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This HTML e-text of Ben Jonson's The Masque of Blackness (1605) was created in 2001 by Anniina Jokinen of Luminarium. The text and footnotes were left unchanged. Costume sketches added August 10, 2010.
    Source text:
    Jonson, Ben. The Masque of Blackness. The Works of Ben Jonson.
    Boston: Phillips, Sampson, and Co., 1853. 660-663.
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Daughter of Niger
Daughter of Niger
Torchbearer of Oceania
Torchbearer of Oceania



Salve festa dies, meliorque revertere semper.OVID

    THE honor and splendor of  these Spectacles was such  in the performance, as, could those hours have lasted,  this of
mine,  now,  had been a most unprofitable work.   But when  it  is the  fate  even of the greatest,  and most absolute births,
to need and  borrow a life of  posterity,  little had been done to the study of  magnificence  in  these,  if  presently with the
rage of the people,  who,  (as a part of greatness) are privileged by custom, to deface their carcasses,  the spirits  had also
perished.   In duty  therefore to that Majesty,  who gave them their authority and  grace, and,  no less than the most royal
of  predecessors,  deserves eminent celebration for these solemnities,  I add  this later hand  to redeem  them as well  from
ignorance as envy, two common evils, the one of censure, the other of oblivion.
     Pliny, Solinus, Ptolemy, and of late Leo 4 the African,  remember unto us a river in Ęthiopia,  famous by  the  name
of Niger ;  of which the people were called Nigritæ,  now Negroes ;  and are  the blackest nation of the world.   This  river 5
taketh spring out of  a certain lake,  eastward ;  and after a long race,  falleth  into the western ocean.   Hence  (because  it
was her majesty's will to have them blackmoors at first) the invention was derived by me, and presented thus :

   First, for the scene, was drawn a landtschap (landscape) consisting of small woods, and here and there
a void place filled with huntings ;  which falling,  an artificial sea was seen  to shoot forth,  as  if  it  flowed  to
the land,  raised  with waves  which seemed to move,  and in some places the billows to break,  as  imitating
that orderly disorder which is common in nature.  In front of this sea were placed six tritons, in moving and
sprightly actions, their upper parts  human, save  that  their  hairs were blue,  as  partaking  of  the sea-color :
their desinent  parts  fish,  mounted above their heads,  and  all  varied in disposition.  From their backs were
borne out  certain  light  pieces of  taffata, as if carried by the wind,  and their music  made out  of  wreathed
shells.  Behind these, a pair of sea-maids, for song,  were  as  conspicuously  seated ;  between  which,  two
great sea-horses, as big as the life, put forth themselves ;  the one mounting aloft, and writhing his head from
the other, which seemed to sink forward ;  so  intended  for  variation, and that the figure behind might come
off better :  upon their backs, Oceanus and Niger were advanced.
   Oceanus presented in a human form, the color of his flesh blue ; and shadowed with a robe of sea-green ;
his head grey, and horned, as he is described by the ancients :  his beard of  the like mixed color :  he was
garlanded with alga, or sea-grass ;  and in his hand a trident.
   Niger, in form and color of an Ęthiop ;  his hair and rare beard curled, shadowed  with a blue  and  bright
mantle :  his front, neck, and wrists adorned with pearl, and crowned with  an artificial  wreath of  cane  and
   These induced the masquers, which were twelve nymphs, negroes, and the daughters of Niger ; attended
by so many of the Oceaniæ, which were their light-bearers.
   The masquers were placed in a great concave shell, like  mother of  pearl,  curiously  made  to  move  on
those waters and rise with the billow ;  the top thereof was stuck with a cheveron of  lights, which indented
to the proportion of  the shell, struck a glorious beam upon them, as they were seated, one above another :
so they were all seen, but in an extravagant order.
   On sides of the shell did swim sixe huge sea-monsters, varied in their shapes and dispositions, bearing on
their backs the twelve torch-bearers, who were planted there in several  graces ;  so as the backs of  some
were seen ;  some in purfle, or side ;  others in face ;  and all  having their  lights  burning out of  whelks, or
   The attire of  the masquers was alike in all, without difference :  the colors azure and silver ;  but returned
on the top with a scroll and antique dressing of feathers, and jewels interlaced with ropes of pearl.  And for
the front, ear, neck, and wrists, the ornament was of the most choice and orient pearl ; best setting off from
the black.
   For the light-bearers, sea-green, waved about

