Part I. Greek 8. Pericles, Prince of Tyre
The date of this play is usually given as 1608, and the last three acts are characteristically late Shakespearean in style. The first two acts are, however, considered much inferior, and many critics feel that, except for a touch here and there, they were not written by Shakespeare.
Whether that is so or not, the play, as it stands, is included in the collections of Shakespeare's plays and, for better or worse, will forever bear his name.
... ancient Gower...
The play begins with an Introduction. An old man comes on stage and says:
To sing a song that old was sung,
From ashes ancient Gower is come,
- Act I, Introduction, lines 1-2
John Gower was a fourteenth-century English poet (c. 1330-1408) and a friend and contemporary of Chaucer's (see page I-54). Gower was considered by his contemporaries, though not by moderns, to have been almost Chaucer's equal, and though it might be thought they would have borne each other the ill will of competitors, they did not. They dedicated books to each other.
One of Gower's principal works is Confessio Amantis (Confession of a Lover), first published in 1383. In this work, a number of romances are told in English couplets. The tales are by no means original with Gower. What he does is retell stories from ancient and medieval sources, choosing the most popular ones.
In the eighth book of Confessio Amantis Gower tells a tale, taken from a Greek source, of which a version is presented in this play. A prose version of the same story, "The Pattern of Painful Adventures," was published in 1576 by Laurence Twine. Some scenes in Pericles are drawn from Twine, but Gower is the major influence.
It is only in this play and in The Two Noble Kinsmen (see page I-54) that Shakespeare so openly announces his source.
... Antiochus the great
Gower lays the scene of the play:
This Antioch, then; Antiochus the great
Built up this city for his chiefest seat,
The fairest in all Syria-
- Act I, Introduction, lines 17-19
This alone tells us that the time in which the tale is supposed to take place is in the Hellenistic period; that is, in the couple of centuries that followed the death of Alexander the Great. In this period, Greek-language monarchies were established in Egypt and western Asia.
The largest of these was established south and east of Asia Minor in 321 b.c. by Seleucus I, who had been one of Alexander's generals. The realm is, in his honor, usually called the Seleucid Empire in the histories.
Seleucus had made his first capital in ancient Babylon, but quickly abandoned it as too alien and un-Greek. In its place, he constructed Seleucia on the Tigris, about twenty miles north of Babylon. It became a thoroughly Greek city.
Although the Empire covered vast tracts of what are now the nations of Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, the portion most under the influence of Greek culture and therefore most valued by the Greek-speaking and Greek-cultured descendants of Seleucus was the westernmost part, commonly called Syria by the Greeks.
In Syria Seleucus founded a city which served as his western capital and named it Antiocheia, after his father, Antiochus. In English, we know it as Antioch. It was located fifteen miles from the sea, near the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean, and is now located in southwestern Turkey.
About a century and three quarters after the founding of the Seleucid Empire, almost all the eastern provinces had fallen away and come under the rule of native princes. What was left of the Greek kingdom was concentrated in the westernmost provinces and what had been the Seleucid Empire came more and more to be called simply Syria.
Despite the vicissitudes of the Empire, however, Antioch continued to grow and became a great metropolis. In the days of the Roman Empire, when Rome had finally absorbed the last remnant of the Seleucid realm, Antioch was the third largest city of the Empire. Only Rome itself and Alexandria in Egypt were larger.
The question is, now, which monarch is referred to by Gower as "Antiochus the great"? It is no use to try to decide by the actual events of the play, since these are all fictitious.
There were thirteen monarchs of the Seleucid kingdom named Antiochus, but one of them, the third of the name, did call himself Antiochus the Great. This Antiochus III ruled from 223 to 187 b.c. In the first part of his reign, he brought back into the Seleucid fold (very temporarily) some of the large eastern provinces that were breaking away, marching through the east almost like another Alexander in doing so. It was this which gave him the idea of calling himself "the Great."
Once that was accomplished, he attempted to annex Egypt, which was governed by a boy king at the time, and also Asia Minor. Had he succeeded, he would have united almost all of Alexander's Empire under his rule.
Unfortunately for himself, Antiochus HI fell afoul of the rising power of Rome. Challenging that Western nation, he invaded Greece, but was defeated there in 191 b.c. The Romans followed him into Asia Minor and defeated him again in 190 B.C. Antiochus ended his reign in defeat and failure.
