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Without A Myth (or Amythos) A Play in Three Acts by Richard Seltzer

Copyright 1971  

Description:

A number of recent works have emphasized that heroism is problematic, if not impossible in the modern world. "Heroic" words sound ridiculous and "heroic" acts can be made to look ridiculous in a modern context.

In Without a Myth, though there are no heroes in the usual sense, the characters still need to live out myths/stories/adventures. They may despise playing roles that they feel are contrary to their nature, but they must play them, and in so doing they discover unexpected capabilities in themselves. Unlike the usual case of the would-be hero day-dreaming and frustrated in an unheroic world, Amythos is a non-hero forced to take on a  ridiculously heroic role.

Note for staging:

The characters are assigned roles. They can either go ahead and act out their lives in complete accord with their given script (myth) or they can drop out and never have any role. They have 24 hours in which to decide. For those 24 hours, the characters can step out of their roles momentarily. Whenever a character "steps out" of his or her role, the rest of the cast freezes, to start again where they left off as soon as that character steps back into his or her role.The Set:

Can be staged with minimal props, e.g., chairs, something to serve as a partition (with a door-like opening), and perhaps a step-ladder for Alogos to rest on.

Alternatively, it could be staged with an elaborate castle interior and the mountains of Elis visible in the distance. In that case, the scenery and props should be put in place by stagehands during the first act and disassembled and carried off by them during the third act.


Costumes:

Uniform, stylized, and simple, to give an other-worldly impression.

Alternatively, the costumes could be simple at the first appearance of each character, then become more elaborate at their reappearance in the second act, and return to simple in the third.


Cast of Characters (in order of their appearance)


The time: Sometime in the mythic past/present/future in the kingdom of Arcadia. 


Act I.

Scene 1. Throne room at the palace of King Archos.

Scene 2. Bedroom of Princess Phyllis. Dawn the following morning

Act II.

Scene 1. A room in the palace. Later that day.

Scene 2. Throne room. Later that day.

Scene 3. A room in the palace. Later that day.

Scene 4. Two rooms of the palace separated by a partition with a door. Later that day.

Act III.

Scene 1. Outside the palace. Sunset that day.

Scene 2. A room in the palace. Two days later.


ACT I, SCENE 1

ALOGOS is alone, in front of curtain.

ALOGOS

Complain, complain. All they ever do is complain. And all I ask is a chance. Why, when I was at school I could wield a sword or deliver a speech with the best of them. But now they weep and laugh, kill dragons and make love, while all I do is watch, forever watch. It isn't fair. Do you hear me, gods? It isn't fair! But they don't hear me. Nobody ever hears me -- the real me. Only when I put on my silly Soothsayer's hat and mouth the words of the script do they even know that I'm here.

(Enter FIRST and SECOND NOBLES to area in front of curtain. ALOGOS makes faces and performs antics trying to distract them. They proceed as if he weren't there.)

FIRST NOBLE

Is it not enough that our land is plagued by wizards and dragons and that we are besieged by the Thessalian army? Why must that Soothsayer plague us still more with his riddling words?

SECOND NOBLE

"Dread monsters, a deadly spell, arrival of a stranger." Such secrets so revealed are darker still than ignorance.

(FIRST AND SECOND NOBLE leave while speaking, completely ignoring ALOGOS.)

ALOGOS

I should have known better. It's been long enough. Well, let's get on with it, with this myth you complain of, this magnificent myth. The Thessalian army outnumbers your forces three to one. The air is fraught with danger, delicious danger. And soon there will be feats, heroic feats, great mythic deeds of valor. Get on with it.

(The curtain rises as ALOGOS gestures for it to rise, revealing a throne room. He gestures magnificently, clownishly, for it to fall, but it doesn't -- he has no power over it.)

(KING ARCHOS of Arcadia is on his throne, flanked by his wife QUEEN GUNE and their daughter PHYLLIS, with her handmaid AGATHA. FIRST and SECOND NOBLES stand off to the side. The SOOTHSAYER stands near ARCHOS. The MINSTREL stands near AGATHA, with whom he tries to flirt, but she gives him no encouragement.)

ALOGOS

There will be love and dragons; a wizard, a beautiful princess, a god-like stranger who...

(When ARCHOS begins talking, ALOGOS resignedly shuts up and retires inconspicuously to a corner of the stage. He might sit or lean on a ladder. None of the other characters ever gives any indication of seeing or hearing ALOGOS unless and until he puts on the Soothsayer's hat -- perhaps a dunce hat with the word "Soothsayer" in large letters.)

ARCHOS

Again I ask, who is this stranger? I, Archos, king of Arcadia demand to know who is this stranger the gods so prate about.

(ALOGOS hesitates, then, with a pained expression, puts on the SOOTHSAYER's hat and suddenly shifts to that role in all seriousness.)

SOOTHSAYER

Patience, your majesty, patience. The myth unfolds. Man lives it. The myth is comedy. Man lives his tragedy.

ARCHOS

You act like the prologue in a play, telling us but enough to whet our appetites.

SOOTHSAYER

There will arrive a stranger.

ARCHOS

Tell us more! We must know more!

SOOTHSAYER

There will arrive...

MESSENGER

(From off-stage.) Hail!

(He enters running, breathless.) Hail...

(There's an anxious pause until he regains his breath.) Hail, King Archos! The stranger...

(Again, he struggles for breath, evidently highly excited and very nervous. This is the first time he has ever spoken to a king.) The stranger swept all before him. The day is ours.

ARCHOS

All hail to Zeus! And who is this, his thunderbolt sent to save our land?

MESSENGER

I fear I know not, lord, his name.

(He is uncomfortable, nervous, not knowing what to say next.)

But look, now at the gate. He comes himself -- the god-like stranger.

(He says this magnificently. He is proud of the gesture and the words he chose. He stays in that affected pose too long.)

FIRST NOBLE

Indeed, he has a god-like visage.

SECOND NOBLE

A mighty arm.

GUNE

He's a herculean hero!

(Enter Amythos.)

ARCHOS

Hail, oh god-like stranger. Here you will be honored above all men. Your might arm has saved our kingdom.

AMYTHOS

Despite myself.

ARCHOS

What was that you said?

AMYTHOS

I didn't intend to do it. Something came over me. The sound of battle awakened a childish urge in me, and I found myself in the midst of battle, hacking heads and arms. It was horrible. I'm ashamed.

ARCHOS

There's naught to be ashamed of. It was the gods who sent you to our aid.

GUNE

How few have been the heroes of these latter days. And here stands one before us, still glistening with the dust and sweat of his greatest battle.

AMYTHOS

No. I'm no hero. I'm Amythos -- an ordinary man. I was standing beside a tree on a hillside covered with fresh green vines. Then I heard the sounds of battle -- the horns, the clang of sword on shield, and I, too, was in the midst of it, cutting left and right. It was like a nightmare. It was like I was someone else. I'm ashamed. I want no part of this. Although you mean well with your praise and thanks, your words just remind me of the gore and death.

ARCHOS

This is indeed unfortunate. For a moment I thought that all our troubles might soon be over. Our Soothsayer has engendered false hopes. He's forever telling us that the "golden age" is at hand.

GUNE

And you're forever talking of Kakos.

ARCHOS

Kakos is the wizard king of Elis, who, with the threat of his magic ring, holds all Arcadia in a vassalage of terror.

GUNE

And the dragons. Don't forget to mention the dragons. You describe them so well.

(She speaks directly to Amythos.)

The king says there are six six-headed dragons.

ARCHOS

He is guarded by dragons in his mountain strong-hold. this King Kakos is evil incarnate. It's a task for a great hero, a righter of wrongs. Perhaps only a god could defeat this evil force.

AMYTHOS

Only a dream, for only dreams can fight with dreams.

ARCHOS

Kakos is as real as death.

AMYTHOS

I've had enough of war.

ARCHOS

But you're a warrior by nature. You've proven that today. And nowhere could you find a better quest -- a wicked wizard and six six-headed dragons.

AMYTHOS

There are no dragons or wizards in this world. Those are just figments of the imagination. Let there be an end to such lies. Let there be no more myths.

ARCHOS

A quest such as this would raise you higher than Hercules.

AMYTHOS

That half-god was but half a man, a petty slave in bondage because he believed in supernatural powers. By his own labor he lent credence to the very myths that bound him.

ARCHOS

Incredulous youth. We live in mortal terror of this beast with human form and more than human powers. When I was as young as you are, I too doubted such things. But circumstances then shoved me to the flaming jaws of horrid truth itself.

PHYLLIS

You must excuse my father. He speaks in earnest, such earnest that he's often led to words a bit excessive.

ARCHOS

My daughter, too, is incredulous, as befits her age, though she wraps her doubt in polite, well-meaning phrases.

PHYLLIS

This matter has long grieved my father.

GUNE

And must we hear of Kale, too?

(She asks Archos.)

Must you always tell everyone about your dear Kale and how you lost her?

PHYLLIS

(Ignoring her mother's words.) But one month ago, this King Kakos came among us, unarmed, with but a few servants, and quietly but firmly demanded my hand in marriage. My father's fear of this man is quite earnest. Kakos and I are to be wed in three days time.

