In this talk we take up a part of the combined third and fourth volumes of CWSA (The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo) “Collected Plays and Stories”. This part is formed by three main plays, Viziers of Bassora, Rodogune, and Perseus the Deliverer.
CWSA 03-04 Collected Plays and Stories, Part A
The first part of the combined Vol 3-4 is formed by three main plays, Viziers of Bassora, Rodogune, and Perseus the Deliverer.
The first play, Viziers of Bassora was seized by the police at the time of Sri Aurobindo’s arrest in the Alipore trial. The same was handed over by the Government of Bengal in 1952 after India gained independence. The protagonist of the play is a young boy Nurreddene who is the son of Ibn Sawy, the good Vizier of Bassora. Though a bit reckless with the usual indulgences of a young boy, he carries within him the heart of a lover and a king. Destiny moves him in a way to make him fall in love with a slave girl Anice. The balance of destiny shifts rather fast and young Nureddene find themselves falsely implicated in debt cases under the instigation of a wicked vizier rival to Ibn Sawy. As a result the two, Nureddene and Anice flee to Baghdad where destiny again takes them to the doors of the good Caliph Haroun Rasheed. Impressed by the young man’s love and courage and straightforwardness, the Caliph ends up signing papers for making Nureddene the king of Bassora. A last dramatic turn of events follows wherein the wicked Vizier plots to get the young man executed but just in time Haroun with his army enters and takes charge of the situation releasing Nureddene and crowning him the new king of Bassora with Anice as his queen.
Running into five acts, the play is a romantic comedy with enough to send one into splitting laughter while carrying through its pages a profound portrayal of human nature in its different sides and the strange workings of destiny that catapult a slave girl to a queen. Its origin can be traced to a story told in the Arabian Nights which Sri Aurobindo very much appreciated.
The second play, Rodogune is a romance taking place in Syria and Egypt. The play is about the twin children of queen Cleopatra who are sent away at a tender age since her second husband does not want them around. However when he dies the twins are brought back to take over the throne. Antiochus being the elder twin is the rightful heir to the throne but the younger one, Timocles knows how to flatter and please the queen mother so that she tilts in favour of him. Meanwhile both fall in love with a princess in captivity, Rodogune after whom the play is named. She however loves Antioch. Through a turn of events the brothers remain rivals until Antioch decides to hand over the sword and the kingdom relinquishing his throne out of love for his brother. But the brother torn with mounting jealousy on account of Rodogune takes his elder brother a prisoner only to execute him. As soon as Rodogune comes to know about this she is besieged with grief and drops dead by the side of Antioch. Thus the story comes to a tragic end but with a touch of irony when Timocles exclaims in the last scene of the five-act play:
Something has snapped in me
Physicians cannot bind. Thou, Prince Nicanor,
Art from the royal blood of Syria sprung
And in thy line Seleucus may descend
Untainted from his source. Brother, brother,
We did not dream that all would end like this,
When in the dawn or set we roamed at will
Playing together in Egyptian gardens,
Or in the orchards of great Ptolemy
Walked with our arms around each other’s necks
Twin-hearted. But now unto eternity
We are divided. I must live for ever
Unfriended, solitary in the shades;
But thou and she will lie at ease inarmed
Deep in the quiet happy asphodel
And hear the murmur of Elysian winds
While I walk lonely.
His acts turn a success into failure and a failure in a victory of love wherein the dead are united in heavens while Timocles must suffer life alone.
The third play is the rather well-known Perseus the Deliverer, the only play that was published during Sri Aurobindo’s lifetime. Apparently, this play also received most of Sri Aurobindo’s attention. It is based on the ancient Greek legend of the hero Perseus born of the coming together of a mortal princess and Zeus. A favourite of the Goddess of Wisdom Athene, he is destined to be the centre of a great many deeds. Notable amongst them is the slaying of Gorgon Medusa, the sorceress whose charm could turn living beings into stone. Though he is sent away to slay the sorceress as a trap to be killed himself, he rather completes his task aided by the great goddess Athene. The deed done he meets Andromeda, the princess of Syria as she has earned the wrath of the evil priest Polydaon who propagates the cult of human sacrifice to please the stormy god of the sea, Poseidon. Perseus subdues Poseidon and releases Andromeda. The evil priest dies and with his death the dark and demoniac cult of worshipping Poseidon ends ushering in a new era dedicated to the great and wise Pallas Athene, the Greek Goddess of Wisdom.
All three plays are a beautiful and balanced combination of love and fate that eventually work towards the evolution of man, individually and collectively. This evolutionary impulsion is beautifully summed up in Perseus the Deliverer towards the end of the five-act play:
Then let the shrine
That looked out from earth’s breast into the sunlight,
Be cleansed of its red memory of blood,
And the dread Form that lived within its precincts
Transfigure into a bright compassionate God
Whose strength shall aid men tossed upon the seas,
Give succour to the shipwrecked mariner.
A noble centre of a people’s worship,
To Zeus and great Athene build a temple
Between your sky-topped hills and Ocean’s vasts:
Her might shall guard your lives and save your land.
In your human image of her deity
A light of reason and calm celestial force
And a wise tranquil government of life,
Order and beauty and harmonious thoughts
And, ruling the waves of impulse, high-throned will
Incorporate in marble, the carved and white
Ideal of a young uplifted race.
For these are her gifts to those who worship her.
Adore and what you adore attempt to be….
All alters in a world that is the same.
Man most must change who is a soul of Time;
His gods too change and live in larger light….
But the blind nether forces still have power
And the ascent is slow and long is Time.
Yet shall Truth grow and harmony increase:
The day shall come when men feel close and one.
Meanwhile one forward step is something gained,
Since little by little earth must open to heaven
Till her dim soul awakes into the Light.