Presented by Two Small Blocks

THE BODY OF HANNIBAL BARCA
A Play in One Act

Although this play is copyright 2006, Hannibal Taubes, it's free for anyone to put on. Love to hear about it, and send me pictures.
'The Body of Hannibal Barca' is supposed to be comprehensible to anyone, but it takes place at 182 BC, and does involve the politics of that time. A short write-up on historical context can be found here.

Also, thanks to the folks at http://www.barca.fsnet.co.uk/index.htm, for providing a handy reference.

 

DRAMATIS PERSONAE:

-Roman Soldiers:
GAIUS ORANIUS: A Roman Hastatus, of reasonably good birth.
FABIUS: A Roman Velite, bit of an idiot.
DIOTIMUS: A Syracusian, enlisted as a Velite.

-Libyssan Residents
HELENA: A young, nubile, and sarcastic cleaning woman in the household of Hannibal.
NICOMEDES: A mercenary of king Prusias. An old man at thirty five.
HANNIBAL of CARTHAGE: The recently deceased Carthaginian general. Bit of a stiff.

(Curtains open to a large, open room, which is pleasantly bright and open. Off to the right are a few couches, and a window that looks out onto the sea. The center of the room is empty and unadorned (mainly to make the body of HANNIBAL more disturbingly conspicious.) To the right, a door leads out, and an inordinately large cupboard sits, against the wall. The centerpiece of the room is HANNIBAL’s body, which is sprawled out in the center of the room, looking unavoidably and gratuitously dead. HANNIBAL is an old man, in simple garb. HELENA is seated on a couch.)

HELENA: (Helena is a nubile young woman of perhaps twenty years, who wears a simple sleeveless frock. She is pretty, with long, dark, Mediterranean hair. She is seated barefoot on a couch, observing the body of HANNIBAL with amused resignation. After a time, she addresses him amiably.) Well, old man, I’m sorry to see you go. It’s not all bad, you know. I’m not sure how much this means to you, but looks to me like you’re as stiff in death as you ever were in life, man. You’re a sly one. What’s rigor mortis to you? Rigorous, figorous. Death’s the damn easiest thing you ever did, ain’t it? And even in your sleep, even in the rest of death, old man, you stand to attention. Hah! The pike, old man! The sword! You were a stiff to the very end, but I like you just the same. (There is a pause.) And where’d it ever get you? All that standing to attention got you here, old man, dead on the coast of Asia Minor. How’d you like that, old man? You spent your whole life with raised head, and look – no dice. Oh, the stamina! Oh the exertion! You’d fought and fucked your whole life through, old man, you’ve led too many armies, too many attacks, too many (snickering) thrusts and retreats, and look- no fruit! All your passion, old man, all your passion’s bore you nothing. Hah! And even in death, you can’t let it lie, can’t put down the sword and stop. Look at you, bloating up like that. I should move you out of the sun, or something.

(There is a pounding on the door)

LEGIONAIRE: (From outside) Open up!

HELENA: (unconcerned) They’ve come for you, old man. Whatever shall you say to them? You’ll wave your blade, at ‘em, I expect. Little good it ever did you.

(More pounding)

LEGIONAIRE: Open the damn door! This is the authorities! Open the door, in the name of Titus Flamininus and the Roman Republic! We know you’re in there!

HELENA: (Conversationally) Hannibal ad portas! They still say that to children, you know. Hannibal is at the gates!

LEGIONAIRE: That’s it, Hannibal! We’re coming in!

(The Legionnaires kick in the door, and come stumbling into the room.) -Enter ORANIUS, DIOTIMUS, and FABIUS. (All three of these men are quite young. ORANIUS, being by birth of the rank Hastati, is dressed in the finest gear of the four: Helmet, shield, breast-plate, and leg greaves. He brandishes a pilum (heavy javelin) and wears a gladius (short sword) at his side. DIOTIMUS, FABIUS, are both Velites, and their uniforms are somewhat worn and mis-matched. Both, however, are waving gladii. DIOTIMUS is in appearance and accent Greek, while ORANIUS and FABIUS are full blooded Romans. With ORANIUS in front, all three legionnaires charge into the room over the fallen door. They immediately see the body of HANNIBAL, and freeze in their tracks. The entire stage is unmoving for a few moments; the Legionnaires are frozen in horror at the sight of the body, HELENA is waiting with great amusement to see what happens next, and HANNIBAL is, of course, dead.)

ORANIUS: (After a long silence) Is that. . . . him?

FABIUS: (Sinking to his knees) Oh shit, man! We’re screwed! Oh my god! We’re screwed, you hear me? We’re screwed! Oh my fucking god! Oh my shit! Flamininius is gonna have us crucified! He’s gonna have us impaled! We’re screwed with a god-damn swordfish!

ORANIUS: (While the others are staring in horror, slowly approaching the body of HANNIBAL in shock and fascination) I think . . . I think it’s him, guys.

FABIUS: What’re we gonna DO?

DIOTIMUS: Is it dead?

ORANIUS: It’s dead.

FABIUS: We’re fucking screwed! We’re gonna be fed to the lions!

DIOTIMUS: Is it him?

HELENA: The very man.

(The legionnaires, excepting FABIUS, all jump back with surprise; up to this point, they have been so transfixed by the body of HANNIBAL that none of them have noticed HELENA’s presence in the room.)

HELENA: (HELENA is greatly entertained by these proceedings. She leans forward to address the legionnaires, wickedly amused.) He is, of course, dead. I’m sure military men like yourselves don’t need me to point that out. Anything I can do for you boys?

ORANIUS: Er. . . Madame, I. . .

FABIUS: (Oblivious, still staring at the body) Oh my fucking god! We’re gonna be castrated with a fucking hacksaw!

ORANIUS: Fabius! Shut up! (He smacks FABIUS on the back of the head.) Madame, er. . . I deeply apologize for the violence of this entry and my comrade’s, ah. . indelicacy. . .

(FABIUS looks about to say something, but ORANIUS claps a hand over his mouth.)

DIOTIMUS: This is Hannibal?

