Page:Euripides the Rationalist.djvu/45

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The moment is convenient for looking round us and considering where we are arrived. We set out from the observation that, with individual varieties of tone, the expositors of the Alcestis all agree in expressing surprise and dissatisfaction at the incongruity between the nature of the supposed story and the characters of Admetus and Heracles. The depth of this dissatisfaction, we said, might be measured, even better than by the outspoken scoffs of malevolent critics, by the efforts of benevolent critics to explain the incongruity away. We have now considered the allegations of two benevolent critics, Mr Way and Browning. They, if they do not stand alone in their respective classes, may be taken as typical of those who, seeing that for the purpose designed the defence of the impeached characters, or of one at least, must be complete and thorough-going, have tried to make it so. Mr Way says that the Admetus of the play is altogether noble from a Greek point of view. Browning says that the Heracles of the play is altogether noble, because he is Heracles, and Euripides has shown how sublime Heracles is. But when we go back to the text we find in the case of Admetus an express statement that Greeks would not take the favourable view attributed to them, and in the case of Heracles none of those traits, actions, and symbols which Euripides (as we see in another play) thought proper to show his sublimity, but instead of them other lineaments which are manifestly ignoble and noted as such by the author. In such circumstances the thorough-going style of defence is impracticable for the average composer of continuous commentary, bound or safeguarded by the necessity of weighing all that the author has said, and the impossibility of putting anything in.

But the instinct, which Browning and Mr Way by their several methods attempt to satisfy, is imperious and universal. If the play, and especially the conclusion of it, is to harmonize at all with the supposed design, then something of heroic dignity, something above the commonplace, must be attached, if not both to Heracles and to Admetus, at least to one of them, and to Admetus rather, since, though the part of Heracles is more important to the religious legend, that of Admetus bulks larger in Euripides. An expedient, which avoids the impracticable extreme of a thorough-going admiration, has been found