The Book

In Virgil's dreams, Æneas can't sleep peacefully. His army is stuck in a marshland, the enemy is tougher than expected, and his men are exhausted. The quest for a new homeland is about to fail, within sight of the goal.

Tonight, the gods gather around his bed.

Ares: There is a beauty to imaginary heroes.

Athena: Tsk.

Ares: I do not understand why you antagonize him, all of a sudden. He is conscientious, resolute, and as humane as a ruler can be.

Athena: Conscientious! A commander who does not care that his pilot is buried!

Ares: He has saved the lives of many Trojans!

Athena: He walked over a queen's dead body!

Ares: A queen who falls for a refugee has it coming, and she did not belong to his people!

Poseidon: Your dispute is futile. The point is that we do not turn back the hands of time.

Athena: The future needs to be changed and this inception is our last chance to do it! We all know what awaits us and the world, otherwise.

Poseidon: You do not change what is already written, Rome has been founded and this one will descend to the underworld guided by the Sybil, hear the prophecy, and win his war.

Athena: Except the Sybil of his poet's dreams has refused to guide and to prophetize. Something in his mind longs for a different future, this is our opportunity.

Apollon: True. We could have Hermes guide the hero, disguised as his father.

Athena: If she refuses, we can. My main point is that the hero sees what will be and wants to change it.

Poseidon: This all sounds very well, except we cannot change what will have been. The book may change in his mind, but Rome has already been founded.

Athena: Perhaps we cannot, but we have to try. How can you be so blind, all of you? We seal our doom, if we keep doing this by the book!

Apollon: My attempt with Diogenes failed, you know that, do you not? And human attempts, pah.

Athena: Diogenes was just a philosopher, this is a founder of nations.

Zeus: He is, but Poseidon is right. You do not break the rule of time.

Hera: That sounds strange coming from you. Since when do you advocate rules? We make them and we break them, you know that better than anyone else here.

Zeus: Madam, please! Do not mix private matters into the state affairs!

Hera: If you understand what I am saying as a reference to private matters, you certainly have your reasons, Sir! I am talking about the fact that your daughter is right: we do not operate by the book, unless the book says what we want it to say.

Zeus: Well…

Hera: Let me finish, please. I agree with your daughter, we must change the book, if we want to keep our position. You all know it: This is not just about a single matter anymore, this is about our future, even more than about the future of a human nation. Are we to fall without a fight?

Æneas shifts on his bed. He moans, breaths faster. Then he reaches for his sword, clutches it, and calms down again.

Ares: Of course not.

Poseidon: Fight is just a cheap catchphrase.

Athena: It is not a catchphrase, it is the right thing to do. You know what I propose, let us try, at least!

Poseidon: But what you propose is too risky! You do not mess with time!

Athena: I do not mess! I am talking about a creative handling of the timeline!

Ares: Your creative handling will create nothing but huge problems!

Athena: Time has already been defeated once.

Poseidon: That does not mean that it has lost its power. You do not prey on time; time eats you.

Athena: If you have a better plan, let us hear it!

Hera: Stop it. None of us has another plan, let alone a better one.

Athena: Right. So let us give my plan a chance! Please!

Æneas shifts on his bed again. All eyes converge on him.

Hera: Our doom is sealed anyway.

Apollon: True. And all things considered, I would rather try and fail than watch and wait.

Zeus: I think highly of your judgement, daughter. I say we try. Hermes will do it.

Athena: We should ask the Sybil first.

Ares: Oh, yes, let us put our destiny and the world's in the hands of a woman!

Athena: She is entitled to the task.

Hera: She was, but she refused.

Zeus: The Sybil is opinionated and stubborn, whereas Hermes obeys us. Hermes will do it.

Æneas tosses on his bed, gasping for air like a drowning man.

Athena: What is this?! What are you doing?!

Poseidon: Nothing! I am not responsible for dreams!

Apollon: He is dreaming about his father, I think, or the pilot.

The Sybil appears before the council.

Sybil: Halt!

Ares: What is she doing here?! Who called her?!

Sybil: No one called me. I see things, do you not know?

Athena: Well, now that she is here, let us hear her out.

Ares: Oh, perfect! Perfect!! One moment we have no time at all, and the very next moment we are wasting precious time on a hag's balderdash!

Sybil: My so-called balderdash is your half-brother's special gift. Complain to him!

Apollon: It is the gift you deserved.

Zeus: Enough. Do postpone your quarrels. Sybil, make it short. What changed your mind?

Sybil: I have not changed my mind. I refused to guide him because I will not take part in the making of a catastrophic future. This is different. This is the right thing to do, and I am his prophetess and his guide. I am entitled to this task.