HELENA: Hannibal of Carthage, son of Hamilcar Barca. Conqueror of Gaius Flaminius, victor over Lucius Aemilius Paulus, Terror of the Roman Republic. He has, (gesturing at the body) as you can see, not quite put down the sword.

DIOTIMUS: He’s dead.

HELENA: I think I said that.

DIOTIMUS: You’re sure he’s dead?

HELENA: I think it’s a reasonable assumption.

DIOTIMUS: Uh. . . You’re sure it’s him?

HELENA: (Enjoying herself) Why don’t you ask him?

FABIUS: (Breaking free) We’re all screwed!

ORANIUS: (Smacking Fabius again.) Madame, I terribly apologize – Fabius, cut it out! – I believe we have not been introduced. I am Gaius Oranius, from Rome. This is Fabius, here, who is also a Roman, and Diotimus, here – Diotimus, where were you born again?

DIOTIMUS: Syracuse.

ORANIUS: Syracuse. And might I have the pleasure of your name, madame?

HELENA: Helena, my good legionaire.

ORANIUS: Now, madame, we understand that the sight of this body might be. . . uh. . . distressing to you, but you will note that, however crass and rural my companions manners may be, they do, in fact, represent the fact that we three also, um. . . like yourself, are somewhat distraught by the sight of this body, that is . . . we are hardened military men, you see, which is not to say that we are desensitized, of course, but we as a group are more distressed by the. . . implications of this body, that is. . .

HELENA: You were supposed to catch him alive.

ORANIUS: (Relieved by this succinct expression) Yes, yes! That’s a excellent way of putting it, madame, and, of course, being under the strict orders of Titus Quinctius Flamininus in person and being under the trust, so to say, the confidence, of the Roman Republic in general, you understand. . .

HELENA: Which has been insisting rather forcefully on the capture of Hannibal of Carthage, I take it.

ORANIUS: Yes! Exactly. And Titus Flamininus has also been insisting, with equal force, although this force is perhaps tangential to the first force, it is nonetheless extremely forcefull, you see, that he, Titus Flaminius, um. . . Titus Quinctius Flamininus, to King Prusias, has been insisting, with force, um. . .

HELENA: You were supposed to catch him alive.

ORANIUS: Yes!

HELENA: And Flamininus will remove your testicles with, what was it, ‘a fucking hacksaw’, should you fail to accomplish this mission.

ORANIUS: Um. . . .

HELENA: Now, I wouldn’t presume to lecture you boys on your own history, but Titus Flamininus is known for his justice – I believe he came by that reputation by his benevolent administration of Tarentum, newly liberated from the cruel and oppressive blade of this (gesturing at HANNIBAL) tyrannical figure. And then, leading the Roman legions across Greece in pursuit of Philip of Macedon, he treated Helas with such care that the Greeks deserted Philip, their own countryman, in favor of the foreign conquerer Flamininus- Of course, the Greeks did ally themselves with this (again at HANNIBAL) old man, some years before, but the fact remains.

DIOTIMUS: (Stiffly) Not all Greeks betray their ranks, madame.

HELENA: (Standing for the first time, but remaining to the right of HANNIBAL’s body.) That’s a bold statement from a Roman soldier. I’m afraid I have a terrible weakness for bold men. Remind me how Rome captured Syracuse? It couldn’t possibly have been treachery. Not when Syracuse was a Greek colony, populated entirely by Greeks. Not when Syracuse was fortified by the defenses of the greatest mechanical mind in the history. It couldn’t have been treachery that led to Archimedes’ death. It couldn’t have been treachery that ended Syracuse’s sovereignty. It couldn’t be treachery to your noble Hellas that put you, Diotimus, here, now, in the Roman Army, come to capture the man who fought for your independence against all the might of Rome.

ORANIUS: Er, Madame. . . Syracuse is part of the Roman Republic, now. It’s not really treachery, exactly.

DIOTIMUS: (Angrily) In Greece, the women do not give such lip!

HELENA: Oh, yes. In Greece, the mouth-work is reserved for the boys.

DIOTIMUS: Syracuse fell ten years before my birth, madame!

HELENA: And yet you look here upon the man (pointing again at HANNIBAL), the man that wanted Syracuse to be free! The man that fought his whole life so that Syracuse could be free! The man who pounded himself to pieces against the rock of Rome, just so you noble Greeks could commit sodomy in peace!

DIOTIMUS: Hannibal was from Carthage! He fought for Carthage! It had nothing to do with Greece!

HELENA: He fought for everyone, boy! It’s not twenty years after Hannibal fell at Zama, and already your precious Hellas is becoming another Roman colony. Mark my words, it’ll happen. Why do you suppose Syracuse stood by Hannibal to begin with? Hannibal was fighting for Syracusean rights, that’s why. He was fighting for their right to be free of Rome. He was fighting for his own right to be free of Rome. He was fighting for the right of the whole world to be free of Rome. He was fighting this hegemonic night, Diotimus. He was fighting this republican empire that’s even now encroaching on the free world!

(There is a lengthy silence. HELENA is seething. DIOTIMUS is stunned. ORANIUS and FABIUS are not quite sure of what to think. HANNIBAL is conspiciously dead.)

HELENA: (Calmer) And he was a decent old man, at that. Bit of a stiff, but that’s all right.

ORANIUS: Er. . . What, exactly, are you doing in Hannibal’s house?

HELENA: I cleaned the place. Cooked. Took care of things. Polished his old swords.

DIOTIMUS: (Huffily) In Greece, we never let a woman near weapons.

HELENA: We’re not in Greece, good Diotimus. Hannibal did not hail from Greece. And, frankly, I fancy the old man (gesturing, again) had some semblance of taste.

(There is another uncomfortable hiatus in the conversation)

FABIUS: Hey, y’know how they separate the men from the boys in Greece?

ORANIUS: Fabius, don’t you-

FABIUS: With a crowbar! Ol’ Cluntius told me that one-

ORANIUS: (Slapping Fabius a third time.) Close your mouth, Fabius, and don’t open it again. Madame Helena, Diotimus here, and myself, are going to step over hear and discuss military matters for a moment, while in the meanwhile, Fabius will be happy to assist you- silently, Fabius- if there is anything you should require.

