Page:Euripides the Rationalist.djvu/118

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But trying all in turn, the friendly list,
Why he found no one, none who loved so much,
Nor father, nor the aged mother's self
That bore him, no, not any save his wife
Willing to die instead of him.

In the words which are emphasized Browning has reproduced closely the colour of the original, which he sees to be laughable and has even derided himself[1]. Browning (it must be remembered) frankly gives up Admetus, fortifying himself with the 'half-deity' which he has discovered or rather created in Heracles. But I appeal to the reader's impartial consideration. Is not this notion of Admetus seeking a substitute, and going the round to find one, just the very thing which you, as an intelligent man, if you had accepted the legend, either as an inspired truth or as an inspiring fiction, and desired to present it sympathetically, would not on any account allow yourself to entertain or suggest? Of course it is possible, it is even almost inevitable, if we come to think of it, that, given the supposed circumstances, something of the kind should occur. This it is which gives 'the atheist' his opportunity, the kind of opportunity which none would be quicker to see and use than the sharp-witted Euripides. But a believer in the legend, or one who desired to evoke an imaginary belief, would not see it, would resolutely refuse to see it, if his glance fell that way. An Admetus ridiculous kills the legend; and to see him begging is to see him, if only for that moment, ridiculous. If Euripides perceived this, then he began his play with the intention of killing the legend. If he did not perceive it, then he was a man inconceivably dull. Such are the alternatives presented to us at the outset of the piece, and repeated in every scene.

Altogether, with what the Athenian audience knew beforehand about the author, what they or many of them probably knew beforehand about the play itself, with the suggestions conveyed by the spoken parts, and other suggestions, corroborating the spoken, in which the dramatist, being also stage-manager, would naturally instruct the persons (friends of his, such as

  1. p. 78,When King Admetos went his rounds, poor soul,
    A-begging somebody to be so brave
    As die for one afraid to die himself.