From The Smile of Mona Lisa

Jacinto Benavente


And is Leonardo in love?


In love? Was there ever a time when he was not in love? Every hour and every day is love for Leonardo. The roses of Bengal, the crimson carnations, are his love. Swans floating on the lake in his gardens are his love. His capricious Berber horse is his love. The poisonous asps that guard his sanctum there are his love. The golden apples from the tree he cultivates are his love. They say, Ismael, the sap of that tree so subtly flows, that if you but taste the golden fruit, death will come naturally and peacefully and no chemist may find a vestige of poison in fruit, in tree, or in the stilled veins of the dead. Every form of beauty appeals to Leonardo – roses that weigh the zephyrs with their perfume; birds that thrill the zephyrs with their song; asps that cleave the zephyrs with their poisonous tongues. Leonardo da Vinci worships beauty everywhere – in the swift flight of birds – in the graceful undulations of asps – reptiles evoked from the blue Nile of mysterious Egypt. Egypt which strove to immortalize death in its mummies. Egypt, where divine Cleopatra, woman among woman, learned a lesson from the serpent – not as her mother, Eve, the lesson of good and evil – but learned the beautiful art of loving and dying.

From The Smile of Mona Lisa
A Play in One Act
by Jacinto Benavente
Translated from the Spanish
by John Armstrong Herman,
Boston, 1919

Jacinto Benavente (1866-1954), Spanish poet and playwright, was the 1922 Nobel Laureate in Literature.