The Third Soldier
The Third Soldier
GRACCUS, an old soldier of the Legion
ANTONIUS, his friend
LUSTRA, GRACCUS' wife
MARIUS, GRACCUS' son
TERTIUS, a gladiator
DROMIDUS, another gladiator
[NARRATOR] Our story tonight is laid in Rome, the dissolute, corrupt Rome of
the first century--a Rome where men believed neither in their gods nor in
themselves; a time when there was no faith, no reverence, no pride. A Rome
grown fat and slothful; mistress of the world--and yet no longer mistress of
her own soul. But even in this time of corruption there were a few families
which held to the sterner, cleaner, braver old tradition of simplicity and
self-restraint; and it is in such a home that our story opens.
It is not a home of wealth, for the head of the house is one GRACCUS, a
broken-down former soldier of the Legion, piecing out a living by what work he
can find. Now, one night GRACCUS, a man in late middle life, sat by his
hearth, staring at the dancing flame with half-closed eyes, when he heard a
footstep behind him and a voice--
ANTONIUS [entering, a man of GRACCUS' age]: Well, my good friend Graccus--
GRACCUS [greeting him]: Antonius! old comrade, I didn't hear you come in.
ANTONIUS: It's a wonder, for my poor old joints creaked so coming up the
stairs, I'd think they'd have warned you!
GRACCUS: Sit down, Antonius--sit down, old comrade. It's a week since I've
ANTONIUS [sitting down]: Graccus, it's getting to be an awful long walk over
here to your house for an old fellow like me.
GRACCUS: We're neither of us so young, Antonius--like we were thirty years ago
when we followed the Legions of Caesar to Gaul, to Tarshish, to Egypt, to
ANTONIUS: Don't mention Judea to me! We were only there a year, Graccus, but
it seemed like a lifetime. There was a dead place for you! By Jupiter, every
time I think of it I can feel the heat, see the dust--agg!
GRACCUS: It was a dead place.
ANTONIUS: Aaagh! It's good to sit down. Where's the wife?
GRACCUS: Oh, she's down the street. She bought a fish this morning, and she
thinks the pedlar cheated her, so she's gone to find him.
ANTONIUS: Graccus, if she's caught the pedlar now, I pity him.
GRACCUS: So do I.
ANTONIUS: Where's your boy? I don't seem to see him round home any more.
GRACCUS: No. Home's not good enough for him any longer. He's got to be running
round with those friends of his o' nights.
ANTONIUS: Can't you speak to him?
GRACCUS: I speak to him, but a lot of good it does!
ANTONIUS: Well, after all, Graccus, you can't hold a young fellow down too
much. When I was his age I'd marched the length of Gaul with the Legion--I'd
killed my first man--at his age.
GRACCUS [quietly]: And so had I.
ANTONIUS: He's a great husky lad, Graccus--it's a pity he don't want to serve
in the Legion. Our old Legion. What's he say when you mention it?
GRACCUS: He says too much work and not enough pay--and he wants to stay in
Rome where he can go the pace!
ANTONIUS: Graccus, I don't know what the young people are coming to.
GRACCUS: I don't know what Rome is coming to, Antonius.
ANTONIUS: There you said something, Graccus.
WIFE [calling, off]: Graccus--Graccus!
GRACCUS: Ah--that sounds like my wife.
ANTONIUS [rising]: Perhaps I'd better be going, Graccus?
GRACCUS: No. Don't go, Antonius.
WIFE [off]: Graccus--Graccus!
GRACCUS: Yes, dear?
WIFE [off]: Can't you let me in when my arms are full of bundles?
GRACCUS: Yes, dear. Right away. [Opens door for her.]
WIFE [coming in]: Well! It took you long enough to open the door, Graccus.
[Very cool.] Good evening, Antonius. You're quite a stranger.
ANTONIUS: Yes. How are you, Lustra?
WIFE: Just all tired out! I suppose Graccus has told you that he hasn't
brought in a penny for a week!
