The Alkestis of Euripides


THIS drama has doubtless been more frequently translated, paraphrased, and imitated than any other of the surviving masterpieces of antiquity. The tale of voluntary death for another’s sake, — and hardly less, the picture of Apollo, the god of light and prophetic truth, the son of the supreme divinity, dwelling on earth as a mortal and a menial, — appealed as well to Christian as to pagan sympathy. Indeed, there is danger, as is so often the case, that we may read into the legend a far deeper meaning than it had for the Athenian auditors, or even for the poet himself.

It is the general feeling of Greek students that almost every one who has recast the story in a modern language, and especially the great poet Browning, has added quite too much to the original. It is always difficult — for a poet so imaginative and so unique as Browning it is impossible — not to put something of one’s own personality into such a work. Balaustion’s Adventure is not the drama of Euripides, but a modernized restoration of it.

The Greek text as it lies before us, deprived of the living tones of Hellenic speech, of music, costume, and scenery, of the Attic landscape for a background, and above all of proud imperial Athens herself, the mother city for which poet, sculptor, and architect were eager to toil, is as truly a fragment, a ruin, as the " Torso of the Vatican,” or the Parthenon itself.

As Michelangelo gazed day after day in despairing admiration at that headless, limbless trunk, it no doubt at times acquired in his imagination something like the completeness and beauty with which it came from the Greek sculptor’s chisel. We wish the Titan-souled Italian had carved in marble no less imperishable his conception of the entire statue; we are glad he never laid an impious restoring hand upon his unknown master’s work.

So if a great architect, arising among us, should desire to build a new Parthenon, the result would be interesting, and might be of permanent value, though if Pheidias and Ictinos could look upon it, we may be sure they would see expressed therein the aspirations of the Goth, the “ barbarian ; ” the modern spirit, which is not and can never be the simpler and more childlike Hellenic delight in life. The world is older and sadder, more complex and busier, and we are of the world. Moreover, whatever the great architect of the present or the future might create or re-create, we should turn again with all the old reverence and thankfulness to the shattered glories of the Acropolis ; almost dreading even to see the prostrate columns uplifted, the unbroken blocks of the architecture returned to their place, for fear a line be added which the classic artist would reject; and even so, with all our admiration for Balaustion, we recognize in it the hand and voice of the Victorian, not the Periclean poet.

The present version aims at adding nothing to the original. If there be any power here to reach the source of tears and tender thoughts, it is Euripides who speaks. If, however, there is roughness and unevenness of detail, the fault is in our coarser modern speech, and in the lack of skill of him who handles it. The chief object of any translation from Greek must be to induce the true lover of beauty in language or literature to find his way to the original, which we strive to imitate here line for line, indeed, but only as the engraver follows faithfully, on a humbler scale and in totally different material, the lines of the Madonna Sistina.

An even and subdued verbal effect, for the most part, has been deliberately striven for. In language, at least, Euripides is eminently realistic. His diction does not attempt to hold, nor even occasionally to reach, a plane high above his natural level of expression. His idioms are culled, but culled with poetic instinct, from the full garden of living Attic speech. Admetos and Alkestis talk almost as Pericles and Aspasia might have held high converse together.

Of such questions as the origin of the myth a translator has no especial mission to speak. If it be but a rendering in parable of solar phenomena or of forgotten political events in Thessaly, Euripides was happily ignorant of the fact.

