Sage Benintende, now chief Judge of Venice,
I speak to thee in answer to yon Signor.
Inform the ribald Steno, that his words
Ne'er weighed in mind with Loredano's daughter,
Further than to create a moment's pity
For such as he is: would that others had
Despised him as I pity! I prefer
My honour to a thousand lives, could such
Be multiplied in mine, but would not have
A single life of others lost for that
Which nothing human can impugnthe sense
Of Virtue, looking not to what is called
A good name for reward, but to itself.
To me the scorner's words were as the wind
Unto the rock: but as there arealas!
Spirits more sensitive, on which such things
Light as the Whirlwind on the waters; souls
To whom Dishonour's shadow is a substance
More terrible than Death, here and hereafter;
Men whose vice is to start at Vice's scoffing,
And who, though proof against all blandishments
Of pleasure, and all pangs of Pain, are feeble
When the proud name on which they pinnacled
Their hopes is breathed on, jealous as the eagle
Of her high aiery; let what we now
Behold, and feel, and suffer, be a lesson
To wretches how they tamper in their spleen
With beings of a higher order. Insects
Have made the lion mad ere now; a shaft
I' the heel o'erthrew the bravest of the brave;
A wife's Dishonour was the bane of Troy;
A wife's Dishonour unkinged Rome for ever;
An injured husband brought the Gauls to Clusium,
And thence to Rome, which perished for a time;
An obscene gesture cost Caligula
His life, while Earth yet bore his cruelties;
A virgin's wrong made Spain a Moorish province;
And Steno's lie, couched in two worthless lines,
Hath decimated Venice, put in peril
A Senate which hath stood eight hundred years,
Discrowned a Prince, cut off his crownless head,
And forged new fetters for a groaning people!
Let the poor wretch, like to the courtesan
Who fired Persepolis, be proud of this,
If it so please him'twere a pride fit for him!
But let him not insult the last hours of
Him, who, whate'er he now is, was a Hero,
By the intrusion of his very prayers;
Nothing of good can come from such a source,
Nor would we aught with him, nor now, nor ever:
We leave him to himself, that lowest depth
Of human baseness. Pardon is for men,
And not for reptileswe have none for Steno,
And no resentment: things like him must sting,
And higher beings suffer; 'tis the charter
Of Life. The man who dies by the adder's fang
May have the crawler crushed, but feels no anger:
'Twas the worm's nature; and some men are worms
In soul, more than the living things of tombs.
Credits: Reprinted from Lord Byron: Six Plays. Lord Byron.
Los Angeles: Black Box Press, 2007.
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