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For other English-language translations of this work, see Alcestis (Euripides).

 

ALCESTIS.

 

 

ARGUMENT.


Apollo, being banished for a season from Olympus, and condemned to do service to a mortal, became herdman of Admetus, King of Pheræ in Thessaly. Yet he loathed not his earthly taskmaster, but loved him, for that he was a just man, and hospitable exceedingly. Wherefore he obtained from the Fates this boon for Admetus, that, when his hour of death should come, they should accept in ransom for his life the life of whosoever should have before consented to die in his stead. Now when this was made known, none of them which were nearest by blood to the king would promise to be his ransom in that day. Then Alcestis his wife, the daughter of Pelias King of Iolkos, pledged her to die for him. Of her love she did it, and for the honour of wifehood. And the years passed by, and the tale was told in many lands; and all men praised Alcestis, but Admetus bore a burden of sorrow, for day by day she became dearer to him, a wife wholly true, a mother most loving, and a lady to her thralls gentle exceedingly. But when it was known by tokens that the day was come, Admetus repented him sorely, but it availed not, for no mortal may recall a pledge once given to the Gods. And on that day there came to the palace Apollo to plead with Death for Alcestis sake; and a company of Elders of Pheræ, to ask of her state and to make mourning for her. And when she was dead, ere she was borne forth to burial, came Hêrakles, son of Zeus, in his journeying, seeking the guest's right of meat and lodging, but not knowing aught of that which had come to pass. Of him was a great deliverance wrought, which is told herein.

 

DRAMATIS PERSONÆ.


Apollo

Death

Chorus, composed of Elders of Pheræ

Handmaid

Alcestis, daughter of Pelias, and wife of Admetus

Admetus, King of Pheræ

Eumelus, son of Admetus and Alcestis

Herakles

Pheres, father of Admetus

Servant, steward of the palace

Guards, attendants, handmaids, and mourners

The scene throughout is in front of the palace of Admetus at Pheræ.

 

 

ALCESTIS.

 

Enter Apollo.

Apollo.

Halls of Admetus, where I stooped my pride
To brook the fare of serfs, yea I, a God;—
The fault was fault of Zeus: he slew my son
Asklêpius—hurled the levin through his heart.
Wroth for the dead, his smiths of heavenly fire5
I slew, the Cyclopes; and, for blood-atonement,
Serf to a mortal man my father made me.
To this land came I, tended mine host's kine,
And warded still his house unto this day.
Righteous myself, I lighted on the righteous,10
The son of Pheres: him I snatched from death,
Cozening the Fates: to me the Sisters pledged them
That imminent death Admetus should escape
If he for ransom gave another life.
To all he went—all near and dear,—and asked15
Grey sire, the mother that had given him life;
But, save his wife, found none that would consent
For him to die and never more see light.
Now in his arms upborne within yon home
She gaspeth forth her life: for on this day20
Her weird it is to die and part from life.
I, lest pollution taint me in their house,
Go forth of yonder hall’s belovèd roof.[Enter Death.
Lo, yonder Death!—I see him nigh at hand,
Priest of the dead, who comes to hale her down25
To Hades’ halls—well hath he kept his time,
Watching this day, whereon she needs must die.


Death.

Ha, thou at the palace!—Wilt not make room,
Phœbus?—thou wrestest the right yet again.
Thou removest the landmarks of Gods of Gloom.30
And thou makest their honours vain.
Did this not suffice thee, to thwart that doom
Of Admetus, when, all by thy cunning beguiled
Were the Fates, that thou now must be warding the wife
With thine hand made ready the bowstring to strain,35
Though she pledged her from death to redeem with her life
Her lord,—she, Pelias’ child?


Apollo.

Fear not: fair words and justice are with me.


Death.

Justice with thee!—what needeth then the bow?


Apollo.

This?—’tis my wont to bear it evermore.40


Death.

Yea, and to aid yon house in lawless wise.

 

Apollo.

Mine heart is heavy for my friend's mischance.


Death.

What, wilt thou wrest from me this second corpse?


Apollo.

Nay, not that other did I take by force.


Death.

Not?—why on earth then?—why not underground?45


Apollo.

She was his ransom, she for whom thou comest.


Death.

Yea, and will hale her deep beneath the earth.


Apollo.

Take her and go: I trow I shall not bend thee—


Death.

To slay the victim due?—mine office this.


Apollo.

Nay, but to smite with death the ripe for death.50


Death.

Ay, I discern thy plea,—thy zeal, good sooth!


Apollo.

And may Alcestis never see old age?

 

Death.

Never:—should I not love mine honours too?


Apollo.

'Tis soon or late,—thou canst but take one life.


Death.

Yet mine the goodlier prize when die the young.55


Apollo.

Think—royal obsequies if old she die!


Death.

Lo, Phœbus making laws to shield the rich!


Apollo.

How say'st thou?—thou a sophist unawares!


Death.

Would wealth not buy the boon of dying old?


Apollo.

So then thou wilt not grant this grace to me?60


Death.

Nay surely—dost not know my wonted way?


Apollo.

Hateful to mortals this, and loathed of Gods.


Death.

All things beyond thy rights thou canst not have.

 

Apollo.

Surely thou shalt forbear, though ruthless thou,
So mighty a man to Pheres' halls shall come, 65
Sent of Eurystheus forth, the courser-car
From winter-dreary lands of Thrace to bring.
Guest-welcomed in Admetus' palace here,
By force yon woman shall he wrest from thee.
Yea, thou of me shalt have no thank for this, 70
And yet shalt do it, and shalt have mine hate.

[Exit Apollo.

Death.

Talk on, talk on: no profit shalt thou win.
This woman down to Hades' halls shall pass.
For her I go: my sword shall seal her ours:
For sacred to the Nether Gods is he, 75
He from whose head this sword hath shorn the hair.

[Exit Death.


Enter Chorus, dividing to right and left, so that the sections answer one another till they unite at l. 112.


Half-Chorus 1.

What meaneth this hush afront of the hall?
The home of Admetus, why voiceless all?


Half-Chorus 2.

No friend of the house who should speak of its plight
Is nigh, who should bid that we raise the keen 80
For the dead, or should tell us that yet on the light
Alcestis looketh, and liveth the Queen,
The daughter of Pelias, the noblest, I ween,
Yea, in all men's sight
The noblest of women on earth that have been. 85

 

Half-Chorus 1.

(Str. 1)

Or hearest thou mourning or sighing
Or beating of hands,
Or the wail of bereaved ones outcrying?
No handmaid stands
At the palace-gate. 90
O Healer, appear for the dying, appear as a bright bird flying
'Twixt the surges of fate!


Half-Chorus 2.

Ah, they would not be hushed, had the life of her flown!


Half-Chorus 1.

Not forth of the doors is the death-train gone.


Half-Chorus 2.

Whence cometh thine hope, which I boast not mine own? 95


Half-Chorus 1.

Would the King without pomp of procession have yielded the Grave the possession
Of so dear, of so faithful an one?


Half-Chorus 2.

(Ant. 1)

Nor the cup in the gateway appeareth,
From the spring that they bear
To the gate that pollution feareth, 100
Nor the severed hair
In the porch for the dead,
Which the mourner in bitterness sheareth, neither beating of hands one heareth
On maiden's head.


Half-Chorus 1.

Yet surely is this the appointed day— 105


Half-Chorus 2.

Ah! what wilt thou say?


Half-Chorus 1.