The drama is located in Pherai, in southern Thessaly. Apollo’s mortal son, Asclepios, had incurred the displeasure of Zeus by raising the dead to life, and had perished by the divine thunderbolt. In return Apollo slew the Kyclops, the forgers of the fatal missile, and in consequence was banished from heaven, and reduced to servitude under the good young King Admetos, of Pherai. Aided by the divine archer, this prince won the lovely Alkestis away from a cloud of suitors, fulfilling her father’s mad requirement that his future son-in-law should appear in a chariot drawn by a lion and a boar. When Artemis, whose altars the young bridegroom, in his bliss, had forgotten to honor, sent a coil of terrible serpents to appall him in the nuptial bower, the sun-god, appeasing his sister, rescued his beloved master and friend. How much of this tale, with its evident resemblances to the favorite Aryan myth of the " seven wonderful servants,” was already familiar to the Athenian audience, we of course cannot know. Admetos, Alkestis, and their son Eumelos — in our drama yet a little child — were at least names known to all Greeks from the mention of them in the Catalogue of Ships.

These with their vessels eleven, the well-loved son of Admetos
Marshaled, Eumelos, horn of Alkestis, divine among women.
She was the fairest of feature among the daughters of Pelias.

(Iliad II. 713-715.)

(A passage, by the way, which may serve to assign our legend to a date a few years previous to the Trojan war.) But of the heroic self-sacrifice of the queen-mother, neither the Homeric poems nor the extant plays of the elder dramatists make any mention. At any rate, the poet at once proceeds to unfold his story in outline in the prologue, showing that he relies, for a powerful effect on his audience, not upon any surprise in the plot, but upon realistic and ingenious treatment of the successive scenes.

The play begins, apparently in the early morning of the eventful day, with the appearance of Apollo upon the stage, coming from the palace of Admetos, before which the action of the drama takes place. He has, perhaps, reassumed something of his divine beauty and splendor, as he seems to be at the end of his term of servitude.


Apollo. Home of Admetos, wherein I have borne
To accept a menial’s fare, although a god !
Zeus was the cause, who slew Asclepios,
My son, with lightnings hurled against his breast.
Thereat of course enraged, I slew the Kyclops,
Who wrought the holy flame : for this my sire
In penance made me serve a mortal man.
Hither I came, and for my host have watched
The kine, and saved his house until to-day;
For I, upright, found in him an upright man,
The son of Pheres, whom I snatched from death,
Cheating the Fates. The goddesses declared
Admetos might escape from present death,
Bartering another life to those below.
He tested all his kin in turn : his sire,
The aged mother too that gave him birth,
And found not one was willing — save his wife —
To die for him, and see the light no more.
And she, upheld in arms, with failing strength
Goes through the house, for on this very day
She is doomed to perish, and depart from life.
— And lest pollution come to me within,
I leave the shelter of this well-loved hall.

At this moment the god beholds approaching the palace the grisly phantom from whose pollution he is fleeing, and remarks upon his coming in lines which serve as an introduction of Death (Thanatos) to the audience : —

And yonder, near at hand, I see, is Death,
Priest of the dead, who now to Hades’ realm
Shall lead her down. Prompt to the time he comes,
Watching the day when she is doomed to die.

Death bursts into a vehement complaint against his arch-enemy, whom he instantly suspects of some device to cheat him once more of his due.

Death (entering). Ah! Ah!
Why art thou at the gates, and why lurkest. thou here,
O Phoibos ? Thou wrongest the shades of their due,
Setting off for thine own, and barring my way !
Not content to have rescued Admetos from fate,
Beguiling the Moirai with crafty device,
Over her too thou watchest with arrow and bow
Who has promised to die in his stead, to release
Her husband, — the daughter of Pelias.

Then begins the first of those rapid exchanges of epigrammatic lines, of which our play is especially full: —

