Page:Euripides the Rationalist.djvu/69

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ALCESTIS.

53

death, however it might appear to Admetus and other such devotees, would be thought by at least five persons in ten, as it is by Heracles, not at all necessarily imminent, because it had been predicted by a prophet? But on the other hand, since the Chorus are not in mourning, what sort of figure must they make in the character of a funeral procession?

It has been already said that the action of Admetus, in thus abridging the honours of the deceased, is emphasized and made conspicuous by the largeness of his promises; and this we see by the manner in which these promises are introduced. Browning notes, and we all note with him, the 'childishness', to use the most charitable expression, of the redeemed husband, when he assures the redeeming wife how courageously, if he had been an Orpheus, he would have fronted Cerberus, Charon, and all the terrors of the underworld, in order to bring back her soul. How much more simple, as Balaustion observes, to say

what would seem so pertinent,
'To keep this pact, I find surpass my power.
Rescind it, Moirai! Give me back her life,
And take the life I kept by base exchange!'

And just the same futility, by comparison with what we know to be planned and doing, appears in those other assurances which make the rest of his speech:

And I shall bear for thee no year-long grief,[1]
But grief that lasts while my own days last, love!. . . . . .
For I will end the feastings—social flow
O' the wine friends flock for, garlands and the Muse
That graced my dwelling. Never now for me
To touch the lyre, to lift my soul in song
At summons of the Lydian flute; since thou
From out my life hast emptied all the joy,

and so on, with invented observances even more extravagant. How much more simple to begin observance with the present day, to let the corpse lie its fair time in the hall, bewailed with a fair lament, and go forth, when it must, with a fair and proportionate train! And when later he reverts to the same

  1. 'Mourning' would be a more exact rendering. The word refers to outward manifestations, not mere feeling; 'grief' somewhat changes the colour, and impairs the point of the sequel. See v. 336 foll.