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Two Scenes from Friedrich Dürrenmatt's
Hercules and the Augean Stables
Translated by Alexander Gross,
Produced by The Questors, Ealing, London, 1966,
With Gross as Production Dramaturg

See also:
Excerpts from my ENCORE Article, the piece that marked the discovery of this play in the English-speaking world.

This work represents my debut as a play translator. I had found the published version of the play, issued a year after its first production in Zurich, at the Kensington Library in 1965. I was captivated by the play and since I already knew several London theatre agents, I began to make inquiries about it until I found Dürrenmatt's official London representative, Dr. Jan Van Loewen. From their office I learned that the play had been an utter flop in Zurich, and that no one had seen any point in attempting an English translation or production. I immediately asked for and received permission to make such a translation, which I publicized in the the article mentioned above. Shortly after its publication, I was gratified to receive a letter from Jeremy Brooks, the Literary Manager of the Royal Shakespeare Company, telling me he was very impressed by the piece and was mailing me a check for £10, as this was the amount the RSC normally paid for reports on plays and he felt my article went far beyond the reports he usually received. He also asked me for a copy of my translation. It was this work that a few months later was to lead Jeremy to commission me to do the translation of The Investigation by Peter Weiss and also led to my subsequent services as literary advisor to the Shakespeare. This matter is dicussed further in the pieces on The Investigation, The War by Goldoni, the psuedo-Kafka play, and at least one piece in my "Sixties Book."

Scene Two: On the glacier of Mount Olympus

(A snow-capped Hercules sits at right next to a snow-capped Wild Sow.)



HERCULES: Thin air.

POLYBIUS: Mountain air.

(Polybius blows on his hands, beats his arms against his body, runs in place, trying to warm himself.)

HERCULES: Sit down. Stop dancing around. You're making me nervous.

POLYBIUS: Sorry about that.

(He mounts the platform and sits down to the left of the Wild Sow. They are both almost frozen.)

HERCULES: North wind.

(Polybius moistens his right index finger and holds it up in the air.)

POLYBIUS: Northwest wind.

HERCULES: Luckily I have my lion skin.

POLYBIUS: I unfortunately am dressed for the middle of summer.

HERCULES: The fog's getting thicker.

POLYBIUS: You can't see ten paces ahead.

HERCULES: Now it's started snowing again.

POLYBIUS: Storm blowing up.

HERCULES: There's something helpless about Greeks on a glacier.


POLYBIUS: An avalanche.

HERCULES: We're not a mountaineering nation.

POLYBIUS: All the more reason to be proud. We're the first to scale Mount Olympus.

HERCULES: The Wild Boar beat us to it.


POLYBIUS: Falling rock.

HERCULES: Half the peak is going under.

POLYBIUS: Is Mount Olympus basically solid?

HERCULES: No idea.

(Pause. Snow flurry.)

HERCULES: Polybius.

POLYBIUS: Yes, mighty Hercules?

HERCULES: Your teeth are chattering. Stop it.


HERCULES: I'm starting to think.

POLYBIUS: It's the cold that does it.

HERCULES: I sweat and strain. I kill the prehistoric monsters that trample down the fields of Greece. And the bandits that infest our roads, I string them up on trees. But since I've hired you, my correspondence has been in order, it's true, but my affairs have been in worse shape than ever. I'd rather have it the other way around.

POLYBIUS: Granted, mighty Hercules. The first three Labors I handled for you weren't very lucrative. For the Nemean Lion you were supposed to be paid according to weight, but it turned out to be a tiny wildcat. And that giant serpent Hydra simply bogged down in the Lernaean marshes, and the Ceryneian Hind—what a thoroughbred--it ran so fast that we never had a chance. But the Wild Boar of Erymanthus—what a chase that's been—up here to the very summit of Olympus, unseen by mortal eyes before this moment.

HERCULES: We can't see anything either.

POLYBIUS: At least we've finally tracked the dreaded monster to its lair.