Apollo. Fear not! Wise reasons, and the right, are mine.
Death. If right be thine, what need then of the bow ?
A. It is my custom ever thus to walk.
D. Ay, and unrighteously to aid this house!
A. I grieve me for the sorrows of my friend.
D. And wilt thou part me from this second prey ?
A. ‘T was not by force I rescued him from thee.
D. Why is he then above, not under ground ?
A. His wife has ransomed him, for whom thou ’rt come.
D. Ay, and will lead her down beneath the earth.
A. Take her and go ! I know not how to win thee —
D. To slay those whom I should ? That is my task.
A. Nay, to take those to whom Death needs must come.
D. I understand thy words and thy desire.
A. Can then Alkestis nowise reach old age ?
D. It cannot be. I too enjoy my dues.
A. ’T is but a single soul that thou canst take.
D. When the young die, my glory is the more.
A. If she die old, the rites shall sumptuous be.
D. Phoibos, thy law were made to aid the rich! A. What is ’t thou say’st ? I knew not thou wert wise !
D. They who had means would purchase length of years.
A. — It does not please thee, then, to grant this boon ?
D. Indeed it does not, and thou knowest my ways —
A. Hateful to men, and by the gods abhorred !
D. Not all thou should’st not have shalt thou secure !
A. (aside, as he departs). Ay, but thou shalt be checked, although so fierce;
So mighty a hero comes to Pheres’ home,
Sent by Eurystheus, on the quest for steeds,
Unto the wintry fields of Thrace ; and he,
Being entertained within Admetos’ halls,
Shall wrest by force this lady from thy grasp.
And so thou shalt receive no thanks from us,
But yet shalt do our will, and win our hate.
Death (aside, departing to the palace.) By many words thou shalt not gain the more.
The lady shall go down to Hades’ realm.
I pass to consecrate her with my sword.
He from whose head this brand has shorn a hair
Is thus devoted to the gods below !

Here the prologue ends. The last two speeches were perhaps uttered simultaneously, as the two superhuman and semi-allegorical characters left the stage. A keen and rather adverse critic of this play, Dr. Wheeler, who suspects nearly all of these two speeches to be the interpolation of an age later than the poet’s, declares that the last three lines in particular were evidently inserted for an ambitious actor, eager to flourish his sword and make a thrilling exit. There is certainly the utmost difficulty in reconciling them with the rest of the drama, and especially with the manner of Alkestis’ death. This occurs upon the stage in an apparently natural way: yet if Death had been visible to the audience while uttering this threat, it would seem hardly less than ludicrous that he should be invisible when executing it.

But, from this point forward, the supernatural elements fade more and more into the background, while the poet appeals to those purely human emotions in which he evidently found his chief delight. One object, no doubt, in beginning his drama with such a scene, was to satisfy the vague yet jealous and easily startled orthodoxy of his popular audience. At the same time, he was quite aware that his more thoughtful readers would contrast the helplessness of Apollo at this crisis with the successful prowess of the thoroughly human Heracles : for we must insist on ascribing to our great agnostic poet, the friend and favorite author of the arch-skeptic Socrates, as earnest and deadly an intent against the very existence of some of his own characters as can be found in Lucian himself. If these attacks are in general cautiously and even timidly veiled under a pretense of pious orthodoxy, the fate of Socrates may guide us to the true reason.

The Parodos, or entrance-song of the chorus, is in the Alkestis not purely lyrical, but intermingled with passages of lively recitative. Moreover, the chorus of Pheraian citizens is evidently divided into two groups, who, probably through their leaders’ mouths, carry on a conversation with each other. During this scene they are anxiously watching the royal palace, and there is doubtless some movement and pantomimic acting to indicate their solicitude, carried on, however, with something of the reserve and dignity which characterize the old men in the Panathenaic procession upon the Parthenon frieze. There can be no doubt that the fondness of the Athenians for rich and varied color was abundantly gratified, here as elsewhere. It is in this respect, far more than in any other, that recent discoveries make it necessary to correct the traditional impressions of the Occident in regard to Greek taste in art. Perhaps the reader will be reminded by this marching-chant — at any rate, the writer always is — of the solemn entrance of the Brothers of Mercy upon the scene where Gessler has just expired, in Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell.


