is actually buried not like a heroine, not like a queen, not even with the commonest offices of love, nor the barest observances of humane precaution, but with just such perfunctory haste as might be thought permissible in the case of a corpse infected with the plague: and that this arrangement of her obsequies is due to the express prevision and persistence of the king her husband. What he ought to have done, what he feels and knows that he ought to have done, we are perpetually reminded by the eloquent outpourings of his uneasy conscience. But what he does, we see; and strange is the comparison.
For if it would be surprising and unsatisfactory that without grave cause a body should be entombed on the day of the death, what shall be said of a funeral, which is commenced not merely within the same hour, but at the very minute of the death itself, while the corpse is yet as warm as in life, and almost before the departed voice has ceased to vibrate upon the ear; a funeral, which from that moment to its completion is pushed forward in spite of hindrance with all the speed that forethought and ingenuity can secure? Such is the funeral of Alcestis. The extraordinary scene which ensues upon her death would prove of itself, even if we had not had previous intimations to the same effect, that nothing is or has been more near to her husband's thoughts than the importance of performing her obsequies without the smallest delay. Scarce a minute has passed since her last 'Farewell!' was spoken, the wail of her frightened child has scarcely sunk into sobbing, and the friend who stands by has barely proffered his first word of condolence, when Admetus, dismissing these commonplaces with the remark, on this occasion uniquely appropriate, that the subject has been long the burden of his thoughts, runs on, as it were in one sentence, to invite the immediate assistance of his visitors in conveying 'this corpse' to the cemetery. That this amazing suggestion is not a birth of the moment, but prearranged with their complicity, is evident not only from the way in which it is launched, but from their own behaviour in acting upon it without so much as the form of an acceptance; and in fact the audience also has already been made privy to their expectations.
- ↑ v. 422.