Whereon of her doom she must pass to the tomb.


Half-Chorus 2.

With a keen pang's smart hast thou stabbed mine heart.


Half-Chorus 1.

It is meet, when the good are as flowers plucked away,
That in sorrow's gloom
Should the breast of the old tried friend have part.


Chorus.

(Str. 2)

Though ye voyage all seas,
Ye shall light on no lands,
Nor on Lycia's leas,
Nor Ammonian sands, 115
Whence redemption shall come for the wretched, or loosing of Death's dread bands.

Doom's imminent slope
Is a precipice-steep.
In no God is there hope, 120
Though his altars should weep
With the crimson atonement, should veil them in clouds of the hecatomb-sheep.
(Ant. 2)
Ah, once there was one!—
Were life's light in the eyes
Of Phœbus's son,
Then our darling might rise 125
From the mansions of darkness, through portals of Hades return to our skies;

For he raised up the dead,
Ere flashed from the heaven,
From Zeus' hand sped,
That bolt of the levin.
But now what remaineth to wait for?—what hope of her life is given? 130

No sacrifice more
Unrendered remaineth:
No God, but the gore
From his altars down-raineth:
Yet healing is none for our ills, neither balm that the spirit sustaineth. 135
[Enter Handmaid.
But hither cometh of the handmaids one,
Weeping the while. What tidings shall I hear?
To grieve at all mischance unto thy lords
May be forgiven; but if thy lady lives
Or even now hath passed, fain would we know. 140


Handmaid.

She liveth, and is dead: both may'st thou say.

 

Chorus.

Ay so?—how should the same be dead and live?


Handmaid.

Even now she droopeth, gasping out her life.


Chorus.

Noble and stricken—how noble she thou losest.


Handmaid.

His depth of loss he knows not ere it come. 145


Chorus.

And hope—is no hope left her life to save?


Handmaid.

None—for the day foredoomed constraineth her.


Chorus.

Are all things meet, then, being done for her?


Handmaid.

Yea, ready is her burial-attire.


Chorus.

Let her be sure that glorious she dies 150
And noblest woman 'neath the sun's wide way.


Handmaid.

Noblest?—how not?—what tongue will dare gainsay?
What must the woman be who passeth her?
How could a wife give honour to her lord
More than by yielding her to die for him? 155
And this—yea, all the city knoweth this.
But what within she did, hear thou, and marvel.
For when she knew that the appointed day
Was come, in river-water her white skin
She bathed, and from the cedar-chests took forth 160
Vesture and jewels, and decked her gloriously,
And stood before the hearth, and prayed, and said:
"Queen, for I pass beneath the earth, I fall
Before thee now, and nevermore, and pray:—
Be mother to my orphans: mate with him 165
A loving wife, with her a noble husband.
Nor, as their mother dieth, so may they,
My children, die untimely, but with weal
In the home-land fill up a life of bliss."
To all the altars through Admetus' halls 170
She went, with wreaths she hung them, and she prayed,
Plucking the while the tresses of the myrtle,
Tearless, unsighing, and the imminent fate
Changed not the lovely rose-tint of her cheek.
Then to her bower she rushed, fell on the bed; 175
And there, O there she wept, and thus she speaks:
"O couch, whereon I loosed the maiden zone
For this man, for whose sake I die to-day,
Farewell: I hate thee not. Me hast thou lost,
Me only: loth to fail thee and my lord 180
I die: but thee another bride shall own,
Not more true-hearted; happier perchance."
Then falls thereon, and kisses: all the bed
Is watered with the flood of melting eyes.
But having wept her fill of many tears, 185
Drooping she goeth, reeling from the couch;
Yet oft, as forth the bower she passed, returned,
And flung herself again upon the couch.
And the babes, clinging to their mother's robes,
Were weeping: and she clasped them in her arms, 190
Fondling now this, now that, as one death-doomed.
And all the servants 'neath the roof were weeping,
Pitying their lady. But to each she stretched
Her right hand forth; and none there was so mean
To whom she spake not and received reply. 195
Such are the ills Admetus' home within.
Now, had he died, he had ended: but, in 'scaping,
He bears a pain that he shall ne'er forget.


Chorus.

Doth not Admetus groan for this affliction
Of such a noble wife to be bereft? 200


Handmaid.

Ay, weeps, and clasps his dear one in his arms,
And prays, "Forsake me not!"—asking the while
The impossible, for still she wanes and wastes,
Drooping her hand, a misery-burdened weight.
But yet, albeit hardly breathing now, 205
To the sun's rays fain would she lift her eyes,
As nevermore, but for the last time then
Destined to see the sun's beam and his orb.
But I will go and make thy presence known:
For 'tis not all that love so well their kings 210
As to stand by them, in afflictions loyal.
But from of old my lords were loved of thee. [Exit.


[Nine members of the Chorus chant successively:—


Chorus 1.

O Zeus, for our lords is there nought but despair?
No path through the tangle of evils, no loosing of chains that have bound them?

 

Chorus 2.

No tidings?—remaineth but rending of hair,
And the stricken ones turned to the tomb with the garments of sorrow around them?


Chorus 3.

Even so—even so! yet uplift we in prayer
Our hands to the Gods, for that power from the days everlasting hath crowned them.


Chorus 4.

O Healer-king, 220
Find thou for Admetus the balm of relief, for the captive deliverance!


Chorus 5.

Vouchsafe it, vouchsafe it, for heretofore
Hast thou found out a way; even now once more
Pluck back our belovèd from Hades' door,
Strike down Death's hand red-reeking with gore!


Chorus 6.

Woe's me! woe's me!—let the woe-dirge ring!
Ah, scion of Pheres, alas for thy lot, for love's long severance!


Chorus 7.

For such things on his sword might a man not fall,
Or knit up his throat in the noose 'twixt the heaven and the earth that quivereth? 230

 

Chorus 8.

For his dear one—nay, but his dearest of all
Shall he see on this day lying dead, while her spirit by Lêthê shivereth.


Chorus 9.

O look!—look yonder, where forth of the hall
She cometh, and he at her side whose life by her life she delivereth.


Chorus, united.

Cry, Land Pheraian, shrill the keen!
Lift up thy voice to wail thy best
There dying, and thy queenliest
Slow wasting to the Gates Unseen!

Tell me not this, that wedlock brings
To them that wed more bliss than woe.
I look back to the long-ago; 240
I muse on these unhappiest things.

Lo, here a king—he forfeiteth
The truest heart, the noblest wife:
And what shall be henceforth his life?
A darkened day, a living death.


Enter Female Attendants bearing Alcestis, accompanied by Admetus and Children.


Alcestis.

O Sun, and the day's dear light,
And ye clouds through the wheeling heaven in the race everlasting flying!

 

Admetus.

He seeth thee and me, two stricken ones,
Which wrought the Gods no wrong, that thou shouldst die.


Alcestis.

O Land, O stately height
Of mine halls, and my bridal couch in Iolkos my fatherland lying!


Admetus.

Uplift thee, hapless love, forsake me not, 250
And pray the mighty Gods in ruth to turn.


Alcestis.

I see the Boat with the oars twin-sweeping,
And, his hand on the pole as in haste aye keeping,
Charon the Ferryman calleth, "What ho, wilt thou linger and linger?
Hasten,—'tis thou dost delay me!" he crieth with beckoning finger.


Admetus.

Ah me! a bitter ferrying this thou namest!
O evil-starred, what woes endure we now!


Alcestis.