1 Nat. Hist. 1. 5. c. 8.
2 Poly. Hist. c. 40, and 43.
3 Lib. 4. c. 5.
4 Descrip. Afric.
5 Some take it to be the same with Nilus, which is by
    Lucan called Melas, Signifying Niger.  Howsoever Pliny in
    the place above noted, hath this :  Nigri fluvio eadem natura,
    quæ Nilo, calamum, papyrum, et easdem gignit animantes.
    See Solin. abovementioned.
6 The form of these tritons, with their trumpets, you
    may read lively described in Ov. Met. lib. 1.  Cæruleum
    Tritona vocat, &c.; and in Vir. Æneid. 1. 10.  Hunc vehit
    immanis triton, et sequent.
7 Lucian in PHTOP. Didas. presents Nilus so, Equo flu-
    viatili insidentem.  And Statius Neptune, in Theb.
8 The ancients induced Oceanus always with a bull's
    head : propter vim ventorum, à quibus incitatur, et impelli-
    tur : vel quia tauris similem fremitum emittat :  vel quia
    tanquam taurus furibundus, in littora feratur.  Euripid. in
    Orest. Okeanos on taurokranos agkalais elisswn, kuklei
    kthona.  And rivers sometimes were so called.  Look Virg
    de Tiberi et Eridano. Georg. 4. Æneid. 8. Hor. Car. lib. 4.
    ode 14, and Euripid. in Ione.
9 The daughters of Oceanus and Tethys.  See Hesiod. in
    Theogon.  Orph. in Hym. and Virgil in Georg.



the skirts with gold and silver ;  their hair loose and flowing,  gyrlanded  with sea-grass,  and that stuck with
branches of coral.
   These thus presented,  the scene behind seemed a vast sea,  and united with this that  flowed forth,  from
the termination, or horizon of which  (being the level of the state,  which was placed in the upper end of  the
hall)  was drawn by the lines of  prospective, the whole work  shooting  downwards  from  the eye ;  which
decorum made it more conspicuous,  and caught the eye afar off  with a wandering beauty :  to  which  was
added an obscure and cloudy night-piece,  that made the whole set off.  So much for the bodily part, which
was of master Inigo Jones's design and act.
   By this,  one of the tritons,  with the two sea-maids,  began to sing to the others'  loud music,  their voices
being a tenor and two trebles.


Sound, sound aloud
    The welcome of the orient flood,
        Into the west ;
Fair Niger, son to great Oceanus,
        Now honor'd, thus,
    With all his beauteous race :
    Who, though but black in face,
        Yet are they bright,
    And full of life and light.
    To prove that beauty best,
Which, not the color, but the feature
    Assures unto the creature.

   Ocea.  Be silent, now the ceremony's done,
And, Niger, say, how comes it, lovely son,
That thou, the Ęthiop's river, so far east,
Art seen to fall into the extremest west
Of me, the king of floods, Oceanus,
And in mine empire's heart, salute me thus ?
My ceaseless current, now, amazed stands
To see thy labor through so many lands,
Mix thy fresh billow with my brackish stream ; 2 
And, in thy sweetness, stretch thy diadem,
To these far distant and unequall'd skies,
This squared circle of celestial bodies.

   Niger.  Divine Oceanus, 'tis not strange at all,
That, since th' immortal souls of creatures mortal,
Mix with their bodies, yet reserve for ever
A power of separation, I should sever
My fresh streams from thy brackish, like things fix'd,
Though, with thy powerful saltness, thus far mix'd.
“ Virtue, though chain'd to earth, will still live free ;
And hell itself must yield to industry.”

