David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s TROILUS AND CRESSIDA: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scene 2

— 2.2 —

In a room in King Priam’s palace in Troy, a council was being held. Priam, Hector, Troilus, Paris, and Helenus attended it and spoke.

King Priam said, “After so many hours, lives, and speeches spent, thus once again Nestor gives us this message from the Greeks: ‘Deliver Helen into our hands, and all other damages — such as honor, loss of time, travail and travel, expense, wounds, friends, and what else dear that is consumed in the hot digestion of this war that is as insatiable as a cormorant, a bird of prey — shall be struck off the list of damages and forgotten.’ Hector, what do you have to say about this?”

Hector said, “Though no man less fears the Greeks than I as far as I am personally concerned, yet, revered Priam, no lady has feelings that are more tender and more spongy to suck in the sense of fear for others, and no lady is more ready to cry out ‘Who knows what follows?’ than Hector is. Peace is wounded by overconfident confidence, but sensible caution is called the beacon and guiding light of the wise — it is the cloth swab that cleans to the bottom of the worst wound. Let Helen go; let her return to the Greeks. Since the first sword was drawn about this question, every tithe-soul, among many thousands of tithes, has been as valuable as Helen; I am referring to the Trojan soldiers who have died in the war over Helen. If we have lost so many tenths of our soldiers, to guard a thing — Helen — that is not ours and is not worth to us, even if she were Trojan, the value of one tithe, what merit is in the argument against yielding her up? I say that Helen is not worth the death of even one Trojan soldier, and yet one tenth of our soldiers have died in the war over her.”

“Wrong, you are wrong, my brother!” Troilus said. “Do you weigh the worth and honor of a King as great as our revered father in a scale that measures only ounces and not great weights? Will you use useless counters to add up the immeasurability of his vastness? Will you buckle in a waist most fathomless with spans and inches that are as diminutive as fears and arguments? Be ashamed, for godly shame!”

Troilus believed that the deaths of so many Trojan soldiers were justified. To give up Helen would cause his and Hector’s father, King Priam, to lose honor.

Helenus said to Troilus, “It’s no wonder that you bite so sharply at reasons since you are so empty of them. Are you saying that our father should not govern the great command of his affairs with reasons? Your speech has no reasons that tell him to govern that way. A ruler should use reason and arguments to determine how best to rule; in your speech you have shown no reason, no arguments, and no concern for ruling well.”

Troilus replied, “You are for dreams and slumbers, brother priest; you fur your gloves with reason. You use reason and reasons to make your life more comfortable. Here are your reasons to give Helen back to the Greeks: You know an enemy intends you harm, and you know that an employed sword is perilous. Reason flees the object that causes harm. Who marvels then that when Helenus sees a Greek and the Greek’s sword he attaches the wings of reason on his heels and flees like chidden Mercury from Jove, or like a star falling from its Heavenly sphere?”

Mercury was the fleet messenger-god who served Jove, aka Jupiter, King of the gods. Mercury had wings on his ankles, which made him fast. He was mischievous and did such things as steal the cattle of his fellow god Apollo, which resulted in Mercury being chidden by Jove.

Troilus continued, “If we talk about reason, let’s shut our gates and sleep. We won’t need to go out on the battlefield and fight; instead, we can stay home and take naps. Manhood and honor would have the hearts of cowardly hares, if they would make fat their thoughts by cramming them with reason. Reason and prudence make men cowardly and youthful vigor dejected.”

Hector said to Troilus, “Brother, Helen is not worth what she costs us to hold her.”

Troilus replied, “What is the worth of anything, except the value people put on it?”

“But value dwells not in a particular, subjective desire,” Hector said. “Something gets its value and worth from itself — its objective value and worth — as well as from what value and worth a person prizes it as. The objective worth and value are more important than the subjective worth and value. It is mad idolatry to make the religious service greater than the god; the will loves and desires foolishly when the will is inclined to attach value to the thing that it — to its own harm — loves and desires, when it has no objective perception of the value of the thing it desires.”

A person’s will is that person’s desire. Free will means that we can choose whether or not to try to satisfy our desire. In some cases, reason will tell us that a certain desire is bad and moral reasoning will tell us that we ought not to try to satisfy that desire. In other cases, reason will tell us that a certain desire is good and moral reasoning will tell us that we ought to try to satisfy that desire.

Part of what Hector was saying is that good and bad are objective. Something is really good or it is really bad, and whether it is good or bad is not a matter of opinion. Part of what Troilus was saying is that good and bad are subjective. Something is good if you think it is good; something is bad if you think it is bad.

Many people believe that good and bad, and right and wrong, are objective — not dependent upon opinion, and incumbent upon all rational beings. According to objectivism, moral values and principles do not depend upon a particular person’s opinions. According to objectivism, moral values and principles allow us to judge ethical statements such as “Murder is morally wrong” as either true or false.