One haleth me—haleth me hence to the mansion
Of the dead!—dost thou mark not the darkling expansion
Of the pinions of Hades, the blaze of his eyes 'neath their caverns out-glaring? 260
What wouldst thou?—Unhand me!—In anguish and pain by what path am I faring!


Admetus.

Woeful to them that love thee: most to me
And to thy babes, sad sharers in this grief.


Alcestis.

Let be—let me sink back to rest me:
There is no strength left in my feet.
Hades is near, and the night
Is darkening down on my sight.
Darlings, farewell: on the light 270
Long may ye look:—I have blessed ye
Ere your mother to nothingness fleet.


Admetus.

Ah me! for thy word rusheth bitterness o'er me,
Bitterness passing the anguish of death!
Forsake me not now, by the Gods I implore thee,
By the babes thou wilt orphan, O yield not thy breath!
Look up, be of cheer: if thou diest, before me
Is nothingness. Living, we aye live thine,
And we die unto thee; for our hearts are a shrine
Wherein for thy love passing word we adore thee!


Alcestis.

Admetus,—for thou seest all my plight,— 280
Fain would I speak mine heart's wish ere I die.
I, honouring thee, and setting thee in place
Before mine own soul still to see this light,
Am dying, unconstrained to die for thee.
I might have wed what man Thessalian 285
I would, have dwelt wealth-crowned in princely halls;
Yet would not live on, torn away from thee,
With orphaned children: wherefore spared I not
The gifts of youth still mine, wherein I joyed.
Yet she that bare, he that begat, forsook thee, 290
Though fair for death their time of life was come,
Yea, fair, to save their son and die renowned.
Their only one wert thou: no hope there was
To get them sons thereafter, hadst thou died.
So had I lived, and thou, to after days: 295
Thou wert not groaning, of thy wife bereaved,
Thy children motherless. Howbeit this
Some God hath brought to pass: it was to be.
Let be:—remember thou what thank is due
For this: I never can ask full requital;— 300
For nought there is more precious than the life;—
Yet justly due: for these thy babes thou lovest
No less than I, if that thine heart be right.
Suffer that they have lordship in mine home:
Wed not a stepdame to supplant our babes, 305
Whose heart shall tell her she is no Alcestis,
Whose jealous hand shall smite them, thine and mine.
Do not, ah, do not this—I pray thee, I.
For the new stepdame hateth still the babes
Of her that's gone with more than viper-venom. 310
The boy—his father is his tower of strength
To whom to speak, of whom to win reply:
But, O my child, what girlhood will be thine?
To thee what would she be, thy father's yoke-mate?
What if with ill report she smirched thy name, 315
And in thy youth's flower marred thy marriage-hopes?
For thee thy mother ne'er shall deck for bridal,
Nor hearten thee in travail, O my child,
There, where nought gentler than the mother is.
For I must die, nor shall it be tomorn, 320
Nor on the third day comes on me this bane:
Straightway of them that are not shall I be.
Farewell, be happy. Now for thee, my lord,
Abides the boast to have won the noblest wife,
For you, my babes, to have sprung from noblest mother. 325


Chorus.

Fear not; for I am bold to speak for him
This will he do, an if he be not mad.


Admetus.

It shall, it shall be, dread not thou: for thee
Living I had; and dead, mine only wife
Shalt thou be called: nor ever in thy stead 330
Shall bride Thessalian hail me as her lord.
None is there of a father so high-born,
None so for beauty peerless among women.
Children enough have I: I pray the Gods
For joy in these—our joy in thee is nought. 335
Not for a year's space will I mourn for thee,
But long as this my life shall last, dear wife,
Loathing my mother, hating mine own sire,
For in word only, not in deed, they loved me.
Thou gav'st in ransom for my life thine all 340
Of precious, and didst save. Do I not well
To groan, who lose such yokefellow in thee?
Revels shall cease, and gatherings at the wine,
Garlands, and song, which wont to fill mine house.
For never more mine hand shall touch the lyre: 345
Nor will I lift up heart to sing to flute
Of Libya: thou hast robbed my life of mirth.
And, wrought by craftsmen's cunning hands, thy form
Imaged, upon a couch outstretched shall lie,
Falling whereon, and clasping with mine hands, 350
Calling thy name, in fancy shall mine arms
Hold my belovèd, though I hold her not:—
A chill delight, I wot: yet shall I lift
The burden from my soul. In dreams shalt thou
Haunt me and gladden: sweet to see the loved, 355
Though but a fleeting presence night-revealed.
But, were the tongue and strain of Orpheus mine,
To witch Demeter's Daughter and her lord,
And out of Hades by my song to win thee,
I had fared down: nor Pluto's Hound had stayed me, 360
Nor Spirit-wafter Charon at the oar,
Or ever I restored thy life to light.
Yet there look thou for me, whenso I die;
Prepare a home, as who shall dwell with me.
For in the selfsame cedar chest, wherein 365
Thou liest, will I bid them lay my bones
Outstretched beside thee: ne'er may I be severed,
No, not in death, from thee, my one true friend.


Chorus.

Yea, I withal will mourn, as friend with friend,
With thee for this thy wife, for she is worthy. 370


Alcestis.

My children, ye yourselves have heard all this,
Have heard your father pledge him ne'er to wed
For your oppression and for my dishonour.

 

Admetus.

Yea, now I say it, and I will perform.


Alcestis.

On these terms take the children from mine hand. 375


Admetus.

I take them—precious gift from precious hand.


Alcestis.

Be to these babes a mother in my stead.


Admetus.

Sore is their need, who are bereft of thee.


Alcestis.

Darlings, I should have lived; and lo, I die.


Admetus.

Ah me!—what shall I do, forlorn of thee? 380


Alcestis.

Time shall bring healing:—but the dead is nought.


Admetus.

Take me, ah take me with thee to the grave!


Alcestis.

Suffice it that one dies—she dies for thee.


Admetus.

O Death, of what a wife dost thou bereave me!

 

Alcestis.

Dark—dark—mine eyes are drooping, heavy-laden. 385


Admetus.

Oh, I am lost if thou wilt leave me, wife!


Alcestis.

No more—I am no more: as nought account me.


Admetus.

Uplift thy face: forsake not thine own children!


Alcestis.

Sore loth do I—yet O farewell, my babes!


Admetus.

Look unto them—O look!


Alcestis.

I am no more. 390


Admetus.

Ah, leav'st thou us?


Alcestis.

Farewell. [Dies.


Admetus.

O wretch undone!


Chorus.

Gone,—gone!—No more is this Admetus' wife!

 

Eumelus.

Woe for my lot!—to the tomb hath my mother descended, descended!
Never again, O my father, she seeth the light of the sun!
In anguish she leaves us forsaken: the story is ended, is ended,
Of her sheltering love, and the tale of the motherless life is begun.
Look—look on her eyelids, her hands drooping nerveless! O hear me, O hear me! 400
It is I—I beseech thee, my mother!—thine own little, own little bird!
It is I—O, I cast me upon thee—thy lips are so near me, so near me,
Unto mine am I pressing them, mother!—I plead for a word—but a word!


Admetus.

With her who heareth not, nor seeth: ye
And I are stricken with a heavy doom. 405


Eumelus.