Considering that in Pericles Antiochus the Great is pictured as ruling in magnificence and glory (at least at the beginning), we might arbitrarily place the fictitious events of this play about 200 b.c. This is twenty years after the suggested time of A Comedy of Errors and so Pericles becomes the eighth and last of Shakespeare's Greek plays.
... her to incest...
Gower goes on to explain that "Antiochus the great" was left a widower with a beautiful daughter:
With whom the father liking took,
And her to incest did provoke.
- Act I, Introduction, lines 25-26
Incest is treated here as a horrible and unspeakable crime, and so it is considered in most societies; though, it must be admitted, not in all. The Egyptian Pharaohs routinely married their sisters, feeling perhaps that only their sisters had blood aristocratic enough to make a marriage suitable. (Or perhaps it was a relic of matrilineal descent; of the times when the nature of fatherhood was not understood and when property could only be inherited through the mother. By marrying his sister, the Pharaoh could make sure that the sister's son, who later was to inherit the throne, would also be his own.)
After the death of Alexander the Great, one of his generals, Ptolemy, seized Egypt and established the "Ptolemaic kingdom." For nearly three centuries Egypt was ruled by his descendants, all of whom were named Ptolemy. The Ptolemies carefully adhered to Egyptian customs in order to remain popular with their subjects. Ptolemy II took for his second wife, for instance, his full sister, Arsinoe. As a result, first she, and then he, received the surname Philadelphus ("sibling lover"). He did not have children by her. Cleopatra, the last of the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt (see page I-318), was married in turn to two of her brothers, though each marriage was purely formal, for both were children at the time of the marriage.
Furthermore, in the Persian dominions in the days before Alexander's conquest, nicest was not abhorred and father-daughter unions were allowed. Antiochus the Great ruled over most of the core of the old Persian Empire. It is not on record that he followed Persian custom in this respect, but that old custom may have been in the mind of the anonymous Greek writer who first invented the tale which worked its way down the centuries and came to rest in Shakespeare's Pericles.
... Prince of Tyre. ..
To keep his luscious daughter from the princely suitors that sought her hand, Antiochus forced all to attempt to solve a riddle. Failure to solve the riddle was punished with death and numerous suitors had already suffered that penalty.
The play itself begins before the palace at Antioch, where a young suitor has come to present himself for the hand of the princess. Antiochus says:
Young Prince of Tyre, you have at large received
The danger of the task you undertake.
- Act I, scene i, lines 1-2
Tyre is a city on the Mediterranean coast, about 220 miles south of Antioch. It is much the more ancient of the two cities, for it was a flourishing town in the thirteenth century b.c. when the ancient Egyptian Empire was at its height.
Tyre was an important port of the Canaanites, who were called Phoenicians by the Greeks. Its ships ventured far through the Mediterranean, founding what eventually became the still greater city of Carthage on the north African shore. Tyrian ships even ventured outside the Mediterranean, reaching Britain on the north and, as one tale has it, circumnavigating the African continent to the south.
Tyre's stronghold was on a rocky island off the shore and this, combined with her navy, kept her secure against the land-based empires of Asia. She maintained her independence not only against David's Israelite Empire but against the much more dangerous Assyrian and Chaldean empires. Nebuchadrezzar subjected it to a thirteen-year siege from 587 to 574 b.c. and managed only a partial victory.
The real end of Tyre's independence came in 332 b.c., when one much greater than Nebuchadrezzar banged against its gates. This was Alexander the Great himself. He had been sweeping through Asia Minor with scarcely any resistance and was now heading toward Egypt, when Tyre unexpectedly refused to yield. Even Alexander required seven full months to take Tyre, and when he completed the job, he was vengeful enough to have ten thousand of its citizens executed and another thirty thousand sold into slavery.
Although Tyre recovered to some extent, it remained only a shadow of its former self, first under the Ptolemies of Egypt, then under the Seleucid Empire, and finally under the Roman Empire.
It was in 198 b.c., just about the suggested time of the events of this play, that Antiochus the Great wrested the southern part of Syria from Egypt.
Tyre vanished from the view of western Europe after the breakup of the Roman Empire, but reappeared in the time of the Crusades. The Crusaders captured it in 1124 and for over a century it remained one of the chief cities of the Christian "Kingdom of Jerusalem." When the Crusaders were finally driven out of the East, Tyre was destroyed. A small village, still bearing the old name, exists on its site now, in southern Lebanon.