ANTONIUS: No, he--
WIFE: And a man cheated me in the market this morning--and I couldn't find him
GRACCUS: Well, well, dear. Too bad--for you.
WIFE: And everything has gone wrong all day--and of course I'm the only one in
this house who worries about anything. As for Graccus, Antonius, everything
could go to the dogs--and he'd never give it a thought. Would you, Graccus?
GRACCUS: Well, Lustra, I--
WIFE: No, you would not.
GRACCUS: Well, dear, that seems to settle it.
WIFE: Graccus, do you need such a big fire when we have almost no wood left?
GRACCUS: Well, I thought anything that would make it a little more cheerful
WIFE: Just burning things up--so wasteful!
GRACCUS: Sit down, dear.
WIFE: I'm sorry, but I have too much to do to sit here and gossip round the
fire. I have work to do! [She goes out.]
GRACCUS: There was a parting shot.
ANTONIUS: Graccus, she didn't seem to be overcome with joy at seeing me here.
GRACCUS: That's just her way, Antonius. You have to get used to it.
ANTONIUS: I'm afraid it would take me quite while. [Low mutters from outside,
growing. Growling mob noises.] What's that racket outside?
GRACCUS [going to window]: Sounds like a mob.
ANTONIUS: Can you see anything, Graccus?
GRACCUS: Yes. There's a crowd of people over yonder.
ANTONIUS: They're making enough noise--and so many of them. I wonder what it
GRACCUS: They're driving a man before them.
ANTONIUS: Poor devil! I wonder what he's done?
GRACCUS: Look over there at the street corner, Antonius--they're flogging
him--now driving him ahead of them!
ANTONIUS [at window]: But he's taking it, Graccus. He's not wincing!
GRACCUS: By the gods! I'd like to go out there and tell that riff-raff that
ANTONIUS: Oh, what's the use of interfering. They wouldn't listen to you.
They'd laugh at you--they'd beat you maybe.
GRACCUS: Look, Antonius--you can see the man clearly, now. He's down--
ANTONIUS: Graccus, he felt that lash--you heard him cry? But he's risen. He's
GRACCUS: I wonder who he is, Antonius, and why they persecute him?
ANTONIUS: Oh, to make sport, old comrade--that's the modern Roman way.
GRACCUS: By the gods, Antonius, it was not our way! When we drew the sword it
was against an enemy worthy of our steel!
[Mob noises die out.]
ANTONIUS: Well, Graccus, there's some sport for the mob.
GRACCUS: I wonder who he is, and what he's done?
ANTONIUS: I suppose nothing very much--a runaway slave, maybe, Graccus, or
some poor devil who dared to stand up and say what he believed.
GRACCUS [going to his chair]: Antonius, I've seen enough cruelty in my time.
I've seen all I want to. And I've not been blameless; but, somehow, as I grow
older, I weary of it; of its uselessness--of its viciousness.
ANTONIUS: We've both seen enough cruelty, old comrade. The Empire was not
spread to the ends of the earth--by love.
GRACCUS: Antonius--do you remember the winter we were quartered in Judea?
ANTONIUS: I remember the dust and dirt of it!
GRACCUS: I wonder if you also remember something else?
GRACCUS: Well, it's a little thing. I suppose very few people do remember it,
but somehow it's stuck in my mind, and it keeps growing--all the time,
ANTONIUS: You've got me curious, Graccus. What was it?
GRACCUS: Well, we were stationed, as I said--in Judea, near a town--what was
it? I can't remember--but that doesn't matter.
ANTONIUS: Go on.
GRACCUS: And there was a row among the Jews over some man--I can't remember
all the details--but the Jews brought Him before the Roman Governor--
ANTONIUS: Old Pontius Pilate himself, eh? What happened when He came before
GRACCUS: The Jews said this Man claimed to be God--there was a lot of talk,
and finally Pilate turned the Man over to them to do as they pleased with.
ANTONIUS: He would--to save himself trouble. What happened then?
