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
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
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
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.
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
Androcles. No: thank
you very much indeed; but I really mustn’t.
The editor. What! Not to save
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
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,
The editor. Honor! The honor of
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 throat?
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
Ferrovius. Peace, peace:
tempt him not. Get thee behind him, Satan.
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 like that.
Ferrovius springs forward.
Lavinia (rising quickly and interposing)
Brother, brother: you forget.
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
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
The keeper. Well, the lion’s
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
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
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
The gladiators. Hail,
Cæsar! those about to die salute thee.
Cæsar. Good morrow, friends.
Metellus shakes hands with the Editor,
who accepts his condescension with bluff respect.
Lavinia. Blessing, Cæsar, and forgiveness!
Cæsar (turning in some surprise
at the salutation) There is no forgiveness for Christianity.
Lavinia. I did not mean
that, Cæsar. 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 him.
The Christians. Amen!
Cæsar. 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 sorcerer?
Androcles (humbly touching his
forelock) Me, your Worship.
Cæsar. 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.
Cæsar. Is that all?
Androcles. You don’t know her, Cæsar,
or you wouldn’t say that.
Cæsar. Ah, well, my friend,
we shall no doubt contrive a happy release for you.
Which is Ferrovius?
Ferrovius. I am he.
Cæsar. They tell me you can fight.
Ferrovius. It is easy to fight. I can
Cæsar. That is still easier, is it not?
Ferrovius. Not to me, Cæsar.
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).
Cæsar. Metellus: I should like to
have this man in the Pretorian
Metellus. I should not,
Cæsar. 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 uncomfortable.
Cæsar. 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 it.
Ferrovius. I will not fight.
I will die. Better stand with the archangels
than with the Pretorian Guard.
Cæsar. 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
As the Court ascends the steps, Secutor
and the Retiarius return from the arena through the
passage; Secutor covered with dust and very angry:
Secutor. Ha, the Emperor.
Now we shall see. Cæsar: 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 man.
Cæsar (halting on the stair)
There is nothing in the rules against it.
Secutor (indignantly) Cæsar:
is it a dirty trick or is it not?
Cæsar. 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).
Cæsar (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 thumbs down.
The retiarius. Perhaps
that is why I did it, Cæsar. He bet me ten sesterces
that he would vanquish me. If I had had to kill
him I should not have had the money.
Cæsar (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, Cæsar. 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
Cæsar (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! arm yourselves.
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 armor.
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 sweet by-and-by.
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
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: Cæsar 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 gladiators.
Ferrovius. It does not hurt a man to kill
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 overwhelm
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 incense.
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
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
The call boy.
In with you: into the arena. The stage is
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 there,
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
The remaining gladiators and the Call
Boy make a movement towards them.
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
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.
Lavinia. Is it part of your duty to laugh
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 the incense.
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
The captain. I heard
that one of your fellows bolted, and ran right into
the jaws of the lion. I laughed. I still
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 into nothing.
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
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
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 marry
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 coward?
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,
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
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 another).
The editor. What’s up now?
Lavinia (to the Captain) What has happened, do
The captain. What can happen?
They are killing them, I suppose.
Androcles (running in through
the passage, screaming with horror and hiding his
Lavinia. Androcles, Androcles: what’s
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 in.
One of the slaves. How many
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
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
Lavinia. No, no. What have you done,
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 you hear?
Retiarius. It is all one
to us, Cæsar. 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) Cæsar 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
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 personal friends.
The menagerie keeper.
Cæsar: 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
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
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
Lavinia. I’ll go in
his place, Cæsar. Ask the Captain whether they
do not like best to see a woman torn to pieces.
He told me so yesterday.
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!
Cæsar: 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 suddenness).
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
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
Androcles. Oh, sir, how
few men would have the courage to do that
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. Cæsar 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
The captain. Every man fears something,
The Emperor. How about the Pretorian
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
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
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
The menagerie keeper.
Cæsar: give us this Greek sorcerer to be a slave
in the menagerie. He has a way with the beasts.
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
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 persécutions of the early Christians,
not as the conflict of a false theology with a true,
but as what all such persécutions 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 persécutions
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 Anti-German 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
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.