HELENA: Thank you, I am quite content for now. At some point, I suppose I shall need a new door, but it’s not urgent.

ORANIUS: Your slightest wish is Fabius’ command, madame. Fabius, go find another door. Go. Get out of here.

FABIUS exits. (HELENA retreats back to her couch, where she appears to regain her earlier composure.ORANIUS first goes over to the door, and lifts it up off the floor. He leans it up against the frame, so that it roughly covers the exit. Then he leads DIOTIMUS over to the right-hand corner of the room, where they converse. HANNIBAL remains in position.)

DIOTIMUS: Do you think I’m a traitor?

ORANIUS: You’re from Syracuse, Diotimus. It doesn’t matter. We’ve bigger business.

DIOTIMUS: What do you mean, ‘from Syracuse’?

ORANIUS: Diotimus, focus! Flamininus is going to have us on the rack for this! What are we going to do?

DIOTIMUS: You heard her. Flamininus was good to the Greeks. . .

ORANIUS: Oh, good grief! Flamininus conquered the Greeks! And, what’s more, he’s going to scourge us when he finds out that Hannibal died before we got him!

DIOTIMUS: Flamininus conquered the Macedonians. I’m from Syracuse. That’s in Sicily.

ORANIUS: It’s a Greek colony, and would you shut up about it? You’re in the Roman army. You’re working for a Roman. You just brutally screwed up a mission that is extremely important to the Romans. Flamininus will have your ass, Syracuse or no Syracuse!

DIOTIMUS: (Nastily.) The reason Flamininus wants my ass is because he spent so much time in Greece, I suppose?

ORANIUS: He wants your ass because Hannibal of Carthage, the greatest enemy the Roman Republic has ever encountered, Hannibal Barca, ‘The Thunderbolt’, who once slaughtered seventy thousand Roman soldiers in a single battle, yes, that Hannibal, the one who brought elephants over the fucking Alps, you were supposed to capture that Hannibal alive, and now he’s gone and died. I don’t care about your damn Grecian buttocks. You, I, and Fabius need to spin this one right, or we’ll all be crucified by tomorrow morning!

DIOTIMUS: It’s not my fault he died. I had nothing to do with it. It was between Rome and Carthage.

ORANIUS: In a minute, it’s going to be between Rome and Syracuse, because I’m going to black your eyes, man.

DIOTIMUS: That’s blatant racism!

ORANIUS: Dammit, Diotimus! We are in the army! This is an order! Shut the hell up about Syracuse and work with me. Hannibal is dead. What do we do?

DIOTIMUS: In Greece, they bury their dead properly.

(ORANIUS smacks DIOTIMUS across the face.)

HELENA: (From the other end of the room) You boys all right, over there?

ORANIUS: Madame, I greatly apologize for the violence of these operations, which are . . .ah. . not entirely unexpected due to the military nature of this venture, seeing as we are, um. . . in the military. Diotimus and I here are discussing how to proceed henceforth.

HELENA: Not much more you can do. He’s dead.

ORANIUS: Yes, yes. An excellent point, but, you see, Hannibal may be dead, but we are still alive Helena, and the, er. . . juxtaposition of these two states, you see, produces some friction, in that we, being Diotimus and I and Fabius, have to deal with the effects of that, uh. . . deadness.

HELENA: Well, that’s really excellent. What are you going to do about it?

ORANIUS: Diotimus and I were just discussing exactly that question.

HELENA: Any way I can be of assistance?

ORANIUS: Well, it’s not. . . er. . . We’re not really sure about the. . . erm. . . political bits of this and, well, we’d, um. . . I’m not exactly. . . (There is a pause) Well. . . How’d he die, anyway?

HELENA: Suicide.

ORANIUS: What!

HELENA: (Standing, walking over to look down at the body of HANNIBAL, who is no less dead than previously.) The old man knew everything. He found out this morning that you were coming. He took it well. He’s escaped before.

ORANIUS: But- Madame, how did he know?

HELENA: He has spies.

ORANIUS: Who?

HELENA: Oranius, however would I know that? I’m only his maidservant.

DIOTIMUS: In Greece, wo-

(Once more, ORANIUS smacks DIOTIMUS, then resumes his conversation with HELENA.)

ORANIUS: Excuse me, madame. Continue?

HELENA: Hannibal was thoughtful about the whole thing, you know. The old man was a stiff, but he cared. He paid off all the servants, of course. Gave them the whole day off. (Now talking directly to HANNIBAL, who doesn’t respond.) Sent everyone away, didn’t you, old man. You never liked your men to die. You always chose your battles. You were always so damn cereberal, old man. There was plenty of fight in you, but no passion. That’s what always got me about you, old man. You’d never stop going, but you’d never enjoy it, either. And you’d never let it get out of control. You’d never just let slip. Hah- little good it’s done you. (The lights have, at this point, dimmed to focus on HELENA standing over the body of HANNIBAL) Didn’t someone say that about you? I remember hearing that- after Canae, your lieutenants told you that. ‘Hannibal’, they said. ‘Hannibal, you know how to win a victory, but not how to use it.’ I swear, that’s the truest thing I’ve ever heard about you. You could get there, shit- you could get me there, again and again. But you never knew what there was for, old man. (Tapping her head) It was all up here. Always up here. Even at your age, old man, you fought like no man I’ve ever seen. The problem was, you’d just as soon play mind games. It was all the same to you, wasn’t it? (Turning away from the body, now standing facing out of the spotlight and into the darkness.) So that was what you did. You sent all the servants away. You had hundreds of them, too. The might of Rome sends three men against you, and you send away your army because you’d rather play games. And when it was just me and you, we waited for the legionnaires. It didn’t faze you, old man. Oh, you spent the last few hours with me, and you honestly decided to be sorry- that’s just it. You’ve been here four, five years? Five years here with me, and when it was time to go, it was ten minutes on the couch, a pat on the back, and that’s it. It was all stratagems with you, old man. All in the head. You just thought you’d nip out the back way, and be back on the road. Easy as that. Hah!