GRACCUS: Don't you remember, Antonius? Don't you remember how our squad from
the seventh company went up on the hill over the city, with the Jews storming
all round us--up to the hill they called the place of skulls? And saw that Man
ANTONIUS: Hmmm--I--I don't seem to remember. You say I was there?
GRACCUS: Why, you drove your lance into His side--to put Him out of His agony.
ANTONIUS: I've done that to so many poor creatures, Graccus. I'm not a man for
GRACCUS: I wasn't so merciful. I gave Him gall when He cried out in His
ANTONIUS: I can't recall any of it. I've been through so much of that sort of
thing. But why--why do you bring it up?
GRACCUS: I can't forget it. It's been growing on me. I can remember that Man's
face as though it were yesterday--I can see Him there before me--now. And I
remember how as the moment of His death closed in on Him there was a look on
His face of triumph, of great triumph--but mostly of forgiveness. And I
suddenly felt humble, and ashamed of myself--and sorry for the cruelty I'd
stood and watched. And as the evening came I sneaked away from all of you--and
went down to my room--and tried to sleep--but I couldn't. And that face--that
face--has been coming back every night--every night, I tell you! It's
beginning to--do something to me--If He was a God.
ANTONIUS: Oh, brace up! An obsession, my dear boy--an obsession! Forget it!
Poof--Pilate's dead--Judea's at the other end of the sea--a million men have
died in Judea--since then. What's one man dead on a cross--thirty years ago.
[He laughs and goes out.]
GRACCUS [to himself]: I can't forget it. I cannot forget.
WIFE [entering, worried]: Graccus.
GRACCUS: Yes, my dear?
WIFE: It's getting late--very late. Why hasn't our son come home?
GRACCUS: You mustn't worry about him.
WIFE: I can't help it.
GRACCUS: He'll come when he gets ready to.
WIFE: But he should be here! Oh, Graccus, you must go out--
GRACCUS: You know I have no influence over him, Lustra.
[There comes the distant sound of a musical instrument, a stringed instrument,
played in a ribald and slightly tipsy manner--or at least the music should
suggest this mood.]
WIFE: Listen, Graccus--
WIFE: Can't you hear the music from the street?
[The music is nearer, and now there are joined to it laughter, and ribald
shouts that grow louder.]
GRACCUS: More drunken revellers! The street's full of them o' nights. That's
the new Roman way.
[The noises are very near now.]
WIFE [at window]: Graccus, they've stopped outside of our house. Open the door
and tell them to be gone!
GRACCUS: I will! [Calling.] Ho--you good-for-nothings! Get away from my house
with your drunken singing.
CROWD [Outside]: Ho! Ha! Ha! Ha!
GRACCUS [calling through window]: Get along, now! Or I'll--I'll call the
CROWD [outside]: Ha! He'll call the guard! Listen to him! The noblest Roman of
GRACCUS: If I were ten years younger, I'd show you young bloods that--
MARIUS [entering]: Oh, keep quiet, Father.
GRACCUS: Marius, my son!
MARIUS [a lad of eighteen, a handsome, reckless sort of boy, treats his father
with condescension]: Close the door, and don't make such a fool of yourself.
GRACCUS: Marius, is--is this rabble the best you can do for company?
MARIUS: Never mind insulting my friends! [Calls through door.] Don't listen to
my father--comrades--he doesn't mean anything by it.
CROWD [outside]: That's all right, Marius! We know he's a good old scout!
MARIUS [through door to friends]: And now, boys, thanks for coming here to the
house with me--I'll do my best tomorrow--I'll try to make a good showing.
Good-night to you all.
CROWD [outside]: Good-night, Marius! We'll all be there to see you! Good-night
to you! etc. [Fades off with music and song.]
MARIUS [closing door]: Well, father! The next time my friends come here, be
careful what you say!
MARIUS: Well, what is it? Mother--
WIFE: What are you going to do tomorrow that they all cheered?
MARIUS: Oh--nothing much.
GRACCUS: What is it you want to make a good showing at, son?
