years later. A room in Cherea's house, where the senators
have met in secret.
He insults our dignity.
OLD SENATOR Death's too good for someone who calls
me "darling" in public!
Every evening we have to jog behind his carriage when
he goes out into the country.
The exercise will do us good, he says.
OLD SENATOR There’s no excuse for it.
No, he can’t be forgiven.
He confiscated your property, Patricius. He killed
your father, Scipio. He's taken your wife from you,
Lucius, and forced her to work in his new public brothel.
Cassius, he killed your son. I don’t know about
you but I’ve made my choice. Between the risk
we have to take and this unbearable life in helpless
fear, I cannot hesitate. Can you still hesitate?
We're with you! He gives away our private boxes at
the stadium to the rabble and eggs us on to fight
with them -- just to have a pretext for punishing
OLD SENATOR He's a coward.
OLD SENATOR He's impotent -- I say that's his trouble.
follows as there is a general rush to exclaim indignation
and the necessity to act. Cherea strolls in, composed
How energetic you’ve all become. Do you think
the palace will welcome such an unruly mob. I assume
that’s your next stop.
We don’t plan to ask permission to enter.
May I have permission to sit down in my own house?
(Cherea moves toward a seat studying the others) It's
not so simple as you think, my friends. This is all
If you're not with us, leave us, but keep your mouth
Oh I think I'm with you, but not for the same reasons.
We've talked enough!
(standing up) Maybe, but you're rushing to
your destruction because you haven't recognized the
nature of your true enemy.
We see him for what he is, all right -- a crazy tyrant.
No. We've had experience of mad emperors. But this
one isn't mad enough. He knows exactly what he wants.
He wants the death of every one of us.
That’s just secondary. Caligula is frightening
because he's putting his power at the service of a
deadlier passion. Losing my life is no small matter,
but seeing it drained of meaning -- that is unbearable!
No one can live without justification.
Revenge is justification.
Yes, and I’ll share it with you. But I've got
no interest in avenging your petty humiliations. I
intend to fight against an ideal. Caligula
is converting his philosophy into corpses and, unfortunately
for us, it is an irrefutable philosophy. Where one
cannot refute, one must strike.
Act now, then!
Fine, we must act. But an imperial madman at the height
of his power cannot be attacked head-on. Use a little
of his own cunning. Encourage his dispassionate
evil and bide your time until its logic founders in
sheer lunacy. I’m being quite honest with you.
Afterwards, I won’t serve any of your interests.
What spurs me on is not ambition but the fear of an
inhuman dream in which my life – any life –
counts as nothing.
(approaching him) I think I have more or less
grasped your point. But the important thing is that
you, too, feel that the whole fabric of our society
is threatened. For me -- and I think you will all
agree -- it is first of all a question of right and
wrong. Family life is breaking down, respect for honest
work is lost. Can we refuse to hear the appeal of
traditional values in this hour of danger?
Will you tolerate a state of things in which we are
forced to run, like slaves, beside Caligula’s
OLD SENATOR Are you willing to be addressed as "darling"?
And have your wives snatched away?
Your money too?
TOGETHER No! (Mereia's "No" ends in an asthmatic
wheeze and nearly collapses)
Cherea, you’ve given us good advice. We should
calm down and take care not to act precipitously.
The masses would still be against us. Let’s
track public opinion. But when the time is ripe, Cherea,
will you join hands with us, and strike hard?
(Slowly shakes his head, yes) In the meantime,
though, let Caligula follow his dream. We must even
encourage his wildest plans. Help organize his madness.
Then one day, he will stand alone facing an Empire
peopled only by the dead and relatives of the dead.
Alright, gentlemen, we stand prepared!
general uproar. Then silence, but for whispers of
a name: "Caligula!" Caligula enters with Caesonia,
followed by Helicon and some soldiers. Pantomime.
Caligula halts and gazes at the conspirators. Without
a word he moves from one to the other, straightens
a buckle on one man's shoulder, steps back to contemplate
another, sweeps them with his gaze, then draws his
hand over his eyes and walks out, still without a
(Ironically, pointing to the disorder of the room)
Were you having a fight?