AMYTHOS

How could your father do such a thing? How can he believe that this Kakos is a demon and yet render up to him a daughter, and such a daughter, endowed with wit and beauty and...

ARCHOS

(Cuts him off.) You speak as I once spoke.

GUNE

Yes, that's how you spoke of Kale. For twenty-five years you've nurtured that lie of yours. You'd forget the truth completely if I didn't keep reminding you. She never loved you. She ran off with your rival, and now you call him a wizard and say she left to save you from a magic spell. You hired this charlatan

(Points to Soothsayer.)

to support you in your lies, to help you delude the kingdom. And now you would delude this fine, handsome, god-like stranger. You're trying to add the thread of his life to your web of lies.

ARCHOS

Would you wish to see my daughter, this picture of innocence, wed to all that is evil?

AMYTHOS

If she doesn't want to marry the man, she need not. Let him come with the full strength of his armies. With such an enemy I can fight.

ARCHOS

He has no armies. He doesn't need them and he doesn't need to leave his home to fight us. He relies on his dragons and his magic ring. At any time, from any distance, he could cast his three-day spell on you, and you would die without ever having seen him. He won't come here to fight you. The only place to fight him is in his own land of Elis.

PHYLLIS

Enough. There's no need for war and death. I'll marry King Kakos, and that will be the end of it.

AMYTHOS

No.

(AMYTHOS and PHYLLIS are looking deep into one another's eyes. He stretches out his hand toward PHYLLIS, and she stretches out her hand toward him.)

No.

(Just before their hands touch, AMYTHOS suddenly turns away and FREEZE: everyone except AMYTHOS and AGATHA stops, frozen, until the direction "UNFREEZE," at which time they will all resume their previous actions as if they had never been frozen and no time had intervened. Simultaneously, there should be a sudden shift of lighting, leaving Amythos in a spotlight and everyone else in relative darkness.)

I want no part of this. This isn't my myth. There's been a mistake. This can't be me standing here saying this nonsense. It was so different at school. This dull script was just one of a dozen possibilities. But now, this is it. This is supposed to be my life? What fool could ever have cast me in this part?

It's sickening to think of the lines I've got to say. It's degrading. I'd rather wear a real strait-jacket that I could pull and bite at and try to rip apart, rather that than this strait-jacket of a script. This Amythos, this character I'm supposed to play, is a damned fool. He's forever restraining himself. He won't let himself live or love. He can't just let himself go. And I'm supposed to speak his words? I'm supposed to act like such a nemish?

He's impulsive. For a few brief moments, he's human. He finds himself fighting a battle, but then he regrets it. He finds himself in love and married, but then he makes himself miserable with doubts about that.

I'd like to chuck this whole business and go running off to the mountains. If it were only that simple. Dream on. That's the only right I have left, I suppose -- the right to dream. And I have just twenty-four hours to dream. Then I face a lifetime of only what's in that script, or nothing at all.

If I could leave, I'd like to take along that girl who is playing the part of Agatha, the handmaid of the princess. She's all right, from what I've seen of her. We could go running off to the mountains together and start from scratch, and build a life that's worth living.

AGATHA

(Another spotlight is turned on her.) Okay, when are we leaving?

AMYTHOS

Oh... Hi.

AGATHA

Hi.

AMYTHOS

I thought I was alone. I've got this habit of talking to myself. I guess it comes from practicing my lines so much. I like to hear the sound of my own voice.

AGATHA

You were saying?

AMYTHOS

I was just dreaming out loud. I thought I was alone. I forgot that everyone else has a choice, too. Somehow I always thought of this as "my" myth, as if my choice were the only one that mattered. But I guess you're fed up with this story, too. The part of a handmaid could hardly be very exciting.

AGATHA

Oh, no. It's actually a very important part. If there were no handmaid to touch the princess at the right moment, she would die and all your dragon killing would be for nothing. And, besides, I'm always in the midst of things.

AMYTHOS

Then what's wrong? You wouldn't have dropped out like this unless something were wrong.

AGATHA

Well, the handmaid has to marry the cook, and though he's a nice guy, well-meaning and good-natured, I just can't imagine myself calling him my "honey-dove" and seeming happy when he crushes me with his rough, friendly arms. It's those bedroom scenes I dread the most. When I think it'll be the cook and me, the whole business is revolting. I don't see how I could go through it all with a straight face, much less the sighs and smiles and loving gestures that are in the script.

AMYTHOS

Yes, the whole situation is revolting. We have just twenty-four hours to decide in. And that's some choice they give us: take this myth or have none at all. And just look at this crazy myth.

AGATHA

But you get to be a great hero. You kill the dragons, and everybody thinks you're the greatest thing since Hercules.

AMYTHOS

But the man's got no spirit. He takes all the fun out of it with his reluctance. He goes off to fight dragons as if he were going to clean a pig-sty. He can't wait to chuck the whole hero business and settle down to a long, quiet, dull, eventless life.

AGATHA

And what would you do? Fight all the time?

AMYTHOS

Well, the world's full of wrongs to be righted. Wizards and dragons would quake at the mention of my name. Giants and ogres would surrender to me without a fight.

AGATHA

You should have been an actor.

AMYTHOS

I don't know how to take that.

AGATHA

You're such a lover of lofty thoughts and lofty words.

AMYTHOS

And lofty deeds.

AGATHA

Mostly words.

AMYTHOS

What do you mean? You've never seen me in action.

AGATHA

Nor will I, ever, if that's not the real you in the script. And what would you be like if you could be yourself? I wonder... But why worry over what can't be. Besides, I'm a lover of words myself. What else do we have but words?

AMYTHOS

Cheer up. At least we have a day to dream whenever we like, and to stretch our limbs and to talk like ourselves. It's not all that different from rehearsals, dreaming like this. It's like the good old days back at school when everything was possible, when I was first in my class.

(AGATHA laughs.)

This guy Amythos has some good lines, if he only wouldn't botch them. For instance, "Hercules was but half a man!"

AGATHA

(She laughs again.) Yes, we have a day. One glorious day. And don't forget the night. It'll be fun rolling around with the cook and knowing that whenever I please I can stop and leave him frozen in an absurd position, with a stupid look on his face. It'll be fun playing Medusa -- turning people into statues... Unless everybody drops out for good.

AMYTHOS

Don't worry. They're in the same bind we are. They'll stick it out for a day even if they don't mean to go through with it. Nobody would want to rush into emptiness. Besides, if anybody does, there will be a replacement who will go through the same lines and actions. You'll have plenty of people to turn into statues. There'll always be somebody fat, rough and stupid to play your cook.

AGATHA

Are you sure? I don't remember hearing anything about replacements. I thought everything would just go ahead without them, just as if they were there.

(AMYTHOS laughs.)

What is it?

AMYTHOS

It just occurred to me that these others are probably doing the same thing to us. They're freezing us in ridiculous positions and making fun of us -- only we never know it. I only wish they could catch me at one of my better moments, like the old days at school. Imagine me as I say, "I, Amythos, am greater than any god, for I am a man." That would make a fine statue, don't you think.

(AMYTHOS assumes a magnificent pose, then tries another mannered pose identical to the pose he was in when everyone else froze: with his arm extended toward the extended arm of Phyllis. UNFREEZE. Spotlights off. Regular lights on. The hands of AMYTHOS and PHYLLIS meet as he speaks to her.)

You will marry me.

SOOTHSAYER

(Wild-eyed, as if suddenly possessed.) The words. The words speak with the voice of Kakos. Phyllis is stricken. Her handmaid Agatha, daughter of Doula, is the savior who cannot save.

(SOOTHSAYER exits, stumbling, babbling incoherently.)

ARCHOS

It has happened. Kakos has cast his spell on my daughter. Now, Amythos, you have no choice. Not you, but she whom you wish to marry is in danger. You must recover his magic ring within three days, or she will die.

(Neither AMYTHOS nor PHYLLIS seems to be paying the least bit of attention to ARCHOS).

The Soothsayer has spoken.

GUNE

But he didn't speak well. He's not at all convincing.

AMYTHOS

(With an expansive gesture.) Let the wedding songs begin!

ARCHOS

I don't think you understand the gravity of the situation. I want to make it perfectly clear. Phyllis will die in three days. It will be a painless but certain death. The only way she can be saved is if you recover the magic ring from Kakos, give it to Phyllis, and then Phyllis must be touched by her handmaid Agatha, who with the spell was designated as savior.

AMYTHOS

Such complexity. You should make your myths simpler and more credible. That's such a ridiculous detail -- the handmaid must touch her after the recovery of the magic ring. You should have read more deeply in mythology before you composed this one.

PHYLLIS

No, my father is sincere. You must believe that he's sincere. It must have been a dream he had long ago and that he since confused with reality.

AMYTHOS

Let the wedding songs begin!

(Curtain.)


ACT I, SCENE 2

AMYTHOS and the girl who was playing the part of AGATHA are in bed together. Lighting indicates first signs of dawn. Neither AMYTHOS nor the audience can see AGATHA'S face. AMYTHOS assumes that he is with the girl who was playing PHYLLIS, the princess he just married in the role of AMYTHOS. He looks around the room and orients himself. Apparently, he's out of the script and is assuming that the girl beside him is frozen.

