Alexander's Feast: Or, The Power Of Music "Thrice He Routed All His Foes; And Thrice He Slew The Slain"

John Dryden

"Thrice He Routed All His Foes; And Thrice He Slew The Slain"

Context: Saint Cecilia, a third or fourth century Christian martyr, who sang Christian songs during her wedding and refused to consummate the marriage, became the patron saint of musicians and was supposed to have invented the organ. For the celebration of her feast on November 22, 1697, Dryden wrote the greatest of his lyric poems. It was later set to music, in 1711 by Thomas Clayton, and in 1736 by George Frederick Handel (1685–1759). In the poem, the poet describes a feast in honor of Alexander the Great of the fourth century, B.C. Timotheus, his minstrel, has sung a love song with the refrain, "None but the brave deserve the fair." It causes the king to remember and boast over and over to Thais beside him, of his prowess in battle. He tells several times of each victory and by memories of his own vengeance works himself up into a near rage. Timotheus, seeing his condition, calms him with a melancholic song. The Lydian measure is a minor key often used for laments. Later Timotheus uses his musical ability to rouse Alexander to enthusiasm for battle. The ode ends with praise of St. Cecilia, who by her music could achieve results that surpassed even those of Alexander the Great's famous court singer.

Sooth'd with the sound, the King grew vain;
Fought all his battles o'er again;
And thrice he routed all his foes; and thrice he slew the slain.
The master saw the madness rise;
His glowing cheeks, his ardent eyes;
And while he heav'n and earth defied,
Chang'd his hand and check'd his pride.
He chose a mournful muse
Soft pity to infuse; . . .