The original Greek version of the story of Pericles is lost, but a Latin prose romance based on that Greek version exists. It begins with the incest and riddle of Antiochus, and the young man who comes to win the princess is "Apollonius of Tyre." The "of Tyre" merely means he was born there, or lives there. To make him Prince of Tyre is an anachronism, for Tyre did not have independent rulers in Hellenistic times.
Shakespeare did not use the name Apollonius. He was influenced, apparently, by a character in Arcadia, a romance written in 1580 by Sir Philip Sidney, which had as one of its heroes a character named Pyrocles. Pyrocles' nobility was something like that which Shakespeare had in mind for his own hero, and, perhaps for that reason, he used the name, converting it to the more common Greek form of Pericles.
The only important historical Pericles was the leader of democratic Athens from 460 to 429 b.c. Under him, Athens was at the height of its power and culture and his rule may be taken as coinciding with the Golden Age of Greece. It must be emphasized, though, that the Pericles of Shakespeare's play has nothing whatever to do with Pericles of Golden Age Athens.
... this fair Hesperides
Pericles declares himself aware of the danger of wooing Antiochus' daughter, and she is brought out before him-a vision of loveliness. Antiochus says:
Before thee stands this fair Hesperides,
With golden fruit, but dangerous to be touched;
For deathlike dragons here affright thee hard.
- Act I, scene i, lines 28-30
This is a reference to the eleventh of the twelve labors which Hercules was supposed to undergo in the Greek myths. The Hesperides are so named from a Greek word meaning "west." They were the three daughters of Hesperus, the Evening Star (which always appears in the west after sunset), according to one version of the myth. Another version has them the daughters of the Titan Atlas, who gave his name to the Atlantic Ocean and who was associated with what was, to the Greeks, the Far West.
On the far western section of the north African coast there was supposed to be a garden containing a tree bearing golden apples (oranges, I wonder?), which was guarded by an ever watchful dragon. Hercules achieved this task, as he did all others, but Antiochus seems to doubt that Pericles can do the equivalent.
... to Tharsus
Antiochus presents the riddle Pericles must solve. It is a silly riddle and quite transparent. Pericles sees the answer at once and is horrified. He carefully hints at the truth and Antiochus is, in his turn, horrified.
Pericles sees that to have solved the riddle is as dangerous as to have missed it and leaves hurriedly for Tyre. Antiochus sends a servant after the young prince to poison him.
Even at Tyre, Pericles is uneasy. He is not far enough from Antioch and he feels that Antiochus will come against him with an army and bring misery on the whole city. (And well he might, for in actual history, Tyre became part of Antiochus' dominions in 198 b.c.)
Pericles tells his loyal lord, Helicanus, the story and says he intends to go into exile:
Tyre, I now look from thee then, and to
Tharsus Intend my travel...
- Act I, scene ii, lines 115-16
No city named Tharsus is to be found in the gazetteers.
The name is very similar to Tarsus, an important city on the southern coast of Asia Minor, best known to us as the place where Antony and Cleopatra first met (see page I-343) a century and a half after the time of Pericles, and where St. Paul was born a few decades later still.
Tarsus, however, is only about 170 miles west of Antioch and was as firmly in the Seleucid grip as was Tyre itself. It is interesting to wonder if perhaps Tharsus is a distortion of Thasos, a small island in the northern Aegean Sea. There are places in the play where Thasos would fit well.- However, it is most likely that Tharsus is a completely fictitious place, no more to be located on the map than the Bohemia of The Winter's Tale (see page I-156).
... the Trojan horse ...
Pericles leaves Tyre just in time to escape Antiochus' poisoning emissary, but he finds matters in Tharsus not well. Its governor, Cleon, and his wife, Dionyza, bewail the fact that the prosperous city has been reduced by a two-year famine to a point of near cannibalism. Even as they are wailing, a fleet of ships appears on the horizon. At first they suspect it is an enemy come to take advantage of their weakness, but it is the noble Pericles. He enters with his attendants and says:
... these our ships you happily [i.e., perhaps] may think
Are like the Trojan horse [which] was stuffed within
With bloody veins expecting overthrow,
Are stored with corn to make your needy bread,
- Act I, scene iv, lines 91-94
The Trojan horse was the final stratagem of the Greeks, who after ten years' siege of Troy (see page I-89) had abandoned hope of conquest by direct attack. The climactic scene of the war is not described in Homer's Iliad or in Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida. It is, however, described in Vergil's Aeneid.