Yes, we were fighting.
Really. Why were you fighting?
No reason at all.
Then it isn't true.
What isn't true?
You were not fighting.
Have it your own way, then. We were not fighting.
(smiling) Perhaps you'd better tidy up the
place. Caligula hates disorder. HELICON You don’t
want to make him step out of character.
OLD SENATOR But . . . I don't understand. What have
we done to him?
Nothing, and that’s just it. You’re so
incredibly unimportant -- boring enough to get on
anybody's nerves. Just put yourselves in Caligula's
place. (A short pause.) Of course, you were
doing a bit of plotting, weren't you?
OLD SENATOR That's too absurd. How could Caligula
ever think that?
He doesn't think that. He knows that. But
then I suppose that’s what he really wants.
Come on now, let’s tidy up. (Caligula enters
and watches them)
(to the Old senator) Good morning, darling.
(to the others) Cherea, I've decided to have
a little lunch in your house. Lucius, I allowed myself
to invite your wife. (the servants who came in
with Caligula start to uncover the food). Just
a moment! Gentlemen, you are well aware that the finances
of the State have held up only out of habit and now
habit itself has collapsed. Consequently, I feel the
unpleasant necessity of reducing my staff. In a spirit
of sacrifice that I am sure you will appreciate, I
have decided to cut my own expenses, to free several
slaves, and to assign you to my service. Please set
the table and serve it. (The senators look uneasily
at each other) Come on, put your minds to it!
Public administrators should be able to develop an
efficient system. (To Helicon) It seems to
me, they're out of practice.
To tell the truth, they never were in practice, except
to give orders or complain about those they order
about. You’ll have to patient, that’s
all. It takes a day to make an administrator and ten
years to make a skilled worker.
But I’m afraid it will take twenty years to
make a skilled worker out of an administrator.
Nevertheless, they’re showing progress. If you
ask me, they have a talent for it. Slavery suits them.
Look, they are even beginning to sweat. That’s
a step in the right direction.
Yes, they’re not so bad after all. However,
we shall have to hurry; I have an appointment at an
execution. (The senators freeze with fear).
Rufius should thank his lucky stars that I've been
seized with hunger. (Confidentially) Rufius
is the general who is to die. (short pause)
Doesn't anyone want to know why he is going to die?
(No one speaks.) Good for you! I see
you're growing quite intelligent. You have realized
that it is not necessary for a human being to have
done anything in order to die. (He stops eating
and gazes at his guests with a twinkle in his eye.)
My loyal troops, I am proud of you. Don’t
you agree Helicon? (Looks at the guests roguishly)
A formidable army indeed, Caius. But if you ask my
opinion, they are getting too intelligent to want
to fight. If they make any more progress, the Empire
Oh well, let’s relax. Just sit anywhere. Mingle.
Don’t pay any attention to rank today. (All
are seated, music is playing. Grotesquely forced party
atmosphere) There's no denying that Rufius is
a lucky man. But I wonder if he appreciates this short
reprieve. Nothing is more precious than a few hours
grace when death is waiting. (He begins eating;
the others follow suit. Caligula's table manners are
deplorable. Suddenly he stops and stares at one of
the guests) Cassius, you seem in a bad mood. Is
it because I had your son killed?
(with a lump in his throat) Not at all, Caius,
quite the contrary.
(beaming at him) "Quite the contrary!" It's
always nice to see a face that hides the secrets of
the heart. Your face is sad, but your heart? Quite
the contrary, wouldn’t you say, Cassius?
Quite the contrary, Caesar.
(more and more enjoying the situation) Cassius,
there's no one I like better than you. Let us laugh
together, shall we? Tell me a funny story.
(who has overrated his endurance) Please ...
All right, all right. I’ll tell you one then.
But you will laugh, won’t you, Cassius? (with
a glint of malice) If only for the your second
son’s sake. (Smiling again.) Besides,
you've just said you're not in a bad mood. (He
takes a drink, then says in the tone of a teacher
prompting a pupil.) Quite . . . quite the ...
(wearily) Quite the contrary, Caesar.