MARIUS: I've joined the corps of gladiators, and tomorrow I have my first
WIFE: Oh! You can't--you can't--
MARIUS: Now, Mother, don't make a fuss--
WIFE: But you may be injured--killed, Marius!
MARIUS: Well, that's part of the game; but don't worry about danger tomorrow--
'cause there isn't any!
GRACCUS: No danger, son, in a contest of gladiators?
MARIUS: Ha! It won't be much of a contest.
GRACCUS: But I don't understand, son--
MARIUS: They have rounded up a number of foreigners, enemies to the Emperor
and to the gods--and those are the fellows we are going in against; it won't
be a fight, it will be an execution--a slaughter!
GRACCUS: Oh, one of those things--where a lot of poor, untrained, badly-armed,
half-starved wretches go out against well-trained professional fighters. Well,
son--I wonder if you can be very proud of your first fight?
MARIUS: Well, Father, I'm doing what I'm told to do.
GRACCUS: No son of mine is going to take part in that cowardly business!
MARIUS: I am going to fight tomorrow.
GRACCUS: Fight, you call that fight? You call that the way a Roman fights?
Marius, I'd rather see you in poverty than in the ranks of the gladiators--but
I'd rather see you dead than in such a massacre as they put on tomorrow!
WIFE: Graccus, that's a wicked thing to say, that you'd rather see him dead!
It will bring bad luck on us and on our son!
MARIUS: Oh, let him talk, Mother.
GRACCUS: Marius, who are these poor creatures that are to be slaughtered?
MARIUS: I told you they were foreigners and enemies of the gods!
GRACCUS: Oh. Was it one of them your rabble was driving through the streets
MARIUS: Yes, and we've put the fear of death in them, all right! They're
hiding like rabbits--except a few fools who stand up and defy us, and who say
they want to die for their God--ha! ha!
GRACCUS: So these people have a God they are willing to die for, eh, son?
That is more than Rome can boast--for in Rome the gods are dead. What sort of
a God may He be?
MARIUS: Oh, they worship some Man who was killed years ago in Judea--
GRACCUS: In Judea?
MARIUS: Yes, in Judea! Wherever that is. Say, you were there once, weren't
GRACCUS: Yes, son. I was in Judea.
MARIUS: Father! What are you looking at me that way for?
WIFE: Graccus, what's the matter with you?
GRACCUS: I--I just had a strange feeling--I can't explain it. I--I thought I
saw something--over on that wall.
MARIUS: Why, your face is white--and you're trembling.
GRACCUS: Son, I wish you wouldn't go into that slaughter tomorrow! I beg you
not to! I--I beg you! There's enough cruelty in the world--and suffering--
without your adding more.
MARIUS: Oh, you talk like a Greek philosopher in the market-place!
GRACCUS: I beg you not to go tomorrow!
MARIUS: I am going.
GRACCUS: No. I forbid you, Marius!
MARIUS: You forbid me! Ha! You--ha! ha! ha!
GRACCUS: If you go to the arena, I will go, too.
MARIUS: You'd better not come down to that arena and try to make trouble! I
warn you. My friends won't be in any mood to listen to your sort of talk!
GRACCUS: But I shall come!
MARIUS: Father, I warn you not to!
GRACCUS: I shall come!
[NARRATOR] In spite of his father's threat, MARIUS reported the next day at
the arena. The great stadium was filling rapidly; and as MARIUS and his
fellow-gladiators stood in their room waiting for the bugle to summon them to
the arena, they heard the cries and mutters of the crowd above them.
MARIUS: Listen to that crowd, Tertius! It's like a lot of wild animals
TERTIUS [a gladiator]: Oh, don't let the crowd get on your nerves, Marius,
boy! They always yell like that.
MARIUS: It's my first time, Tertius; I suppose I'm all keyed up.
TERTIUS: Oh, take it easy. You're all ready to go in--sit down and make
yourself comfortable, like me, till we're called out.
MARIUS: I wish it was ready to start! I hate this waiting!
TERTIUS: Oh, take it easy, kid--take it easy; don't tighten up, or when you
get out there you're liable to get something you're not looking for, ain't
that right, Dromidus?
