(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Zenobia, wife of Rhadamistus, is the prisoner of Pharasmanes, the king of Iberia. When Phenice, her companion, attempts to persuade Zenobia that she should accept the love Pharasmanes offers her in the hope that she will become his queen, Zenobia, who has been using the name Ismenia, reveals that she cannot accept Pharasmanes because the king is her uncle and the father of Rhadamistus. Zenobia explains that her father, Mithridates, reared Rhadamistus as if the boy were his own son, but when Pharasmanes invaded the Armenian kingdom of Mithridates, Mithridates turned against Rhadamistus and refused to allow him to marry Zenobia as Rhadamistus had expected. Rhadamistus then attacked the kingdom of Mithridates and drove the king into exile. Zenobia, to protect her father, offered to wed Rhadamistus; only after the wedding did she learn that Rhadamistus had murdered her father. In a rage, Rhadamistus had then attacked his bride and thrown her into the river. He does not know that she was rescued; he believes her to be dead.

Zenobia ends her account by telling Phenice that Rhadamistus was later killed by his own father, who had been jealous of his son’s rise to power. The most compelling reason against her marrying Pharasmanes, Zenobia tells Phenice, is that she is in love with Arsames, who is Rhadamistus’s brother and Pharasmanes’s son.

When Arsames arrives to see Zenobia after a campaign in Albania, he asks her whether she intends to marry Pharasmanes that day, as he has heard. He declares his love for her and his jealousy of his father. Zenobia assures him that she will not marry Pharasmanes, but she also declares that she can never consider marriage with Arsames. Arsames, who knows Zenobia only as Ismenia, is forced to accept her decision.

Pharasmanes appears and criticizes Arsames for returning to Iberia without permission. When Arsames declares that he has come in support of his father, to meet the invasion planned by Corbulo on behalf of Rome and Syria, Pharasmanes dismisses the excuse and forbids his son to profess love for Ismenia or ever to see her again. Pharasmanes, having dismissed Arsames, warns Zenobia that he will not tolerate her refusal of him. In desperation, Zenobia appeals to Phenice to tell the Roman ambassador of...

(The entire section is 927 words.)