ORANIUS: (Breaking into this reverie) Back way, madame? Is there a back door?

HELENA: (Irritated at the interruption) Why don’t you ask Diotimus? The Greeks are experts at back doors, so I hear.

DIOTIMUS: Excuse me!

ORANIUS: Er. . . Madame, you would, ah. . . .

HELENA: (With a sigh) Yes. The old man had several secret passages dug out of this place.

ORANIUS: Where?

HELENA: (Gesturing at the cupboard to the right) Here’s one. He was fond of clever tricks.

DIOTIMUS: Hah! A back alley! In Greece, we fight like men!

ORANIUS: Diotimus! Would you be quiet?

DIOTIMUS: Even she can’t argue with that! Why, at the battle of Thermopylae, we three hundred Greeks stood up vast hosts of Xerxes! No back door for us.

ORANIUS: Diotimus, the Greeks lost the battle of Thermopylae. Xerxes snuck around the back and wiped them out.

DIOTIMUS: Exactly! A typical barbarian. They all love back routes. Cowards, to a man. Take this Hannibal character- couldn’t even stand and fight to save his life. Had to try and sneak out some namby-pamby secret passage. First he tries to sneak around the back way into Italy, then, when it goes badly for him, he has to just tiptoe on back to Africa. Him and Carthage aren’t worth a single Greek – Why, if Carthage had been at Thermopylae, they’d have run and hid.

HELENA: That’s quite possibly true, Diotimus.

DIOTIMUS: . . . What?

HELENA: You’re making excellent points, good sir. Now remind me exactly how Syracuse contributed to the Persian War, exactly?

DIOTIMUS: It was a unanimous victory for Greece!

HELENA: No wait, it’s coming back to me. I seem to remember reading about Syracuse’s valient conduct – not only did Syracuse refuse to help the Spartans fight the invader, they actually sent a messenger to surrender to Xerxes before he even won. Truly, you Syracusians are the model of strength and fidelity! Why, it’s possible you’re even more craven then the rest of them, being a colony, and all.

DIOTIMUS: Well – I – You and your damn Carthaginians! You want valour? Syracuse sent Carthage packing at the Battle of Himera. Beat the trash out of ‘em and mailed ‘em back to Africa.

HELENA: Your history is admirable, Diotimus. You’re quite right. And do you know why Syracuse won the battle?

DIOTIMUS: Greek valour.

HELENA: A clever trick. The Syracusean army pretended to be Carthage’s allies, then fell on them when their backs were turned. A namby pamby little back door, Diotimus.

DIOTIMUS: You conniving bitch! In Greece, women keep their damn traps shut!

ORANIUS: Diotimus! Shut your mouth this instant! This is an order, Diotimus! You should be ashamed of yourself! You are a member of the Roman army, and you will not besmirch the honor of myself and Rome by speaking to a lady like that!

DIOTIMUS: Don’t get off your rocker, Oranius! The Roman legions specialize in rape. You’re one to talk about your Roman honor!

(ORANIUS once again strikes DIOTIMUS across the face.)

ORANIUS: I am your superior, Diotimus, and if you don’t shut up, I swear to god I’ll have you flogged. Now shut that flapping Greek mouth, Diotimus, go over to that cupboard there, and see what’s inside. Go try to find the exit. (menacing DIOTIMUS with a pilum) Get your ass down there, man.

HELENA: (nastily) That’s right Diotimus. It’s like I thought – Precious Syracuse, a Roman bitch.

ORANIUS: Madame! Please!

HELENA: Y’know, Oranius, I’m starting to kind of like you, but you need to fucking come off it. You’ve heard worse, I’m sure.

DIOTIMUS: Now, be a gentleman, Oranius.

ORANIUS: Diotimus! Go into that cupboard before I get myself court-martialled!

DIOTIMUS: (Sarcastically) Sir! Yes sir!

DIOTIMUS exits. (This is to be done sarcastically, with much saluting and goose-stepping. DIOTIMUS pulls open the cupboard door, steps in, slams the door, and his footsteps are heard descending to silence. There is now a lengthy pause, while ORANIUS listens at the cupboard door, and HELENA silently examines the body of HANNIBAL.)

ORANIUS: (After a time.) Where does it go, madame?

HELENA: The secret passage? It’ll take him out to the beach. The old man kept a boat down there.

ORANIUS: (Moving to the center of the room to examine the body. He and HELENA now stand on either side of

HANNIBAL.) So. . . Hannibal tried to escape through the cupboard. . . ?

HELENA: He was betrayed, of course. (Turning away. Once again, the lights dim and focus on the center of the room, where HELENA and ORANIUS converse, while HANNIBAL lies dead.) As I’m sure you know, the old man was nominally the advisor to King Prusias. He lived out here in Libyssa because Prusias was under pressure from the Romans to give him up. When he heard that you boys were coming for him, he figured he’d just slip out. The old man made a habit of slipping out the back way. He’s done it a hundred times in his life. (Once more, HELENA turns and begins to speak directly to HANNIBAL. This time, however, ORANIUS is also present in the spotlight.) Live to fight another day, isn’t that right, old man? I can’t fault you for it. You’ve done your share of fighting. You were one-upped this time, though. Prusias knew about your little hidey-hole. You went down there, and you found Bythnian soldiers waiting for you, sent by your master, King Prusias himself. They were nice about it, weren’t they? No one held it against you. You were kind of likeable, old man. You were decent, if nothing else. Anyway, you came back up out of the cupboard. Told me, ‘Prusias has it blocked off.’ Just like that. You weren’t concerned. No hard feelings. You’ve been running from Rome, what, got to be near fifteen years now, and now you realize you’re trapped. Does it bother you? Hah!

ORANIUS: So. . . Hannibal committed suicide when he realized he was trapped?

HELENA: (Suddenly tired.) Yes. He always kept a little vial around his neck, filled with hemlock. The old man swigged it right there, like a glass of wine. No expression. So he sat down on the floor, and then here’s what he said to me - "Let us ease the Romans of their continual dread and care, who think it long and tedious to await the death of a hated old man.” Then he grins a bit. That’s all he had for emotions. He had a sense of humor. Then he goes, “Yet Titus will not bear away a glorious victory, nor one worthy of those ancestors who sent to caution Pyrrhus, an enemy, and a conqueror too, against the poison prepared for him by traitors." And then he died. Just like that. Talking about Pyrrhus. I suppose it was irony. The old man died talking about the last failed attempt to topple Rome. . .