AMYTHOS

Dawn already. My time is half gone. And I expected to drop in and out all night, to play games, like Agatha said.

(AMYTHOS casually caresses the girl, but doesn't notice that she responds, that she isn't "frozen.")

I must have forgotten myself. I should have frozen the princess in a romantic pose so I could deliver eloquent lines of love. "Without your love, the sun would not avail to warm the earth. Mankind would instantly be frozen -- loveless and lifeless."

(AMYTHOS pauses in a magnificent gesture, as if quite proud of himself.)

AGATHA

(Turns over.) You do love words, don't you?

AMYTHOS

But...

AGATHA

Yes, I was the handmaid. The girl who was playing Phyllis decided to drop out. She couldn't bear the thought of that long quiet life with you, or rather with that Amythos of the script. Actually, you have a lot in common with her. If you'd ever really met her, the two of you would have gotten along famously.

AMYTHOS

But you...

AGATHA

It was a foolish whim of mine. It was an alternative I hadn't thought of. When the vacancy appeared, I took it.

AMYTHOS

But Phyllis... is Phyllis now the handmaid?

AGATHA

No, I already told you. The girl who was Phyllis dropped out for good. She has no myth now. She'll never have a myth. I was foolish enough to take her place. There is no handmaid now.

AMYTHOS

That puts a different complexion on things.

AGATHA

(Very softly.) Yes.

AMYTHOS

We make a good couple.

(He sits her up and assumes a magnificent pose beside her).

Imagine posing for the royal portrait, strutting magnificently past the cheering crowds. If only we could drop out when we pleased and have a good laugh, we'd have the time of our lives.

AGATHA

(She is melancholy, but he doesn't notice her mood). Yes.

AMYTHOS

I'm flattered, really.

AGATHA

(Ironic.) Really?

AMYTHOS

Really. After all, you preferred me to the cook.

(They both laugh, but she laughs more softly than he does.)

I wish we could just lie here like this forever and ever.

AGATHA

You know we can't. If we linger too long, it's the same as dropping out for good. We'd be separate and mythless, in the midst of emptiness.

AMYTHOS

Always the pessimist.

(He leans over and kisses her.)

Let's live a little.

AGATHA

So little.

AMYTHOS

You're so morbid. God. Things are so much better now. And who knows? I bet when we get used to it, we won't have to think about what we're doing, and we'll be able to think for ourselves and daydream while we're in the midst of it. It won't be so bad. Really. We'll be together, in a way. It's better than nothing. Maybe the script isn't that bad after all. Just think, with you as the princess, I get to rescue you.

AGATHA

And I die.

AMYTHOS

What?

AGATHA

I die.

AMYTHOS

(He doesn't take her seriously.) What script have you been reading? Oh, yes, "Each night you die again and again in my arms."

AGATHA

I mean dead dead.

AMYTHOS

(He's beginning to get annoyed). But that's not in the script.

AGATHA

And what, pray tell, is in the script?

AMYTHOS

Well, I wait until nearly sunset, and... What do you want to hear? We live to a ripe old age. You know it all as well as I do.

AGATHA

Just tell me what happens.

AMYTHOS

(Perplexed.) Well, I finally go out and come back with the ring, "amid the cheers of the populace."

(He savors the glory in advance).

The people really love me then -- it's my big moment.

AGATHA

And then?

AMYTHOS

Then the handmaid touches you and...

AGATHA

Yes, the handmaid touches me. And who is the handmaid?

AMYTHOS

Why you're the handmaid. But then... Who took your place?

AGATHA

No one.

AMYTHOS

But then you'll die.

AGATHA

Precisely.

AMYTHOS

But you can still leave this part. The twenty-four hours won't be up until nearly sunset.

AGATHA

And why should I want to leave?

AMYTHOS

You'll die if you don't.

AGATHA

(She pats him condescendingly on the top of the head.) Well learned, my boy. You're first in the class. I can have no myth at all or I can stay and die. I think I'll stay.

AMYTHOS

Now, look. It isn't all that black and white. Now that there isn't any handmaid, something's got to be changed.

AGATHA

Yes. I die.

AMYTHOS

No. I mean the script is broken. You've changed roles, and the girl who was Phyllis has dropped out. Why there's no telling what that'll do to the script. We may be free to be ourselves, or at least be partly free. There's no reason to believe that...

AGATHA

You're always seeing things the way you want to see them. But that's just not the way things are. Everything will go ahead just as in the script, only there won't be any handmaid to touch me and save me.

AMYTHOS

Well... We'll see. We've got at least until sunset.

AGATHA

And then two days.


ACT II, SCENE 1

Alogos is alone in a room in the palace of Arcadia.

ALOGOS

He wants to dream? The man's a fool. I've had enough of dreaming. Just give me a job, any job: let me do something, anything. If only this were a play and I a spectator. If only I were living in the real world and they were acting out some foolish fiction, and this was but an evening's entertainment after a hard day's work: such luxury. But then it would have to be a different play. Yes, this one's too dull. I'd be a man of the world, a man with taste. I'd demand more of a play than mere chatter. Yes, there'd be chorus girls. Yes, a chorus like in Greek tragedy, only all beautiful girls.

(ALOGOS is forced out of the way by entering FIRST and SECOND NOBLES).

SECOND NOBLE

First Phyllis, then one by one, inhuman Kakos will vent his wrath on all Arcadia. This green land will be home of none but jackals and vultures, reveling in a cornucopia of carnage.

FIRST NOBLE

And Amythos does nothing. It's unaccountable the way he loiters at such a time.

SECOND NOBLE

Curse all unaccountable delays. My wife lies waiting for the first pangs of childbirth. It's her first child. She worries.

FIRST NOBLE

That woman must so suffer to bring forth life is indeed unaccountable.

(FIRST AND SECOND NOBLES step off to the side and ALOGOS, with a pained look, rushes over to where as AGATHA enters, dressed as PRINCESS PHYLLIS. He puts on the SOOTHSAYER's hat and assumes the SOOTHSAYER's role. He leans close to AGATHA as she speaks to him softly, inaudibly. She is followed by ARCHOS, GUNE, AMYTHOS, and the MINSTREL. Everyone acts as if the NON-EXISTENT HANDMAID were present as well, entering with them; they react to the empty space where she should have been as if she in fact were there.)

AMYTHOS

(To ARCHOS.) It makes no sense to me that she should want to speak to your Soothsayer.

ARCHOS

Phyllis has always had a proper religious respect for dreams; and the dreams of a wedding night are particularly portentous. Her skepticism prompts her to doubt simple explanations, and leads her, at times, to a deeper, firmer faith.

AGATHA

(Now she speaks aloud to the SOOTHSAYER.) In my dream, I was beside a tree, a young tree with fresh green vines twined around it. I stretched out on the ground at the base of the tree and it was as if the same force that thrust the tree forth from the ground was entering me through my fingers and my bare toes. I felt that I'd explode with life, that green shoots would burst forth from my belly and stretch toward the sun, and the tree would be greater than any tree had ever grown -- a powerful fantastic tree so tall that it broke through the blue dome of the sky.

I longed to climb to the top of my tree and peer out beyond the dome. Lush fruit of all kinds were hanging from the branches, many kinds I had never seen before, and I wanted to taste the fruit that hung so rich and ripe but a few inches from my lips. But I couldn't budge because my hands were rooted to the ground.

The tree that had sprouted from my belly, that received its sustenance through my veins, was beyond my reach. It was some fantastic, mythic plant whose fruit the unicorn ate, among whose branches the phoenix nested. I knew that I was dreaming both myself and the tree, and, in my dream, I was doubting that the tree was real.

SOOTHSAYER

You shall have a son, and you shall call his name Igdrasil. The tree you dreamt of is this son who will grow to be the greatest of all heroes, who will bring the Golden Age.

AGATHA

You mean we're that close to the Golden Age?

SOOTHSAYER

It's but one generation away. It's like the fruit that in your dream was just inches from your lips.

AGATHA

Why was it always beyond my reach?

SOOTHSAYER

So does a mother never know her own son.

AMYTHOS

You are indeed skilled at your trade, ably turning our nightmares to our fondest dreams. I thank you.

(AMYTHOS and the Soothsayer exchange ironic bows. Everyone exits except the SOOTHSAYER and the MINSTREL.)

MINSTREL

(He is over-anxious for an audience to whom to read his latest poem.) Thank you ever so much, kind Soothsayer. I respect your judgment, and I do so much want to hear what you think of my latest poem.

SOOTHSAYER

(He impatiently signals the Minstrel to go ahead and read it.)

If you must, get on with it, please.

MINSTREL

Life is a coming together in love, and

death is parting;

as in the beginning,

cold and chaos-rent,

I was a bone, a thought, a fingernail,

till love-fire flashed,

fusing me, us,

and all things forever are,

forever will be

together apart,

by love, by strife,

mixing and breaking

again apart,

till love-fire flash,

and sea make peace with land,

and with blue out-stretched arms,

the sky embrace them both

creating world love-bound

by our embrace;

my Amaryllis,

do not leave,

or all things, together,

will fall apart.

SOOTHSAYER

Amaryllis? Who is this Amaryllis? Didn't you say this was a poem for Agatha, handmaid of the princess?