The Greeks built a giant hollow horse, filled it with their best warriors, then pretended to abandon the siege and sail away. The Trojans were easily convinced that the horse was an offering to Minerva (Athena) and that it was a good luck token which, if accepted, would forever protect the city against conquest. It was accordingly taken into the city and that night the Greek warriors emerged and opened the gates to the remainder of the army (which had secretly returned). Then began the bloody task of sacking the city.
Pericles' ships, however, were not filled with warriors, but with food.
... our country of Greece...
Gower emerges at the beginning of the Second Act to explain that Pericles is treated with great honor at Tharsus but that word comes to him from Tyre that Antiochus is indeed anxious to have him killed and that even Tharsus will not be safe.
Pericles therefore takes to the sea again and this time is wrecked. He is washed on shore all alone, all his companions and goods gone.
The Second Act opens, then, on the shore of the Pentapolis, which apparently is where Pericles has been washed up. He approaches some fishermen, asking their help for pity, pointing out that he has never had to beg before. The First Fisherman replies sardonically:
No, friend, cannot you beg?
Here's them in our country of Greece
gets more with begging than we can do with working.
- Act II, scene i, lines 67-69
The Pentapolis ("five cities") is a district on the north African shore about 550 miles west of Alexandria and 950 miles southwest of Antioch. The chief of the five cities was Cyrene, and the region is still called Cy-renaica today. It is the northeasternmost section of the modern nation of Libya and was much in the news in 1941 and 1942, when the British and Germans were fighting back and forth across it in the Desert War.
Obviously, the Pentapolis is not in Greece in the modern sense, where that is specifically the land occupying the southernmost portion of the Balkan peninsula. Yet Shakespeare, or whoever wrote this scene, was (perhaps unknowingly) not really incorrect in the wider sense of Greece as including any area where Greek language and culture was dominant (see page I-172).
A knight of Sparta. ..
The ruler of Pentapolis is Simonides, and his daughter, Thaisa, is having a birthday the next day. Various knights are to fight at a tournament in her honor (a queer intermingling of medieval custom with the ancient background).
Pericles no sooner hears this than fishermen come in dragging a suit of armor which has entangled their nets in the sea. It is Pericles' own armor, lost in the shipwreck. Now he too can join the tournament and engage in a second type of contest for the beautiful daughter of a king.
Simonides and Thaisa appear in the next scene, seated in a pavilion in the fashion of medieval sponsors of a tournament. The competing knights pass by, presenting their shields with the identifying device on each.
Thaisa describes the first for her father:
A knight of Sparta, my renowned father;
And the device he bears upon his shield
Is a black Ethiop reaching at the sun.
The word, Lux tua vita mihi.
- Act II, scene ii, lines 18-21
Sparta was at one time the leading military city of Greece, but in 371 b.c., nearly two centuries before the apparent time of the play, it had been catastrophically defeated by Thebes at the Battle of Leuctra. From that time on, Sparta sat paralyzed, refusing to change with the times, and never admitted it was no longer the leader of Greece. In 200 b.c. it was in its last stages of independence and still produced good fighters.
There is nothing impossible, then, in the appearance of a Spartan in the competition, although he could scarcely be a "knight" in the medieval sense. Nor is it at all likely that he would have a Latin motto ("Thy light is life to me") on his shield, since in the time of Antiochus the Great, Latin was, to the cultivated Greeks, a barbarous and uncouth native Italian dialect, nothing more.
A prince of Macedon...
The second knight is described by Thaisa as:
A prince of Macedon, my royal father;
And the device he bears upon his shield
Is an armed knight that's conquered by a lady;
The motto thus, in Spanish, Piu per dolcessa che per forza.
- Act II, scene ii, lines 24-27
Macedon was a kingdom on the northwest shore of the Aegean Sea, Greek in language and culture, but backward in the time of Athens' Golden Age, and playing little part in Greek history at the time.
It rose to prominence in 359 b.c. when a remarkable man, Philip II, began his period of rule over it. Under his guidance, it came to dominate Greece, and under his son, Alexander the Great, it conquered the Persian Empire.