HERCULES: It's still snowing.

POLYBIUS: The world can at last breathe free.

HERCULES: Doesn't help us any.

POLYBIUS: It helps a great deal. The Wild Boar lies between us right there, exhausted in the snow. And where there's a boar, there's a reward.

HERCULES: What Wild Boar of Erymanthus? This is just an old sow. Exhausted in the snow.

(Polybius takes a look.)

POLYBIUS: What do you know? A Wild Sow.


POLYBIUS: It must have run after the Wild Boar.

HERCULES: Just like us.

POLYBIUS: Now we mustn't lose our heads, you know.


HERCULES: Another avalanche.

POLYBIUS: If the sow is here, the boar can't be far away.

HERCULES: Down there—in the crevasse.

POLYBIUS: In the crevasse?

HERCULES: Before my very eyes the Wild Boar of Erymanthus plunged into the bottomless abyss.

POLYBIUS: Well, there goes your reward. Fifteen thousand drachmas down the crevasse.

HERCULES: Three thousand more than I get for the average road bandit.


POLYBIUS: Couldn't we climb down and...

HERCULES: Too steep.

POLYBIUS: Let's think it over.

HERCULES: Now even the Wild Sow is frozen stiff.


POLYBIUS: I have it.


POLYBIUS: I know a taxidermist in Thebes—if he made a few skillful modifications—

HERCULES: What for?

POLYBIUS: To change the sow into a boar. A pig's a pig.


HERCULES: It's stopped snowing.

POLYBIUS: The fog is lifting.

HERCULES: Let's get up.

(They arise and knock the snow from their clothing.)

HERCULES: Time for exercise.

(They do kneebends, flexing their arms.)

HERCULES: Now I can think clearly again.

POLYBIUS: Thank god for that.

HERCULES: You're trying to turn me into a swindler.

POLYBIUS: (frightened) But mighty Hercules...

HERCULES: You're asking me to pass off a sow for a boar.

POLYBIUS: If we don't, we'll lose the money. Think of the fifteen thousand drachmas!

HERCULES: What do I care about fifteen thousand drachmas!

POLYBIUS: You can't afford not to, mighty Hercules, considering your debts!

(Pause. Hercules looks aghast at Polybius.)

HERCULES: Shut the hell up!


HERCULES: (thunderously) Where do you think we are? We're on Mount Olympus!


POLYBIUS: Another avalanche.

HERCULES: (bellowing) I couldn't care less!


POLYBIUS: There's another.


POLYBIUS: If you keep bellowing, the other half of the mountain will collapse.

HERCULES: (furiously) I'll fling you down to the bottom! I have no debts!

POLYBIUS: But you have, mighty Hercules.

(Hercules seizes Polybius in front by the chest.)

HERCULES: You're lying!

POLYBIUS: (deathly afraid) I'm not lying, Master! You know it perfectly well! You have debts everywhere! With your banker Eurystheus, with your broker Epaminondas, with Ajax the architect, with Leonidas the tailor! You owe money to all of Thebes, mighty...

 Dead Silence.)

Scene Four: In the Augean Stables

(At center stage a rope comes down with a cowbell at the end. Out of the manure ten National Councillors emerge around Augeas. They are visible only above the abdomen, like enormous manure-covered idols.

Tasteful scenography.

Augeas jangles the cowbell. At first nothing happens for a long time.)

FIRST NATIONAL COUNCILOR: It stinks so much in our country that it's simply unbearable.

SECOND NATIONAL COUNCILOR: The manure's so high that you can't see anything but manure.

THIRD: Last year we could still see the roofs of our houses, now we'll never see them again.

FOURTH: We're totally covered with dung.

ALL: Covered with dung.

AUGEAS: (shaking the bell) Silence!


FiFTH: But we're covered with dung.

SIXTH: Up to the neck. And over.

SEVENTH: Soiled and shitty.

EIGHTH: Sinking and stinking.

ALL: We're stinking.

AUGEAS: (sounding bell) Silence!