   Ocea.  But what's the end of thy Herculean labors,
Extended to these calm and blessed shores ?

   Niger.  To do a kind, and careful father's part,
In satisfying every pensive heart
Of these my daughters, my most loved birth :
Who, though they were the first form'd dames of earth,3
And in whose sparkling and refulgent eyes,
The glorious sun did still delight to rise ;
Though he, the best judge, and most formal cause
Of all dames beauties, in their firm hues, draws
Signs of his fervent'st love ; and thereby shows
That in their black, the perfect'st beauty grows ;
Since the fixt color of their curled hair,
Which is the highest grace of dames most fair,
No cares, no age can change ; or there display
The fearful tincture of abhorred gray ;
Since death herself (herself being pale and blue)
Can never alter their most faithful hue ;
All which are arguments, to prove how far
Their beauties conquer in great beauty's war ;
And more, how near divinity they be,
That stand from passion, or decay so free.
Yet, since the fabulous voices of some few
Poor brain-sick men, styled poets here with you,
Have, with such envy of their graces, sung
The painted beauties other empires sprung ;
Letting their loose and winged fictions fly
To infect all climates, yea, our purity ;
As of one Phaëton,4  that fired the world,
And that, before his heedless flames were hurl'd
About the globe, the Ęthiops were as fair
As other dames ; now black, with black despair :
And in respect of their complexions chang'd,
Are eachwhere, since, for luckless creatures rang'd ; 5
Which, when my daughters heard, (as women are
Most jealous of their beauties) fear and care
Possess'd them whole ; yea, and believing them,6
They wept such ceaseless tears into my stream,
That it hath thus far overflow'd his shore
To seek them patience : who have since e'ermore
As the sun riseth, charg'd his burning throne
With vollies of revilings ; 'cause he shone
On their scorch'd cheeks with such intemperate fires.
And other dames made queens of all desires.
To frustrate which strange error, oft I sought,
Tho' most in vain, against a settled thought
As women are, till they confirm'd at length
By miracle, what I, with so much strength
Of argument resisted ; else they feign'd :
For in the lake where their first spring they gain'd,
As they sat cooling their soft limbs, one night,
Appear'd a face, all circumfused with light ;
(And sure they saw't, for Ęthiops 8 never dream)
Wherein they might decipher through the stream,
These words :

1 All rivers are said to be the sons of the Ocean ; for, as
    the ancients thought, out of the vapors exhaled by the heat
    of the sun, rivers and fountains were begotten.   And both
    by Orph. in Hym. and Homer, Il. §.  Oceanus is celebrated
    tanquam pater, et origo diis, et rebus, quia nihil sine
    humectatione nascitur, aut putrescit.
2 There wants not enough, in nature, to authorize this
    part of our fiction, in separating Niger from the ocean,
    (beside the fable of Alpheus, and that, to which Virgil
    alludes of Arethusa, in his 10. Eclog.
    Sic tibi, cum fluctus subter labêre Sicanos,
    Doris amara suam non intermisceat undam.)
    Examples of Nilus, Jordan, and others, whereof see Nican.
    lib. 1. de flumin. and Plut. in vita Syllę, even of this our
    river (as some think) by the name of Melas.
3 Read Diod. Sicul. lib. 3.  It is a conjecture of the old
    ethnics, that they which dwell under the south, were the
    first begotten of the earth.
4 Notissima fabula, Ovid. Met. lib. 2.
5 Alluding to that of Juvenal, Satyr. 5.   Et cui per
    mediam nolis occurrere noctem.
6 The poets.
7 A custom of the Æthiops, notable in Herod. and Diod.
    Sic.  See Plin. Nat. Hist. lib. 5. cap. 8.
8 Plin. Nat. Hist. lib. 5. cap. 8.


