A Divine Comedy by James Dalgleish


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This Play is the copyright of the Author and must NOT be Performed without the Author’s PRIOR consent


ACT I

A terrace at Zeus’ palace on Mount Olympus.

The time is early afternoon on a summer’s day.

A huge doorway is flanked by two enormous pillars.

In front of the doorway is a long couch on which reclines HERA, an imperious- looking woman who looks to be in her late thirties or early forties, although, since she is immortal, she is in fact ageless.

HERA wears an Ionic chiton.

Her hair is held in place by a band of gold, which rises to a point at the front and is called a stephane.

Her only jewellery is a pair of gold earrings and she wears sandals.

Close by her left hand is a low table on which stand two wine-goblets and a bunch of black grapes in a bowl.

To the right of this table (from the audience’s point of view) is a stool. It is unoccupied. An armchair and another, smaller table stand to the left of HERA’s couch. ZEUS occupies the chair and, as the curtain rises, he is to be seen drinking wine from a goblet, which he eventually lowers and places on the table.

A long, golden sceptre lies diagonally across this table. ZEUS looks to be in his late forties, with his hair and beard heavily flecked with grey.

He, too, wears a chiton, but his is knee-length.

A girdle encircles his waist and he wears a headband.

Draped round his shoulders is a himation, fastened at the neck with a gold brooch.

On his feet is a pair of brown sandals.

ZEUS sighs as HERMES enters through the doorway, bearing a fresh jug of wine.

HERMES is a slim young man,  His chiton, like ZEUS’, is knee-length.

He wears a petasos, a round cap with a wide brim. Both this and his sandals have wings attached. His himation is also fastened at the neck with a gold brooch.

Whilst HERMES dispenses the wine, ZEUS ceases to sigh and opens the conversation.

ZEUS: Immortality quite definitely has its drawbacks, you know.

HERA: Indeed?

ZEUS: Oh, yes, my dear. There’s precious little fun being a god when nobody believes in you any more.

HERA: Perhaps, then, we should do something to restore the mortals’ belief in us?

HERMES: What, after all these hundreds of years?

HERA: Better late than never.

ZEUS: And what do you suggest we do, my dear?

HERA: You’re our king. Surely you can think of something?

ZEUS: No; I’m afraid not. I deal out thunderbolts and these are explained away as simply the result of unusual atmospheric conditions. My brother, Poseidon, unleashes a volcanic eruption, or an earthquake, and these are blamed on some fault or other in the earth’s crust.  Today’s mortals believe only what is told them by their scientists. They no longer believe in gods.

HERMES: Certainly not in us Olympians.

(HERMES has finished pouring the wine. He places the jug on the larger table and sits down on the stool.)

HERA : As a matter of fact, most religions seem to be in decline, though Christ still has His followers here in Greece.

HERMES: Where he has usurped our position, Father.

ZEUS: I know. I can’t understand it Why on earth should the Greeks have forsaken us for this Jesus Christ? I mean, we Olympians were always so easily pleased, so undemanding. All we ever asked was that they should erect the odd temple and hold the occasional festival in our honour. And those festivals were such fun: all that eating and drinking, singing and dancing, and generally making merry.

HERA : Ah, those were the days!

ZEUS: Of course they were. And I ask you, just who have those Greeks got in our place?  Jesus Himself is, I suppose, amiable enough. But His Father: Now there’s a cantankerous old kill-joy, if ever there was, with His, “Thou shalt not do this,” and His, “Thou shalt not do that:”

HERA: I sometimes get the impression, my dear, that you don’t entirely care for our friend, Jehovah?

ZEUS: Well, He is so totally devoid of humour. Then there’s this nonsense about His perfect wisdom, His omnipotence. I ask you, has any god in the history of the world made a bigger cock-up of things than He and His Son have between Them?

HERA: No; I must agree with you there. Their bungling incompetence surpasses even yours. And that is saying something:
ZEUS: Thank you, my dear. So kind.

HERA: Not at all. You deserve every word.

ZEUS: You forget yourself, Hera. I am your husband and I…

HERA: That I am not likely to forget, after all these centuries.

ZEUS: Well, I should have thought that, during that length of time, you might have learned to show a little respect towards your lord and master.

HERMES: Yes; Father is, after all, the King of the Gods, Zeus the Thunderer.

HERA: Blunderer more like. And I bow to no god.

ZEUS: We had noticed.

HERMES: Yes; indeed we had:

HERA : Good, for I intended you should. And, for your information, Hermes, your father shall get my respect when he earns it.

ZEUS:
HERMES:(simultaneously) Ah!

HERA: An unlikely occurence, I should say, on past form.

ZEUS: (turning to HERMES) You know, Hermes, there are times when I could cheerfully strangle her.

HERMES: Now, Father, you know that is quite impossible, since we are all immortal.

ZEUS: Yes. Quite so.

HERMES: Therefore, ignore Hera’s jibes and drink your wine.