ORANIUS: So king Prusias had soldiers down in the passage?

HELENA: One of the diggers must have betrayed us. The entrances were hidden.

ORANIUS: Are they still down there now?

HELENA: Does it matter? They’re on your side, man.

ORANIUS: I just sent Diotimus down there!

HELENA: I’m sure his Greek valour will protect him.

(ORANIUS makes for the cupboard door.)

HELENA: Come off it, Oranius. Even if they’re still down there, they won’t be any trouble.

ORANIUS: Madame –

HELENA: They’re Bythnian soldiers, Oranius. They’ve even less gumption than Greeks. (The room is once more well lit. HELENA walks over to the window and leans on the sill, looking out.) Take a seat, boy. Talk. What are you going to tell Flamininus?

(ORANIUS remains standing, and on the right side of HANNIBAL, alternately looking at down at the body, and up at HELENA.)

ORANIUS: I don’t see what I can say, madame. It’s bad enough that he died, but Flamininus isn’t going to like the commentary, any better.

HELENA: It doesn’t seem the old man was trying to make your job easier, no. One wouldn’t expect him too, though, given his life’s work.

ORANIUS: (After a pause) Madame, between yourself and I, did you sympathize with Hannibal’s plight? I am asking this, you understand, purely out of curiousity, and in complete confidentiality. Did you agree with what he did?

HELENA: It almost as long before my time, as it was yours.

ORANIUS: And yet you speak of the things he did with. . . force, madame.

HELENA: You broke my door with force.

ORANIUS: Er. . . Madame, it is. . . was, Hannibal’s door.

HELENA: I live here, Oranius.

(There is yet another, lengthy, uncomfortable silence.)

ORANIUS: Madame, if it is not too painful to you, might I have an answer to my question?

HELENA: (With a sigh) I suppose, I agreed with the old man’s fight. The way he put it, I agreed with it. It’s been twenty years since Zama, I suppose, and it’s all different in retrospect.

ORANIUS: How, madame?

HELENA: Now, Rome rules the sea and its islands. Rome rules all Italy. Rome rules all of Spain. Half of Greece is a Roman protectorate. Even here in Bythnia, Rome’s emissaries are laying down the law to king Prusias. The way he says it, twenty years after he lost the war, the old man was fighting against all that. He was fighting for the states rights. He was fighting for all the little cities of Greece and Africa and the Levant. He was fighting against this. . . Behemoth, this empire out of Italy. I don’t mean this personally, Oranius.

ORANIUS: Carthage was as much of an empire as Rome is.

HELENA: I know that. And that’s what gets me. The way the old man told it, he was fighting for the free world. But back then, at Trasimene, at Canae, and at Zama – where was the free world then? Where were the liberties? You’re a military man, Oranius. You’ll know about battles. Where’s the rights? Where’s the glory? It’s just men scrabbling in the dust, Oranius, and that’s what it must have been for the old man, here. Just a bunch of boys with sticks, fighting for gods and countries.

ORANIUS: I’ve never seen real action, Madame, but I’ve been told that there is a factor of glory.

HELENA: I’m sure that’s what you get when it’s over. That’s what the old man told to me. Glory is talking about it afterwards. Making it sound like it meant something.

ORANIUS: There is gold. Booty.

HELENA: (Smiling, with a certain bitterness) The old man knew about that.

ORANIUS: You think the war was meaningless?

HELENA: It means what we want it to mean, Oranius. While it lasted – well, men died, women were raped, fields were sowed with salt. It had significance, but not meaning. Then, after the fact, twenty years after he lost the war, the old man tells me stories. He gave it meaning.

ORANIUS: I’m not sure what you are saying, madame.

HELENA: You’ll agree that the old man’s war is significant?

ORANIUS: Certainly, madame.

HELENA: And in two hundred years? Will it be significant two centuries from now?

ORANIUS: I doubt it, madame.

HELENA: But it may have meaning.

ORANIUS: I still don’t see the difference.

HELENA: Oh, come on. How much significance does Pyrrhus have, now? He’s been dead near a hundred years. He’s not significant, as such, but he has meaning, Oranius. Pyrrhus and his war against Rome have meaning to you, even if they don’t effect you. Pyrrhus had enough meaning to the old man, too. He died talking of Pyrrhus. Pyrrhus is history. This old man is the same. He will be the same. Right now, he is significant. Twenty years after he lost the war, his shadow still falls across the Mediterrainean Sea, Oranius, from Asia Minor all the way to Spain. He is politics. Look at yourself. Armies move, in the name of Hannibal! He is significant enough that Rome wants him captured, twenty years after he was put to flight. He is significant enough that you and Fabius and Diotimus are all going to be crucified, because he slipped through your fingers.

ORANIUS: And in a hundred years –

HELENA: In a hundred years he won’t be significant. But he’ll have meaning. You Romans will speak of him like you’re speaking of Pyrrhus. And in Rome, they’ll mark this day, not because it’s significant to them, but because it has meaning. Today was the day that Rome’s ascension was sealed. Today was the day that Rome’s greatest enemy died. Today was the day that Rome stood unopposed.

ORANIUS: Maybe that day was twenty years ago, at Zama.

HELENA: It might have been Zama. It’s too early to know. But to answer your question, I do agree with the old man’s war. If it means what he said it did, then I agree with it. Is that what you wanted?

ORANIUS: I think so, Madame.

HELENA: And now I have a question for you, Oranius.

ORANIUS: Yes?

HELENA: If Titus Flamininus is insisting so very forceably that Hannibal is to be captured, then why has he sent you?

ORANIUS: Excuse me?

HELENA: Two addle-brained Velites and a greenhorn Hastatus. I was expecting an entire legion.

ORANIUS: Er. . . Madame. . . I am afraid I have not been entirely, ah, truthful. . .

