Page:Euripides the Rationalist.djvu/35

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snake', 'lion's hide', 'interval 'twixt fight and fight again', 'snatched repose', 'dust o' the last encounter', 'breathing space for man's sake', 'unimaginable shaft', 'plate-mail of a monster', 'pest o' the marish', 'world-weary God', 'solemn draught of true religious wine', 'grand benevolence', 'the God surmounting the man', 'tree-like growth through pain to joy', and all the rest of it; every thing put in which Euripides might have attached to the conception of Heracles, but has in fact resolutely and consistently left out.

The labours, for example, the unflinching incessant labours on behalf of humanity! Balaustion recalls them to us incessantly; they are Heracles; he personifies the great love, 'careless of self where others may be helped', which reproves by its mere presence the littleness of Admetus, his counsellors, servants, and the rest of the crew. In Heracles everything must be praised, anything forgiven. If he says, 'Is Admetus at home?', you must revere him: think of his labours! If he drinks till he 'howls discordance', you must not call him a sot, nor let any one do so unrebuked. Poor man, he wanted it; think of his labours! Well then, if we are to think so much of them, why do we get no help from Euripides? Certainly the myths of Heracles offer abundant material for presenting him as the friend of humanity and reliever of the distressed. Many of them, such as the slaying of the lion in Nemea or the serpent in Lerna, were adapted if not designed for the very purpose: and Euripides, like Balaustion here, can find and use them, when he wants them. Why did he pass them over in the Alcestis? The 'labours of Heracles', in the sense put upon the phrase by Balaustion here and by Euripides elsewhere, his services to humanity, are in this play ignored completely; and nothing is said by any one to show that for his previous career he enjoys or deserves gratitude any more than an ordinary man. The enterprise upon which he is bound at the time of the action is to seize, on behalf of Eurystheus king of Tiryns, a famous team of four horses belonging to Diomede the Thracian. He expects a fight, and is ready to kill Diomede, if necessary. No benefit is intended or can accrue from the achievement to anyone except Eurystheus; nor is it pretended that Eurystheus is prosecuting a right. The matter lies altogether between two