In a Prologue and three acts by AUGUST BUNGERT.
Kirke, the first part of Bungert's Odyssey was given for the first time
in Dresden January 29th 1898. It had the same immense success as
Odysseus' Return. Nevertheless it is weaker in many parts, which is
perhaps due in part to the less congenial subject of its heroine. All
the sweet parts of the tragedy, like the chorus of the Oceanides in the
Prologue, the quartetti of the four nymphs and Periander's song of
Ithaka are perfect in melody and expression. The strong and violent
parts are Bungert's weakness they are often rather more noisy and wild
than powerful, and they remind strongly of Wagner. Nevertheless the
building up of the whole is grand and dramatic, and the hearer's
interest never flags.
From the sea rises in the form of a chain of mountains the figure of
Gaea in blue-green moonlight. Her song, sung by bass voices behind the
scene, is about her children, the elect, the conquerors of the world, a
race of men steeled by suffering, that struggle from darkness to light;
who, lost and wandering during life, with vehement longings, yet remain
blind, till in death their eyes are opened--but too late!
Then Eos, as conqueror of the world swings in a galop on his lion to
Olympus, singing to his lyre in praise of Love, the Conqueror, to
whom men and Gods bow. Olympus appears beyond the clouds. There the
Gods are assembled in council to decide the fate of Odysseus. Athene
and Hermes plead for the sorely-tried hero. Zeus answers that the
immortal Gods know and have determined every step of man's life. He
gives his sanction to Athene and Hermes to watch over and defend
Odysseus. Again clouds hide the scene. When they part we find
ourselves in Sicily before the cavern of Polyphemus the Cyclops. Here
Odysseus carries out the cunning plan he has made to free his
companions from certain death at the hands of the giant. He blinds the
Cyclops with a red-hot stake, and escapes with his friends by clinging
to the long fleece of the sheep of Polyphemus, who unsuspectingly lets
them out in the morning to graze. Polyphemus, finding himself
outwitted by Odysseus,--who makes himself known when at a safe
distance,--curses the hero and vows vengeance upon him, calling his
father Poseidon to pursue Odysseus with his fury at sea. Friendly
sea-nymphs, and Eos (the Dawn) hover round the heroes' ship and speed
them in safety on their way.
When the curtain rises the kingdom of Kirke, daughter of the sun-god
Helios, lies before us, bathed in glowing sunshine. The foreground is
a luxurious garden whose groves of palms and fantastic southern trees
extend in deepening shade into the background. A colossal sphinx
crouches at the gates of Kirke's palace on the left. Springs of water,
represented by four attendant nymphs sing to their queen in melodious
harmony. But Kirke--a lovely vision in soft flowing robes of yellow
hue, with masses of red-gold hair, crowned with sun flowers--cannot be
cheered by their sweet songs. She lies on her leopard-skin couch sunk
in melancholy; she despairs of ever finding a hero worthy of her love.
In wildest grief she bewails her hard lot; many suitors have presented
themselves, all have proved low and ignoble in their aims and
intentions. She has by her magic given them the outward form that
corresponds with their inner nature; the grunting of swine is heard in
the distance mingled with the wails and laments of human voices; Kirke
listens with rage and contempt; she flings herself back on her couch;
she hates the glaring light of day and longs for darkness. The maidens
close the gates of the palace. Night comes on and the moon rises.
Odysseus, waiting vainly for the return of his companions, hears from
his brother-in-law, Periander who has escaped, that the rest have been
changed into swine, after having drunk of the enchantress' cup.
Odysseus has set out to seek and rescue them; he is seen wandering in
the background among the trees. The friendly God Hermes, invisible,
whispers good counsel to Odysseus, and puts into his hand a magic herb
which will counteract the enchantment of Kirke's cup. Full of hope and
courage, Odysseus knocks for admittance with his sword on the
palace gates; they open, and suddenly in dazzling light, Kirke stands
before him in all her dangerous beauty and charm. For a moment the
hero is overcome with amazement and admiration. Kirke is radiant with
joy; here is the world-famed hero at her feet. But again the grunting
of swine and cries of grief are heard. Odysseus springs up; drawing
his sword he commands Kirke to free her victims; she vainly tries to
resist; she offers him her fatal cup. Odysseus takes it, but
unobserved he drops the magic herb of Hermes into it, then drinks the
now harmless draught. Kirke, swaying her magic wand looks to see
Odysseus immediately transformed as his companions were; but he remains
unchanged, and commands her to free his friends. Kirke, vanquished,
obeys. One by one the men rush out of the palace in their natural
forms and warmly thank and praise their deliverer. But Odysseus has
himself fallen into the power of the enchantress; a wild passion has
taken possession of him; he forgets his duty, his wife and child.
Hastily dismissing his companions he falls into Kirke's arms.