HELENA: (with a sigh) Where are the rest of you?

ORANIUS: Down at the village. Um, probably.

HELENA: Why Oranius! I had thought you were from Rome!

ORANIUS: Uh. . . Madame, I am. From Rome, that is.

HELENA: (nastily) Shocking! I had thought that only a Greek would have such a laughably misplaced sense of honor. You wanted to capture the old man first, didn’t you? Nab the trophy and the triumph? You wanted to sneak up ahead, didn’t you, and get the glory before anyone else, am I right? You thought you’d get a promotion, Oranius. And here I was thinking ‘hey, no hard feelings, the boy’s just acting on orders, and it’s nothing personal.’ Silly me!

ORANIUS: Madame! Surely Fabius and Diotimus and me, coming here, surely that’s better than the whole Legion!

HELENA: Better for who, Oranius? Maybe if you’d let the legion come, Flamininus wouldn’t have to take your balls off with a hacksaw.

ORANIUS: Madame!

HELENA: I shouldn’t worry about it. Since you failed to catch justone old man, you can’t be much of a man in any case. You probably won’t miss your gonads, Oranius.

ORANIUS: I would have come up here anyway, Helena! I would have come up with the Legion. Hannibal would be just as dead!

HELENA: (By this point, both of them are shouting.) At least Hannibal died like a man! It’s a shame Oranius can’t even live like one!

ORANIUS: It takes a real man to come after Hannibal of Carthage, just the three of us!

HELENA: Then I don’t hold much hope for the Roman virility! He was one old man! How could you! I’d understand it if it was orders, but no! You wanted the glory! You wanted the gold! You wanted booty! You did it for the honor, Oranius!
ORANIUS: (Pointing to HANNIBAL) And he didn’t?

HELENA: He had more honor than any fucking Roman soldier! He was a decent person! Which is more than can be said for you bastards!

(At this point, and quite unexpectedly, the cupboard flies open with a deafening bang, and DIOTIMUS enters, backwards, and at high velocity. He lands on his back, screaming, possibly in Greek. Following in close pursuit is NICOMEDES, who leaps after DIOTIMUS from the cupboard and lands straddling the fallen soldier, brandishing an enormous scimitar. NICOMEDES is a Bythnian soldier, and is of ludicrously eastern appearance. He has a gaudy turban, baggy pants, a handlebar moustache, and a sequin-covered vest. With bulging muscles and the gratuitously large scimitar, NICOMEDES looks like a Turkish strongman, newly leapt from the pages of the Arabian Nights. At the entrance of these two, ORANIUS leaps back in surprise. Even HELENA is a little taken aback.)

NICOMEDES: (speaking with a heavy accent.) Don’t nobody move! Nobody move, or I’ll cut his throat!

HELENA: Oh, fuck.

NICOMEDES: (to ORANIUS) Don’t move a muscle, boy! I’ll cut this fucker’s throat. Hands over your head! That’s right. Put ‘em up there.

HELENA: Nicodemes! Get the hell off there!

NICOMEDES: Oh, hello, Helena. Friends of yours? (NICOMEDES catches sight of HANNIBAL, who remains imperturbably dead.) Oh, I say! (Rising suddenly, and walking over inspect the body.) Nobody told me he was dead.

HELENA: You might have asked Diotimus.

NICOMEDES: (To DIOTIMUS, waving his scimitar vaguely.) Don’t you move, fucker! I’ll cut your throat if you move. Just stay there. Yeah. Don’t get up. (To HELENA) Romans. Always sneaking around where they don’t belong.

DIOTIMUS: (from the ground) I’m from Syracuse!

HELENA: Shut the hell up, Diotimus. And Nicomedes, just because he’s a Roman doesn’t give you an excuse to kill him.

NICOMEDES: I know. I tell you, Helena, the good old days are gone! Why, time was, you didn’t have to ask before you killed a Roman. I mean, what else were you going to do with ‘em? Now it’s all politics, politics, politics. Look at this. Just look! Hannibal of Carthage dead! I tell you, it’s the end of a golden age!

HELENA: Was it you down in that tunnel?

NICOMEDES: Business is business, Helena. Just following orders. I’m a sorry to see him go as you are, believe me. Nothing I could do ‘bout it, miss. Now take a look at these. (Speaking now to DIOTIMUS and ORANIUS) They call this fighting men! Republicanism does things to a fellow, I tell you! In my time, we didn’t vote! We had real revolutions. We didn’t have wedlock. We had rape, and that was good enough for us! Why, I’ve been living in a tyranny for thirty-five happy years, and I’m the picture of health. You two boys look like you’re in an army, or something.

ORANIUS: (A little stiffly) We are in the Roman army. Gaius Oranius.

NICOMEDES: Why, I’ve been killing people since I was half your size, and I never needed no namby-pamby army to do it. See what comes out of Italy, Helena? Boys with sticks. When I was a boy, we didn’t have sticks! We had penises, and that was good enough for us! I’m Nicomedes, and I’ll cut yer throat if you move, boy.

ORANIUS: (with his hands over his head) You’re a. . . brigand?

NICOMEDES: I’m a professional henchman. Technically, I work for King Prusias, (with a sarcastic snort) his highness, which is why I was down in that tunnel there. What the hell are you?

ORANIUS: I am a soldier of Rome.

DIOTIMUS: (somewhat pathetically) I’m from Syracuse!

ORANIUS: Diotimus is also a soldier of Rome, whether or not he cares to admit it.

NICOMEDES: Oh-ho. Syracuse, eh? Then you’ll know Helena here?

DIOTIMUS: What?

NICOMEDES: (To HELENA) You’re a good kid, Helena, but I can’t say I think much of yer fatherland, if this here’s a representative sample of it’s manhood.

ORANIUS: You’re from Syracuse?

HELENA: Originally.

ORANIUS: But you’re always trashing Greeks! How are your from Syracuse?

NICOMEDES: Well where’d you think she’s from? Her name’s Helena. Stand to reason she’s from a Hellenistic city, boy. (To HELENA) Miss, in my professional opinion, I think the boy’s a bit addled. Bit thick. Maybe some kind of village idiot.