Nevertheless, objectivists realize that some things are subjective. You and I may feel a breeze blowing. You may think that breeze feels cold; I may think that the breeze feels warm. Both of us are right. The breeze feels cold to you, and it feels warms to me. However, the temperature of the breeze is objective; if the temperature is 68 degrees Fahrenheit, then the temperature is not 48 degrees Fahrenheit.

Troilus replied, “Suppose that I take today a wife, and my deliberate choice of a wife is led on and guided by my will. My eyes and ears inflamed my will; my wife is beautiful and has a pleasing voice. My sense of sight and my sense of hearing are two experienced pilots that travel between the dangerous shores of will and judgment. I saw and heard a woman, I desired her, and I married her. Suppose that time passes and I no longer desire the woman I made my wife? How may I reject her, now that I no longer desire her? After all, she is my wife; I chose to marry her. If I am an honorable man, I cannot evade the decision I made and flinch away from her. We do not return silks to the merchant after we have soiled the silks, and we do not throw away all the leftover food simply because we are now full. Instead, we see first if we can use any of the leftover food rather than throwing it away or feeding it to animals.

“It was thought fitting that Paris should do some vengeance on the Greeks. Your breath and voices of full consent bellied his sails and helped him sail to Greece to get that vengeance.”

The vengeance was retribution for an act committed many years earlier. The gods Apollo and Neptune built the walls of Troy for King Laomedon, who then refused to pay them the wages he had promised. To get vengeance, Neptune sent a sea monster to Troy. Soothsayers said that if Hesione, the daughter of King Laomedon and the sister of the future King Priam, were sacrificed to the sea monster, then Troy would no longer suffer from the sea monster. Hercules, a Greek, came to Troy during his travels, and said that he would kill the sea monster and save Hesione in return for a reward. Hercules killed the sea monster, but King Laomedon refused to give him the reward, so Hercules kidnapped Hesione and gave her to Telamon, a Greek King. They became the parents of Ajax. To get vengeance for Hercules’ kidnapping of Hesione, Paris went to Greece and kidnapped Helen, the wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta.

Troilus continued, “The seas and winds, old enemies, made a truce and gave Paris good service. He visited the ports he desired, and for an old aunt — Hesione, Paris’ aunt — whom the Greeks held captive, Paris brought back to Troy a Greek Queen, Helen, whose youth and freshness make the god Apollo seem wrinkled, and make the fresh morning seem stale.

“Why do we keep Helen? The Greeks keep our aunt. Is Helen worth keeping? Why, Helen is a pearl whose price has launched more than a thousand ships, and turned crowned Kings into merchants who want to purchase that pearl.

“If you’ll affirm that it was wise that Paris went to Greece — as you necessarily must, for you all cried, ‘Go, go,’ and if you’ll confess that he brought home a noble prize — as you necessarily must, for you all clapped your hands and cried, ‘Inestimable!’ — why do you now berate the outcome of your proper wisdom, and do a deed that fortune never did, which is to berate and rate as worthless the thing that you prized as being richer than sea and land?

“Oh, it is a very base theft when we are afraid to keep something that we have stolen! But we are thieves, and we are unworthy of the thing we stole — we disgraced the Greeks in their own country by stealing that thing, yet we are afraid in our own country to justify that theft!”

Outside the council chamber, Cassandra screamed, “Cry, Trojans, cry!”

Cassandra was one of King Priam’s daughters. She had agreed to sleep with the god Apollo if he gave her the gift of prophecy, but after he gave her that gift, she reneged on her promise. Apollo was unable to take his gift back, but he gave her another “gift”: Her prophecies would be true, but no one would believe them until after they came true. Rather than believing her prophecies, her hearers would consider her mad — insane.

“What noise is this?” Priam asked. “What shriek is this?”

“It is our mad sister,” Troilus replied. “I recognize her voice.”

“Cry, Trojans!” Cassandra screamed.

“It is Cassandra,” Hector confirmed.

Cassandra, raving, entered the council chamber.

“Cry, Trojans, cry! Lend me ten thousand eyes, and I will fill them with prophetic tears!”

“Peace, sister, peace!” Hector said. “Be quiet, sister!”

“Virgins and boys, middle-aged men and wrinkled elders, soft infants who can do nothing but cry, add to my clamors!” Cassandra screamed. “Let us pay now a part of that mass of moans to come. Cry, Trojans, cry! Employ your eyes by creating tears! Troy must cease to exist, and our beautiful palace will no longer stand. Our firebrand brother, Paris, burns us all.”

When Queen Hecuba was pregnant with Paris, she dreamed that she gave birth to a firebrand — a torch — that burned the city of Troy.

Cassandra screamed, “Cry, Trojans, cry! A Helen and a woe! Cry, cry! Either Troy burns, or else you let Helen go!”