And I am but a little one, father—so young, and forsaken, forsaken,
Forlorn of my mother—O hapless! a weariful lot shall be mine!
And thou, little maiden, my sister, the burden hast taken, hast taken,
Which thy brother may bear not alone, and a weariful lot shall be thine. 410
O father, of long-living love was thy marriage uncherished, uncherished:
Thou hast won not the goal of old age with the love of thy youth at thy side;
For, or ever she won to the fulness of days, she hath perished, hath perished;
And the home is a wreck and a ruin, for thou, O my mother, hast died!


Chorus.

Admetus, this mischance thou needs must bear.
Not first of mortals thou, nor shalt be last
To lose a noble wife; and, be thou sure,
From us, from all, this debt is due—to die.


Admetus.

I know it: nowise unforeseen this ill 420
Hath swooped upon me: long I grieved to know it.
But—for to burial must I bear my dead—
Stay ye, and, tarrying, echo back my wail
To that dark God whom no drink-offerings move.
And all Thessalians over whom I rule 425
I bid take part in mourning for this woman,
With shaven head and sable-shrouding robe.
And ye which yoke the cars four-horsed, or steeds
Of single frontlet, shear with steel their manes.
Music of flutes the city through, or lyres, 430
Be none, while twelve moons round their circles out:
For dearer dead, nor kinder unto me
I shall not bury: worthy of mine honour
Is she, for she alone hath died for me. [Exit.

 

Chorus.

(Str. 1)
O Pelias' daughter, I hail thee:
I waft thee eternal farewell
To thine home where the darkness must veil thee,
Where in Hades unsunned thou shalt dwell.
Know, Dark-haired, thy grey Spirit-wafter
Hath sped not with twy-plashing oar 440
Woman nobler, nor shall speed hereafter
To Acheron's shore.
(Ant. 1)
For the seven-stringed shell, or for pæan
Unharped, shall thy fame be a song,
When o'er Sparta the moon Karnean
High rideth the whole night long.
And in Athens the wealthy and splendid
Shall thy name on her bards' lips ring,
Such a theme hast thou left to be blended
With the lays that they sing.
(Str. 2)
O that the power were but in me,
From the chambers of Hades, to light,
And from streams of Cocytus, to win thee
With the oar of the River of Night!
O dear among women, strong-hearted 460
From Hades to ransom thy lord!
Never spirit in such wise departed.
Light lie on thee, Lady, the sward!
And, if ever thine husband shall mate him
Again with a bride in thy stead,
I will loathe him, his children shall hate him,
The babes of the dead.
(Ant. 2)
When his mother would not be contented
To hide her for him in the tomb,
Nor his grey-haired father consented,
Unholpen he looked on his doom.
Whom they bare—the hard-hearted!—they cared not,
Though hoary their locks were, to save! 470
Thou art gone, for thy great love spared not
Thy blossom of youth from the grave.
Ah, may it be mine, such communion
Of hearts!—'tis vouchsafed unto few:—
Then ours should be sorrowless union
Our life-days through.


Enter Herakles.

Herakles.

Strangers, who dwell in this Pheraian land,
Say, do I find Admetus in his home?


Chorus.

Herakles, in his home is Pheres' son.
Yet say, what brings thee to Thessalian land,
That thou shouldst come to this Pheraian town? 480


Herakles.

A toil for King Eurystheus, lord of Tiryns.


Chorus.

And whither journeyest? To what wanderings yoked?


Herakles.

For Thracian Diomedes' four-horsed chariot.

 

Chorus.

How canst thou? Sure he is unknown to thee!


Herakles.

Unknown: to land Bistonian fared I never. 485


Chorus.

Not save by battle may those steeds be won.


Herakles.

Yet flinch I may not from the appointed toils.


Chorus.

Thy life or his—a triumph or a grave.


Herakles.

Not this the first time I have run such course.


Chorus.

What profit is it if thou slay their lord? 490


Herakles.

Those steeds shall I drive back to Tiryns' king.


Chorus.

Hard task, to set the bit betwixt their jaws.


Herakles.

That shall I, if their nostrils breathe not fire.


Chorus.

Yea, but with ravening jaws do they rend men.

 

Herakles.

Go to—thus banquet mountain-beasts, not horses. 495


Chorus.

Nay, thou shalt see their cribs with gore bespattered.


Herakles.

Whom boasteth he for father, he that reared them?


Chorus.

Ares, the king of Thracia's golden shield.


Herakles.

Thou say'st: such toil my fate imposeth still,
Harsh evermore, uphillward straining aye, 500
If I must still in battle close with sons
Gotten of Arês; with Lykaon first,
And Kyknus then: and lo, I come to grapple—
The third strife this—with yon steeds and their lord.
But never man shall see Alkmênê's child 505
Quailing before the hand of any foe.


Chorus.

Lo, there himself, the ruler of the land,
Admetus, cometh forth his palace-hall.


Enter Admetus.

Admetus.

Hail, O thou sprung from Zeus' and Perseus' blood!


Herakles.

Admetus, hail thou too, Thessalia's king. 510

 

Admetus.

Hale?—Would I were! Yet thy good heart I know.


Herakles.

Wherefore for mourning shaven show'st thou thus?


Admetus.

This day must I commit to earth a corpse.


Herakles.

Now heaven forefend thou mourn'st for children dead!


Admetus.

In mine home live the babes whom I begat. 515


Herakles.

Sooth, death-ripe were thy sire, if he be gone.


Admetus.

He liveth, and my mother, Herakles.


Herakles.

Surely, O surely, not thy wife, Admetus?


Admetus.

Twofold must be mine answer touching her.


Herakles.

Or hath she died, say'st thou, or liveth yet? 520


Admetus.

She is, and she is not: here lies my sorrow.

 

Herakles.

Nothing the more I know: dark sayings thine.


Admetus.

Know'st not the doom whereon she needs must light?


Herakles.

I know she pledged herself to die for thee.


Admetus.

How lives she then, if she to this consented? 525


Herakles.

Mourn not thy wife ere dead: abide the hour.


Admetus.

Dead is the doomed, and no more is the dead.


Herakles.

Diverse are these—to be and not to be.


Admetus.

This, Herakles, thy sentence: that is mine.


Herakles.

But now, why weep'st thou? What dear friend is dead? 530


Admetus.

A woman—hers the memory we mourn.


Herakles.

Some stranger born, or nigh of kin to thee?

 

Admetus.

A stranger born; yet near and dear to us.


Herakles.

How died a stranger then in house of thine?


Admetus.

An orphan here she dwelt, her father dead. 535


Herakles.

Would we had found thee mourning not, Admetus.


Admetus.

Ay so?—what purpose lurketh 'neath thy word?


Herakles.

On will I to another host's hearth-welcome.


Admetus.

It cannot be: may no such evil come!


Herakles.

A burden unto mourners comes the guest. 540


Admetus.

Dead are the dead:—but enter thou mine house.


Herakles.

'Twere shame to banquet in the house of weeping.


Admetus.

Aloof the guest-bowers are where we will lodge thee.

 

Herakles.

Let me pass on, and have my thanks unmeasured.


Admetus.

Unto another's hearth thou canst not go. 545
[To an attendant] Ho thou, lead on: open the guest-bowers looking
Away from these our chambers. Tell my stewards
To set on meat in plenty. Shut withal
The mid-court doors: it fits not that the guests,
The while they feast, hear wailings, and be vexed. 550
[Exit Herakles.


Chorus.

What dost thou?—such affliction at the door,
And guests for thee, Admetus? Art thou mad?


Admetus.