ORANIUS: (ignoring this, still speaking to HELENA) I thought you were from here! I thought you were a Lybissan girl!

HELENA: My parents came here when I was five. Don’t make anything of it, Oranius.

ORANIUS: But why’d they come here? Why’d they leave Greece?

HELENA: My parents were big Hannibal supporters. Die-hards. Postwar Syracuse was not a good place to be a Hannibal die-hard.

NICOMEDES: Nothing wrong with Libyssa. Honest town. Good fish.

ORANIUS: But why are you always insulting Greeks?

HELENA: Nothing wrong with Greece. The problem is, it keeps turning out speciments like this (gesturing at

DIOTIMUS, who is still on the ground). Pretty country. If only the Greeks weren’t traitors and cowards, I might consider going there.

DIOTIMUS: We are not cowards!

HELENA: Get up off your ass before you say that, Diotimus.

NICOMEDES: Don’t move an inch, boy. I’ll cut yer goddamn throat.

HELENA: Greek valour is a wonderful thing, isn’t it, Nicomedes?

NICOMEDES: Where, miss? I don’t see it.

HELENA: Never mind. It’s gone now.

ORANIUS: (to NICOMEDES) How do you know her, anyway?

HELENA: King Prusias always had soldiers down here, watching Hannibal. We got talking.

(Up until this point, the door to HANNIBAL’s villa has been leaning against its frame, roughly covering the doorway. Now, entirely unexpectedly, the door is thrown down from the outside, and crashes into the room. It narrowly misses ORANIUS, who leaps back in shock. Everyone else is aghast, except for NICOMEDES, who is unperturbed. In through the open doorway leaps FABIUS, with flailing arms and wild eyes.)

ORANIUS: Fabius!

HELENA: (sarcastically) The gang’s all here!

FABIUS: Oranius! We’re fucking screwed! The legion’s coming! We’re gonna be impaled!

ORANIUS: Fabius, you almost killed me with that door! What’s happening?

FABIUS: (sinking to his knees on the fallen door) The legions’s coming up from the villa! They’ll be here in five minutes! They’re gonna find us here, with . . . ! (this last is accompanied by a shaking finger pointed atHANNIBAL, who is dead.)

ORANIUS: Five minutes?

FABIUS: I don’t’ want to be crucified!

DIOTIMUS: Shit. Shit, shit, shit, shit!

NICOMEDES: What’re you boys in a ballyhoo about, now?

HELENA: They tried to cash in on the glory, and catch Hannibal before their legion. Now he’s gone and died, and they’re all going to be impaled. As far as I’m concerned, it’s justice served.

FABIUS: Oh my fucking hell! What are we going to do?

DIOTIMUS: (from the ground) They can’t kill me! I’m not even a Roman citizen!

ORANIUS: They can, and they will, Diotimus.

FABIUS: Screwed!

ORANIUS: I. . . I don’t know what to do, men. . . I think we’re out of luck.

NICOMEDES: Why don’t you just go out the secret way?

(There is a long pause while the legionaires consider this.)

ORANIUS: Could work.

DIOTIMUS: Let’s get the hell out of here!

HELENA: You’re just going to tiptoe out the back way, are you, Diotimus? Greek valour at it’s finest. And you, Oranius, I thought you were in it for the glory? I thought you came up here for honor. So you’ll just nip around back when it all goes sour, will you? Leave the women to their fate at the hands of hostile soldiers. How honorable. Fabius, I never thought I’d say this, but how on earth did you fall in with these crooks?

FABIUS: Dunno, maam.

HELENA: It’s ‘cause you’re stupid, that’s why. Boys, I’m sorry to tell you this, but the game’s up. You three aren’t going anywhere.

ORANIUS: Helena, what are you going to do about it?

HELENA: Give me this, Nicomedes. (taking Nicomedes’ scimitar) I’m going to take this scimitar, Oranius, and I’m going to stab Hannibal here. I’m going to cut off his hands and feet and balls and leave ‘em on the floor here. Then I’ll throw the sword out the window, into the sea.

ORANIUS: Um. . . So?

HELENA: Then I’ll sit here and wait for the legion, Oranius. And I’ll tell them what happened. I’ll tell them how you boys smashed down that door, threw me to the ground, and killed Hannibal of Carthage. I’ll tell them your names, boys. I’ll tell them your ranks. I’ll tell them what you look like, and where that passage is going to take you. I’ll tell them that it was you who killed Hannibal of Carthage. It was you who fucked this up. It was your fault, Oranius. And you too, Diotimus, Fabius. You killed him.

FABIUS: No-

HELENA: (her voice rising) It was you who came in here for the honor of it. It was you who tried to steal the glory from your legion. It was you who killed him! That’s what I’ll tell your legion. It was you, Gaius Oranius, and Fabius the Roman, and Diotimus of Syracuse. And they’ll hunt you down. They’ll find you, boys, and they’ll kill you. You fucked it up, boys. You fucked it up, and you’re going to die for it! They’ll crucify you. They’ll tear your fucking livers out. They’ll stuff you with bugs. You’ll die, boys! You’ll fucking burn for this!

ORANIUS: Helena, you can’t do this!

HELENA: Why can’t I? You came up here to find the old man! And you found him! You didn’t want that? Then you shouldn’t have come up here!

DIOTIMUS: (Getting to his feet.) In Greece, the women keep their mouths shut. (Drawing his gladius) You want to hold a sword, bitch? Then you’d better be prepared to use it.

(FABIUS stands, drawing his blade.)

FABIUS: I’m sorry maam, but I ain’t dying for you.

HELENA: Your Greek honor is showing, Diotimus. (Handing the scimitar back to NICOMEDES, over the body of HANNIBAL) Your department, Nicomedes.

(NICOMEDES, FABIUS, and DIOTIMUS face off; each crouched for a fight.)

NICOMEDES: Hope you boys are ready to die, 'cause no one touches Helena.

ORANIUS: No! Stop!

DIOTIMUS: Don’t be a fucking tit, Oranius! She’ll have us all killed!