MINSTREL

Indeed, it is. But Agatha's a harsh-sounding name that doesn't fit my meter.

SOOTHSAYER

Such foolishness.

MINSTREL

A rose by any other name...

SOOTHSAYER

Yes, I, too, have read Pindar.

MINSTREL

Any other four-syllable name with the accent on the third syllable would do just as well.

SOOTHSAYER

Poets! It's beyond the powers of a prophet to make any sense of them. And why should you show it to me? And at a time like this, with Kakos threatening the kingdom with ruin?

MINSTREL

I wasn't sure it was good enough. Agatha's been cold to me of late, and the cook has been gaining in her favor. I felt I had to do something special to win her. Last night I grabbed her roughly like the ill-bred cook does. If such she wants, I thought, such I'll be. But she just froze, with an ironic look on her face, like she didn't care what I did. I left ashamed. I thought perhaps a poem, if it was good enough...


ACT II SCENE 2

ARCHOS and FIRST AND SECOND NOBLES are in the throne room of Arcadia.

FIRST NOBLE

My lord, the people grow restless. They fear the rage of Kakos won't stop with Phyllis, that one by one he'll kill us all.

ARCHOS

You know as well as I that this Amythos won't budge. What am I to do?

FIRST NOBLE

Some, my lord, say the death of Amythos might appease the wizard. Others say that the threat of death might make this Amythos act. All agree that something must be done.

ARCHOS

"Something." Yes, "something." Always, I've got to do "something." You are always so loud in your demands for action. And you so easily know what the people want. The "people," is there really such a thing as the "people"? I begin to think it's just a word used by politicians.

(ARCHOS moves to the side from which AMYTHOS and the SOOTHSAYER will soon enter. He paces, sunk in thought.)

FIRST NOBLE

(To SECOND NOBLE.) I fear the king has grown distracted of late.

SECOND NOBLE

Since the death of Kale, he has indeed been melancholy.

FIRST NOBLE

May the gods preserve us from philosophy in the mouths of kings.

(AMYTHOS, SOOTHSAYER and MINSTREL enter. FIRST and SECOND NOBLES step to the side.)

AMYTHOS

When you were asked about the tree that represented a child in Phyllis' dream, what did you call it?

SOOTHSAYER

It's name is "Igdrasil."

AMYTHOS

And what is the meaning of this word -- "Igdrasil."

SOOTHSAYER

It's the name of a huge tree in the far north. There men of little minds think that it's the whole world, as doting mothers are wont to think of their children.

AMYTHOS

And is there more?

SOOTHSAYER

There is always more. But you wouldn't care to hear it. You wouldn't believe it. It's about a dragon.

AMYTHOS

Then you've said enough about that. But, tell me, what manner of man is this Kakos?

SOOTHSAYER

They say that one day Zeus wanted the wife of Kakos for his amusement and because the wife gave him great pleasure and Kakos showed no sign of jealousy, Zeus rewarded him with immortality, eternal youthful and other powers. When that first wife grew old and died, Kakos turned to Arcadia, the neighboring kingdom, and demanded a new bride. And as each new wife has died, he has come here again for new wives.

ARCHOS

(He has been inconspicuous, in shadows. Now he steps forward and speaks.) I, as you, Amythos was once a stranger in this land. Then, as now, Kakos had demanded the king's only daughter as his bride. I met her. I loved her. It seemed that she loved me as well. I gave her my mother's necklace, and she accepted it. She knew that I was rash. She knew that I would soon provoke Kakos and he would cast his deadly three-day spell on me. To save me from that danger, she left by night without my knowledge. When in the morning I heard that she had gone, I pursued her at full gallop. But it was hopeless. She was already in his power. I dared not attack the dragons for fear of endangering her. The king, having no other off-spring and knowing of his daughter's love for me, made me his heir.

AMYTHOS

And when did you dream this fantasy?

ARCHOS

Every night for twenty-five years, I dreamt it and redreamt it. Her name was Kale.

AMYTHOS

I've heard that name before.

ARCHOS

She was known far and wide for her beauty and her noble spirit.

AMYTHOS

Indeed, that is a strange dream.

ARCHOS

It was stranger still when it happened.

AMYTHOS

I, too, have been dreaming of late. I was Hermes, and my staff with the twin carved snakes coiled round it suddenly stuck in the ground, and when I tried with all my strength to pull it loose, the snakes came alive and bit out angrily at my hands. Then the staff became a tree, and the snakes were vines. What does that mean, Soothsayer?

SOOTHSAYER

Nothing. You dreamt the tree you saw yesterday before the battle.

AMYTHOS

And you, Minstrel, tell me -- what did that tree mean?

MINSTREL

It meant the gods didn't want any living thing to be alone; and so they intertwined the life of the tree with other lives.


ACT II, SCENE 3

GUNE, AGATHA, and the NON-EXISTENT HANDMAID are in a room in the palace of Arcadia.

GUNE

I'm proud of you, daughter. I'm very proud of you. You've always been an independent thinker, but you had a blind-spot when it came to your father. No matter what he said, no matter what he did, you'd always see things his way. Why even when he was going to marry you off to that King Kakos, it was "yes, father," "certainly, father dear." But now you've finally seen the light. You've picked yourself a fine man for a husband, and you've seen your father for what he is -- a dirty old man.

AGATHA

Mother, you're being unfair.

GUNE

Daughter, you're too indulgent. But this is no time to argue -- not now, when after all these years we've finally had a meeting of minds and of hearts.

(She starts toward AGATHA with wide-open arms and a hideously over-motherly grin.)

Baby, come to your momma.

(AGATHA very awkwardly and embarrassedly accepts the proffered embrace.)

All these years, I've been telling people that Kakos is a fraud, and now, finally, someone believes me; and it's my very own daughter. And how she believes me -- such courage!

AGATHA

Courage?

GUNE

Why, yes. You've literally put your lie on the line.

AGATHA

But there's no danger. Amythos is certain.

GUNE

I envy you both. You have such confidence in each other and in your powers of judgment.

(ARCHOS, AMYTHOS, MINSTREL, SOOTHSAYER, and FIRST and SECOND NOBLES enter.)

FIRST NOBLE

The people, my lord, the people...

ARCHOS

I've heard enough about the people. Tell them anything. Tell them the Soothsayer has found a spell to counter Kakos' spell.

AMYTHOS

You counter lying fears with lying hopes.

ARCHOS

Kakos' spell is real, quite real. Ask anyone in Arcadia, except that jealous wife of mine. Check the city archives.

AMYTHOS

"A long-perpetuated myth is no more real than the passing lies we tell ourselves to render bearable disappointed love and endless death."

GUNE

Bravo! Well quoted. Homer is so magnificent and that's my very favorite passage of...

MINSTREL

Margites.

GUNE

Yes, of course. The great comic epic -- Margites.

ARCHOS

This "myth," as you call it, is as real as death. But, it seems that only death will convince you. We've had enough of gloom for now. Let there be music and singing.

GUNE

Homer. Yes, let's hear some Homer. It's been so long since we heard any Homer.

AGATHA

Sing of Troy.

GUNE

No. Sing something more appropriate for newly-weds. Sing of love.

AGATHA

But Troy is a tale of love.

GUNE

No, not love; just indifference, or disgust. Helen was sick of the life she was living and wanted a change, any change. So she ran off at the first opportunity.

ARCHOS

She was abducted, against her will.

GUNE

No more than Kale was abducted.

MINSTREL

(He tries to rescue the conversation from the awkward topic of Kale.) For me, the charm of Helen is her enticing indecision -- the doubts and uncertainties that she then inspired and still inspires.

AGATHA

No, the tragedy of the story is that everything is completely certain. There is one beautiful moment of doubt and indecision, with all the greatest heroes of Greece assembled as suitors. But as soon as she speaks the name of Menelaus, it's all over, all decided -- her life is plotted. All she can do is live it out, the helpless pawn of circumstance.

AMYTHOS

Do you think that it's all over?

AGATHA

What?

AMYTHOS

The story, the interesting part of our lives. We're married now. Isn't that when fairy tales end? And you said about Helen that her story was "all over" when she chose Menelaus.

AGATHA

But I was just talking about Helen, about a story. It's that way in fairy tales, but we're people, real people; and I'm not so much a child as to expect things to be like that in real life.

(The MINSTREL and the SOOTHSAYER stay on the stage, but everyone else leaves, including the NON-EXISTENT HANDMAID.)

MINSTREL

(Puzzled.) Did you see that? Did you see?

SOOTHSAYER

What?

MINSTREL

The handmaid. Did you see?

SOOTHSAYER

What?

MINSTREL

All the time she stood there, she took no notice of me. And when she walked right by me, it was as if I didn't exist.


ACT II, SCENE 4

(The stage is divided into two rooms by a partition. AMYTHOS is alone in one room. He paces back and forth, brooding. Once or twice, he seems to have decided something and to be about to act. Then he stops, still more depressed. He looks around. Then he continues to pace. Meanwhile AGATHA and the MINSTREL enter the other room.)

MINSTREL

I'm sorry to bother you, Princess Phyllis, but you probably know Agatha better than anyone else. I can't believe she actually loves that clod of a cook. It can't be real. She's deluding herself, or he's concocted some love potion in that kitchen of his.

