Ben Jonson

"Sejanus His Fall Act 5. Scene 1"

An Apartment in SEJANUS' House.

Swell, swell, my joys; and faint not to declare
Yourselves as ample as your causes are.
I did not live till now; this my first hour;
Wherein I see my thoughts reach'd by my power.
But this, and gripe my wishes. Great and high,
The world knows only two, that's Rome and I.
My roof receives me not; 'tis air I tread;
And, at each step, I feel my advanced head
Knock out a star in heaven! rear'd to this height,
All my desires seem modest, poor, and slight,
That did before sound impudent: 'tis place,
Not blood, discerns the noble and the base.
Is there not something more than to be Caesar?
Must we rest there'! it irks t' have come so far,
To be so near a stay. Caligula,
Would thou stood'st stiff, and many in our way!
Winds lose their strength, when they do empty fly,
Unmet of woods or buildings; great fires die,
That want their matter to withstand them: so,
It is our grief, and will be our loss, to know
Our power shall want opposites; unless
The gods, by mixing in the cause, would bless
Our fortune with their conquest. That were worth
Sejanus' strife; durst fates but bring it forth.


Safety to great Sejanus!

Now, Terentius?

Hears not my lord the wonder?

Speak it, no.

I meet it violent in the people's mouths,
Who run in routs to Pompey's theatre,
To view your statue, which, they say, sends forth
A smoke, as from a furnace, black and dreadful.

Some traitor hath put fire in: you, go see,
And let the head be taken oft', to look
What 'tis. [Exit Terentius.]——
Some slave hath practised an imposture,
To stir the people.-How now! why return you?


The head, my lord, already is ta'en off,
I saw it; and, at opening, there leapt out
A great and monstrous serpent.

Monstrous! why?
Had it a beard, and horns? no heart? a tongue
Forked as flattery? look'd it of the hue,
To such as live in great men's bosoms? was
The spirit of it Macro's?

May it please
The most divine Sejanus, in my days,
(And by his sacred fortune, I affirm it,)
I have not seen a more extended, grown,
Foul, spotted, venomous, ugly——

O, the fates!
What a wild muster's here of attributes,
T' express a worm, a snake!

But how that should
Come there, my lord!

What, and you too, Terentius!
I think you mean to make 't a prodigy
In your reporting.

Can the wise Sejanus
Think heaven hath meant it less!

O, superstition!
Why, then the falling of our bed, that brake
This morning, burden'd with the populous weight,
Of our expecting clients, to salute us;
Or running of the cat betwixt our legs,
As we set forth unto the Capitol, Were prodigies.

I think them ominous;
And would they had not happened! As, to-day,
The fate of some your servants: who, declining
Their way, not able, for the throng, to follow,
Slipt down the Gemonies, and brake their necks!
Besides, in taking your last augury,
No prosperous bird appear'd; but croaking ravens
Flagg'd up and down, and from the sacrifice
Flew to the prison, where they sat all night,
Beating the air with their obstreperous beaks!
I dare not counsel, but I could entreat,
That great Sejanus would attempt the gods
Once more with sacrifice.

What excellent fools
Religion makes of men! Believes Terentius,
If these were dangers, as I shame to think them,
The gods could change the certain course of fate!
Or, if they could they would, now in a moment,
For a beeve's fat, or less, be bribed to invert
Those long decrees? Then think the gods, like flies,
Are to be taken with the steam of flesh,
Or blood, diffused about their altars: think
Their power as cheap as I esteem it small.——
Of all the throng that fill th' Olympian hall,
And, without pity, lade poor Atlas' back,
I know not that one deity, but Fortune,
To whom I would throw up, in begging smoke,
One grain of incense; or whose ear I'd buy
With thus much oil. Her I, indeed, adore;
And keep her grateful image in my house,
Sometime belonging to a Roman king.
But now call'd mine, as by the better style:
To her I care not, if, for satisfying
Your scrupulous phant'sies, I go offer. Bid
Our priest prepare us honey, milk, and poppy,
His masculine odours, and night-vestments: say,
Our rites are instant; which perform'd, you'll see
How vain, and worthy laughter, your fears be.


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