But had I driven him from my home and city
Who came my guest, then hadst thou praised me more?
Nay, sooth; for mine affliction so had grown 555
No less, and more inhospitable I;
And to mine ills were added this beside,
That this my home were called "Guest-hating Hall."
Yea, and myself have proved him kindliest host
Whene'er to Argos' thirsty plain I fared. 560


Chorus.

Why hide then the dread Presence in the house,
When came a friend?—Thyself hast named him friend.


Admetus.

Never had he been won to pass my doors,
Had he one whit of mine afflictions known.
To some, I wot, not wise herein I seem, 565
Nor wilt thou praise: but mine halls have not learnt
To thrust away nor to dishonour guests.


Chorus.

(Str. 1)
Halls thronged of the guests ever welcome, O dwelling
Of a hero, for ever the home of the free,
The Lord of the lyre-strings sweet beyond telling, 570
Apollo, hath deignèd to sojourn in thee.
Amid thine habitations, a shepherd of sheep,
The flocks of Admetus he scorned not to keep,
While the shepherds' bridal-strains, soft-swelling
From his pipe, pealed over the slant-sloped lea.
(Ant. 1)
And the spotted lynxes for joy of thy singing
Mixed with thy flocks; and from Othrys' dell 580
Trooped tawny lions: the witchery-winging
Notes brought dancing around thy shell,
Phœbus, the dappled fawn from the shadow
Of the tall-tressed pines tripping forth to the meadow,
Beating time to the chime of the rapture-ringing
Music, with light feet tranced by its spell.
(Str. 2)
Wherefore the flocks of my lord unnumbered
By the Bœbian mere fair-rippling stray: 590
Where the steeds of the sun halt, darkness-cumbered,
By Molossian marches, far away
The borders lie of his golden grain,
And his rolling stretches of pasture-plain;
And the havenless beach Aegean hath slumbered
Under Pelion long 'neath the peace of his sway.
(Ant. 2)
And now, with the tears from his eyes fast-raining,
Thrown wide are his palace-doors to the guest,
While newly his heart 'neath its burden is straining,
For the wife that hath died in his halls distressed. 600
For to honour's heights are the high-born lifted,
And the good are with truest wisdom gifted;
And there broods on mine heart bright trust unwaning
That the god-reverer shall yet be blest.


Admetus.

O kindly presence of Pheraian men,
This corpse even now, with all things meet, my servants
Bear on their shoulders to the tomb and pyre.
Wherefore, as custom is, hail ye the dead,
On the last journey as she goeth forth. 610


Chorus.

Lo, I behold thy sire with aged foot
Advancing, and attendants in their hands
Bear ornaments to deck the dead withal.

[Enter Pheres with Attendants bearing gifts.


Pheres.

I come in thine afflictions sorrowing, son:
A noble wife and virtuous hast thou lost, 615
None will gainsay: yet these calamities
We needs must bear, how hard to bear soever.
Receive these ornaments, and let her pass
Beneath the earth: well may the corpse be honoured
Of her who for thy life's sake died, my son; 620
Who made me not unchilded, left me not
Forlorn of thee to pine in woeful eld.
In all her sisters' eyes she hath crowned her life
With glory, daring such a deed as this.
O saviour of my son, who us upraisedst 625
In act to fall, all hail! May bliss be thine
Even in Hades. Thus to wed, I say,
Profiteth men—or nothing worth is marriage.


Admetus.

Bidden of me thou com'st not to this burial,
Nor count I thine the presence of a friend. 630
Thine ornaments she never shall put on;
She shall be buried needing nought of thine.
Thou grieve!—thou shouldst have grieved in my death-hour!
Thou stood'st aloof—the old, didst leave the young
To die:—and wilt thou wail upon this corpse? 635
True father of my body thou wast not;
Nor she that said she bare me, and was called
My mother, gave me birth: of bondman blood
To thy wife's breast was I brought privily.
Put to the test, thou showedst who thou art, 640
And I account me not thy true-born son.
Peerless of men in soulless cowardice!
So old, and standing on the verge of life,
Yet hadst no will, yet hadst no heart to die
For thine own son!—Ye suffered her, a woman 645
Not of our house, whom I with righteous cause
Might count alone my mother and my father.
Yet here was honour, hadst thou dared the strife,
In dying for thy son. A paltry space
To cling to life in any wise was left. 650
Then had I lived, and she, through days to come,
Nor I, left lorn, should thus mine ills bemoan.
Yet all that may the fortunate betide
Fell to thy lot; in manhood's prime a king:
Me hadst thou son and heir unto thine house, 655
So that thou wast not, dying, like to leave
A childless home for stranger folk to spoil.
Nor canst thou say that flouting thy grey hairs
I gave thee o'er to death, whose reverence
For thee was passing word:—and this the thank 660
That thou and she that bear me render me!
Wherefore, make haste: beget thee other sons
To foster thy grey hairs, to compass thee
With death's observance, and lay out thy corpse.
Not I with this mine hand will bury thee. 665
For thee dead am I. If I see the light,—
Another saviour found,—I call me son
To her, and loving fosterer of her age.
For nought the agèd pray for death's release,
Plaining of age and weary-wearing time. 670
Let death draw near—who then would die? Not one:
No more is eld a burden unto them.


Chorus.

O hush! Suffice the affliction at the doors.
O son, infuriate not thy father's soul.


Pheres.

Son, whom, think'st thou—some Lydian slave or Phrygian 675
Bought with thy money?—thus beratest thou?
What, know'st thou not that I Thessalian am,
Sprung from Thessalian sire, free man true-born?
This insolence passeth!—hurling malapert words
On me, not lightly thus shalt thou come off! 680
Thee I begat and nurtured, of mine house
The heir: no debt is mine to die for thee.
Not from our sires such custom we received
That sires for sons should die: no Greek law this.
Born for thyself wast thou, to fortune good 685
Or evil: all thy dues from us thou hast.
O'er many folk thou rulest; wide demesnes
Shall I leave thee: to me my fathers left them.
What is my wrong, my robbery of thee?
For me die thou not, I die not for thee. 690
Thou joy'st to see light—shall thy father joy not?
Sooth, I account our time beneath the earth
Long, and our life-space short, yet is it sweet.
Shamelessly hast thou fought against thy death:
Thy life is but transgression of thy doom 695
And murder of thy wife:—my cowardice!
This from thee, dastard! worsted by a woman
Who died for thee, the glorious-gallant youth!
Cunning device hast thou devised to die
Never, cajoling still wife after wife 700
To die for thee!—and dost revile thy friends
Who will not so—and thou the coward, thou?
Peace! e'en bethink thee, if thou lov'st thy life,
So all love theirs. Thou, if thou speakest evil
Of us, shalt hear much evil, and that true. 705


Admetus.

Ye have said too much, thou now, and he before.
Refrain, old sire, from railing on thy son.


Admetus.

Say on, say on; I have said: if hearing truth
Gall thee, thou shouldest not have done me wrong.


Pheres.

I had done more wrong, had I died for thee. 710


Admetus.

What, for the young and old is death the same?


Pheres.

One life to live, not twain—this is our due.


Admetus.

Have thy desire—one life outlasting Zeus.


Pheres.

Dost curse thy parents, who hast had no wrong?


Admetus.

Ay, whom I marked love-sick for dateless life. 715


Pheres.

What?—art not burying her in thine own stead?


Admetus.

A token, dastard, of thy cowardice.


Pheres.

I did her not to death: thou canst not say it.


Admetus.

