Page:Euripides the Rationalist.djvu/61

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



may safely take place, and therefore should take place, on the next day but one after that of the decease, and that a statute to this effect should be accompanied by public instruction in the true doctrine of personality, calculated to appease the sentimental opposition which he evidently anticipates. There were indeed, or perhaps rather had been, some who, by a more crude application of what we may call the corporeal doctrine of the dead, arrived at the conclusion that a corpse should be buried as soon as conveniently might be, so that the dead might pass entire into the other world. The doctrine appears in Homer[1]. The actual practice in historical times seems to have been much the same as our own, except that the performances in the house and about the dead body were much more elaborate and indispensable, as indeed in most countries they still are. As to the mere question of time there is little range for choice, so far as the mass of mankind are concerned: within narrow limits it is settled, without regard to sentiments or doctrines, by the laws of physical fact.

It is to be presumed then that an Athenian, if told that a certain corpse was buried on the day of the death, would have felt exactly the same shock of surprise, suspicion, and displeasure as an Englishman in the like circumstances; and that the same effect would be produced by the representation of such a proceeding on the stage. Why should the dramatist make his personages do an outrageous thing, except in order that its impropriety might be observed? There was no compulsion on him. It is true that there were practical reasons, arising from the arrangements of the Greek theatre and company, why the action of a play should not, if it could be avoided, be such as to occupy more than a day or thereabouts[2] And it could be avoided in most cases by a little ingenuity. For example, it would have been perfectly easy to present a story like that of Alcestis, a story of death and revival, without introducing any funeral at all, and so that a day or a few hours should naturally cover events from first to last. But the dramatist, if he chose, might sacrifice theatrical convenience to some other consideration, and make his action as long as he pleased. Euripides

  1. Il. 23. 71. See Smith's Dict. Ant. "Funus".
  2. See the essay on 'The Unity of Time', cited above.