DROMIDUS [another gladiator]: I'll say it's right. Why, they got a couple of
big boys down there in the prison cage that don't look like no cinch to me.
TERTIUS: Say, Dromidus, you think a couple of 'em 'a get some fight in 'em?
DROMIDUS: I tell you they got a couple of bad-looking boys down there. It
wouldn't surprise me if somebody in this room come back feet first.
TERTIUS: Aw, don't try to get this kid nervous.
MARIUS: I'm not nervous, but I wish it would begin!
DROMIDUS: He's not nervous, boy! The kid's not nervous.
TERTIUS: Oh, let the boy alone! You fellows all had a first time; now give
this boy an even break--
MARIUS: Tertius, if it would only begin!
TERTIUS: Boy, it won't get going till the Emperor comes. Then we all march out
in double file and make the salute. Be sure to keep your head up! Then when
the Emperor takes the salute we'll turn and make a line across the arena. You
keep next to me, understand?
TERTIUS: Then they let the prisoners out. They line 'em up--one against each
man of us. Then, when the horn blows, go after your man. You've got the
advantage, cause he's scared. Don't give him no chance to get set. Keep after
him. And remember this, always try to get him against the wall where you can
handle him. Don't try no fancy stuff the first time. Go in and finish him
quick! See? Remember, if you don't get him, he'll get you: That's the one
thing you never must forget.
MARIUS: I'll remember, Tertius.
TERTIUS: Who's there?
GRACCUS [outside]: Is this the room of the gladiators?
TERTIUS: Right! What do you want?
GRACCUS [outside]: I want to see Marius Andonicus.
TERTIUS: Well, he's here. Come in, if you want to see him.
GRACCUS [entering]: Well, Marius, my son, I see you are all ready to fight?
MARIUS: I am, Father; all ready.
GRACCUS: Well, Gladiators of Rome! This is a brave business you have here.
TERTIUS [innocent]: Yes? Sure!
GRACCUS: Yes! Very brave. All of you armed, armoured, trained--and your
adversaries--given a sword most of them don't know how to use and told to go
out and die.
MARIUS: Father, don't come here and--
GRACCUS: I told you I would come here!
TERTIUS: Say, look here, old fellow--what's the idea making all this
disturbance? Go outside if you want to make a noise. We don't want you.
GRACCUS: Marius, my son, I appeal to you for the last time to leave this room.
TERTIUS: Let the boy alone! Who are you, to come here and tell him what to do?
GRACCUS: I'm his father, but I suppose that doesn't matter--in the new Rome!
I'm an old soldier of the Legion--the old Fighting Ninth--that marched
barefoot through the snows of Appena and stormed the heights of Martinus when
the Gauls outnumbered us eight to one! But I suppose that doesn't matter--in
the new Rome! No, that's all forgotten--old stuff, now. This business of yours
is more important than carrying the eagles to the far corners of the world! Go
on, Marius, my son--go out there and fight--in the new Roman way! Go out there
and satisfy the blood lust of that pack of jackals out yonder! But when you're
out there; when you draw your sword, remember that your father drew his sword
against foes that did not dishonour him--that your father served an Emperor--
and an Empire--not a Vulture feasting on carrion and ruling a land of jackals!
GLADIATORS: Treason! Treason!
MARIUS: Father, beware what you say!
GRACCUS: I'll say my mind! What Empire have you men to serve? Rome is dead, I
tell you. Dead. And your Emperor--this Caesar of yours! What's he? Look at him
when you go out there to slaughter for his amusement. See if he looks like a
Caesar with his drooling lips and fat face and--
[They start to lay hands on GRACCUS. A trumpet is heard, just outside, and a
TERTIUS: The Emperor! Attention!
[The gladiators come to attention. The EMPEROR enters--soft, fat and cruel,
EMPEROR [to GRACCUS]: And what were you saying about Caesar, fellow?
GRACCUS: Since you overheard me, sire, I have nothing to add.