Mayest thou feel thy need of me some day!


Pheres.

Woo many women, that the more may die. 720

 

Admetus.

This taunt strikes thee—'tis thou wast loth to die.


Pheres.

Sweet is yon sun-god's light, yea, it is sweet.


Admetus.

Base is thy spirit, and unmeet for men.


Pheres.

No agèd corpse thou bearest, inly laughing!


Admetus.

Yet shalt thou die in ill fame, when thou diest. 725


Pheres.

Nought reck I of ill-speaking o'er my grave.


Admetus.

Ah me! how full of shamelessness is eld!


Pheres.

Not shameless she,—but senseless hast thou found her.


Admetus.

Begone: leave me to bury this my dead


Pheres.

I go: her murderer will bury her. 730
Thou shalt yet answer for it to her kin.
Surely Akastus is no more a man,
If he of thee claim not his sister's blood. [Exit Pheres.

 

Admetus.

Avaunt, with her that kennelleth with thee!
Childless grow old, as ye deserve, while lives 735
Your child: ye shall not come beneath one roof
With me. If need were to renounce by heralds
Thy fatherhood, I had renounced it now.
Let us—for we must bear the present ill—
Pass on, to lay our dead upon the pyre. 740


Chorus.

Alas for the loving and daring!
Farewell to the noblest and best!
May Hermes conduct thee down-faring
Kindly, and Hades to rest
Receive thee! If any atonement
For ills even there may betide
To the good, O thine be enthronement
By Hades' bride!

[Exeunt omnes in funeral procession.

Enter Servant.

Servant.

Full many a guest, from many a land which came
Unto Admetus' dwelling, have I known,
Have set before them meat: but never guest
More pestilent received I to this hearth: 750
Who first, albeit he saw my master mourning,
Entered, and passed the threshold unashamed;
Then, nowise courteously received the fare
Found with us, though our woeful plight he knew,
But, what we brought not, hectoring bade us bring. 755
The ivy cup uplifts he in his hands,
And swills the darkling mother's fiery blood,
Till the wine's flame enwrapped him, heating him.
Then did he wreathe his head with myrtle sprays,
Dissonant-howling. Diverse strains were heard: 760
For he sang on, regardless all of ills
Darkening Admetus' house; we servants wept
Our mistress: yet we showed not to the guest
Eyes tear-bedewed, for so Admetus bade.
And now within the house must I be feasting 765
This guest,—a lawless thief, a bandit rogue!
She from the house hath passed: I followed not,
Nor stretched the hand, nor wailed unto my mistress
Farewell, who was to me and all the household
A mother, for from ills untold she saved us, 770
Assuaging her lord's wrath. Do I not well
To loathe this guest, intruder on our griefs?


Enter Herakles.

Herakles.

Ho, fellow, why this solemn brooding look?
The servant should not lower upon the guest,
But welcome him with kindly-beaming cheer. 775
Thou, seeing here in presence thy lord's friend,
With visage sour and cloud of knitted brows
Receiv'st him, fretting o'er an alien grief.
Hither to me, that wiser thou may'st grow.
The lot of man—its nature knowest thou? 780
I trow not: how shouldst thou? Give ear to me.
From all mankind the debt of death is due,
Nor of all mortals is there one that knows
If through the coming morrow he shall live:
For trackless is the way of fortune's feet, 785
Not to be taught, nor won by art of man.
This hearing then, and learning it from me,
Make merry, drink: the life from day to day
Account thine own, all else in fortune's power.
Honour withal the sweetest of the Gods 790
To men, the Cyprian Queen—a gracious Goddess!
These thoughts put by, and hearken to my words,
If words of wisdom unto thee they seem.
I trow it. Hence with sorrow overwrought;
Pass through yon doors and quaff the wine with me, 795
Thy brows with garlands bound. Full well I wot,
From all this lowering spirit prison-pent
Thine anchor shall Sir Beaker's plash upheave.
What, man!—the mortal must be mortal-minded.
So, for your solemn wights of knitted brows, 800
For each and all,—if thou for judge wilt take me,—
Life is not truly life, but mere affliction.


Servant.

All this we know: but now are we in plight
Not meet for laughter and for revelry.


Herakles.

The woman dead is alien-born: grieve not 805
Exceeding much. Yet live the household's lords.


Servant.

Live, quotha!—know'st thou not the house's ills?


Herakles.

Yea, if thy master lied not unto me.


Servant.

Guest-fain he is—ah, guest-fain overmuch.

 

Herakles.

A stranger dead—and no guest-cheer for me? 810


Servant.

O yea, an alien she—o'ermuch an alien!


Herakles.

Ha! was he keeping some affliction back?


Servant.

Go thou in peace: our lords' ills are for us.


Herakles.

Grief for a stranger such talk heralds not.


Servant.

Else had I not sore vexed beheld thy revelling. 815


Herakles.

How! have I sorry handling of mine hosts?


Servant.

Thou cam'st in hour unmeet for welcoming,
For grief is on us; and thou see'st shorn hair
And vesture of black robes.


Herakles.

But who hath died?
Not of the children one, or grey-haired sire? 820


Servant.

Nay, but Admetus' wife is dead, O guest.

 

Herakles.

How say'st thou?—Ha, even then ye gave me welcome?


Servant.

For shame he could not thrust thee from these doors.


Herakles.

O hapless! what a helpmeet hast thou lost!


Servant.

We have all perished, and not she alone. 825


Herakles.

I felt it, when I saw his tear-drowned eyes,
His shaven hair, and face: yet he prevailed,
Saying he bare a stranger-friend to burial.
I passed this threshold in mine heart's despite,
And drank in halls of him that loves the guest, 830
When thus his plight!—And am I revelling
With head wreath-decked?—That thou should'st ne'er have told,
When such affliction lay upon the home!
Where doth he bury her? Where shall I find her?


Servant.

By the straight path that leads Larissa-wards 835
Shalt see the hewn-stone tomb without the walls.


Herakles.

O much-enduring heart and soul of mine,
Now show what son the Lady of Tiryns bare,
Elektryon's child Alkmênê, unto Zeus.
For I must save the woman newly dead, 840
And set Alcestis in this house again,
And render to Admetus good for good.
I go. The sable-vestured King of Corpses,
Death, will I watch for, and shall find, I trow,
Drinking the death-draught hard beside the tomb. 845
And if I lie in wait, and dart from ambush,
And seize, and with mine arms' coil compass him,
None is there shall deliver from mine hands
His straining sides, or e'er he yield his prey.
Yea, though I miss the quarry, and he come not 850
Unto the blood-clot, to the sunless homes
Down will I fare of Korê and her king,
And make demand. I doubt not I shall lead
Alcestis up, and give to mine host's hands,
Who to his halls received, nor drave me thence, 855
Albeit smitten with affliction sore,
But hid it, like a prince, respecting me.
Who is more guest-fain of Thessalians?
Who in all Hellas?—O, he shall not say
That one so princely showed a base man kindness. 860

[Exit.


Enter Admetus, with Chorus and Attendants, returning from the funeral.


Admetus.

O hateful returning!
O hateful to see
Drear halls full of yearning
For the lost—ah me!
What aim or what rest have I?—silence or speech, of what help shall they be?

Would God I were dead!
O, I came from the womb
To a destiny dread!
Ah, those in the tomb—
How I envy them! How I desire them, and long to abide in their home!

