Page:Euripides the Rationalist.djvu/22

This page has been validated.



and his wife, Admetus' mother, for their cowardice in having refused, though advanced in years, to redeem the life of their only son, and having left the sacrifice to be made by a woman in her prime. Pheres retorts the charge; it is Admetus who, by shirking his proper destiny, has been in fact the murderer of his too devoted victim. The theme, notwithstanding the interference of the friends, is pursued on both sides in a duel of taunts, after which Pheres retires, and the funeral procession sets forth (vv. 606—740: 135).

Sc. v. A man-servant, coming from the house, describes with indignation the behaviour of Heracles at his meal, his indifference to the decencies of a house in mourning, unseasonable exactions, noise, and drunkenness. Heracles follows; he lectures the servant on the certainty of death, and presses him to drink; the servant is provoked into disclosing the deception practised by Admetus; Heracles, shocked and horrified, declares his intention of rescuing the deceased from death, and is directed by the servant to the grave (747—860: 114).

Sc. vi. Admetus returns accompanied by his friends. His despair, repentance, and self-reproach (871—961: 91).

Sc. vii. Heracles returns, leading Alcestis veiled. He pretends that she is a slave, won by him as a prize in an athletic contest, which fell in his way as he was setting out. He proposes that Admetus shall keep her for him till he returns from his journey. Admetus reluctantly consents, and Alcestis is unveiled. Tableau and conclusion (1006—1158: 153).

Such is the play which was offered (we are to understand) by Euripides as the best he could do by way of presenting in the forms of the stage the death and resurrection of Alcestis. It would be strange indeed if, while praising him for the dramatic skill displayed in the separate scenes, his critics could have refrained from murmuring at the discord between theme and treatment, which characterizes the whole conception. If my object were to make out a case, it would be easy to quote respectable authorities, who have expressed this objection with acrimony; but it will be safer to cite the gentle and apologetic complaint of Paley, whose merits and even defects as a commentator made him an excellent reflector of average opinion: