Kirke Circe

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.

Prologue. "Polyphemus."

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.

Act I.

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.

Act II

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

offended him.

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

curtain falls.

Act III.

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

is free.

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.