Macedon was greatly weakened by the conquest, in point of fact, as most of its soldiers and best citizens departed forever to rule over distant areas in Asia and Africa. It suffered also from barbarian invasions in the third century b.c. Nevertheless, Macedon managed to maintain control over the entire Balkan peninsula, including Greece proper. In 200 b.c., however, it stood at the brink of downfall, for war with Rome was beginning and this war Macedon was eventually to lose utterly.
It is not inappropriate that a Macedonian should be represented here, but what is he doing with a motto "in Spanish," a language which did not yet exist and would not for nearly a thousand years? (The Signet Shakespeare gives the motto in Italian, anyway, another language which did not yet exist. It means "More by gentleness than by force.")
... a fire from heaven...
The third knight is from Antioch, the fourth and fifth are not identified geographically, and the sixth knight, in rusty, shabby armor, is Pericles. It is Pericles, of course, who wins the tournament, and Thaisa is much taken with his handsome appearance. There is a gala celebration and it looks as though Pericles' luck has turned.
As for Antiochus, his luck has taken a final downturn. At Tyre, Heli-canus, who rules in Pericles' absence, tells what has happened. Apparently the gods are annoyed at Antiochus' incest and, as Helicanus says:
Even in the height and pride of all his glory,
When he was seated in a chariot
Of an inestimable value, and
His daughter with him, a fire from heaven came,
And shriveled up their bodies, even to loathing.
- Act II, scene iv, lines 6-13
In actual history, Antiochus the Great did not die such a death. His defeat by Rome placed a heavy burden on him in the way of tribute. He tried to raise the money by forcing the priesthood to disgorge the treasures hoarded in their temples. He was supervising the stripping of such a temple when the populace, aroused by the priests, mobbed and killed him in 187 b.c.
A younger son of Antiochus III, Antiochus IV, ruled from 175 to 163 b.c., and he may well have contributed to the picture Shakespeare draws of "Antiochus the great." It was Antiochus IV who particularly beautified Antioch as the eastern provinces fell farther and farther away. It was Antiochus IV who made a name for himself in history as a king of intolerable wickedness, which also fits the picture in Pericles.
Antiochus IV, like his father, was browbeaten by Rome (not even daring to meet them in battle) and, partly out of chagrin at that, turned against those Jews of his kingdom who would not accept Greek culture. The Jews rose in bloody revolt and the tale of that revolt is told in the Books of Maccabees, which form part of the Apocrypha but are accepted in the Catholic version of the Bible.
Antiochus IV died of tuberculosis during a campaign in the eastern provinces. In the First Book of Maccabees (a sober historical account) his death is recounted undramatically, except that he is reported to have, in rather unlikely fashion, died regretting his actions against the Jews and recognizing that he was being punished for what he had done.
In the Second Book of Maccabees (a more emotional account, and filled with tales of martyrdom and miracles) Antiochus is supposed to have died in agony, swarming with worms and rotting away while still alive: "and the filthiness of his smell was noisome to all his army. And the man, that thought a little afore he could reach to the stars of heaven, no man could endure to carry for his intolerable stink" (2 Maccabees 9:9-10).
The death of Antiochus IV as reported in 2 Maccabees undoubtedly contributed to the death of Antiochus in Pericles, for Helicanus says that after Antiochus and his daughter had shriveled under the fire from heaven:
... they so stunk
That all those eyes adored them ere their fall
Scorn now their hand should give them burial.
- Act II, scene iv, lines 11-13
... make for Tharsus
Pericles' fortune continues to climb, for he marries Thaisa and then hears from Tyre that Antiochus is dead and that the Tyrians long for Pericles' return.
He and his now pregnant wife, Thaisa, go on board ship to return to Tyre. Once again a storm strikes and at its height Thaisa goes into labor and is delivered of a baby girl. She apparently dies in the process and the superstitious sailors will not have a corpse on board. They place her in a coffin and shove it overboard.
The battered ship is near Tharsus and Pericles feels they cannot make Tyre. He cries out:
O make for Tharsus!
There will I visit Clean, for the babe
Cannot hold out to Tyrus.
There I'll leave it
At careful nursing
- Act III, scene i, lines 77-80
To go from the Pentapolis to Tyre and be driven by the storm toward Tharsus is within belief if it is really Tarsus that the name implies; but it is much less credible if Tharsus is Thasos.