(Enter Chorus, from the city.)
Chorus A. Pray why is there silence in front of the hall,
And why is the home of Admetos so still ?
Chorus B. Not one of the friends of the house is at hand,
Who would tell us if we are to mourn for the queen
As dead, or if living she looks on the sun, —
Alkestis, the daughter of Pelias, who seems
To me and to all men who dwell in the land
The noblest of wives
To have proven herself to her husband.
Cho. A. Is there a sound of sighing heard,
Or beating hands within the halls,
Or wailing as if all were done ?
Not even a servant of the house
Is standing now beside the gates,
O Paian, comforter in grief,
Would thou mightst now appear !
Cho. B. They would not be silent if she were dead.
Cho. A. From the palace she surely has not been borne!
Cho. B. Why so ? I am troubled. What cheers, then, thee ?
Cho. A. Without mourners Admetos would never have held
The rites for his noble lady !
Cho. B. Nor do I see before the gates
The vase of water, as is ft
At gates where men are lying dead.
No hair lies shorn before the door,
That falls in mourning for the lost;
Nor do I hear the doleful beat
Of youthful women’s hands.
Cho. A. And this is the day of her doom!
Cho. B. What is it thou say’st!
Cho. A. On which she shall pass to the under-world!
Cho. B. Thou hast touched my heart, thou hast touched my soul!
Cho. A. It is fitting, when good men are wasting away,
That all should grieve
Who ever were noble accounted!

The chorus have now, apparently, reached their regular position in the orchestra, from which they chant the second pair of strophes of the Parodos.

No place on earth is found
Where one a ship may send,
Not even to Lykian lands,
Nor to the desert seat
Of Ammon’s oracle,
And save the doomèd life.
Implacable fate is drawing nigh,
And at the altars of the gods
I know not unto whom
Of priests to turn for aid.
If only on the light
The son of Phoibos gazed
With living eyes to-day !
Then would she come to us,
Leaving the dark abode
And gates of Hades’ realm.
The dead he raised, ere on him fell,
Zeus-hurled, the lightning’s fery bolt.
But now, what hope of life
Is left for me to seek f

The first episode is as simply planned as possible. It consists merely in the appearance of a serving-maid from the palace, who, after satisfying the anxious inquiries of the chorus, reënters to announce their arrival. In her description of the events now occurring within the palace our poet is in his best vein : —

. . . For when she knew the fatal day was come,
She bathed in river-water her white flesh,
And from her chests of cedar choosing forth
Raiment and ornament, she decked her fair,
And, standing, prayed before the hearth-stone thus:
“ O Goddess, — for I pass beneath the earth, —
Here at the last, a suppliant, I entreat
Rear thou my children, and on him bestow
A loving wife, on her a noble spouse.
And may they not, as I their mother die,
Untimely fall, but in their native land,
And fortunate, fill out a happy life.”
And all the shrines throughout Admetos’ halls
She sought, and decked with flowers, and prayed thereto,
Breaking the foliage of the myrtle-twigs :
Nor wept nor groaned. The sorrow near at hand
Changed not the lovely color of her face :
Then to her marriage - chamber swift she sped;
There she indeed shed tears, and thus she spoke:
“O couch where I put off my maiden-zone
For this my husband, for whose sake I die,
Farewell! I hate thee not: thou hast destroyed
Me only ; slow to leave my spouse and thee
I die; to thee another wife will come,
Not truer, though perchance more fortunate.” And knelt, and kissed, and with the gushing tears
That from her eyelids fell the bed was moist.
When she was sated with her many tears,
In headlong haste she hurried from the spot,
Yet often turned her as she left the room, more
And darted toward her nuptial couch once
Her children, clinging to the mother’s robe,
Were weeping : taking in her arms, she kissed
The two in turn, as though about to die.
And all the servants wept throughout the halls,
Pitying their mistress ; and she gave her hand
To every one : not one was there so base
But she did greet him, and by him was hailed.
— Such are the sorrows in Admetos’ home.