ORANIUS: (Leaping between the drawn blades, and bellowing) Fabius! Diotimus! Put your swords down! Put them fucking down! Put them down, or I swear to god I’ll go tell the legion myself!

HELENA: I take it you want to die, Oranius.

ORANIUS: Helena! Listen to me! We can make a deal!

HELENA: Fuck you, Oranius.

ORANIUS: What’s all this going to mean, Helena? I can’t change what this signifies, but I can change what it means!

NICOMEDES: The hell are you talking about, boy?

ORANIUS: Listen to me! What does this mean, Helena? I can tell you what it will mean if we die. A hundred years from now, Helena, Rome will remember today as the day a tyrant died. A hundred years from now, Roman children will celebrate the death of a monster! A hundred years from now, this day will mean the end of a rain of terror!

HELENA: Shut the fuck up, Oranius! That’s not fucking true!

ORANIUS: You know it’s not true! I’m a Roman, Helena, and I know that’s not true! But who else will know? A hundred years from now, all Rome will know is Hannibal ad portas! Hannibal is at the gates! Hannibal the marauder! Hannibal the brigand! What they won’t know, Helena, is Hannibal who fought for his city! Hannibal who fought for Greek independence! Hannibal who lived here with you, Helena, and loved you. Who will know that Hannibal, once us Romans are writing the history books?

HELENA: What are you saying?

ORANIUS: I’m saying that I – we – Diotimus and Fabius and me, we can change what this means. If we die here, Helena, then Hannibal will be a monster! All Rome will celebrate the day this madman died.

NICOMEDES: I’d certainly appreciate it if this madman stopped talking. We’re trying to have a fight here, boy.

ORANIUS: But Helena, if we live, then some day Fabius and I will go back to Rome, and maybe Diotimus will go back to Syracuse. Hell, you can meet him there. And look, Helena, when I go back to Rome, this is what I’ll tell people. I’ll tell people about the Hannibal that’s lying dead here. I’ll tell them what this means, Helena. I love Rome, Helena. I won’t be persuaded to hate it. But I can understand what he fought for. I can understand what he died for. And I can tell people that. I can tell people what it meant when he died, Helena. I can tell people that it meant the rise of Rome. They’ll like that. And I can tell them that it meant the fall of Greece and Carthage, and maybe they won’t like that so much. But they’ll know, Helena. They’ll know that Hannibal wasn’t a pirate, and they’ll know that he fought for his country like Scipio Africanus fought for his. Is that a deal enough for you, Helena? Is that payment?

HELENA: Oranius, I was just fucking around when I said that.

ORANIUS: And I’m dead serious, Helena. I can change history. I can’t change what happened, but I can change how we think about it. And what else can you do? Even if Hannibal lost his war, at least I can go back to Rome and tell his side of it. Maybe he’ll have made a difference, then. Maybe you’ll have made a difference. Maybe this body here will mean something, instead of being just a lump of rigor mortis. It can be the body of an old man, Helena, or it can be the body of Hannibal the Horrible, or it can be the body of Hannibal Barca. Which do you want?

HELENA: Fabius.

FABIUS: Yes, maam?

HELENA: I’m not going to turn you in to the legion. Can you put that door up against the frame

FABIUS: Oranius?

ORANIUS: Do it, Fabius.

(FABIUS sheathes his sword, and lifts the door up again. He leans it against the doorway, so that the exterior is once more shut off from sight.)

NICOMEDES: Does this mean we’re all friends now?

HELENA: It means you’re not going to kill each other.

NICOMEDES: In my day, we didn’t have negotiated settlements. We had capital punishment, and that was good enough for us.

HELENA: Go hold the door closed, Nicomedes.

(NICOMEDES sheaths his scimitar, walks over to the door, and steadies it with a hand.)

ORANIUS: Diotimus, put your sword down.

DIOTIMUS: The bitch deserves to die.

ORANIUS: You kill her, and I’ll kill you. She’s not going to turn us in.

DIOTIMUS: In Greece, we don’t have to put up with this.

ORANIUS: Diotimus, that’s bullshit. Didn’t you ever read the Odyssey? Penelope pulled this sort of thing all the time.

DIOTIMUS: (sheathing his sword.) That’s Ithaca. I’m from Syracuse. That’s in Sicily.

ORANIUS: Yeah, and so’s Helena. Come on. Lets get the hell out of here. We can slip back into the legion later.

FABIUS: Where are we going?

DIOTIMUS: It goes down to the beach, Fabius. Lets go.

(FABIUS and DIOTIMUS exit into the cupboard.)

ORANIUS: What are you going to tell them, Helena?

HELENA: Same as I told you. He committed suicide. Last words. Nicomedes broke down the door because he thought the old man might try it. What will you do?

ORANIUS: We’ll make it out to the beach. We’ll hop back into the legion later. No one will know.

(There is a pounding at the door, which shakes, but does not fall in.)

LEGIONAIRE: (Shouting from outside.) Open up! Open in the name of the Roman Republic!

NICOMEDES: (Softly.) Should I let ‘em in?

HELENA: In a minute. And you’ll tell the people in Rome, Oranius?

ORANIUS: I’ll tell everyone.

LEGIONAIRE: (Pounding.) Open in the name of Titus Quinctius Flamininus! We know you’re in there!

HELENA: I don’t think it’s going to work, Oranius. Hannibal is at the gates! They’re always going to say that. I think you can try, but it’s not going to do much.

ORANIUS: Maybe, Helena. But look at the old man. What else can you do but try? Sometimes nothing comes of it, and sometimes you’ll change the world. You can never tell until a hundred years after.

(ORANIUS steps over the body of HANNIBAL and kisses HELENA, quickly. This is the first time in the play that anyone has passed the HANNIBAL’s body. Then, quickly, while HELENA is stunned, he hops back over the body, leaps into the cupboard, and is gone. The cupboard door closes behind him. Outside, there is more shouting and pounding from the legionaires.)

NICOMEDES: They’re going to bust through, miss. Can I let ‘em in?

HELENA: (smiling) Yeah, let them in. Lets see if we can open the damn door this time, not break it down. . .

 

FINIS

 

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