
be members of heretical religious sects: they will be Peculiars,
Anti-Vivisectionists, Flat-Earth men, scoffers at the
laboratories, or infidels who refuse to kneel down when a
procession of doctors goes by. But the lions will hurt them just
as much, and the spectators will enjoy themselves just as much,
as the Roman lions and spectators used to do.
It was currently reported in the Berlin newspapers that when
Androcles was first performed in Berlin, the Crown Prince rose
and left the house, unable to endure the (I hope) very clear and
fair exposition of autocratic Imperialism given by the Roman
captain to his Christian prisoners. No English Imperialist was
intelligent and earnest enough to do the same in London. If the
report is correct, I confirm the logic of the Crown Prince, and
am glad to find myself so well understood. But I can assure him
that the Empire which served for my model when I wrote Androcles
was, as he is now finding to his cost, much nearer my home than
the German one.
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