In Egypt. Before an open hall. ADAM, as a youthful PHARAOH, seated on a throne. LUCIFER is his minister. A magnificent retinue attends at a respectable distance. In the background, slaves are building a pyramid driven on by guards with whips. Clear daylight.

My lord, your subjects who would gladly shed
Their life-blood for you are concerned to know
What prevents great Pharaoh from enjoying
Tranquil rest upon his pillowed throne?
Why renounce, they ask, the joys of daylight,
The charming dreams and images of night,
Why not instead allow some useful slave
To bear the burden of your grand design,
Since every honour, every potency
The world can offer is already yours,
As well as all the pleasures man can bear.
A hundred rich dominions call you master,
For you their flowers offer up their fragrance,
For you alone the sweet fruit grows and ripens,
It is for you a thousand women sigh,
The flaxen beauty with her languid eyes,
So delicate and fair, a vision dancing,
The girl with auburn hair and panting lips,
Whose burning eyes are maddened with desire -
All yours, my lord. Your whims dictate their fate,
And each of them will feel herself fulfilled
If she may tender you a moment’s pleasure.

Not one of these things takes my fancy now,
They are my due, like taxes. I don’t earn them
Through my own exertions or in heat of battle. -
But with this work which occupies me now
I do believe I’ve found the way to greatness.
Nature herself will wonder at such skill,
And ring my name down the millennia.
Earthquake or tempest - nothing can destroy it.
Man has become more powerful than God.

But Pharaoh, lay your hand upon your heart
And tell me if this prospect makes you happy.

Ah no, there is an untold emptiness,
Some awful void. No matter, it is glory
I want, not happiness. And glory waits.
If only they knew nothing of my sorrow:
The masses cease to worship when they pity.

But what if one day you should see through glory
And find it a mere transitory plaything.


But all the same.

      I’d die
And curse the world to come.

      You will see through it,
But you’ll not die - in fact you’ll start upon
A fresh career. With much the same success.
The overseers beat one of the SLAVES so fiercely that he runs in anguish into the hall and falls before the throne

My lord, your help!
EVE, as his bride, rushes forward from the ranks of the workers and embraces her husband, weeping passionately

      It’s no use asking him.
How could one who has never felt our pain
Begin to understand it. The higher the throne
The fainter sounds the cry. Why not call me?
My body covers yours and takes the force
Of every blow.

to the overseers who crowd forward to take the pair away
      Leave her. Off with you!
They go
What strange emotion flutters at my heart?
Who is this woman, and what kind of charm
Does she possess that she can drag great Pharaoh
Down to the dust beside her with its chains?
He rises

Another piece of webbing, that is all,
Which God, in mockery, has wound about you,
So that, when in your vanity, you play
At butterflies, you’ll not forget that you
Were once a grub. You saw before how strong
This slender thread can be, which slips through fingers
So I cannot tear it.

ADAM descending from the throne
      Do not even try to.
It is as comforting as it is galling.

Philosophers and kings, however, should not
Toil within its webs.

      Then what am I to do?

LUCIFER mocking
There’s nothing for it but for science to
Deny that such a hidden thread exists.
Let energy and matter scoff at it.

But I can neither scoff at it nor deny it.

Ah dearest, how you bleed! I’ll staunch the flow.
Your suffering must be unbearable.

What hurts is life. Its pain is quickly over.

You must not say that! Why live just so long
To die but now when we have found each other?

A slave? Why does he live - to carry stones
And raise his master’s pyramid, to breed
His own successor for the yoke, and die.
A million souls for one.

      What awful words,
Oh Lucifer!

      The babbling of a corpse.

What was he saying?

      Why should you care, Pharaoh?
It is, indeed, a most important matter
To see the rank of slaves reduced by one.

Only a sum to you, the world to me.
Merciful heavens, who will love me now?

Not I, no longer - you must forget me, woman.
He dies

Then I will love you. Take away the body.
They raise the body
Arise, madam, your place is on the throne
Upon the cushion. You are the paragon:
Of beauty and I of power. We are fated
To meet each other everywhere.

      Your highness,
I know too well that you command the fate
Of slaves. I do not question it. But wait -
Give me a little time, then I am yours.

No, not that word again. Is everything
To come to me through that one word “command”?

Oh let it be enough that your command
Does not distress me - and do not be jealous
Of tears that I must shed for one who is dead.
How fair he is in death. My Lord, how fair!
She flings herself across the corpse

Both fair and dead: how strange a contradiction.
Such stillness mocks at our ambition, smiles
With pity at our vanity.

      A slave,
One who escaped you, mocks at you and says,
My strength is greater now than all your fetters.

Peace to the dead and greetings to the living.
He cannot feel your tears, but oh I suffer
Agonies without your smile.
They take the dead mare out. ADAM leads EVE to the throne
      Come here.
How sweet to lay my head against your breast.
A cry of pain from among the workers. EVE shudders
What is it, my love?

      Oh can’t you hear
The people’s cry of pain?

      It is the first time
I have noticed it. A sorry music -
But come and kiss me and forget the world.
To Lucifer
And you, please put an end to all this wailing.

I can’t do that. It is the people’s birthright,
One that they inherit with the yoke.
Another cry of pain. EVE screams out. ADAM rises

Oh lady, you are suffering and I
Hardly know how to help you. That cry, like lightning,
Pierces your heart and strikes at my head. It feels
As if the world were crying out for help.

