Page:Euripides the Rationalist.djvu/89

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Euripides—with every mark of sincerity and earnestness—has just before addressed the audience by the voice of the Chorus. And now therefore, if this very Alcestis, who could not possibly rise, has actually risen before the eyes of the Chorus and ours, if the irreversible order of things has in its most impressive manifestation been signally reversed, if in short it has been proved, as all, if they saw such a thing happen, would understand and confess, that the bond of 'Necessity' does not bind, but itself is breakable by superior and, as we say, miraculous power,—what has become of that creed? Was it put forward only that the contrasted sequel might the more conspicuously exhibit its falsity? Has the poet refuted himself, and are his spokesmen convinced? This is the question, to which, when the chief actors are gone, we are still awaiting an answer. Heracles is curt and evasive; Alcestis must not yet speak; Admetus says nothing to the purpose. No one—if the reader doubts this, I will ask him to glance again over the dialogue—has yet said the one thing, so simple and so essential to be said, 'This woman was dead and is alive again.' The Chorus only are left, and what have they to say? 'How often' say the Chorus 'things end otherwise than was expected! So does this story.' And away they go.

Now what is the meaning of all this? What is the purpose of this lame, impotent, and abrupt conclusion? How does it serve to harmonize the discordant elements of the drama and fix for us the impression which we are intended to carry away? How does it explain the author's motives in treating a story, which, except in the single point of the heroine's character, he handles, as it would seem, only to injure it? By common consent the true answer to this question is that the finale does not satisfy any such demand, but is on the contrary altogether unsatisfactory. Even the Byzantine critics, who were not easily surprised, were surprised and displeased at the conclusion of the Alcestis: "the conclusion of the play" says the second and most substantial of the three Greek introductory notes "is too comic[1]".

  1. This remark or some other to the like effect has been apparently understood by the writer of the third note (ἡ σκηνὴ…ἐχόμενα) to mean that a tragedy ought not to end happily, on which ground, he says, "both the Orestes and the Alcestis are ejected from the list of tragedies". The words of the second writer do not imply this