AGATHA

Of course, the truth hurts; but if she loves another, there's simply nothing you can do about it.

MINSTREL

I guess the worries and jealousies of one-sided love must seem ridiculous to you. You must think it isn't love at all, since the story of your love was so simple.

AGATHA

Simple?

MINSTREL

Why, yes. You met; you fell in love; and you married all in one day. What could be simpler? You have no doubts or uncertainties. You have no rival, either, at least as far as I know.

AGATHA

Yes. Our meeting and our marriage were deliciously fairy-tale-like. It's rather strange to think that Amythos really does have a past. Somehow, I presumed and acted as if he came into existence the moment I saw him, or perhaps the moment he entered the battle. I suppose he thinks of me that way, too. We really don't know much about each other. We never felt we had to know.

MINSTREL

I'm sure you did the right thing.

AGATHA

I never doubted it.

MINSTREL

I'm sure he's kind and tender and considerate -- the way I'd like to be with Agatha, if she'd let me. But sometimes I think she likes the cook because he's so selfish and insensitive.

AGATHA

You can't always go by the surface of things. Why even Amythos, on the surface, seems to be a bit rough and blustering and insensitive. He seems a bit obsessed with his own ideas. But deep down, he has a heart.

MINSTREL

How can you tell?

AGATHA

All women can tell such things. Although his actions and words often offend and sometimes hurt people deeply -- I fear my father will never get over it -- Amythos really means well. He has the best interests of everyone at heart.

MINSTREL

I didn't mean to question his intentions. I'm sure that Amythos is an exceptional case. He makes those high-principled, single-minded speeches in public; but, in private, I'm sure he must let his true self show through.

(He pauses for AGATHA to nod assent, but she doesn't. She seems a bit distracted.)

I just wondered how it is, in general, that women can tell such things. I've heard often enough that they can; but they're always so evasive when you ask them just how. It seems that many just fool themselves into thinking they see kindness and affection where there's nothing but self-interest and conceit. I realize that Agatha thinks she loves the cook, or acts as if she thought so; but my one hope is that it isn't real, that she's just deluding herself, and that at any moment she might suddenly snap out of it.

(MINSTREL and AGATHA FREEZE. AMYTHOS goes to the side of the stage to look off-stage. He is relieved by what he sees.)

AMYTHOS

Then I am out of it. I wasn't sure, but the people outside on the street are frozen now.

This is such a brooding depressing scene -- I'm supposed to just walk back and forth, saying nothing. I mean, like Agatha said, everything's going as if the handmaid were here. They talk to her and seem to listen to her and watch her walk by; but there's nobody there at all, just empty space. And time is dragging so.

I know that the princess is supposed to walk through that door with her handmaid, only she hasn't, and it's been much too long. I thought I was out of the script, but I wasn't sure. There's no telling how long I've been out of it.

(He paces back and forth a few more times, silently. AGATHA and the MINSTREL UNFREEZE.)

MINSTREL

(Surprised.) I hear Agatha coming. I'd recognize her step anywhere.

(He leaves rapidly, almost running).

I couldn't bear to face her -- not now... not now...

(AMYTHOS continues to pace. The NON-EXISTENT HANDMAID, as evidenced by AGATHA'S reactions, enters the other room. They are apparently whispering and giggling together when they enter the room where AMYTHOS is standing. They are surprised to find him there.)

AMYTHOS

My Phyllis.

AGATHA

My love.

(Agatha FREEZES.)

AMYTHOS

Agatha. Damn you. Why now? Why now of all times? I need to talk to you. I don't know what's going on anymore, and... Damn it, listen to me. Snap out of it, damn it. I don't want you to die.

(He tries to shake her, but she keeps re-assuming the same expression and pose.)

Something's wrong. I feel it. Things aren't the way they should be. And I'm supposed to go out and fight those dragons?

Either we're trapped, and you'll die; or everything is falling apart, and I'll actually have to fight those dragons -- they won't just fall over on cue, like in the script -- they'll actually fight back.

Please snap out of it. I need you. I need to talk to you.

(UNFREEZE. Both he and AGATHA are now in the script -- his style of delivery should indicate that change.)

Phyllis, I love you. Though my actions would seem to belie me, I love you.

AGATHA

(Laughs, but not too merrily.) Do you begin to believe in wizards and dragons?

AMYTHOS

If there were a chance, but the slightest chance that it were true and that you were in danger, you know that I would...

AGATHA

Yes, I understand. All the melancholy talk about the palace is depressing you. Perhaps some music. Music always helps.

AMYTHOS

(A sudden shift in mood.) Yes, my love, 'twas but yesterday that we were wed. Let there be dancing, singing, music. Let the world rejoice.

(He gestures.)

Lackey, come here. Yes, you, there by the arras. Come here.

(The Messenger enters. His garb shows that he now has an official function at court. His face shows that he's proud of it and trying hard to act with the proper decorum, full of a sense of his own new-found importance.)

MESSENGER

I beg your pardon, my lord. I would not have tarried had I known it was me whom you addressed. I am newly appointed steward. I shall do my best to see that your wish, whatever it is, is promptly carried out.

AMYTHOS

(Pleased with the boy's awkward pomp.) And to what do you owe this meteoric rise in station?

MESSENGER

It was I who first brought word of your lordship's glorious victory.

AMYTHOS

And what became of him who was steward before you?

MESSENGER

He was with the reserves to the rear of the fighting. They say he was playing cards when a barrage of arrows fell in their midst. One struck him. He died. They say the stakes were high, and he held the winning hand.

AMYTHOS

Men did die there?

(He answers himself.)

Yes, of course, men do die in battle. My own sword came back bloody.

(He speaks to the MESSENGER again.)

The minstrel who told such joyous tales of love at the wedding feast: let him be fetched.

MESSENGER

(He signals magnificently to someone off-stage.) The Minstrel is in a melancholy fit today. He sang to please your lordship and the princess your bride, but he also sang for Agatha the handmaid -- or so they say. They say as well that she favors the cook, and that she and the cook were whispering by the kitchen door even as the Minstrel sang of love.

AMYTHOS

Have this Minstrel fetched at once.

(The Messenger signals again, now impatiently. His self-confidence is wearing thin.)

AGATHA

His tale will be sad, I fear. Perhaps it would be best to have just music -- joyous music. That kind of music would do us all some good.

AMYTHOS

No, it will be a double tale he tells, no doubt -- a rare delight. The one tale we'll hear, and the other we'll see -- and they'll both be of love, I'll warrant.

AGATHA

But at such a time, why would you force him to tell a tale? I'm sure he'd rather...

AMYTHOS

Cheer up. Let's see you smile like that handmaid of yours. I'll warrant she's flattered to have two such ardent lovers as the Minstrel and the cook.

AGATHA

You surprise me. But a moment ago, you were so sad.

AMYTHOS

I'm impulsive. Let me be.

(The MINSTREL enters as the MESSENGER announces him. The MESSENGER is relieved and again proud.)

MESSENGER

He comes, my lord.

(The partition is moved aside by stage hands. People rearrange themselves to listen. The MINSTREL sits off to the side. He strikes a chord on his lute. It's discordant. He looks distressed. Then, as if remembering, he proceeds to tune the instrument. All this time, he acts as if he were in a daze, half-asleep. He strikes a chord again, and again it is discordant. He stares at the lute for a moment, perplexed. then he puts it down, regains his composure, and begins looking at the ceiling above Amythos' head.)

MINSTREL

The Tale of the Nymph and the Satyr. The satyr...

(He lowers his eyes as if by accident to where the NON-EXISTENT HANDMAID should be. He stumbles in his speech, apparently a word is lost. He rapidly reorders his thoughts and tries to say it another way)

the nymph... The satyr wanted to hold her and kiss her.

(He is now looking again at the ceiling and is rapidly gaining self-confidence.)

But she'd laugh and push him away, and dance through the fields as was her wont. Once she said, "I don't feel like it."

So when again they met, the satyr always asked, "And now, do you feel like it?"

Once she explained, "You are a satyr, but I can only kiss a man."

"What's a man?" he asked.

"A man is one who is tender, one who cares for the woman he wants to hold."

"And how can I become a man?" asked the satyr.

She laughed at him, but the idea took root in him that by kissing her he would become a man.

So one day, the satyr grabbed her and kissed her, and in a moment she became a birch tree, and he was a man holding and kissing her rough bark.

He pulled out the weeds, and trimmed away the dead branches. And in the fall, he raked the fallen leaves. Always he made sure there was plenty of water about the roots. Now and then he brought to his tree fresh rich loam. Often, especially at parting, he would hold the birch and kiss her tenderly.

Eventually, the gods saw and had pity. They made him a vine, and he twined round and round his love, and held her forever and ever.

AMYTHOS

Why do you weep?

AGATHA

It's a sad story. The gods never give what we want, only what they want to see. Are all men born rough satyrs?

AMYTHOS

Kiss me.

(They kiss. Then he touches her cheek gently.)

This is not the bark of a birch. the gods have been kind to us. Your kiss has made me a man, and you have stayed a woman.

AGATHA

Would that all things were so simple as that.

AMYTHOS

What brings on this melancholy fit?

AGATHA

It was on impulse wasn't it, that you entered the battle?