To a query as to the king’s present mood, she replies : —

He weeps, embracing his dear wife, and prays
She may be Spared : asking what cannot be ;
For she, enfeebled, pines and wastes away,
A pitiable burden in his arms;
— And yet, although the breath of life is low,
Upon the sunlight still she fain would look.

In spite of the absolute simplicity and naturalness of this brief episode, or perhaps, indeed, for that very reason, it is most successful in the purpose for which it is clearly intended, and our warmest sympathy is aroused for the heroic queen, just before she herself comes forth upon the stage. Especially is it a touch of genius when the brave, motherly soul pours forth her most earnest prayers at the shrine of Hestia (the Romans’ Vesta), the protectress of home.

After the maid returns to the palace, the chorus sing the first Stasimon, a despairing prayer to Apollo, and almost a dirge for the queen.

The palace doors now again swing open, and the two actors required by the simple action of our drama appear in the characters of Alkestis and Admetos. This would be a fitting place to introduce some apology for a well-known weakness of the plot, the cowardice and selfishness of King Admetos. But the truth is, we detest him so heartily that we are unwilling to say anything for him. He is utterly lacking in the chief essentials for every man who aspires to rule over men, — unselfishness and courage. He is a craven, and no king.

But when Euripides omits to make any direct effort to defend his royal hero, we must not ascribe it to inability or dislike. The poet probably did not feel that Admetos needed any special apology. If he had elaborated one, it would doubtless have been upon the ground that the king’s life was infinitely more valuable than any other man’s, and certainly than any woman’s, could be. The ingenuity of the modern imitators of the Alkestis has been largely expended in palliating the cowardice of Admetos. The favorite device is to let Alkestis make the arrangement, through Apollo, to die in the stead of her husband, without the knowledge of the latter, who is powerless to reverse the compact when he learns of it. But as for Euripides, he either had no idea of making a heroic figure in any sense out of his Admetos, or, as we rather believe, he did not consider desperate eagerness to save one’s own life a fatal weakness.

With all the dignity and decorous reserve of the figures which pass before us on the Greek stage and in Greek history, there is something curiously naked and frank at times in their avowal of natural motives and passions. We who inherit in part the manners and phrases of chivalry must not be too sure that the springs of our own actions are always loftier, merely because it is no longer conventional openly to avow the coarser motives. In this case the truth was stated to us as bluntly as possible in the prologue : —

“ He tested all his kin in turn: his sire,
The aged mother too that gave him birth ! ”

Alkestis is supported by her maidens, and attended not only by her husband, but by her little son and daughter. She is in a highly excited, almost ecstatic mood, and the lyric outbursts in which she bewails her untimely fate are in strong contrast with the calmer recitative in which her husband insists that he is still the chief sufferer. Her opening words remind us — if we may turn again to a German parallel — of the greeting Maria Stuart sends to the clouds that sail southward toward the sunny home-land of France.

Aikestis. Helios, and light of day !
Clouds in the lofty sky, eddying, hurrying onward !
Admetos. He sees us both, two hapless mortals, who
In naught have wronged the gods, that thou shouldst die.
Alk. Earth, and my palace-home !
Haunts of my childish years, land of my fathers, Iolcos !
Adm. Rouse thee, unhappy one! Desert us not.
Pray to the mighty gods to pity us.
Alk. The two-oared skiff I can see, and the ghostly ferryman, Charon,
Resting his hand on the pole ; and he calls to me :
“ Why dost thou linger ?
“ Make haste ! Thou detainest us here!” So urging he hurries me on !
Adm. Ah me ! A hitter voyage for me is this
Whereof thou speak’st! What agony is ours!
Alk. He is leading me, — dost thou not see ?
To the court of the dead he is leading !
Hades, the wingèd ! and gazes with grim brows flashing upon me!
What would’ st thou ! Release me ! Alas!
What a journey in sorrow I go !
Adm. Piteous for them that love thee, most of all
Me and my children, who this grief shall share.
Alk. (more calmly, to her attendants). Unhand me, I pray you, unhand me.
Lay me down ; my force is spent;
Hades is near at hand,
And o’er my eyelids black night is stealing.
Children, ah, nevermore,
Nevermore your mother lives.