... through Ephesus...
The scene now shifts to Ephesus and the home of Cerimon, a skillful doctor. A follower says to him:
Your honor has through Ephesus poured forth
Your charity, and hundreds call themselves
Your creatures, who by you have been restored;
- Act III, scene ii, lines 43-45
Ephesus, the great and prosperous city of the time of The Comedy of Errors, is still great and prosperous in the time of Pericles.
This queen will live...
At this moment, servants enter with a chest that has been cast up from the sea. It is the casket containing Thaisa, along with a note from Pericles asking that if the dead body be found, it be piously buried.
But Cerimon is a skillful physician indeed. He says:
This queen will live: nature awakes; a warmth
Breathes out of her. She hath not been entranced
Above five hours.
- Act III, scene ii, lines 94-96
If Tharsus were really Tarsus, this would be impossible. The Queen's body was consigned to the sea at a time when the ship was near Tharsus and to reach Ephesus would require it to drift westward the length of Asia Minor and then northward, half the length of the Aegean coast of that peninsula-an about six-hundred-mile journey. To drift at 120 miles an hour is quite a picture.
On the other hand, suppose the storm had driven the ship to Thasos. From there to Ephesus would be only 250 miles, which would require a drift of 50 miles an hour.
But at Tharsus, Pericles asks when Tyre can be reached and a sailor says:
By break of day, if the wind cease.
- Act HI, scene i, line 76
From Thasos to Tyre is more than a night's journey. So it's best to ignore geography. Tharsus cannot be placed anywhere on the map in such a way as to have a plausible relationship to Ephesus, Tyre, and Pentapolis, all three of which have positions that are known and fixed.
And Aesculapius. ..
To restore Thaisa to life is, of course, an arduous task even for Cerimon, who ends by saying:
And Aesculapius guide us!
- Act III, scene ii, line 112
Aesculapius (the Latin version of the Greek Asclepius) was, in Greek myth, a son of Apollo who was supremely skilled as a physician. So skillful was he that he could restore life to the dead. This enraged Hades, who apparently felt himself to be endangered by technological unemployment. He complained to Jupiter (Zeus), who solved matters by killing Aesculapius with a thunderbolt. After death, Aesculapius was raised to divine rank and became the god of medicine.
It is in his divine role that Cerimon appeals to him on this occasion.
At Tharsus Pericles is greeted warmly as the savior of the tune of the famine, but he cannot linger. He must go to Tyre, leaving behind:
My gentle babe,
for she was born at sea,
I have named so.. .
- Act III, scene iii, lines 12-16
"Marina" is the feminine form of the Latin word meaning "of the sea." The baby is left in the care of Cleon and his wife Dionyza.
Diana's temple ...
In Ephesus Thaisa is now fully recovered and, thinking that Pericles died in the shipwreck, says she will live in religious retreat. Cerimon, the doctor, says:
Madam, if this you purpose as ye speak,
Diana's temple is not distant far,
Where you may abide...
- Act III, scene iv, lines 11-13
Ephesus in ancient times was known for its temple to Diana (Artemis). An early version of this temple was completed about 420 b.c. and was impressive enough to be considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
In October 356 b.c. the temple was destroyed by fire and it proved to be a case of deliberate arson. When the culprit was captured, he was asked why he had done this deed. He replied that he did it in order that his name might live forever in history. He was executed and to defeat his desire it was ordered that his name be erased from all records and never be spoken. (However, the man had his wish after all, for a name purporting to be his survives somehow. It is Herostratus.)
This was a century and a half before the time of Pericles, but the temple was rebuilt, of course. Indeed, it is most famous to moderns because it plays a distant role in the New Testament, some two centuries after the time of Pericles and four centuries after Herostratus' crime.
St. Paul, in Ephesus on a missionary voyage, denounced idolatry and roused the hostility of the silversmiths of the city, who did a roaring business in the manufacture of little religious objects for tourists who came to visit the temple of Diana. Not foreseeing the time when their successors would do equally well, if not better, with small crucifixes and statues of the Virgin Mary, the silversmiths were horrified at St. Paul's denunciation of idolatry. There were riots in the city and the crowd was "full of wrath and cried out, saying, Great is Diana of the Ephesians" (Acts of the Apostles 19:28).