Oh Pharaoh, crush me if you will - forgive me
If the people’s cry of woe won’t let me test.
I am your slave, as I know very well,
My life’s one purpose is to give you pleasure.
I will forget about the world outside:
The splendour, poverty, the dreams, the dead,
I’ll sweeten my smile and make my lips more luscious.
But when the people, that million-limbed creature
Begins to moan under the lash, then I,
Their exiled daughter, and a tiny part
Of that great aching body, feel each cry
Of every pain they suffer in my heart.

I feel with you - a million souls for one -
The dead man’s words…

      You are melancholy,
Great Pharaoh. It is my fault. Drive me off
Or teach me to be deaf.

      You’d make a finer tutor
For you can teach me how to hear such pain.
I’ve had enough. Oh, liberate the slaves,
Dismiss them all. What is the point of glory
If it can only be achieved through torture,
Through one man sacrificing millions
In whom there breathes the same clear human spirit?
I feel a million pains for each delight.

Pharaoh, you are confused. The masses are
Mere creatures of fate, living under sentence.
You’d see them tread the mill in any system,
That is what they are made for. Free them now
And they’d gain nothing by your futile gesture -
Tomorrow they would seek another master.
Do you imagine you could sit astride them
Were they themselves not anxious to have masters?
If there were any consciousness in them?

But why this wailing - could it be the yoke
Tormented them?

      Something hurts them, true,
But what, they could not tell you. Men seek power
And that is all there is. It is the spur.
It’s not fraternity that drives the masses
Towards the flag of freedom. I do not say
That they would recognize this - no; they itch
For novelty and spurn a settled order;
They hope to realize in novelty
Their dreams of happiness. An unplumbed sea
The people: sunbeams cannot penetrate
Their murky depths. But one wave scintillates,
A single fleeting brilliance. A wave like you.

Why me?

      Or someone like you. One in whom
The people’s instinct comes to consciousness,
Some venerated champion of freedom
Who dares to oust you from your shining realm.
The masses, of course, never profit by it:
The names may change, the master still remains.

Your logic runs in never ending circles
From which there seems no prospect of escape.

Escape there is. Present a chosen few
With necklaces or rings or some such bauble,
And say to them: I raise you from the crowd,
You are hereby ennobled - they’ll believe you,
And looking down on others with disdain
Accept, without demur, your condescension.

Please spare me all your specious arguments.
Away with slavery, let them all go free.
Inform them of this now, with greatest haste,
Immediately, before I change my mind.

Proceed with all your vanity, be gone:
You think you act - it’s fate that draws you on.
He leaves

The work must stop, unfinished as it is,
The fragments will serve to humble the ambitious,
A paradox of power and impotence.
Great joy outside as the workers disperse. LUCIFER returns
Rejoice, you slaves, your lord bows down before you.
But never think he was compelled to it.

Console yourself, my love, for after all
What earthly use are pomp and circumstance?
They creep and crawl between us like a snake.

How vast, how vast it is!

      Away with it.
You see, the cries have stopped. Our courting will
Be undisturbed. Oh Lean against my bosom -
What more can you desire?

      How restricted
Are your horizons, woman. And yet this
Precisely is what charms ambitious men -
The strong are fated to desire the weak.
It’s what a parent feels so ardently
When holding his helpless child within his arms.

Perhaps, O Pharaoh, I already bore you
With needless, incoherent chattering.
I cannot help it if I am no wiser.

Do not even wish to be, my dearest.
One intellect is quite enough for me.
It’s not for power or majesty I seek
Your breast, nor knowledge. Books can grant me these
More readily. Simply continue talking,
Talk on, that I may ever hear your voice,
Suffuse my heart with its sweet resonance,
Say anything whatever. Oh, who wants
To know what little birds are singing when
They bring such intimations of delight.
Be but a flower, be charming bric-a-brac
Whose worth lies not in function but sheer beauty.
To Lucifer
But something bothers me and breaks the spell
Of sensuous reverie. It may be foolish
And yet, I beg you, satisfy this longing -
Let me cast just one intrepid glance
Into the future, a few millennia hence,
And know my reputation.

      Can you feel,
Even as you kiss, a light caressing
Breeze that touches your face, then flies away?
It leaves the faintest coating of fine dust.
Next year you’ll see it gathering in creases,
A century, you plunge your arm in it;
A thousand years, your pyramids are buried;
Great drifts of sand obliterate your name;
Your pleasure gardens fill with cries of jackals;
A race of slaves and beggars roam the desert.
All that LUCIFER describes becomes visible
No fearful cataclysm brings this on,
No thunderstorms or earthquakes are required;
A breeze, that’s all, the breeze which plays about you.

A dreadful sight!

LUCIFER mocking
      Why worry? It is only
Your soul that’s lost, your body stays intact
And perfectly preserved for curious schoolboys
To puzzle at your twisted face, to guess
From scuffed inscriptions if you’re slave or master?
He kicks at a mummy which has appeared before the throne. It rolls down the stairs

ADAM leaping up
Infernal image! Get away from me!
Vain strife and even emptier ambition -
A million souls for one - the words still ring.
And so I must emancipate the millions
In one free state. There’s nothing left for it.
Let one man die providing the state lives
And makes an entity of single men.

And will you leave me too, your own true love?

Yes - you, the throne, I must leave everything.
Lead on, O Lucifer, to some new goal.
I’ve wasted too much time in this blind alley.
He sets out with drawn sword

My lord, remember - if you should return
With shattered hopes, my heart will offer shelter.

Indeed, I think I will discover you
In purer form wherever we next meet,
But then you will embrace me not as slave
But as an equal with a sense of pleasure.
He goes

Why all this haste? You’ll get there soon enough,
Sooner perhaps than you had hoped. Your folly
Will find you out and leave you melancholy.
It should be most amusing. Let’s be off.