FIRST COUNCILOR: I'd like to take a bath for once. But there's manure even in the water.

SECOND: Oh to wash my feet.

THIRD: My face.

FOURTH: There must be countries where the manure isn't so high.

THE OTHERS: But look at how high it is here.

AUGEAS: (Sounding bell) Silence!


NINTH: At least we're healthy.

THE OTHERS: We're still covered with dung.

TENTH: At least we go to our temples.

THE OTHERS: We're still covered with dung.

NINTH : But we're the oldest democracy in Greece.

THE OTHERS: We're still covered with dung.

TENTH: The freest people in the world.

THE OTHERS: We're still covered with dung.

NINTH: We are the real Greeks.

THE OTHERS: We're still covered with dung.

AUGEAS: (sounding bell) Silence!


FIRST: We should have brought in Culture like the rest of Greece.

SECOND: Industry, foreign tourists.

THIRD: Cleanliness.

FOURTH: Either we do something or we stay stuck in the dung.

ALL: Stuck in the dung.

AUGEAS: (sounding bell) Silence!

FIFTH: Time is running out.

SIXTH: Scandalous.

SEVENTH: We must take measures.

EIGHTH: What kind of measures?

NINTH: No idea.

TENTH: Then we'll go on stinking.

ALL: Stinking.

AUGEAS: (sounding bell) Silence!


FIRST: It's destiny—there's nothing to be done.

ALL: Nothing.


AUGEAS: (sounding bell) Men of Elis!

THIRD: Listen to our president Augeas.

THE OTHERS: We're listening.

AUGEAS: I have an idea.


ALL: An idea?

AUGEAS: It suddenly struck me.


FOURTH: My god—I'm frightened.


ALL: Tell us.


AUGEAS: Men of Elis. I think, naturally, that we ought to decrappify. There is surely none among us who is not against manure, surely among all the Greeks it is the citizen of Elis who is most against manure.

ALL: Hear, Hear!

AUGEAS: But it makes a difference whether we decrappify just a little or whether we want to be radicals. If we only decrappify a little, in a year's time the manure will be just as high as it is now, even higher considering how much we produce. Therefore we must decrappify radically.

ALL: Radically.

FIFTH: Forward into the dung!

ALL: Forward into the dung!

AUGEAS: Forward into the dung. Easily said. We are a democracy and are concerned with an overall regeneration of the State. The task before us is so formidable that we will have to elect a Head Decrappifier if we are to have radical decrappification. But how easily does our freedom come into jeopardy if we do this. We get rid of the manure, granted, but we then have a Head Decrappifier and no one knows whether we can get rid of him. History teaches us that it is precisely the Head Decrappifiers who remain. But there is an even greater danger. If we do this work now, we won't have the time to take care of our cows. Think of our cheese and butter production. Exports will fall, and the losses from that will cost us far more than all the profits of decrappifying.

NINTH AND TENTH: Cost us far more.

THE OTHERS: The rich should pay for it.

SIXTH: They produce the most manure!

NINTH AND TENTH: We pay enough taxes!

THE OTHERS : Decrappify! We must decrappify!

AUGEAS: Fellow citizens! I now come to my idea. Last time I was in Arcadia for a holiday I heard about someone named Hercules. They call him the Purger of Greece. We can use him. Purging and decrappifying are pretty much the same thing. I'm going to send this gentleman a little note. We'll offer him a respectable fee, pay his expenses, and he can take care of the manure for us while we watch over our cattle. That's the cheapest way.

ALL: The cheapest way!

SEVENTH: Hear, hear! Let's do it.

ALL: Hear, Hear!

(Augeas and the ten National Councilors sink back into the manure.)

This excerpt from a play tranlation
 is Copyright © 1965 & 1999
by Alexander Gross. It may be
reproduced for individuals and for
educational purposes only. It may
not be used for any commercial (i.e.,
money-making) purpose without
written permission from the author.
All Rights Reserved.

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