AMYTHOS

It was strange. I was like possessed. In retrospect, it's hard to believe that that was actually me who rushed into battle.

AGATHA

Do you love me?

AMYTHOS

As a vine loves the tree it clings to.

AGATHA

(Softly.) Oh.

AMYTHOS

Did I pick the wrong image?

AGATHA

Why don't you make sure there aren't any dragons? Certainly, it wouldn't hurt to go and see.

AMYTHOS

(Turns to the NON-EXISTENT HANDMAID.) Agatha, do you love this Minstrel?

(Dead silence.)

Then do you love the cook?

(Dead silence.)

No matter. Would you marry the cook?

(Dead silence.)

Steward!

MESSENGER

(Pleased at the sound of his new title.) Yes, my lord?

AMYTHOS

Does the cook love this handmaid?

MESSENGER

He likes her well enough, I'm sure of that.

(He quickly adds.)

The whole household loves her. She's the prettiest...

(He doesn't know how to finish he sentence. He clearly likes her a lot.)

AMYTHOS

And what is her parentage? Is she worthy of the cook?

MESSENGER

Indeed, my lord, indeed. Although she has been orphaned for a long time, they say that her mother was Doula, handmaid of Kale, our former princess. Doula had to leave her infant daughter and follow her mistress to the court of King Kakos, where she remains to this day. Doula, too, was once a greatest beauty. She was sough after by nobles, or so they say. But she married the steward -- not the one who just died, but the one who came before him.

AMYTHOS

Would the cook consent to marry Agatha?

MESSENGER

Yes, I see no reason why he wouldn't.

AMYTHOS

And what sort of man is this cook?

MESSENGER

A big man.

AMYTHOS

Fat, you mean.

MESSENGER

He's a bit rough in his manners, but he's a jovial, good-natured man.

AMYTHOS

Then you wouldn't call him tender?

MESSENGER

(Aware that he's the center of attention and playing it for all it's worth.) I know not how he treats his women, but with men he drinks his beer in a single gulp, and slaps the backs of his friends. The old steward, God rest his soul, claimed his weak back came from just such friendly blows. He has a strong right arm. He swings the cleaver with such force it puts the woodsman to shame.

AMYTHOS

Phyllis, do you give your consent to this match?

AGATHA

(Looking in the direction of the NON-EXISTENT HANDMAID, she answers softly.) Yes.

AMYTHOS

Then let the wedding songs begin.

MESSENGER

Yes, my lord.

(The MESSENGER signals, then steps back to the side of the stage, still in sight, awaiting further orders.)

AMYTHOS

Cheer up, my love, one should rejoice at weddings.

AGATHA

I've never seen you this way -- playing games with people's lives. It frightens me.

AMYTHOS

Why such sullenness? It's a good match. She seems to love him well enough. She blushes at every mention of him. And he's not indifferent to her. Weren't you ready to marry King Kakos?

AGATHA

There was no choice. I thought, with you, it would be different. Perhaps I was wrong.

AMYTHOS

Yes, a woman's an unaccountable creature -- forever wondering -- "do I love him or don't I." She forever weighs her love -- "how many grams of love today?"

A man considers the price of wheat and hay. A woman deliberates over how much she loves and is loved.

What a man wants, he takes. A woman's forever asking if she really wants, and how badly she wants, and then it's gone, so she has no choice at all; or she chooses and still forever frets.

A woman's a creature who loves to doubt that she loves.

(He turns to the MESSENGER.)

What manner of man is this King Kakos?

MESSENGER

No man, my lord. He's no mortal man. Some say he was so famed for ugliness that the gods made him immortal for a joke. Others say he was a great wizard and learned the secret of immortal life, and in punishment the gods took from his human feeling.

AGATHA

The steward is mistaken. Kakos is a man like other men. He came to see me, came to inspect his future property. He was not physically repulsive. But he did seem passionless. Those who came with him said that he is devoid of all hope and all illusion. He's just a man who cannot dream.

AMYTHOS

A true man.


ACT III, SCENE 1

(FIRST and SECOND NOBLES stand outside the palace, and ALOGOS stands on the front rim of the stage.)

ALOGOS

They say that this all takes place in Arcadia, amid beautiful forests and hills and pastureland. They talk about trees and grass and flowers, and maybe they actually see what they say they see.

All I can see is a stage with a few bare props. But they can't see me either, so who am I to doubt the reality of the invisible?

I do wish they could hear me, even if they still couldn't see me. I'd be a mysterious disembodied voice like the one the Soothsayer claims to hear. I'd play god, ordering them to perform impossible feats and ridiculous antics.

Or perhaps, I'd just interrupt their arguments and always have the last word. I'd come to be known as the "Voice of Truth." My word would be law, at least until they invent radio and public address systems, and that will be quite a while. I'd reveal to them the inner truth of events. The fools still think it was the Trojan Horse that won the war. Some minstrel had a speech impediment. It was the whores, the whores who won the wars; the whores, the whores, the Trojan whores.

(ALOGOS steps off to the side of the stage and observes, unnoticed, as the scene unfolds.)

SECOND NOBLE

My wife still frets. Both at home and in the nation there is no end to waiting.

FIRST NOBLE

They say our one-time hero wanders here without, distracted, staring at the road to Elis.

SECOND NOBLE

The dying sun bathes the land in blood.

FIRST NOBLE

But yet the Soothsayer spoke of general joy, saying that Arcadia would be known as paradise.

SECOND NOBLE

Little benefits us now the ignorance of future ages.

(The MINSTREL enters, followed by AMYTHOS and the MESSENGER. FIRST and SECOND NOBLES step back to make way for AMYTHOS. He takes no notice of anyone.)

AMYTHOS

To horse! To horse! I tell myself, and then my better judgment gains control, and I think myself a fool for nearly giving way to such an impulse. There are no dragons and no wizards or spells. My reason tells me there cannot be. If I were to leave right now, to set her mind at ease, it wouldn't matter what I'd say on my return -- the people would believe I'd found the dragons and killed them and was coming back with the ring. I'd add substance to their fears of the supernatural. If this is ever to end -- this bondage of lies and fear -- someone sometime must make a stand.

It hurts to see Phyllis so melancholy and filled with doubts. It hurts still more to be unable to comfort her. I must seem firm, seem absolutely certain. That's the only way to put her at ease. If she knew of my doubts, of my childish impulse, there'd be no end to her fear, and I'd have no choice but to go to Elis.

(He turns and sees the MESSENGER and is surprised.)

I thought I was alone.

(Pause.)

And what's your advice, steward? Everyone else is full of advice. Surely, you must have some.

MESSENGER

You are a hero, my lord. You are a king by nature. You know best what to do and what not to do.

AMYTHOS

I, too, once dreamt of heroes. But last night I dreamt there were no heroes, just people chattering, and they were all so small.

It's hard to say who or what we are in our dreams. Mostly we're just an audience, I think, an audience without the power of judgment.

Boy, who is that yonder?

(The MESSENGER, who doesn't like being called "boy" doesn't answer.)

No, he's gone again. Someone has been darting about behind bushes and walls, watching, but not wanting to be seen. Perhaps it's death. If so, he's welcome.

MESSENGER

It's Neanias, my lord, son of the former steward.

AMYTHOS

(Says off-hand, automatically without thinking.) The very image of his father.

MESSENGER

No, my lord. They say he favors the mother, and I dare say, God rest the steward's soul, it's best that Neanias not have his father's hooked nose, pointed chin, and weak back, though none can say for sure about the back yet.

AMYTHOS

And he'll follow in his father's footsteps, perhaps one day be steward.

MESSENGER

Such were his thoughts in younger days, my lord, when he wished as well to be cook, barber and huntsman. But now he's ten years old, and he has more lofty dreams. You are his only idol. Since yesterday, when his father died, he's been lurking about watching your every move. There, my lord, over there.

(He points to the audience).

No, he's gone again. But that was him by the blacksmith's shop. By order of the king, he has free run of the palace and all its grounds, in honor of his father who died so nobly in battle. I'm sure that Neanias dreams of imitating your so glorious deeds.

(The MESSENGER sounds quite serious when he talks about the glory of AMYTHOS' deeds.)

AMYTHOS

May riper years bring better judgment.

MESSENGER

(Proud of being Amythos' source of information.) It seems all the youths of the palace, indeed, of the city, have taken to worshipping you. News of your noble deeds has spread fast. Soon all the youths of all Arcadia will look to you as their hero.

(AMYTHOS turns away from the MESSENGER, to the MINSTREL, whom he just now notices.)

AMYTHOS

Again, again, always again. I've started the cycle of dreams and lies again. It's so ridiculously easy to start -- especially among the young.

I know that man is free to make himself what he will. But there are so many men. There have been so many. There will be so many. And each in his freedom is forever making the same mistakes.

MINSTREL

If there were no repetition, there would be no point in writing.

AMYTHOS

If there were no change, there would be no point in living.

(He paces, then turns and asks).

Have you heard tell of a tree in the far north called...

MINSTREL

Igdrasil?

AMYTHOS

Yes. What have you heard of it?

MINSTREL

They claim that in some sense it is the world.

AMYTHOS

Yes, but is there anything more -- anything about dragons?