To mine eyes nothing sweet
Is the light of the heaven,
Nor the earth to my feet;
Such a helpmeet is riven 870
By Death from my side, and my darling to Hades the spoiler hath given.


Chorus.

Pass on thou, and hide thee
In thy chambers.


Admetus.

Ah woe!


Chorus.

Wail the griefs that betide thee:
How canst thou but so?


Admetus.

O God!


Chorus.

Thou hast passed through deep waters of
anguish—I know it, I know.


Admetus.

Alas and alas!

 

Chorus.

No help bringeth this
To thy love in that place.


Admetus.

Woe!


Chorus.

Bitter it is
The face of a wife well-belovèd for ever and ever to miss.


Admetus.

Thou hast stricken mine heart
Where the wound will not heal.
What is worse than to part
From the loving and leal? 880
Would God I had wedded her not, home-bliss with Alcestis to feel!

O, I envy the lot
Of the man without wife,
Without child: single-wrought
Is the strand of his life:
No soul-crushing burden of sorrow, no strength-overmastering strife.

But that children should sicken,
That gloom of despair
Over bride-beds should thicken,
What spirit can bear,[errata 1]
When childless, unwedded, a man through life's calm journey might fare?

 

Chorus.

Thee Fortune hath met,
Strong wrestler, and thrown;
Yet no bounds hast thou set— 890


Admetus.

Woe's me!—


Chorus.

To thy moan.
O, thy burden is heavy!


Admetus.

Alas!


Chorus.

Yet endure it: thou art not alone.

Not thou art the first
Of bereaved ones.


Admetus.

Ah me!


Chorus.

Such tempest hath burst
Upon many ere thee.
Unto each his mischance, when the surges roll up from Calamity's sea.


Admetus.

O long grief and pain
For belovèd ones passed!
Why didst thou restrain
When myself I had cast
Down into her grave, with the noblest to lie peace-lulled at the last?

Not one soul, but two 900
Had been Hades' prey,
Souls utterly true
Together for aye,
Which together o'er waves of the underworld mere had passed this day.


Chorus.

Of my kin was there one,
And the life's light failed
In his halls of a son,
One meet to be wailed,
His only belovèd: howbeit the manhood within him prevailed;

And the ills heaven-sent
As a man did he bear,
Though by this was he bent
Unto silvered hair,
Far on in life's path, without son for his remnant of weakness to care. 910


Admetus.

O, how can I tread
Thy threshold, fair home?
How shelter mine head
'Neath thy roof, now the doom
Of the Gods' dice changeth?—ah me, what change upon all things is come!

For with torches aflame
Of the Pelian pine,
And with bride-song I came
In that hour divine,
Upbearing the hand of a wife—thine hand, O darling mine!

Followed revellers, raising
Acclaim: ever broke
From the lips of them praising,
Of the dead as they spoke,
And of me, how the noble, the children of kings, Love joined 'neath his yoke. 920

But for bridal song
Is the wail for the dead,
And, for white-robed throng,
Black vesture hath led
Me to halls where the ghost of delight lieth couched on a desolate bed.


Chorus.

To the trance of thy bliss
Sudden anguish was brought.
Never lesson like this
To thine heart had been taught:
Yet thy life hast thou won, and thy soul hast delivered from death:—is it nought?

Thy wife hath departed:
Love tender and true 930
Hath she left:—stricken-hearted,
Wherein is this new?
Hath Death not unyoked from the chariot of Love full many ere you?

 

Admetus.

Friends, I account the fortune of my wife 935
Happier than mine, albeit it seems not so.
For nought of grief shall touch her any more,
And glorious rest she finds from many toils.
But I, unmeet to live, my doom outrun,
Shall drag out bitter days: I know it now. 940
How shall I bear to enter this mine home?
Speaking to whom, and having speech of whom,
Shall I find joy of entering?—whither turn me?
The solitude within shall drive me forth,
Whenso I see my wife's couch tenantless, 945
And seats whereon she sat, and, 'neath the roof,
All foul the floor; when on my knees my babes
Falling shall weep their mother, servants moan
The peerless mistress from the mansion lost.
All this within: but from the world without 950
Shall bridals of Thessalians chase me: throngs
Where women gossip; for I shall not bear
On those companions of my wife to look.
And, if a foe I have, thus shall he scoff:
"Lo there who basely liveth—dared not die, 955
"But whom he wedded gave, a coward's ransom,
"And 'scaped from Hades. Count ye him a man?
"He hates his parents, though himself was loth
"To die!" Such ill report, besides my griefs,
Shall mine be. Ah, what profit is to live, 960
O friends, in evil fame, in evil plight?


Chorus.

(Str. 1)
I have mused on the words of the wise,
Of the mighty in song;
I have lifted mine heart to the skies,
I have searched all truth with mine eyes;
But nought more strong
Than Fate have I found: there is nought
In the tablets of Thrace,
Wither drugs whereof Orpheus taught,
Nor in all that Apollo brought 970
To Asklepius' race,
When the herbs of healing he severed, and out of their anguish delivered
The pain-distraught.
(Ant. 1)
There is none other Goddess beside,
To the altars of whom
No man draweth near, nor hath cried
To her image, nor victim hath died,
Averting her doom.
O Goddess, more mighty for ill
Come not upon me
Than in days overpast: for his will
Even Zeus may in no wise fulfil
Unholpen of thee.
Steel is molten as water before thee, but never relenting came o'er thee, 980
Who art ruthless still.
(Str. 2)
Thee, friend, hath the Goddess gripped: from her hands never wrestler hath slipped.
Yet be strong to endure: never mourning shall bring our belovèd returning
From the nethergloom up to the light.
Yea, the heroes of Gods begotten,
They fade into darkness, forgotten
In death's chill night. 990
Dear was she in days ere we lost her,
Dear yet, though she lie with the dead.
None nobler shall Earth-mother foster
Than the wife of thy bed.
(Ant. 2)
Not as mounds of the dead which have died, so account we the tomb of thy bride,
But O, let the worship and honour that we render to Gods rest upon her:
Unto her let the wayfarer pray.
As he treadeth the pathway that trendeth 1000
Aside from the highway, and bendeth
At her shrine, he shall say:
"Her life for her lord's was given;
With the Blest now abides she on high.
Hail, Queen, show us grace from thine heaven!"
Even so shall they cry.

But lo, Alkmênê's son, as seemeth, yonder,
Admetus, to thine hearth is journeying.


Enter Herakles, leading a woman wholly veiled.


Herakles.

Unto a friend behoveth speech outspoken,
Admetus, not to hide within the breast
Murmurs unvoiced. I came mid thine affliction. 1010
Fair claim was mine to rank amidst thy friends.
Thou told'st me not how lay thy wife a corpse:
Thou gavest me guest-welcome in thine home,
Making pretence of mourning for a stranger.
I wreathed mine head, I spilled unto the Gods 1015
Drink-offerings in a stricken house, even thine.
I blame thee, thus mishandled, yea, I blame thee.
Yet nowise is my will to gall thy grief.
But wherefore hither turning back I come,
This will I tell. Take, guard for me this maid, 1020
Till, leading hitherward the Thracian mares,
I come from slaughter of Bistonia's lord.
But if—not that, for I would fain return,—
I give her then, for service of thine halls.
Prize of hard toil unto mine hands she came: 1025
For certain men I found but now arraying
An athlete-strife, toil-worthy, for all comers,
Whence I have won and bring this victor's meed.
Horses there were for them to take which won
The light foot's triumph; but for hero-strife, 1030
Boxing and wrestling, oxen were the guerdon:
A woman made it richer. Shame it seemed
To hap thereon, and slip this glorious gain.
But, as I said, this woman be thy care:
For no thief's prize, but toil-achieved, I bring her. 1035
Yea, one day thou perchance shalt say 'twas well.