I'm glad. (Drinks again.) Just listen, now.
(In a gentle, dreamy tone) Once upon a time
there was a poor young emperor whom no one loved.
He, loving Cassius, had Cassius’ younger son
put to death to remove that love from his heart. (In
a different manner) Needless to say, that's not
true. Still it's a funny story, isn't it? But you're
not laughing. No one is laughing? Now listen! (in
a burst of anger) I want everyone to laugh. (he
gives a horrible cackling laugh). My army of senators.
Caligula’s advisory committee. CAC (he bangs
on a table, and in a travesty of laughter) Cac!
Cac! Cac! Cac! (no one moves) Stand up, every
one of you and laugh. Cassius will lead (He pounds
the table violently.) Do -- what -- I -- say.
Cac! Cac! Cac! Cac!. (Cassius rises and painfully
forces the laughter until it verges on weeping. Caligula
looks at Octavius who rises and starts to laugh, then
at Lucius, until all the senators are on their feet
executing a horrifying loud, mechanical travesty of
laughter. Caligula has jumped up on a table and conducts
them, like an orchestra leader, in a series of staccato
laughs which rise in intensity -- Cac, Cac, Cac. Cac,
Cac, Cac. Cac! Cac! Cac! During this scene all the
players, Caligula and Caesonia excepted, behave like
marionettes in a puppet play. Suddenly, he stops them
abruptly with a conductor’s gesture and sinks
back on his couch, with Caesonia, beaming with delight,
and bursts into a fit of natural laughter.) Oh,
Caesonia! Just look at them! I’ve rolled the
dice and what do you see. Decency, respectability,
regard for public opinion, everything has ceased to
have any meaning. The wind of fear has blown them
all away. What a noble emotion fear is, Caesonia,
pure and unalloyed and disinterested, one of the few
to derive its nobility from the guts. (In a friendly
tone) Let's change the subject. What do you have
to say, Cherea? You've been very silent.
I'm quite ready to speak, Caius, as soon as you give
Excellent. Keep quiet then. I'd rather hear from our
(reluctantly) As you wish, Caius.
Then tell us something about your lovely, young wife.
Send her over to me. (Lucius' wife clings to her
husband, but Caesonia takes her and leads her over
to Caligula. All the while looking at Lucius, he unbuttons
the front of her dress with great deliberation and
thrusts his hand in.) Well, Lucius? Cat's got
(hardly knowing what he says) My wife . . .
Why, I love her.
laughter from the senators.
Of course, my friend, of course. But that’s
so ordinary. (He is leaning toward her, tickling
her shoulder playfully with his tongue. She is white
with fear.) By the way, when I came in just now,
you were plotting, weren't you? Indulging in a sleazy
SENATOR Caius, how can you . . . ?
It’s not at all important, darling. Old age
will have its flings. I won't take it seriously. None
of you are capable of a courageous act. (Helicon
whispers in his ear) It has just occurred to me
that I have a political decision of some importance
to make. But first, I must answer the overwhelming
desires prompted by nature.
crosses to leave but realizes that Lucius’s
wife remains where she was. He motions to her with
a little finger and stays where he is. She looks to
Lucius but he averts his eyes as Caesonia again leads
her over to Caligula. Lucius starts to move, but Helicon
moves his hand to his weapon and stops him.
(amiably making conversation) Oh, Lucius, please
pour me another glass of this excellent wine. (Lucius
complies) Now, Cherea, suppose you tell me why
you were fighting a moment ago?
(coolly) Our quarrel arose, Caesonia, from
a discussion about whether poetry is dead.
An interesting question. It’s beyond my limited
intelligence, of course, but I’m surprised that
your passion for art should lead you to blows.
Indeed. But Caligula used to tell me that there is
no true passion without a touch of cruelty.
Nor any love without a touch of rape.
(eating) There's some truth in that. Don't
you all agree?
OLD SENATOR Yes. Caligula has rare pyschological insight.
He spoke eloquently of courage.
He should write up his ideas. The book would be most
And, what's more, it would keep him busy, because
it’s obvious he needs distractions.