MINSTREL

Yes, I believe they say there is a dragon forever sucking at the roots, and that the day will come when the tree is reduced to a dry lifeless shell, and it will come crashing down, and that will be the end of the world. Those northerners are melancholy, pessimistic people.

SECOND NOBLE

(Talking hurriedly to someone off-stage): It's begun?

(Loud.)

It's actually begun? It's begun!

(He hastens to tell the FIRST NOBLE).

The pain has begun!

AMYTHOS

(Awakened from distractedness.) Pain? What pain?

SECOND NOBLE

Excuse me, my lord. It was not my place to speak aloud of such matters, of the joy...

AMYTHOS

The joy of pain?

SECOND NOBLE

You see, my lord, it's my wife's pain.

AMYTHOS

And you enjoy it?

(He doesn't wait for an answer).

Yes, surely you enjoy her misery, her anxiety. My own wife is miserable, and you see how I pace about and do nothing for her. You must indeed be glad. And will she die that you may choose another? Or perhaps you'll choose one who is just the same -- for that would be the worst, to have to repeat it all, the reassurances, "yes, I love you; indeed, I love you," even the kisses would be distasteful. I pity the actor who must each night embrace the actress he loathes.

SECOND NOBLE

But, my lord, you mistake me.

AMYTHOS

When she dies, go you to the hills to be a hermit. Let your hair grow wild, unkempt. Let your body rot with stench -- half-man, half-beast. And if even there you should chance upon a woman, grab her and kiss her roughly like she was a block of wood. Only then will she leave you.

SECOND NOBLE

But her pain, my lord, is the pain of childbirth.

AMYTHOS

Be of good cheer. From that too, she may die.

SECOND NOBLE

God grant that it be not so. It is our first child, and it has been long due. My wife was worried. She's young and easily frightened. When I spoke to her, I was firm and certain. She liked to hear it so, and smiled and squeezed my hands. But I myself could not help but worry, seeing how she worried so. And now it's come. The pain has come. And soon our son will be born.

AMYTHOS

(Distracted, as if he hasn't been listening.) And she will die.

SECOND NOBLE

Oh, say not so, my lord. My wife...

AMYTHOS

Your wife? You have a wife? I, too, once had a wife... And does your wife love you?

SECOND NOBLE

Love me? I know not, my lord. But she loves children. My brother's children and the children of our neighbor the steward, God rest his soul -- she's wonderful with them. You should see the way she holds a baby in her arms.

(Enter the rest of the court. ALOGOS joins them, puts on his hat, and takes on the role of SOOTHSAYER. AMYTHOS turns and sees AGATHA. When their eyes meet, everyone but them FREEZES. Spotlights on AMYTHOS and AGATHA. The rest are in darkness.)

AMYTHOS

It's not the way I expected, not at all. ... I've wanted to talk to you.

AGATHA

Sometimes I have to be alone.

AMYTHOS

There's so little time.

AGATHA

You were always so magnificent. You had such haughty phrases, such words. I rather miss it. Let me hear it again. Let me think again that we can drift like this forever and ever, acting out our fantasies -- you the invincible hero, and me...

AMYTHOS

...the beautiful princess... And you are, you are.

AGATHA

...threatened by a wicked wizard...

AMYTHOS

No. I've lived so long in the land of possibilities, mere possibilities that I don't know... I don't...

AGATHA

Don't worry. You don't have to decide anything. All you have to do is drift along with the script. It's so easy -- like falling asleep.

AMYTHOS

But we only live once.

AGATHA

In this script.

AMYTHOS

But it's the only myth we can ever have, and the decision to take it or leave it is the only real decision we can ever make. We must decide. I can't just let you die.

AGATHA

And is the alternative any better? Relax. Let things happen. We're just about at the denouement. You don't want to miss that do you? There'll be time later to decide. Don't make me think about it. After all, it's a delightful day.

AMYTHOS

Are you mad?

(AGATHA laughs nervously. UNFREEZE. Return to normal lighting.)

Are you mad?

AGATHA

No, my lord, even now I can't be mad at you. But I thought you might want to reconsider. I thought perhaps it was the heat of the moment. You were carried away by impulse when you met me, just as you were carried away at the battle. You were magnificent when I first saw you -- the sweat of battle still trickling fresh from your pores, and that wild look in your eyes, and your speeches -- you would single-handedly battle all the world's illusions. I thought perhaps you were carried away. Perhaps my looks at just that moment -- after all, that's all you know of me, my looks, when you proposed. Perhaps those looks of mine were but a curse in disguise, leading you to a marriage you didn't really want, and giving me an indifferent husband.

AMYTHOS

Indifferent? But, Phyllis, this is not the time or place.

ARCHOS

It certainly is the time. If you are to going to save her, it must be now. Already it is late, but any later and you could never ride to Elis and return in time, much less battle...

GUNE

Six six-headed dragons.

AMYTHOS

Enough. Enough.

(To AGATHA)

I feel torn. I can't explain my reluctance. It's more than reason. It's a feeling I have that I just shouldn't go. But I must. I regret having made you wait this long. It's inevitable that I go to Elis. Somehow it's in the nature of us to believe these stupid superstitions, or to doubt our own judgment just enough that we dare not fly in the face of superstition. My mother, too, was superstitious. She gave me this necklace for good luck. Here. Take it. Keep it. Perhaps it will give you some comfort while I am gone.

AGATHA

You've never spoken of your mother before. What's her name? Is she still alive?

AMYTHOS

Her name is Doula. She is alive, I believe. But I know not where. I was raised by shepherds. Doula came often to visit when I was very young. I was told that she was my true mother, but that the land she lived in was ruled by a cruel tyrant, and she wished to keep me safe from him. The shepherds moved. They were always moving to greener pastures. Then Doula never came again.

ARCHOS

Doula? Doula? That's the name of Kale's handmaid.

AGATHA

She was the mother of my handmaid Agatha.

AMYTHOS

Do you mean to say that I'm the brother of my wife's handmaid?

(An awkward silence).

ARCHOS

When Kale left for the court of Kakos, Doula followed her, leaving behind her husband, who was steward. It was rumored that she was disillusioned with her married life, that when the chance arose, she was glad to leave. But she is a fine woman, much like Kale. I'm sure she had no choice, or acted rashly -- thinking only of her duty to her mistress, only later to regret.

I meant to ask her what indeed had happened when she came with Kakos a few days back, when he came to choose his next bride. But I was so struck by how she'd aged. She had been so much like Kale. They were like sisters -- it's hard to think that Kale would have aged as much. I forgot to ask.

(ARCHOS distractedly considers the necklace AMYTHOS gave to AGATHA).

The necklace... The necklace! Did you say this was your mother's necklace?

AMYTHOS

Yes. And does that make it certain? Does that confirm in the minds of all of you that I'm low-born? Birth tells worth -- I'm sure that myth's well-established here. Yes, of course, you believe all the lies that enslave.

ARCHOS

It is the necklace I gave to Kale.

AMYTHOS

What?

ARCHOS

You are the son of Kale, my Kale, the son of Kale and Kakos. Welcome, son of Kale.

(ARCHOS steps forward to embrace AMYTHOS, emotionally. The rest of the court is perplexed.)

SOOTHSAYER

Enough of greetings. Enough. The sun now sinks. Though Kakos is your father, he is immortal. Do not fear that in that you might kill him in battle. You can do him no harm. But to save Phyllis, you must leave at once.

ARCHOS

Wait. The chance, what chance there was, is past. I will not with one stroke lose both my daughter and the son of Kale.

AMYTHOS

No. It has already been decided. I must go. I will go. My horse. Bring me my horse at once.


ACT III, SCENE 2

Two days later at the court of

Arcadia. Sunset is approaching.

ARCHOS, GUNE, AGATHA, NON-EXISTENT HANDMAID, MINSTREL, and SOOTHSAYER are all waiting for AMYTHOS.

AGATHA

(To the SOOTHSAYER.) I had a dream last night. I dared not ask you before. It was so horrible. But now, I must know. I can't put it off any longer. It was about Amythos and a dragon. The dragon is beside him. It opens its fiery jaws. Amythos doesn't move. He neither swings his sword nor runs. It's as if he's been magically frozen.

The dragon bites his leg, and the leg is changed to the root of a tree, and Amythos is a great tree rising suddenly, bursting the dome of heaven. The dragon keeps the root firmly in its jaws and slowly sucks the life out of it, and wraps itself about the tree, snakelike. The fruit falls from the tree, and the leaves and the branches fall. The huge hollow old tree comes toppling down, and the blue dome of heaven topples too, and all that's left is a charred and knotted rat's nest of thread.

SOOTHSAYER

It means the pomegranate you ate last night didn't agree with your stomach.

AGATHA

Is that all? I was afraid it was a horrible dream, telling me horrible things about Amythos in his fight with the dragons.

SOOTHSAYER

Do you believe in dragons now?

AGATHA

But maybe the tree in the dream was my son-to-be Igdrasil, and...

SOOTHSAYER

It was all the fault of the pomegranate. I'm certain.

ARCHOS

(To himself and to GUNE.) He was Kale's son, and I didn't know.

But now it seems I always sensed it. How could I have been so harsh to him?

GUNE

You envied him.