Admetus.

Not flouting thee, nor counting among foes,
My wife's unhappy fate I hid from thee.
But this had been but grief uppiled on grief,
Hadst thou sped hence to be another's guest; 1040
And mine own ills sufficed me to bewail.
But, for the woman—if in any wise
It may be, prince, bid some Thessalian guard her,
I pray thee, who hath suffered not as I.
In Pheræ many a friend and host thou hast.
Awaken not remembrance of my grief. 1045
I could not, seeing her mine halls within,
Be tearless: add not hurt unto mine hurt.
Burdened enough am I by mine affliction.
Nay, in mine house where should a young maid lodge?
For vesture and adorning speak her young:— 1050
What, 'neath the men's roof shall her lodging be?
And how unsullied, dwelling with young men?
Not easy is it, Herakles, to curb
The young: herein do I take thought for thee.
Or shall I ope to her my dead wife's bower? 1055
How!—cause her to usurp my lost love's bed?
Twofold reproach I dread—from mine own folk,
Lest one should say that, traitor to her kindness,
I fall upon another woman's bed,—
And of the dead, to me most reverence-worthy, 1060
Needs must I take great heed. But, woman, thou,
Whoso thou art, know that thy body's stature
Is as Alcestis, and thy form as hers.
Ah me!—lead, for the Gods' sake, from my sight
This woman!—Take not my captivity captive. 1065
For, as I look on her, methinks I see
My wife: she stirs mine heart with turmoil: fountains
Of tears burst from mine eyes. O wretched I!
Now first I taste this grief's full bitterness.


Chorus.

In sooth thy fortune can I not commend: 1070
Yet must we brook a God's gift, whoso cometh.


Herakles.

O that such might I had as back to bring
To light thy wife from nethergloom abodes,
And to bestow this kindness upon thee!

 

Admetus.

Fain would'st thou, well I know. But wherefore this? 1075
It cannot be the dead to light should come.


Herakles.

O'ershoot not now the mark, but bear all bravely.


Admetus.

Easier to exhort than suffer and be strong.


Herakles.

But what thy profit, though for aye thou moan?


Admetus.

I too know this; yet love constraineth me. 1080


Herakles.

Love for the lost—ay, that draws forth the tear.


Admetus.

She hath undone me more than words can tell.


Herakles.

A good wife hast thou lost, who shall gainsay?


Admetus.

So that this man hath no more joy in life.


Herakles.

Time shall bring healing: now is thy grief young. 1085


Admetus.

Time—time?—O yea, if this thy Time be Death!

 

Herakles.

A wife, and yearning for new love, shall calm thee.


Admetus.

Hush!—what say'st thou?—I could not think thereon!


Herakles.

How?—wilt not wed, but widowed keep thy couch?


Admetus.

Lives not the woman that shall couch with me. 1090


Herakles.

Look'st thou that this shall profit aught the dead?


Admetus.

I needs must honour her where'er she be.


Herakles.

Good—good—yet one with folly so might charge thee.


Admetus.

So be it, so thou call me bridegroom never.


Herakles.

I praise thee for that leal thou art to her. 1095


Admetus.

Death be my meed, if I betray her dead.


Herakles.

Receive this woman now these halls within.


Admetus.

Nay!—I beseech by Zeus that did beget thee!

 

Herakles.

Yet shalt thou err if thou do not this thing.


Admetus.

Yet shall mine heart be grief-stung, if I do it. 1100


Herakles.

Yield thou: this grace may prove perchance a duty.


Admetus.

O that in strife thou ne'er hadst won this maid!


Herakles.

Yet thy friend's victory is surely thine.


Admetus.

Well said: yet let the woman hence depart.


Herakles.

Yea—if need be. First look well—need it be? 1105


Admetus.

Needs must—save thou wilt else be wroth with me.


Herakles.

I too know what I do, insisting thus.


Admetus.

Have then thy will: thy pleasure is my pain.


Herakles.

Yet one day shalt thou praise me: only yield.

 

Admetus.

To Attendants.
Lead ye her, if mine halls must needs receive. 1110


Herakles.

Not to thy servants' hands will I commit her.


Admetus.

Thou lead her in then, if it seems thee good.


Herakles.

Nay, but in thine hands will I place her—thine.


Admetus.

I will not touch her!—Open stand my doors.


Herakles.

Unto thy right hand only trust I her. 1115


Admetus.

O king, thou forcest me: I will not this!


Herakles.

Be strong: stretch forth thine hand and touch thy guest.


Admetus.

I stretch it forth, as to a headless Gorgon.


Herakles.

Hast her?


Admetus.

I have.

 

Herakles.

Yea, guard her. Thou shalt call
The child of Zeus one day a noble guest. 1120
[Raises the veil, and discloses Alcestis.
Look on her, if in aught she seems to thee
Like to thy wife. Step forth from grief to bliss.


Admetus.

What shall 1 say?—Gods! Marvel this unhoped for!
My wife do I behold in very sooth,
Or doth some god-sent mockery-joy distract me? 1125


Herakles.

Not so; but this thou seest is thy wife.


Admetus.

What if this be some phantom from the shades?


Herakles.

No ghost-upraiser hast thou ta'en for guest.


Admetus.

How?—whom I buried do I see—my wife?


Herakles.

Doubt not: yet might'st thou well mistrust thy fortune. 1130


Admetus.

As wife, as living, may I touch, address her?


Herakles.

Speak to her: all thou didst desire thou hast.

 

Admetus.

O face, O form of my beloved wife,
Past hope I have thee, who ne'er thought to see thee!


Herakles.

Thou hast: may no God of thy bliss be jealous. 1135


Admetus.

O scion nobly-born of Zeus most high,
Blessings on thee! The Father who begat thee
Keep thee! Thou only hast restored my fortunes.
How didst thou bring her from the shades to light?


Herakles.

I closed in conflict with the Lord of Spirits. 1140


Admetus.

Where, say'st thou, didst thou fight this fight with Death?


Herakles.

From ambush by the tomb mine, hands ensnared him.


Admetus.

Now wherefore speechless standeth thus my wife?


Herakles.

'Tis not vouchsafed thee yet to hear her voice,
Ere to the Powers beneath the earth she be 1145
Unconsecrated, and the third day come.
But lead her in, and, just man as thou art,
Henceforth, Admetus, reverence still the guest.
Farewell. But I must go, and work the work
Set by the king, the son of Sthenelus. 1150

 

Admetus.

Abide with us, a sharer of our hearth.


Herakles.

Hereafter this: now must I hasten on.


Admetus.

O prosper thou, and come again in peace!
Through all my realm I publish to my folk
That, for these blessings, dances they array, 1155
And that atonement-fumes from altars rise.
For now to happier days than those o'erpast
Have we attained. I own me blest indeed.


Chorus.

O the works of the Gods—in manifold forms they reveal them:
Manifold things unhoped-for the Gods to accomplishment bring. 1160
And the things that we looked for, the Gods deign not to fulfil them;
And the paths undiscerned of our eyes, the Gods unseal them.
So fell this marvellous thing.

[Exeunt omnes.

 



Errata:

  1. Original: bear? was amended to bear,: detail