Admetos now begins a rather rhetorical plea to his wife not to desert him, to which she gives little heed, but, summoning all her strength and self-control, makes a moving appeal to him for her children. The reader will notice that she has no touch of world-weariness, but fully realizes the magnitude of the sacrifice she makes. In this speech she shows perfect confidence in her husband’s kindly heart, very little in his constancy and strength. She herself has ruled him, and she foresees that her successor will probably sway him no less easily, for good or ill.

Alkestis. Admetos, how it fares with me thou seest,
And ere I perish I would speak with thee
Of my desires. Revering thee I die,
Giving my life that thou may’st see the day ;
Not forced to die for thee, but free to wed
Whatever prince of Thessaly I would,
And dwell within a happy royal hall.
I did not wish to live, bereft of thee.
With orphaned children. Having youth’s fair gifts,
— In which I took delight, — I grudged them ont.
Yet they who did beget and hear thee quailed
(Though they were come to fitting age for death)
To die with honor and to save their child.
Thou wert their only son : no hope was theirs,
When thou wert dead, to get them other children.
Thou hadst not sorrowed, parted from thy wife,
Nor reared thy children orphans. But all this
Some god has ordered that it shall be so.
Amen ! Yet prove thy thanks to me for it;
A recompense I shall not ask of thee,
— For there is nothing valued more than life, —
And only justice, thou ‘lt confess ; for thou
Lovest these children even as I, — or should’st!
Accept them as the masters of my house,
Nor wed a second mother for my offspring.
Who, not so kind as I, in wrath will lay
Her hand upon these children, thine and mine.
So prithee do not that, I beg of thee.
No kinder than an adder in her hate
To former children is a second wife.
My son has in his sire a mighty tower ;
But thou, how shalt thou bloom to maidenhood,
My child ? How wilt thou find thy father’s wife
Toward thee ? May she not give thee an evil name
In blooming youth, and stop thy marriage so !
Thy mother may not dress thee as a bride,
Herself, nor in thy travail give thee cheer,
Present where naught is as a mother sweet.
For I must perish : not upon the morrow
Nor on the third day comes this woe to me ;
At once I pass to those that are no more.
Hail, and farewell! My husband, thou mayst boast To have wed a noble wife; you, children mine,
That you are of a noble mother born.

After the usual two lines of reassuring commonplace from the chorus, Admetos begins an equally long reply. This speech has been already mentioned, in an essay on the Hippolytos,1 as peculiarly Euripidean. The poet devotes all the resources of his imagination and ingenuity to the chief speech of his most ignoble character, just at the moment when all our sympathies are drawn away from him. Here, if anywhere, is the poet’s effort to defend his unkingly monarch.

Admetos. . . . Fear not! Thou
Wert mine in life, and shalt in death alone
Be called my wife ; and no Thessalian dame
Instead of thee shall hail me as her lord.
There lives no woman of so high descent,
Nor yet so beautiful; and as for children,
These two suffice ; in them I pray the gods
To find the joy I may not have in thee.
Not for a year I ‘ll mourning wear for thee,
But while my life shall last, O wife of mine,
Detesting her who bore me, and my sire,
Who in word, not act, have shown their love for me ;
But thou hast paid what was most dear to thee,
And saved my life. Have I not cause to grieve,
Of such a helpmeet being in thee bereft ?
Symposia now and feasts shall have an end,
Garlands and music, that my palace filled, —
For I could never touch the lyre again,
Nor have the heart to sing to Libyan pipes,
Since thou dost take from me the joy of life.
And by the cunning hand of artists wrought,
Thy counterfeit shall lie within my bed;
While I beside it and embracing it,
Calling thy name, shall seem within my arms
To hold my wife, although I hold her not.
A cold delight, methinks ; yet from my heart
A load were lifted so. And in my dreams
Thou’lt come to bless me; for ’t is sweet to see
Our loved ones, even in visions, while we may.
If Orpheus’ voice and gift of song were mine,
So that Demeter’s daughter, or her lord,
I might beguile, and lead thee forth from Hades,
I would descend, and neither Pluto’s hound,
Nor Charon with his pole, the guide of souls,
Should check me, till I brought thee back to day.
But now, await me there when I shall die.
Make ready our abode, to dwell with me ;
For I will bid our children here to lay
My body in the cedarn coffin where
Thou too art laid. Not even in death would I
Be parted from my only faithful one.