ARCHOS

Of course, I envied him -- to have such freedom, to cut through the jungles of accumulated circumstance...

GUNE

...to be loved by the woman he loves.

(Archos cringes.)

AGATHA

(Pensive.) Father, I would like to be alone, alone with my handmaid.

(Archos nods to the others present and he and they all start to leave.)

MINSTREL

(On his way out, he glances wistfully and resignedly in the direction of the NON-EXISTENT HANDMAID) Somehow I always suspected it would be the same as the first time I fell in love. She was named Aletheya. She married a barber.

SOOTHSAYER

And did you call her Amaryllis, too?

MINSTREL

No, Chloris. I favored a different meter then.

(Agatha is now alone on the stage, talking to no one.)

AGATHA

(To NON-EXISTENT HANDMAID.) I know there is no hope, but yet I hope. ... I know my wish means nothing, but yet I am perplexed at what to wish, as if my wish determined all. I would wish him on his way, each breath, each movement down to the last weary muscle.

(Dead silence.)

He will arrive just as before. I'm sure of it. The same magnificence, the same wild look in his eye.

(Dead silence.)

Is the food still warm, Agatha? Has all been made ready? He is sure to be tired and hungry. I hope your cook put his best into this feast.

(Dead silence.)

He is coming back. I know it. I can feel it. I can feel that he's near, Agatha. He's be so magnificent when he walks through that door. Even in his weariness, he'll be a giant -- more man than man ever was or will be. He will come back. Tell me he will! Tell me, Agatha!

(Dead silence. Then AGATHA laughs hysterically.)

Your wit is all that cheers me now.

(Dead silence.)

It's late. It's nearly sunset. Now he's either dead or near me. Even if he's dead, he's near me, for I too have the key to that dark room.

(Dead silence.)

If we'd never met, we would not care to live -- it wouldn't matter. We'd have lived out long and empty lives. But we did meet, and we do love, and for our love we must die; though it is our love that makes us want to live.

(She looks toward the audience).

The gods never give what we want; only what they want to see from their high, comfortable seats on Olympus.

(Dead silence. AGATHA paces back and forth, somewhat as AMYTHOS once did. then she starts toward the door.)

I thought I heard him come. The trumpets sounded; and when I turned around, he'd be there. The trumpets did sound. They did. They must have. Did you hear them, Agatha? Did you?

(Dead silence.)

Thank god you're here. I think I'd go mad without you.

(Enter MESSENGER, out of breath.)

MESSENGER

He comes! He comes!

(It takes him a while to catch his breath an to find the appropriate phrase.)

The god-like stranger comes!

(He rushes out, apparently to spread the word.)

AGATHA

He comes! Agatha, do you hear? He comes!

(Dead silence. Then she laughs.)

You're right. You're always right. I don't know what I'd do without you.

(Dead silence.)

There has been a revolution on Olympus. Zeus has been deposed by Eros. There will be a golden age of love.

(Dead silence. She suddenly becomes aware of her appearance.)

Quick, Agatha. Fix my hair. It's come undone. My dress. Are you sure he'll like it? I should have worn the blue one. Oh, it's too late to change. Am I pale?

(She does a quick make-up job.)

We need your minstrel now. He has such a wonderful way with words. "The sea will make peace with the land and with blue out-stretched arms the sky embrace them both." All will be one in love and joy.

(Dead silence. Then enter ARCHOS, GUNE, FIRST and SECOND NOBLES, SOOTHSAYER, MINSTREL, and MESSENGER. The MESSENGER stays off to the side, anxiously awaiting the arrival of AMYTHOS so he can appropriately and dramatically introduce him. Perhaps he rehearses gestures and mouths possible lines while he waits).

GUNE

Phyllis, have you heard? Our hero is indeed a hero.

MINSTREL

If I had a second life to live and had a choice, I'd be an Amythos.

SOOTHSAYER

(Sharing in the general joy.) And who wouldn't? Who wouldn't?

MESSENGER

(Magnificently.) He comes. Behold. All hail the god-like stranger.

(Enter AMYTHOS, quiet in the midst of cheers.)

ARCHOS

My son. My more than son. Myself reborn in form more mighty than I could ever have dreamed. My daughter and my crown are yours.

MINSTREL

(Posing.) In future ages still unspun

the bards will sing

of this our king

the deeds he's done

the dragons and the ring

and the love he's won,

in future ages still unspun

they will remember

what was here begun --

the golden age of Arcadia.

(AMYTHOS moves forward with difficulty through he joyous crowd toward AGATHA.)

GUNE

He knew. Amythos knew all along. His waiting was but strategy. He took his enemy by surprise. He's brilliant, and none of you understood. You maligned him. But he's magnificent. How could man be so god-like or god be so man-like?

SECOND NOBLE

My lord, my lord, he was born, my lord. My son was born. I'm a father. We have named him "Amythos," my lord -- Amythos, that he may one day grow to be so great a hero.

(As AMYTHOS approaches AGATHA, the two stare joyfully into one another's eyes. ARCHOS signals with his hand, impatiently, and all but AMYTHOS, AGATHA, and the NON-EXISTENT HANDMAID leave. Just before exiting, the SOOTHSAYER takes off his hat, transforming back to ALOGOS, who, invisible to the other actors, stays behind, near the front of the stage, and observes.)

AMYTHOS

I bring you your life.

(He extends his hand to give her the magic ring. She takes it, and puts it on her finger.)

AGATHA

(She turns to the NON-EXISTENT HANDMAID.) Touch me, Agatha, quickly touch me and all our waiting will be over.

(She stretches out her hand to be touched. FREEZE. Lighting changes to a spotlight, with relative, not complete darkness around them. Stagehands start removing props in the background. Then, while Agatha is still frozen, Amythos takes her out-stretched hand.)

AMYTHOS

(Joyful.) It's over. It's past. We've broken out of it. We've gone beyond the script, and you're alive, and I'm alive. We can live.

(She shakes her head "no," but he doesn't notice).

I'm really not sure what happened, but here I am, and there's the ring. Maybe I actually did kill the dragons. I didn't know I had it in me. But then it was for you. Even if it didn't matter, if you'd have lived anyway -- it was for you, and I had to do it, and it did matter because it was for you. But no matter what happened, it all turned out right in the end.

(Once again, Agatha shakes her head "no," and he doesn't notice).

And we will start a new life, a life of our own, with no script -- we will create our life together. We will create our world.

(She shakes her head "no" again. This time he notices.)

AGATHA

(In a daze, quoting.) "You mean we are that close to the Golden Age?" "Why is it then that it is forever beyond my reach?"

AMYTHOS

(Shakes her to snap her out of the daze.) Enough. Damn it. Snap out of it. You'll live. We'll live.

AGATHA

(Gently.) Must you always believe what you want to believe?

AMYTHOS

But it is broken. We are free. There is no more plot.

AGATHA

And the spell?

AMYTHOS

What about the spell?

AGATHA

What was the spell?

AMYTHOS

That you would die in three days time. But it is broken.

AGATHA

And how was it broken?

AMYTHOS

Look! We're out of the plot.

(He's getting increasingly serious).

The spell no longer applies. Nothing from that world applies.

AGATHA

But what could break the spell?

AMYTHOS

Phyllis dropped out. You took her part. Everything was changed. Anything could happen.

AGATHA

And what did happen?

AMYTHOS

I went and came back with the ring and...

AGATHA

And what?

AMYTHOS

And there was no handmaid, so the plot no longer applied.

AGATHA

And?

AMYTHOS

No! You won't die. I love you. You can't die.

AGATHA

That night...

AMYTHOS

What night?

AGATHA

Our night together. It was beautiful. You should have seen the expression on your face when I turned over and you saw I wasn't Phyllis.

(They laugh.)

You were so sure of yourself. You used such magnificent phrases -- "I was first in my class."

(They laugh.)

I pity the poor cook, rolling around in bed with his shadow.

(They laugh too much, almost hysterically).

"Hercules was but half a man!"

(They laugh again. She stops short. He's frightened. She's bewildered despite her evident attempts to keep control).

I saved a line for now. I know I did. But I can't seem to remember.

(AGATHA dies. As Amythos delivers the following speeches, the stagehands, who have already removed all the scenery, remove Agatha's body).

AMYTHOS

No, you won't die. You can't die. I say you will not die.

(Dead silence.)

It can't be. You can't go and leave me here.

(Dead silence.)

You're my world. You're all I have.

(Dead silence.)

Agatha! Answer me, Agatha! How can I tell if you're dead if you don't answer me, Agatha?

(Dead silence. He begins to pace back and forth as in the previous scene. He stops and looks around.)

I know that Phyllis, I mean Agatha, is supposed to walk through that door.

(He turns to where the door was when there was a partition.)

Where is that door? Agatha! Agatha! Are you dead, Agatha? Or am I?

(The curtain falls, leaving Alogos on the outside).

ALOGOS

It's over. There is no more artifice, and no more reality. There is nothing left to see or to say.  Nothing. Perhaps it will all begin again. Yes, it will. It must begin again. Perhaps there will be a different set of actors; and there will be no such confusion; and all will run smoothly through to the happy end -- the beginning of the Golden Age.

Yes, it will be so.

For now, I must be patient. Yes, I must have faith and be patient.



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