(still eating) You'll be delighted to hear
that he shares your views. At the moment he is working
on a book. Quite a big one, I believe.
enters, accompanied by Lucius' wife.
Lucius, I return your wife with many thanks. But you’ll
have to excuse me, I have such a busy schedule. (wearily)
So many orders to give.
hurries out. Lucius has gone pale and risen to his
(to Lucius, who is standing) Believe me Lucius,
this book will be the first of numerous classics.
Are you listening, Lucius?
(his eyes still fixed on the door by which Caligula
went out) Yes. And what's the book about, Caesonia?
(indifferently) Oh, it's beyond me.
Then we must assume it deals with the deadly power
That’s just it, I think.
OLD SENATOR (cheerfully) Well, that will keep
him busy, as Cherea said.
Yes, darling. But I'm afraid you won't be too pleased
with the book’s title.
What is it?
"The Axe Falls." (Caligula hurries in.)
Excuse me, but I've just made an executive decision
( To the Intendant) Intendant, you are to close
the public granaries. I have signed a decree to that
effect; you will find it in my study.
But, sir ...
Famine begins tomorrow.
But the masses will protest.
(firmly and sharply) I repeat -- the famine
begins tomorrow. Everybody knows famine. It’s
a national disaster. Well, tomorrow the disaster begins.
And I shall stop it when I feel like it. After all,
there are only so many ways of proving that I’m
free. One is always free at someone else's expense.
Absurd perhaps, but that’s just the way it is.
(With a keen glance at Lucius) Apply this principle
to your jealousy and you'll understand better. (In
a meditative tone) Still, what an ugly thing is
jealousy! A disease of vanity and the imagination.
To picture one's wife with her lips wrapped . . .
(Pause) Gentlemen, let's not forget our dinner.
Did you know that Helicon and I have been working
hard at some research? We’re putting the finishing
touches to an instructional booklet on execution,
which I’m sure will interest you.
Assuming we ask your opinion.
We should be generous, Helicon, and consult with them.
Let’s get their advice on section III, first
(standing, declaims in a droning voice) "Execution
relieves and liberates. Capital punishment is a universal
tonic, and just, both in application and in theory.
The individual is guilty because he is a subject of
Caligula. But everyone is a subject of Caligula, hence
everyone is guilty. Therefore it follows that everyone
dies. It’s merely a matter of time and patience."
(laughing) Well, what do you think? That bit
about patience was a nice touch wasn't it? Allow me
to tell you, that's the quality I most admire in you.
Now, you lot can leave. But you stay, Caesonia. You
too, Cassius and Octavius. Mereia too. I want to have
a little talk with you about the administration of
our National Brothel. I'm quite concerned about it.
(The others file out slowly.)
What's the trouble, Caius? Is the staff inadequate?
No, but the profits are falling off.
The prices will have to be raised.
Mereia, you have just missed a golden opportunity
to keep your mouth shut. You're too old to be interested
in this subject, and I don't want your opinion.
Then why ask me to stay?
In a view moments I shall need some cool, dispassionate
advice. (Mereia moves away.)
I may be speaking too passionately, Caius, but raising
the prices would certainly enhance the prestige of
Nonsense! What's needed is a bigger turnover. I've
explained my new initiative to Caesonia, and she will
outline it for you. I've had too much wine and I’m
beginning to feel sleepy. (He lies down and closes
It's very simple. Caligula is creating a brand new
decoration. It will be called the Badge of Civic Merit
and awarded to those who have diligently patronized
Caligula's National Brothel.
I think so. Anyway, the badges will be awarded each
month after checking the admission tickets. Any citizen
who has not won a badge within twelve months will
be exiled or executed.
Why "or executed"?
Caligula says it doesn't matter which -- but it's
important he should retain the right to decide.
Pure genius! The Treasury will wipe out its debt in
And note that everything’s done in the most
moral way. After all, it is better to tax vice than
to ransom virtue.
has half opened his eyes and is watching old Mereia
a corner, has produced a small flask and is sipping
(still lying on the couch) What's that you're
It's for my asthma, Caius.
