As history teaches us, it happened to be
That Theseus, the governor of Athens in Greece,
Attacked and besieged, with wisdom and honour,
The land of the Amazon women, and conquered,
And wedded their Queen Ypolita; along with her
Young sister Emilye, his plundered possessions,
Theseus met them with a humble reception,
And he let them come back with him, under protection
From hundreds of weapons, to Athens and kept them.
Upon his return to Greece, Theseus learned of these
Awful and shameful dishonoured injustices
Brought to the name of the monarch entrusted with
Keeping the city of Thebes.
In the dust with his
Power obsolete in a coward’s defeat,
He now was deceased and cast out in the streets,
Where the hounds with their teeth would devour his meat.
His widow, the queen, in her hour of need,
Showered pleas on Theseus from down on her knees.
So he proudly agreed to put the town under siege,
And surrounded Thebes with all his men,
And pounded the city’s walls, and when
Those towers were downfallen, then
His troops to dust demolished them.
And when the brawl was ended he finally obtained
And returned to the Thebian Queen, for her pains,
The rest of her husband’s majestic remains.
Deep in the wreckage the people were left with,
Two knights were detected, well dressed and connected,
By royal bloodlines, though it was expected
They would be dead soon from the head-wounds inflicted.
But Theseus ordered that they be protected,
And sent them to Athens where they could be hidden,
And by his decision, the two knights were given
A prison to live in, though they were forbidden
To step from within ‘til their ghosts had up-risen.
The names of these knights, in plain language:
Arcite and Palamon. Utterly thankless
That they were not hanged with the rest of the vanquished,
They were caged in a tower for ages to languish,
And waste away hours and days with their anguish.
Years pass, ‘til at last on a bright May morning,
Emilye rose, as dawn was just forming,
To walk in the garden, with flowers adorning
Her head as a tribute to spring, and her singing,
As soft as an angel’s, rose up and just happened
To waft in a window and cause a distraction,
And that’s when the passionate noise then up-rose
To where Palamon paced, giving voice to his woes.
“Woe is me, woe woe...”
And then he sees her,
Palamon, struck to the quick by this vision,
In his heart knew his lust to conflict his religion.
I mean, she looked like a goddess, and he must be forgiven
If he thought she was Venus and asked for deliverance,
As he felt an up-surging of happiness in him,
A hope was emerging that perhaps she would give him
A premature evacuation from prison.
Meanwhile, Arcite had noticed the cracks in
His cousin’s demeanor and focus, and asked him:
“Why are you looking so hopeless, what’s happened?
What have you seen to provoke this reaction?”
And Palamon sighed: “I’m choked with such passion
For her that I see down below, yet I’m trapped in
This prison, my station the lowest in Athens.
Until I escape, I’ll have no satisfaction.”
See Palamon had gazed, and had paid the price,
And Arcite now bravely laid his eyes
Amazed upon the maiden guise
Of Emilye, and to his great surprise,
She made him sigh, and feel as sore
Inside as Palamon, and more.
Arcite fell to the stone and swore:
“This fresh beauty and peerless grace
Has rescued me; it clears away
The sorrow of this dreary place.
If only she’d appear each day,
I’d cheerfully stay here just to see her face.”
Palamon’s answer was close to delirious:
“Be clear with this, brother, are you joking or serious?”
Choking on tears, his emotions were furious.
Arcite just sneered at this like:
“I would never say
Anything as heavyweight as this merely in clever play.”
Palamon felt his pleasure fade:
“Well, then you have betrayed me, and openly broken
Your oath to me, plainly by both of us spoken
So faithfully, traded to pose as a token
Of total devotion; we must put that above
Any quarrel we have over matters of love.
All we have is our blood, and that is a trust
Rather tough to just patch up after it’s cut.”
Arcite laughed as if touched, with a covered smirk:
“In other words, since you loved her first,
I’m supposed to pretend like it doesn’t hurt,
And I’m not even allowed to covet her,
When I’m the one who suffers worst.
Why should I thirst while my brother flirts?
It’s enough to reverse one’s trusted word.”
Their hate and need were great indeed,
And made them seethe impatiently,
But destiny soon gave them leave
Of one another’s company,
When Arcite was released suddenly,
'Cause one of his friends did something
To please Theseus who grudgingly agreed
To let Arcite run free,
But the pardon came with one decree
That, once released from his country,
If Arcite came within a hundred feet
Of Athens, he’d soon be underneath
The axe and be beheaded violently,
So he returned to abide in Thebes.
Now, try and see the irony.
Palamon was left in the tyrant’s keep,
With shackled hands and ironed feet,
And every day his eyes could peek
At Emilye, in all her vibrancy,
While Arcite was unconfined, yet he
Was not allowed inside the city
And if he tried to sneak,
Or slyly creep by, it’d be
Like a deadly game of hide and seek,
So Emilye was outside his reach.
But it’s up to you to decide which of these
Two knights’ bleak lives was the highest defeat.
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