To be sure, Shakespeare knew Diana as the virgin goddess of the moon and the hunt (see page I-14), as she was in classical Greek mythology. The Diana of the Ephesians was another goddess altogether, a representation of fecundity, a fertility goddess with her chest covered by breasts, representing, perhaps, the nourishing earth. Diana's temple in Ephesus was surely not an appropriate life for a quiet existence, free from the sexual lusts of the world, but in the play it is taken as such.
... dove of Paphos. ..
The fourth act once again opens with Gower, who covers this time a passage of fourteen years, during which Marina grows to young womanhood in Tharsus. (The actual length of the time is specified later, when Pericles refers to her as fourteen years old.)
This is very similar to The Winter's Tale, where another baby girl, Perdita, separated from her parents, also grows to young womanhood (see page I-158). In both cases the father of the young girl is a ruler and the mother is thought to be dead but isn't really.
One difference in the two plays is that Perdita grows up in The Winter's Tale to know only love and admiration, while Marina in Pericles is not so lucky.
Cleon and Dionyza have a daughter of their own named Philoten, who is completely overshadowed by Marina. Gower describes the hopelessness of Philoten's case:
With dove of Paphos might the crow
Vie feathers white.
- Act IV, Introduction, lines 31-33
The dove of Paphos (see page I-15) is one of those doves that draw Venus' chariot.
... rob Tellus...
Dionyza plots, out of jealousy, to have Marina murdered despite the great debt owed Pericles by Tharsus. Her vile plan is made the easier since Marina's nurse, who has been with her since her birth, has just died and Marina has lost a natural guardian. Indeed, Marina makes her first appearance in the play mourning her nurse's death. She is carrying a basket of flowers and speaks sadly at the grave of the dead woman:
No, I will rob Tellus of her weed
To strew thy green with flowers...
- Act IV, scene i, lines 13-14
Tellus is one of the names of the Roman goddess of the earth, Terra being the other, and more familiar, one.
... Mytilene is full.. .
Dionyza urges Marina to take a walk on the seashore with a man who has been ordered to murder her. Providentially, a band of pirates come ashore and seize Marina before she can be killed.
Marina's situation has not improved by much, however, for the scene shifts to a brothel in Mytilene where the pander in charge is having problems. He says to his men:
Search the market narrowly!
Mytilene is full of gallants.
We lost too much money
this mart by being too wenchless.
- Act IV, scene ii, lines 3-5
Mytilene is the chief city on the island of Lesbos in the eastern Aegean. It is one of the larger Aegean islands and of the other places mentioned in the play it is nearest to Ephesus. It is only about a hundred miles northwest of Ephesus in a direct line, though the sea voyage would require working round a promontory of land and would be longer.
It is, on the other hand, 150 miles southeast of Thasos and, if that island were "Tharsus," it would be easy to imagine the pirates making for Mytilene, which, as a sailors' haven, is apparently a good market for prostitution.
The poor Transylvanian.. .
In rather revolting terms, the pander and a bawd continue to talk about the shortage of girls. The pander says:
The poor Transylvanian is dead
that lay with the little baggage.
- Act IV, scene ii, lines 22-23
This is an indication that the few girls they have are riddled with disease. Of course, the use of the term "Transylvanian" is an anachronism. Transylvania is a region which now makes up the central portion of modern Romania, or, as it was known to the Romans, Dacia. The term "Transylvania" did not come into use until the twelfth century. It means "beyond the forests" and was first used by the Hungarians, from whose standpoint Transylvania was indeed a land beyond the forests.
It is to Mytilene that the pirates have brought Marina, and they sell her, still untouched (virgins bring high prices) to the brothel.
The petty wrens of Tharsus...
At Tharsus Cleon is horrified at what Dionyza has done. She faces it out, however, and maintains that Pericles need never know. She wants to know if Cleon is:
... one of those that thinks
The petty wrens of Tharsus will fly hence
And open this to Pericles.
- Act IV, scene iii, lines 21-23
This is in line with the old superstition that birds will tell of crimes, from which comes our own phrase "a little bird told me."
One possible source of the idea rests in a popular Greek tale concerning a poet, Ibycus, en route to Corinth, who was set upon by thieves and killed. As he was dying, he cried out to cranes passing overhead, urging them to tell the world of the crime.