Cassandra ran from the council chamber.

Hector said, “Now, youthful Troilus, do not these high strains of divination in our sister create in you some feelings of remorse? Or is your blood so madly hot that no discourse of reason, nor fear of a bad outcome in a bad cause, can diminish the hotness of your blood?”

Troilus replied, “Why, brother Hector, we may not think the justness of each act is formed only by its outcome, and we may not even once lessen the courage of our minds just because Cassandra’s mad. Her brainsick raptures cannot make distasteful the goodness of a quarrel in which all our honor is engaged — our honor makes that quarrel gracious and righteous. For my private part, I am no more personally affected than all Priam’s sons, and may Jove forbid that there should be done among us such things as might convince the least courageous among us not to fight for and keep Helen!”

Paris said, “If we were to do that, the world might find guilty of levity my undertakings as well as your counsels. But I call on the gods to give evidence that your full consent gave wings to my inclination to get vengeance, and I swear to the gods that your full consent cut off all fears accompanying so dire a project.

“For what, alas, can these my arms do by themselves? What fighting ability is in one man’s valor that can stand the assault and enmity of those this quarrel would excite? Yet, I protest, if I alone were to experience the difficulties and if I had as ample power as I have will and desire, then I, Paris, would never retract what I have done, nor would I lose courage in the endeavor.”

Priam said, “Paris, you speak like one drunk on your sweet delights. You still have the sweet honey, but these men have the bitter gall, so your being valiant is not at all praiseworthy.”

Paris replied, “Sir, I propose not merely to keep for myself the pleasures such a beauty brings with it, for I want to have the soil of Helen’s fair rape wiped off, by honorably keeping her.”

One meaning of the word “rape” is “violent seizure” — Paris had kidnapped Helen. In a moment he would refer to Helen as “the ransacked Queen” — the word “ransack” means “plundered.”

Paris continued, “What treason would it be to the ransacked Queen, what disgrace would it be to your great reputations and what shame would it be to me to now deliver her possession up on terms of base and dishonorable compulsion! It would be a disgrace for us to return Helen simply because we were forced to! Can it be that so degenerate a strain of disposition as this should once set foot in your generous bosoms?

“Not even the meanest and lowest man in our faction is without a heart to dare or a sword to draw when Helen is defended, nor is there anyone so noble that his life would be ill bestowed and his death would be without fame where Helen is the subject. So then, I say, well may we fight for her whom, we know well, the world’s large spaces cannot parallel. The world does not have Helen’s equal.”

Hector said, “Paris and Troilus, you have both spoken well, and on the cause and question now in hand have given a commentary, but you have done that superficially. You are much like the young men whom Aristotle thought unfit to learn moral philosophy. The arguments you make contribute more to increasing the hot passion of distempered blood than they do to making a fair determination between right and wrong that is free from the influence of pleasure and revenge, which have ears deafer than the ears of adders to the voice of any true and unbiased decision. Nature craves that all dues be rendered to their owners. Now, what family relationship in all humanity is closer than a wife is to her husband? In case this law of nature is corrupted through sexual appetite, and in case great minds, because of biased indulgence given to their paralyzed wills, resist that law of nature, there is a law in each well-ordered nation to curb those raging sexual appetites that are most wanton and rebellious.

“If Helen then is the wife of Sparta’s King, as we know she is, these moral laws of nature and of nations speak loudly to have her returned to her husband. To persist in doing wrong does not extenuate that wrong, but instead makes it much heavier and more serious.

“My — Hector’s — opinion is truly what I have just said — Helen ought to be returned to her husband. Nevertheless, my spirited brothers, I am inclined to agree that we resolve to always keep Helen because this is a cause that has no mean consequences for our collective and individual honors. We will gain honor if we fight to keep Helen. Glory and honor are objectively valuable.”

“Why, there you touched upon the life of our undertaking,” Troilus said. “If we did not favor glory more than the performance of our aroused anger, I would not wish a single drop of Trojan blood to be spent in keeping Helen. But, worthy Hector, Helen is a theme — a reason to take action — of honor and renown. She is a spur to valiant and magnanimous deeds. The courage of those deeds may beat down our foes now, and it may achieve for us fame in the times to come — fame that will canonize and immortalize us. People will remember our names and our brave deeds long after we are dead. I say this because I presume that brave Hector would not lose so rich an opportunity for achieving glory as now so promisingly smiles upon the forehead of this action even if he could get the wide world’s revenue instead of glory.”

“I am on your side, you valiant offspring of great Priam,” Hector said. “I have sent a roistering challenge to the lifeless and quarreling nobles of the Greeks. I was informed that their great general, Agamemnon, slept while factious rivalry and ambitious conflict into his army crept. My challenge, I presume, will awaken him.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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