(rises, and thrusting the others aside, goes up
to Mercia and sniffs his mouth) No, it's an antidote.
Not at all, Caius! You must be joking. I have fits
of choking during the
and I've been taking this doctor's prescription for
So, you're afraid of being poisoned?
My asthma --
Why beat about the bush? You're afraid I'll poison
you. You suspect me. You're keeping an eye on me.
By heavens, no!
You suspect me. I'm not to be trusted, am I?
(harshly) Answer me! (In a cool, judicial
tone) Since you are taking an antidote, you obviously
think I intend to poison you.
Yes . . . I mean . . . no!
And since you think that I have decided to poison
you, you are doing all you can to frustrate my plans
to restructure Rome. That makes two crimes, plus an
alternative from which you can't escape. Either
I had no intention of causing your death, in which
case you are unjustly suspecting me, your emperor.
Or else I do desire your death, in which case,
vermin that you are, you're trying to thwart my will.
(Pause. Caligula contemplates the old man .) Well,
Mereia, is my reasoning sound?
It’s water-tight, Caius. But it doesn't apply
to the case.
Ah, you take me for a fool. Defaming the character
of your emperor. That’s a third crime. Listen
carefully. Of these three crimes only one of them
is a credit to you, the second one -- because the
moment you attribute a decision to me and oppose it,
that implies revolt. You are therefore a leader of
men, a revolutionary. That is courageous. (sadly)
I'm fond of you, Mereia. That’s why you'll
be condemned for crime number two, and not for either
of the others. You shall die like a man for having
rebelled. (While he talks Mereia is shrinking together
on his chair.) Don't thank me. That's not necessary.
Here. (Holds out a phial. His tone is amiable.)
Drink this poison. (Mereia shakes his head.
He is sobbing violently. Caligula shows signs of impatience.)
Don't waste time. Take it. (Mereia makes a
feeble attempt to escape. But Caligula with a wild
leap is on him, catches him in the center of the stage
and after a brief struggle pins him down on a low
couch. He forces the phial between his lips and smashes
it with a blow of his fist. After some convulsive
movements Mereia dies. His face is streaming with
blood and tears. Caligula rises, wipes his hands absent-mindedly,
then hands Mereia's flask to Caesonia.) What was
it? An antidote?
(calmly) No, Caligula. Asthma medicine.
(A short pause, gazing down at Mereia) No matter.
It all comes to the same thing in the end. A little
sooner, a little later. . . (He goes out hurriedly,
still wiping his hands, Helicon follows him).
(horrified) What shall we do?
(coolly) Remove that body to begin with. It's
gross and ugly.
(to Cherea, as he lifts up the body with
Cherea and Cassius) We must act quickly.
We'll need at least a hundred. (They drag the body
into the wings.)
Scipio enters. Seeing Caesonia, he makes as if to
What do you want?
Nearer. (She pushes up his chin and looks him in
the eyes. Pause. Coldly) He killed your father,
And you hate him?
You want to kill him?
But why tell me?
Killing him or being killed. Both are ways out of
this. Besides, you won't betray me.
You're right. I won't betray you. But I'd like to
tell you something -- to speak to the best in you.
You'll be talking to my hatred then.
Just listen. First, try to imagine your father's death.
His agonized face as they were tearing out his tongue.
Think of that mouth filled with blood and of his screaming
like a tortured animal. (SCIPIO is stunned. CAESONIA
grabs him and looks directly into his face) Listen:
now think of Caligula … and try to understand
him. (She exits. Scipio just stands there).
(Entering) Run along, my little poet.
I need your help, Helicon.
(Moving away) Too dangerous. And poetry is
a closed book to me. Now get going, Caligula will
be here in a moment.
You know so much.
I know that time passes and that growing boys shouldn’t
miss a meal. I also know you’re capable of killing
Caligula . . . and that he wouldn't be averse to you
goes out. Caligula enters.
Ah, it's you, Scipio. (He pauses, seeming embarrassed.)
I haven't seen you in a long time. (Slowly
approaches Scipio.) What have you been up to?
Still writing, I suppose.
