David Bruce: George Peele’s THE ARRAIGNMENT OF PARIS: A Retelling — Act 1, Scene 5

— 1.5 —

Paris and Oenone talked together. Paris was a prince of Troy, and Oenone was a nymph whom he was courting.

Paris said, “Oenone, while we are here until we are disposed to walk, tell me what shall be the subject of our talk? Thou have a number of pretty tales in your head — I dare say that no nymph in the woods of Ida has more: Again, in addition to thy sweet alluring face, in telling your tales thou have a special grace. So then, please, sweetheart, tell some pretty thing — some pleasing trifle that from thy pleasant wit does spring.”

“Paris, my heart’s contentment and my choice, play thou thy pipe, and I will use my voice,” Oenone said, “and so thy just request shall not be denied, and it will be time well spent, and both of us will be satisfied.”

“Well, gentle nymph, although thou do me wrong, me who cannot tune my pipe to play accompaniment to a song, I choose this once to accompany you, Oenone, for thy sake, and so I will undertakethis leisure-time task.”

They sat under a tree together.

“And on which subject, then, shall be my roundelay — my song?” Oenone said. “For thou have heard my store of stories long before now, I dare say:

“How Saturn divided his kingdom long ago to Jove, to Neptune, and to Dis below.”

Saturn actually had to be forced to give up his kingdom. Saturn was the father of Jupiter, Neptune, and Dis. His sons rebelled against him, overthrew him, and divided the earth among themselves. Jupiter became the god of the sky, Neptune became the god of the sea, and Dis, aka Pluto, became the god of the Land of the Dead. As the king of the gods, Jupiter exerted the most power over the land.

Oenone continued:

“How mighty men made foul and unsuccessful war against the gods and the state of Jupiter.”

A race of Giants, including Otis and Ephialtes, foughtthe Olympian gods for supremacy, but the Olympians defeated the Giants.

Oenone continued:

“How Phorcys’ imp, who was so trim and fair, who tangled Neptune in her golden hair, became a Gorgon because of her lewd misdeed.”

Phorcys was a sea god whose children included Medusa, whom Oenone called an imp. Medusa had an affair with Neptune in a temple dedicated to Pallas, and Pallas punished her by turning her hair into snakes and making her face so horrible that any mortal who looked at it turned to stone.

Oenone added, “This is a pretty fable, Paris, for you to read. It is a piece of cunning, trust me, and it makes this point: That wealth and beauty alter men to stones.”

Medusa had wealth and beauty, but she became a monster that turned men who saw her to stone. In other cases, a woman of wealth and beauty can also ruin a man.

Readers who know about the Trojan War may be thinking of Helen of Troy right now.

Oenone continued:

“How Salmacis, resembling idleness, turns men to women all through wantonness and lewd behavior.”

Salmacis was a nymph who fell in love with Aphroditus, son of Venus and Mercury. He rejected her advances, but she hugged him close to her and prayed never to be separated from him. Their two bodies grew together, and they became Hermaphroditus, the god of hermaphroditism and intersexuality. Hermaphroditus then cursed a fountain to make it turn men to women; the fountain was named after Salmacis.

Oenone continued:

“How Pluto caught Queen Ceres’ daughter thence, and what did follow of that love-offence.”

Proserpine, whose Greek name was Persephone, was picking flowers when Pluto, god of the Land of the Dead, kidnapped her, took her to the Underworld, and made her Queen of the Land of the Dead. Ceres, the goddess of agriculture whose Greek name was Demeter, mourned, and because she mourned, nothing would grow. Jupiter arranged an agreement with Pluto that allowed Proserpine to spend six months of every year in the Land of the Living and the other six months in the Land of the Dead. When Proserpine is in the Land of the Dead, winter occurs.

Oenone continued:

“Of Daphne turned into the laurel-tree, a tale that shows a mirror — a good example — of virginity.”

The god Apollo fell in love with the nymph Daphne, who ran from him, who pursued her. She prayed to her father, a river-god, for help, and he transformed her into a laurel tree.

Oenone continued:

“How fair Narcissus staring at his own image, rebukes scorn, and tells how beauty does vanish.”

Narcissus was a beautiful man who scorned the love of both Echo (a nymph) and Ameinias (a young man). Before committing suicide, Ameinias prayed to Nemesis, goddess of retribution, to punish Narcissus. She made him fall in love with his own reflection in a stream. He continually loved and looked at it as he wasted away.

Oenone continued:

“How cunning Philomela’s needle tells what force in love and what intelligence in sorrow dwell.”

Philomela was an Athenian princess who was raped by her sister’s husband, Tereus, who cut out her tongue so that she could not tell anyone that he had raped her. Philomela wove a tapestry, however, that revealed the rape and rapist.

Oenone continued:

“What pains unhappy souls endure in hell, they say because on earth they lived not well — Ixion’s wheel, proud Tantalus’ pining woe, Prometheus’ torment, and many more.”

Ixion, who violated proper guest-host relations, was bound to a continually spinning fiery wheel in the Land of the Dead. Among his sins was attempting to seduce Juno while he was one of Jupiter’s guests.