The death-scene follows at once, and no doubt made a striking succession of statuesque groupings upon the stage, accompanied by the mute expressions of sympathy from the chorus in the orchestra. The mother’s last thoughts are for her children, while the king, in nearly every line he utters, insists upon his own loss. A death-scene upon the stage is unusual in the Greek drama, but in this case it seems to be elaborated expressly to introduce an opportunity for emotional acting. We miss even the covering of the face just before death, which was almost demanded by Hellenic feelings of propriety, and which the reader may remember at the close of the Hippolytos, as well as in the most dramatic and heroic death of Socrates, described at the end of the Phaidon of Plato.

The moment Alkestis expires, the child Eumelos begins a lyric threnody, which was probably sung from behind the scenes, while the part of the orphaned prince was acted by a “ mute ” boy.

Eumelos. Alas! Woe is me! My mother now is passed
Beneath the earth, and lives no more,
My father, in the light!
Deserting my young life,
She leaves me orphaned here.
For see ! Her lids are closed,
Her arms beside her hang.
Oh, hear me, my mother, hear me, I pray,
I call to thee,
Thy little nestling,
Clinging closely to thy face !
Admetos. To one who neither sees, nor hears; so ye
And I are smitten by a heavy woe !
Eumelos. My father, I alone am left, my mother gone,
Upon a lonely way, a child.
Ah, cruel is the fate
That falls on me ! Nor less
To thee, my sister, too,The lot of suffering comes.
To sorrow wert thou wed,
To sorrow, my father ! Not to old age,
With her thou ‘It come!
Too soon she perished,
Slaying with her all our house.

Admetos is already sufficiently calm to give directions for the funeral and the mourning for the queen, whose body is now carried into the palace, accompanied by the king, the children, and the retinue of attendants. So closes the second episode.

The stage is quite deserted, while the chorus sing from the orchestra the second Stasimon. Like all the choral odes of our play, but unlike those of many Euripidean dramas, it has the closest connection with, and appropriateness to, the moment in the plot where it is inserted. We quote here only the former of the two pairs of stanzas, which are entirely devoted to the praises of Alkestis.

Chorus. Daughter of Pelias, hail!
I pray that, contented in Hades’ dwelling,
In the sunless abode a home thou findest !
And Hades shall know it, the black-tressed god, and the Ancient who sitteth
Holding the tiller and oar,
Ferryman of shadows,
That the bravest by far of women surely
On Acheron’s turbid stream to-day
Passes across in the two-oared bark.
Often the minstrel of thee
Shall sing to the seven-stringed shell of the tortoise,
Or in dirges without the lyre shall praise thee,
In Sparta, whenever recurring someth the feast of Carneia,
When in the first of the month
Night long shines the moonlight;
Or in Athens, a city rich and famous.
So noble a theme thy death has left
Unto the bards of the after time.2
William Cranston Lawton.
  1. See Atlantic Monthly, March, 1887, page 366.
  2. In this and some other lyrical passages of the play, there is an attempt to imitate the movement of the original, so far as a language which marches to the drum-like beat of a stress accent may imitate one which even in prose rises and falls with musical cadence and in accurate rhythm.