(with his back to Caligula; ill at ease, torn between
hatred and some less defined emotion) I have written
a few poems, Caesar.
Oh, on nothing in particular. Well, on Nature in a
A fine theme. And a vast one. What has Nature done
for you though?
(pulling himself together, ironically and defiantly)
She consoles me for not being Caesar.
Ah, and do you think she could console me for being
(in the same tone) Why not? Nature has cured
deeper infections than that.
(in a curiously young, unaffected voice) Infections?
I detect malice in your voice. Because I put killed
your father? . . . (in a different tone) Well,
well, there's nothing like hatred for developing intelligence.
(stiffly) I answered your question.
takes the young man's face between his hands.
Recite your poem to me, please.
I don't have it with me.
Can't you remember it?
Tell me at least what's in it.
(still hostile; moves toward Caligula in spite
of himself) It speaks of --
No, I can’t --
It speaks of a . . . a certain harmony .
(breaking in; in a pensive voice) . . . between
one's feet and the earth.
(looking surprised) Yes, it's almost that.
And it tells of the silhouette of the Roman hills
and the sudden thrill of peace that twilight brings
to them --
-- of the sharp cries of swallows winding through
the green dusk.
(yielding more and more to his emotion) Yes!
And that precarious moment when the sky all flushed
with red and gold swings round and shows its other
side, spangled with stars.
The faint smell of trees, of wood smoke mingling with
the rising night mist.
(completely won over) And the chirr of crickets,
the coolness veining the warm air, the rumble of last
carts and the farmers' calling, dogs barking --
And the roads drowned in shadows curving through the
aromatic olive groves.
That's just it . . . But how did you know it in all
(drawing Scipio to his breast) I'm not sure!
Perhaps because we love the same things.
(not quite knowing how to respond to Caligula)
Everything I feel or think of, seems to turn to
(stroking his hair) Such transparent innocence,
Scipio! That’s why you can’t understand
my own appetite for life. You belong to another world.
You are as good as I am evil.
I do understand.
No. There's something hidden in me -- a pool of silence
matted with rotting weeds. (With an abrupt change
of manner) Your poem sounds very beautiful. But
if you really want my opinion ...
(his head on Caligula's breast, murmurs) Yes?
It’s all quite . . . anemic.
(Recoils abruptly, as if stung by a serpent; then
gazes horrified, at Caligula) Leading me on as
always. And now you're just some predator gloating
over its kill.
(with a hint of sadness) There is some truth
in what you say. I have been pretending.
(in the same tone) It must be torture to put
up with that cancer in your heart.
(gently) That's enough.
You sicken me but I pity you more!
And I just realized how horribly lonely you!
(in a rush of anger, gripping the boy by the collar,
and shaking him) Lonely! What do you know
of it? The loneliness of teenage poets and impotent
men. You babble away, but you don't realize that one
is never alone. The same load of the future
and the past crushes us all. Those we have killed
are always with us. But they are no great trouble.
It's those we have loved, those who loved us and whom
we did not love; regrets, desires, bitterness and
sweetness, whores and gods, the celestial gang! Always,
always with us! (He releases Scipio and moves back
to his former place.) Alone! If only in this ghoul-haunted
wilderness of mine, I could enjoy real silence with
only the rustling of a tree! (Sitting down and
suddenly weary.) Solitude? No, Scipio, mine is
full of gnashings of teeth, hideous with jarring sounds
and voices. And lying beside any woman I caress, as
night closes over us and my body is finally satisfied,
when I hope to find myself poised between life and
death even then my solitude is fouled by the stale
smell of pleasure from the woman still moaning at
long silence. Caligula seems weary and despondent.
Scipio moves behind him and approaches hesitantly.
He slowly stretches out a hand toward him, from behind,
and lays it on his shoulder. Without looking round,
Caligula places his hand on Scipio's.
Everyone has some secret consolation in life. Have
you nothing of the kind? Nothing to which you can
turn? No refuge, no mood that makes the tears well
Yes . I do.
What is it?
(Pause. Caligula pushes Scipio’s hand off
his shoulder. Slowly and deliberately) Scorn.