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Rome, 121 B.C.


PROLOGUE: The Roman Mob, consisting mostly of dispossessed farmers, landless veterans, and the urban poor, broods over its condition, portending civil unrest.


ACT I: The plebeian Fatuus enters into an exchange with the aristocratic Publius; Fatuus’s provocation of Publius results in the former’s death. While in the room of his household shrine, Gaius is visited by the Ghost of Tiberius, who exhorts the hero to carry on their work of political reform. The Ghost departs and Cornelia enters, reproaching her son for his lassitude and marital problems; she reveals a scandalous rumor of Licinia’s growing weakness for Publius’s advances. Paulus appears after a bad dream of Rome on fire; Licinia comes in to take Paulus back to bed. Gaius dismisses his mother and swears to his departed brother that he will reform the state and exact vengeance on Publius for pursuing Licinia’s affection. A debate between Gaius and Publius ensues in the Senate over the state of the Republic; Gaius wants approval of his agrarian bill, which would require redistribution of land to the dispossessed. Gaius accuses Publius of criminal conduct. The latter threatens Gaius with the Ultimate Act (martial law), and storms out with the Optimates in tow.


ACT II: A veiled Licinia arrives secretly at the palace of Gaius’s enemy; Licinia is seduced by Publius. The dance of the Lads and Lasses; they taunt Blossius, the philosopher; Gaius and Manlius arrive, sending off the young dancers; dialogue between Gaius, Manlius, and Blossius; the latter two try to persuade Gaius not to aggravate the confrontation with Publius, and instead to seek compromise. Guilt-ridden over her fall, Licinia arrives at the grotto of the Sibyl; there she expresses repentance and receives an enigmatic prophecy concerning the fate of her household. Manlius reports to Gaius of the failure of the prosecution against Publius; Gaius is resigned to a final reckoning. Licinia seeks forgiveness from Gaius; they reconcile in a heartfelt mutual epiphany. Gaius tells Licinia to meet him in the Temple of Diana the next evening in order to renew their marriage vows.


ACT III: Manlius betrays Gaius to Publius. Gaius addresses the Mob on the Field of Mars; they march to the Forum; Gaius pounds on the great doors of the Senate for a political showdown. Having mustered a sufficient majority in the Senate to get himself elected Consul and to pass the Ultimate Act, Publius appears with guards, the Optimates, and some Populares. He reads to the throng the decree condemning the Tribune and exiling him; then the Consul and his allies withdraw into the Senate, and the doors are closed. Gaius repairs to the Temple of Diana. The Mob has begun to riot, and the city is on fire. Licinia pleads with Gaius to escape. Despite all, Gaius persuades her to renew their marriage vows. Manlius, Publius, and the Captain enter with men of the Urban Cohort. Publius tries to persuade Licinia to leave with him; she refuses, and Publius grabs her arm. Gaius rushes Publius and is impaled on his sword. Publius is immediately arrested by the Captain, who fears the violation of tribunician sanctity; Manlius flees. Licinia holds her dying husband as he slips away; with Publius’s sword, stained with the blood of Gaius, she takes her own life.


EPILOGUE: Cornelia delivers the funeral oration on the steps of the Temple of Concord, before which is set the funeral pyre of Gaius and Licinia. The mother of the Gracchi tells of Manlius’s suicide and Publius’s execution. The oration finished, Tiberius Paulus lights the pyre of his parents; the Sibyl is heard; the flames arise and subside, and all becomes dark except for a light upon the pyre, before which dance a Lad and Lass. Final curtain.