EMPEROR: No. Continue. Your remarks were very novel. Entertaining. I'm more
accustomed to flattery. Ah--what did you say about a vulture feasting on
carrion? Were those not the words?
GRACCUS: I have no defense.
EMPEROR: Well, well. You're a valiant fellow. I think you should have a chance
to show your valour this afternoon.
EMPEROR: As I stood outside the door--quite fascinated by your flow of
language, I heard something about how you marched against the Gauls when they
outnumbered you eight to one.
GRACCUS: I did, sire.
EMPEROR: And very laudable, indeed. And to reward you for your valiant little
comment on Rome, and my Imperial Self, I shall give you a chance to do a
little fighting in the arena--
GRACCUS: I am a soldier, sire; not a gladiator.
EMPEROR: Who spoke of you being a gladiator? I think I shall give you the
opportunity of joining our friends in the prison cage--
MARIUS: Sire, I beseech you! My father is an old man--he's mad--he does not
know what he says.
EMPEROR: Young man, even a madman should be more tactful; and I understand
that nothing is more soothing and quieting to an overwrought man like your
father than six inches of steel through the breastbone. Guards! Take this man
in the prison cage.
GUARD [to GRACCUS]: Prisoner--fall in! [GRACCUS falls in between them.]
Forward--march! [GRACCUS is marched out.]
MARIUS: Sire, you can't mean it! You don't mean it! My father--
EMPEROR: Caesar has spoken. Bid the crowd make way!
VOICES: Make way for Caesar--Stand aside!
MARIUS: Tertius: my father--you heard what he said--He's an old soldier of the
Legion. He bled to make Rome great--and no matter what he said, Rome can't--
Caesar can't send him out to die--
TERTIUS: Brace up, lad. It's out of our hands now. Come, buckle on your sword.
MARIUS: Never. I'm not going out. I can't, Tertius. He's my father--and an
old soldier of the Legion, and I'll never draw my sword against him. [He
breaks his sword.]
[NARRATOR] From the room of the gladiators the guard took GRACCUS down the
long stone corridors to the prison-pen. The door was opened, clanged to, and
the old soldier found himself within. In the corner a dozen men kneeled
quietly, as though no danger threatened, their faces bright with the courage
of spiritual exaltation. In their midst stood a cross rudely fashioned from
two sticks. Forgetting his own danger, GRACCUS watched the little group round
the cross--fascinated. And as he watched them, they began to sing, quietly.
[Song.] Then from the stone corridors outside the pen, GRACCUS heard
footsteps, and turned to see through the bars, the face of his son, MARIUS--
MARIUS [outside the bars]: Father!
GRACCUS: My son.
MARIUS: I had to come! I had to tell you I'm not going out there into that
arena! I'm never going out there!
GRACCUS: Then I am content. Marius, lad--give me your hand through these
MARIUS [sob]: Father--
GRACCUS: Don't, lad. Death must be met. I shall not falter--nor must you.
MARIUS: But I can't see you die this way! It's horrible! They're killing you
for a few rash words--you, who have served the Empire--
GRACCUS: Not this Empire--
MARIUS: Oh, Father, there may yet be a chance to save yourself. Recant your
words! Let me try to reach the Emperor and tell him that you recant--
GRACCUS: Recant the truth? Never. I am too old for that.
MARIUS: But it means death, Father--Even now I hear the tramp of the guards
who come here--
GRACCUS: Marius, look yonder at those men by that cross. How calmly they kneel
at the very threshold of death! No faltering there--
MARIUS: Dying because they believe in some God who will be forgotten--
GRACCUS: Will He be forgotten? Listen, Marius-- You think that Rome is great--
that Rome will live? I tell you Rome is dying--that when all the Caesars are
forgotten dust, this faith shall rule a world of which no Caesar ever dreamed!
An Empire founded by One to whom I gave a cup of gall as He hung upon His
[The prayer of the Christians arises. The tramp of guards is heard. ...]
Originally broadcast: January 8, 1928
Written by William Ford Manley for
NBC's weekly half-hour anthology series,