Wondering and distressed Periander returns singing Penelope's song; he
approaches and endeavours to rouse Odysseus to a sense of his duty; he
reminds him of home and wife and child, but in vain; the infatuated
hero, under the influence of this unholy passion, so far forgets
himself as in furious rage to attack Periander with his spear.
Periander in grief and despair turns to depart, and is mortally wounded
by the spear of Odysseus which the latter hurls at him in his flight.
In the distance the song of Gaea is heard.
The scene takes place on the sea-shore of the coast of Kirke's island
Many of the companions of Odysseus are lying about sick or dying of a
plague caused by the cruel rays of the sun and the poisonous air of the
island. Helios is thus revenging himself upon the mortals that have
Periander, dying of the fatal spear wound, is being tended by two or
three friends not yet struck down by the pestilence.
Odysseus has heard of their distress; he tears himself from the arms of
Kirke and comes to reassure and comfort his friends; but all turn from
him with horror, and curse him as the author of their woes.
All but Periander, who with a last, supreme effort implores Odysseus to
fly from the enchantress and return with his companions to his faithful
wife Penelope and take her her brother's dying greeting. Deeply
touched Odysseus promises to do so; the spell that bound him to Kirke
is broken; Periander consoled dies in his arms.
With his old energy Odysseus sets to work with the companions still in
health to prepare the ship for sailing away at once; when Helios
appears in his dazzling chariot. Stricken with terror all fall
to the earth. Helios is about to aim his fatal arrow at Odysseus, when
Kirke rushes upon the scene to protect her beloved hero. Helios warns
his daughter that like all mortals Odysseus is false and fickle; but
she will not believe her father's warnings, and he drives sadly away.
Odysseus still lies on a couch unconscious as when first struck down.
Hermes appears to him in a vision and tells him his mother Antikleia
died the very day, Odysseus was ensnared by Kirke. In agony he cries
out in his delirious sleep; he longs for darkness, only this can cure
him. Kirke bids him descend to the underworld; the couch sinks with
him and the scene gradually changes to the realm of Hades.
When the darkness clears away Odysseus is seen with two of his
companions in the mournful land of Hades; they offer sacrifices and
refresh the shades in the underworld with draughts of blood.
Antikleia, the mother of Odysseus approaches and touchingly pleads the
cause of Penelopeia with him. Teiresias, the Seer prophecies the
future fate of Odysseus, who listens with awe. Periander passes by
with his gaping wound. Agamemnon, Ajax and other great heroes of Troy
approach; all mourn and bewail their sad doom to wander as shades in
the changeless gloom of the underworld; they eagerly struggle to seize
and quaff the cup offered to them by the attendants at the altar.
Achilles rushes forward and accuses Odysseus of cowardice; he has
fatally wounded his friend in the back; he is the slave of Kirke!
Odysseus draws his sword, the living and the dead heroes fight; the
other shadows press forward with wild yells upon Odysseus, who,
overpowered, falls senseless to the ground. With vivid lightning and
pealing thunder the scene is quickly shrouded in darkness and the
The scene changes again to Kirke's enchanted garden. On the steps of
the palace Odysseus lies sleeping with his head resting on Kirke's
knee. He murmurs names in his dreams. Kirke listens, hoping to hear
her own name, but only hears that of Penelopeia. Enraged, the
enchantress roughly wakens him. The hero is himself again. He
exclaims: "Away to my native land! to my wife! to my hearth and home!"
A wild struggle begins between the two. Kirke strives with all her
arts and blandishments to enchain him, to keep him. Odysseus resists;
he has gained the victory over himself, he is no longer in the power of
the syren; his will is inflexible. All in vain does she strive to
charm him by the delights of her garden; the songs and dances of her
maidens; her sweetest caresses. He turns from her with loathing, he
curses her. At last Kirke's love turns to fierce hatred; she changes
her garden into a desert; she calls upon Helios to come and slay her
recreant lover. The sun god appears indeed, but says Zeus has
forbidden him to injure Odysseus. In mad frenzy Kirke tears his
bow and arrow from Helios; she will kill her false lover herself; but
her heart misgives her, the arrow sinks from her hand. At the same
moment, Hermes, as messenger of the Gods appears and cries: "Set the
hero of Ilium free!" Kirke, subdued, requires Odysseus to unsay the
curse he had spoken against her. "Be it so!" he solemnly says; and he
He is now joined by his remaining companions, they have found their
arms; they arm Odysseus; the ship is ready to sail; they all hasten
away. Helios remains to console Kirke; he foretells that she shall
have a son; a heroic child; she sinks smiling on a flower covered
couch; Helios lulls her to sleep. In the distance is seen the ship
with the heroes sailing joyously away.
The song of Gaea is heard once more.
The curtain falls.
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