Page:Euripides the Rationalist.djvu/65

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The first scene of the action proper[1] (first after the prologue) consists of a curious conversation which passes between these visitors upon their arrival at the door. Although they come in the fore-part of the day (as appears shortly afterwards from the account of what has passed in the house, and would in any case have been assumed by Greek spectators from the habitual and almost inevitable practice of the choric dramatists[2]) they are so possessed by the unwonted sensation of fore-knowledge and by the prophetic announcement of the date[3], that their first feeling is surprise at not perceiving about the house the signs which according to custom would have marked that the decease had actually taken place; they are surprised at not seeing before the entrance the holy water and stationary servant, nor hearing from within the shrieks and beaten hands of women performing the ceremonial lamentation over the corpse. (We may observe in passing that, although the whole action proceeds before this same gate, we find no indication in dialogue or ode that any of these regular things are afterwards done; the servant, if she takes her station, does so in silence and unheeded, the cries, if any are heard, excite no remark or echo; nay more, at the time when such demonstrations would naturally appear, we have, in the conversation of Heracles who happens just then to arrive, a positive proof that nothing of the sort was exhibited. It is from the entrance of Admetus, and the marks on his person, that he receives the first intimation of anything amiss[4].) However in the midst of their conjectures the Chorus agree, though not without a significant doubt, that at least 'the corpse cannot have left the house', and the reason is startling. 'Why so?' says some one, 'I dare not say. What makes you sure?''Oh, because surely Admetus could not have performed the funeral of such a wife without attendance!' Manifestly this remark is intelligible only on the supposition that, to the knowledge of the speakers, the funeral, if performed before their arrival, could have had no attendance, or in other words, that they are themselves the invited mourners, and are alone apprised of the intention, which certainly no uninformed person

  1. v. 77 foll.
  2. v. 158 foll. See 'The Unity of Time', already cited.
  3. v. 105.
  4. vv. 476–512.