Rhadamistus and Zenobia Summary
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 her plight.
Rhadamistus, however, still lives. Tortured by repentance, knowing himself to be the murderer of Zenobia’s father, and believing himself to be the murderer of his wife, he arrives in Iberia as the representative of Rome and the Roman choice for king of Armenia. Rhadamistus tells his companion Hiero how he was wounded by Pharasmanes’s soldiers and how Corbulo rescued him. Rhadamistus, vowing revenge on his father, has joined forces with Corbulo and has been appointed Roman ambassador. Hiero tells Rhadamistus that the Armenians, fearing Pharasmanes, hope to persuade Arsames to become their king.
Pharasmanes and the ambassador meet, and Rhadamistus tells Pharasmanes that the Roman emperor does not choose to have Pharasmanes become king of Armenia. Pharasmanes answers that Rome had better get its legions together, for he is determined to invade Armenia. He then supports his claim to the throne by referring to his brother, Mithridates, and to his son, Rhadamistus. Rhadamistus, who has managed to keep his identity hidden from his father, then angers Pharasmanes by declaring that the king should not expect to be heir to those he has murdered. Only Rhadamistus’s status as ambassador keeps Pharasmanes from ordering him seized.
Arsames, not recognizing Rhadamistus, refuses to join with him in a revolt against Pharasmanes, but he urges the ambassador to take Ismenia from Iberia. Arsames also tells Rhadamistus of his love for Ismenia, which for some hidden reason she cannot return. Rhadamistus, who has no way of knowing that Ismenia and Zenobia are the same person, agrees to help Ismenia.
When Zenobia comes to Rhadamistus he recognizes her immediately, but only his outcry makes her realize that the ambassador is the husband who tried to murder her. Rhadamistus, throwing himself at her feet, blames himself for all his deeds, and Zenobia, partly from duty and partly from pity, forgives him his crimes.
Zenobia, who thinks herself guilty because of her love for Arsames, cannot wholly condemn Rhadamistus. When Arsames again tells her of his love, she reveals that Rhadamistus is alive and that he is her husband. Rhadamistus interrupts the conversation and gives way to angry jealousy when he learns that Zenobia has revealed his identity. Zenobia remonstrates with him, pointing out that she would never have admitted her love for Arsames had not Rhadamistus’s anger prompted her. Rhadamistus, ashamed of his outburst, begs their forgiveness.
Pharasmanes, fearing that Arsames is in league with the Romans—for he has seen his son talking to the Roman ambassador—arrests Arsames and sends his soldiers to capture the envoy. His anger is further aroused when he observes that the ambassador has taken Ismenia with him. He pursues Rhadamistus and wounds him with his sword. Arsames’s grief at this stirs Pharasmanes strangely; he feels that somehow he has done something terrible. Rhadamistus, dying, appears before Pharasmanes and, through a reference to Mithridates, makes his identity known to his father. Pharasmanes, realizing at last the fatal consequences of his jealousy and his lust for power, directs Arsames to take the Armenian throne. Sacrificing his own love for Zenobia as punishment for having killed his son, Pharasmanes relinquishes Zenobia to Arsames and tells the couple to flee from him lest his jealousy once again lead him to slay one of his own offspring.