That they a land must forthwith seek,
Whose termination, of the Greek,
Sounds T A N I A ; where bright Sol, that heat
Their bloods, doth never rise or set,1
But in his journey passeth by,
And leaves that climate of the sky,
To comfort of a greater light,
Who forms all beauty with his sight.

In search of this, have we three princedoms past,
That speak out Tania in their accents last ;
Black Mauritania, first ; and secondly,
Swarth Lusitania ; next we did descry
Rich Aquitania : and yet cannot find
The place unto these longing nymphs design'd.
Instruct and aid me, great Oceanus,
What land is this that now appears to us ?

   Ocea.  This land, that lifts into the temperate air
His snowy cliff, is Albion the fair ; 2
So call'd of Neptune's son, who ruleth here :
For whose dear guard, myself, four thousand year,
Since old Deucalion's days, have walk'd the round
About his empire, proud to see him crown'd
Above my waves.—

At  this,  the  Moon  was  discovered  in  the  upper  part
    of  the  house,  triumphant  in   silver  throne,  made
    in  figure  of   a  pyramis.   Her  garments  white  and
    silver,   the   dressing   of   her   head   antique,    and
    crowned   with   a   luminary,   or   sphere   of   light :
    which  striking  on  the clouds,  and  heightened  with
    silver, reflected as natural clouds do by the splendor
    of   the   moon.         The   heaven    about   her   was
    vaulted  with  blue  silk,  and set with stars  of  silver,
    which  had   in  them   their  several  lights   burning.
    The sudden sight of  which  made  Niger to interrupt
    Oceanus with this present passion.

                                O see, our silver star !
Whose pure, auspicious light greets us thus far !
Great Ęthiopia goddess of our shore,4
Since with particular worship we adore
Thy general brightness, let particular grace
Shine on my zealous daughters :  shew the place,
Which long their longings urg'd their eyes to see,
Beautify them, which long have deified thee.

   Æthi.  Niger, be glad :  resume thy native cheer.
Thy daughters labors have their period here,
And so thy errors.  I was that bright face
Reflected by the lake, in which thy race
Read mystic lines ;  which skill Pythagoras
First taught to men, by a reverberate glass.
This blessed isle doth with that T A N I A end,
Which there they saw inscribed, and shall extend
Wish'd satisfaction to their best desires.
Britannia, which the triple world admires,
This isle hath now recover'd for her name ;
Where reign those beauties that with so much fame
The sacred Muses' sons have honored,
And from bright Hesperus to Eous spread.
With that great name Britannia, this blest isle
Hath won her ancient dignity, and style,
The abstract of it, in his general pride.
For were the world, with all his wealth, a ring,
Britannia, whose new name makes all tongues sing,
Might be a diamant worthy to inchase it,
Ruled by a sun, that to this height doth grace it :
Whose beams shine day and night, and are of force
To blanch an Æthiop, and revive a corse.
His light sciential is, and, past mere nature,
Can salve the rude defects of every creature.
      Call forth thy honor'd daughters then :
      And let them, 'fore the Britain men,
      Indent the land, with those pure traces
      They flow with, in their native graces.
      Invite them boldly to the shore ;
      Their beauties shall be scorch'd no more :
      This sun is temperate, and refines
      All things on which his radiance shines.

Here the  Tritons  sounded,  and  they  danced on shore,
   every couple, as they advanced, severally presenting
   their   fans  :    in   one   of   which    were    inscribed
   their  mixt  names,  in  the other a mute hieroglyphic,
   expressing their mixed qualities.5    Their own single
   dance  ended,  as  they  were  about  to  make  choice
   of  their  men  :    one,  from  the  sea,  was  heard  to
   call  them  with  this  CHARM  sung  by   tenor  voice.

Come away, come away,
We grow jealous of your stay ;
If you do not stop your ear,
We shall have more cause to fear
Syrens of the land, than they
To doubt the Syrens of the sea.