Ares: You are entitled to nothing, you stupid, stiff-necked…

Zeus: Daughter, would you?

Athena: Calm down, now… easy…

Ares: Take your claws off me!

Athena: Only if you promise to calm down.

Ares: I am calm!

Athena: Promise.

Ares: OUCH!… I promise.

Zeus: Good. Now back to you, woman. Tell me, why should we let you do this?

Sybil: Because I am the prophetess appointed with the task to guide him. And also because if I do it, you stick closer to the book.

Hera: That is true.

Sybil: And because I would do it your way.

Apollon: Oh, would you, now?

Sybil: Yes. I would do it the way you have now chosen and unlike the ghost of that so-called pilot who could not keep his eyes open when he should have, and unlike your pet founder's demented father, I would know what I am doing and why.

Zeus: So, you are aware that we want to change the future.

Sybil: Yes.

Zeus: And you are aware that it can very well fail.

Sybil: Yes.

Zeus: And you want to try, nevertheless.

Sybil: Yes.

Zeus: I will back you up on one condition: that you promise to guide Æneas to the underworld, if this fails. The future this poet dreams of is still better than the alternatives.

Sybil: Better!? You must be blind! Do you seriously want me to become the augur of an avoidable doom?!

Zeus: It is my condition. Accept it, or leave.

Sybil: Woe is me! And woe betide us!

Zeus: Sybil, now.

Ares: She is not going to.

Poseidon: I'll bet you.

Sybil: Woe! Woe! Woe! But so be it. I accept.

Poseidon: I do not trust her. Make her swear.

Ares: Yes, by her own life.

Hera: That is ridiculous. Promise her death and she will comply.

Zeus: What say you?

Sybil: Will you really promise?

Zeus: Yes. You may die, if you keep your word.

Sybil: I will. I will guide him to the underworld, if this fails.

Poseidon: Not stiff-necked, after all, only stupid.

Athena: She believes in what she is doing. She should do it.

Hera: I agree. What about you?

Apollon: Aye.

Poseidon: Aye.

Zeus: Then you may go.

In Virgil's dream, the Sybil compels Æneas to listen to a shadow who declamates: Nunc animis opus, Ænea, nunc pectore firmo then smiles paternally and continues hurriedly, while the Sybil translates: Time suffers not… haste the sacrifice. Sev'n bullocks, yet unyok'd, for Phoebus choose, and for Diana sev'n unspotted ewes, this is the time; enquire your destinies. He comes; behold!

Ares: What is this rambling, who is this shadow?!

Athena: Hush! The dream fabric is fragile!

Apollon (quietly): Those are quotes from book six, I think.

Ares: Oh, right, quotes from book six, great! I told you this would not work!

Athena: Shush, I say! There is nothing we can do!

The Sybil releases Æneas. She whispers: "Ask him about the future!"

Æneas calls out: "Father! Why are you so strange, what is going on?!"

She catches his hand: "There is no time for this, ask him!"

Æneas shakes his head vehemently: "This is not my father! Who is this?!"

Apollon (whispering while the Sybil, the shadow and Æneas continue to speak): This is not working.

Poseidon (whispering loudly): We should have sent Hermes, she is not doing it right!

Athena (whispering): The dream is shifting and there is nothing Hermes could do about it! Let her do her job!

Poseidon (whispering loudly): Shifting? What does that mean?!

Athena (whispering): Shush! It means the Sybil has to improvise.

Æneas embraces the Sybil's knees: "I beg you! Tell me who the stranger is!" The shadow steps slowly away. The priestess shakes her head, almost compassionately. She whispers quickly: "He is a great poet. He knows the future, just ask him, and he will tell you your destiny and the world's!"

Æneas turns to the shadow: "Tell me, I beg thee by thy gods, how will this war end?" The face of the shadow lightens up. He spreads his arms out like wings and declaims, gliding backwards: cunctanti telum Æneas fatale coruscat, sortitus fortunam oculis, et corpore toto eminus intorquet. murali concita numquam … The Sybil translates.

Æneas hastens after the receding shadow, but everything vanishes before he can reach it. Only the Sybil's voice remains: The streaming blood distain'd his arms around, and the disdainful soul came rushing thro' the wound!

The gods avert their eyes.

Zeus: It is over. This was our last chance. Let us prepare, all will be as it was written.

Apollon: At least we tried.

Ares: Tried! In a dream, with a woman! Pah!

Poseidon: I told you: time eats you.

Athena: Oh, leave it.

Poseidon: I was right, though.

Athena: Leave it. Please.