Pericles Translation Act 1, Chorus
To sing a song that old was sung, From ashes ancient Gower is come; Assuming man's infirmities, To glad your ear, and please your eyes. It hath been sung at festivals, On ember-eves and holy-ales; And lords and ladies in their lives Have read it for restoratives: The purchase is to make men glorious; Et bonum quo antiquius, eo melius. If you, born in these latter times, When wit's more ripe, accept my rhymes. And that to hear an old man sing May to your wishes pleasure bring I life would wish, and that I might Waste it for you, like taper-light. This Antioch, then, Antiochus the Great Built up, this city, for his chiefest seat: The fairest in all Syria, I tell you what mine authors say: This king unto him took a fere, Who died and left a female heir, So buxom, blithe, and full of face, As heaven had lent her all his grace; With whom the father liking took, And her to incest did provoke: Bad child; worse father! to entice his own To evil should be done by none: But custom what they did begin Was with long use account no sin. The beauty of this sinful dame Made many princes thither frame, To seek her as a bed-fellow, In marriage-pleasures play-fellow: Which to prevent he made a law, To keep her still, and men in awe, That whoso ask'd her for his wife, His riddle told not, lost his life: So for her many a wight did die, As yon grim looks do testify. What now ensues, to the judgment of your eye I give, my cause who best can justify.
I'm John Gower, and I've come back to life (taking on the form of my weak body once again) to tell you an old story that never fails to please the ear and the eye. It's been told at parties, around the fire, over beers, and in storybooks for generations; men and women have read it to make themselves feel better. The point is to teach you how to be a better person. You know what they say: "the older and better the story, the better it makes you." And if you modern people (who are more clever than we used to be) will bear with my old-fashioned way of rhyming, you might enjoy what I, an old man, will bring to life on this stage by candlelight. This is Antioch, a city built by the great King Antiochus to be the most beautiful in Syria, and his capital. According to my sources, the king got married, but his wife died young, leaving him a beautiful, obedient daughter, blessed by the gods. The king took a liking to her, and forced her to commit incest. Bad girl! Evil father! No one should do such a thing to their own child. Of course, by the time our story begins, they'd been up to it for so long that they forgot it was wrong. Princes came from miles around to seek the princess's hand in marriage, hoping to make her their lifelong bedfellow. To prevent losing his daughter, the king made a law: whoever wanted to marry the princess would have to answer a riddle, and a wrong answer meant sudden death. Many poor men lost their lives that way, in pursuit of her, as you can see by the serious looks on their faces. What comes next I'll let you see for yourself; you can be the judge of why.