Tantalus, the father of Pelops, killed him, cooked him, and served him to the gods as a test of their intelligence. One goddess, Ceres, ate some of Pelops’ shoulder before the trickery was discovered, and so he was outfitted with a shoulder made of ivory. The gods brought Pelops back to life and sentenced his father, Tantalus, to everlasting punishment in the Land of the Dead. He stands in a stream of water with fruit-bearing branches above his head. Whenever he stoops to drink, the water level lowers and the stream dries up. Whenever he reaches for fruit to eat, the wind blows the branches just out of his reach. He is forever thirsty and hungry, and water and fruit are always just out of his possession.

Prometheus, who was a Titan (one of the primordial — which means existing from the beginning of time — beings who ruled the Earth until Jupiter conquered them), stole fire from the gods and gave it to early Humankind. Jupiter punished Prometheus by chaining him to a rock and sending an eagle to devour his liver, which grew back each night so the eagle could devour it again the following day.

Oenone continued:

“How Danaus’ daughters ply their endless task.”

The fifty sons of Aegyptus wanted to marry the fifty daughters of Danaus. Danaus was suspicious of Aegyptus and his fifty sons, so he fled with his fifty daughters, but Aegyptus and his fifty sons pursued them. To avoid a battle, Danaus told his fifty daughters to marry the fifty sons of Aegyptus, but although he allowed the marriages to be performed he also ordered his fifty daughters to kill the fifty sons of Aegyptus. All of his daughters except Hypermnestra, who had married Lynceus, obeyed. Hypermnestra spared Lynceus because he treated her with respect and did not force her to have sex with him their first night together. The gods did not like what the forty-nine women who had killed their husbands had done, and so those forty-nine daughters are punished in the Land of the Dead with meaningless work. They are condemned to spend all their time trying to fill up with water a container that has a big leak and so can never be filled. Only one daughter avoided this eternal punishment.

Oenone continued:

“What toil the toil of Sisyphus does ask.”

When Sisyphus was on his deathbed, he ordered his wife not to give his corpse a funeral. After his death, his spirit went to the Land of the Dead and complained to Pluto, King of the Dead, that he had not yet had a funeral. Pluto allowed him to return to the Land of the Living so that he could tell his wife to give him a funeral, but once he was back in the Land of the Living, he refused to return to the Land of the Dead. He lived to an advanced old age and then died again. Now he is forced to forever roll a boulder up a hill. Just as he reaches the top of the hill, he loses control of the boulder and it rolls back to the bottom of the hill again. Sisyphus can never accomplish this task, which has no value, and so his punishment is endless meaningless work.

Oenone continued:

“I know that all these tales are old and well known, yet, if thou will hear any tales, choose some of these because if you don’t, believe me, Oenone has not many tales.”

Paris said, “No, you choose whichever one you want, but since my skill does not compare with yours, start with a simple song that I can play upon this pipe of mine.”

Oenone said, “There is a pretty sonnet, then, that we call ‘Cupid’s Curse’: ‘They who do change old love for new, please, gods, make it so that they change for worse!’

“The tune is fine and also quick; the message of the song will agree, Paris, with that same vow you made to me upon our poplar tree.”

Paris had carved into a poplar tree his vow that he would always love Oenone.

“No better thing,” Paris said. “Begin it, then. Oenone, thou shall see our music present the love that grows between thee and me.”

They sang the song, and whenever Oenone sang solo, Paris played his pipe.

Oenone sang:

Fair and fair, and twice so fair,

As fair as any may be;

The fairest shepherd on our green,

A love for any lady.

Paris sang:

Fair and fair, and twice so fair,

As fair as any may be;

Thy love is fair for thee alone,

And for no other lady.

Oenone sang:

My love is fair, my love is gay,

As fresh as bin [are] the flowers in May,

And of my love my roundelay,

My merry merry roundelay,

Concludes with Cupid’s curse —

They that [who] do change old love for new.

Pray gods they change for worse!

Paris and Oenone sang together:

They that [who] do change old love for new.

Pray gods they change for worse!

Oenone sang:

Fair and fair, and twice so fair,

As fair as any may be.

Paris sang:

Fair and fair, and twice so fair,

As fair as any may be;

Thy love is fair for thee alone,

And for no other lady.

Oenone sang:

My love can pipe, my love can sing.

My love can many a pretty thing,

And of his lovely praises ring

My merry merry roundelays,

Amen to Cupid’s curse,

They that [who] do change old love for new.

Pray gods they change for worse!

Paris sang:

They that [who] do change old love for new.

Pray gods they change for worse!

Paris and Oenone sang together:

Fair and fair, and twice so fair,

As fair as any may be.

Now that the song was over, they stood up.

Oenone said, “Sweet shepherd, for Oenone’s sake learn from this song, and keep thy love, and love thy choice, or else thou do her wrong.”

The song was a warning: Those who reject an old love for a new love can change a good love for a worse love. Paris had chosen Oenone for his love; if he were to reject her and choose another love, then bad things could happen to him.

Paris said, “My vow is made and witnessed, the poplar tree will not start and tremble, nor shall my love for the nymph Oenone leave my breathing heart.”

If Paris had made a false vow to love Oenone, then the poplar tree upon which Paris had carved his vow would start and tremble.

Paris continued, “I will go accompany thee on thy way, my flock are here behind, and I will have a lover’s fee; they say that those who are unkissed are unkind.”

The lover’s fee is a kiss.

They exited.

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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