Here  they  danced  with  their  men several  measures
   and  corantos.   All  which  ended,  they  were  again
   accited  to  sea,  with a  SONG  of  two trebles,  whose
   cadences   were  iterated  by  a  double  echo   from
   several  parts  of  the  land.

      Daughters of the subtle flood,
      Doe not let earth longer entertain you ;
         1  Ech.  Let earth longer entertain you.
            2  Ech.  Longer entertain you.

      'Tis to them enough of good,
   That you give this little hope to gain you.
         1  Ech.  Giive this little hope to gain you.
            2  Ech.  Little hope to gain you.

   If they love,
      You shall quickly see ;
   For when to flight you move,
They'll follow you, the more you flee.
         1  Ech.  Follow you, the more you flee.
            2  Ech.  The more you flee.

    If not, impute it each to other's matter ;
They are but earth, and what you vow'd was water.
          1  Ech.  And what you vow'd was water.
            2  Ech.  You vow'd was water.

   Æthi.  Enough, bright nymphs, the night grows old,
And we are grieved we cannot hold
You longer light ;  but comfort take.
Your father only to the lake

1 Consult with Tacitus, in vita Agric. and the Paneg. ad
2 Orpheus, in his Argonaut. calls it Greek: Leukaion Cerson
3 Alluding to the right of styling princes after the name
    of their princedoms : so is he still Albion, and Neptune's
    son that governs.  As also his being dear to Neptune, in
being so embraced by him.
4 The Æthiopians worshipped the moon by that surname.
    See Step. Greek: peri poleun in voce Greek: AITHIPION
5 Which manner of symbol I rather chose, than imprese,
    as well for strangeness, as relishing of antiquity, and more
    applying to that original doctrine of sculpture, which the
    Egyptians are said first to have brought from the Ęthio-
    pians.  Diod. Sicul. Herod.


Shall make return :  yourselves, with feasts,
Must here remain the Ocean's guests.
Nor shall this veil, the sun hath cast
Above your blood, more summers last,
For which you shall observe these rites :
Thirteen times thrice, on thirteen nights,
(So often as I fill my sphere
With glorious light throughout the year)
You shall, when all things else do sleep
Save your chaste thoughts, with reverence, steep
Your bodies in that purer brine,
And wholesome dew, call'd ros-marine :
Then with that soft and gentler foam,
Of which the ocean yet yields some
Whereof, bright Venus, beauty's queen,
Is said to have begotten been,
You shall your gentler limbs o'er-lave,
And for your pains perfection have :
So that, this night, the year gone round,
You do again salute this ground ;
And in the beams of yond' bright sun,
Your faces dry, — and all is done.

At which, in a dance, they returned to the sea, where
   they   took   their   shell,   and   with   this   full   
   went  out.

      Now Dian, with her burning face,
                Declines apace :
                By which our waters know
                To ebb, that late did flow.

Back seas, back nymphs ;  but with a forward grace,
   Keep still your reverence to the place :
And shout with joy of favor, you have won,
   In sight of Albion, Neptune's son.

So ended  the  first Masque ;  which,  beside the sin-
   gular grace of music and dances, had the success
   in the nobility of  performance,  as nothing needs
   to  the  illustration,  but  the  memory  by whom it
   was personated.

} A  golden  tree,   la-
}     den  with  fruit.
    { CO. OF DERBY.
} The  figure   Isocae-
}     dron of  crystal.
3. { LA. RICH
} A pair of naked feet
}     in a river.
4. { LA. BEVILL,
}     simple.
5. { LA. EL. HOWARD,
    { LA. SUS. VERE,
} A cloud full of  rain
}     dropping.
6. { LA. WORTH,
} An    urn    sphered
}     with wine.

The  Names  of  the  OCEANIÆ  were,1

        DORIS,    CYDIPPE,    BEROE,    IANTHE,

Hesiod in Theog.

© 2001 Anniina Jokinen. All rights reserved.