The Corinthian populace was stunned and horrified at the death of the popular poet and the thieves were uneasy at the stir they had created. During the course of a play which they were watching along with the rest of the Corinthians, the Furies (spirits who avenge crimes) were presented in such horrid fashion that the thieves were terrified. And when, just at this moment, cranes happened to fly overhead, the distraught thieves cried, "The cranes of Ibycus! The cranes of Ibycus!" and gave themselves away.
Another possible source for the superstition rests in a verse in the Bible which says: "Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter" (Ecclesiastes 10:20). This can be interpreted as a warning that Icings and powerful men have spies and sycophants in plenty who are always ready to earn gratitude by accusing others of treasons. However, there is a temptation to take anything in the Bible literally and the notion of telltale birds entered the language.
Thetis, being proud.. .
It seems that Pericles' miseries are never done. Gower emerges yet again in the next scene to describe how Pericles comes to Tharsus to get his daughter (why the long delay?) and finds her dead, with a monument built to her in the market place; on which is an inscription that reads in part:
... at her birth Thetis, being proud,
swallowed some part o'th'earth
- Act IV, scene iv, lines 38-39
Thetis was a sea nymph whom Shakespeare here, as elsewhere (see page I-91), confuses with Tethys, a goddess of the sea.
... the god Priapus ...
Meanwhile, the brothel at Mytilene is the scene of a new kind of trouble. Marina has been installed as one of the prostitutes, but she remains untouched. Those who approach her are quickly converted to virtue and leave with the determination to patronize brothels no more. The bawd is horrified, saying:
Fie, fie upon her!
She's able to freeze the god Priapus...
- Act IV, scene vi, lines 3-4
Priapus is a god of fertility, pictured as a dwarfish, ugly creature with a gigantic penis in a perpetual state of erection (whence our own medical term "priapism").
When Lysimachus, the governor of Mytilene, comes to the house, Marina quickly converts him too and sends him away virtuous. In despair, the pander and bawd hand Marina over to a servant to be deflowered, thinking that then she might become more amenable to their purposes. Marina, however, persuades him to make an effort to hire her out as a governess instead, capable of teaching many maidenly accomplishments.
The music of the spheres ...
Pericles' ship, returning from Tharsus to Tyre, passes by Mytilene. (If Tharsus is Tarsus, this is impossible. If Tharsus is Thasos, it is quite possible.)
The governor of Mytilene, Lysimachus, boards the ship and finds Pericles sitting there, speechless with grief. He is saddened by the sight and says that there is a girl in Mytilene who can console him. Marina is brought on board and, before long, it turns out that the two are father and daughter.
At the discovery, Pericles hears music the others cannot. He says:
The music of the spheres! List, my Marina.
- Act V, scene i, line 232
This is a reference to a mystical Greek notion. The philosopher Pythagoras of Samos discovered that twanging cords with lengths related to each other by small whole numbers emitted harmonious notes. It set him to thinking of the importance of numbers in the universe and he and his disciples evolved many odd beliefs based on numbers.
The Pythagoreans later developed the notion of the individual planets being set in spheres (see page I-25) at distances relative to each other such that they could emit harmonious notes. Perhaps at first this "music of the spheres" was considered metaphorically only, but eventually it was taken literally and came to mean a celestial sound that was far more beautiful than could be imagined on earth.
Pericles was finally being rewarded for having endured so much misfortune so patiently.
... goddess argentine
At the sound of the music, Pericles falls asleep and in his sleep the goddess Diana appears to him. Pericles is ordered to go to the Ephesian temple, there to make known his story to the people. He wakes and says:
Celestial Dian, goddess argentine,
I will obey thee.. .
- Act V, scene i, lines 252-53
Diana (Artemis) is goddess of the moon, which is silver, rather than the sun's bright gold. The Latin word for silver is argentum, so that Diana as the silver goddess of the moon is the "goddess argentine."
The nation of Argentina was so named because the earliest explorers found the natives wearing silver ornaments. The river which they were exploring became the Rio de la Plata (Spanish for "Silver River"). The nation that grew up about that river as a nucleus became the Latinized version of the same idea, Argentina.
As a result, the term "goddess argentine" would nowadays be rather ambiguous.
In Ephesus Pericles discovers his wife Thaisa and so, after fourteen years, the family is reunited. It is left to Gower to explain that Marina will be married to Lysimachus and that Pericles visited vengeance on Cleon and Dionyza by returning to Tharsus and burning them in their palace.
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