ZEUS: Why not? All this talking has made me thirsty.  (He picks up the goblet and begins to drink thirstily. HERMES follows suit, whilst HERA helps herself to some grapes from the bowl on the nearby table, and begins to eat them.)

HERMES: (putting down the goblet)  Delicious!

ZEUS: Yes; a thousand times better than any of that awful stuff which serves as Christian Communion wine. Eh, Hermes?

HERMES: I should say so.

ZEUS: What do you say, wife?

HERA: I say that you make too much of this Jesus Christ.  His power is on the wane, even here in Greece.

ZEUS: Is that so?

HERA: It is. The world has changed considerably in recent years. But, then, I don’t suppose you have noticed?

ZEUS: No; I can’t say that I have.

HERA: How long is it since you took any interest in the world at large?

ZEUS: I’m not exactly sure. A century or two, perhaps?

HERA: Oh, a mere century or two: No time at all!

ZEUS: So, what’s new? The Greeks are still warring amongst themselves, I expect?
HERMES: No, Father.

ZEUS: No?

HERA: No, Greece is united as one peaceful, democratic nation, and has been for some years now.

ZEUS: Really? How disappointing, for there’s nothing like a spot of strife to provide us gods with a little innocent amusement.  (He sighs.)  Oh, I did so enjoy the Trojan War!

HERMES: You’re going back a bit, Father!

HERA: That’s your father all over. Forever harking back to the dim and distant past.

ZEUS: At, least the past was fun.

HERA: You always were a bloodthirsty old buffer! I suppose it would take a civil war to revive your interest in Greece?

ZEUS: That, or an invasion of the country. Then we could all choose our own particular Greek hero and offer him our protection, just as we did in ancient times.

HERMES: Well, as a matter of fact, Greece is currently suffering an invasion. The latest of many in recent years.

ZEUS: By Johnnie Turk?

HERMES: No. She’s not being invaded in that sense.
ZEUS: Then, in what sense, for Heaven’s sake?

HERA: Each summer, tourists from all parts of the world descend upon Greece in their thousands.

ZEUS: Tourists? What on earth are tourists?

HERA:A sort of traveller. Someone who has gone abroad for pleasure rather than for business.
(ZEUS glances from HERA to HERMES, a doubtful lock on his face.)

HERMES: That’s right, Father.

ZEUS: And you say that these tourists come from all parts of the world?

HERA: Yes, Zeus. From both the northern and the southern hemispheres. From as far apart as Scandinavia and Australia. From the United States of America and…

ZEUS: America! But surely the people in that country are merely painted savages?

HERA: Oh, really! How long did you say it was since you took an interest in the affairs of the world?

ZEUS: A century or two, my dear.

HERA: Hah!

ZEUS: Of course, it may have been a little longer.

HERA: Indeed? You do surprise me.

ZEUS: Yes. Well..er..are these Americans civilised now?  (HERA and HERMES look at each other and, after a moment or two, simultaneously shake their heads.)

HERA: No. I think that would be to over-state the case.

ZEUS: But they and the other tourists are not complete barbarians?

HERMES: Good Heavens, no! For the most part, they are perfectly respectable and well-behaved. They flock to Greece to see the ruins of our old temples.

ZEUS: Truly?

HERA: Oh, yes. The Parthenon in Athens is a particular favourite with them.

ZEUS: Then, Athene should be pleased, for she’s forever complaining that nowadays, instead of having temples built to her glory, she has to be content with having tavernas and restaurants named after her.

HERA: Well, it’s not quite the same, is it?

ZEUS: Perhaps not; yet it’s a darn sight better than having nothing named after one. There are various establishments all over Greece bearing her name and those of Apollo, Aphrodite, Artemis and Dionysus. You and I, on the other hand, seem to have been almost totally ignored.

HERA: That’s true. I can’t remember the last time something was named after me.

ZEUS: It is so unfair!  (He takes a gulp of wine and turns to HERMES.)  Anyway, Hermes, tell me, what else do these tourists do apart from visiting our ruined temples? A rather tedious pastime, I should have thought, for when you’ve seen one ruin, you’ve seen them all.

HERMES: I’m not sure I would agree with you there.

HERA: Nor I.  (She turns to HERMES.)  But then your father never did have much culture.

HERMES: Not his strong point, I’ll grant you.

ZEUS: When you’ve quite finished….

HERMES: Ah, yes, Father, you wanted to know what else the tourists do.

ZEUS: Well?

HERMES: They come to worship the sun.

ZEUS: The sun! They believe the sun is a god?

HERA: The tourists do not literally worship the sun. They simply lie on the beaches and soak it up, with the object of acquiring a beautiful, all-over, golden tan.

ZEUS: Is that so, Hermes?

HERMES: Yes, Father. All throughout the summer, the beaches of Greece and her islands are trewn with naked and near-naked bodies.

HERA: Some of which are not a pretty sight, I can tell you.

HERMES: There are others, however, who are very pretty indeed.

ZEUS: Really?

 

[end of extract]



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